Sunday, January 31, 2010


Over at Balloon Juice, DougJ speculates that if Republicans win back the House, a top item on their agenda might be impeaching President Obama. In an update, he qualifies this with a reader's comment: that Ken Starr made it much easier for Republicans to impeach Clinton than it would be to impeach Obama ("Starr did all the legwork for the Clinton impeachment") and that it would probably take a big GOP majority in the House to impeach ("Not every Republican on the Judiciary committee is willing to wipe his/her ass with the Constitution just for political benefit").

I think the reader is right, at least about the second point. And yet I'd say this suggestion from Doug is a good one:

I do think that Republican candidates for Congress should be asked whether or not they support impeaching Obama.

Me, I'd go to teabag rallies and shout "Impeach Obama!" while any GOP candidate was speaking, just to get the candidate on record as either being with the program (in which case his priorities aren't the average American's) or not being with the program (in which case he might lose favor in Tea Nation).

I'm saying all this on the assumption that the public overall, while disgruntled, doesn't want to go that far, and would recoil at the notion. (It should be noted that, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in December, 35% of Democrats Republicans favor impeachment; the number overall is 20% -- disturbingly high, but a distinct minority, whereas that 35% of Republicans could be a near majority of primary and midterm general-election Republican voters.) This is in keeping with Senator Robert Menendez's idea that GOP candidates should be asked whether they're birthers or 10th Amendment extremists, in order to try to drive a wedge between them and either the tea party movement or sane members of the general public.

Though I do worry that, if the idea of impeachment began to be covered in the mainstream press, it might be portrayed as utterly reasonable, given the increasingly favorable tone of MSM coverage of the teabaggers these days. So maybe we should just drop the subject.

Bob Cesca worries about impeachment efforts from a GOP House, but I find myself baffled by his notion of the best way to prevent such an occurrence: pass the health care bill. Look, I know I'm all alone in the left blogosphere in believing that the bill is so disliked that it can't possibly help Democrats at the polls in the short term (especially with so many provisions taking effect only gradually, and thus subject to ongoing right-wing misrepresentation), but sorry, I just can't buy a health care bill as impeachment insurance. I think it's just the opposite -- I think passing and signing the bill will set off calls for impeachment. Many right-wingers already think the bill is unconstitutional; if it's passed and signed by Obama, that's all the excuse they'll need. Some action to match Obama's recent populist talk is, I think, the best way to fight back against the Republicans; regain the public's trust (and tarnish the Republicans as much as possible), then try circling back to health care.
(now updated)

Not sure what to make of this, but Lech Walesa -- yes that Lech Walesa -- has endorsed Adam Andrzejewski, a tea party favorite, in the Illinois governor's race. (Andrzejewski has been praised as "politically numinous" and "a Rubio" by Erick Erickson of RedState; he's also loved in Breitbart Land.)

Walesa spoke on Andrzejewski's behalf at a tea party event in Chicago on Friday; the event was sparsely attended ... but Andrzejewski is allegedly surging in the race for the GOP nomination, according to some conservative organization or other's internal poll.

Over here, the video embedded below is titled "Lech Walesa: 'America Is Moving Towards Socialism.'" He doesn't quite say that flat out, but, near the end, he does suggest that it's kinda-sorta doing that, and that government bureaucracies are bad, and that it would be nice if people could just buy health care with their own money.

If Andrzejewski wins this race, he'll be the next person on this list.


UPDATE: Zandar digs a big deeper and discovers that Andrzejewski's genius fiscal-responsibility idea is ending or curtailing the practice of sharing state tax revenues with local governments. Sorry about your fire department, East Overshoe, but I have to drown your tiny municipal government in a bathtub to prove a point!
Just Heard Megan Mcarglebargle on Marketplace.

My god, in real life she sounds even more juvenile and moronic than in print. Yes, she was there to argue that individuals have a "moral duty" to pay their mortgages. Marketplace actually had a guy on who very sharply and forcefully put the (obvious) case that when people walk away from their house they aren't "breaking" a contract they are simply acting in accordance with the contract. "This is what a contract is for" he said, trying to bring it down to a toddler level "the contract specifies what happens when one or more parties doesn't wish to continue with the contract. There are penalties and then the parties move on." To which Megan began shrieking "if my cel phone provider breaks the contract with me and there's a tiny line of print that says they pay me 50 dollars to get out of the contract I'd be very upset! You would be too! You'd call them bad people! You'd say it was wrong!" To which he replied, still more slowly, that there was a difference between feeling that something wasn't nice, and it being actually "immoral" or "unethical." He tried to explain to her that a bad business decision which results in a) pissing off your customers or b) having a bad credit rating was, perhaps, a *bad business decision* but that just because something made her personally unhappy didn't mean it was immoral or unethical. In addition, to the extent that a bad business decision results in a loss--of customer base or of credit rating, its supposed to be self correcting. The Cel phone company, the borrower, and the bank all learn not to make bad decisions again. She tried another tack and argued that treating the banks as bad actors and punishing them by refusing to pay the mortgage was "misdirected" because it was aimed too broadly. People wouldn't know which banks to punish by refusing to take out mortgages from them (?) and anyway if the banks took losses really those losses would just be passed on to the widders'n orphans (the Red Cross and California Pension Fund) who had foolishly bought the funds in the first place. I had to turn off the radio at that point because I was driving and I didn't want to crash the car with rage.



UPDATE: Audio and transcript here. --S.M.
(now updated)

Here's a fable for you all, taken from the long story in today's New York Times about ACORN pimp James O'Keefe and his co-conspirators in the break-in at Mary Landrieu's office.

Among [Joseph] Basel's stunts [as a student] was one in which he put up posters all over his campus in Minnesota that said "End Racism & Sexism Now: Kill All White Males." The posters prompted such an outcry that...

Yes? Yes? What was the horrified reaction to that?

... he was asked to speak at a campus forum....

Well, there it is. That's what lefties, liberals, and Democrats do: you attack us and we seek to engage in dialogue with you. Hey, it's only fair, right? Isn't it only fair for us to invite you to keep insulting and attacking us, to give you a forum in which you can do so?

I bring this up because I'd like to believe that President Obama's confrontation with House Republicans on Friday was helpful for him. My fear, however, is that Digby is right:

... I remain concerned that the message is not as clear to the rest of the country as his supporters think it was. ("Don't mess with Obama.") I watched Clinton do this type of thing over and over again and it didn't change the dynamic at all. He was personally successful, but liberal ideology was degraded every time he conceded something like "I think we raised taxes too much" or "the era of big government is over." People loved his ability to out talk his accusers (in his case it was a real high wire act) but the agenda suffered greatly from his ceaseless efforts to cajole a psychotically hostile opposition into working with him. It resulted in passage of center right policies and his own impeachment.

...if the Republicans continue to successfully obstruct and then criticize Obama for failing to achieve his promise of bipartisanship, I think it exacerbates the problems we already have coming up in November. I suppose the American people may see through their ruse, but I think it might be just a little bit too complicated: they just see Obama unable to achieve bipartisan agreement with people he repeatedly portrays as rational actors. Therefore, he is weak and the Democratic agenda isn't mainstream.

Right -- if the consensus takeaway isn't "Obama was laying down the smack" but, rather, "Obama was making yet another appeal for bipartisan cooperation" -- which we know will be futile -- then did it really do any good?

Digby cites a Washington Post article about the event in which an American Enterprise Institute hack is quoted; given his professional affiliation, we know his ultimate aim (the destruction of the Obama presidency), and we see what rhetorical response he thinks is a means to that end:

"The main benefit is that greater interaction builds a measure of trust between the president and congressional Republicans," said John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute. "Trust opens up possibilities for collaboration on some future issue with a more bipartisan character. It also builds trust, which might come in handy if there is a different future political dynamic, like narrower Democratic majorities after the midterm election, or even possibly GOP control of one house."

That's not what Fortier thinks is happening. That's what he wants you to think is happening. Isn't this wonderful! We've made progress toward cooperation and bipartisanship, which could really happen ... er, someday. Maybe when we control one house of Congress.

By the way, guess what might be the key to breaking the partisan gridlock. Electing more Republicans! From a Times story by Carl Hulse about the possibility that the Scott Brown win will be followed by more GOP victories in the Northeast, including a (likely) one by Mike Castle in the Delaware Senate race:

The addition of even a few moderate Republicans to the Senate could change the dynamic in that institution. Conservatives are so dominant now that Ms. Collins and Ms. Snowe face intense pressure to vote with their party, particularly after they broke ranks to provide the crucial votes to pass the economic stimulus measure early in 2009. Mr. Castle, should he prevail, would add another strong and experienced moderate voice.

Tom Friedman -- who for all his obnoxiousness has been genuinely disgusted by GOP obstructionism -- sees the potential for a new wave of GOP moderation that he thinks could be just the ticket:

The sad and frustrating thing is, we are so close to being unstuck. If there were just six or eight Republican senators -- a few more Judd Greggs and Lindsey Grahams -- ready to meet Obama somewhere in the middle on deficit reduction, energy, health care and banking reform, I believe that in the wake of the Massachusetts wake-up call the president would indeed meet them in that middle ground to forge not just incremental compromises, but substantial ones on these key issues. But so far, the Republicans are having a good year politically by just being the Party of No.

Yes, they are (and Tom, I hate to tell you this, but Gregg and Graham are part of the problem) -- but they may have an even better year being the Party of No and seeming to be just on the verge of not being the Party of No, if only the president will reach out just a bit more, and if only non-right-wing voters will elect a few more Republicans, who, if given that privilege, will be nice and cooperative, swear to God.

And we'll keep falling for it. Because that's what libs/Dems/blue staters do.


UPDATE: Damn, I almost left out Matt Bai in the Times Magazine:

... you could argue that rather than shudder at the thought of a more balanced Congress, Obama and his aides should embrace it.

... Liberal skeptics might argue that Republicans would shun Obama no matter how many seats they controlled, but the laws of political self-interest suggest otherwise; the more districts and states you represent, the more varied your constituencies and the more self-interest compels you to compromise. (The newly elected Scott Brown, for example, may sound like Rush Limbaugh now, but when the furor of the moment subsides and the polls on issues start rolling in from Massachusetts, he may find the Tea Party thing harder to sustain.)

Yeah, right. I seem to recall that we thought something along those lines here in New York when Al D'Amato replaced Jacob Javits, one of the last liberal Republicans, as a senator from New York. As it turned out, we couldn't get rid of D'Amato for eighteen years.

More Bai:

A dialogue between Obama and a more powerful Republican minority on health care, for instance, might yield a bill that included deeper cost cuts and some kind of meaningful malpractice reform. And if a bill like that received more support from independent voters, moderate Republicans would be reluctant to oppose it.

Well, no, they wouldn't. Republicans, even so-called moderates, feel free to oppose any legislation whatsoever if that opposition will hurt Democrats. They know that no Republican, even a moderate one, is ever punished at the polls for being obstructionist in this way -- too many voters (and too many opinion-shaping pundits) believe it's always acceptable to punish Democrats (those dirty hippies).

Nevertheless, Republicans aren't going to take any chances. They're never going to negotiate this way, just in case there is a small price to pay for failing to support a bipartisan bill.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Well, yeah -- President Obama may have scored a few points yesterday in his meeting with House Republicans, but according to Peter Baker and Carl Hulse of The New York Times, that's only because he cheated:

Although he and other presidents have addressed opposition caucuses before, they usually close the doors for questions, but this time the White House insisted on letting the news media record the give and take.

That worked to his benefit as he took advantage of the staging that comes with being president. He commanded the lectern with the presidential seal and the camera was trained mainly on him, while his interlocutors were forced to look up to him from the audience. Moreover, Mr. Obama gave long, confident and informed answers and felt free to interrupt questioners, while it is typically harder for others to interrupt a president.

Yeah! Unfair! He got elected to the highest office in the land and they didn't! There ought to be some sort of stature handicap for him!

Ah, but despite the fact that the whole thing was rigged by the results of a nationwide democratic election in 2008, Republicans still managed to make it a tie:

But Republicans said they believed they had achieved a victory as well, demonstrating that while Democrats might not like some of their policy ideas, they had advanced some proposals as evidenced by the president's acknowledgment that he had read them and even incorporated some of them into his initiatives.

"For him to say, 'I have read your proposals and they are substantive proposals,' that is a huge thing for Republicans," Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said afterward.

Right -- he accepted some of their proposals and put them in his bills -- which they then voted against as a unified bloc! That totally proves they're working in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, and he isn't!

David Herszenhorn of the Times, doing the "Fact Check," is somewhat more positive about Obama's efforts yesterday, but even he has this:

Among Mr. Obama's boldest assertions was that Democrats had put forward a mostly centrist plan and that Republicans attacked it as "some Bolshevik plot."'

Generally speaking, the president's assessment was accurate. The Democrats' health care bill would preserve, and broadly expand, the existing system of private, employer-sponsored health insurance, while also offering subsidies to help moderate-income Americans buy private coverage through new government-regulated markets.

Well, if what Obama said was accurate, why was it a bold assertion? Is it because it's unseemly for Democrats to actually challenge Republicans when Republicans mischaracterize them? The only polite thing Democrats can do is remain silent and take it?

Friday, January 29, 2010


I haven't had a chance to watch President Obama's confrontation with House Republicans, in which he's generally conceded to have wiped the floor with them -- but I did notice this in the Politico story:

House Minority Leader John Boehner ... introduced Obama to his colleagues and gave the president a stack of Republican policy proposals....

Hmmmm ... is that the stack of Republican policy proposals I think it is? The same one Sarah Palin touts todays on her Facebook page? The one called "Better Solutions"?

Why, yes, it is, according to C-SPAN's video of the event, about 4:30 in:

BOEHNER: ... We've compiled the summaries of [our] alternatives into a document that we call, appropriately, "Better Solutions." ... So, Mr. President, I'm pleased today to present you with a copy of our "Better Solutions." ...

Now, could that be the one Stephen Colbert described last night as containing a mere nine pages of solutions, "along with stock photography and the kinds of generous margins usually reserved for eight-grade term papers"? Well, no -- the handbook available here is newer. It's dated today and is a whopping thirty pages long (though that includes cover, back cover, and a six-page list of economists who back the GOP's ideas). The margins are narrow and there are no pictures.

However, I can't help noticing that this oh-so-timely proposal mocked last night by Colbert...

... is still in there:

All heart, these Republicans. I hope the president enjoys his reading.

That's the new "Did you know John McCain was a POW?" Remember it. Pass it on. You're welcome.

Brown actually restrains himself in this new Boston Globe interview -- he mentions that he's from Wrentham and drives a truck only twice. Apart from that, the interview is heavy on gee-whiz and aw-shucks -- it's basically ten pages of Gee and Whiz and Aw and Shucks:

I try to just be myself. Like today I got up, I rode the bike for an hour, watched TV, read the newspapers, you know, and then spent a little time with the dogs, got them all settled up, gave Gail a kiss and went to the gym, did a swim, and then I came in here, I've been meeting with you guys, I'm going to caucus -- the only different thing is, I'm doing Leno....

I get up and do my things I've always done for the last 30 years. I go to the same -- I go to the restaurant, I get the same breakfast, the only thing different is now it's the Scott Brown Special. It's still the same thing I've always ordered. OK, they can change the name and fluff it up but -- I still go to the Y, I still wear my junky clothes, and I still, probably my gym locker still smells. And so I just try to be myself....

I'm just a person -- we're just people.

Ick. Enough. Tonstant Voter fwowed up.

But don't feel smug. Brown really does gee-whiz-aw-shucks brilliantly, especially group-hug stuff that reads suspiciously like Obama's post-partisanship talk from the campaign. He's hiring former Ted Kennedy staffers. He says everyone's been really nice to him, even Democrats ("I wish I could say they're jerks but everyone's been great"). He praises bits (the more conservative bits) of the State of the Union address. He claims that sometimes he's going to vote with Democrats and that the GOP leadership understands that.

I had my doubts as to whether he's ready to be the great Deliverer so many Republicans think he is, but I think all he has to do is "evolve" in his abortion stance until he passes the religious right litmus test and he's ready. Everything else is in place. He's what Karl Rove wanted George W. Bush to seem like in 2000 -- a right-winger you think is a centrist because he says "education" a lot and can be sold as a pickup-drivin' Lifetime movie hero about a dreamboat who'd be a great stepdad to a divorced wife's troubled teen.

Which is why the Democrats need to start crafting legislation specifically to make Brown -- and I mean Brown specifically -- choose which side he's on, the wingnuts' or America's.

I'm seeing this as an offshoot of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Robert Menendez's plan, reported a couple of days by Politico and cited last night on Rachel Maddow's show, to force Republican Senate candidates to declare themselves as either with or against the tea party movement on such issues as birtherism and 10th Amendment extremism. With Brown I'd go that way and the other way -- would you vote for a non-binding resolution declaring Barack Obama a U.S. citizen? And are you really going to join in filibustering a bank tax?

I'm sure it's not going to be that simple -- but Democrats really need to try to tarnish this guy.

Though I think -- even putting ideology aside -- he wouldn't do very well as president. Here's a somewhat edited version of a very revealing answer he gave when asked whether he really believed he could win:

"I don't want to seem arrogant. And Felix [Browne, a Brown campaign adviser] will back this up, but I told them when I met the Shawmut Group, I said, 'I'm gonna win this race.... I said, I said, I'm right on all the issues. This is what I've believed since I was 18 years old, and old enough to vote -- I don't even have to think about my answers. During the campaign, it was a relatively easy campaign in terms of issues. It was a lot of work obviously, I don't want to say it wasn't and I don't want to seem like it was a gimme, but I just had this sense. Felix, right? And now after I won I looked at Peter Flaherty -- and who I have a lot of respect for -- I said, 'I tooolllldddd yoooouuu!' [And Flaherty said,] 'I know, I know, I know, I know.'"

This is a guy who, despite all his shows of self-effacement, seems to have an inordinate amount of self-regard. He's a handsome guy who seems very, very comfortable with being liked. I bet he doesn't have a lot of experience with facing criticism. I bet he's not accustomed to being seriously challenged.

I don't think he's ready at all to face a buzz saw. I'd like him to face one now, rather than after he's president. Either way, I don't think he'll be able to handle it.

This won't stop the right-wing banshees from howling, but it's a concession:

The White House ordered the Justice Department Thursday night to consider other places to try the 9/11 terror suspects after a wave of opposition to holding the trial in lower Manhattan.

The dramatic turnabout came hours after Mayor Bloomberg said he would "prefer that they did it elsewhere" and then spoke to Attorney General Eric Holder....

There were two issues here. One was money:

Estimates put the cost of a multiyear terror trial in lower Manhattan at about $200 million a year. Leaders have suggested other venues for the trial, such as the Military Academy at West Point or Stewart Air National Guard Base in upstate Newburgh.

The federal government has said they would reimburse the city for the costs, most of which cover overtime for increased security, but they won't reimburse business owners for lost revenue during the chaos, said Steven Spinola, president of the heavyweight business group Real Estate Board of New York.

"Is the federal government going to give the city $1 billion plus the cost of propping up businesses? I don't think so," Spinola said.

Of course, as James Gordon Meek of the Daily News very sensibly pointed out yesterday,

It's worth noting here that the hundreds, if not thousands, of extra federal prosecutors, defense lawyers, cops, U.S. Marshals, FBI agents and international news media who will prosecute, defend, protect or cover the biggest terror trial in history will be spending millions in hotels, eateries, bars and shops. You might even argue they'll surely more than offset any losses from the added inconveniences.

Yeah, you might.

But my favorite quote from the Real Estate Board's Spinola was in yesterday's Times:

"I believe it would destroy the economy in Lower Manhattan," said Steve Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents property owners.

Uh, dude? The 9/11 attacks didn't "destroy the economy in Lower Manhattan." Basically what you're saying is that trial this would have been worse than 9/11. Um, really?

The other issue, of course, is security:

Raymond W. Kelly, the city's police commissioner, ... has also expressed alarm over the impact of the trial on the Police Department, which has shrunk significantly since Mr. Bloomberg took office in 2002. Providing security for the court case, he has told city officials, would "suck the oxygen" from the department....

In response to that, I'll quote Roy Edroso:

In their zeal to beat up President Obama on this issue, the trial-movers seem not to notice that they are loudly proclaiming to the world that the federal prosecution of terrorists accused of attacking New York is something New York itself is inadequate to handle. Well, this whole "capital of the world" thing was getting a little old, anyway.


In the last post on this blog, Aimai expressed her outrage at reports that the White House had no plan for salvaging the health care bill in the event of a Scott Brown victory. And that reminded me of a post I wrote in November, when the plan for the 9/11 trial was announced:

Now, would you bet the rent money that Obama's actually going to manage to pull this off? Do you really believe he can't be forced to back down on this?

I have serious doubts -- and this is what drives me crazy about Obama. He takes bold steps -- and then he doesn't have a plan for overcoming serious roadblocks. That's where he is on closing Guantanamo. That's where he seems to be ... on health care -- it's not at all certain that reform is going to leap the Lieberman/Nelson/Snowe/Stupak/etc. roadblocks regarding abortion and the public option. Is he ready for the firestorm in this case? Is he going to be able to tough it out?

Well, guess what?

[An] insider told the Daily News that Justice officials have been caught off guard by the fiery opposition in New York.

"They're in a tizzy at Justice over Bloomberg," a federal law enforcement official said. "It's like a half-baked souffle -- the plan is collapsing."

Face, meet palm.


I bet the folks in the White House still don't have a plan for neutralizing opposition to holding the trial wherever they now decide to hold it. The hissyfits aren't going to die down. I'd like to think Team Obama has a learning curve on this, but I doubt it.

What's infuriating about this is that the trial was going to be held in a place that couldn't possibly be more of a target than it already is. Jihadist terrorists are dangerous, but they're simple-minded; they keep going back to the same very limited MOs. Blow up a plane. Attack a military target. Attack a financial capital. They're so ploddingly predictable. They don't want to attack some random mall in East Overshoe, Indiana, even though a series of random attacks like that would probably be more unsettling to America. Manhattan is always maximally targeted, and East Overshoe isn't. Yet now we're going to try to move this trial to East Overshoe.

(And then, ultimately, to a military base overseas, because the Obama administration won't be able to withstand the anger about an East Overshoe trial.)


Meanwhile, I see that there are calls in certain right-wing precincts for an impeachment of Eric Holder. The reason (if that's the right word) is the decision to hold a civil trial of the underpants bomber, which, we're told, "disarms our country and objectively arms our enemies." I'm sure the wingers are planning to use that notion as a rallying cry for the fall campaign -- and they're going to toss the 9/11 trial into the mix. Or maybe we'll just see impeachment as the first move of a GOP House if the Republicans seize control in 2010 -- especially if the Democrats' majority in the Senate depends on Joe Lieberman (or Lieberman and Harold Ford).


UPDATE: Zandar points out this Glenn Greenwald tweet:

There's no reason KSM trial has to be in NYC if there are good reason for it not to be - the key is that there be a real trial - not where

True -- except that moving the trial out of NYC doesn't have the slightest chance of reducing the right's anti-Obama theatrical anger on this. It's like health care. The only acceptable outcome is total capitulation to the GOP, which means military trials under Bush rules. And that means unmodified Bush rules -- after several fallbacks, the Obama administration will probably fold and go along with a military tribunal, but try to make it more like jurisprudence in a civilized nation. And even that will be deemed unacceptable by the GOP.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wow. This is Remarkable. Or Maybe I mean Insane.

The White House had no Massachusetts health care contingency plan, not discussing the possibility a Democratic loss would dramatically imperil their legislative efforts, a top adviser said today.

President Obama's senior advisor David Axelrod said there "wasn't much discussion" about an alternative path to passing health care with just 59 Democrats in the Senate because there was "widespread assumption was that that seat was safe."

"The truth is the flares went up about 10 days before that election," Axelrod said during a briefing today with reporters and opinion-makers.

You know, this is unforgiveable. Just totally unforgiveable. I never had any problem at all with Bush moving Rove into the White House. I mean, I objected to the running of major political and moral events as though they were only campaign elements--like, say, bombing an innocent civilian population and calling it the "rolling out of a new program" like it was candy for seniors. But I think its only natural that in a two party system where the President's entire domestic agenda depends on maintaining a 60 vote margin in the Senate the President get some dedicated advice and information about key electoral battles around the country. We've tossed around the word "political malpractice" quite a bit. This is a stunning example. And its one of the reasons I've complained about the lack of feedback from ground level operatives like OFA. They went from being very tuned in to what was happening at the State Level to being a totally top down organization that is entirely unresponsive to information from Obama's actual voters. We could have told him that Coakley was in trouble. But they aren't set up that way anymore.

There's starting to be general agreement that James O'Keefe wasn't trying to wiretap Mary Landrieu's office after all -- but to me the story isn't quite holding together.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a good roundup:

...The theory getting the most traction is that the men were trying to catch Landrieu staffers in the act of ignoring phone calls from unhappy constituents or admitting they had done so in the past....

NBC's Pete Williams, quoting a law enforcement official, reports that the men wanted to see how Landrieu's local office staff would respond if the phones were inoperative....

O'Keefe became famous last year with secretly taped videos that brought the community organization ACORN to its knees....

The Washington Post reports that O'Keefe signaled that he was hoping to top that in 2010....

"2008: Planned Parenthood VPs fired 2009: ACORN defunded 2010: Get ready cuz this is about to get heavy," he wrote on his public Twitter page....

But how the hell was this -- at least as it's now described ("catch[ing] Landrieu staffers in the act of ignoring phone calls from unhappy constituents or admitting they had done so in the past") -- going to be even remotely as newsworthy as the ACORN story, or even the story in which Planned Parenthood workers were secretly taped and embarrassed, reportedly after conversations about fudging a legal birthdate for an abortion and accepting a donation targeted specifically at aborting non-whites?

It doesn't make sense. The Landrieu story would have been much more boring -- even if you were a Louisiana resident. It wouldn't have hit any hot buttons of life and death, or race, or underage sex. And why would disabling the phones make O'Keefe's point effectively? Wouldn't it be better to have one conspirator calling in and getting the phone to ring while another conspirator with a hidden camera secretly interviewed the staffer who was ignoring the call (if that really is the usual M.O. of Landrieu's staff)?

The wingnut noise machine is now in nonstop whining mode because news organizations initially characterized this as a wiretap attempt.

Maybe it wasn't. But to me the current story doesn't hold up either. And if what we're hearing now is the truth about what O'Keefe was doing in Landrieu's office, I have to assume he had something else in mind as the future endeavor that was "about to get heavy" in the eyes of the public. Unless getting arrested (and subsequent martyrdom on the right) was the point. Or unless the "get heavy" quote was just O'Keefe tweeting with an Eminem song stuck in his head.

From a poll of swing voters conducted by Democracy Corps before and after the State of the Union address:

Entering the evening, swing voters in this group agreed with a 48 to 16 percent plurality saying Obama "puts Wall Street ahead of the middle class." But after the speech, the number disagreeing with that statement jumped a remarkable 50 points, to 66 percent. Moreover, Obama saw a 38-point increase in support for his banking reform plan and a 40-point increase in the percent saying that he "stands up to special interests." Obama's strong words for the banks clearly resonated and generated some of the strongest scores on our dials of the night from Democrats, Republicans and independents.


... his vow to end tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs ... saw the single highest rating of the night.

Every terrified congressional Democrat who sees doom in the offing come November 2010 needs to grasp this. You all play by the rules of Wall Street and big business because you think otherwise you'll be attacked and defunded and you won't get reelected. Well, guess what? If you stick with that course of action, you really won't get reelected.

But turn on your plutocrat masters? That's a game-changer. And isn't that what you're looking for? A game-changer? Could it possibly be handed to you on a bigger platter?

A caveat from the pollsters:

Unlike most [Obama] attributes that shifted during the speech, "promises things that sound good but won't be able get them done" remained very high (78 percent pre-speech to 74 percent post-speech). The "shifters" in these post-speech focus groups are waiting for results....

Congressional Dems? They're waiting for results from you, too -- on jobs and, yes, on health care ... and on reducing some of the grotesque inequity in this society between the have-nots and the have-everythings.

Your move.

Chris Matthews is justifiably being attacked from the left, right, and center for saying this about President Obama last night on MSNBC -- in response to a question about bank taxes, for Pete's sake:

"I was trying to think about who he was tonight. It's interesting: he is post-racial, by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour. You know, he's gone a long way to become a leader of this country, and passed so much history, in just a year or two. I mean, it's something we don't even think about. I was watching, I said, wait a minute, he's an African-American guy in front of a bunch of other white people. And here he is president of the United States and we've completely forgotten that tonight -- completely forgotten it. I think it was in the scope of his discussion. It was so broad-ranging, so in tune with so many problems, of aspects, and aspects of American life that you don't think in terms of the old tribalism, the old ethnicity. It was astounding in that regard. A very subtle fact. It's so hard to talk about. Maybe I shouldn't talk about it, but I am. I thought it was profound that way."

This is appalling, obviously -- but I think I more or less understand how he's thinking.

Matthews is a would-be anti-racist of his generation -- he was born in 1945 -- whose mind was quite effectively colonized by racism. The racists of his formative years believed that blacks sure didn't seem capable of many of the achievements of whites. For Matthews (and, I think, some others of his peer group), being anti-racist means accepting that premise about appearances -- but spending a great deal of time looking for evidence that disproves it, and gasping with amazement every time such evidence is spotted (and, needless to say, feeling very self-satisfied after spotting and pointing out such evidence).

That might have been (barely) justifiable in the early 1960s. It might have actually worked as some sort of corrective to the predominant thinking of the era. But Matthews has had decades to shift his thinking. And he's still stuck in his time warp.


Ross Douthat, one of the "reasonable" right-wingers at The New York Times, blogging the State of the Union address:

In the wake of the Massachusetts results, there was a lot of chatter among conservative pundits about whether Barack Obama was even capable of executing a strong pivot to the center....

For my part, I figured that a pivot to the center was the plan all along -- or at least, that it became the plan once Obama's poll numbers started to sag, and the chances of steamrolling the whole Democratic agenda through Congress in his first two years evaporated....

But this pivot, if that's what the White House planned, was contingent on a health care victory. Instead, the legislation has entered a weird political limbo, and taken Obama's presidency into limbo with it.

That was certainly the impression left by tonight's State of the Union, which struck me as the speech of a President who doesn't know what narrative he's selling. The eloquence was there, but the tone veered wildly -- now self-critical, now self-justifying; now scolding, now conciliatory -- and so did the substance....

If I'm reading this right, to Douthat, a "pivot to the center" means no "self-justifying" and no "scolding" at all -- just self-criticism and conciliation. There's simply no overlap between anything Obama has done, or has advocated, and the center. In order to be a centrist, he has to renounce every bit of his past. In order to be a centrist, he has to agree 100% with the right-wing party.

I suppose it's naive of me to even bring this to your attention. This is simply the way it is, even for "reasonable" right-wingers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I deeply regret that I didn't get around to predicting that Maureen Dowd would develop a deep crush on Scott Brown, but I assure you I knew this column was coming -- go back to 2003 and see how impressed, non-snarky, and sympathetic she was after meeting that year's unexpected, dreamy red-conqueror-in-a-blue-state, Arnold Schwarzenegger: "It was impossible not to feel sorry for the guy," Dowd insisted as Schwarzenegger explained why a woman-bashing scene in one of the Terminator movies isn't sexist, and you could practically hear Dowd warming up to do a karaoke version of "He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)."

No, I'm much more upset to read this:

As the president scrambles to freeze some spending and unfreeze his persona, Obama strategists hope that, in some weird way, Brown will help revive the president's fortunes.

They say that if Brown turns out to be as independent as Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, he can help the president bypass the conservative troglodytes on the Hill and pull Obama out of his slump.

Yeah, right -- Collins and Snowe have been so helpful on health care and Gitmo and financial reform. Their help made the stimulus so substantial and effective.

I wouldn't care if this were just Dowd speculating -- but if there are really "Obama strategists" talking like this, they should be sent packing, for gross incompetence.
Law of Unintended Consequences:

Shocking true story. Bishops ask everyone to take the Politics out of Health Care Reform!

Although many pro-life groups joined Republicans in backing Brown's unlikely candidacy despite his pro-choice credentials -- as we reported here -- the Catholic bishops stayed on the sidelines, and many were clearly as dismayed as the White House when Brown upended predictions and took the seat that had been held by Ted Kennedy for decades. Brown's position on abortion, and his vow to block health care reform, is the worst of all worlds from the hierarchy's perspective.

One churchman I spoke with said the bishops were surprised at Brown's victory and were alarmed at the speed with which Democrats appeared to abandon the effort to pass some version of health care reform. He said the bishops had been trying to get a read on the political dynamics, but said so much remained in flux that they sent this letter to let their voice be heard ahead of Wednesday's State of the Union address.

Indeed, President Obama could do worse than adopt some of the bishop's language in his speech to the nation, if he wants to try to resurrect health care reform.

A paradox of the health care debate is that the Catholic bishops have had a place at the table because Obama -- who many bishops excoriated during the campaign as a candidate no good Catholic could support -- made health care reform a priority and because pro-life Democrats made sure the hierarchy had a say in the negotiations.

Yet the Republicans who had ostensibly been the bishops' closest allies in Congress have shown no inclination to listen to them on health care reform. Only one Republican congressman, freshman Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana, a former Jesuit seminarian, bucked the party to support the House bill.

"The Republicans seem to have made a decision to oppose anything that the Democrats propose," a church official closely involved in the health care negotiations told me in frustration.

He said the bishops would like to rescue as much of the existing bills as possible, and he said they hope that an effort to retain and pass the heart of the bills would allow contentious issues like abortion funding to disappear. But he said that would also mean coverage for immigrants, another issue dear to the hierarchy, would certainly be off the table.

This would be the funniest thing I've ever read, if it weren't the saddest. On the brighter side, this is the first example I've ever seen of the Catholic Church, or any branch of the modern Conservative Movement, having to grasp the fact that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Those bastards spent years attacking Kennedy and Kerry for being bad Catholics and pillorying every Catholic politician to the left of Catherine de Medici and now they are surprised that Scott Brown won MA and doesn't give a flying fuck about the poor or the immigrants?
The One Thing I Want From the SOTU

I want Obama to come in to a round of applause, let everyone sit down, and then ask them all to stand up and shake their yayas out before the speech. This always works when they do it with the kindergarten class. I'd like him to ask the Republicans, specifically, by name if they think they are going to need more time to collect themselves, need a bathroom break, or if they are going to get so excited that they will be shouting "are we there yet?" and "fuck you!" from the back seat of the car.


Well, this gives me hope:

Oregon voters bucked decades of anti-tax and anti-Salem sentiment Tuesday, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services.

The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits....

Overall statewide turnout was expected to be around 60 percent of Oregon's 2 million voters.

Campaign ads by supporters highlighted banks and credit card companies and showed images of well-dressed people stepping off private jets. They also hammered on the $10 minimum tax that most corporations have paid since its inception in 1931....

According to an Oregon commenter in my (abortive) resignation thread, "There was a media saturation campaign by the opposition" -- and yet this thing passed handily. Turnout was high, too -- just like in, er, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, there's this, in a story about an otherwise extremely bleak poll for Democrats, conducted for NPR by a Democratic polling firm and a Republican one:

There is one bright spot for the president in the poll's results: Obama's proposed bank tax.

"[The Wall Street bailout is] very much at the heart of problems plaguing incumbents and plaguing Democrats," [Democratic pollster Stan] Greenberg says, adding that more people think Democrats are responsible for the bailouts than helping the middle class.

"So the fee on the banks wins a lot of support," he says.

Most of President Obama's agenda has united the Republicans in opposition, but a bank tax is one of the few things with the potential to drive a wedge through the Republican ranks.

Are you listening, Democrats? And left blogosphere denizens?

Health care should not be the #1 priority. Doing something about an economy in which the tide is lifting yachts and sinking all other boats should be the #1 priority. At the very least, just respond to anger about the inequity.

Ah, but Obama will probably fixate on the deficit, while Left Blogistan will stick with "Health Care Reform or Death!"

By the way, this poll now shows generic Republicans with a 30-point advantage among white men going into 2010 -- and a 9-point advantage among white women. Um, that's not good.


UPDATE: Adam is right -- put the Oregon referendum on the ballot in states all over the country.

I can't tell what ACORN pimp James O'Keefe and his merrie band had in mind when they were arrested for trying to tap Mary Landrieu's office phones in New Orleans, but I'll toss out some links and you can try to connect the dots if you like.

Landrieu isn't someone they could bring down in the midterms -- she was returned to office in 2008 and doesn't have to run again until 2014 -- although I'm sure they fantasized about forcing her to resign (in which case she'd presumably be replaced by Republican governor Bobby Jindal). But when I look at the blog posts about Landrieu that Robert Flanagan, one of O'Keefe's co-"plumbers," wrote for the right-wing think tank known as the Pelican Institute, I don't see much: there's a silly philosophical dispute with Landrieu about "personal responsibility," and then there's a post from November taking note of a complaint by the liberal group CREW charging that Landrieu may have made a donation to the U.S. Treasury to cover up a quid pro quo on behalf of a contributor. That's mildly scandalous, but really, it's traffic-ticket stuff -- it's not going to force her out of office.

I wonder if what these guys were looking for concerns something along the lines of this, which I happened to notice in Ben McGrath's article on the Tea Party movement in this week's New Yorker (an article that's quite sympathetic -- as all mainstream write-ups of the movement seem to be lately):

One of the men at the meeting offered to drive me around the lot to speed up the search, taking the opportunity to show me a three-ring binder that he kept in the back seat of his van, full of homemade graphs showing the growth of the national debt, and Internet printouts that hinted at links between, for instance, ACORN and an Obama campaign office in Louisiana.

That could be a reference to this story, also from November, involving congressional nutjob Steve King:

Rep. Steve King: Bauer was hired to 'erase tracks' between Obama, ACORN

Newly appointed White House counsel Bob Bauer is "perfectly positioned to be tasked with erasing the tracks between Obama and ACORN," one Republican lawmaker charged Friday.

The lawyer's hiring, announced this morning shortly after Greg Craig officially resigned the post, was also an attempt by the White House to deflect any fallout that may arise from an ACORN investigation currently underway in Louisiana, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) added in a statement.

“Bob Bauer has a public record of defending Barack Obama’s relationship with ACORN, the congressman told supporters. "Bauer’s hiring appears to be a tactical maneuver to strategically defend the White House exactly one week after Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell raided ACORN's national headquarters in New Orleans and seized paper records and computer hard drives that may lead to the White House.”

However, the link between Bauer, the president and ACORN's Louisiana office is long, winding and confusing, at best....

Yes -- in 2008, Bauer, in campaign mode, said the ACORN investigation was a political move. And later Bauer became White House counsel. There doesn't seem to have been anything more sinister going on than that. But everything's a big conspiracy to these guys.

The wingnuts didn't like a voter registration drive in Louisiana conducted by ACORN and Project Vote; The New York Times noted in June 2008 that

the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington ... paid for the drive because Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, is up for re-election....

Wingers think Landrieu won election to the Senate in 1996 via voter fraud. The charges were leveled by Neal Hogan of a group called the Voter Integrity Project. Google Neal Hogan and you find yourself off in Shadow Land: these guys say he was the head of the D.C. chapter of the Christian Coalition (and that he fraudulently claimed a Texas law license he didn't have); this LaRouchenik says he was a private investigator hired in the '90s by paranoid wingnut congressman Dan Burton to investigate the Clinton "Chinagate" story; and his name and bio appear on membership rolls of the Council for National Policy, which was described by The New York Times in 2004 as "a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country" that "gathers in strictest privacy."

So my guess is that O'Keefe et al. thought they could find some sort of Landrieu-ACORN-Obama Octopus -- or not so much an Octopus as a White Whale long pursued by prominent wingnuts -- and make all of liberalism and the entire Democratic Party come crashing down.

Or something like that.

I'm taking the rest of the month off, and I may not be back. It's not good for my mental health to keep looking for signs of hope, or even pockets of amusement, in a political system that seems essentially rigged against everything I stand for -- and at the same time I'm not enjoying the sustained hostility I'm feeling from you readers every time I actually describe something as a possible sign of hope, or even shrewdness on the part of people on "our side," or if I take a position that contradicts received wisdom. I don't know what I'll do with all the time I normally spend on this crap, but I do know that the time I've put into it in recent weeks is starting to seem like time wasted.

... Oh, screw it -- I can't seem to stay away from this for very long. A couple of things have piqued my interests, so there'll be a couple of posts soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


You probably know about the ACORN pimp and his fellow accused felons:

Alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, the office confirmed. All four were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony....

So where can they turn for help? Well, I don't know about Flanagan, but presumably Basel as well as O'Keefe can get some assistance from former mentors:

O'Keefe became the founding editor of The Centurion at Rutgers. Around the same time, frustrated conservative student Joe Basel started The Counterweight at the University of Minnesota-Morris. Both papers were started with assistance from the Leadership Institute "Balance in Media" grant...

The Leadership Institute is headed by its founder, Morton Blackwell -- who is, by the way, a Louisiana native and a former member of the Louisiana Republican Party's central committee. The institute's alumni include Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and Jeff Gannon. A year ago, many famous right-wingers (Steve Forbes, Pat Toomey, Richard Viguerie, Phyllis Schlafly) endorsed Blackwell as a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Stan Dai, in his student days, was a fellow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (a right-wing think tank whose board and "leadership council" include Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman, James Woolsey, and Bill Kristol, and whose board of advisors includes Gary Bauer, Charles Krauthammer, Eric Cantor, and Richard Perle) and of Students Defending Democracy, which is also part of Morton Blackwell's empire.

So I think someone could help these guys make bail.


UPDATE: Lindsay Beyerstein has more -- she finds him speaking on torture at a CIA event earlier this year; another speaker at the event was the press secretary of Dick Armey's FreedomWorks. She also quotes from the masterpiece he coauthored for his student paper -- The Penis Monologues:

MY PENIS IS ANGRY!!!!!!! ...

And damn, I forgot to note, for those who've forgotten, that Morton Blackwell was the Purple Heart Band-Aid guy at the 2004 Republican convention.

If this is Barack Obama's send-for-Dick-Morris moment, his rightward move apparently comes with as many asterisks as his progressivism. I'm not sure I mean that as criticism -- in a way, it gives me (faint) hope.

I understand the despair at the spending freeze -- but I read the analysis written by The New Republic's Noam Scheiber in December, when the idea first surfaced, and it gives me pause:

... there is a logic to Orszag's gambit, which runs roughly as follows: It's almost certain that Congress will pass, and the president will sign, a jobs bill early next year, probably in the neighborhood of $100 billion to $200 billion. Given that, and given the difficulty of doing anything about the long-term deficit next year, the administration needs some signal to U.S. bondholders that it takes the deficit seriously. Just not so seriously that it undercuts the extra stimulus.

The Orszag approach just might accomplish that. Given the amount of domestic discretionary spending in the federal budget--about $700 billion this fiscal year--we’re talking about cuts of, at most, several tens of billions of dollars if Orszag holds the line on spending (and probably less once Congress weighs in). Which means the cuts wouldn't come close to offsetting the likely stimulus. But they just might buy some credibility in the bond market, which could defer the day when the real deficit cutting has to start.

And then I read what Jared Bernstein writes at

...During the campaign, you may recall that John McCain touted ... the hatchet approach of an across-the-board freeze.

The President was critical of that approach then, and we would be critical of it now. It's not what we're proposing. To the contrary, the entire theory of the President's proposed freeze is to dial up the stuff that will support job growth and innovation while dialing down the stuff that doesn't. Under our plan, some discretionary spending will go up; some will go down. That's a big difference from a hatchet.

Take, for example, the policies we announced yesterday -- a significant expansion (a 20% increase) in a program that provides services for seniors, like respite care and in-home services; a program to limit student loan repayments to 10 percent of income (after living expenses); an expansion of two tax credits, one for child care and another for retirement savings.

How can we expand these programs in the context of a freeze? By making sure that the freeze either holds steady or increases those parts of the discretionary budget that support jobs and income security for folks who need them, while whacking the wasteful subsidies that support lobbyists and special interests....

No, I don't have much confidence that Obama and Democrats can calibrate this with exquisite care so that only bad stuff gets cut. But I'm starting to think that this is less a Sister Souljah moment than an act of bamboozlement -- sincere bamboozlement.

What I mean is that Obama really is a guy who believes some progressive stuff and some right-wing stuff and some right-centrist and left-centrist stuff, and now he's using that sincere tendency toward bet-hedging in a tactical, cynical way to throw right-wingers (or at least swing voters who've been finding right-wing ideas increasingly persuasive) off stride. No, it's not what I want -- but I think the mix is going to be a lot more politically effective than most lefties think.

In response to a new Quinnipiac poll showing that teabag pinup Marco Rubio has erased formerly beloved right-centrist governor Charlie Crist's lead in the race for the GOP Senate nomination in Florida, Steve Benen writes:

... Daily Kos fielded a poll in late November and found that Crist would be in a very strong position to win the Senate seat -- if he switches parties and runs as a Democrat. It prompted Markos to conclude that Crist's "cleanest path to a Senate seat" is "switching parties and making an earnest transition on the issues."

It's doubtful that Crist would make the switch (as Steve notes, he's been tacking to the right, to salvage this race) -- but doesn't the fact that he could switch very credibly, along with the current news of Obama's Hooverite spending freeze, suggest the logical future of the two-party system in America: an old-style Republican Party and a Tea Party Party?

You'll say that's where we are already. I understand. But I'm imagining a future in which candidates of the "left" party don't even pretend to be neo-New Dealers at campaign time -- they just talk the way Crist talked until he tried to go wingnut; they talk the way Clinton governed (or Bloomberg governs, or Schwarzenegger governs).

It's clear that liberalism is unwelcome in our governance. I just wonder why it even persists in our political rhetoric. I suppose it's because a few of us throwbacks still hope for it. Older voters have fond memories of it. Popular programs like Medicare and Social Security have liberal roots. But I wonder if we'll get to the point where even talking liberal is beyond the pale, the way communism is beyond the pale in our political culture, and right-centrism will be the left edge of our political discourse.
Reading the Romance

It occured to me, after the billionth re-iteration of "what does Obama mean when he..." over at Balloon Juice, that when we watch our political overlords do their little monkey dance, and ring their little cymbals, we are engaged in a process of reading a text. We know that--we talk about reading the entrails, and reading the tea leaves, and reading the wall posters, and kremlinology, the horse race and handicapping--and we use all kinds of metaphors of reading, scrying, peering, code breaking, signaling, and discerning. But we very seldom ask ourselves what kind of text we are reading. I'm going to submit that a lot of the anguish and rage in the debate over Obama and his presidency derives from the fact that we are actually reading a particular genre--the Romance but we don't know it, or we refuse to acknowledge it. Maybe because we are embarrassed to admit it? Maybe because the majority of blog posters and commenters are male and pretend to be unaware of, or uninterested in, the conventions of the Romance. Not me, boy. I'm aware and interested in the Romance, and I see evidence of it all around.

I think that's going to be a hard sell for male readers and I know someone is going to read this and say b...b...but, b...b...but, I don't want to have sex with Obama I wanted to have a beer with him, or play hoops with him. But I don't think I have to go very far to point out that there's almost always a chaste homoerotic flavor to the approved male bonding rituals. Karl Rove's devotion to Bush was fairly explicitly modeled on Bush's sex appeal and the worn fit of his jeans over his rump. Do I have to remind everyone of "Dated Dean/Married Kerry?" or "Starbursts?" The position of the voter/reader in this narrative is a very fluid one--sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Sometimes you are the male protagonist, sometimes the female. Sometimes you are in a singular, monogamous relationship, sometimes you find yourself in a compound in Big Love. They say that in our dreams we are all the characters. And what is the Presidency and the party structure but a collective dream--or delusion of collectivity?

I'm not likening the voter, or the blog poster's, relationship to Obama to a Romance because I'm trying to insult people, or to insult the way they (or we) made our choice for President. Romance isn't something icky and emotional that happens to women. And Romance isn't a synonym for hysterical and ill thought out. Its not even solely a synonym for love. Its not opposed to the rational. Its just a subset of all other kinds of narratives about human relationships. As a narrative it follows its own conventions. And as a very popular narrative reflecting some very popular cultural forms and issues we instinctively fall into its tropes when we are doing certain things like choosing a candidate or evaluating our relationship with a candidate or a President.

In the case of Obama I'd submit that for some voters the relationship was a classically romantic romance, in the sense of a passionate attachment to an idealized figure but for others it was an unromantic romance, more akin to an arranged marriage in which the voter is joined to a distant, important, candidate for purely social and political reasons: Party identification, necessity, rejection of other candidates. Both kinds of unions are part of the romance genre. Both unions can and do involve a period during which one or both parties is in the relationship without really knowing the other. And isn't that what all our blog discussions about what Obama's actions in his first year mean amount to? And isn't that what all the Administration's, and the Congress's, fixation on polls amounts to? We are both trying to guess what our beloved's actions mean for the relationship. Obama and the Dems are guessing what the voter's "meant" by the MA election. We are trying to guess what Obama "means" by pushing forward (or not) on DADT, or getting (or not) Health Care Reform passed. That's not some weird game we are both playing: its the natural result of the fact that the relationship is not that of an old, married, couple who can trust each other but the result of a short campaign/an arranged union between candidate and voter.

The great Romances, like Austen's Pride and Prejudice, contain this early period of examination, infatuation, code breaking, rune reading, misunderstanding and high comedy before the marriage. Other classic Romances put this period after the marriage (Heyer's A Civil Contract is the one that comes immediately to mind but there are plenty of others). In fact, bringing together two parties in an arranged marriage, or a marriage that precedes courtship or mutual understanding, is very common in the modern Romance. The parties are brought together before they really know each other and each must spend the bulk of the relationship--the first year in office?--struggling to decipher the actions of the other person and breaking the code of a largely non verbal and inexplicit set of actions read as messages. Whether the romance ends in comedy, or tragedy, depends on how successfully those messages are received or decoded--just look at Romeo and Juliet.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the voter is not the sole mate of the candidate--we're more in the position of one of an infinite number of polygamous brides. We're in this marriage with someone we don't know well, who is quite distant from us physically and socially, and we are trying to interpret his public gestures and speeches and add them up and gain some insight into his next move. Meanwhile, we aren't his only focus. In fact, he appears to be trying to bring new women into the marriage--he's sometimes speaking to that new audience of potential wives. He's sometimes negotiating with a different set of in laws. He's sometimes diving into our collective purse to pay for these new interests. He's sometimes turning his eyes back to us and promising us more attention, or more money, or more something so we don't run off with the next plausible rogue. (The more I think about it the more the entire exercise, and Obama himself, remind me of the characters in Big Love: Obama is the milquetoast, middle class, reasonable, average man who out of devotion to "the principle" finds himself marrying more and more wives and having more and more children. He thinks of himself as a sacrificial offering and a dominant patriarch helping each wife and child to a greater, more enduring union but he appears to be largely ignorant of his wive's true interests, goals, and life situations. He's constantly putting out economic and political fires in the "real world" while at home his family is struggling to support him, misunderstanding what he's doing, and being misunderstood in turn.)

Sometimes, if we are FDL, we think we can get his attention back by threatening to leave. Sometimes, if we are Angus the God of Meat (see this entire Things Will Burn thread) we think that we can hold his attention by promising to be loyal and faithful regardless of how he disappoints us. More to the point, we are sure that if the other wives don't deviate and hold fast, things will definitely work out. A certain kind of voter/political activist is sure that the best thing to do is to make sure all the other wives stay in line, that will certainly keep the husband from straying. Another voter/political activist is certain that all we need is a wives's union and a better bargaining structure. All of these responses make sense--all are rational, political, economic, logical and culturally grounded in a model of the candidate/voter that is essentially highly romantic. Both the "punish him until he pays attention" and "propitiate him until he loves us again" argument are typical and stereotypical ways of dealing with a distant lover.

And that brings me to another romantic aspect of our relationship with Obama: our identification with him as a figure of nobility, or scorn, of adoration, or contempt. Very few of us seem to be able to view Obama as the mere techno/wonk he wants to be. That's not the result of some weird psycho voter drama--that's the nature of our political system, the way the candidate presents himself, campaign promises, and the failure of the President's post campaign strategy of governance. Rightly or wrongly, joyfully or sadly, the President--this President--offered himself as a new way forward, a way to repair our relationship with the rest of the world, a way to solve our political, social and economic problems here at home. He raised a lot of hopes, and he did it by promising to be a lot of different things to a lot of people in need. That was a heavy charge to accept and the result of the campaign was a pretty heavy psychic and social burden for him and the party. Since Obama got into office he's tried to manage his voters' expectations: putting forth initiatives, damping down expectations, offering bipartisanship, talking about moving forward, cautiously reassuring the markets. We, who chose him for a spouse, or had him thrust upon us by the two party system and accepted him on faith as better than the other guy, have literally nothing to go on but these gestures, speeches, and attempts to assess where this relationship is really going. Yesterday and today's freak out about the spending freeze is a case in point. We here in the harem find out about Obama's decision via tweets, signals, tv shows, third party interlocutors none of whom seem to have the exact ear of the President, none of whom knows definitively what he thinks he means by it.That's not a feature of the system: that's a bug. Its not a response to criticism to say "Obama promised it would be a long road" or "people need to grow up" or "stop making a fuss every time you don't get what you want out of the political system." Its a problem for Obama, and the Democratic Party, that they can't figure out how to communicate with their own voters--their own lovers--without creating disappointment, confusion, and rage.

People can be happy in an arranged marriage, they can be confident they've made the right choice, they can even be happy in a polygamous marriage where attention and money are divided among multiple heirs as long as they feel they understand or agree with the goals of the group as a whole. But if the leadership is too distant, or too incompetent to correctly communicate its ideals, or if the acts don't match up with the rhetoric the wives and children end up splitting off if they can.

--edited to fix pesky minor grammatical faults.

Can we please stop talking about how Republicans continue to be in deep trouble because people across the political spectrum, especially teabaggers, dislike them? Take a look at these results from a new CNN poll (PDF):

A negative perception of the GOP on the public's part? Gone -- completely gone. What was an 18-point deficit a mere three months ago is now a statistically insignificant one-point deficit. The public now sees the parties just about equally. (The Democrats' 12-point net positive rating is also gone.)

The accompanying story treats the results as still problematic for the GOP:

While the survey's numbers are not great news for the Democrats, "the coming midterm campaign may not be smooth sailing for the Republicans either," Holland said. "Nearly half the public says they are angry at both parties; only one in ten are angry only at the Democrats."

Yeah, but combine this with the headline item of the poll -- that a whopping 70% of poll respondents think it's good for the country that "the Democrats ... cannot pass bills without cooperation from at least one Republican Senator" -- and I'm struggling to see this much-discussed ongoing disgruntlement with the Republican Party.

(On the other hand, the fact that Democrats' ratings aren't in the toilet yet -- 45% of respondents think Democratic control of Congress is "good for the country," while 48% disagree -- shows that there's some residual affection for the concept of, y'know, doing things in a non-Republican way. Democrats have had the opportunity to realign America's political thinking and steer it away from Reaganism, although I think the window is rapidly closing and the health care bill, in particular, is box-office poison. But a bit of competence and responsiveness to voters could save the Democratic Party yet, although that's just theoretically true, because it's so difficult to imagine it actually happening.)

In any case, please disabuse yourselves of the notion that the GOP remains broadly unpopular. Voters seem to want "independents," but, post-Scott Brown, the GOP is starting to be the "independent" party in a lot of voters' eyes. And as for the tea party movement, see this post from Digby (emphasis added):

Katie Couric sits down with a couple of teabaggers to find out what they really believe. And it turns out that they believe in individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, free markets, limited government, low taxes, a strong national defense and protecting our borders against the immigrant invasion. They think the government has usurped the constitution and see themselves as uber-patriots fulfilling the founders' intent. They believe fervently in American exceptionalism and that the nation is under mortal threat from foreign enemies without and traitors within. They are divided on social issues but insist that they are irrelevant to their movement --- they repeat Republican talking points verbatim but insist they are not Republicans. In other words they are standard issue conservative movement wingnuts without the cross.

I think some teabaggers' crosses will emerge very, very soon (see: Palin, Sarah), but apart from that, I agree with every word Digby wrote here. Voting Republican will just be the logical, inevitable move for nearly every teabagger in November 2010 and 2012.

President Obama is proposing "a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that," exempting "the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as ... Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security." At Economist's View, Mark Thoma says:

...we get cheap political tricks that are likely to backfire. How will this look, for example, if there's a double dip recession, or if unemployment follows the dismal path that the administration itself has forecast?

How will it look? What a silly question. The president is a Democrat, which means everything he does looks exactly the same -- as if he's a profligate, heedless taxing/spending maniac. Short of abolishing the federal government by executive order and selling the city of Washington for scrap, Obama can't do anything that would change that perception. Democrats are who they are; don't confuse us with actual policies that contradict what we already know.

If the economy recovers, voters will decide they like Obama again, for some reason having to do with his personality or his style or his seeming empathy; if it doesn't, his popularity will go the way of Carter's and Bush's. But either way, the public will never believe Obama was a careful fiscal steward. Our superstitious beliefs about the parties are just too deeply ingrained. Clinton never got credit for deficit hawkery, and Reagan did. That's all you need to know.


UPDATE: In comments, Aimai argues that this isn't going to work politically:

This is going to be like school uniforms in its impact on the overall political debate.

Yeah, but that's just the point -- school uniforms and all the other small-bore things Clinton did to regain his footing after his early troubles actually worked for him. Why? Because, when combined with right-tacking moves like welfare reform and Robert Rubin's deficit policy, they were a signal to the Beltway mandarins: I've been a naughty boy and I know it. I tried to be somewhat of a Democrat. I now understand the error of my ways. You've spanked me, and this is my way of saying "Thank you."

That rightward tack also played well with a public that had never really gotten over its schoolgirl crush on Reaganism (and still hasn't).

Monday, January 25, 2010


In response to David Plouffe's op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post, Ezra Klein wrote, in reference to health care reform:

You'll notice that Plouffe doesn't spend a lot of time hedging that "this bill is not perfect, but it's better than nothing," or "this bill isn't Democrats' first choice, but it's still worth passing." Instead, he says it's a good plan that's been spun as a bad plan, and lists a lot of what it'll do to help families immediately. Democrats could take a lesson from that approach.

Steve Benen concurs:

This isn't exactly a new observation, and Dems have burdened by this bad habit for a long time. They somehow manage to win a policy fight; Republicans trash the policy; and Dems get defensive and act sheepishly about their success.

In the face of Republican hysterics, Dems, more often than not, seem a little
embarrassed by their victories.

That's true -- and what it calls to mind, for me, is the discussion of Barack Obama's blackness that took place during the last presidential campaign. It wasn't clear that the country would vote to elect an African-American president ... but it was believed that Obama had a chance because he was someone whites would regard as a "nonthreatening" black person. (It's a problem other groups have had in gaining access to power -- women walking a tightrope to avoiding seeming too "masculine" and too "feminine," or, in an earlier era, Jews feeling they needed to avoid seeming "pushy.")

Well, now it seems that the group identity Obama struggles the most to reassure voters about is not his race, but his party affiliation.

And most other prominent Democrats do the same.

What they seem to be saying is: We're Democrats, but we're not scary Democrats. We won't do all those scary, hippieish, radical, business-bashing, America-hating things you think we all do, the things that show up in your nightmares about Democrats, the things that make you afraid to move into a Democratic neighborhood. When we assert ourselves, we apologize for it, because we know that makes you think we're like those Democrats -- aggressive and dangerous. We don't want you to think that. In fact, we'd rather just never be assertive at all, so we'll never frighten you and you'll never hate and fear us.

That's the mindset -- Democrats think of themselves as a minority group of sorts that's barely tolerated, and tolerated only as lomg as they "behave."

Really, he doesn't care if he beats Kirsten Gillibrand in the primary -- either that or he and his advisers are utterly tone-deaf and think that the way to win a Democratic primary in New York State is the way you might win it in Tennessee: by running to the center-right. Ford may really be that dumb, but I can't imagine that the high-priced on-loan talent who've helped get Mike Bloomberg elected three times are that foolish.

They would know better than to allow their candidate to pen a high-profile New York Times op-ed saying, among other things, this:

Here are four simple steps we must take immediately to put us, and the nation, on a better course:

First, cut taxes for businesses -- big and small -- and find innovative ways to get Americans back to work. We can start by giving any companies that are less than five years old an exemption from payroll taxes for six months; extending the current capital gains and dividend tax rates through 2012; giving permanent tax credits for businesses that invest in research and development; and reducing the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.

(Emphasis added.)

You want to run on corporatism without alienating Joe Six-Pack? You do it the way Scott Brown did. He came out against the bank tax, and when asked why, he said it's bad in general to raise any taxes in a recession and he said consumers would ultimately pay it. Taken to its logical conclusion, this is a philosophy that argues against ever taxing banks and rich people at all; it's pure Stockholm symndrome. But this is America, and it works -- a lot of voters fall for this Reaganite corporatism-disguised-as-populism.

But Ford isn't making the argument that way. He wants you to hear flat-out that fat cats should be taxed less. He can't really be so obtuse that he thinks this will win him votes in a New York Democratic primary, can he?

I think he's Bloomberg's and Wall Street's candidate, and thus he'll have plenty of cash to treat the Democratic primary as theater. He'll run, and he'll lose, and he'll establish himself as a nominal Democrat -- but simultaneously he'll secure himself a spot on a minor-party ballot line for November. (Maybe, like Bloomberg in the last three elections, he'll get the ballot line of the Independence Party, the brainchild of a bizarre psychotherapist/playwright/activist named Fred Newman). And then he's set to roll as New York's Joe Lieberman (2006 edition), with the hope that the Republican Party will sit the race out, Wall Street will fund him lavishly, and teabaggers will see him as a stick to beat Obama with (while he gulls a few Democrats).

Bloomberg doesn't like Obama these days -- he's criticized the bank tax and the Volcker rule, he's bashed the health care bill, and he's grumbled about the security cost of the 9/11 trial, while his police commissioner has complained that the city wasn't consulted on the decision to hold the trial here. I think Bloomberg is gunning for Obama. I don't really think he'd be backing a complete stumblebum in this situation -- I think they have a plan (which is not to say that I think the plan will work).