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May 31, 2006

Will Tennessee Buy a Ford?

It's not a particularly penetrating analysis of the Tennessee Senate race, but Robin Toner's piece today in the New York Times on Harold Ford's campaign does supply one very interesting anectdote:

Mr. Ford, a five-term congressman from Memphis, rouses his audiences, white and black, with little parables of political possibility: How he was driving back to Memphis one day on the campaign trail, fired up after a meeting at a church, and decided to stop and shake hands at a bar and grill called the Little Rebel. How he looked with some trepidation at the Confederate flag outside and the parking lot filled with pickup trucks, covered with bumper stickers for President Bush and the National Rifle Association.And how he was greeted, when he walked through the door, by a woman at the bar who gave him a huge hug. "And she said, 'Baby, we've been waiting to see you.' "
That's actually an accurate parable of U.S. politics in Tennessee, the South, and America at large: voters are ready to fire the GOP, and Democrats simply need to seal the deal. The door is open; we have to take down the "Do Not Disturb" sign that has signalled voters Democrats only care about their own, and reach out aggressively to people who cast ballots for W., and regret it.
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May 30, 2006

Yet Another Shoe Drops On Ralph

Tom Edsall's Monday Washington Post article about the latest controversy involving the Man Who Would Be Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Ralph Reed, had the familiar sound of another predictable shoe dropping on the boon companion of Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist. Seems that back in 1999, Ralph got paid by Abramoff to do a direct mail piece to conservative Christians in Alabama urging them to contact then-Congressman Bob Riley (now the Republican Governor of that state) to get him to oppose legislation imposing federal wage and worker safety laws on the U.S. territory in the Northern Mariana Islands. Ralph's mailer focused especially on the concern that the legislation would restrict the recruitment of Chinese workers to NMI industries, denying these wards of the Godless Communist State access to the Word of God readily available in their new if temporary home.Anybody familiar with the arcana of the ongoing Abramoff scandal will laugh and laugh at the mention of the Northern Mariana Islands, a favorite cash cow for Abramoff and company, and a strange pet cause of the conservative movement for much of the 1990s. Here's how Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, quoting my colleague The Moose, put it a while back:

Marshall Wittmann, a conservative activist turned centrist, attended the first meeting in 1993 hosted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, to rally conservatives of different stripes around a common agenda. “There were about a dozen of us wanting to stop this or that Clinton plan,” says Wittmann. “When the Mariana Islands came up, I wondered how did this become a conservative issue?” The Northern Mariana Islands were the first big project that Norquist and Abramoff worked on together. An American protectorate in the Pacific Ocean, the government there wanted help to resist certain U.S. laws, like paying minimum wage. Norquist talked up the Marianas as a model of free enterprise, and Abramoff collected $9 million in lobbying fees, smoothing the way for members of Congress to take fact-finding trips to the islands and play golf.“It was the first time I scratched my head and thought there’s something amiss here,” Wittmann told NEWSWEEK. “The seeds that were planted then developed into the fauna and flora we have now.”
Flora and fauna indeed. And it gets worse for Reed. Not only did his flacking for NMI entangle him even further with the Abramoff-Norquist money machine, but it turns out that great capitalist paradise in the Pacific engaged in practices even worse than U.S.-favored wage exploitation. Here's how Edsall explained it:

A year earlier [than Reed's mailer], the Department of the Interior -- which oversees federal policy toward the U.S. territory -- presented a very different picture of life for Chinese workers on the islands. An Interior report found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.

So it looks like maybe those Chinese workers in NMI weren't exactly exposed to the Gospel in action after all. But Ralph took Abramoff's bucks and did the sales job anyway, which might be described in biblical terms as trading his birthright for a mess of pottage.It's still not clear how much damage all this accumulating flora and fauna of corruption is doing to Ralph Reed's campaign; he's still cashing his national chits and harvesting endorsements from people like Rudy Guiliani.But all across my home state of Georgia, from the Rabun Gap to the Tybee Light, and from Waycross to Cartersville to Ralph's adopted home town of Toccoa, the shoes continue to drop. My guess is that sooner or later, the voters of this red state will recognize Ralph Reed as a classic Washington jiveass whose native son pretensions are as insubstantial as instant grits.
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May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

I'm part of that mid-baby-boomer cohort of men who didn't get drafted but also didn't have the mental or moral freedom associated with the All-Volunteer Military. Fact of the matter is that I went through the Draft Lottery of the early 1970s and drew number 265, which placed me far out of harm's way while exposing less fortunate peers to a tour of duty in Vietnam. I could have volunteered for military service, but didn't, and didn't really consider it (a later near brush with voluntary service in the Air Force JAG Corps, which would have exposed me to little risk other than a possible tongue-lashing from a military judge, in no way exculpates me on that score).So I truly do honor those men and women who served and suffered for me and thee, whether they answered a compulsory call from Uncle Sam or didn't wait for the draft notice. And I remain convinced, despite my own luck and self-interested decisions, that this country should do every thing necessary short of compulsion to make some sort of national service, military or civilian, a way of life for each new generation of young people.If that happens, then on Memorial Day we can express thanks for the sacrifices of those before us not as a guilt-offering of the fortunate and the privileged, but as comrades who have shared their willingness to place America's defense, and freedom's cause, above their own safety and comfort. Moreover, God willing, we can live in a country whose leaders do not make tax cuts for the most comfortable Americans their top war-time priority, profaning the spirit of common sacrifice and patriotism in a way that should make us all uncomfortable each Memorial Day until Washington is finally set right.
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May 25, 2006

Congress Gets On the Crazy Train

By the time you read this, it's entirely possible that Denny Hastert and Nancy Pelosi (in, ironically, their first act of robust bipartisanship) will have cut some Rube Goldberg deal with the Bush administration whereby the FBI will turn over documents seized from Rep. Bill Jefferson to the House Ethics Committee, thus somehow vindicating the Honor of the Institution without enabling the doomed Louisianan to feed the papers to the nearest shredder.I know there's a (weak) constitutional argument here, though I have a hard time believing that Hastert and Pelosi really think that the doctrine of separation of powers prevents a court-ordered seizure of documents unrelated to any legislative activity after a subpoena has been ignored. If they do, they're endorsing a degree of complete immunity from law enforcement rarely seen since Thomas a Becket claimed that Henry II had no jurisdiction over criminal clergy (or at least since the last Bush administration ukase about the president's imperial powers over national security).Maybe the two Leaders think they're taking a bullet for the Long View, but it's hard to say which partisans are more beside themselves for this display of solicitude for a guy who's trying to hide documents after getting caught on videotape taking 100 Large, which apparently wound up nestled amongst the popsicles in his freezer.Here's the calm assessment made by conservative John Podheretz over at The Corner:

I don't know how to put this any other way, and I'm sorry if it sounds insulting, but: Whether you consider him the leader of an institution whose standing among the public is at historically low levels and in need of drastic moral renovation or a leading partisan official whose team is in pretty bad shape and could use a bit of a boost, Denny Hastert is a blithering idiot.
Meanwhile, Pelosi's getting pounded all over the lefty blogosphere for screwing up a year-long effort to make it clear Democrats will clean up the House if they win it back this November. And even more vitriol is being poured on the Congressional Black Caucus for blasting Pelosi for her one effort to discipline Jefferson, her request that he give up his seat on the Ways & Means Committee. For once, I'm pretty much in agreement with the Left and Right and don't any use for the "bipartisanship" being exhibited by the Leaders. Indeed, I think they've together climbed onto the Crazy Train. But I do have a small bone to pick with Kos, who went out of his way today to take this little shot: "Jefferson, by the way, is a card-carrying member of the DLC. You know, the organization founded to take on the 'entrenched interests' in DC. " Kos' link was to an article in Human Events, of all things, that quoted Bruce Reed as favoring CAFTA, as did Jefferson. So what? As I've explained over and over, the DLC ain't got no membership cards. And what the hell does supporting CAFTA (which if I recall correctly, Kos himself said was defensible on the merits) have to do with taking bribes to peddle influence in Nigeria? The DLC has repeatedly and redundantly supported ethics rules and legislation tougher than anything that either party in Congress has seriously considered, along with public financing of congressional elections and an assault on corporate subsidies. Dislike the DLC all you want; it's a free country. But Bill Jefferson's apparent kleptomania has nothng to do with us, anymore than it has anything to do with the Democratic Party as a whole.
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May 24, 2006

Growing the Democratic Vote

I'm a bit exhausted this evening, after the culmination of many weeks of staring at electoral and demographic data prepared by the ultimate Democratic number-cruncher Mark Gersh, leading to the release today of a study on Democratic and Republican performance in fast-growing areas of the country. The links above adequately describe the study, but the bottom line is that Democrats cannot rely on demographic trends or conventional base-mobilization efforts to build a durable majority, even if, as we pray, we do exceptionally well this November. We're going to have to expand the base, geographically and demographically, using persuasion as well as mobilization, and not by aping Republican positions but by dealing with persistent doubts about Democrats on key issues, and by tailoring our message and agenda to the concerns and life-experiences of people who have not voted Democratic in the recent past.Today's release event featured Ken Salazar and Tim Kaine, and a blizzard of data, charts and graphs. But the bottom line was clear and bright: Democrats can and must expand the base and grow the vote, particularly heading towards what may be a truly watershed presidential election of 2008, when we have a holy obligation to effect regime change in Washington.
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May 23, 2006

Immigration End-Game

The "compromise" immigration reform bill is slogging its way through the swamp of the U.S. Senate this week, with Republican and Democratic amendments largely being rejected. Most of the troglodyte efforts to eliminate anything other than puntive, border control measures have gone down, as have Democratic amendments designed to keep the bill from creating a massive "guest worker" program of illegal immigrants who are allowed temporarily to toil in low-wage jobs so long as they are deportable at some fixed point in the future.While I personally favor most of those Democratic amendments that are being defeated, the compromise is worth supporting, if it could actually become law. But the end-game that will come into play if the Senate passes a bill obviously involves an additional compromise between the Senate and House approaches.By refusing to sign on to a smooth-groove path for the compromise absent some assurances about the end-game, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid ultimately secured an agreement to cut Democrats, and members of the responsible bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee, into the conference committee. That's why there are enough Senate Democrats willing to keep the compromise alive. But in the end, it won't really matter if George W. Bush isn't willing to use a veto threat and every other formal power he possesses, to make the compromise law, against the will of House Republicans. And if he won't take definitive sides on immigration reform, then the whole excercise will be nothing more than another graphic illustration of the powerlessness to do good of the all-powerful Repubublican ascendancy in Washington.
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May 19, 2006

Rudy In Disguise?

Thanks to Greg Sargent, in his new personal blog The Horse's Mouth, for a heads-up on Rudy Guiliani's appearance at a fundraiser for Ralph Reed down in Georgia yesterday. Yes, indeedy, "America's Mayor" lent his name and mug to the doughty if dingy former Poster Boy of the Christian Right, who is struggling against the backwash from his complicity in the Jack Abramoff scandal and other past sins to get himself nominated for the mighty post of Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Greg's post led me to check in with the indispensable Political Insider blog maintained by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Jim Galloway and Tom Baxter. Their take on the Guiliani appearance noted that ol' Rudy followed up his appearance for Ralph by cheerfully telling reporters he was still in favor of civil domestic partnership rights for gays and lesbians. This is, ironically, a position that's anathema to Ralph and his supporters, who are currently up in arms about a state court decision striking down Georgia's constitutional ban on any kind of official acknowledgement of gay and lesbian relationships. Indeed, George W. Bush's disinclination to talk much these days about a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage or anything like it is one of the major grievances of the Cultural Right, and one of the reasons, along with his opposition to Deporting All Mexicans, that the "conservative base" is threatening to take a dive in November. Naturally Greg's analysis compares Rudy to John McCain as a former ideological heretic getting a long look from GOP establishment types worried about 2008. But there is a big difference between the two. As Michael Kinsley explains in today's Washington Post, McCain's a guy who's problem is that people who largely agree with him ideologically don't like him or trust him. Rudy's a guy that conservatives like and trust, but don't agree with. His attack-dog appearance at the 2004 Republican Convention showed he was willing to please the conservative base on the national security topics they agree on, and his agreement to eat rubber chicken with Ralph Reed shows he's willing to overlook differences on domestic and cultural issues. But are his putative partners in the GOP really willing to accept his positions in favor of what they think of as Holocaust-level baby-killing and rampant, triumphal sodomy?Personally, I've never taken Rudy's presidential prospects that seriously. And until he starts spending less time raking in cash on the motivational- speaker circuit, and more time hanging out at pot-luck dinners in Iowa, I won't be convinced that events like his appearance for Reed represent anything other than fluffing pillows with the Right. But if I'm wrong, and Rudy commits himself to a presidential race, then this man who at some roast once jokingly (in drag, no less) called himself "a Republican pretending to be a Democrat pretending to be a Republican" is going to have to discard the disguises and tell us precisely why he clings to the party of Ralph Reed, and George W. Bush. And a Guiliani candidacy would definitely hurt McCain, and increase the likelihood that someone (Allen? Gingrich?) will emerge as the True Conservative alternative to front-runners who have dissed the almighty Base.
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May 18, 2006

Crazy Pills

Having been totally heads-down on a day-job project involving endless columns of county election results (more about that next week), I picked up this morning's Washington Post feeling like an space cadet returning to Planet Earth. But the first thing that caught my attention was one of those classic Robert Novak columns channeling the peculiar world view of House Republicans.Today the Prince of Darkness informed us all that House Speaker Denny Hastert threw not one but two hissy fits--one for Dick Cheney and one for W. himself--over the abrupt firing of his buddy Porter Goss at the CIA. Here are the two nut graphs:

Hastert, who served with Cheney in the House for two years (1987-88), let the vice president have it in their private meeting. He said he trusted his close friend Goss, who had performed well at the nasty job of cleaning out an agency filled with critics of the president and his policies....[T]he treatment of Goss has caused speculation in Congress that Bush is making a peace offering to his critics at Langley. A president waging a global war against terrorism can hardly function with an intelligence agency whose employees make off-the-record speeches against his policies, contribute to his political opponents and leak secrets to the media. Was getting rid of Goss the equivalent of a white flag of surrender?
Lord-a-mighty. If Novak, whose column has long been a bulletin board for the hard Right, is faithfully reporting House GOP sentiments, these boys are clearly eating some crazy pills. Most of us poor ignorant folk were under the impression that Goss got dropped because, well, he basically couldn't find his butt with both hands at the CIA, and was hiring people with a similar disability for the top jobs at Langley. But in the fever swamps of the House GOP, it's gospel truth that a godless liberal cabal of spooks is trying to end the war on terrorism and destroy W., and with the assistance of that well known liberal-lover Cheney, Bush is caving in and racing into the arms of his enemies. Who knew? The only thing in this column that's not kinda crazy is its last sentence: "More than difficulties at the CIA need to be resolved as the GOP lurches toward the dreaded midterm elections." Not much doubt about that.
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May 16, 2006

Losing His Cake and Going Hungry

From a substantive point of view, Bush's big nationally televised immigration speech last night wasn't bad. Sure, he over-hyped the small and overdue step of authorizing governors to use Guard units for border control support, trying to make it sound like he was personally sending in the cavalry. And yeah, his emphasis on making illegal immigrants "guest workers" rather than potential citizens was questionable, implying that his goal is to get most illegals to sign up for guest-worker status so they can be sent home when they've finished their service to the U.S. economy. But his definition of "comprehensive immigration reform" was basically sound, and pretty much where the U.S. Senate seems headed this week.Politically, though, Bush's speech is beginning to look like a real king-hell disaster. If he thought the xenophobes in his party would be pleased with his Guard-deployment gambit, he was dead wrong: the wingers are really going medieval on him today. Check out this assessement from the normally mild-mannered Rich Lowry of National Review:

President Bush has a bold new approach to immigration enforcement: He wants to police the Mexican border with symbolism.That's the point of his proposal to send the National Guard to our border with Mexico. This represents Bush's final, desperate descent into Clintonian sleight of hand. He wants to distract enough of his supporters with the razzle-dazzle of "National Guard to the Border!" headlines that they won't notice he is pushing through Congress a proposal that essentially legalizes all the population influx from Latin America that has occurred in the past 10 years and any that might occur in the future.Like President Clinton's gesture of sending more U.S. troops to Somalia after the "Black Hawk Down" battle in Mogadishu, when everyone knew we were really on our way out, Bush's Guard deployment is a prelude to surrender. The immigrants who have come here in defiance of our laws will get to stay, bring their families and be joined by just as many immigrants in the future—at least if Bush gets his way.It is with this position that Bush has wrecked his political standing, kicking out from under himself the support of his conservative base. Bush's National Guard feint is a sign that the White House thinks conservatives are not just disaffected, but credulous
When conservatives start comparing W. to Bill Clinton, you know the bottom has fallen out. But even before the speech, there was another sign of big-time conservative disaffection over immigration. Over at that Conservative Establishment Bohemoth, the Heritage Foundation, the web site features an "analysis" by Robert Rector suggesting that the pending Senate immigration bill, which Bush has basically endorsed, would attract 103 million new illegal immigrants over the next 20 years, and cost taxpayers a minimum of $46 billion a year in transfer payments (in a rich irony, the transfer payment estimate is based on the same voodoo econometric model that Heritage has long used to prop up administration claims that tax cuts pay for themselves).Now many of you probably have never heard of Robert Rector, but he's basically a human rottweiler that Heritage unleashes now and then to bare his teeth and growl at any Republican daring to betray Conservative Orthodoxy. He made his bones back during the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, in which he manned the Far-Right pole of opinion, demanding a categorical denial of federal assistance to non-citizens and to unwed mothers.The fact that Heritage is hyping Rector's Brown Peril "study" on immigration right now goes beyond its exceptional usefulness to all those right-wing talk show hosts who are using it to lend a patina of respectability to their fulminations on the subject. The House That Coors Built seems to have fully joined the conservative revolt against W, reinforcing the implicit conservative threat to take a dive in November if the Bushies don't straighten up and Fly Right.Even as Bush honked off conservatives last night, he couldn't seem to bring himself to get beyond mealy-mouthed generalizations about the legislation actually before Congress right now. Sure, he offered a veiled endorsement of the Senate compromise, and implicitly repudiated the House's build-a-wall-and-ship-'em-all-home approach. But when it comes to the House GOP, which is getting even more revved up in its nativism, his "come let us reason together" rhetoric last night was the functional equivalent of offering an olive branch to a wood chipper. He's falling between two stools, heavily.Employing another metaphor, a colleague of mine yesterday suggested that Bush's speech represented an effort to "have his cake and eat it, too." If so, it looks like he's managing to lose his cake and go hungry.
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May 12, 2006

Final Raids on the Treasury?

Yesterday the Senate approved yet another tax cut targeted to the very wealthy; the House having passed it earlier this week, on what Speaker Denny Hastert fatuously called "a day of celebration for the American people." (For a dyspeptic view of this development and its broader meaning, check out yesterday's New Dem Dispatch). It was, of course, styled as an effort to avoid a "tax increase," and its cost, of course, was disguised through the usual accounting tricks (most notably using a new Roth IRA rollover provision to attract taxable deposits, even though the long-term impact on revenues will be negative). And Republican leaders, of course, fully intend to enact another tax cut later this year, in part because they had to break up the package to keep it within budget limits and avoid a filibuster, but mostly because they want to hand out some more cash-candy to Republican constituencies just before the November elections.But there's a growing sense that the tax-cut parade is coming to an end, even if the GOP manages to hold onto Congress this November. The biggest fans of tax-cuts-world-without-end are conservatives who now understand their solons have no interest in cutting the spending necessary to keep the budget from drowning in red ink. And even in the financial community, some of the beneficiaries of the drive to exempt wealth from federal taxation are getting very nervous about the borrowing involved. As the Washington Post noted this morning:

[W]ith interest rates rising, the dollar falling and the budget deficit stuck at around $300 billion, tax experts warn that the tax code Bush has transformed may not survive to its Dec. 31, 2010, expiration date and that Congress may have to step in again because tax revenue will not meet all of the government's needs. "We have a train wreck waiting to happen," said C. Clint Stretch, director of tax policy at the accounting giant Deloitte & Touche.
So like bandits hauling off a final few items before the cops arrive, GOP congressional leaders are conducting what may prove to be their final raids on the Treasury. But the rest of us will be paying for them for a long, long time.
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May 10, 2006

A National Security Alternative

Yesterday, the Progressive Policy Institute (the DLC-affliliated think tank) released With All Our Might, a collection of essays on how Democrats would fight and win the war with jihadism, at a National Press Club event featuring Evan Bayh and Mark Warner. It's an important book, at a time when Democrats are trying to put together a credible vision for what we can offer if we take back Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Sure, it's very helpful that House Dems are promising they will implement the 9/11 commission report during the first 100 days of the next congressional session, but that's hardly a comprehensive natonal security platform. And with Republicans almost certain to try to fan persistent fears that Democrats aren't tough enough to keep Americans safe, we need something clear, positive, and sharply distinguishable from Bush policies, to say about the battle our country has been in since 9/11. Check out Monday's New Dem Dispatch for a quick summary of the book. And please don't be misled by news reports (which I fear may get echoed in the blogosphere) that frame the book, largely based on questions posed to speakers at the event, as part of some intra-party "fight" on national security, or on Iraq. The 19 national security wonks who contributed to With All Our Might are from all parts of the progressive spectrum, several of whom opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. The book does not have a chapter on Iraq, because the whole idea is to explain what Democrats would do on the broader issue of fighting jihadism, which the American people still care about deeply even if many of them have given up on the administration's Iraq adventure. And nobody who reads the book could think it represents a criticism of Democrats: the central thrust is to analyze the administration's and the Republican Party's failures of leadership--not just their incompetence, but their flawed ideology--and lay out an alternative agenda rooted in the progressive internationalist tradition. So check it out with an open mind, and remember the price that Democrats, and Americans, have paid for past Republican advantages on national security.
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May 9, 2006

Bloggers, the DLC, and a Progressive Consensus

There's a big ol' battle going on in the blogosphere sparked by a Jon Chait column on the war to purge Joe Lieberman, the reaction to Chait from a variety of would-be purgers, and his reaction to the reaction. I'm not going to bother with links here: just go to The New Republic's blog The Plank, and read Chait's several posts over the last couple of days, which provides plenty of links to the dialogue, or successive diatribes, if you wish. I'm not going to wade into this battleground at present, but do feel compelled to respond to a direct question from Kevin Drum based on an Atrios post about the consensus policy views of progressive bloggers. After citing Atrios' list, Kevin says: "I'm not an expert on the DLC's positions on everything, but it doesn't look to me like there's an awful lot there they'd argue with. (Though if anyone from the DLC wants to set me straight on this, I'll stand corrected.)"As a bit of an expert on the DLC's "positions on everything" based on 12 years' experience, let me go through Atrios' list and respond. 1. Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration.The DLC took no position on the bankruptcy bill; I opposed it, as did Marshall Wittmann. 2. Repeal the estate tax repeal .Totally, absolutely, adamantly, that has been the DLC's position.3. Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI.Check. A longstanding DLC position.4. Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)Check, with devilish details involving the DLC/PPI's dissent from the single-payer approach.5. Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation.Yup. We've offered an alternative approach involving a tailpipe emissions cap-and-trade system, but the urgency of better fuel efficiency standards is Holy Writ in these parts.6. Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.

Yes again, if "getting rid of abstinence-only education" doesn't mean getting ridding of any abstinence education.

7. Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code

Totally, and in excrutiating detail.

8. Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.

No to the first sentence, yes to the second.

9. Reduce corporate giveaways

Oh yes, for many years. The DLC/PPI helped popularize the very concept of getting rid of "corporate welfare," dating back to a late-1980s event we did with Ralph Nader. This principle has undergirded everything the DLC has said on the budget, the tax code, and state economic development policies.

10. Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan

Nope. We opposed the current plan, but think the problem is cost and complexity, not the basic idea of offering choice and competition, a la the federal employees' plan.

11. Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.

Not a subject the DLC specifically has addressed, but I have no problem with it.

12. Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too.

No specific DLC position, though I can't imagine anyone here having a problem with state licensing of medical marijuana, and while not embracing "decriminalization" of drugs, we have long opposed the "mandatory minimum" drug sentencing that stuffed the prison system with non-violent offenders in the 1980s and after.

13. Paper ballots

If this means outlawing electronic voting, no, but we've supported a requirement of paper receipts for electronic voting machines to ensure against fraud.

14. Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter.

Totally, and again, in ridiculous detail.

15. Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.

As part of a more comprehensive Social Security/Medicare reform package, definitely.

Then Atrios offers a few toss-offs:

Torture is badImprisoning citizens without charges is badPlaying Calvinball with the Geneva Conventions and treaties generally is badImprisoning anyone indefinitely without charges is badStating that the president can break any law he wants any time "just because" is bad.

Agreed on all points. Maybe nobody in the progressive blogosphere actually reads New Dem Dispatches or other institutional DLC utterings, preferring to rely on stereotypes, myths, or a few notable disagreements, but it's all there on the web site.

Now, by my rough count this represents something like 80% agreement--totally aside from the much higher percentage of agreement between left-bent bloggers and the DLC about the vast number of bad policies, terrible politics, and sheer incompetence associated with the Bush administration and the Republican Party. I guess this raises Chait's pointed question about the attitude of progressive bloggers to those Democrats who agree with them most of the time, but not all of the time.

But that, too, is a subject for another post. In the meantime: back to you, Kevin, and thanks for asking.


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May 8, 2006

Allen, Webb, and the Confederacy

One of the most predictable habits of today's Republicans is that when they get caught doing something disreputable, they try very hard to deflect attention by claiming some Democrat has done the same thing.This seems to be what's underway in Virginia, where there's a lot of buzz about Ryan Lizza's recent revelations in The New Republic concerning the boyhood Confeder-o-mania of Sen. George Allen, and its distinct echoes in his record as Governor of the Commonwealth during the 1990s.Before you could say "So's your old man," the conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch published a breathless article noting that one of Allen's Democratic opponents this fall, former Navy Secretary James Webb, spoke at a Confederate Memorial event in Virginia in 1990.I don't know if Allen's backers had anything to do with this article, but it hardly required deep oppo research, since the speech in question is displayed on Webb's own web page.And once you read the speech and think about it for a moment, the differences between Webb's and Allen's attachment to the Lost Cause couldn't be clearer.First and most importantly, Webb is a southerner with actual Confederate Army ancestors. Not so Allen, whose attachment to the Confederacy developed when he was a Golden Boy rich kid with no southern background. (This point about Allen is one I emphasized in a TPMCafe post, as did Jason Zengerle in the New Republic blog).Second of all, there's the timing of these events. Sure, Allen's folks will argue that his Confederate infatuation burgeoned into true love back in high school, while Webb's speech was a mere fifteen-years-and-change ago, when he was a former Cabinet member. But I think that gets it backwards. Webb did his speech long after the civil rights movement had triumphed over Jim Crow and the Confederacy had been consigned its place in the stormy history of the Republic; that, indeed, is a lot of what he talked about. When Allen was speeding around Southern California in his sporty Mustang with the Confederate flag plates, and wearing a Confederate flag pin in his high school yearbook, that symbol, especially outside the South, was synonymous with Jim Crow's defiant death throes. (And, as a later TNR piece explains, Allen kept this romance up well after he moved to Virginia and entered politics).And finally, there's the context of Webb's speech: at a Confederate Memorial event. I personally think this is the most crucial distinction of all. The main southern argument for getting the Battle Flag off state flags and public buildings is not that Confederate symbols should be abolished, but that they should be consigned to history instead of adopted as current ideological totems. This was, indeed, the main argument in the once-progressive Zell Miller's impassioned if unsuccessful 1993 Georgia State of the State address (disclosure: I was involved pretty heavily in drafting that speech): don't forget the Confederacy, or the terrible sacrifices of its soldiers and their families, but don't make the Lost Cause synonymous with the South as a whole, or allow it to be used for invidious racial or ideological purposes. As a Georgian who has long argued with my fellow crackers about the uses and abuses of Confederate symbols, I have read Webb's speech and personally found it irreproachable.I sort of doubt George Allen was just exhibiting an exotic historical interest in the Confederacy, interchangeable with, say, an enthusiasm for the War of the Roses. No, there's not much doubt what it meant to be a Yankee Confedero-phile in the late 1960s. The southerner in me always reacts to such phenomena by saying: "You're touching my stuff, and breaking it."So I hope nobody really buys the "everybody did it" idea about George Allen's strange past.
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May 7, 2006

Hillary and the Netroots

There's an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post today: none other than Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos invades the MSM to fire a shot across the bow of the Good Ship Hillary, suggesting that her (a) apparent disdain for the netroots, and (b) her identification with the D.C. Democratic Establishment, could imperil her presumed presidential candidacy in 2008.Now I don't presume to know a lot about the interactions, positive, negative or neutral, between Team Hillary and netroots worthies; I'll take Markos' word for it that Clinton's advisors haven't been giving bloggers and other cyber-activists a lot of love. I'll also play into the thought experiment that Clinton is definitely running for president; I'm not so sure, but obviously it could happen.But I do think Markos misses something important in drawing a direct parallel between Hillary Clinton and those "D.C. Establishment" candidates who got thrown off-balance by Howard Dean in 2004. Best I can tell from staring at polls for quite some time, Hillary Clinton has broad and deep support and approbation among actual, grassroots, rank-and-file Democrats around the country, based on many years in the brightest spotlight. Going into the 2004 race, there was no candidate with this kind of catholic appeal or folk-legend visibility, and that's one reason why Dean's incandescent campaign broke through so quickly (and perhaps one reason it collapsed when the contest got into the serious, vote-getting phase). I'm perfectly willing to agree that netroots support specifically, and activist support generally, is important, but in the end, it's all about votes.Maybe I'm wrong and Markos is right on that score, but the part of his op-ed I have to take greatest issue with is the familiar argument that Hillary is handicapped by her husband's role in the decline of the Democratic Party and the election of George Bush. We've all heard this litany before: Clinton never got more than 50% of the popular vote (nor did the previous three Democratic nominees, or for that matter, two of the three prior to that); Democrats lost Congress during Clinton's presidency (a process any political scientist will tell you had been building for decades, and that began slowly reversing during the last three cycles of the Clinton years); and of course, the usual stuff about Clinton's "third way" policies alienating the all-important activist base (which is probably why he was wildly popular with most activists when he left office, and why so many of them still pine for someone like him). And even Markos concedes that Clinton produced "eight years of peace and prosperity," which ought to make the Clinton name a bit less poisonous than this column suggests.In any event, Markos' op-ed is a pretty faithful reflection of the attitudes toward HRC you see steadily circulating around the blogosphere like a breeze through a wind farm. So it's probably very useful for those who read WaPo but don't know blogs from hogs to catch a whiff of it today.
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May 2, 2006

Bush Meltdown

Via Chris Bowers, I'm happy to report that the latest Gallup Poll shows George W. Bush reaching new lows in popularity, registering a 34/63 approval/disapproval rating, getting him seriously into the bad company of presidents in trouble, from (second-term) Harry Truman, to Richard Nixon, to Jimmy Carter and to his own old man. I'm not so old that I can remember Truman, though I am aware that his deep unpopularity after his upset 1948 election win fed a Republican congressional landslide in 1950, and then the Eisenhower landslide of 1952. But I do remember Nixon's fall from grace very graphically (feeding the 1974 Democratic landslide and then the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976), and of course the free-fall Bush I went into thanks to his overt confusion and indifference over every aspect of domestic policy. Most of all I remember my fellow Georgian Carter (I was actually a Carter volunteer the first time he ran for governor, in 1966), whose well-earned post-presidential rehabilitation has obscured his own W.-like reputation in the late 1970s for total fecklessness. I will certainly never forget the day after the revelation of the Desert One disaster--the Iranian hostage effort that expired when U.S. helicopters collided en route to an aborted rescue. As it happens, I spoke that morning to my political mentor, a man who had worked for Carter in Atlanta, and who observed: "Well, Jimmy's just established himself as the first president to screw up a one-car funeral." George W. Bush has established an equal reputation for incompetence, and unlike Carter, has also richly earned a reputation for lying to the American people on a vast number of issues. He seems to be on a trajectory to combine the worst perceptions of Carter and Nixon: a president over his head, who can't tell the truth to save his own political life.
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May 1, 2006

Goosing the Gas

The incoherence and attempted demagoguery of the beseiged Republican Party are becoming impossible to overstate. Witness the latest Big Idea on dealing with gas prices, unveiled last week by Senate GOP Leader Bill Frist: mailing $100 checks to 100 million Americans to help them fill up at the pump this summer. Check in with your favorite economist and ask him or her about the genius of this "plan." It basically involves borrowing 10 billion smackers--yes, 10 billion--and tossing it into the marketplace to subsidize higher gas prices. The Frist "plan," of course, isn't intended to do anything serious about rising gas prices. Its rationale is purely political: buying votes just before the midterm elections. There are plenty of bad ideas bouncing around Washington right now about gas prices. As the Progressive Policy Institute's Jan Mazurek explained last week, all the frantic casting-about for a short term response to higher gas prices ignores, and in some cases cuts directly against, the long-term solutions that the Bush administration and Congress have been rejecting over the last five-and-a-half years, especially a serious effort to build fuel-efficient and cleaner cars. The world's insatiable lust for oil isn't going to go away any time soon, and the only sure way to keep petroleum prices from wrecking our economy and wrecking family budgets is to reduce our dependence on this perilous energy source. Throwing money at every gas pump in America is a worse than unserious proposal.
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Save Darfur

Yesterday's rally on the National Mall organized by the Coalition for Darfur didn't break any attendance records, but the remarkable diversity of the crowd did turn a lot of heads. As the Post's front-page headline put it: "Divisions Cast Aside in Cry for Darfur:"

[The rally] brought together people from dozens of backgrounds and affiliations, many of whom strongly disagree politically and ideologically on many issues....Among the speakers were Rabbi David Saperstein; Al Sharpton; Joe Madison, a black liberal radio talk show hose who has been pushing the issue; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; rap and fashion mogul Russell Simmons; a former basketball star Manute Bol, who is himself Sudanese.
Perhaps most striking of all were two speakers: Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, the great living reminder of the Holocaust; and Paul Rusesabagina, the hero who inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda. Said Wiesel: "As I Jew, I'm here because when we needed people to helpu us, nobody came. Therefore, we're here." Added Rusesabagina: "As Rwanda has been abandoned, Darfur is also abandoned."Let's hope those holding national power within earshot of the Mall were listening.
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