Archive for February, 2009

The Other Side Isn’t Playing With A Full Deck

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

by Polk

Lest ye forget.

There is plenty of policy grounds to disagree with this adminstation on if you choose to do so (I don’t have a lot of beef, but having a difference in worldview is completely legitmate), but saying your political opponents are Satan? Literally, horns and pitchfork Satan. That’s screams desperate from the mountaintops. And on the theological level, I’m surely not a Bibical scholar, but the idea that the world is going to end by the Devil bring about a communist revolution is completely without any support in scripture.

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Saturday’s Deep Thought

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The self-styled bane of corporate America sure does want to cash a corporate paycheck.

Accountability Now

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Jeebus:

Accountability Now PAC will officially be based in Washington D.C., though its influence is designed to be felt in congressional districts across the country. The group will adopt an aggressive approach to pushing the Democratic Party in a progressive direction; it will actively target, raise funds, poll and campaign for primary challengers to members who are either ethically or politically out-of-touch with their voters. The goal, officials with the organization say, is to start with 25 potential races and dwindle it down to eight or 10; ultimately spending hundreds of thousands on elections that usually wouldn’t be touched. […]

It is a concept bound — indeed, designed — to ruffle the feathers of powerful figures in Washington, in part because the names behind it are now institutions themselves. With $500,000 currently in the bank, Accountability Now will be aided, in varying forms, by groups such as MoveOn, SEIU, Color of Change, Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats and BlogPAC. FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher and Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald will serve in advisory roles, while Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos will conduct polling, with analytical help from 538.com’s Nate Silver.

Because there’s nothing like a Washington based PAC to ruffle the feathers in Washington. And really, I think the netroots involvement is selling themselves short here. Clearly, Markos should do candidate outreach, Move On could run their candidates’ marketing efforts, and Hamsher can throw in some copy-editing help. What could possibly go wrong?

More seriously though, this is a really stupid venture. I know it’s sometimes hard to understand, but the United States has a really peculiar election system, and it’s something that’s very odd across the board. We’re not a parliamentary legislature, and even the more receptive chamber of Congress, the House, is somewhat skewed away from public opinion because of the nature of single district representation. More to the point, it’s skewed because districts are drawn up once a decade, and done so by partisan apportionment boards in the various states. So while it sounds counter-intuitive after an election where Democrats carried such sweeping victories nationally, a lot of these districts are still very marginal, if not slightly Republican leaning in general, because Republicans controlled the last round of redistricting in these areas. Looking at Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), she represents most of Columbus, but the boundaries of the district largely overwhelm the urban core with the highly Republican Eastern suburbs, to the extent that Kilroy lost in 2006, and barely won in 2008. So if she exhibits “Blue Dog” characteristics, it says nothing about her own personal opinions, but rather that she’s trying to navigate a highly Republican district. Pursuing a primary challenge against her will do nothing positive for Democrats or progressives.

But moreover, the point is that these districts are only Republican leaning at the margins, and some minor tinkering could make them noticeably more progressive. And guess what; the last election before widespred redistricting is…2010! Which is what’s particularly absurd about this “Accountability Now” nonsense. If the people organizing it really do want to make Congress more progressive, they could raise money for Democrats at the state legislature level or in other state level races with an eye on the apportionment board in states where that can make a disproportionate difference. So the obvious thing to observe here is that either the people running this operation know very little about politics, or Hamsher is totally full of shit and it’s all about party purges. Given what you read from most of the people involved with the project, I’m going to go with a little of both.

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Blue Dogs Request EFCA Delay

Friday, February 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I meant to post about this last week, but put it off and forgot about it in the interim. Anyway, Greg Sargent reports that House Blue Dogs asked the House leadership to delay action on the Employee Free Chocie Act, at least until after the Senate has acted on it:

Blue Dog Democrats in the House have asked House Dem leaders to postpone a vote on the Employee Free Choice Act until after the Senate votes on it, and the Democratic leadership has agreed, a senior House Dem aide tells me.

The discussions are likely to disappoint some in the labor movement, who see Employee Free Choice as their top priority and had hoped the House would act quickly and pass a strong bill before the Senate passes a weaker version. Proponents and foes of the measure alike say the Senate is expected to be the major battleground over the bill because of the tight Dem majority.

Now I think the knee-jerk impulse even for me is to criticize the Blue Dogs here, but this really makes some sense. It was always the Senate that was going to be a problem anyway, so in a way it would just be bad caucus management to ask your members in districts where EFCA is likely to be politically dicey to go out on a limb on the package with no guarantee it will be worth anything. By agreeing to wait for the Senate, House leadership also let labor activists focus on holding marginal Senators and getting the proposal through the Senate to be ratified, so to speak, after the fact by the House.

What’s more, this may actually be beneficial to EFCA’s chances. Sargent’s source goes on to say that the Blue Dogs are worried about having to vote “for 2 different versions of the bill,” suggesting that, to the extent they’re willing to support the proposal, they’re likely to take whatever the Senate gives them. If there aren’t any troubling riders in the Senate bill, then, letting the Senate go first could produce a unified bill without a conference report, and could get the bill through Congress that much faster, something that I think would increase its chances of passing.

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McConnell: Limbaugh More Fun Than Liberals

Friday, February 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Heh:

In his CPAC speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that conservatives are more “interesting” and “fun” than liberals. Here’s his proof: “who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich when you can be with Rush Limbaugh?”

Of course, Krugman probably doesn’t have any Oxy connections, so I guess it’s hard to argue with Mitch’s logic.

How Relevant is Emily’s List?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I generally try to avoid posts on two things, politicians I have some connection to and Emily’s List, and this post is going to violate the former somewhat, and the latter entirely. The reason for the former is, I think, pretty obvious, but I should probably elaborate on the latter some. Emily’s List is one of those things I have a weird, unexplainable, fascination with. On the one hand, they’re very good fundraisers who can deliver buckets of cash to their endorsed candidates. But, especially with that in mind, they have a very small footprint in Democratic political circles. No one sits around figuring out how to campaign for Emily’s List’s endorsement the way they might for, say, the SEIU or NARAL. And I think Howie Klein hints around at the reason for that here, discussing the special election in Illinois’ 5th district, and the rather impressive list of endorsements Tom Geoghegan has racked up:

[Harold] Meyerson follows endorsements in the last couple of days by three of Chicago’s legendary progressive reformer elders, Abner Mikva, Dr. Quentin Young, and Leon Despres, and from one of Tom’s former opponents, Marty Oberman. Many in the Inside the Beltway Establishment have other favorite candidates. Predictably Emily’s List endorsed a woman, basically their only criteria for endorsement these days. And some of the labor unions we’ve grown to trust came out for those who have scratched their backs in the grubby world of backroom politics. DFA, The Nation, Progressive Democrats of America, the American Nurses Association, the Greater Chicago Caucus, the Teamsters and Steelworkers unions and a long list of progressive writers from Katha Pollitt and David Sirota to Thomas Frank. Garry Wills, Don Rose and James Fallows have come out for Tom.

Emphasis added. Basically Emily’s List’s endorsement is irrelevant because it’s pre-determined. No one is surprised when Emily’s List endorses a candidate, because everyone knows who they’re going to endorse. This is a problem for the group because PAC’s trade in gratitude. Especially in a highly contested race with a crowded field, endorsements from high profile actors can really put a candidate over the top. In those circumstances, you’ve either banked a favor, or the politician in question is somewhat dependent upon your constituency for re-election, which is good for you. Moreover, once you’ve established a reputation, candidates will start campaigning for your endorsement, which is even better for you.

But Emily’s List unilaterally takes themselves out of the game altogether. There’s absolutely no reason for a male candidate, even a great progressive male candidate who would be terrific on the issues Emily’s List cares about like Geoghegan, to seek out Emily’s List or try to appeal for their endorsement, because Emily’s List is crystal clear that they don’t endorse male candidates. And I think their goal of increasing the number of women in elected office is a perfectly laudable goal. Women are the majority gender group in this country, and it’s an utter embarrassment how few elected offices in a country this size are held by women. But, personally, I don’t think that these tactics are actually beneficial to that goal. On the one hand, policy has to matter at some point. I’m perfectly ok with someone who looks at two candidates, one male and one female, and decides that they’re more or less the same substantively (at least to our hypothetical voter), and who decides to vote for the woman because we really do need more women in office. I think most people would agree that’s a legitimate decision making process. What strikes me as counter-productive is pre-emptively deciding you’re going to support a woman before you’ve even seen the list of candidates. And obvious Emily’s List has boundaries, they don’t endorse pro-life women, nor any Republicans that I’m aware of off the top of my head. But still, the key here is that not everything is always equal, and once it’s clear that Emily’s List is going to support even uniquely absurd candidates just because they’re women, especially against incumbents with records that are very favorable to their constituency, then I think you really marginalize yourself even within the Democratic Party.

So, again, while I agree with Emily’s List’s primary goal, I think that, if they really want to be an effective organization in their own right, they either need to be more judicious about candidates they support, or they need to start supporting some male candidates, at least in some circumstances. Otherwise they continue to be a perpetual “dog-bites-man” story.

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Volcano Monitoring

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

This will be my last Jindal post, at least for today, I swear.

One of the odder things about Jindal’s speech was his singling out of volcano monitoring money as an example of wasteful government spending. Generally speaking, even wingnuts tend to agree that watching out for natural disasters is a good idea. No one ever really argues that the government should cease funding that goes to watching for hurricanes out in the ocean, for example. And it’s not like it has a funny sounding, easy to misunderstand name you could mischaracterize either. “Volcano monitoring” is pretty straight forward, and sounds like something most people would agree we ought to be doing.

When I exchanged emails about the speech with a friend who works at the RNC this morning, he singled out the line about volcano monitoring spending as something he expected to see mocked in coming days, and really didn’t know how he was going to spin it. He also, more bluntly than Dave Noon, hypothesized that it might have been something of a jab to Sarah Palin. In case you didn’t hear, there’s a big volcano set to erupt in Alaska, and because of volcano monitoring the state and federal government have been able to evacuate people from the area, probably saving some lives and a whole lot of potential property damage. The thinking, I suppose, goes something like this; Jindal scoffs at volcano monitoring funding in his nationally televised, speaking-for-the-GOP speech; the people of Alaska find out about this just as a volcano is about to erupt, and demand that Palin repudiate Jindal’s comments. Seeking re-election, Palin will have little choice but to distance herself from a comment that’s both incredibly stupid and has real local significance to her constituents. By this point, the idea goes, “volcano monitoring” enters the right-wing’s vernacular as a short hand for pork in general, and Jindal will have his main rival for the support of the conservative-populist aspect of the base on record supporting this erstwhile symbol of government waste.

It seems like something of a bank shot to me, but I don’t see any more likely answer as to why Gov. Jindal seems to think we don’t really need to spend money watching out for natural disasters.

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Perils of the Echo Chamber

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Atrios makes a salient point:

I’ve written before that I think part of the problem that conservatives/Republicans face is that their mythology has become a bit too complex for mere mortals (people who don’t listen to Limbaugh and read The Corner obsessively) to comprehend. They reference rogues’ gallery of enemies and various “bad things” that most people have never heard of. Simply trying to navigate through the various wingnutty minefields while throwing out the appropriate red meat has become difficult to do, and the result is incomprehensible to most of the country.

You saw a lot of this coming from the McCain campaign, especially once the economy tankes and they were just phoning it in. What happens is that once you go totally down the rabbit hole that is the blogosphere, left or right, eventually you develop short hand for concepts, critiques, and a basic insider language. And that works out just fine for the communities, but it wouldn’t work so well if you started using that language to talk to everyone else as a politician. Imagine if Barack Obama were asked about some unfair criticism from The Washington Post and his answer was “time for a blogger ethics panel.” We’d all get what he meant entirely, but 99% of the country would think he was totally fucking insane.

And that’s basically what happened to McCain last October, somewhere around the “share the wealth” mini-controversy. The right-wing blogosphere understood that as a short hand for full blown socialism, especially after they’d hacked it up endlessly for days. And if you read a lot of right-wing blogs, you at least understood what the point of the critique was supposed to be. But if you didn’t follow the conservative noise machine, you had no idea whatsoever what was so controversial about wanting to promote broad based economic prosperity. Which perhaps shows how out of step with most people conservative bloggers are, but at the very least shows why you can’t cut corners with your messaging campaigns. Had the McCain campaign walked it out a bit more and laid the groundwork for what these buzzwords were supposed to mean, they might have had some success with it. At the very least people would have been able to understand them. Instead they started running a campaign for the echo chamber, and everyone else was just sort of scratching their heads wondering what the hell was going on. Bobby Jindal repeated that mistake last night.

 

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Jindal’s Disaster

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Forget Obama’s speech, that was mostly stuf we already knew delivered in a way we’ve seen Obama give dozens of speeches now setting up a budget that we have a fairly good idea how it’s going to look. No, the real political story from last night is the total bombing of Gov. Bobby Jindal. This is David Brook’s reaction:

That’s some pretty strong stuff, but I think I especially like that he characterized the speech as “nihilistic,” because I think that’s exactly what it was. Jindal trotted out decades old right-wing lines like we hadn’t been doing all of these things for the last 8 years. Tax cuts? Check. Tossing money at the military industrial complex? Check. Slashing government services for the poor and middle class? You betcha. It was, as Ezra Klein noted, a speech any Republican leader could have given since 1992. Moreover, Jindal full throatedly embraced the new Republican strategy of lying through your teeth about everything. And yes, the Kenneth from 30 Rock comparison is a good one. Xotoxi said it well over in the forums; Jindal’s tone sounds like he’s introducing some hokey educational video targeted to a 4th grade class.

But what really stands out about Jindal’s speech is how obviously disconnected from reality it was. Barack Obama was overly clear that his tax plan includes a tax cut for everyone making under $250,000 a year, but there was Jindal demanding…tax cuts. It’s odd enough that Congressional Republicans haven’t moved away from the McCain strategy of campaigning against an imaginary person who was talking about massive tax increases and huge spending cuts in the Defesne Department, but you’d think someone who wanted to come to a leadership role after their 2008 beating, and who was delivering a speech right after the President’s much more visible speech, would realize that you need to stay reasonably close to the parameters of what the President actually said. Add in the specter of a Republican actually daring to bring up the response to Katrina as an example of government failure…

Here’s a bold prediction; Louisiana will be taking all of their money from the stimulus package, and Bobby Jindal will be running for re-election in 2011, avoiding the big stage for a little while longer. Clearly he’s not ready, and he’ going to need to let this recede from memory a little bit.

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Jindal

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Aside from the sheer banality of his remarks, let me just ask one question; what Republican strategist thought it was a good idea to ask Bobby Jindal to deliver this speech? Not to point out the obvious, or to say things you’re not supposed to say in polite company, but do they not think the American people realize that they are an overwhelmingly white party? And so they follow the first State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress by a non-white President with a Republican response given by one of like 6 non-white Republicans in the entire country? It reeks of tokenism, and it puts Jindal in a really terrible spot. If this is how Republicans are going to use Jindal over the next 4 years, they’re really going to destroy whatever image the guy might have cultivated, as he’s going to get labeled as the go-to-non-white guy in the Republican Party.

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Deep Thought

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

If I didn’t know better, I’d think this black guy on my teevee was giving a State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress.

David Sirota Doesn’t Know Much About Government

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I need to diverisfy my whipping boy portfolio some, but Sirota is such an easy, gratifying target that it’s hard not to keep coming back to him. Here he is bemoaning the efforts of the Colorado legislature to balance their budget:

I’m really starting to believe that many politicians don’t know even the most basic stuff about economics. Here you have Republicans angry that in a recession, the state isn’t cutting enough and arguing that the state shouldn’t tap any of its rainy day funds, even though this is the biggest of the rainy days. Did we learn nothing from when FDR tried to balance the budget in ’37 and ’38, effectively stunting the New Deal’s robust recovery? Have these people not bothered to take Econ 101?

What’s sort of funnyis that he’s not wrong at all about the economics of the matter. Expansioary policy means more spending and larger deficits in the short run. He is, however, totally oblivious to something I figured you have to be aware of to comment on politics; almost every state has a balanced budget requirement. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Vermont is the only state that doesn’t. That’s why we’re talking about the need for the federal government to help state governments out; to offset lost revenues so that state governments don’t have to cut spending. If they could run sustained deficits like the federal government, they wouldn’t necessarily need the extra money to maintain those levels of spending on state services.

It’s really beyond me how you can feel qualified to spout off on the political issues of the day if you don’t know something that basic. Let alone fancy yourself some sort of spokesman for the entire progressive movement.

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Being Right is No Excuse for Being Right

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

It’s nice that more people are catching on, I suppose, but I really don’t understand the need to keep denigrating accurate observers by insinuating the people making them are wildly dreaming of “secret plans:”

I’ve been resistant to “secret plan” theories of Obama administration activities, but now that we can look at this sequence of events in retrospect, the plan looks to have been pretty solid. Faced with Blue Dog pressure over the stimulus, the White House agreed to bend-not-break and make a big deal about how the deficit is terrible and we need a summit about fiscal responsibility. Then he unveiled a plan to contain the medium-term deficit that consists of tax hikes on the wealthy and fewer wars. Good ideas! But not ideas that involve liberals giving any actual ground. Similarly, he’s moved decisively to execute liberals’ long-time hope of redefining the “entitlement problem” as primarily a problem that requires systematic health care reform.

That’s all well and good, but why exactly do we need to continue the backhanded “secret plan” rhetoric? What, exactly, is surprising about this? At dozens of points in the Presidential campaign, Obama clearly stated that ending the war and rolling back the Bush tax cuts were crucial to our fiscal health. His Director of OMB is best known for arguing that Medicare is the real threat to the budget, not Social Security, and that the problem with Medicare is the cost of healthcare. And to the extent that Obama has ever talked about changes to Social Security, he’s been remarkably open to the idea of raising the cap on payroll tax eligible income. The example that most readily comes to mind is from the infamous ABC primary debate; Obama discussed the possibility of raising the cap and exempting incomes between the current cap and $250,ooo. And while I don’t really agree with that (why does income over $100,000 need to be treated more specially than working class income?) the upshot would be the closing of Social Security actuarial deficit with additional revenues derived completely from incomes over $250k/year. Hardly something that should outrage progressives.

So with all of that in mind (and with the kind of reporting people like Ezra Klein were doing leading up to the summit), it really wasn’t hard to see what was going on, keeping in mind that this is politics. Obama was using establishment language and loading the roster up with big names from Washington to draw maximum attention to the event, which he then used to…push his agenda using establishment language in such a way as to redefine that language. The goal wasn’t to screw progressives over, it was to redefine “fiscal responsibility” to include ending the Iraq war, raising taxes on the wealthy, and passing an ambitious healthcare reform package. He even got John McCain to set up the Defense budget for him.

The bottom line? Jane Hamsher doesn’t understand politics. It’s quite easy to flip out over every little thing that worries you, especially if you’re hyper paranoid, but it’s quite another thing to run down the people who accurately assesed what was going on, politically, because you think they’re making up “secret plans.” Especially when there’s a fairly long record to support their observations, and when the administration is confirming them in advance.

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Election Still Over; Republicans Still Lost

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Greg Sargent reports on the broader public’s desire for bipartisanship:

You routinely hear it asserted that the public wants bipartisan comity in Washington, but some striking numbers buried in the internals of the new New York Times poll find that in the current context, precisely the opposite is true:

Which do you think should be a higher priority for Barack Obama right now — working in a bipartisan way with Republicans in Congress or sticking to the policies he promised he would during the campaign:

Working bipartisan way: 39%

Sticking to policies: 56%

So a sizable majority wants Obama to pursue his policies with our without Republican support. Meanwhile, a huge majority says that Republicans should emphasize working with Obama in a bipartisan way over pursuing their policy ideas:

Which do you think should be a higher priority for Republicans in Congress right now — working in a bipartisan way with Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress or sticking to Republican policies?

Working bipartisan way: 79%

Sticking to policies: 17%

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen poll numbers suggest this clearly that the public has no interest in bipartisanship for its own sake.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen poll numbers like that either, but really, there’s nothing that surprising about it. The electorate has a pretty intuitive sense for consistency in election outcomes, especially when the election was less than 4 months ago. With that in mind, these findings make a lot of sense. Obama won a pretty broad victory in November, meaning a lot of people preferred his policies. It makes sense then that that position really hasn’t changed in less than 1/3 of a year, and so most people prefer that he do waht they elected him to do, instead of what the people they decided not to vote for want to do. On the other hand, they want the minority to be more accomodating of the majority they elected (and of course you have the people who do want the Broderian “bipartisanship” thrown in). It’s striking in how clearly it lays bare the utter silliness of Broderism, but as a study in the broader electorate, it’s a fairly banal observation.

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Sirota Illustrates the Folly of Populism

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I had a feeling I was going to see this chart at Open Left sooner or later:

On the issue at hand here, trade, I’m rather ambivalent. I’m pretty much a “free trader,” but at the same time I’d like to use our economic position to leverage our trading partners into improving their labor, environmental, and quality control standards. We’ve certainly been to lax with China in this regard. So take that for what it’s worth.

On the other hand, this graph really should, once and for all, demolish the idea that the populace is all that in tune with political issues, or has some inherent wisdom at gauging these things. Indeed, it proves thatthe movement among the masses is largely based on raw emotion. You see, for example, that when the economy was roaring in the mid and late 1990’s, free trade was extremely popular. And that makes sense; it meant cheap goods made in other countries, and let you buy a lot more stuff to clutter up your house. And with things moving a long at an historically good pace, no one was really worried about much of anything. But when the economy starts to come down, so do people’s opinion of trade. Now people are losing their job, and blaming “outsourcing,” which means more people are worried about outsourcing, on top of just being more stressed out in general. This makes trade a much more unappealing notion, and increases protectionist sentiment.

And without passing judgment on which side of the question is right, this is highly irrational behavior. And irrational behavior is a bad bet to hitch your fortunes to. It can be harnessed in the short term if you wish, but once the worm turns, what are yoy going to do? What is Sirota going to do when the economy recovers and “trade” is overwhelmingly popular again? Not only can he not cite populist opinion anymore, he can’t justify his own position once he’s accepted the notion that that is the basis of wisdom.

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