Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is Obama being bipartisan enough?

Keith Hennessey has a post comparing the domestic legislation of Bush 43 and Obama, and maintains that the former had more bipartisan success. It's an interesting and educational post, though I think some of his analysis badly misses the mark. It's amazing to me how an informed person could write this:
On health care [Obama] undercut Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, whose bipartisan “Gang of Six” had the best chance to negotiate the core of a bipartisan compromise. [...] No Senate Republican can now have confidence that any Democratic committee chairman has the authority to negotiate a binding deal.
I'm pretty sure the reverse of this is true, but it misses the point regardless. I hope Hennessey wrote this because he wasn't paying attention when Grassley and Enzi were bashing the bill they were helping to write while they were writing it, and now one of them brags about having delayed the process and making it more difficult. The other Republican on the committee, Olympia Snowe, voted for the Finance Committee bill before voting against the mostly identical final Senate bill, on the grounds that the nearly yearlong process was moving too fast for her. Among the three Republicans most interested in health care reform, there are numerous signs of bad faith and deception. That has to be factored in.

Hennessey also misses the biggest reason why Republicans are doing what they can to obstruct Obama's plan: the Tea Party movement. I am not quite sure what proportion of the Tea Parties are sincere, angry people (compared to the portion that are obviously cranks), but it's pretty clear that a significant chunk of the GOP hates the elite representation of their party (albeit at a very superficial level), and has both the motivation and means to punish Republicans that deviate from their interpretation of conservatism. There are a number of Republicans who are moderate and/or interested in governing but who will not do so for fear of being primaried or subjected to a third-party challenge, which is a very real possibility, as the Tea Parties have already collected a few scalps (Scozzafava, Crist) and have very rapidly become the central force in the GOP, with no real equivalent on the left as yet. I tend to think that they'll flame out pretty quickly once the economy starts improving, but if one wants to understand the increase in polarization in this Congress, this is a good place to start.

Ultimately, I think the Tea Parties are a waste. Forget the lack of a single, coherent message for a moment. Right now, there are a number of problems with the right: an aggressive, hypernationalistic foreign policy mindset; a self-defeating economic policy; a cynical elite that doesn't keep its promises and manipulates its followers, just to name a few. The Tea Party people could have generated leaders to make a specific and thorough critique of the conservative movement and to try to change it. Instead, they have mostly been captured by the elites that know them so well, and been made to serve mostly as examples of GOP media narratives. The GOP does not believe in cutting spending or shrinking government, and if they regain power they will certainly not do these things. But they will almost certainly blame this on the Democrats and get their voters to the polls by frightening them with stories about the American flag being burned or what have you. The Tea Parties could use leaders that see the world clearly, figure out what needs to be done and articulate their message well, like William F. Buckley. Instead they have Sarah Palin and Marco Rubio. The extent of their message is anger, and while that plays now it will not last forever.

The Brown Backlash

It's happening, just as I predicted. I suppose this wasn't too hard to see coming. Scott Brown's off-year assembly of virulent tea partiers and dissatisfied "radical center" types (many of whom voted for Obama and still approved of him) was never going to hold. He's going to have to give his electorate something else to vote for come 2012.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where we are today

I've been away for a while, not paying extremely close attention to politics. Every once in a while I just need to take some time off from this stuff. But I came up with a little game: which passage is from Fox News and which is from the AP? Here are their two main items on health care.

Here's item one:
Starting over on health care, President Barack Obama knows his chances aren't looking much more promising. A year after he called for a far-reaching overhaul, Obama unveiled his most detailed plan yet on Monday. Realistically, he's just hoping to win a big enough slice to silence the talk of a failing presidency.

The 10-year, $1 trillion plan, like the current Democratic version in the Senate, would bring health insurance to more than 31 million Americans who now lack it. Government insurance wouldn't be included, a problem for Democratic progressives. Republicans are skeptical about where the money would come from — and about Obama's claim that the plan wouldn't raise the federal deficit.
Here's item two:

The White House issued proposals Monday for health care reform that have won kudos from several Democratic lawmakers, a sure sign, say Republicans, of how little GOP input is in the plan.

Republicans have agreed to show up at the White House Thursday for a summit on health care, but are heading there with a dim view of the outcome.'s interesting. Item #1 sounds embarrassingly opinionated and antagonistic, with plenty of weaselly turns of phrase and elision of simple facts that it makes it seem more like a hacky rightist op-ed than a real news story. By comparison, the second item seems positively journalistic by comparison. So, which is which? The answer, of course, is that item #1 is the AP (and item #2 is Fox). Evidently not even Fox News is that embarrassing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Obama's political support

This interview with Charlie Cook is notable for a rather obnoxious comparison of Obama's fiscal policy with Bush's Iraq fiasco, in a way that almost seems a deliberate attempt to make him seem like a creep. But it's worth reading as a primer on the conventional wisdom regarding Obama and the Democrats right now. He even resuscitates the wine track, beer track idiocy that the media obsessed over during the primaries.

What should be noted is that what is happening with Barack Obama's popularity is not unprecedented. It's almost exactly what happened with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. Both took office thanks to a recession that occurred on their predecessors' watch, and when they couldn't immediately fix the economy, their popularity dropped quickly. It restored itself when the economy began to perform better. Reagan's party, of course, suffered big losses in 1982 but that didn't matter with respect to the outcome in 1984.

It's true that the Republicans are poised to make some nontrivial gains this year. Probably more than the seven I predicted some months back. But the question is what they actually plan to do with this power. I suspect both parties have come to believe their own spin on the nature of power in Washington. Democrats spent most of 2009 talking about having a mandate, which was fair enough, but there was also a sense among some liberals that the Republicans were just done after the Bush years. That nobody would vote for them, that this was a transitional moment, that they had bought the loyalty of the electorate. This was not at all correct. What the Democrats got in 2008 was a chance to govern. Republican failure convinced the public to give the Democrats a shot. Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that the Republicans have gotten more popular over the past year--the public still doesn't care for them. But the Democrats have lost some ground because they haven't done much to earn support or loyalty just yet. The Republicans have no loyalty left, as even the teabaggers claim not to have much use for them, and they are relying solely on free-floating anger to carry them through. But like the Joker's metaphor of a dog chasing cars, I strongly suspect that Republican congressional leaders don't really know what they'd do with power, and if they actually won a chamber of congress and forced spending cuts through the system, it would damage the economy and leave the Democrats with a simple narrative against them in 2012. (More likely the GOP would not try this, and just blame Democrats for not being bipartisan enough on cutting spending. Their followers generally aren't fazed by failure, it seems.)

And this is what I'm getting at. If the Democrats take action on health care, climate change, and immigration while the economy mends, they will gain more loyalty. But the Republicans don't really seem to understand how to build sustainable support. They rail against spending opportunistically while not supporting Paul Ryan's (admittedly very unpopular) plan that would do just that. They seem to think that the public will vote for them because they are not Democrats, and they might...once. But what modern history tells us is that while the public will often give the other party a chance if the ruling party fails, defining yourself as not them reaps only short-term benefits. Reagan built a large coalition by dealing with communism, taxes, and crime to the public's satisfaction. FDR built a bigger one by taking direct action to rebuild the economy and ending fascism. The Republicans now have no solutions to any problem America faces, and it seems that they've forgotten how quickly the tides of populist anger turned from George W. Bush to Obama and the Democrats (albeit to a lesser extent so far, as Obama's numbers are much stronger than Bush's during his second term). This should be interesting.

See also: Jon Chait

Will the public think the stimulus worked?

Kevin Drum shares this poll response from a few weeks ago:

He asserts that this proves that, contra Megan McArdle and Reihan Salam, that the right does believe that the stimulus didn't work. I think it proves something else, too. For all the liberal complaining about how the stimulus has been presented by the Administration and the media, I think this mostly shows that the public's views on the stimulus aren't entirely unrealistic or unreasonable, if you look at it from their point of view. A year ago, the risk of a financial apocalypse was decent. It's not terribly likely right now, and because the stimulus has been working since then, a good percentage of people are willing to believe that it kept the situation from getting worse. But the economy hasn't completely turned around, so not that many are willing to say that it improved conditions. It undoubtedly has, but I think it's a question of perspective. Wonks and experts would compare the results with the stimulus to a projection of what might have happened without one, and concluded that the stimulus added a point or two of growth and thus improved conditions from what they might have been. However, if in your day-to-day living you still know people getting laid off because there's not enough money in the economy, you're probably not going to think that conditions are much improved from what they are. If, however, unemployment drops to under 9% this year, people might begin to figure that things are turning around, and the stimulus will begin to be seen as having made the difference.

It has been amusing to see many of the same liberal blogs lamenting the ascendance of conservative media that several months ago were talking about how irrelevant cable news is. I tend to agree with the latter view, and I think that the recent electoral bad news for Democrats has had a lot to do with a very public, very ugly meltdown after Scott Brown's election. I'm pretty convinced that the public's attitude is about correct from their point of view, and the better the economy gets, the better the Democrats will do at the ballot box. This doesn't excuse the surprising ineptness of the White House Communications Department over the past year, but I don't think these numbers are terrible, and I think it's safe to say that the president's recent statements put him at the center of this particular debate right now.

The Reagan Divide

Ex-Republican John Cole still defends Reagan:

I think Democrats should realize that anyone coming to their party from the GOP who is over the age of 30 probably still has a warm spot for Reagan. I know I do. I still have my “peace through strength” buttons. I still recall all the stories about Reagan and Tip O’Neill. He was a charismatic guy, and for a lot of people like me, even though we know his policies may not have worked out for the best in the long term in every situation and in some cases were criminal, we still have a fondness for him. Sue me.

More importantly, it is worthwhile to examine how much worse the current GOP is. Reagan may have been a lot of things, but I never perceived him as a hater. Yes, he pandered to the Base elements of the base, but all Republicans have to in order to get elected. Put it this way- which would you take- any one of the potential Republican nominees in 2012, or Reagan?

The comments section is interesting, with a variety of different Dem-leaing views on Reagan (and they're not all bad, though quite a few are). And I definitely agree with John--I'd take Reagan over the 2012 Republican hopefuls.

My personal assessment is basically this: Reagan certainly did some reprehensible things in his time in office (ignoring the AIDS crisis, for example) and his administrative style and "deficits don't matter" business were immensely damaging. But I think it's fair to say that he exceeded expectations overall. He was realistic and clearly grew in his views on foreign policy over the years. I don't really have a lot of bitterness toward him, though I understand a lot of people who were older than four at the time probably have deeper and more negative feelings about the guy. I really can't say. To me, it could have been worse.

But I will say that the Republican Reagan fetish is revelatory. It's a statement not that they're out of ideas, but rather that the movement isn't really animated by ideas, but rather by personalities. Even now, conservatives still can't quit George W. Bush. He's a good guy, remember? But Obama is bad, despite continuing more of Bush's policies than I would have hoped. Reagan? Good. Carter? Bad. Carter wasn't quite conservative, but there was plenty of conservative stuff in his platform, and he of course got challenged by Ted Kennedy. That doesn't prove he wasn't left-wing? At this point, the notion that Reagan's name alone can sell policies to conservatives (especially ones that Reagan himself opposed!) doesn't indicate that the GOP is out of new ideas. It means that ideas are irrelevant to them right now. And it means that conservatives can be so easily manipulated by the likes of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the coven that so completely destroyed their party.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Evan Bayh stole my fruit loops

I don't even know what to make of this Evan Bayh business. But I found Erik Kain's response to Matt Yglesias's glad-to-see-the-back-of-him screed interesting:

Nevertheless, in the progressive narrative Bayh is a wicked ne’er do well, coldly calculating whichever political move will do the most harm, with a “callous disregard for the impact of his decisions on human welfare.” After all, voting Republican basically ensures that millions of people will die. Doesn’t Bayh understand this? Millions of people.

The way I see it is this: Evan Bayh is a conservative Democrat, and basically always was a conservative Democrat. He was elected by an electorate which knew he was a conservative Democrat. They’d elected him once before as their Senator, and before that as governor. They expected him to vote as a conservative Democrat – not a progressive – much as Maine voters expect Olympia Snowe to vote as a fairly moderate Republican. This is the curse and the blessing of being an elected representative. Bayh has to represent the people who elected him, not just do things which please progressive bloggers – even if that means they’ll call him names and imply that his every move including, ironically, he’s throwing in the towel is an act of villainy.

To be honest, I found Yglesias's remarks overblown. Stepping down from the Senate is not really a betrayal of the world, even if it is inarguably a betrayal of his party. Matt can be rather melodramatic when it comes to these sorts of things, to be sure.

But Kain's argument isn't very compelling. Matt wasn't speaking about Bayh's voting record, which is among the most conservative for a Democrat, and about in line with what voters in his state might expect. He was speaking specifically about the parting kidney punch Bayh threw on his way out, whether it was intended that way or not. Yglesias has criticized Bayh's voting record on many occasions, compellingly to my mind, mostly by calling Bayh out as a hypocrite for styling himself as a deficit hawk as well as a major proponent of budget busters like estate tax cuts, wars, and Medicare Part D. These actions have had extremely negative effects on our national standing. Indeed, Bayh's record is largely that of an unimaginative, corporatist centrist who leaves behind hardly any legacy outside of Indiana and who will not be missed, even if his seat may be by Democrats. Dan Coats seems a weak GOP candidate, though if this turns out to be a strong GOP year electorally it might not matter. Martha Coakley won her current job in 2006, after all.

But I think that the larger point isn't compelling either. For one thing, it vastly overstates the influence that progressive bloggers actually have with people like Evan Bayh. Indeed, the notion that Bayh is retiring because of abuse by progressive activists seems positively silly, considering his enduring popularity among establishmentarians, who are more influential and more visible in Bayh's world in any event. It is not unreasonable to point out that he represents a conservative state as a reason for his conservative record, and I suspect that this very fact is frequently taken into consideration by Senate leaders when whipping him for votes. But it is not improper for party activists to push reluctant party members to move baseward, and it is not improper for someone like Matt Yglesias to point out the vacuity of Bayh's principles.

I guess I don't really see what point is being made here. I'll agree that Yglesias went too far in his comments, but how exactly does Kain see the role of activists in American democracy? Should they not be active? What about the donors and activists that have helped the Democrats make big gains in Indiana over the past few years? Bayh is a Democrat, and when one considers how money moves around in national politics, it's quite possible that every Democratic donor to some degree or other has a stake in Bayh's campaign.

I guess I just wonder why, after a Senate career which included vote after vote for disastrous Bush-era policies that Erik himself would no doubt concede weren't particularly conservative--after a run in office that saw Democrats like Bayh offered no vision, no effective opposition to Bush, and ultimately no heart--does he think that Bayh's problem is that he's been criticized too much? In my opinion, it's centrists of both parties that failed us the most during the Bush years. How did Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins vote when the Iraq War came up for a vote? They voted for it, of course, and then never recanted that support. Where were Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh when the PATRIOT Act was rolled out? I mean, it would be one thing if these folks had principled reasons for their votes on this stuff. But all these folks mostly went with the flow, and have had to face exactly zero accountability because they failed along with everyone else. So on the broader point, I must agree with Matt.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Billy Tauzin has left the building

He's no longer the PhRMA chief.

Update from California

Our government is still dysfunctional! We deserve some attention from Ezra Klein too! Seriously, though, the Schwarzenegger vs. Democrats stuff is as amusing a political soap opera as one can find.

White House predicts slow recovery?

Story here. There is a technical term for what the White House is doing here. I believe it's called...wait, it's on the tip of my tongue, you know, what candidates do before a debate...oh, yeah: managing expectations. Which seems sensible enough to me after they completely screwed up predicting economic measures last year. But it seems very strange to me that the White House would make a big deal out of a fairly ho-hum prediction. I'm guessing that they want to be able to say in nine months that recovery has gone better than expected.

Conservatives: Obama too hawkish prosecuting terror war (?)

Remember the Bush years, when powerful levers of influence and media were routinely pulled to portray even reasonable critics of the right into wild-eyed anarchic socialists? Evidently some WD-40 is needed to get those levers moving again. Kevin Drum sums it up:
They [national security hawks] really do seem to have lost a lot of the old magic, haven't they? The problem is that they don't seem to have any other game plan than to reflexively bellow about Democrats being soft on terrorism no matter what the circumstances. [snip] Their complaints have gotten so hysterical and preposterous that it's hard for anyone outside their own base to take them seriously anymore. Increasingly, on national security issues the Republican Party in 2010 is about like Joseph McCarthy circa 1955. The rubes just aren't buying their act anymore.
The right hopes to ride some sort of wave of populist anger back to power. I don't begrudge them that--I do begrudge their lying about stuff to accomplish it, but hey, whatever. They can get away with it, so why not do it? What I find interesting is that the "Wave of Populist Anger" isn't the beginning of the right's strategy to return to power--it is the strategy. That's all it is. Read what Kit Bond and Sue Collins (two of the more moderate Republicans in the Senate) have to say about this undie bomber stuff. There is no fact there, no reason, just manufactured rage. And it's not like it can't bear any fruit! We are, after all, in a recession. It's a bad one, too, worse than we've faced in decades. Basic political dynamics are such that the GOP is almost assured to make some gains this year. But what comes next? How will they make their case to a public still skeptical of them in 2012? Here's a taste:
Today, the Obama administration is no longer attempting to capture men like these alive; it is simply killing them. This may be satisfying, but it comes at a price. With every drone strike that vaporizes a senior al Qaeda leader, actionable intelligence is vaporized along with him. Dead terrorists can't tell you their plans to strike America.
I can't believe anyone would read this and not laugh. There is a lot to unpack here, but what I find most interesting is that it seems to ignore the entire past decade. The War on Terror has been sold to us as, well, a war. Killing the bad guys is not a liability in a war--it is, in fact, what one expects. The Obama Team has proven highly successful at doing this sort of thing. I don't fault the right for trying to gain a foothold on this issue, but this just won't work.

What this demonstrates, I think, is that the right simply doesn't have a clue how to make an argument that doesn't rely on rage at the powers that be. They're good at that! But that's all they got. They had better hope it's enough.

Update: Thiessen walked it back. But my point still stands.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Political dissonance

Doug at Balloon Juice has perhaps the best take on this whole Wieseltier/Sullivan anti-Semitism controversy, and the fundamental ridiculousness of the TNR style of Israel critic-baiting:
Now, look, maybe anti-Semitism is such a grave threat that it’s necessary for TNR contributors to wade through all of Andrew Sullivan’s ruminations about religion, masturbation, and obesity in search of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Or maybe it’s such a non-issue that it’s fine for presidential candidates to surround themselves with former Jew-counters. But it can’t be both.
Sadly, it can be. This got me thinking a bit along an orthogonal direction. There is a great deal of cognitive dissonance among conservatives. Well, there is among liberals too--just look at who the vaccine "truthers" are, and ask someone who believes that stuff if they believe in science over faith, for example--but I've found it more common among people on the right. I actually know of a person who is sort of a typical conservative on gay issues as far as politics goes--he's virulently anti-equality with respect to marriage, for example, and believes in an insidious "gay agenda"--and yet he is easily able to work with gay people without any problem at all. In fact, some gay friends of mine have recently made plans to get married (if in everything but word), and he was legitimately happy for them. I actually think that this is one of the most difficult nuances of the culture wars to get--it is easy to look at the sorts of politicians that get elected in conservative areas and make summary judgments about such people based on that alone. But the thing is that red staters aren't monsters, and my experience has been that a lot of people who hold repellent views are genuinely good people who are more accepting and nice than you'd give them credit for, even of the people they are supposed to hate more than any other.

Just reminds me of this Jeff Goldberg post from ages ago:
Warmth, civility, hospitality and friendliness are the hallmarks of most Muslim societies I've visited. I have been in many places -- in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Iran -- where people absolutely hate Israel, absolutely hate "International Jewry," and hate the Talmud, or what they think is in the Talmud. But people in these places have been almost uniformly kind to me as a visiting Jewish reporter (and they almost always know, right from the outset, that I'm Jewish, because it's not something I ever hide). The people with whom I visit -- and I count the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah in this group -- are raised by their families to be kind to guests. It's very lovely and civilized -- Israelis could learn a thing or two about politeness from Muslims -- but it's irrelevant to their politics, or to their beliefs about what should happen to the Jewish state and its supporters.
Politics can really bring out the worst in people. But the ways in which that plays out in people are invariably complicated and opaque. Fucking thing makes me want to channel Rodney King.

And, by the way, Goldberg has a pretty good post on the Weiseltier thing as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My last Palin post ever

Well, I'm going to try to keep that title true, anyway. I've come to the conclusion that Palin is a sideshow and a distraction, who exists purely for self-aggrandizement. But I shall offer these final words on the subject:

The question du jour seems to be whether or not Sarah Palin will run for president, and will she have a chance if she does. My guess is that Palin will wind up occupying a role similar to Al Gore in 2008: she'll run if it looks like she'll get the nomination handed to her, and she won't if it doesn't look that way. Here's why: Palin lives to be adored. Her past as a beauty queen is instructive here, as does almost her behavior in recent years. She has systematically cut herself off from anyone who might criticize her, and lives entirely in a world of adulation from Tea Partiers, Fox News, and radio personalities. She doesn't engage anyone with different ideas and her reaction to Levi Johnston lead me to believe that she has gotten even more thin-skinned and self-involved even since 2008. She can no longer tolerate criticism, even if it comes from nineteen year old boys (unless it comes from lib'rals, who are clearly just jealous). Obviously, I think she'd like the roaring crowds and all that part of campaigning, but being a presidential candidate involves years of dull, hard work--attending dinners, fundraising, shaking hands, courting endorsements. I really don't think she has the discipline to do it. And it's not like she's particularly passionate about any cause but her own self-promotion, which could just as easily be cemented on Fox News.

Here's what I think will happen: Palin will take some preliminary steps toward running after the midterms this year. This will stir up great excitement among the press. But she won't get in the race immediately. She'll threaten to get in to try to scare away some rivals like Huckabee, but she'll remain aloof. The GOP field will be a generally weak one--you might see Mike Pence give it a shot, maybe some second-stringers, and probably Romney. But Palin won't ever actually enter the contest. Perhaps she'll try to rig some sort of draft effort, but that's about it. I've never seen any evidence that constantly being in the news is insufficient for Palin's ego--she's not unlike those pop tarts that basically just live to be in the tabloids.

But I might be wrong. And I'm not sure I agree with Andrew Sullivan's argument about her "Christianism" being a motivation here, as her statements on that score have seemed more subdued than W's more outlandish claims, but perhaps if she thinks the Lord is moving her...? I suppose we'll see.

Weigel's striking title

Dave Weigel, one of my blog favorites, titles his post on left-wing health care defectors thus: "Kucinich to Vote with Republicans on Health Care." It's not just Kucinich, either--Eric Massa, Democrat of New York, is joining him, as they both did before. Technically, they are voting with the Republicans on this issue, but for opposite objectives, and only one of these groups is acting rationally. Hint: it's not the GOP.

In fact, the Republicans' cynicism will catch up with them if they are indeed successful in killing off Obama's health care plan. It seems clear to me that Republican opposition to Obama is more about personality and identity than about policy, and while there are certainly things in the HCR bill that Republicans wouldn't like, the end game it sets up is one they should. I'm absolutely positive that there are only two plausible paths for health care in America to follow: it can either go the way of managed competition (a la Wyden-Bennett), or it can go the way of single-payer in everything but name. There might be some pushback on the latter option, but I definitely think it will be on the table in the future. While the term "single-payer" is extremely unpopular term, the actual concept appears to poll considerably better when the term isn't applied, and I suspect that terminology will matter less if the amount of uninsured doubles over the next decade. I don't really know how the employer-based insurance system will finally unravel, but it has been unraveling for some time now, and it will continue to do so. Health care costs will continue to rise, companies will drop their insurance plans, and many of those people will struggle to afford anything on the individual market as it is now. The end result will invariably be a huge uptick in the amount of the uninsured, lots more deaths, and a demand for real action far more radical than anything in the current bill. And when this happens, Democrats will be able to say, "I told you so," blame Republicans for spreading lies and keeping them from fixing the problem before, and the public will put the Democrats in charge to fix things. And the history of America is such that these sorts of problems are almost always ameliorated by direct government assistance.

Out of all the obstacles to passing real health care reform, perhaps the biggest one has been that there isn't enough of a public will to get it done. We can talk for some time about whether it was the White House's only intermittently compelling message or the GOP's supreme cynicism that dropped support for the measure, whether it was poor process management from Democratic leaders or the hyperpartisan GOP that bears the blame for making the public become more sour about the process, or whether it was all of this plus a bunch of bad luck and random flukes, like Martha Coakley's utter patheticness. But I think the real reason is that not enough people really feel the need for reform yet. After all, the groups that stand to benefit the most from health care reform--young people, minorities, and the poor--still heavily support reform. They don't need to be sold on it, and they understand the stakes. Unfortunately, they don't make for a majority of the public at this point. If the next decade turns out to be the decade when our health care system (for lack of a better term) finally collapses, and middle-class people start losing their health insurance, the situation will change rapidly.

What HCR does is put us on the path toward Wyden-Bennett. If the bill passes, within a decade or two the status quo will be indistinguishable from Wyden-Bennett. The left realizes this acutely and has decided to oppose this version of reform because they assume--correctly, in my opinion--that they'll be situated to do something more radical in the future if HCR fails. I think that this sort of thinking is deeply wrongheaded and hypocritical for people who no doubt trade on the tragedy caused by the current system as a basis for reform and then reject reform if it doesn't meet their ideological notions, but they are ideologues, which has more to do with it I suppose. But at least they're seeing the situation clearly. Republicans are not taking yes for an answer solely out of political and personality-based reasons (they don't want to give Obama a win), while they bash a "government takeover" of health care that simply doesn't exist. Of course, their short-sighted tactics are going to make that much-hated government takeover inevitable, and the people being celebrated by the right today for their ability to derail HCR will likely not be remembered as heroes in the long term. I'm not altogether convinced that HCR is dead, in large part because the Democratic leadership hasn't given up on it yet, but if it does it's going to be far worse for the right in the long run.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A clueless moment

Here it is, courtesy of Michael Steele: "Trust me, after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money."

An opportunity for Brown?

You know, it occurs to me that this Shelby pork thing could be tailor-made to make Scott Brown an even bigger political force than he is. He could denounce Shelby's holds (goes toward independence), denounce the earmarks he wants (goes toward his being against wasteful spending, as he would define it), and announce that he will do what he can to see that the nominees come up for a vote (goes toward moderation). It would probably leave a good taste in peoples' mouths, and with even Clizilla declaring the old McCain gone, the establishment is going to be searching around for a new Republican to praise unabashedly.

And, you know, it's the right thing to do.

So, there was this thing where the guy wanted to shut down the government...

It would appear that Senator Shelby's manna from Heaven for the Democrats is not exactly getting exposure:

That's right, all of 58 articles on this so far. It's just at #3 on Google News's U.S. section. I realize that the right has Fox News, Drudge, Limbaugh, and the rest, but the Democrats have many elected officials that could go on the record blasting this thing. They also have many paid media professionals who could turn this into a real headache for the GOP. It's not only hypocritical because Shelby wanted to abolish the filibuster a few years ago, it's doubly hypocritical for members of a Republican Party that's obsessed with spending and deficits and pork to make these sorts of demands. This could be a huge opportunity for the Democrats to highlight the ability of Republicans to obstruct uncontroversial things, and to lay the groundwork for a frontal assault on the filibuster.

But...that doesn't seem to be happening.

Look, if this is going to be the way things go, then the Democrats really don't have a chance in 2010. What we have is a White House that's stacked with people who are running the inside game--Emanuel, Rouse, Messina, all of whom are talented and are real assets to the Administration, it should be noted--but nobody who's particularly capable of running the outside game, or at least nobody who's interested in doing it. I have always liked Andrew Sullivan's notion that Obama wants to govern like George H.W. Bush--this is an appealing notion to me. But it ignores one major flaw--Bush LOST, in large part because of that governing strategy. In retrospect, his modest tax hikes were absolutely the right thing to do at the time, and both he and Clinton deserve credit for the good economy of the 1990s. And the guy had a lot of good stuff happen on his watch: the Americans with Disabilities Act was huge. But if Bush 41 is a decent model for governance--and you could do much, much worse, in my opinion--he's a horrible model for politics. I just think the whole let's worry about the politics later thing just doesn't work, and more and more I think that it's the insiders that are leading Obama astray by keeping him focused on the inside game.

I'm not saying that the left needs to build up a noise machine equivalent to what the right has. But they can't just worry about the politics later anymore. I think it's time that Obama bit the bullet and hired Howard Wolfson. Dude's a hack, but I'll be damned if the guy can't plant media narratives and drive coverage, which is exactly what they need. I know, because I endured it for months back when his candidate was running against Obama, and I was cursing his name on a daily basis.

Update: Evidently there's some pushback from the White House. Here's Bob Gibbs:
"I guess if you needed one example of what's wrong with this town, it might be that one senator can hold up 70 qualified individuals to make government work better because he didn't get his earmarks. If that's not the poster child for how this town needs to change the way it works, I fear there won't be a greater example of silliness throughout the entire year of 2010... It boggles the mind to hold up qualified nominees for positions that are needed to perform functions in a government because you didn't get two earmarks."

This, from Dan Pfeiffer, is slightly better:

"This is just the latest example of this kind opposition for opposition's sake that the President talked about earlier this week," wrote White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. "This strategy of obstruction is preventing qualified people from doing their jobs on behalf of the American people and it's preventing real work from getting done in Washington."

"Every minute spent needlessly blocking noncontroversial nominees, many of whom go on to be confirmed by 70 or more votes or by voice vote (nine of the President's nominees so far), is a minute not spent on the issues that matter to American families," he continued.

Mention the stuff about Bunning blocking nominees about candy-flavored cigarettes and Kyl blocking the TSA guy over internet gambling. Segue into talking about the filibuster after the GOP tries to kill the jobs bill. And please, for the love of Dios, give Gibbs's job to Wolfson. Do it now.

Update 2: This, on the other hand, is really good politics. At least there's one Democrat in town who knows how to do this whole "politics" thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bayh says danger

And so ends Evan Bayh's danger of not getting another term...if a Chavez associate is the best the GOP can do, they might as well try to get Dan Quayle to run again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Old clip of the day

Since evidently they're going to re-do We Are The World with the likes of Lady Gaga and Eminem, I figured I'd dredge up this old clip making fun of the original. Worth a view if you want to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus with the eightiesest hairstyle ever and Billy Crystal as an uncanny simulacrum of Prince, plus there's Bruce Springsteen being strangled by Mr. T. Which, considering his performance on We Are The World, was entirely warranted:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A little light reading material

Well, not exactly. But this story about Blackwater's lawlessness and the real tragedy it causes is a must-read. I must say, I find it amusing that in our society, the natural response to a shortage of soldiers or a shortage of prisons is never to think about why we're running out of this stuff and rethink what we're doing, but rather to pay other people to do our dirty work. If there's anything more scummy we pay for than paid mercenaries and private prisons, I don't know what it might be.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.