Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I'm sure I've said this before in other contexts, but as I read about Sarah Palin's pizza powwow with Donald Trump, and about the speculation (by Chris Good of The Atlantic) that, among other things, she may actually be seeking his endorsement, and especially as I read that her silly publicity tour is being run in a way that deceives the press as to her itinerary, to which the press is reacting not in the sensible way, by blowing her off, but by desperately tailgating her, hoping not to miss any of the empty pseudo-content she's providing ... well, as I read all that, I found my thoughts turning to Being There.

This tells me that if Being There really happened, it wouldn't center on a mentally challenged person whose simplistic utterances are mistaken for great wisdom. A real-life Being There would involve someone we know is saying things that are empty and vacuous -- but which we find (or at least the media finds) irresistible anyway. The media would say, "Here's what the fabulously telegenic idiot is saying! Here's what the fabulously telegenic idiot is doing! Isn't it fascinating? Isn't it profound idiocy?"

We'd know we were hearing empty platitudes -- and we'd cling to every word anyway, or at least the press would.

And why am I putting this in the conditional tense? This isn't vaguely similar to what's happening now -- it's almost exactly what's happening now.

I didn't want to make the last post any longer than it was, but I wanted to say one more thing about David Brooks: I feel that he and Peggy Noonan have passed each other lately, going in opposite directions.

I used to mock Noonan on a regular basis, and I still do once in a while, but these days it's harder. Something has made her less ridiculous -- I think it was the failure of George W. Bush to be the plainspoken, rough-hewn hero of the romance and biblical epic that constantly play (or at least used to play) in the multiplex of her mind. Bush didn't get bin Laden, he didn't win two-fisted victories in Afghanistan and Iraq for the greater glory of Jesus, Reagan, and America, and then the economy tanked on his watch -- and the Republican Party was taken over by Palin and the teabaggers. If you read Noonan these days, she's not fully with the program -- oh, sure, the deficit and debt are evidence of Man's sinful nature, but the party of Reagan seems as "unserious" to her as the Democrats on fiscal matters. In any event, nothing much these days inspires her to lofty flights of spiritual fancy, so, more and more, she's become a political insider with insider-y observations about pols. Reading her now is a bit like reading David Frum. That's why I rarely write about her.

Brooks, on the other hand, seems to have taken the collapse of the economy as his cue to become an angry prophet -- or as close to an angry prophet as you can be while still trying to write prose you hope will be described as "impish." He looks at the fall of the Dow and sees the Fall of Man. He used to think a lust for granite countertops was mildly ridiculous; now he thinks it called down the wrath of the gods. He thinks of himself as the guy who can lead Man out of the wilderness, both by revealing his readers' inner nature and by chiding them for wanting what he already has.

At first I was sorry that his damn book hit #1 on the bestseller list, but now I wish it had done even better -- now I wish it were so astonishly successful that Oprah, or whoever will be her successor, would turn him into a new spiritual guru for vacuous Americans, a sort of Dr. Phil/Dr. Laura gene-splice, but with an aging-chipmunk affect. With luck it would make him a stinking-rich fixture on the self-help circuit -- and get him the hell off the op-ed pages, to be replaced by someone who actually wants to write about politics, not act out a messiah complex.

I can't get three sentences into the latest David Brooks column without feeling testy and impatient:

Over the past few weeks, America's colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew.

OK, maybe this is just me, but I was miserable and depressed when I was 22. If I went back to that age, I don't believe I'd correct all the mistakes I made, thus leading a brilliantly successful life -- I think I'd probably make the same mistakes, or worse ones.

But this isn't about me. Why is David Brooks saying this? Is he arguing that he would like to go back and start over? Does he grasp the fact that his life is really quite nice and he should he be goddamn good and grateful for what he has? Does he really look himself in the mirror and see not an elite millionaire pundit but an ordinary schlub? Does he not see how that's offensive to the rest of us?

But this column isn't about him -- as usual with David Brooks these days, it's about you and me, and how debased our culture is. This time he's grumbling about commencement speeches -- he's apparently the only person who's ever taken one seriously.

First off, though, he has to tell us why it's especially wrong to give bad advice in a commencement speech to this year's graduates (even though -- an obvious fact he ignores -- they'll be texting through the whole speech):

...upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

Apparently Brooks believes this is a new development. Apparently he believes America was a rigidly structured society until, oh, about 2006 or so. We courted like Jane Austen characters, we married at 22, and we rarely roamed more than 50 miles from the places we were born. Then, about five years ago, all hell broke loose.

Or maybe he just means you can be openly gay now in much of the country. (I assume that's the implicit meaning of the quaint phrase "amazingly diverse ... social landscapes and lifestyle niches.") Um, David Brooks is roughly my age. We had gay people when I was 22. We also had punks and non-whites, drug dealers and stockbrokers, and everything in between. And this was just as the notably crazier '60s and '70s were losing their cultural grip -- does Brooks think things are less structured than they were then for a young, confused 22-year-old?

It's odd that he says this, because he spends most of the rest of the column excoriating baby boomers for giving what he regards as bad advice to today's impressionable youth:

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

This being David Brooks, you know what's coming next: priggish words of praise for self-denial.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments -- to a spouse, a community and calling -- yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Look, I'm pro-spouse, and while I'm a deeply unspiritual guy, I understand using "sacred" in reference to the commitment two people develop for each other? But community? In America? Where we barely believe in paying enough taxes to keep the schools running?

And a calling? How many people in America have what they would consider a calling? You go to work (if you have a job), you do what they throw at you, you curse them all day, you get it done, you leave, you go home and bitch about it. Or you're ambitious and you become the person the underlings bitch about. That's a calling? Either one of those?

And he's serious about this word:

Most successful young people don't look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer's and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn't in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don't form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

Brooks doesn't like the "follow your inner dictates" stuff you get in a typical commencement speech, but he's replaced that nonsense with his own nonsense -- he's saying that you'll find meaning in something you do for a living, or at least you will if you're not a failure. He's sufficiently aware of what airy-fairy nonsense this is that he throws in that example of the guy who "works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function." But that's not a calling -- I've done that, as have many people I know, and it just isn't. It's no more a calling than regularly putting out Combat when the apartment you rent at 22 is full of cockroaches is a calling -- it's just something you do to make the miserable aspects of your life more bearable. And trust me: it may keep you employable, but it won't make you a success. The people who clean up after arrogant alpha dogs are never the winners in life.

You know who is a success? People whose calling is finding what less lofty souls than David Brooks refer to as "the main chance." Elsewhere on the Times op-ed page we have Joe Nocera -- the good Joe Nocera this time, railing against too-big-to-fail uber-bankers. He interviews a successful small banker from Buffalo who thinks the uber-bankers are still doing extremely risky things while failing to do what bankers are supposed to do, namely lend to individuals and businesses. This small banker wishes we still had the Glass-Steagall Act in force.

But we don't, and so we have the likes of Jamie Dimon:

Dimon, who made more than $20 million last year at JPMorgan Chase, is widely viewed as the best of the big bank chief executives. But he's also become the most vocal defender of the status quo. "To people who say the system would be safer with smaller banks doing traditional banking, well, the system would be safer if we also went back to horse and buggies," he told the Chamber audience. "That is a quaint notion that won't work in the real world."

I guerss Brooks would say that preserving the status quo is Dimon's calling. And maybe he'd say that every young wannabe Master of the Universe who works for Dimon also has a calling as well -- to keep sucking at that ever-productive financial teat.

Those are this society's real successes. Please, David, explain to me where the sacred is in what they do.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Well, John Harwood of The New York Times, in today's column on the two parties' approaches to Medicare cuts, almost avoids revealing the degree to which wingnut thinking has colonized his mind. But not quite. He writes:

Mr. Obama has proposed further strengthening the Medicare advisory board. One possibility that would have an immediate impact would be to end the 10-year exemption hospitals were granted from the advisory board's jurisdiction.

But after raising the specter of "death panels" in the original health care debate, Republicans are sure to object to an increase of power for unelected bureaucrats, even in the name of reducing costs.

Harwood gets a gold star for putting "death panels" in quotes. Good for him.

He then loses the gold star for giving us another bit of right-wing booga-booga terminology that's not in quotes: "unelected bureaucrats."

Does Harwood really believe this is a neutral phrase that belongs in a straight piece of news analysis? Does he not even recognize that this is a right-wing catchphrase?

If so -- and it clearly seems to be the case -- the right-wingers have at least partly colonized his mind, even if they haven't been able to finish the job.

This was on the front page of today's New York Times, and it strikes me as really naive:

...There are no national surveys that track doctors' political leanings, but as more doctors move from business owner to shift worker, their historic alliance with the Republican Party is weakening....

That change could have a profound effect on the nation's health care debate. Indeed, after opposing almost every major health overhaul proposal for nearly a century, the American Medical Association supported President Obama's legislation last year because the new law would provide health insurance to the vast majority of the nation's uninsured, improve competition and choice in insurance, and promote prevention and wellness, the group said.

Because so many doctors are no longer in business for themselves, many of the issues that were once priorities for doctors' groups, like insurance reimbursement, have been displaced by public health and safety concerns, including mandatory seat belt use and chemicals in baby products....

The point is that a lot of doctors now work for hospitals rather than themselves, which means they don't see the world the way small business owners do; also, they're not overwhelmingly white and male -- roughly half of younger doctors are female.

But does it really matter? When doctors say what conservatives want them to say, attention must be paid. When they don't, I suspect the system will just ignore them.

I'm old enough to have seen this happen, to some extent, with cops. When I was a kid, "law and order" conservatives expressed horror at the contempt some in the '60s left had for "the pigs." Among right-wingers, contempt for the police was the worst thing in the world, as was any legislation or court decision that was deemed to "tie the hands" of cops.

But when some cops started speaking up in support of gun control, suddenly it didn't matter what they thought -- their opinions were simply ignored. That's still true today. Even conservatives who praised, say, the cops here in New York for declining crime rates didn't give a crap when even the non-scandal-plagued police commissioners called for stricter controls on guns.

That's what's going to happen to doctors, too, as they tack left -- the same politicians who say they want a health care system that "empowers doctors, not bureaucrats" won't pay the slightest bit of attention to inconvenient utterances from the doctors themselves. And that will probably only get worse as the profession is perceived as increasingly female.

Alan Colmes writes:

The right wing's latest attack on President Obama is that he was allegedly chewing gum at the Joplin, MO memorial service. Gateway Pundit sarcastically writes "Classy" and suggests he learned these manners at Trinity Church. Then it is suggested it must be Nicorette, because we know that no conservative has ever tried to quit smoking. This is all they’ve got.

Yeah, because a Republican president would never chew gum at an inappropriate time!

Oh, wait:

Saturday, May 25, 2002

In a gilded Kremlin hall, President Bush and President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed agreements Friday sharply reducing their nuclear arsenals from the peaks of the Cold War and committing themselves to be partners in a fight against terrorism and its sponsors.

After polite but strained talks, the two leaders put their signatures on a remarkably brief 475-word document -- dubbed the Treaty of Moscow....

The meeting contrasted sharply with the friendly relationship Bush had fostered with his Russian counterpart in four previous meetings. After the meeting, NTV, the once-independent Russian television station now controlled by a state-dominated firm, kept replaying footage of Bush entering his meeting with Putin while chewing gum and then spitting it into his hand....

Yeah, but ... but ... that's when a president should chew gum! When he's talking to some red Russki commie! And so what if they were discussing nuclear proliferation in a post-9/11 era! Screw diplomatic niceties! Putin is a pinko and George W. Bush is a great American! U-S-A! U-S-A!
(Yes, yes, I know -- I fell for this)

Look, I don't want to talk about it. After Clinton, after Spitzer, after Strauss-Kahn, after a long series of Republicans, I thought Anthony Weiner might have been foolhardy enough to tweet a sexting photo and reveal something illicit in his personal life -- as I put it in a comment, I could believe that he was "sex stupid," which is something a lot of famous people seem to be who aren't otherwise stupid. As an online guy, I guess I'm the last person you want assessing evidence like this -- my blog isn't important enough to hack, and I have very little familiarity with social media (I joined Twitter a while back and abandoned it, and I'm still not on Facebook). So I was an idiot to offer an opinion -- especially the opinion that there might be any truth whatsoever to anything connected to Breitbart.

But I'm struck by the fact that this bit of fakery seems to have fallen apart a lot faster that Breitbart's previous fakes. It seems to be falling apart before doing any real damage -- which is a serious deterioration of Breitbart's power to destroy. Breitbart himself seems to be reduced to acknowledging evidence (summarized here by stef at Daily Kos and here by Medaite's Colby Hall) that a wingnut named Dan Wolfe, who's been obsessed with Weiner, planted the photo in an act of hackwork (in both senses of the term), having hinted beforehand that a Chris Lee-style scandal involving a Democrat was about to be ginned up.

If Breitbart's scandal-generators can't sustain the fakery anymore long enough to hurt the people they're trying to hurt, then the Breitbart machine is breaking down. It occurs to me that trying to gin up a phony scandal that's completely Net-based is a fool's errand: idiots like me might fall for it, but it's not like a video-based scandal with the videographer in exclusive possession of some of the evidence -- if what you're doing is 100% Net-based, all the digital breadcrumbs are there to be tracked down, and if you're lying, you almost certainly will be caught.

Let's hope I'm right about Breitbart's diminished power. And now I'm going to wipe the egg off my face.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I think one reason we're confused about Sarah Palin's intentions (or lack thereof) regarding the presidential race is that we expect a presidential candidate to make, y'know, actual political positions a prominent part of any campaign rollout. And while Palin has expressed plenty of real (if simplistic) political opinions in her time, everything she's doing right now seems utterly devoid of political content, and full of rural "traditionalist"-pleasing empty imagery and symbols instead. That's certainly all we're getting here:

Sarah Palin made a grand entrance at the Rolling Thunder biker rally on Sunday, wearing a black Harley-Davidson helmet and visibly enjoying herself as a crush of reporters and bikers swarmed her motorcycle.

Ms. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, was joined by her husband, Todd, who was wearing a matching helmet, and her daughters, Bristol and Piper. Their arrival at the Pentagon North parking lot turned the lazy Sunday morning into a celebrity affair.

Ms. Palin climbed aboard a chopper, assisted by a member of the Rolling Thunder staff, but was unable to move because there were so many members of the press snapping photos....

That's certainly all we got in her last video:

In the last decade, Republicans were pioneers in identifying potential voters and doing pinpoint outreach to them via "microtargeting":

Republican firms, including TargetPoint Consultants and National Media Inc., delved into commercial databases that pinpointed consumer buying patterns and television-watching habits to unearth such information as Coors beer and bourbon drinkers skewing Republican, brandy and cognac drinkers tilting Democratic; college football TV viewers were more Republican than those who watch professional football; viewers of Fox News were overwhelmingly committed to vote for Bush; homes with telephone caller ID tended to be Republican; people interested in gambling, fashion and theater tended to be Democratic.

But, see, microtargeting is supposed to be a campaign tactic. Palin is making it a political platform. What does she stand for? What principles would guide her as president? What does she really believe in? Answer: Hogs! Sweaty people who ride hogs! Jesus! Patriotic bunting! The emotions sweaty people who ride hogs feel when they hear catchphrases from our founding documents!

These aren't just accountrements -- they're her whole platform. (Well, that and "whatever liberals are for, I'm against." So I suppose there's at least some political content.)

Look, it's quite possible that there's so little substance here because she's not actually running. But it's also quite possible that there's no substance even though she is running, because she doesn't think she needs substance -- she just needs feel-good imagery.

I don't know what's going on with Anthony Weiner. There are a billion post and articles linked at Memeorandum right now, all concerning allegations that he tweeted a picture of an underwear-clad erection to a Seattle journalism student half his age (he says his account was hacked). Andrew Breitbart is spreading the story big time -- and that alone was enough to make me believe he'd sunk even lower than he normally does. (And gosh, wouldn't you just know it -- the young woman in question is black. A scandal/fake scandal involving a black person! And Andrew Breitbart is currently making it his life's work! Who'da thunk?)

But I'm reading some of this and I'm not convinced that Weiner's argument -- that all of this can be explained as the work of hackers -- holds up. I know, I know -- this is a scandal that starts with Breitbart. Why not dismiss all of it? Well, read this, from a blogger who's right-wing but isn't Breitbart. Read it with an open mind. Is there really more than one recipient of inappropriate tweets from Weiner? Is the other recipient a high school girl?

I don't know. What I do know is that politicians, across the political spectrum, seem almost incapable of sexual discretion. And Americans in general, in the Twitter/Facebook era, seem incapable of grasping that stuff they post is publicly available.

If there's anything to this, as I fear there might be, by rights it should have zero impact on our politics -- have scandals involving John Ensign and David Vitter slowed Republicans down one bit? (Has Vitter's scandal even slowed him down?) But of course that won't be what happens -- this will be about liberalism. This will be ascribed to you and me.

I've been skeptical of Weiner's approach to politics -- I like it that he's festy, and I find him entertaining to watch, but does he ever help us win anything? Does he ever sway anyone who's on the fence? I guess it's good to have Anthony Weiners and Alan Graysons, but I want some leaders who can chip away at the Republicans' stranglehold on public opinion and Beltway conventional wisdom. For all the entertainment value he delivers, he hasn't done that. If this is the beginning of the end for him, I'm not sure it will be as much of a loss as I know a lot of you think it will be -- except to the extent that his sins (if they exist) will be hung around our necks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Joe Nocera of The New York Times didn't agree with the Paul Ryan approach to Medicare before interviewing him on Tuesday, and doesn't agree with it now -- but he's having the standard centrist hand-wring reaction to Tuesday's election results and the Democratic counterattack to Ryan:

I was not won over.... Not that I expected to be....

Yet I found myself disheartened as I read about the Democrats' gleeful reaction to the victory in New York. They had a strategy now: bash the Republicans into submission over the Ryan plan....

Why is this discouraging? Because even if Ryan's solution is wrongheaded, he's right that Medicare is headed for trouble. It might not be in nine years, but as health care costs continue to rise uncontrollably, and as baby boomers continue to age, Medicare will gobble up an ever larger percentage of the federal budget....

It would be nice if we could treat the Ryan plan not as an object of derision but as a launching off point for a serious debate....

With a different set of political actors, maybe we could use this "as a launching off point for a serious debate." But these are modern Republicans we're talking about. You can have a serious debate, and an acceptable middle-ground solution, with people who merely have a different ideology. But Republicans' belief in Ryanism is -- this is the most charitable interpretation -- theology.

At best, Ryan and the Ryanettes believe that Ryancare will provide satisfactory coverage of seniors' health care needs, at an appropriate cost to both government and seniors themselves, because the omniscient, omnipotent Invisible Hand will provide -- it is God, therefore it must provide. It is good and beneficent; it can do no wrong.

The less charitable view is that they believe Ryancare would sort the senior population into the saved and the damned -- with both groups deserving their fate based on the choices they'd made (as Rand, the Prophet, foretold). This is theological as well.

Either way, the Republicans will never negotiate in good faith. You can't show them numbers demonstrating that their assumptions are wrong, because their numbers can't be wrong -- the God of the Free Market would not forsake her people. Either that or the God of the Free Market would not forsake anyone who did not deserve to be forsaken. They don't negotiate from our reality -- the one we think of as everyone's common reality. They're completely faith-based.

Look, I don't know if Palin is running for president -- when we first heard about the bus tour and the movie, the conventional wisdom was that the previous conventional wisdom was wrong and now it looks as if she's running, but then came the alternate conventional wisdom: that this is self-promotion but not promotion of a candidacy, because she has no campaign organization. If I had to guess, I'd say she's never going to announce a run, she's never going to announce that she's not going to run, she's going to threaten to jump into the race until the last conceivable second, and even then she's going to threaten to declare herself a candidate at a brokered convention as long as the race is in flux. Oh, and she'll also never declare herself a third-party candidate, but she'll never stop floating rumors that she might become one.

But in a way, it doesn't matter. The bus tour and the movie and the YouTube video may or may not be campaign material, but this Politico story makes clear what else they are: yet another example (the most elaborate yet) of Palin's obsessive campaign never to let any critic get the last word:

Starting Sunday, Sarah Palin enters enemy territory.

The bus tour that stands to return her to the 2012 spotlight is taking her to the part of the country that's the least friendly to her -- the northeastern U.S....

"There's no doubt in my mind the northeast is the least favorable area of the country to Sarah Palin," said Terry Madonna, a longtime Pennsylvania pollster....

You know how she reacts when, say, a pundit or late-night comic insults her. She tweets. She posts a long ghostwritten Facebook essay. She whines on Fox. She whines on Fox again. No insult can be allowed to stand. She can't bear the thought of just seeming high-minded and above it all. When criticism comes, she just can't ignore it. She has to fight back.

I think it's clear that this is just an elaborate, decidedly non-carbon-neutral version of that process. She's been told she's washed up. She's been told her appeal is narrow and limited to certain regions of the country, and she surely can't win a national election. She's been told her fifteen minutes are up.

Yeah? She'll show them!

It's entirely possible that she's already decided not to run. But even if that's the case, she's determined to show all us doubters and haters that if she wanted to, she could run! And win! Yeah, really!

It's just her nature. She can't not do this.

Friday, May 27, 2011


OK, this is weird enough:

In another sign of how unsettled the GOP presidential race remains, a new CNN poll finds Rudy Giuliani leading the field of possible contenders with 16%, followed by Mitt Romney at 15% and Sarah Palin at 13%.

(Oh, and if Palin and Giuliani don't run, the #2 and #3, after Romney, would be Ron Paul and Herman Cain, at 15% and 13% respectively. In the main poll, Cain is #5, at 10%)

But regarding Rudy, here's a weird thing in the crosstabs (PDF): He ties Romney among men (15%-15%), but he beats Romney outright among women (18%-15%). Among women, he's #1. (Palin's tied with Paul at #3, with 13%.) Hey, wasn't Giuliani's marital history supposed to hurt him among women?

Giuliani gets far more votes among under-50s (20%) than 50-and-overs (12%). And he does much better among voters with income under $50,000 a year (20%) than those who make $50,000 or more (12%).

Maybe these are just meaningless consequences of a small sample size and an idiosyncratic group of respondents. Maybe people aremostly picking candidates they know. But if we believe the numbers, poorer, younger female Republicans are Giuliani's base. What's up with that?

Well, for all the red meat being slung around by the candidates, most of them (the men, at least) seem like middle managers and bureaucrats. Maybe, in comparison with that group, Giuliani looks like a two-fisted hero. Now? Still? Really?

Another odd fact: the seemingly surging Herman Cain does way better among men (13%) than among women (7%) -- and in this survey, as in most surveys of Republicans, that means white men -- the sample of non-white Republicans is too small to generate a crosstab. I don't know what tht means, but he is the guy who brings the hate in the most effectively wingnutty way. So maybe that's what Republican guys want.

Omigod! Omigod! The Kenyan usurper/Republicrat Bush-third-termer used an autopen! Everyone in the politi-sphere seems to be freaking out about this, though I'm not sure why:

Obama Won't Personally Sign Patriot Act Extension

Congress officially passed an extension of the Patriot Act tonight, just hours before key provisions of the national security law were due to lapse at midnight.

President Obama, currently on an overseas trip, is not at the White House to sign the bill, a requirement for the measure to become law.

So the White House will use an autopen –- a machine that replicates Obama's signature -– to sign the extension, according to White House spokesman Nick Shapiro....

Apart from the fact that there's a 2005 Office of Legal Counsel opinion approving this practice (PDF), it's something that was first done back when Milli Vanilli were still on the charts. I'm setting the wayback machine to June 1989:

JUST THE FAX, MA'AM: White House staff chief John Sununu threw a curve to reporters when he quipped President Bush's minimum-wage action "may be the first faxed veto in history." Inferred by many: Bush faxed his veto message as he flew to Nebraska Tuesday. Not so: Bush told aides in Washington to send- it to Capitol Hill. He didn't even sign the accompanying letter; aides used the "auto pen" employed for most of Bush's signatures.

(That was a bill to raise the minimum wage to $4.55 an hour. Bush eventually went along with an increase to $4.25, months later.)

Um, it's 2011. Shouldn't we have an established, agreed-upon procedure for this use of not-particularly-new technology?

Yeah, I guess I understand why right-wingers would make hay out of this, but a little perspective, please:

... Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the DNC, ripped into Republican presidential contenders who opposed President Obama's 2009 bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler.

"If it were up to the candidates for president on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars; they would have let the auto industry in America go down the tubes," she said at a breakfast for reporters organized by
The Christian Science Monitor.

But according to Florida motor vehicle records, the Wasserman Schultz household owns a 2010 Infiniti FX35, a Japanese car whose parent company is Nissan, another Japanese company....

The policy she supports, of course, is not a government mandate that everyone who owns a car has to buy an American one -- the policy she supports is that U.S.-based auto companies should continue to exist, and employ people.

Now, over the years a lot of right-wingers have offered a lot of support for Walmart, as it's faced liberal criticism. Anyone ever check to see whether those Walmart advocates actually shop there? Especially the rich ones?

George Will? John Stossel? Neil Cavuto? Sean Hannity? You folks really shop there? Shouldn't you have to in order to stick up for it?

I suppose I should be grateful that David Brooks actually acknowledges ordinary Americans' anxiety about Medicare, though it apparently took a special election in upstate New York to get him to grasp the fact that real people fear taking another big hit:

... Republicans need to reconnect with the working class, the sort of people who live in upstate New York Congressional districts.... these families have seen the pillars of their world dissolve -- jobs, family structure, neighborhood cohesion. They understandably reject any new proposals that introduce even more risk and uncertainty into their lives.

You know what? I'm glad he said that.

Now, think about the people he's referring to. Think about a 54-year-old guy from upstate New York -- unemployed 15 months, no job prospects, frequently skipping blood pressure medicine in order to keep food on the table.

What do you think that guy wants? What do you think you could promise that guy in order to reconnect with him?

This is what David Brooks thinks would do the trick:

Republicans need to be the party of order, stability and steady growth.

They need to lay out the facts showing that Medicare is unstable and on a path to collapse, as Representative Paul Ryan is doing. But they also need to enmesh Medicare reform within an agenda to build solid communities: more money for community colleges and technical schools, an infrastructure bank, a values agenda to shore up marriage and family cohesion, tax holidays to help the unemployed start businesses, tax reform to limit special interest power.

Yeah, right -- that's what the unemployed guy is crying out for: a values agenda to shore up marriage and family cohesion.

And, yes, community colleges and technical schools and infrastructure banks are wonderful, but our 54-year-old soon-to-be-cardiac-case needs a job and health care now. He doesn't need a tax holiday so he can start a small business -- what the hell is wrong with right-wingers that they think everyone in America desperately wants to be an entrepreneur? Or should want to be an entrepreneur? Why do right-wingers seem to think it's somehow dishonorable to want to go to work every day, do your job, punch out, and get a paycheck? And aren't we already one of the most entrepreneurial countries on the planet? How's that working out for us these days?

And, sure, it would be lovely to have some "tax reform to limit special interest power" -- from Republicans. Sorry, I'm having trouble finishing this paragraph. I'm laughing too hard.


After this past Tuesday's election, Peggy Noonan also -- all of a sudden -- understands ordinary people's anxiety:

...normal people don't wear green eyeshades. Republicans think people will say, when presented with new options for coverage, "Oh good, another way to express my freedom! I can study health insurance now and get a policy that will benefit not only me but our long-term solvency!" But normal people are more likely to sit slouched at the kitchen table with their head in their hands. "Oh no, another big decision, another headache, 50 calls to an insurance company, another go-round with the passive-aggressive phone answerer who, even though she's never met me, calls me Freddy as she puts me on hold."

But she thinks Republicans just have to message harder, dammit!

Supporters of Mr. Ryan's Medicare plan must talk very specifically about how this would all work, and why it would make your life better, not worse.

You know what? I'd actually like that. I really would like Republicans to try to "talk very specifically about how this would all work." Tell me how the Ryan plan will give everyone good coverage while cutting costs.

Because I know what the answer will be: "Well, the magic of the free market will lower costs." "Yeah, but how?" "Well, by eliminating inefficiencies." "Yeah, but in what way?"

At key points in the history of American capitalism, I'm sure people like Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, and Sam Walton could explain precisely how their business practices would lower costs while giving the public what it wanted. Some of those business practices weren't very nice, but at least retail purchasers were happy. Would any of the Ryanettes be able to venture a guess as to what specific innovations might be introduced under Ryancare to increase efficiency while still delivering coverage of satisfactory quality? Apart from, y'know, offering patients the chance to do some comparison-shopping while waiting for the ambulance to arrive after a heart attack?

Yeah, please, Republicans -- talk very specifically about how this will work. Go on. I'm waiting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


During Donald Trump's near-presidential campaign, he and Sarah Palin became a mutual admiration society. And now, as Palin seemingly gears up for a White House run, I can sorta see why.

Remember the story about Trump selling buildings with his name that he hadn't actually developed? Well, Palin is apparently selling herself as a presidential candidate based on things she did in a job she quit.

Maybe not exactly the same, but close.

And you know how Trump markets his properties based on visible glitter and gilt? Well, to the crazy GOP base, this religio-patriotic folksy/grandiose kitsch is the equivalent of glitter and gilt:

It's all about selling an illusion, in a big splashy way.

Once you get past the famous names in the latest Gallup poll of GOP voters' presidential preferences (Romney 17%, Palin 15%, Paul 10%, Gingrich 9%), take a look at who's #5:

Herman Cain, at 8% -- ahead of media darlings Tim Pawlenty (6%) and Jon Huntsman (who's at -- tee-hee -- 2%).

Steve Benen says:

Herman Cain ... has a lot more support than I would have expected....

The conventional wisdom is that Cain -- a former pizza company executive with no experience in public office at any level -- is better left ignored, no more credible that Johnson or Roemer. A couple of more polls like this one, though, and those assumptions will be need of some major revisions.

Dave Weigel says:

...Cain has come out of the gate making knowledge blunders (not knowing what the "right of return" is, for example), getting generally dismissive coverage. There is no team of reporters covering his every move on the trail, as there is for Huntsman. There's no massive scrum outside his appearances, as there is for Pawlenty. And yet he's outpolling Pawlenty.

But as Tucker Carlson said when Cain announced:

Republicans love Herman Cain. Herman Cain is probably the most conservative person running in this primary.

"Conservative" in this case means he hits every wingnut pleasure center. He says Obama isn't a patriot! He says he wouldn't have a Muslim cabinet member or appoint a Muslim judge! He wants to abolish the capital gains tax! He calls Planned Parenthood "Planned Genocide"! He's hated Democratic health care reforms since the Clinton years!

And, as I said over the weekend, he offers right-wing whites the chance to admire themselves for supporting a black person. That's gotta count for something.

Anyone who's surprised by this really, really has to spend much less time listening to the inside-the-Beltway feedback loop and spend a lot more time lurking in the fever swamps where right-wingers congregate. If you watch Fox News, lurk at Free Republic or Fox Nation or the Blaze, or listen to talk radio, you know Cain is deeply admired among the crazy base.

And you'll know something else, too: nobody likes Huntsman. Nobody likes Pawlenty much, but at least he's trying to impress actual Republican voters. Huntsman seems to think the franchise is limited to Beltway pols, pundits, and other influence-peddlers. He thinks they're going to pick the nominee. They aren't -- not this year, any more than they picked the GOP Senate nominees in Arizona and Alaska and Colorado and Delaware.

Can Cain win this thing? I doubt it -- he has no money, and that's not likely to change. But I guarantee he'll have outpolled Huntsman, by far, when all the votes are tallied. And he may be one of the last candidates standing.

Remember when it seemed as if even Donald Trump believed the Obama birth certificate issue had been laid to rest? Well, forget it -- World Net Daily tells us today that Trump's a birther again:

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump ... says he believes the "birth certificate" released by the White House is forged.

His comments came yesterday in a telephone call to WND senior reporter Jerome Corsi, Ph.D., who is appearing on wall-to-wall radio programs -- between 10 and 20 per day -- to respond to questions about his latest best-seller, "Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama is Not Eligible to be President."

... Trump said his period of almost-complete silence on the issue following the release by the White House on April 27 of the image of a "Certificate of Live Birth" from the state of Hawaii was not because he was satisfied with the document.

"I always said I wanted to know if it was real," Trump told Corsi....

By astonishing coincidence, this happened a day after the official announcement of Trump's own wingnut-friendly book on politics. I see two possible explanations for this: either Trump cut a series of deals with Corsi and WND Books (to promote Corsi's book) and Regnery (which will publish Trump's book) and now can't get out of the deals ... or he thinks right-wing crazies are a lucrative market niche, and he still wants a piece of the action.

Trump knows that far-right books can really sell -- often via bulk buys, but maybe he doesn't care. Maybe he just wants to get back on the book charts. He's published a lot of books in recent years (or at least his name appears as the author or co-author of a lot of books) -- but the only New York Times bestseller he's had in the past five years is Think Like a Champion, which spent a whopping two weeks on the Times's Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous list.

Corsi's book, by contrast, hit #6 on the newly released Times list, which will appear on the Times Web site this weekend. The Times says bulk buys were involved. But still: #6. That's better than Trump's done in years.


The WND article linked includes a long, tedious summary of all the "evidence" various birthers have amassed regarding the newly released birth certificate. We're told it's a doctored PDF by one Ira Zatkovich, who, it turns out, is a professional expert witness -- that's the heading on his Web site: "Ivan Zatkovich -- Expert Witness." Now, my reaction when an expert witness tells me something is a fact is about what my reaction would be if a prostitute said I was great in bed -- I'd be a tad suspicious, for precisely the same reasons.

I won't run through all the "evidence," but I particularly enjoy the work of one Karl Denninger, who discusses the birth certificate in terms of -- yes -- kerning:

... Karl Denninger, the former of CEO of MCSNet, a Chicago networking and Internet company, said the presence of "kerning" in the text confirms manipulation....

Denninger explains that in the image above, of the name of the hospital, the "a" and the "p" share vertical space on the line.

"This process, of course, requires that you know what the next letter is. With a computer this is pretty easy, since the computer can retroactively go back and adjust, and it also can typeset the current letter with the knowledge of what the previous one was," he reported. "A typewriter, on the other hand, is a mechanical device. It does not know what the next letter is that you will type, nor does it know what the last letter was that you typed. It thus has a typeface that always leaves physical space between the boundary of each character."

Has this guy ever even used a typewriter? Especially one that's been in service for a while and has become older and creakier? I just searched for "typescript" at Google Image Search and immediately got a page with facsimiles of typed pages from the "Time Passes" section of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, at Woolf Online. Page 5 is here. I'll show you an excerpt (click to enlarge):

Under the "III," do you see the "n" and "e" crashing together in "one"? Or, on the last line, the "ng" crashes in "sings" and "turning"?

Denninger says of the Obama birth certificate:

"To refute this point you must come up with a typewriter that contains a flux capacitor and thus is capable of accurately predicting the future," he said. "This document has been assembled by somebody on a computer."

Omigod! Someone gave Virginia Woolf a flux capacitor! When she typed an "n," her typewriter could predict the future!

These are Trump's pals -- again. Or still.

I don't know what's happened to the comments. I'm trying to solve the problem, or disable Echo and enable Blogger comments instead. I ask for your patience.

...Well, now they seem intermittently readable/writeable (though the comment totals come and go). Be persistent if you have something to say....


OK now, seemingly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Atrios posted this yesterday in response to the elections in Spain:

Sadly the only real option people have when things suck is to vote the current bastards out. They did it in the UK, they'll do it in Spain, etc. I doubt most people voting on that basis expect that conservatives will be better, though the LibDems basically said fuck you to all the people who voted for them, but I don't blame people for chucking Labour out or, frankly, the House Dems in 2010.

Perhaps if there was political party which would campaign on making peoples' lives better, instead of actively rooting for more suffering, this dynamic would change.

Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it? A lot of us feel hope at times regarding the Democrats -- and yet at this moment, just as we're feeling pleased that Democrats seem to be united around defending Medicare, just as a Democrat scored an upset electoral victory precisely on that issue, this happens:

... ABC News was behind the scenes with ... Wisconsin Congressman [Paul Ryan] ... when he got some words of encouragement none other than former President Bill Clinton.

"So anyway, I told them before you got here, I said I'm glad we won this race in New York," Clinton told Ryan, when the two met backstage at a forum on the national debt held by the Pete Peterson Foundation. But he added, "I hope Democrats don't use this as an excuse to do nothing."

... Clinton told Ryan that if he ever wanted to talk about it, he should "give me a call." Ryan said he would.

So we have this from a Democrat. We have Democrat Steny Hoyer in the House threatening to put Medicare on the table in budget negotiations. And in a different budget fight, for those of us in New York State, there's our Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo -- the guy we voted for instead of Carl Palladino -- trying to turn New York into Howard Jarvis's California:

...Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they had agreed to place a 2 percent limit on property tax increases in a plan that rivals the toughest such measures in the nation.

... The tax-cap agreement was welcomed by business and farm groups, but teachers' unions reacted with dismay, saying the move would cause cuts to money for education and would diminish the quality of public schools. The unions pointed to California as an example, saying a property tax cap and broader budget woes have had a harmful effect on schools in that state....

(And don't get me started on President Obama and his utter failure to provide relief to people with troubled mortgages.)

Democrats, in short, are with us some of the time -- and at other times they betray us. I wish it were as simple as "there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties," because that's not true. On the other hand, it's also not true that the Democrats are simply on our side.

So it's disheartening when Atrios says, "Sadly the only real option people have when things suck is to vote the current bastards out." In favor of whom? Other bastards? Bastards who may or may be less bastard-like? That's it? That's our only option?


The best hope ordinary people have would come from engaging in fights that are issue-based, not campaign-based. I thought about that while watching "Freedom Riders" on PBS last week. The civil rights movement wasn't built on the hope that electing certain candidates would get its goals accomplished. Nor was it built on the hope that primarying the bastards who let the movement down was the key. The people who fought for civil rights fought for civil rights. They backed some candidates, and sometimes worked with elected officials, but primarily they just kept pressing their demands, on their timetable -- which didn't coincide with an electoral timetable.

I'm also thinking about one of the few progressive movements of my adult life that seem somewhat successful -- the gay rights movement. Straight acceptance of gay people and their goals has a way to go, but there have been real advances -- and that wasn't inevitable, especially given the AIDS epidemic, as a result of which there was actual talk in polite circle of tattooing and quarantining as public health measures. Again, how did it happen? It happened because gay rights groups did stuff. The movement wasn't hitched to the electoral calendar.

I still support voting for Democrats. I just don't support counting on them -- even the best of them -- to solve our problems. Some will sell us out. Some will sell us out some of the time. But meanwhile, we have to do stuff. We have to fight for what we need and not assume that if we elect the right people, we'll win. It doesn't work that way.

Remember Al Franken's explanation of why the right-wingers were succeeding with their attacks on the Obama health care bill?

"The opponents of reform have found their bumper sticker, their slogan, their rallying cry, it's one word: No. You can read that on a bumper," said Franken. "Our bumper sticker has -- it's just way too many words. And it says, 'Continued on next bumper sticker.'"

It was true. It's true on a lot of issues -- on issue after issue, Democrats and/or liberals have a plan that would be smart and effective, but the Republicans have a plan that's simple, compelling ... and wrong. And so Republicans win.

But this time, we have the bumper sticker, the slogan, the rallying cry -- the plan -- and it's one word: Medicare.

What do the Republicans have? Well, this is a video Paul Ryan just released. What do you see?

I see a guy whose bumper sticker says, "Continued on next bumper sticker."

Sorry, Paul -- it's not going to work.

Oh my God -- it's Toastgate!

...when the time came for President Obama to deliver his toast to Queen Elizabeth Tuesday night, the meticulously planned state dinner at Buckingham Palace turned, well, awkward.

As Obama began wrapping up his remarks, he put down his notecards and picked up his glass.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please stand with me and raise your glasses as I propose a toast," the president said, as the guests stood up. "To her majesty the Queen."

At this point, the band queued up "God Save the Queen." But Obama wasn't quite finished yet.

So he kept talking -- over the British national anthem....

"A minor mishap," a BBC commentator said Tuesday night on air.

Shorter everyone in Wingnuttia, in so many words or by implication: This is unprecedented! I'm sure no previous president ever flubbed a royal toast! Especially the Republicans! They have class!

Well, actually...

And as for the last Republican president....

... on the south lawn of the White House on Monday, [President George W. Bush] fluffed his lines and suggested that the 81-year-old Queen has been on the throne since the 18th century.

Realising his mistake, and in front of all the cameras, George junior turned to the monarch and winked at her.

Now, the Queen is not used to being winked at. And certainly not by a fellow head of state, on a public platform in front of 7,000 people.

"She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child" quipped George, making as graceful a recovery as he could.

The queen ultimately had to be gracious where he wasn't:

Queen Elizabeth ended her US trip last night with a rare public show of humour, gently teasing President George Bush for his verbal slip-up that added 200 years to her age.

During an official welcome ceremony on the White House lawn on Monday, Mr Bush stumbled over a line in his speech, initially saying the Queen had helped celebrate the US bicentennial in 1776, rather than 1976....

At a formal dinner last night at the British ambassador's residence in Washington, the Queen opened her speech with a toast to the US president.

Grinning playfully, she began: "I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, 'When I was here in 1776...'" The guests, including Mr Bush, erupted in laughter.

So, wingers, please -- don't be smug about this.

You and I are celebrating Democrat Kathy Hochul's upset win in the special election for the House seat in New York's deep-red 26th congressional district. So how is FoxNews.com covering it? Well, I understand leading with tornadoes, but check out the prominence of the NY-26 story on the Fox front page as of 8:45 A.M. -- I've highlighted the relevant headline (click to enlarge):

Yeah, it's that teeny-tiny headline highlighted in blue near the bottom, the one that says, "N.Y. Dem Wins House Seat in Heavily GOP District" -- and the link is to a wire service report. Fox didn't even generate its own content on this story.

There's nothing about the special election on the Fox Nation home page, either -- the lead item is about Sarah Palin, and there's no room for NY-26, though there is room for "God and Country Strong at 'American Idol' Finale" (well, it is cross-marketing).

So righties are in denial about Hochul's win and the impact it will have on the Medicare fight -- or, more likely, they're waiting for Frank Luntz or the Tarrance Group to tell them what key phrases they all need to use in unison to spin this in their direction.

I still worry, though, that they'll actually pull that off. If this is really killing them, I fear they'll find a way to change the terms of the debate. Democrats, of course, might change it for them by supporting Medicare cuts in budget negotiations (which they're threatening to do). But if they don't, I suspect Republicans will not so much repudiate Paul Ryan as supersede him, generating multiple ACORN/"Ground Zero mosque"-style distractions in the run-up to November 2012 while concocting and selling a new, fresh, wingnut-friendly but Medicare-vague budget message, whileputting Ryan in the political equivalent of witness protection.

Meanwhile, I think Republicans' equivalent to the Ryan budget is the Obama-Netanyahu dust-up, and I worry that, while we may not still be able to get an electoral benefit from the Ryan vote in the House eighteen months from now, Republicans will have the skills to use their distortion of Obama's "1967 borders" remark to peel off a few normally Democratic pro-Israel Jewish voters in key states, along with swing voters who can be terrified on foreign policy and "security." (I'm linking the two because last night, when I was waiting for results from NY-26, I switched over from MSNBC to Fox News and there, on Hannity, was Netanyahu himself. At least this week, he's their hero, their Paul Ryan.)

Sorry not to be cheerier. Hochul's win was a great win. I think it really is worrying the Republicans. But I've just seen Democrats struggle to sustain passion too many times, and I've seen Republicans sustain passion successfully -- and change the subject successfully -- too many times.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Scarlett Johnannson recently made a Planned Parenthood PSA:

Now Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition and Troy Newman of Operation Rescue have taken the PSA and put Johansson in a Klan robe:

Charming, hunh? Wonder if they know she's Jewish.

The anti-aborts love to cherry-pick Margaret Sanger's history to portray her as an advocate of "black genocide" (a claim made, notably, by Herman Cain -- "the objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world"; it's a claim for which he received a "Pants on Fire" award from PolitiFact. Yeah, Sanger gave a speech to a ladies' auxiliary of the Klan. Yeah, she had an interest in eugenics. If that permanently taints Planned Parenthood to the n-th generation, then I'm waiting for Cain or the people who made the Johansson video to renounce their U.S. citizenship -- after all, many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, and slavery was enshrined in the Constitution. If you believe in permanent institutional guilt, it should apply to every institution, no?

I knew he was making trips to states with early contests, and it seemed clear that he was interested, but for some reason I'm still surprised to see Rudy Giuliani possibly on the verge of getting in the race, and I won't be surprised if he doesn't:

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose presidential campaign fizzled in 2008, is leaning toward another race for the White House, according to a close associate. New York Republican Rep. Peter King, who has known Giuliani for more than 40 years, says the former mayor "is very close to saying he's going to run."

"If he were to make the decision today, he would run," says King.

Speaking at a dinner with reporters in Washington, King, who was an enthusiastic Giuliani supporter in 2008, said the former mayor has been quietly lining up support and exploring strategy....

I'm not saying he can win -- his unchanged positions on abortion and gay rights make that next to impossible. But I can see why he thinks it's no crazier for him to get in than for a lot of these other clowns to do so:

In a new poll of New Hampshire Republicans released Monday by television station WMUR, Giuliani tied for third, well behind frontrunner Mitt Romney but ahead of Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain.

He also has the second-highest favorable-unfavorable spread among the candidates, according to New Hampshire Republican voters:

Giuliani had the second highest [net favorability] at +30 percent (favorability ratings are determined by subtracting the percentage of people who have an unfavorable opinion of the candidate from the percentage who have a favorable opinion). Romney had the highest favorability rating at +49 percent.

He also may be counting on a couple of personal relationships: with Roger Ailes, who likes him so much he allegedly asked Judith Regan to lie about her relationship with Bernie Kerik to protect him, and with Sarah Palin, with whom he clearly has a mutual admiration society (when she was about to quit the governorship in Alaska, she called him). Would she decline to join the race and endorse him, or at least tout him? I don't think it's impossible.

And he has a distinct advantage over the likes of Pawlenty, Huntsman, and even Romney in that he clearly, unquestionably hates people -- political enemies, liberals, terrorists, Muslims who don't defer to their Western betters, non-white criminals, the current president of the United States. With the GOP base, that counts for a lot.

No, he still can't overcome his gay rights and abortion stances in Bible Belt states. He also used to be very pro-immigrant, though he's since flip-flopped. He gets away with some of this stuff because of his jingoism and because he radiates hate -- but he can take that only so far.

If he runs, he's going to be an also-ran, but he could be one of the more successful also-rans. The real significance of a Giuliani race would be that he might be one more candidate who chips away at Romney, especially in New Hampshire (where, U.S. News is telling us, he's reportedly planning to focus his efforts). If Romney can't get a big win there, then whoever wins Iowa and South Carolina -- possibly the same Bible-belting extremist -- could be off to the races.

The Jon Huntsman campaign is over:

When asked about immigration at a town hall event in New Hampshire on Friday, Huntsman said he “hates the thought” of a border fence because “it’s not consistent with” American ideals:
HUNTSMAN: I hate the thought of a fence on the border. I mean, for me, as an American, the thought of a fence, it to some extent repulses me, because it's not consistent with our overall -- the image that we projected from the very beginning to the rest of the world. But the situation is such that I don't think we have a choice.


I'm sorry -- he simply cannot survive this. Cannot. You can bet the house on it. This is orders of magnitude worse than Gingrich's Paul Ryan heresy.

I know what you're thinking: What about McCain? Well, he flip-flopped on immigration during the '08 campaign, denouncing his own bill -- and he still needed everything to go his way in a multi-candidate primary season, which it did. He benefited from the fact that old-school, pre-Fox Republicans were willing to vote for a guy who struck them as a star-spangled war hero, and he gained further ground with those voters because he was an unqualified hawk on Iraq.

Huntsman's not a veteran, much less a war hero, and there isn't a war that's a burning issue for the GOP base. And he's not moving toward litmus-test wingnuttery on immigration, as McCain did -- he's recoiling from it in horror.

He'll have to walk this back in the next 24 hours. And if he doesn't, this is the issue that will define him with GOP voters. This will be a massive albatross.

I don't know if this is a good idea:

Officials in the Democratic Party are wooing Elizabeth Warren to run for the Senate against the Massachusetts Republican Scott P. Brown rather than have her continue to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau....

In seeking to enlist Ms. Warren for a different campaign, Democrats are taking aim at two birds. They can lay the groundwork for a potential compromise over a different candidate to lead the new agency and, they hope, they can increase their chances of reclaiming Mr. Brown's seat by sending against him a woman who has won considerable acclaim and popularity among liberals for taking on the financial industry.

Ms. Warren, 61, a law professor at Harvard, has lived in Massachusetts since the early 1990s....

Here's the problem: Scott Brown is ridiculously popular in Massachusetts -- according to one recent poll, his job approval/disapproval is 57%/24%. He soundly defeats every potential challenger named in a couple of recent polls. And while no poll has pitted him head-to-head with Warren, I'll note that, according to a recent Western New England College poll (PDF) -- the one in which Brown's approval rating is sky-high -- 59% of Massachusetts voters haven't even heard of Warren. So it's not clear that she'd be all that formidable a challenger.

(The story quoted above says she'd be a good challenger in part because she "would be able to attract high-dollar donors." Really? Don't high-dollar types hate her? Would she really attract a lot of high rollers?)

Meanwhile, Brown clearly has better-than-average self-preservation instincts, as we learned yesterday when he came out against the Paul Ryan Medicare plan. He knows how to win as a Republican in a New England state.

I can imagine Warren being a good campaigner against him -- I've watched her on TV, and I bet her combination of intelligence, empathy, niceness, and old-fashioned help-the-little-guy liberalism would play really well in Massachusetts. So maybe I'm fretting needlessly.

But I worry about what happens if she's scared away from the CFPB job by GOP senators and then she loses a Senate race. At that point, in the world of politics, she'll be a two-time loser -- and it would be good if she could seem like a person with at least some clout in the political world. (She only 61 -- she has the potential to be influential for a long time, so it would be good if the Beltway saw her as retaining at least some aura of power.)

I say give her a recess appointment to the CFPB job. She'll do the job for a year. Yeah, she'll never get the job for real unless Democrats have 60 senators -- no, they'd probably need 70 to guarantee 60 votes to overcome an anti-Warren filibuster -- but she can step down graciously having at least done the job. She can bring a little progressivism to the government and then move on.

And then, maybe, she can run for something. But not against Brown, I think. If she runs as a marquee name and loses, she'll be the new Janet Reno. And we need her.

Not that you asked, but...

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has added his name to the list of prominent Republicans who say they are not running for president.

There hasn't been much speculation about Scott, who's still learning how to be governor, running.

But that didn't prevent the question from coming up at a news conference on hurricane preparedness Monday....

Betty Cracker, a Floridian, has a list of other things with popularity at Scott's level that are also not running for president (e.g., genital warts).

Am I wrong to see this as a common Republic tactic to try to flip a few low-information voters? By suggesting that a controversial Republican is actually so well liked that people want him to run for president, they partly neutralize a controversial GOPer's negative press, at least in the eyes of people who aren't paying a lot of attention. My sense is that that's a big reason they keep mentioning Paul Ryan as a potential presidential candidate (though I think they also really dig him and think "real Americans" agree).

In Scott's case, I don't know which reporter asked the question, but it seems like a blatant act of suck-uppery.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a public figure who's plausibly accused of a loathsome crime, so it's pretty much open season on him in the press -- which becomes a problem when it tempts the amoralists in the Murdoch media to just make stuff up. Murdochians do this fairly regularly, punching up their straight news coverage with little bits of fiction based on anonymous sources who may or may not exist. Because Murdoch is a tabloid guy from way back, sometimes these bits of fiction are pure titillation; because he's a right-winger (as are nearly all of his subordinates), sometimes the fiction is for political purposes.

That's a long lead-in to my main point, which is that, as horrible as Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears to be, I'm not sure I believe this Fox News story is true:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a New York City hotel maid, "Don't you know who I am! Don't you know who I am?" while pinning her down during the alleged sexual assault, law enforcement sources close to the investigation told FoxNews.com....

"Please stop. I need my job, I can't lose my job, don't do this. I will lose my job. Please, please stop! Please stop!" she told Strauss-Kahn, according to law enforcement sources.

Strauss-Kahn allegedly responded: "No, baby. Don't worry, you're not going to lose your job. Please, baby, don't worry," Strauss-Kahn responded, according to investigators. "Don't you know who I am? Don't you know who I am?" ...

"Don't you know who I am?" (along with its variant, "Do you know who I am?") is one of those verbal secret handshakes right-wingers have -- when they say it to one another, everyone know the allusion: it's a reference to legends about John Kerry, specifically those collected by Boston radio talk show host (and occasional New York Post columnist) Howie Carr in this 2004 column:

One of the surest ways to get the phones ringing on any Massachusetts talk-radio show is to ask people to call in and tell their John Kerry stories. The phone lines are soon filled, and most of the stories have a common theme: our junior senator pulling rank on one of his constituents, breaking in line, demanding to pay less (or nothing) or ducking out before the bill arrives.

The tales often have one other common thread. Most end with Sen. Kerry inquiring of the lesser mortal: "Do you know who I am?"

... Many of his constituents see him in person only when he is cutting them in line - at an airport, a clam shack or the Registry of Motor Vehicles....

Already, John Hayward of Human Events is making the connection:

The most striking bit of information contained in the Fox report is the one I just knew would surface eventually. According to the maid, when she begged DSK to let her go and wailed that she could lose her job, he replied, "Don't worry, you're not going to lose your job. Please, baby, don't worry. Don't you know who I am?"

Ah, the battle cry of the privileged elitist. It translates readily into every language. They belt it out whenever their desires are thwarted by law, custom, or the rights of an insignificant citizen....

It's the punch line to many a tale of ordinary people running afoul of Massachusetts senator John Kerry....

And although Hayward doesn't say it, for this audience I suppose he doesn't have to: every snickering wingnut knows that the main thing Kerry and Strauss-Kahn have in common, besides being rich, arrogant socialist liberals is that Kerry looks French! Har har har!

I suppose it could be legit, but I have my doubts. It's too irresistible a punch line for this crowd.

Two years ago, a Gallup poll showed that more Americans were "pro-life" than "pro-choice" by a 51%-45% margin (the first time there'd ever been more "pro-lifers" than "pro-choicers," according to Gallup).

A lot of people took the results very seriously, speculating that maybe the country was undergoing a cultural shift. I had my doubts because I remembered this about abortion and public opinion, as reported in the L.A. Times in 2000:

Typically when abortion rights are threatened, support for legal abortion rises, according to polling experts.

In the last decade, for example, previous polls show support for Roe peaking at 56% around 1991, when the decision was under attack across the country. Most states had pushed measures through their legislatures that either put strict limits on abortion or even banned it altogether.

In 1992, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding Roe, with some modifications. The same year, Clinton, an abortion rights supporter, was elected president. Both events appeared to reassure people there would be no dramatic changes in abortion policy. Subsequently, support for Roe began to decline.

In a 1996 poll, 46% of respondents endorsed Roe vs. Wade. By 1999, support had slipped slightly to 43%, the same level as in the current poll.

So if the government seems pro-choice, fence-sitters, not thinking the issue is up for debate, drift into the anti-abortion camp. But if we elect anti-abortion candidates, suddenly those fence-sitters know that they could really lose their abortion rights, and they go back to declaring themselves pro-choice.

Which is exactly what's happening now, after big victories by the GOP and anti-abortion legislative initiatives all over the country:

Americans are closely divided between those calling themselves "pro-choice" and those who are "pro-life," now 49% and 45%, respectively, in Gallup's 2011 update on U.S. abortion attitudes. This is similar to a year ago, when 45% were "pro-choice" and 47% "pro-life." However, it is the first time since 2008 that the "pro-choice" position has had the numerical advantage on this Gallup trend.

Well, of course: the country is pro-choice for the first time since 2008 -- the last year of the last Republican president's term.

Here's the revised chart.


Politico tells us today that Republicans always knew that the evisceration of Medicare in the Ryan budget plan was extremely risky for them politically, yet they went ahead with it. A lo of people seem to think that they should have known they couldn't get away with it. John Cole:

No one could have predicted that 4 trillion in tax cuts for the rich while gutting Medicare and doing nothing to balance the budget would have been unpopuar with the public. It’s a mystery!


Any political observer with even a modicum of sense could see that the Ryan Plan was going to be a complete disaster. And most of us have been wondering ever since what the hell made them go for it.

I haven't been wondering. To me, the only wonderment is that Republicans don't seem to be getting away with it.

Yes, I know: Politico says their spin doctors could never figure out how to sell it:

No matter how favorably pollsters with the Tarrance Group or other firms spun the bill in their pitch -- casting it as the only path to saving the beloved health entitlement for seniors -- the Ryan budget's approval rating barely budged above the high 30s or its disapproval below 50 percent, according to a Republican operative familiar with the presentation.

But I'm sure they were amazed that they had to work hard to spin it at all. From the beginning they had a significant portion of the mainstream press on their side, and I'm sure they expected the Democratic reaction to be what it usually is when they propose some bit of craziness and all unite around it: fear, disagreement, lousy messaging on the part of opponents, and plenty of support from Blue Dogs and others. I'm sure they thought the White House would do what it usually does and come around to the notion that the GOP proposal had to be "the basis for any serious negotiations," because Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe said so, as did David Brooks.

At that point, Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow and a few liberal newspaper editorial boards and even the AARP could howl all they want, and no one would care. No one would care about the facts. Republicans would have created their own reality yet again, a reality in which this simply had to be done, and we'd all be living in that reality.

The only way Republicans could have lost on this was if Democrats united and fought back? How likely was that? Not very. Nevertheless, it happened.