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Archive for March, 2010

Weird Attitudes on Process Questions

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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This finding is truly bizarre:

Of course, it’s not really possible to know why 58% of independents, and 19% of Democrats, think passage of healthcare was an “abuse of power,” but there you go. To be clear, healthcare reform went through the normal committee process in both chambers of Congress, taking months to get through the whole process. Max Baucus, the chairman of the most powerful committee in all of Congress, spent at least a month trying to reach out to Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate passed its bill through normal order, as did the House, and then a longstanding procedure was used to make minor changes to the law after it was signed. There’s nothing remotely untoward about any aspect of the process of passing healthcare reform.

What you’re seeing here is the wages of Republican attacks on the legislative process. At basically every point of the process, Republicans alledged that Democrats were abusing this or that parliamentary rule. Reconcilliation, a decades old law that both parties have used for major pieces of legislation, became “the nuclear option.” Parochial deals cut to win support from on-the-fence Senators, a central aspect of the US system of representative government since 1787, became the hallmark of corrupt governing. Private negotiations, a basic cornerstone of decision making in pretty much any venture, became a no-no. And to compound it, the poltical media, especially cable news, gladly played along, happy to pretend this was a legitimate scandal so they could milk some ratings out of it. And as a result, more than half of respondents to this Gallup poll think that routine use of Congressional rules is an abuse of power. This is bad news for Democrats, obviouly, but it’s bad news for the country too. The clear lesson from this “debate” is that constant demonization of not just your opponent, but of the basic workings of the American government itself, is a huge political winner because the American public doesn’t know enough about the way Congress works to know that the minority is full of crap.

The Consequences of Lying Republicans and Timid Journalists

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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At the Wonk Room, Igor Volsky has a good summation of the new Republican line that ACA will cost businesses millions of dollars in new taxes. It’s not techincally untrue, it really will force companies to write down hundreds of millions in tax deductions over the course of many years. That’s because it repeals a loophole created by the Medicare Part D law that allows companies to deduct the value of a federal subsidy from their taxes. Republicans aren’t telling you that part, of course, because who exactly would think that companies should get a subsidy from the federal government, and then be able to claim that money as a tax deduction? The GOP’s attacks against student loan reform, on the other hand, are very much dishonest. Far from being a Stalinist takeover of the student loan industry, the government is simply ending a policy of subsidizing private bank loans. This should be a marketistas dream come true; banks won’t issue a certain kind of loan without the government bearing the risk, but that considered, it’s much more efficient for the government to simply make the loan itself. So the government is now pursuing the more efficient strategy. It’s the free market at work! But in a contest between the market and business profits, Republicans are always going to side with business.

The problem with this dynamic is that once you get to the point of having to explain it, you’ve already lost. Republicans have easy to remember sound bytes, while Democrats are stuck explaining in more detail why this isn’t true. In an age of cable news and sound bytes, there’s just no way to win that argument if you can’t boil it down to a soundbyte. This is what makes “he said-she said” journalism so pernicious; not only does it not inform the reader, in cases like this it leaves them misinformed, because journalists aren’t clearly explaining that Republicans aren’t being honest. And if journalist aren’t explaining that, most people are going to assume they’re making a valid point. And then, faced with an argument where one side is screaming “government takeover/tax increases” and the other side is saying “well, not exactly, let me explain,” they’re going to think Republicans have a point. Without fear that journalists are going to expose your dishonesty, lying is a great political strategy. The problem is that democracy can’t work properly when its political actors make a point of lying all the time and the supposed referees don’t call them on it, anymore than a basketball game would function if one team tackled the other team as they shot the ball and the referees refused to call a foul.

Shelby Steele is a National Embarrassment

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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Normally I don’t bother to comment on Op-Eds in the Wall Street Journal becuase, really what’s the point. But Shelby Steele’s column today arguing that Barack Obama is essentially an egomaniac for pursuing healthcare reform, and seeming to not even consider that people might consider that to be an important issue, is a unique case. It’s vintage Steele, using the fact of the author’s blackness to deliver a scurrilous racial charge that would rightly be viewed as offensive if a white writer were writing it, and then pivoting to an absurd charge that barely makes sense, but seems to damn liberals in Steele’s mid. The starting point here is that, in Steele’s mind, as the first black President, and first black head of government in Western history, Obama doesn’t have an arechtype to glom on to, and therefore no sense of political identity. This, Steele argues, has led Obama to view himself as an historic/mythical figure. Of course, Obama is an historic figure in Western history, but what the hell. Steele then argues that the healthcare reform effort is just a manifestation of Obama’s egomaniacal focus on his place in history:

Does this special burden explain Barack Obama’s embrace of scale as vision (if I don’t know what to do, I’ll do big things)? I think it does to a degree. It means, for example, that a caretaker presidency is not an option for him. His historical significance almost demands a kind of political narcissism. For him the great appeal of massive health-care reform—when jobs are a far more pressing problem—may have been its history-making potential.

Here was a chance for Mr. Obama not just to be a part of history but to make history. Here he could have an achievement commensurate with his own historical significance. To have left off health care and taken up jobs would have left him a caretaker rather than a history-maker. So he hung in with health care and today it can be said: Barack Obama has signed the most significant piece of social legislation in 45 years—achieving something that has eluded every president since FDR.

A historic figure making history, this is emerging as an over-arching theme—if not obsession—in the Obama presidency. In Iowa, a day after signing health care into law, he put himself into competition with history. If history shapes men, “We still have the power to shape history.” But this adds up to one thing: He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history.

Much like Robert Samuelson, Steele just isn’t a good enough writer to carry the ridiculous arguments he sets out to make, and the absurdity of his claims causes his writing to fall apart under their weight? Obama likes to talk about making history? That makes him different than basically every modern political leader how, exactly? Obama the most liberal President ever? I think the ACA is a monumental victory in social policy advancement, but to call Obama more liberal than FDR or LBJ or it is comical. The ridiculousness of the claims barely even require refutation, especially given that Obama is proposing more oil drilling on the same day this runs.

But the truly astonishing claim is that reform amounts to little more than a vanity project for Obama, a claim that requires you to believe Obama and other Democrats don’t actually believe healthcare reform is that important. This is of course belied by the fact that, far from being a new novelty, some form of healthcare reform has been attempted by every Democratic President since Truman. Obama isn’t the first President to tackle the issue, he’s just the first one to actually see a universal healthcare bill passed. And that does make him an historical figure, but that’s because healthcare reform is a very important issue.

It’s really not worth expecting much more out of Steele. His entire professional persona is built around the fact that he’s a black man willing to say offensive things about black people in general and insist that white people are uniquely awesome, and this appeals to a segment of the conservative movement because they get to live vicariously through him, or preface their own statements with “Shelby Steele said…” As I’ve said before, it’s good work if you can get it, and are willing to sell your soul (to say nothing of your personal integrity) for the money/stature. But it also requires the occassional ridiculous argument not at all tethered to reality. It just seems like that’s about all Steele is churning out these days.

The Washington Post’s Greatest Monster

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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It’s a tough competition at a paper that includes Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum, and Marc Thiessen in its stable, but Robert Samuelson, an original member of the Pain Caucus, can always be counted on to make a strong case for the title of Greatest Monster at The Washington Post. Here’s a section of his column today, arguing that expanding health insurance to those without access is a “self-indulgence:”

To criticisms, Obama supporters make two arguments. First, the CBO says the plan reduces the deficit by $143 billion over a decade. Second, the legislation contains measures (an expert panel to curb Medicare spending, emphasis on “comparative effectiveness research”) to control health spending. These rejoinders are self-serving and unconvincing.

Suppose the CBO estimate is correct. So? The $143 billion saving is about 1 percent of the projected $12.7 trillion deficit from 2009 to 2020. If the administration has $1 trillion or so of spending cuts and tax increases over a decade, all these monies should first cover existing deficits — not finance new spending. Obama’s behavior resembles a highly indebted family’s taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It’s self-indulgent and reckless.

As  brief aside, there was a point not that long ago when Samuelson couched his morally outrageous positions in much more clever arguments. But whether time is catching up with him or his position has gotten so cozy he can’t avoid the temptation to phone it in, these days Samuelson’s columns don’t even stand up to an initial skimming. In the next paragraph, for example, Samuelson argues that the CBO’s report is “misleading,” and bases this claim on a New York Times Op-Ed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin that Krugman absolutely shredded on the Times’ own website, and by invoking the “doc fix” that was going to pass regardless of the fate of healthcare reform. It’s the work of a complete hack, and not even original hack work at that.

But even leaving that aside, Samuelson’s argument, such as it is, falls apart under the weight of Samuelson’s own analogy. Samuelson would have you believe that expanding access to health insurance is akin to a family that finds some extra money in its budget opts to take a lavish vacation rather than pay down existing debt. I have a better idea, how about we compare it to a family who, rather than pay off some of their credit card debt, takes the newfound funds and…buys health insurance! Of course, that wouldn’t work for Samuelson’s point, because while people can generally agree that vacations should be sacrificed in the name of controlling your personal debt, they’d look at you like you had 3 eyes if you even remotely suggested that paying more than the minimum credit card payment should take precedence over getting your family health insurance.

It’s entirely possible that it didn’t occur to Samuelson that it would be better to compare expanding health insurance coverage to buying insurance rather than taking an extravagant vacation, but I doubt it. The omission is so egregious, and the example Samuelson chose so over the top (I mean really, how many people go on a globe-trotting vacation anyway?), that I can’t really imagine that Samuelson wasn’t deliberately trying to obscure how basic a necessity health insurance is in the modern world. Because, while a hostility to the social saftey net and social welfare spending is the animating factor of Samuelson’s existence, he’s aware enough of the larger political debate to know that most people would be appalled by his beliefs. And so, he’s left coming up with wild analogies to make giving people access to a basic necessity seem like a frivolous expenditure. Thankfully, he’s just not smart enough, nor his writing strong enough, to carry that sort of argument these days.

The Original Backroom Deal

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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Ezra has a good couple of posts noting the irony of claiming that the Founders would detest the process that created the healthcare reform bill by pointing out the number of compromises that went into crafting the Constitution itself. It’s a good example of how mindless right-wing talking points are these days, since it’s not exactly like the 3/5 Compromise or Great Compromise aren’t taught in basic history classes or anything. I’d also add that the Constitutional convention itself was a big back room deal. The convention was quite literally held in total secrecy so as to not create public outrage/a backlash in favor of the Articles of Confederation amongst a public skeptical of a stronger federal government. They even kept the windows of Indendence Hall shut constantly to keep passer-by from overhearing what was going on inside, even though it was a blistering hot summer.

More than that, I’d just point out that the “cornhusker kickback” is a pretty good example of what out system is set up to do, with various representatives looking out for their districts and their voters. It’s a bit annoying to have to listen to people who deify a group of people in one breath, then claim that people using the system they created as it was designed to be used is a crime against democracy or something.

The Useless Bob Schieffer

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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It’s great that CBS felt compelled to run a fact-check of Michelle Bachmann’s ridiculous claims from Face The Nation yesterday (although it does beg the question of why, exactly, CBS thought it would be a good idea to book Bachmann in the first place), but I still can’t get past the fact that host Bob Schieffer didn’t call her insane claims out on the spot. I mean, I make the point that most political journalists don’t really know much at all about policy a lot, but how much do you really have to know to be aware that in August 2008 more than 0% of the economy was accounted for in terms of public spending. I mean, Medicare anyone? Salaries for military personnel? Hello?

Add this to Schieffer’s recent problem understanding what all of this reconcilliation stuff was about, even as the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee patiently explained it to him, and you have to wonder what anyone is gaining from watching Schieffer interview public officials despite clearly knowing nothing about the topic, or even apparently possessing enough cognitive ability to spot obvious stupidity.

A Market Case For Financial Regulation

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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To go along with the superb point that there’s a difference between “pro-market” lobbying and pro-business lobbying, today’s Krugman column provides a pretty good starting point for the debate over financial regulatory reform as we begin to move on from healthcare. The column is premised around a historical reading of financial regulatory norms:

Some background: we used to have a workable system for avoiding financial crises, resting on a combination of government guarantees and regulation. On one side, bank deposits were insured, preventing a recurrence of the immense bank runs that were a central cause of the Great Depression. On the other side, banks were tightly regulated, so that they didn’t take advantage of government guarantees by running excessive risks.

From 1980 or so onward, however, that system gradually broke down, partly because of bank deregulation, but mainly because of the rise of “shadow banking”: institutions and practices — like financing long-term investments with overnight borrowing — that recreated the risks of old-fashioned banking but weren’t covered either by guarantees or by regulation. The result, by 2007, was a financial system as vulnerable to severe crisis as the system of 1930. And the crisis came.

I would say that this is the biggest problem for “free-market” criticisms of financial regulations. To put it very bluntly, the banking system as we know it simply wouldn’t exist without the backing of federal deposit insurance, without which banks would be too unstable to grow as large as our major banks or have anywhere near the longevity they do now. The trade-off for this, however, is certain regulations designed to limit th public’s risk in insuring bank deposits, and banks are basically willing to take this deal. But there’s no FDIC for investment banking, nor am I sure anyone is really proposing anything like it, beyond the implicit guarantee that the government won’t let large investment banks fail. But the thing to keep in mind as Republicans start screaming that new regulations are socialism or will kill the financial industry is that the government already provides the structural backbone of American banking, and that without it the industry could never exist on the scale it does.

Romney Will Be Fine

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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by Brien Jackson

There’s a growing meme lately that the passage of the healthcare bill spells doom for Mitt Romney’s chance to win the Republican Presidential nomination. Basically the idea is that the Republican base has been whipped into a froth of opposition to “Obamacare,” and since Romney signed a program that’s essentally the same as the Affordable Care Act in Masachusetts, he’s not going to be able to win support in the Republican primary. The latest articulation I’ve seen came fron Ben Smith this morning, who compares the healthcae issues potential cost to Romney to the impact support for the Iraq War had on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

For my part, I’m pretty skeptical of this. For one thing, 2012 is pretty far away. And yes, the early parts of the cycle are only a year away, but that aspect of the campaign is dominated by fundraising, which I doubt Romney will have trouble with. The Chamber of Commerce isn’t interested in fighting ove repeal of the bill, PhRMA and providers endorsed it, and non-healthcre businesses don’t really have much of a reason to care about it now that it’s passed. So I very much doubt that the economic interests who fund Republcan campaigns are going to find it much reason to cut off Romney. As far as the Republican electorate goes, I think the idea that they’re going to reject Romney 3 years ago because of his healthcare plan imputes a little too much intellectual sophistication onto the masses. For one thing, it could have been an issue in 2008 as well, when Hillary Clinton was proposing to basically take the Massachusetts system nationwide, but it never really came up, even though it’s not like Democratic plans for universal healthcare were only noticed on the right last year. Indeed, from 1993 to 2008, conservatives used “Hillarycare” as a short-hand for “Socialized medicine.” So the fact that it didn’t hurt Romney in 2008 bodes well for him in 2012. There’s also the fact that Romney can issue some mealy-mouth hedging about “states” and so forth that should buy him enough room to pivot to something else.

If anything, I think the Hillary/Iraq comparison is pretty good, but probably not for the same reason Smith does. Was her initial support for the Iraq War a drag on Clinton’s campaign? Sure. Did it cost her the nomination? Probably not. Compared to investing as much capital in Iowa as they did, even though she was at a distinct disadvantage in the state, and having absolutely no plan for a contest going past Super Tuesday or any kind of campaign presence in the contests between February 5 and March 4, I’d say it’s pretty low on the list of factors that could plausibly be said to have cost Clinton the campaign. What it did do was give her opponents particularly Obama, an early and consistent opening from which to attack her. And that’s probably about all this will do to Romney. Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and John Thune or whomever is running will be able to respond to Romney’s attacks on the ACA by pointing out that he signed something similar in Massachusetts, but whether or not that proves devastating remains to be seen. For now, I don’t see any evidence that Romney is facing a backlash from the leadership of the conservative movement, which leads me to think it probably won’t hurt him much with the rubes either.

David Frum Fired From AEI

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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Frum broke the news yesterday that he’d been terminated from the American Enterprise Institute, and today he tells Mike Allen that he does think it was a result of his “Republican Waterloo” post that’s been tearing up the internet since Frum wrote it. Assuming that’s true, and I don’t see any reason to think it isn’t, it’s an incredible sign of just how rigid the right has become in demanding complete and total conformity on  a number of isses. After all, it’s not like Frum is endorsing the Affordable Care Act, indeed, his basic premise is that the ACA is horrible, and that Republicans made it more horrible than it needed to be (in Frum’s eyes) by refusing any number of opportunities to jump at a desire of some Democrats to compromise and drastically scale down the bill. Instead, they simply opposed the bill in lockstep at every turn, forcing the Democrats to stick together and pass a comprehensive bill. I happen to think that, from a conservative standpoint, Frum is right. Had Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe reached some sort of compromise with Max Baucus last July and been able to brng 4 or 5 Republican votes along with them, comprehensive reform would have been dead. By opposing in lockstep, especially after Democrats pushed their caucus to 60 members, Republicans forced marginal Democrats like Baucus and Ben Nelso to negotiate with more liberal members of their caucus instead of less conservative Republicans like Olympia Snowe or Richard Lugar. But even if you think Frum’s analysis is off-base, it can hardly be said that it represents some sort of grave ideological sellout. Frum isn’t criticizing the underlying ideology of opposition at all, rather he’s criticizing the tactics Republicans used. But apparently we’ve reached a point where even criticism of Congressional Republican strategy won’t even be tolerated on the right.

No Surprise Teabaggers Resorting to Violence

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

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There’s been a rash of relatively small-scale poilical violence, brick throwing, verbal threats, that sort of thing, directed at supporters of healthcare reform, but now it seems someone has tried to kill Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA).

Some people have pointed out that this is the natural extention of an essentially authoritarian movement, and that’s fair enough. It’s certainly true that an element of the American conservative movement has adopted rhetoic and tactics that are boilerplate for fascist movements, and the only thing left is widespread violence against political opponents, but I think the particularly American strain of wingnutism has a more complex sense of identity that leads to this point. Essentially, as both Digby and Amanda Marcotte often write about, the conservative movement is built around the belief that everyone else’s opinion is illegitimate, and basically as been since Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” campaign. This attitude is put most starkly on display when conservatives disparage East coasters, even though a huge amount of the population is concentrated on the Eastern seaboard, or when Sarah Palin praises small-towns as the home of “Real Americans.” Implicit in the framing is the idea that non-conservatives are interlopers, that their ideas, and even their existence, is illegitimate. This is why I take claims that conservative anger is based around Obama’s blackness; they do this pretty much every time they’re out of power, even when the Democratic President is a white Southern male.  If you believe you are by definition representative of the majority at all times, and all viewpoints other than yours are fundamentally illegitimate, you can’t really process electoral or legislative defeats any way other than by assuming them to be the result of some nefarious skull-duggery, which is why Republican attacks on procedure had such resonance with the right-wing. Aside from the generic ability to oppose the other side, it gave them the rationalization they needed for loss; Democrats cheated.

Of course, central to the survival of this worldview is the assumption that they do, in fact, represent a majority of the people in the country. It’s why conservatives talk about what “the American people” want so often, and why “coast vs. heartland” culture warring is framed from the presumption that land mass is of more importance than population. If the perception that the right-wing movement is supported by a majority and that only they’re ideas are legitimate/Constitutional/whatever is punctured, their entire political argument goes up in smoke.  But in the meantime, it’s a toxic mix of self-righteousness, hate, and paranoia, the logical extension of which is to perpetuate violence against people who don’t agree with you. After all, if Democrats just ignored the will of the overwhelming majority of the population and cheated the legislative process to implement a plan to literally destroy the country, why wouldn’t you resort to violence in response?

The only questions left to ask are how many people will die before we get serious about addressing it this time, and whether or not it will take another catastrophe like this.

The New York Times Corrects ACORN Reporting

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

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Well it’s nice that they got that in before ACORN close up shop:

Several articles since September about the troubles of the community organizing group Acorn referred incorrectly or imprecisely to one aspect of videotaped encounters between Acorn workers and two conservative activists that contributed to the group’s problems.

In the encounters, the activists posed as a prostitute and a pimp and discussed prostitution with the workers. But while footage shot away from the offices shows one activist, James O’Keefe, in a flamboyant pimp costume, there is no indication that he was wearing the costume while talking to the Acorn workers.

The errors occurred in articles on Sept. 16 and Sept. 19, 2009, and on Jan. 31 of this year. Because of an editing error, the mistake was repeated in an article in some copies on Saturday

Of course, that’s not really right either, and it’s incredibly galling that the Times continues to underplay how atrocious their “journalistic” work was on this story. While it is true that James O’Keefe didn’t wear his ridiculous “pimp suit” when he was in an ACORN office, is also true that in the most inflammatory videos, O’Keefe did not present himself as a pimp at all, but rather as someone trying to help a prostitute escape an abusive pimp. This fact compeltely alters the nature of the interaction ACORN had with O’Keefe and Giles, as everyone who has investigated the unedited film O’Keefe refused to release to news organizations has concluded (and one would think that the fact that O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart refused to release the raw video would have sent up red flags with professional journalists). Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and ACORN is beng forced to shut down their operation due to an inability to raise funds.

Freedom of the press is obviously a very important thing, and as a general rule a large degree of latitude should be given to media outlets to report information. That said, there needs to be some consequence for media outlets/reporters who traffic inaccurate information and cause real damage to organizations or individuals. In this case, the “reproting” the Times did was so unbelievably credulous it basically constitutes professional malpractice. I’m not sure whether ACORN could demonstrate damages or not, but it seems hard to believe that the inaccurate reporting of the Times didn’t damage ACORN, or that accurate reporting wouldn’t have helped them. Either way, ACORN ought to have to ability to attempt to prove their case, and if they can show that the Times caused them damages, and that their reporting was especially sloppy, the Times ought to be required to pay damages to ACORN.

John McCain Promises Next 9 Months Will Look Just Like Last 15

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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This isn’t exactly Earth shattering news:

Democrats shouldn’t expect much cooperation from Republicans the rest of this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday.

McCain and another Republican senator decried the effect health reform legislation has had on the Senate, a day after the House passed the upper chamber’s bill.

GOP senators emerged Monday to caution that the health debate had taken a toll on the institution, warning of little work between parties the rest of this year.

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” McCain said during an interview Monday on an Arizona radio affiliate. “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

Of course, Republicans haven’t cooperated on anything yet this Congress, and their cooperation moving forward was unlikely anyway, to say the least. Still, the logic is funny, as Chait outlines nicely:

Second, if we believe McCain and Graham, they’re saying that there are areas in public policy where Republicans would help make legislative changes that they believe would make the country a better place, but they are refusing to do so out of pique that Democrats employed a commonly-used legislative procedure. In other words, their own claim is that they are deliberately choosing to create suffering — not merely preventing legislation the Democrats want, but preventing legislation they agree would help people and would otherwise support — in order to punish the Democrats. This sounds like something the Democrats would accuse them of doing, not something they’d boast about.

I think Chait is almost certainly right about Republicans here, I don’t see any reason to believe they don’t honestly think they have the best ideas for the country. But I don’t for a second believe the logic Chait describes doesn’t describe John McCain to the letter. After all, most of the Republican Party, and certainly the conservative movement, has always been skeptical of/hostile to immigration reform, so doing everything they can to kill a Democratic plan on the issue wouldn’t be any different then where they’ve been for 20 years. But John McCain made immigration reform a significant cornerstone of his legislative career, and more specifically made cooperating with Democrats on the issue central to his public persona for years. And now he’s threatening to take him ball and go home, because he lost a Presidential election Democrats passed a healthcare bill with 60 votes in the Senate.

The sad thing is that important media figures will still try to pretend John McCain is something other than a cruel, angry, petty man.

Does the New Bill Cover Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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Apparently responding to criticism of her very dumb response to healthcare reform passing last night, Megan McArdle writes:

Obviously, yes, I was upset yesterday.  I’m glad that this could bring so much joy to peoples’ hearts, and of course to know that for many people, the happiest part of passing health care reform seems to have been knowing that it made people like me unhappy.  The people wondering why I was so upset should contemplate that first, I think you people just screwed up both our health care system, and our fiscal system (even further), and that if I’m right, that’s not really funny.

Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me personally the happiest parts of passing healthcare reform are, in no particular order, that people with pre-existing medical condition will no longer lack adequate access to care, that entrepreneurship will no longer be stifled by the fact that striking out on your own represents a tremendous risk of health coverage for the rest of your life, that tens of millions of people who don’t have/can’t afford insurance will now be covered, and that insurance companies won’t be able to reduce costs by cancelling policies when people get sick. That it’s also driven McMegan, and people like her, completely insane is just an added bonus.

Also, I really can’t understand why McMegan’s critics accuse her of being self-absorbed.

Barack Obama’s Place in Progressive History

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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Granted I’m a huge O-bot and all, but I really think Jon Chait is significantly understating himself here:

Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event–a war, a scandal–will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.

It’s of course possible that an unpopular war or scandal or something could diminish Obama’s historical narrative, but it’s worth pointing out that, bad as Vietnam was, it didn’t really diminish LBJ’s legacy so much as it diminished the affinity liberals feel for him today. But Vietnam notwithstanding, Johnson is still the President who helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the rest of the Great Society’s social welfare programs through Congress, and played a substantial role in breaking the hold Southern racists held on Congress as an institution. So far as 20th century Presidents go, Johnson is easily amongst the top 3 in terms of lasting consequence, along with FDR and Teddy Roosevelt (you could throw Reagan in the mix too, but he left office less than 25 years ago, so you’d expect to see some lasting effects from hs policies, even if they’re mostly forgotten 25 years from now). Given out habit of attributing major legislative victories to Presidents, Barack Obama has just achieved a sweeping reform of the health insurance market that rationalizes the individual market, provides coverage to some 30 million previously uninsured, and provides basic consumer protections to everyone. It is easily the most monumental piece of social policy legislation since 1965, and it guarantees that, no matter what happens, Barack Obama’s Presidency will be a major point in the arc of progressive advancement in the United States.

Yes, The Bill is a Progressive Triumph

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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There’s been a small but vocal critique from some elements of the left that the healthcare bill is terribly inadequate, and a slap in the face to progressives. It’s been such that even people who enthusiastically support the bill have adopted the rhetorical posture that it’s deeply sub-optimal. Something progressives have to force themselves to swallow, rather than celebrate. I don’t necessarily want to re-open this debate, but Yglesias, by reminding us of John Edwards’ healthcare plan from the 2008 election, does a good job of illustrating how ridiculous this notion is:

Key conceptual groundwork was laid by policy thinkers. And below the surface the main issue is that the SEIU was indicating that it wanted candidates with any shot at its endorsement to unveil plans for comprehensive coverage. Repeatedly throughout his campaign, Edwards served as a useful progressive foil. He was never really up there with Clinton and Obama, but he was always close enough that they couldn’t simply ignore the possibility that his efforts to appeal to the base would work. So when Edwards unveiled is four point plan for achieving universal coverage—a plan based on exactly the pillars of ObamaCare—it made a huge difference and swiftly became the benchmark by which Clinton and Obama were judged.


The see-saw of the political expectations game is such that by the Spring of 2010 many people had convinced themselves that this approach to health care was a disappointing sellout. But back in the Spring of 2007, it was considered radical—a left-wing idea by the standards of a Democratic presidential primary.

Now obviously winning a huge electoral landslide that leaves you in control of all three branches of the legislative process, including holding 59 seats (plus Arlen Specter’s switch) in the Senate is going to affect what people see as being within the realm of political possibility. But it’s still worth pointing out just how progressive this bill s relative to what the various major candidates’ healthcare plans were in 2008 and, especially, 2004. Basically, as Yglesias notes, it represents the far-left edge of what was being proposed at the time, and there’s no reason to imagine anything to the left of it could have been enacted, given that basically no major candidates have pushed anything to its left in the past 20 years or so. Progressive activists became enamored of the idea of creating a new public insurance plans in early 2009, but the bottom line is that there was no real movement base to make that a huge issue, in part because even the activists who made it central to their efforts on reform over the past year hadn’t even really been talking about it prior to 2009. And then at some point “The Public Option” morphed into less a serious policy proposal than a tribalistic identifer, especially after Blue Dogs killed the “strong” public option last summer. After that, the policy merits of the shell of the public option simply worth expending a lot of effort over, even though some of the activists had worked themselves into a lather over the idea. So when the public option was excised altogether, some of these people convinced themselves that the underlying bill was an un-progressive sellout, even though 2 years ago the same basic idea was being viewed as a solidly progressive idea. Indeed, if a candidate had proposed it in 2004, or 2000, whomever proposed t would have been looked at as though they were a slightly more serious Dennis Kucinich.

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