Relying on Beat Reporters

June 28th, 2010

This Greenwald post does a lot to illuminate the sorry state of America’s mainstream journalism industry, but I want to focus on this one aspect of the problem, for a moment:

These two segments should be put into a museum, or a journalism class, to illustrate what journalism is supposed to be (Hastings’ views) and what it has actually degenerated into (Logan’s). That’s why the passage in Politico which ended up being deleted — on how regular beat reporters would never have published these McChrystal quotes out of fear of losing favor with their subjects they cover and due to an oozing identification with the powerful — was so revealing. Logan has done good and courageous reporting over the years, but she clearly sees herself as part of the government and military, rather than an adversarial watchdog over it, and that’s what makes her views so illustrative…

I don’t want to defend Logan by any stretch, but to some extent I think he’s off here. Namely, I think this is just the nature of being a beat reporter at a daily publication. The demand for producing is such that a reporter can’t spend days, let alone weeks, putting a story together, so their job is highly dependent on their sources. A beat reporter who burned a source, even for a very big, important story, would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to do their job afterwards. More than being a knock on the reporter, I think it’s a knock on the job itself, and the real problem isn’t so much individuals working within the limitations of their job, but the larger industry’s elevation of beat reporters at daily publications to the top of the journalistic pile. There needs to be much more space for investigative/freelance writers who have more freedom to serve their audience, and non-daily publications who have the time to allow big stories to develop than newspapers. It’s also why I think fears over the decline of the newspaper industry in particular are overblown; other than being aggregators, they just don’t serve that large a purpose in the larger media sphere.

On Labor, Primaries, and Pressure

June 11th, 2010

I wasn’t really planning on writing on this silly spat between the White House and organized labor over the Democratic primary in Arkansas, but there’s a few different angles I want to address. For starters, while I’ll agree that this never should have been said publicly, and if the White House finds out who the source is they probably ought to relieve them of their duties, let’s get one thing straight; the White House official is right.Labor has every right to do what it wants with its money, but it definitely wasted its resources in this race. For one thing, Halter was hardly a progressive lion, and likely wouldn’t vote much differently than Lincoln in the Senate. For another thing, Arkansas just isn’t a state where labor has a lot of clout, making their backing somewhat less valuable than it might have been elsewhere. Indeed, much of Lincoln’s campaign was premised around attacking Halter for being pushed by national labor unions.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that the message was sent anyway; that incumbents better not cross labor less they make your life miserable. Perhaps, but I think the people pushing this line the hardest are looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. The bottom line is that incumbent re-election rates are very high in the U.S., and they’re downright astronomical for sitting Senators in primaries. And, of course, Blanche Lincoln is now a mark in favor of re-election. So even if we assume that labor or other factions of the party can give an incumbent a headache in the primary, the simple fact remains that the incumbent is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary, and much more likely to get beaten in a general election (especially if they’re in a conservative state) than in a primary. For someone who’s only concerned about getting re-elected, this isn’t really a tough call to make at all.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of the White House’s ability to pressure Senators, which Greenwald raises again in typically dense fashion. Yglesias and Bernstein dispose of the nonsense in good fashion, but I’d simply add that, again, there’s a very simple balance of power here; while troubled incumbents may want White House backing in elections, it’s at least technically possible for them to win without it. On the other hand, the White House can’t get its agenda through Congress without sufficient votes from members. With 40 Repuplicans lined up to oppose his agenda no matter what, Obama had to keep every Democrat on board for healthcare reform. If Blanche Lincoln refused to support the bill, that was it. There was no clever way out of things; it was get Blanche Lincoln to support the effort or give up on comprehensive reform. Period. The leverage between individual Senators at the tipping point of votes and the White House is always going to tilt in favor of the Senators (at least in domestic policy) because they have votes in the Senate, and you have to get votes in the Senate to pass bills. The question is how do you get those votes. Greenwald wants to imagine a world where you get them by beating marginal Senators with sticks until they’re cowed like powerless children into doing what you want them to, but that world quite simply doesn’t exist. Senators just aren’t powerless, and thanks to the filibuster, they’re holding the trump card more often than not. The national party or various factions of the party might be able to make life difficult for them, hell they may even be able to slay the dragon, but that vote in the Senate means that the Senator is going to be able to return the favor and then some as long as they have it.

And losing primary challenges does nothing to alter that balance.

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MLB Umpires

June 1st, 2010

Is it just me, or does it seem like someone took a nasty piss in the collective corn flakes of Major League Baseball umpires. First Balking Bob Davidson gets in an argument with Carl Crawford and Joe Maddon that would embarrass even the most belligerent drunk buffoon at a bar, then the embarrassing and pathetic Joe West tossed Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen after calling Buehrle for two balks and generally making a spectacle of himself, and now Bill Hohn has gone looking for a fight, tossing out Astros ace Roy Oswalt in yesterday’s game. What is going on? I’m somewhat tempted to think this all started when West took the liberty to call the Yankees and Red Sox “embarrassing and pathetic” for their slow pace of play at the beginning of the year, something that’s just completely indefensible coming from an official, but the truth is, all of these guys have long track records with this sort of thing, particularly for Hohn and West, and nothing has ever happened to them before. Indeed, West is President of the world umpire’s union. So really, why shouldn’t they do this sort of thing? They know good and well nothing is going to happen to them. If Hohn can survive brazenly antagonizing the Braves, including calling time-out himself to go argue with a manager in the dugout, what can’t he survive?

Baseball umpires get a lot of flak for blown calls and odd missing balls and strikes. God knows I’ve criticized them for that multiple times. There are varying degrees of thought as to how bad the problem is, and that’s fine. But this isn’t about blown calls or idiosyncratic strike zones, it’s about the professional conduct of officials. That ought to be non-negotiable. Can you imagine an NFL official criticizing a team for passing too much, causing more clock stoppages than a team who runs the ball 30 times a game? Or an NBA official calling a time-out to stop and argue a foul call with a coach sitting on his bench? Of course not, because these officials would be fired immediately afterwards. And they should, because this sort of thing damages the integrity of the game. And not just because it calls into question the official’s credibility (and it does), but because it can have actual effects on the game. Roy Oswalt getting ejected forces the Astros to go to an inferior reliever, and makes them over-tax their bullpen as well, something that will affect their game-management for a week or more. Let me repeat that, a decision made by an umpire will have effects on games played for the next week.

Officials wield a lot of power on a baseball field, they need to wield that power judiciously. Games, to say nothing of seasons, should not turn on the bad attitude of an umpire on a power trip. Additionally, this isn’t good for the umpires either. Baseball umpires get enough criticism for missed calls, and several people probably aren’t giving them enough credit for doing the difficult job their taxed with. And nothing is hurting the umpire who maybe makes an honest mistake on a call, but nonetheless conducts himself with professionalism and integrity at all times than the Hohns and Wests of the world carrying on like arrogant buffoons. More than just baseball, those umpires, as well as the umpires union, need to speak out and marginalize these bad apples, for the good of the game, as well as their own.

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Flotilla Attack Only a Small Measure of Israeli Barbarism

June 1st, 2010

Well would you look at that; the bastion of liberal democracy and respect for human right in the Middle East has caused a ruckus by having their military board a humanitarian mission’s boat (flying the flag of a NATO country), killing at least 10 peace activists on board and injuring dozens more. There’s a lot of things worth saying about how stupid the attack on the relief flotilla was. I don’t think Israel has done this much damage to their (already shoddy) reputation in decades, and there’s basically no way to spin this as benefitting them. Egypt is rescinding their assistance of the Gaza blockade in response, and even the United States is an a bit of a jam here, because Turkey is a NATO ally. If they decide to make a major fuss about it, reflexive, unlimited defense of Israel by the United States could threaten the foundation of the most important defense agreement of the 20th century, and further isolate the US from the rest of the West.

The real story here, however, should be the blockade of Gaza itself. Israel has asserted that they offered to let the flotilla send materials through Israel to be inspected, but this is absurd for a couple of reasons. The first is the casual assumption that the blockade is legal, and that Israel has a ght in the first place to decide what does and doesn’t get sent to Gaza from other countries. The second is that Israel knows good and well that the entire point of the flotilla was to take banned  materials into Gaza, namely building materials Israel has refused to allow in even after they destroyed most of the territory in 2008. Because of this, Gaza remains largely un-rebuilt after the violence, a situation compounding the already miserable existence of the people living in the territory.

It’s very difficult to comprehend the amount of suffering Gazans deal with everyday. You’re talking about the most densely populated piece of land in the world, an urban landscape with 1.5 million people living on it. And it’s basically been demolished. There’s food shortages, lack of electricity, lack of running water, disease, hunger, oppression, and just general misery. And yes, much of that is compounded by the harsh rule of Hamas as well. But this is one of the weakest, most devastated populations on Earth, and the Israeli blockade is just indescribably cruel. Israeli representatives are arguing today that this wasn’t a humanitarian effort, but rather an attempt to end the blockade, and to that I say; I certainly hope so. This blockade needs to be ended, and if Israel won’t do it of its own volition, then the world needs to make it clear to Israel that they won’t respect it. It’s not as if there isn’t precedent. And if it’s that important to Israel, let them face the choice of confronting British, French, German, and, yes, American boats and planes in the effort to physically enforce their brutal oppression.

The world has been jarred to its senses by the brazen umbrage of Israel’s actions yesterday, hopefully it winds up shining some light on the brutal policy those killed were seeking to end, and prompts some action from the west to alleviate the intolerable suffering of over a million Palestinians in Gaza.

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The Less Senate Involvement the Better

May 28th, 2010

Subbing for Ezra, Jonathan Bernstein and Dylan Matthews both have excellent posts on improving the Senate confirmation problems. I see a lot of Jonathan’s points, but I think Dylan is more correct here; the answer is to drastically reduce the number of positions that require Senate confirmation. In theory, the idea is that confirmation gives Congress an extra check on the executive, as well as prevents unqualified cronies from gaining key jobs, but in practice I don’t see any evidence it actually does that. The Senate confirmed Brownie, after all. And in that vein, having a lot of positions requiring confirmation makes it more likely that the Senate will miss something. Reducing the number of appointments the Senate has to monitor will get those positions more scrutiny. As it is, the process is just becoming a tool for the opposition to cause headaches for the President by preventing them from fully staffing their administration, as well as more business to use to grind legislative business to a halt.

And, of course, there’s the other lesson Brownie left for future Presidents; having a competent administration is in your political best interests. If that fails to compel a PResident to appont qualified underlings, I don’t have faith in the Senate to stop them. And that’s to say nothing of the general idea that giving one branch veto power over the staffing decisions of another is rather non-co-equal.

Maybe Lindsey is Right

April 26th, 2010

Yesterday, in the context of criticizing a dumb Thomas Friedman column, I more or less took for granted that Lindsey Graham’s threat to abandon working with Democrats on climate change if they took up immigration reform next was evidence of bad faith, especially since Graham has been supportive of the immigration reform effort. Jon Chait doesn’t see it that way:

Hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it seems unfair to accuse him of having “negotiated in bad faith.” Graham has been painstakingly attempting to assemble a political and business coalition for legislation to mitigate climate change. He has also been working on immigration reform, but the Democrats’ weak signals of interest before last week have helped contribute to an atmosphere where nobody expected a bill to advance this year, and thus little headway has been made. There has been no House immigration bill, whereas the House has passed a climate bill already. Graham was set to unveil his bill on Monday when Harry Reid pulled the carpet out from under him by announcing that immigration would come first and climate — which gets harder to do as the elections gets closer — probably never.

Yglesias, Ezra, and Drum all  more or less agree.

For my part, for the sake of not getting stuck on a somewhat minor point, I’ll assume Graham is, indeed, working with Democrats in good faith here, and really does want to see some sort of action on climate this year, and he’s angry because he feels Reid has decided not to go that route, essentially hanging him out to dry. It’s understandable, in a way, but at the same time, that just makes Graham’s tantrum more bizarre. After all, if Graham really wants to achieve something on climate but thinks Democratic leadership has decided against it, the last thing it would make sense for Graham to do is bail on the effort. That doesn’t make action on climate more likely, and gives Democrats an angle to blame Republicans for the lack of action on climate. In every way, it makes it less likely that climate legislation will be taken up this year, if you assume that Graham means it at least.

The key point here is the last paragraph in Ezra’s post. We sort of take it for granted that Congress can only handle one issue at a time, but there’s no reason that has to be true. Graham is ostensibly supportive of both climate legislation and immigration reform, and if he remains committed to getting something done on either or both fronts this year, he can let Harry Reid know that he’d like for work to be done on both. Reid is backing off somewhat today in the face of the amount of work that’s already been done on climate, as well as Graham’s threat, I’d imagine, but if there’s a Republican or two committed to working with the Democrats on one, or both, issues, there’s no reason something can’t be done on climate and immigration this year.

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How Much Does ‘Too Big to Fail’ Matter?

April 26th, 2010

One thing that’s throwing me off a bit in the debate over how much effort to put towards breaking up large banks is this notion of focusing on the idea of being “too big to fail.” That is, an institution getting so large that its failure will send intolerable ripples through the rest of the industry/economy, making it imperative that the public not allow such a failure. This is, obviously, the motivating factor behind the bailout of the financial industry and, to a lesser extent, General Motors.  But it seems to me that the concept of resolution authority mostly eliminates that need. The problem with allowing even a relatively small firm like Lehman Brothers to fail is the overall impact it has on the entire industry, essentially creating a panic. Given those sorts of circumstances, some sort of public authority needs to make sure a failure doesn’t happen. But if the FDIC has the authority to seize failed shadow banks and unwind them orderly and slowly, that theoretically takes care of the problems associated with panics and failures. This, of course, is why we don’t have panics related to deposit banks anymore; there’s a process in place for managing these kinds of failures that’s well understood by the industry, and people can anticipate what it means for their firms. Plus, receivership eliminates the problem of failed banks flooding the market with assets, devaluing similar assets on everyone else’s balance sheets. In this sort of structure, no one is too big to fail, because receivership is there as a sort of safety net to slowly manage the collapse of the bank. There are other problems associated with large banks to be sure, so I think the excess attention paid to failures is probably distorting more than it’s clarifying.

Why Is The Mustache Getting Paid?

April 25th, 2010

Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times today is just gob-smackingly stupid. That’s fairly normal for Friedman, of course, but today’s is a real doozy even by his standards. Here’s how he opens:

I’ve been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I’m sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 percent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion:

Become the Green Tea Party.
Oh no, it gets even dumber:

The manifesto is easy, too: “We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America’s national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 “Patriot Fee” on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt.”

This is just beyond stupid. For one, there’s the name. Do you really see the right-wing calling themselves the “green tea” anything? The people who use arugala and dijon mustard as short-hand for effete elitism now? Yeah, didn’t think so. But more than that, this just kind of ignores the fact that, you know, the teabaggers are the right-wing. They don’t care about the climate. They don’t believe in global warming. They’re the assholes who tell you how they’re going to leave all their lights on or drive around as much as they can in their SUV on Earth Day for the sheer joy of being assholes. And, oh yeah, they’re not big fans of taxes either. I suppose Friedman would probably argue that his “Patriot Fee” isn’t a tax, but good luck getting them to buy it. But what’s extra confounding is that Friedman concedes that he knows this is all stupid nonsense:

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

Ok, so you just wasted 300 words. Awesome. What’s the point then?

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical center, a center committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

This critical piece of energy legislation was supposed to be unveiled by the three senators on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed late Saturday because of Senator Graham’s fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House were planning to take up a highly controversial immigration measure before the energy bill.

If this is what the Obama administration is doing — to score a few cheap political points with Hispanics — it is a travesty. The bipartisan energy bill is ready to go. It is far from perfect. Indeed, it is a shame the fossil fuel industries still have such a stranglehold on Congress. But it’s the best we’re going to get, and we have got to get started. However, without a centrist Green Tea Party movement — one that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits — even this effort will never pass.

A couple of things here. First of all, what the hell would a “radical center” even look like? The center, by definition, is defined by other points. So a “radical” center, I suppose, would dogmatically insist on plopping itself right in the middle of the left and the right and refusing to move? Or refusing to acknowledge that maybe being precisely in the middle isn’t the right place to be? I mean, where does one find the middle of something like the debate over whether or not to invade Iraq? Declare that they won’t support invading Iraq, but that they could get behind invading the Ivory Coast? It’s all very confusing to me, as these poorly thought out pieces of pretension from writers like Friedman usually are. But I digress.

The other problem here is that this is just drastically ignorant of the underlying politics. Lindsay Graham has, in the past, been a supporter of immigration reform efforts. He’s touted his support for comprehensive immigration reform, in fact. There’s no obvious reason why moving forward with legislation on that issue should cause him to drop support for another worthwhile bill he’s supported. It’s a naked political ploy by Graham to turn his back on the bill, and gum up two Democratic initiatives at the same time ahead of the election. If Democrats acquiesce and shelve immigration reform, Graham will just find another reason to oppose the bill, the same way he used the passage of healthcare reform to pivot to a position of being unable to support immigration reform anymore. But then, even if Democrats do go ahead with immigration reform and climate legislation, it doesn’t really make much sense to blame them for Graham’s temper tantrum. Lindsay Graham is a big boy. He’s a United States Senator fergawdsake. And, at best, he’s using his potential support for a bill he ostensibly supports, regarding an issue he ostensibly recognizes as being vitally important, to ransom the very large Senate majority into dropping another item on their agenda. That’s despicable behavior, particularly if you actually believe Graham appreciates how serious climate issues are. And yet, Friedman is chastising the majority over it, rather than calling out the United States Senator acting like a psychopathic adolescent.

I don’t really expect major newspaper columnists to write intelligent things anymore, but it still puzzles me why publications that seem to regard themselves seriously, like the Times, pays people who seem to know nothing about American politics to write about the subject on such valuable space. Especially if they’re having financial problems.

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Distrust of Government at Historic Highs*

April 20th, 2010

This poll result from Pew has been getting a lot of play across the internet today, but I don’t think it really means as much as people are making it out to. To put it simply, I’ d expect distrust of government to be very high during economic downturn. The government plays a sort of abstract role in giving people an entity to project their resentsments, frustrations, and anxiaties onto, and you would expect that to go up during a severe recession. The fact that 61% of respondents want the government to do more to crack down on Wall Street supports this idea, and shoots through any notion that this means what people want is “small government.” Via Mistermix, this chart of some of the polls internals is quite amusing as well:

In other words, Republicans don’t trust the government, unless a Republican is in the White House. In that case, Republicans trust the government more than any other demographic has since before the Vietnam War and Watergate. The right-wing echo chamber has certainly done its job hasn’t it?

Stick a Fork In Mitt

April 19th, 2010

A while back, I opined that I didn’t really agree with the larger sentiment Mitt Romney’s signing of Romneycare in Massachusetts was necessarily going to doom his chances to win the Republican nomination in 2012. After reading this response to a Newsweek interviewer though, consider me converted:

Back in February 2007, you said you hoped the Massachusetts plan would “become a model for the nation.” Would you agree that it has?


I don’t … You’re going to have to get that quote. That’s not exactly accurate, I don’t believe.

I can tell you exactly what it says: “I’m proud of what we’ve done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.”


It is a model for the states to be able to learn from. During the campaign, I was asked if I was proposing that what I did in Massachusetts I would do for the nation. And the answer was absolutely not. Our plan is a state plan. It is a model for other states—if you will, the nation—it is a model for them to look at what we’ve accomplished and to better it or to create their own plans.

The issue here isn’t so much the fact that Romney signed a bill similar to the Affordable Care Act while he was Governor of Massachusetts, it’s that he simply hasn’t learned his lesson from 2008. To be blunt, from August to November 2007, the nomination was Romney’s to lose. And lose it he did. Romney’s problem was a pretty simple one; he expeded too many resources and energy trying to appeal to all elements of the conservative movement, rather than identifying a particular base of support and charting a path to the nomination by riding those voters through a very crowded field. This manifested itself most obviously in Iowa, where the nominating caucuses are disproportionately dominated by evangelicals on the GOP side, and where Romney tried to re-invent himself as a committed social conservatives. His part positions on social issues made this unbelievable, to say the least, and at the end of the day evangelicals simply weren’t willing to vote for a Mormon either. The overall effect of this was to hand Romney a defeat in Iowa, weakening him in New Hampshire, where McCain was already surging by occupying the ground a right-ward trending Romney had vacated. Had Romney stuck to a more socially moderate, economically conservative, business candidate and written off Iowa, he could have won New Hampshire, knocking McCain out in the process, easily won Michigan and Nevada, and then knocked Giuliani out by winning Florida, setting up a head to head showdown with Huckabee on Super Tuesday, which Romney would have won handily, delivering him the nomination in basically the same fashion McCain won it.

For his current predicament, well, Romney has really stepped in it. But to put it bluntly, running away from Romneycare simply isn’t a viable strategy. It’s not like Romney can hide from it, and as you would hope he learned from his last debacle, the things he’s said in public are easily retrievable now. I suppose he’s at least trying to couch the difference between his reform and Obama’s in federalist terms, but it seems to me that only works if you imagine the conservative base is only upset that it’s the federal government implementing the policy, and would be fine with states doing it, which seems unlikely. The only chance Romney has to survive this is to own his record and defend it. That means articulating why the mandate is necessary, and basically supporting the core elements of the bill, while finding someting more peripheral, like the funding mechanisms, to attack. Is that strategy a bit of a hail mary? Absolutely, but it’s better than unconvincingly running from his own record and lying about what he’s said in the past, which will eventually just end up alienating him from everyone. At least standing by his record to some degree gives him a chance to win some supporters. And Romney has the advantage of being able to talk rings around the other likely candidates for the 2012 nomination on economic matters, plus a legitimate background in business to reinforce his capitalist credentials. The problem is that he’ll actually have to grow something of a background, and stop looking for ways to appeal to get the vote of every Republican in the country.

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Whither the Teabaggers?

April 19th, 2010

Kevin Drum wonders how much longer the Tea Parties have before they flame out:

My take on the tea partiers is that they’re basically a 21st century version of the Birchers of the 60s. Except that where the Birchers had to rely on mimeograph machines to get out their message, the tea partiers have Fox News and the internet. At first glance, this is nothing but bad news: the Birchers were bad enough as it was, so just think what kind of damage they could have done with modern communications technology.

But maybe not! Being limited to flyers and PTA meetings might have slowed the rise of the Birchers, but it also made them a fairly long-lived movement. The tea parties, conversely, skyrocketed to fame in just a few months. And we all know what happens to novelty acts that skyrocket to fame: most of them plummet back to earth within a year or two. We just get bored too quickly these days, and the media moves on to new things. So it’s possible that the tea parties peaked too fast and don’t have much longer to live. In fact, my sense is that the media is starting to get bored with them already.

They’ll certainly last through the November election, but I wonder if they’ll be able to keep up a head of steam much after that?

There’s really two questions here-how long can the teabaggers last and how long will the media remain interested-and the important thing to remember when answering the question is the same in both cases. At the end of the day, no predictions about the tea parties can be made without reminding yourself that there’s nothing all that special about the teabaggers. Rather, they’re just run of the mill right-wing talk radio listeners who have taken to making a spectacle of themselves now that they’re in the opposition. So, in that sense, they’ll always be there, much as the talk radio audience and general right-wing fringe has always been there. How long will they be able to keep up the public spectacle of it all? I doubt that will last much longer, but I could be wrong, although I’m not sure that matters either way. I think it’s more important to keep in mind that much of the media coverage of the teabaggers has been driven by the fact that it was a non-election year, and so therefore anything that provided a narrative of overt conflict-with-theater was bound to attract media attention. But with an election in 2010, there’s less business attraction to the teabaggers for the cablers, and the tea parties will probably fade into the general noise of the election. They are the Republican base, after all, and I don’t really expect them to act much differently now than they ever have, or the media to cover them any differently. So once the campaign season really heats up, expect the tea parties to run out of steam, whether because the GOP fully co-opts it, or because the media loses interest, in which case I suspect most teabaggers will as well.

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Frum Thinks Dems Harder on Court Nominees

April 12th, 2010

While a lot of liberals, myself included, have appreciated David Frum’s criticisms of the right, and particularly right-wing media, of late, it’s worth being reminded from time to time that Frum is still a conservative, is still an admirer of many aspects of the Bush administration, still has nutty views on foreign policy, and is still out to spread a positive message for the GOP. So I think his latest column is pretty helpful to that end. The premise is that Democrats, not Republicans, have been the “party of no” when it comes to court nominees, not Republicans. Frum starts:

Party of no? When it comes to Supreme Court nominations, the GOP is a flock of baby lambs compared with their opposites on the Democratic side.The past two Democratic presidents have named three justices between them: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All glided painlessly to confirmation.

It’s certainly true that Breyer and Ginsburg were easily confirmed, what with their unanimous votes and all, but with Sotomayor your mileage may vary. Sotomayor was confirmed by a vote of 68-31, which is a wide enough margin, but with only 40 Republicans in the Senate at the time, that means 75% of the Senate Republican Caucus voted against her nomination. And this was after a relentless campaign of racial resentment against her nomination. So I suppose “painlessly” is a bit subjective there. Moving on:

Compare that with the mayhem inflicted on Republican choices. Two of President Nixon’s nominees were rejected by the Senate. Ditto for one of Ronald Reagan’s choices (another withdrew shortly after he was nominated). One of President George H.W. Bush’s choices, Clarence Thomas, was confirmed after a fight that still ranks as perhaps the most vicious in confirmation history.

This is all obviously true, but what’s interesting is that Frum doesn’t really expound on these nominees, and why they ran into trouble. Let’s examine this record of failure, shall we? Nixon’s first nominee to replace Abe Fortas on the court was Clement Haynsworth, who was immediately dogged with a record that was favorably disposed towards segregation and white supremacism. Many have argued that this was unfair, and that Haynsworth was rejected as payback for Republicans forcing Fortas off the Court, but the accusation was there nonetheless, and 55 Senators voted against confirming Haynsworth. Nixon’s next nominee was Harold Carswell, who was also dogged by accusations of racism, although these accusations were backed up by a speech Carswell had given years earlier in which he extolled his committment to…white supremacism. Carswell repudiated the speeches once he was nominated, but was still rejected by the Senate. That Nixon’s first two nominees were dogged by credible accusations of racism seems pretty relevant to this discussion. Moving on to Reagan we get Robert Bork, who was defeated with 58 Senators voting against him, including 6 Republicans, and Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew his nomination after it was discovered he had lacked to indulge in some pot smoking in his Harvard offices with students. Again, something the seems worth mentioning for contextual purposes. Finally we get Thomas, who faced serious allegations of sexual harrassment, and yet was still confirmed by the Democratic Senate. When you actually look at these rejected nominees, their rejection seems much less remarkable than what Frum lets on. If anything, the remarkable thing to note is that Thomas was confirmed, and that Republicans are still so convinced the allegations against him were nothing but a vicious smear campaign.

But wait, there’s more:

It’s hard to argue that the difference is due to the superior quality of the Democratic choices. Ginsburg’s views were and are at least as controversial as Robert Bork’s. Not only Bork, but two other Republican nominees (Clement Haynsworth and Douglas Ginsburg) could show legal credentials that brightly outshone Sotomayor‘s.

I suppose Frum is technically sufficiently hedged with subjective language here but, pardon me, this is complete bullshit. I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder and all that, but frankly I’d love to see Frum try to justify his claim that Ginsburg is “at least as controversial” as Bork in her views. It’s just preposterous on the face of it, especially considering that Ginsburg was nominated at a time when the legacies of bona fide liberal justices like Marshall and Blackmun were still fresh. Douglas Ginsburg certainly had impeccable qualifications, but again, he withdrew amidst revelations of drug related impropriety. And that’s to say nothing of Bork’s role in the infamous Saturday Night Massacre. As for a Haynsworth and Sotomayor, I suppose this is subjective, again, but unless Frum has a compelling argument to back this up, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call bullshit again. Haynsworth went to Harvard Law, was first appointed to the federal bench in 1957, when President Eisenhower appointed him to the 4th Circuit, and then nominated for the Supreme Court in 1970. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, was appointed to the District Court in 1992 and then the 1st Circuit in 1998, before being nominated for the Supreme Court in 2009. So Sotomayor has an academic profile that stacks up against pretty much everyone, and had a longer tenure on the federal bench before being nominated to the Supreme Court. So while I suppose it’s possible Frum has some metric by which Haynsworth is more impressive than Sotomayor, the idea that Sotomayor’s formal credentials are “brightly outshone” by Haynsworth’s is just laughable.

The rest of the column is mostly boilerplate stuff that I just don’t agree with in general, and even if it were less objectionable, the highly misleading, inappropriately vague, and laughable-in-parts opening would still damn the entire column. Thus, while it doesn’t really amount to much in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth keeping in mind that Frum is still a Bushie at heart, and still perfectly dishonest when it suits his ends, no matter how many times he criticizes Rush Limbaugh.

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Community Organizers

April 11th, 2010

Count me in as someone who just doesn’t get the right’s obsession with denigrating community organizers. Aside from the offensives of it all, which Benen lays out nicely, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. At least in the context of the 2008 election it was meant to be a shorthand for “Barack Obama is inexperienced.” Attacks against your opponent’s perceived lack of experience has pretty much never worked in modern American Presidential politics, but what else did the Republicans have to work with after 8 years of Bush? But now, Obama is the actual President. Only 42 other individuals in the history of the United States have done that. And even though he’s only been President for 16 months, that’s infinitely more experience in the job than any of the Republicans criticizing him have. Sarah Palin isn’t very bright, but even she has to realize that it would be absurd for a former half-term Governor and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska to argue they have more relative experience for the Presidency than the incumbent President…right?

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How Do You Cut Defense Spending

April 8th, 2010

Responding to Ezra’s musing about the political feasibility of cutting defense spending, Yglesias writes:

The most relevant issue, when thinking about cuts, is thinking about the political fight that ensues. If a President proposed cutting the defense budget and then you had a ton of stories in the press where senior military officers fret off the record that the cuts will endanger America, and every television network trotted out a former general with undisclosed ties to defense contractors as an “independent analyst” to condemn the cuts, and if active duty soldiers sent emails to their civilian family and friends complaining about the cuts, and if think tank experts who depend on cooperation with the military to do their research either complained about the cuts or else stayed silent, then I think you’d have a giant political fiasco on your hands.The relevant issue here, in other words, is that the military is the most trusted institution in America and then on top of that the defense sector of the economy has a lot of money and economic reach. Consequently, it’s very political difficult for a president to do anything that provokes the ire of the defense establishment whether or not it polls well in the abstract. This seems to me to be a huge problem in American political life, but it’s not obvious to me what steps will resolve it.

I’d say Matt is right in his estimation of the political conflict trying to substantially cut defense spending would ensue, but I think the answer to the question of what steps would make it more feasible are much more obvious.

First of all, you’d need a President who was committed to reigning in military spending as a first priority. This seems pretty self-explanatory. Secondly, for better or worse, you need a Republican President. The counter-intuitiveness of a Republican who thought we spent too much money on the Pentagon would make it slightly harder to demonize the effort as some pacifistic military hatefest out of hand, and provide some political cover. Plus, Congressional Republicans are much more apt to fall in line with what they’re told, so a Republican President could probably bring a handful of Congressional votes a Democratic President simply couldn’t get. Finally, you’d need a President with military experience, and experience that reaches into senior command. Think Dwight Eisenhower. It’s rather hard to accuse former generals of hating the military or not being sufficiently knowledgeable about the needs of the military at large.  Conservative hawks intent on demonizing the President would immediately look like lunatics, and hawkswho wanted more credibility would have to reflexively acknowledge the President’s credibility. In other words, you’d need President Petraeus to agree that we spend way too much money on the military, and that this is a big problem that desperately needs to be fixed. Would that be enough to shift the narrative and win the necessary votes in Congress? It’s hard to say, but it’s the only realistic path to that end I see in the near term.

The Benefits of Wacking Blanche

April 2nd, 2010

Yesterday, Jon Chait couldn’t figure out what the benefits of running a primary challenge to Blanch Lincoln, given that she voted for the Affordable Care Act and she actually is representing a fairly conservative state. Today I think he’s much closer to figuring out the logic:

I could see an argument for deploying challengers wherever you can find them just to throw the fear of God into Democrats in Congress. Perhaps the fact that Lincoln is almost certain to lose makes her an especially good target. There was a scene in “The Untouchables” where a federal agent, played by Sean Connery, is trying unsuccessfully to get one of Al Capone’s hireling to talk. So he goes outside the room, picks up the corpse of one of the bad guys, starts interrogating him as if he’s still alive, and then shoots him. The bad guy inside the room, unaware that the colleague that Connery shot was already dead, immediately becomes terrified and starts blabbing.[…]

If you’re not following my analogy, the progressives are Sean Connery and the corpse is Blanche Lincoln. If you’re going to make an example out of somebody, why not pick somebody who’s already (politically) dead? Or so the logic might go.

That’s pretty much the way I’d look at it. Lincoln is almost certainly going to lose anyway, so even if Halter is too liberal for the state, you’re not actually losing anything; the Republican candidate comes out on top either way. And it’s not as though Lincoln is a model Democrat. Yes she voted for the ACA, but she watered it down quite a bit as part of a bloc of conservative Senate Democrats, she flip-flopped on EFCA as soon as Democrats got 60 seats in the Senate, and as the Senator from Wal-Mart and Tyson, she’s not exactly hostile to corporate interests. And for what? Pretty much anyone could have told you she was going to lose her seat no matter what, so if she wanted to, she could have been a solid vote for the Democratic agenda.

There’s a bit of an incentives issue here too. If progressive groups look at Senators seeking re-election from states like Arkansas and give them the freedom to do whatever they have to do to get re-elected, there’s nothing stopping them from running as far right as they can. On the other hand, if they think they have to worry about primary campaigns as well as general election campaigns, that goes a long way towards keeping them on the reservation. And if they’re going to lose their seat anyway, then from a national standpoint you want to get something out of them on their way out, namely their vote on the party’s agenda while they’re still holding the seat.

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