Friday, April 30, 2010

Hamsher's unreconstructed left-liberalism

No sooner had I been thinking, "Hey, Lev, what's Jane Hamsher up to?" than does someone bring this to my attention:

The Progressive Movement is Officially Dead
By: Jane Hamsher

Here's her argument:

Shortly after Obama took office, the White House tried to cut Social Security benefits, but they had to back off, fearful that they would lose the support of liberal interest groups who joined together en masse behind the scenes to oppose it. The administration subsequently herded them all into a room, threatened their funding, and captivated them in an effort to pass a health care bill written by the Heritage Foundation and the insurance industry. And the progressive groups went along with it, proving that there is absolutely no limit to what they’ll accept.

Of course, the White House is going to go after Social Security again. It’s the pot of gold at the end of Wall Street’s rainbow, and they desperately want that injection of cash which could keep their giant ponzi scheme from exploding. . . for a little while.

Lucky for them, Obama has successfully dismantled the opposition that kept George Bush from privatizing Social Security at Wall Street’s behest only a few years ago. Did anybody fail to get that message when majority whip Dick Durbin yesterday told “bleeding heart liberals” that they need to be willing to accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits for the economic well-being of the nation?

And there will be zero pushback. Right now liberal interest groups are afraid to oppose Elana Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court because they fear Obama will triangluate against them and they’ll look impotent to their donors. Just as the choice groups sat on their hands for the Nelson amendment in the health care bill, just like the Sierra Club remains mute in the wake of an oil spill the size of Delaware, there will be nothing more than progressive window-dressing in opposition to cutting Social Security benefits this time around. Any of these groups utter so much as a whimper in response to Durbin’s very alarming statement yesterday? Nada. Zip. Zero.

The idea that the right is more “authoritarian” and top-down than the left is absurd. Conservatives successfully organized to keep Harriet Miers off the bench for having an insufficient record, they kicked Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist out, and they’re getting ready to expel Bob Bennett — very much against the will of the party. The GOP had to get on board or lose the support of their base. Meanwhile, Democratic leadership still celebrates Joe Lieberman every day, rubbing our noses in it for ever having had the audacity to challenge him in the first place.

You know, there was a point where I thought comparing Jane Hamsher to, say, Michelle Malkin would just have been a mean joke. But it's pretty much impossible to tell them apart anymore. This is paranoid stuff. (All those links, by the way, are links to FDL, not to, say, a fact-checking website. Shocker, huh?)

Look, I'm not interested in picking on the FDL people. They have their following, and the 5% of people who think Obama's too conservative (which would include me on security issues at least) are allowed to have their little movement as well. And they can certainly serve a valuable purpose! I tend to think all this talk of Overton windows is a little silly, but there is something to it, and if dissident progressives were spending all their time outlining more progressive alternatives, exploiting weaknesses in both mainstream conservative and liberal arguments, etc., hey, that would be helpful! But instead she's arguing that Obama wants to cut Social Security benefits (which is probably true, as part of keeping the program solvent), which somehow means that he wants to privatize Social Security (?) (or perhaps they're one and the same to Jane), and that he got the entire progressive movement to go along with this solely through the force of his charisma. Which is dubious, considering how many sorts of hell unions raised solely about the (quite minor) excise tax on health insurance. Cutting retirement benefits would undoubtedly have ratcheted it up several thousand notches. Of course, no facts are really presented to back any of these assertions up. This is almost Glenn Beck level stuff here. There's something about health care reform being the product of work of the Heritage Foundation, which eerily echoes conservative obsessions with the origin of certain ideas (Is it paid for by George Soros?) rather than with the content of the ideas themselves. I could care less about where HCR came from--it's a good idea! Not the best idea, but a good and workable one, that's shown real success in Massachusetts and Germany and the Netherlands, among others. And she's angry that the Sierra Club didn't update their website about the oil spill, which has to do with Obama why? She really doesn't like Elena Kagan (whose name she misspells) because she thinks Kagan will be used in a triangulation strategy against liberals. I have my concerns with Kagan, but this is only tangentially related to anything else in the screed.

But the later reference to Harriet Miers is poignant here. Miers was certainly no rocket scientist, but my guess is that she would have done okay on the Court, and would likely have been a fair sight more moderate than Samuel Alito. She had the classic profile of a conservative-to-moderate switcher on the Court--she is Protestant, did not have a history of ideological activism, and had little judicial experience. See also: Harry Blackmun, Sandra Day O'Connor, Warren Burger (though he flipped back to the right after a time), Tony Kennedy, David Souter, etc. That's why the right wing opposed her--smartly for them, of course. Do you really think the right would have had a problem with someone about as unqualified but hard-core right-wing, like Hans von Spakovsky? I doubt it. I could be wrong about all this, I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that the Democrats' handling of Miers' nomination--attempting to torpedo the nomination to try to split the President's supporters and give Bush a loss--was misguided at best. This is all beside the point though. Miers and Kagan aren't at all alike--Kagan is a brilliant legal mind whose job mainly involves defending administration policy, whether she agrees with it or not. The lack of a paper trail makes me a little nervous, but she has plenty of defenders, and unless you buy Hamsher's "Obama is a stealth rightist" line it doesn't really make sense that he'd knowingly put a right-winger on the Court. His previous pick has proven to be entirely unproblematic from a liberal perspective. So what's the problem here again?

It's not like Hamsher doesn't have any points here, even if they're couched in a shooting gallery-style angry rant that is heavy on accusations and light on facts. But what interests me about this is that Hamsher is a liberal of the old school, and I really don't mean this in a good way. There used to be a certain type of liberal that really would spend, spend, spend and not worry about how to pay for it. (See also: John Lindsay, "Ford to City: Drop Dead") In fact, there used to be quite a few of them who would laugh off annoying "budget scolds", as she puts it. The problem is that those people gave liberalism a terrible reputation. Thanks to them, nobody would trust liberals to run the economy, and we got a long procession of Republicans with their dubious claims of fiscal conservatism running things. That fiscal conservatism isn't a hilarious punchline even now shows how deep the damage was. Even after Bush, the public hasn't quite come around to trusting liberals again.

Personally, I don't think it's a defect of progressivism that Obama's debt-reduction committee might look at making some benefit cuts. Embracing responsible budgeting is not a failure of contemporary liberalism, but rather a sign of its maturation. I don't think that making Social Security solvent should just involve benefit cuts (ditto Medicare), but that's got to be considered and it probably will have to happen to some degree. Rather than throwing down markers, liberalism has first to establish its competence as a governing force, and it has to demonstrate that government can do more than pave roads and send out checks. Ultimately, that was what the health care debate was really about. Hamsher, of course, was pretty clueless about the bigger issues at stake. And while Elena Kagan would not be my first choice for Supreme Court justice (I'd prefer Diane Wood or Jennifer Granholm), I'd be willing to actually listen to the case for her before passing judgment.

For all the talk about epistemic closure on the right, it's really fascinating to see such an acute case of it on the left. Linking only to yourself, making wild accusations without evidence, asserting things instead of proving them: it's just like Rush Limbaugh. I actually feel sorry for Hamsher--sounds like she's pretty disappointed that her vision of change hasn't worked out. She feels betrayed by the left, sees progressives as phonies, and her tone has shifted to one of besiegement, antiestablishmentarianism, and populism. I've read enough history to know where this is going. She sounds well on her way to formally shifting allegiances and becoming a hard-core conservative. Her alliance with Grover Norquist, in retrospect, seems to indicate that this transition is under way. I would like to think I'm wrong, but this narrative is all too common. In a few years, I'm guessing she'll be doing what she does under the aegis of the right, and she'll probably be extremely popular, doing speaking tours with Ann Coulter and all that.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona law spawns copycats

Dave Weigel reports.

Stories like this are going to stir mass panic among Hispanics across the country. They are going to worry that their state is going to be the next Arizona, and they are going to turn out in massive numbers and vote Democratic. And they're going to do it again in 2012. Can the GOP assemble a national majority without Texas and Arizona? Probably not.

Once again, we see the wages of always channeling the crazy instead of challenging it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yglesias will be happy

President Obama to finally fill those vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board.

Arizona: Manna from heaven for the Democrats

Think about it. While Arizona's immigration law will probably energize Arizona's right wing, the GOP's sheer panic at the implications of this issue will probably keep them from really capitalizing on it. Go check out the responses from Rubio, Whitman, et al. Even Tancredo's against it, which leaves how much room to the right to support it, really? The bill will probably be highly controversial with the general public until it actually has to be enforced, at which point I fully expect it will become a real disgrace.

Arizona will probably not be on too many voters' minds until that occurs. It will, however, be on the forefront of the mind of every single Hispanic voter in November. This scary piece of garbage is going to make the Dems' Latino outreach easy as pie. All they're going to have to do is say that a vote for Republicans is a vote to turn your state into another Arizona, and not turning out makes it that much easier. I'm guessing the Dems pull in the sort of numerical support among Hispanics in 2010 that they usually get from Black voters, and those Senate races where the GOP has a real shot in states that contain heavy Hispanic communities--namely Illinois, California, Nevada, and Colorado--will start to slip out of reach, while states like Arizona and Florida become real battlefields. And if the Republicans' response to this whole thing holds consistent, they just won't be able to deal with it.

In the end, I suspect the law getting struck down by a court challenge would probably be win-win for most parties involved, but I agree with Kos--this one's going to leave a mark. But how lucky have the Dems been this year? I mean, between Anthem jacking up insurance rates right when Obama retrenches on health care, Goldman being sued for fraud right before FinReg heats up, and now Arizona's disgrace. This just isn't the GOP's year.

Sorry, friend, but you're wrong here

Matt Yglesias quotes George Will: "Arizonans should not be judged disdainfully and from a distance by people whose closest contacts with Hispanics are with fine men and women who trim their lawns and put plates in front of them at restaurants, not with illegal immigrants passing through their back yards at 3 a.m."

Matt says that this is racist, and I think Will definitely uses some stereotypes that, if not racist, are pretty close to it. But I don't think it's racist to point out that illegal immigration poses some serious problems, and that quite a few people who are outraged by this law are insulated from these problems. Of course, this point is undermined by a few small facts: one, that Will himself has no more or less standing to hector anyone about the problems of illegal immigration since, last I checked, he's a New Yorker, and since his case is fundamentally anecdotal I don't really see what he's adding here. Two, that things that are popular in the short term aren't necessarily right, and I suspect this law will cause enormous backlash in the near future--probably once the first pictures of mothers and children being rammed into an Arizona State Trooper wagon hit the news networks. Three, his arguments in the column are generally pretty weak. He tries to pose an equivalence between affirmative action and opposition to Arizona's law (as if any liberals still actively push affirmative action anymore, aside from perhaps in college admissions, or that there's any synchronicity between a noble if perhaps misguided attempt to equalize opportunity and freedom for minorities on one hand, and clamping down on innocent peoples' freedom on the other), and his basic argument again boils down to that Arizona is right because most Arizonans like the law, it doesn't say it targets Hispanics, and Brutus is an honorable man. This is, if you will pardon the pun, the usual willful ignorance and hot air of the sort that have made Will legendary.

Will's column, truth be told, isn't that racist. It's mostly the sort of "center-right nation" pandering that gasbags like Will never stop spewing. Of course the nation sees race like Jan Brewer. Most people believe in harshly punitive immigration laws. We shouldn't pass judgment on the Red States. Will's column is biased, but it is not biased in a racial direction.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Terrible Republican FinReg Bluff

It is strange:
Now that the Democrats know the Republicans are planning to defect after the first vote, why on Earth would they compromise? Moreover, what is the point of taking the hit by filibustering reform in the first place? It could work, in theory, if you could bluff the Democrats into thinking the GOP might hold the line indefinitely. But I'm pretty sure the Democratic party has access to articles published in Politico, which means the jig is up. So now the Republicans are trying to bluff in poker when they and their opponent know they have the weaker hand, and their opponent has heard them admit that their strategy is to bet for a couple rounds and fold before the end. Why not just cut their losses now? This makes zero sense.
Doesn't seem to make much sense, does it? My guess: the GOP leadership is trying to make a show to Wall Street that they're willing to take a hit in order to do their bidding, so that the banks will give more money to Republicans this year. If the new regs pass (and I think they have a damn good chance of passing), then it's something of a win-win for both parties if you consider the money angle: Republicans showed they will stand up for Wall Street, Democrats showed that they stood up to Wall Street, the former gets money and the latter presumably gets more of a clean slate when it comes to voter anger about bankers. The assumption here is that the money will help Republicans in November more than the charge of standing up for the bankers, which might well be true if the bill actually passes and voters move on to other issues. But it smacks more of trying to make the best of a losing hand with respect to the policy.

This is all very cynical, but it is Mitch McConnell we're dealing with here.

Bleep this!

I remember when the right would go nuts over something like this. Now, it's barely a whimper:
The House Minority Whip's office, in an email tonight, made issue of Sen. Carl Levin's use of the word "shitty" during hearings with Goldman Sachs executives today. "We could maybe understand letting it slip once but 11 times? Even Joltin' Joe Biden must be shaking his head. It's time to clean up-- not only Levin's mouth--but the way Democrats are conducting business in Washington."
Back in the 90's, of course, large chunks of the right would really get exercised by trash culture, porn, profanity, and all the rest. I don't agree with censorship but I could understand where they were coming from, and I could sympathize to an extent. I'm not really a fan of trash culture either. But, at some point, conservatism became a prime purveyor of that trash culture, through the angry, profane tirades of people like Bill O'Reilly, not to mention stuff like Kim Kardashian getting a primo interview on Hannity, or John Gibson providing wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death, etc. I could go on, but I would just like to note that it's interesting that the GOP can't do better for this kind of job than their second-in-command, who likes to send out profane clips to reporters. Clearly someone who sees profanity as a moral wrong, there.

It really is a topsy-turvy world, where the apparent cultural conservatives are the ones who seem to most disdain the respectful, civil society that used to be the American ideal.

How do you prepare for a Supreme Court nomination?

US News and World Report has an informative guide.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Immigration reform in California

Chait reminds us of what happened in my state during the 1990s:
In 1994, conservatives in California passed a ballot proposition forbidding illegal immigrants from using public services. The short-term politics worked for Republicans in an angry political year, but the long-term damage to the party has been massive. Arizona's even more draconian law, endorsed John McCain and signed by the state's Republican governor, has similar potential. [...]

This is the backdrop to the Democrats' apparent decision to take up immigration reform. I don't like their plan of sidelining climate legislation to focus on reform, but the politics seem irresistible. The combined effect of the Arizona law plus Democrats pushing for immigration reform will probably be to cement Latino's political allegiance for a very long time. In the short term, the politics may not work for most Democrats -- Harry Reid excepted -- but in the long run it will be a bonanza.
This is all true, but it only tells part of the story of how the GOP went from the state's dominant party. From the late 1930s until now, California has had only three Democratic governors, one of whom was Gray Davis, who wasn't exactly beloved. During that time, the GOP usually held one of the two Senate seats, and the state went Republican in the electoral college every time from 1952 to 1988 (except for the Lyndon Johnson landslide in 1964). Part of this was due to the Orange County-style voters who later left the state, but Hispanics and also Asian-American voters were vital cogs in the state Republican machine. California has large communities of Chinese and Vietnamese-Americans, who gravitated toward the GOP for its anticommunist politics. We also have a huge community of people of Japanese descent who trended GOP because of F.D.R.'s Japanese internment policy. A lot of the people I know here had relatives who were affected by that policy, and there's still quite a lot of anger about it. And while it's not a different race per se, California also has a pretty large population of Russian immigrants, who also used to be good Republicans. There are big communities of Russian immigrants in L.A. and in my old neck of the woods in Sacramento, thanks in large part to the city being the headquarters of Voice of America back in the day.

We know what happened with Hispanics, but California Republicans have lost pretty much all of the other groups now. Part of it is just the old coalitions shredding in the aftermath of the Cold War, but so many of these communities are culturally conservative and fairly prosperous, and would seem like GOP magnets anyway. The real reason they lost these people is the unending racist yahoo nationalism from the usual suspects. With the Dems' prospects in California looking a little shaky this year because of the economy, which is far worse here than in the country generally, I guarantee you that prospective nominees like Meg Whitman and Tom Campbell want immigration reform to become a big debate like they want a hole in the head, to use an old cliche. The obvious angle is with Hispanic voters, but more generally it will bring the Minutemen and all the other nutcases out of the woodworks, and ultimately scare the shit out of everyone in the state who isn't right-wing, which works to the detriment of the mostly sensible center-right types like Campbell and Whitman. Of course, the also-rans like Steve Poizner and Carly Fiorina like this issue because they can use it to bash the frontrunners, who can't really fight back because then they'd be assured of losing the election, but the truth is that if the underdogs actually score some upsets and get their respective nominations, they'll be even more screwed than the current frontrunners.

Of course, I'm just anxiously waiting the Chuck DeVore surge, which would pretty much wipeout the GOP in the state. It's already happening, actually:

Friday, April 23, 2010

In re Arizona

With respect to the new, tough (some might say Orwellian) immigration law signed in Arizona, I find this little nugget by David Kurtz very compelling: "When your mettle is truly tested, you don't get any do-overs. In her declining years, will Gov. Janice Brewer (R-AZ) look back on today with pride? Or will she feel the pangs of conscience that Earl Warren later expressed over his role in the internment of Japanese-Americans?" Kind of says it all.

And I think that's it for me today. Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Good news for Democrats

Underemployment has dropped appreciably in the past three weeks. Lowest it's been all year, actually.

Will Obama never move slowly enough for David Brooks?

I agree with Tomasky's view here:

Obama and the Democrats will take a licking at the polls this November. But assuming they hold on to the House, which I still think they will, you'll probably see a Democratic Party that moves more in Brooks' desired direction.

Which is not something I have a problem with. Assuming financial regs get done, the new START happens, DADT gets ended, and carbon pricing gets enacted by the Congress, I have no problem with pausing for some consolidation, and perhaps focusing on fixing our entitlement problems. Because then most of the biggest problems will have been solved. But I say get as much done now as possible.

Speaking of climate change, this is just a little worrisome, though I'm guessing it's the usual tactic that legislators use of speaking to each other through the media. I sure hope that Democrats aren't dumb enough to think that the public is going to buy that this is an urgent issue by not doing anything about it, and that progressives are going to be okay with this. Most liberals want immigration reform, but climate change brings much more passion for most people. I sure hope we aren't playing the constituency game here.

UK 2010: Echoes of the US in 2008

I've been following the British election story, and I have to admit that the surge in support for the Liberal Democrats hasn't come as a total surprise to me. In fact, it sort of makes sense. For a voting public that mostly remembers the Tories from the incompetent and nasty John Major era and that remembers Labour from Iraq, the desire for a third option makes sense.

Indeed, that Andrew Sullivan compares Nick Clegg to Barack Obama strikes me as a bit obvious but nevertheless a decent analogy in many respects. Unlike Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Obama opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. This, along with his unusual profile that contrasted directly with the then-current White House occupant, spoke volumes more of change than a hundred Hillary speeches possibly could have, and provided a real prospect of turning the page. Clegg and the Lib Dems--unlike the two major parties--opposed Iraq from the start, and prospered from it. That fact alone counts for a lot. There is a counterargument--that one has learned from their mistakes--that could hold water, but David Cameron doesn't want to make it and Gordon Brown can't. This is almost exactly how Obama found himself positioned in the Democratic primary, with Brown in the Clinton role and Cameron roughly playing Edwards, and as it turned out, primary voters chose to reward foresight instead of contrition or arrogance. I find it easy to believe that British voters might do the same, even if their system doesn't allow the Lib Dems to win a lot of seats.

What interests me is where things go next. Labour might well have ruined its future for generations with Iraq. In first-past-the-post systems, the equilibrium is one of two major parties. Obviously, the Liberals never quite died out after they lost power for the last time in the 1920s, but they hardly figured into the power structure at all. I'm wondering if the Lib Dems might not become the de jure party of the British center-left going forward as Labour fades away into a marginal third party, retaining only its left-wing elements. Which doesn't really affect me too much, but it would certainly change how history judges Tony Blair now, wouldn't it?

Epistemic closure--beside the point

John Cole cannonballs into the epistemic closure debate:
I see via DougJ that the epistemic closure wankfest is still in full effect, and while I’m really enjoying laughing at the shock the “conservative intellectuals” are having, part of me just wants to tell them to choke on a hamburger. Who do they think came up with all the bullshit that is coming back to haunt them? [...]

And now the “conservative intellectuals” are SHOCKED that conservatives have closed minds. You all spent the last 30 years turning every issue into a binary construct, and then lying about half of the god damned equation, and now you are shocked that people’s minds are closed? If I believed all liberals wanted to abort my baby, and then if it miraculously survived, teach it to be a certain sexual orientation, and then later on hold death panels to see if it would be allowed to have medical treatment, my mind would be closed, too. I’d be going to tea parties screaming about shit and chanting “I want my country back.”

Here’s what the conservative intellectuals are upset about- they spent years spreading this stuff, knowing it was nonsense, and now the people they convinced have no use for them anymore. Look at the poll a couple years ago about what conservative “intellectuals” and elites thought about evolution. PRO-TIP- they almost all believed in it.

So spare me the shock. You assholes made this mess, and if you read NRO or watch FOX or the rest of the right-wing media outlets, they are still spreading this bullshit and doubling down on the crazy for nothing other than political advantage. I missed all the “conservative intellectuals” calling Mitch McConnell a liar last week when he ignored the 200 pages in the financial reform bill that deals with dissolving failed organizations and instead characterized the bill as creating permanent bailouts. Did you all happen to catch any conservative intellectuals shooting that obvious lie down? I sure missed them.

So just spare me.

I'm inclined to be a bit more charitable here--Bill Buckley really did think that communism was really terrifying, and I don't think he was wrong. He thought public morality really was breaking down in a number of ways, which wasn't really wrong.

But I think John gets at something here that the conservative and libertarian writers miss: that epistemic closure on the right is a symptom of the real problem with conservatism in America, and not the cause. The Douthats and Sanchezes of the world--conservative and libertarian intellectuals, basically--are, in my opinion, trying to reduce conservatism to an intellectual problem because they are conservative intellectuals and they feel most comfortable engaging problems on that terrain. The real problem, put simply, is prejudice. And I'm not strictly speaking racially here. I'm not going to pull a Krugman and say it's all about race. I don't believe that and while race is certainly a factor in this problem, it's just part of the problem. Hell, George W. Bush didn't even bother with race-baiting when he ran for president (though John McCain did, just a little bit). More generally, though, conservatism has come to encompass a constellation of prejudices--prejudices against progressives, against "Coastal Elites", against women (here's a recent poignant example), etc.

Look, I'm not sitting in judgment here. Your average liberal no doubt has some prejudices against corporations, not uncommonly against vaccinations, and so on. The difference is that the progressive/liberal ecosystem is such that these sorts of prejudices aren't really encouraged (okay, maybe the anticapitalist stuff a little bit for populism, but there aren't many full-blown Marxists in the Democratic Party). My point is that Democrats just don't trade on prejudice to a huge extent. Republicans, though, don't see this stuff as something to be challenged, but rather as something to be respected (or at least indulged). This is why every Republican leader over the past half century, when confronted by some form of craziness or other from the right, has tried to go all Clinton with said craziness (i.e. "I feel your pain") instead of saying that they're insane for thinking it. From Goldwater to Scott Brown, it's the unflinching response of the right--the anger is there, and it's not to be challenged, but rather to be used as a driving force for conservatism. I mean, Scott Brown read the nutter who attacked an IRS building into the conservative movement! That's some indulgence toward anger. And what is it that drives that anger? What started it? It wasn't Milton Friedman's white papers on monetary policy. It was initially the Vietnam War, hippies, and blacks. And, honestly, it kind of still is those things that drive the right, just with different names.

And, ultimately, this is why I find myself more and more unimpressed with the likes of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, etc. Some of them have interesting theories and ideas, but it's all academic, ultimately, since none of them actually want to deal with the real problems with their movement, and their assumptions about it are simply too charitable. There will never be a reform wing of the GOP until this instinctive rage is tamped down, until the feelings subside enough for there to be a conversation. And there are large chunks of the right that have much interest in keeping that conversation from happening. Do you really think that Grover Norquist would rather be held accountable about his ties with Jack Abramoff, instead of denouncing "socialism"? So long as those prejudices and that resultant anger persist, the right will never change. Epistemic closure is an interesting construct, but this conversation up until this point has been entirely intellectual, which perhaps befits a conversation among conservative intellectuals about conservatism. But hardly any actual conservatives come at the enterprise from an intellectual bent. Rick Perlstein's work is instructive on this point. Ultimately, this whole discussion feels like Ivory Tower stuff, instead of something real.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tea again

Kevin Drum says something I've been thinking for a while:
The tea parties ought to be covered, and liberals should fight back against them. But treating them as some kind of massive new movement misses the point. These people have been around forever, and they're always upset when liberals take over. In fact, if there's anything new about the tea partiers it's that the movement is smaller, less organized, and less influential than either the Birchers of the 60s or the anti-Clinton wingnuts of the 90s. That is, the power of populist conservatism has actually declined over time.
The whole post makes other points and deserves to be read. I think what most people seem to get wrong about the Tea Parties is that it is not a political movement. The politics are, at best, tangential to the thing. This is a cultural movement, a last stand of sorts. The continuity with past similar movements is strong, but the overwhelming trend is the diminishing returns of the whole thing. In the late 70s, antiliberal backlash was enough to get Reagan elected. In the early 90s, it was enough to win Congress but not enough to win the presidency. We'll see how it works out this year, but my guess is that it doesn't even win the GOP either chamber of Congress. The reactionary hold on our politics is indeed waning. That's some cause for hope.

Inhofe is right???????? About anything??

It appears so:
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that his fellow GOP senators who voted to pass the $700 billion bailout program in the fall or 2008 run a political risk now, when the Senate has moved onto financial reform legislation.

"Republicans have a problem on this," Inhofe said during an appearance on WLS radio in Chicago. "As you know, I was leading the opposition in October of '08 to the $700 billion bailout. And the Republicans, most of them caved in, and all the Democrats did."

"And so I was cautioning them on this: don't try to paint this so much as the Wall Street bailout as it is, whatever they come up with, because we are vulnerable," Inhofe explained of that bailout. "I'm not personally, because I opposed it, but most of -- almost all the Republicans went along with it."
It's pretty insane that Inhofe is the one who is acting like the Republican voice of reason here. That says a lot in and of itself. What's more amazing is that he's actually putting a pin to the epistemic closure bubble that the right has meticulously constructed around this issue. He's correct that the bulk of the GOP caucus wound up supporting TARP back in the day, but the new Republican narrative is that the GOP is the Enemy of the Bailouts, that they were never necessary and that Bush Obama wasted taxpayer dollars on them, etc.

My guess is that the right will ignore Inhofe easily enough, despite the fact that the usually insane old buzzard has made an excellent point.

Immigration or climate change?

I'm not so sure I like what Dems are choosing here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Am I wrong?

Stuff like this makes me think that Obama might pick Diane Wood as a SCOTUS nominee, despite her age. But I'm going to stick with my prediction for the time being.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

If only...

Reading this great op-ed in Ha'aretz just makes me wish for a day when we can actually have a conversation about Israel like this in our country.

No repeal

Jon Chait's piece about the right's HCR repeal fantasy is pretty good, but perhaps overthinking things. The simple truth is that the fight to repeal reform (in a world where Republicans were actually in a position to do it) would be just as messy as the fight to enact it was. The right would have to do battle with the combined forces of PhRMA, the AMA, the AARP, labor, etc. Considering the flat-out disbelief that most Republicans (namely Newt Gingrich) displayed at the prospects of the Democrats putting it all on the line for HCR, I don't expect the GOP to mirror the Democrats' drive on this issue. Enacting HCR only happened because it was a decades-old dream of the left. The same cannot be said of repeal.

Additionally, it's worth nothing that the GOP hasn't had the stomach for a really tough ideological fight since Gingrich's government shutdown. Welfare reform was, of course, bipartisan, as were No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D, though the latter is perhaps the definitive example of where bipartisanship produces a worse product than would otherwise be reached. In any event, the Bush Administration's domestic policy was one of minimal risk, one that would take 1/4 of a loaf from the Democrats when possible and back off once the going got tough, as in immigration reform and privatization of Social Security. Of course, this was because Bush had other priorities that he was more interested in pursuing, but I tend to think that the rest of the GOP will rage about repeal for some months, not really bother too much about health care if they do win the House, and then complain about how the Democrats are being difficult if their followers ask them any questions about the whole thing. It's just SOP for them at this point.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Financial reform opposition is weak tea

Dave Weigel discusses Mitch McConnell's anti-reg gambit here. Here's the conclusion: "The success of McConnell's push depends, I think, on how often Republicans say this without getting follow-up questions. So far they've been getting a lot of follow-ups -- the reliance on this talking point is just so obvious."

I think McConnell's problem here, as opposed to health care reform, is that he's trying to create a new connection instead of emphasizing an existing one. A lot of people in this country want to fundamentally reform health care, but many of them worry about the implications of an increased government role in health care, perhaps after hearing some horror stories about rationing and what not. So, while something like "death panels" can easily be scoffed at by most everyone, it taps an anxiety that exists and can therefore be somewhat subtly effective. (Admittedly the death panels claim specifically was Sarah Palin's work, but all the stuff about rationing was pretty widespread among Republicans.)

Most people, I think, have absorbed that Wall Street melted down because people were doing crazy things and regulators were either looking the other way or didn't have the tools to deal with it. McConnell's strategy is to try to lump in regulatory reform with unpopular bailouts, only there's an extra step he'll have to make there that didn't have to be made to make people anxious about HCR. People might have some anxieties about Wall Street reform, but I don't think the fear of it leading to more bailouts is terribly intuitive. I don't really think McConnell has a winning hand here, but I think the Luntzian groupthink will prove more damaging than would otherwise be the case.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Perhaps I spoke too soon?

Carly Fiorina is having some issues. If she has to quit, I wonder how the Senate race here will shake out. The California GOP is extremely conservative, and if it becomes the already-deflating moderatish Tom Campbell vs. real conservative Chuck DeVore, I think DeVore will experience a big surge. Could be another Crist/Rubio type of thing.

California status update

How is the Golden State looking politically these days? Well, evidently the race to replace Barbara Boxer is getting closer, unbelievably, with Carly Fiorina pulling closer to Tom Campbell. I guess the notion that Campbell is moderate (which isn't true, though he is neither insane nor intransigent) is leading to a Fiorina surge.

My take is that Campbell is the only moderately threatening person in this race to Barbara Boxer, even though I wouldn't give Campbell more than 4:1 odds of actually winning. He is generally pretty libertarian on social and economic issues, which is not a terrible fit for a state that has a hidden streak of fiscal conservatism. In normal times he wouldn't have a chance, but with the economy being worse in California than the rest of the country a Scott Brown moment isn't completely impossible. Then again, Boxer isn't as dumb as Martha Coakley, Campbell isn't as charismatic as Scott Brown, etc., but it's not impossible if all the planets were to align in such a way...

Fiorina, however, is a joke. The Demon Sheep ad that everyone knows is pretty much indicative of her entire career in politics and business. I used to live right next to HP HQ, so I know quite well how she nearly drove her company into the ground back in the day. Her stint flacking for John McCain in 2008 was nearly as bad. She's already been something of a trainwreck as a candidate and would not pose a serious challenge to Boxer. Unlike Campbell, she's running as a traditional, Reagan style fiscal and social conservative to appeal to the hard-right GOP base in the state (for whom time stopped in 1989, more or less). That's not going to play in a state where 3/4 of the public (including almost half of Republicans) self-identify as pro-choice. And option #3, Chuck DeVore, is a DeMintite who mostly resembles the hapless losers the GOP runs against Dianne Feinstein every time she's up when they don't expect a serious contest.

Campbell is the most interesting and unorthodox of the Republicans running for the nomination, and he's definitely the most talented and intelligent. Ultimately, though, Campbell lives in the real world instead of the Supply-Side Neocon Land that most Republicans occupy, which has prompted him to occasionally acknowledge that Israel has made some errors in judgment over the past few years, and to sometimes cut budget deals with Democrats in the legislature. My sense is that conservatives don't much care for Carly, but that Campbell is rapidly becoming an unacceptable choice for Republicans (in other words, he's getting Scozzafavaed). He's also associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his within-the-margin-of-error approval ratings, which can't help.

As for the governor's race, I'm intrigued that Meg Whitman has taken a small lead over Jerry Brown. I've seen her ads on TV, and they've not been terrible. But I do wonder if she'll be able to pull it off. I'm not a huge fan of Brown, and I would consider voting for Whitman if she were to propose fixing the proposition process and the 2/3 budget vote requirement. Of course she won't do these things, but ultimately voting for Meg Whitman or Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor is sort of like voting for an independent candidate for president. These people have no real base--CA Republicans hate Schwarzenegger because he's moderate--so they can't ever really get anything done. I'm not that wild about California Democrats (with some exceptions), but it sure makes more sense to vote for people who might have the means to accomplish something.

The irony of all this might be that Whitman could be saved by heavy voting by downballot Republican voters who want the Republicans to retake Congress.

Here's a shocker

Scott Brown is against regulatory reform. And not too convincingly.

Look, I get that the guy isn't a reflexive right-winger. He's moderate on some stuff and I think he really doesn't want to be the next Michele Bachmann. But this guy built his campaign on soliciting huge donations from Wall Street titans after Citizens United. Acting as though he's a gettable vote here is silly--he even campaigned against the issue, which was missed opportunity 4,598 in Martha Coakley's campaign, but I digress.

On the other hand, I suspect Brown will fully support whoever gets the next nomination to the Supreme Court. Not that it'll matter much, as these things never get filibustered, but it's the sort of follow-a-conservative-thing-with-a-moderate-one that Brown has been doing for the past few months. I want to know how the guy plays something like energy reform.

Another drawback to Elena Kagan

Lexington has one:
Another possible objection, for Democrats, is that she would have to recuse herself from all cases in which, as solicitor-general, she played a role. That could be a huge number of cases. Ed Whelan, a socially conservative court-watcher, supplies some historical context:

[L]et’s look to the last justice who was appointed to the Court from the position of Solicitor General, Thurgood Marshall.

Marshall served as Solicitor General from August 1965 to August 1967. He joined the Court on August 31, 1967. According to Lawrence S. Wrightsman’s The Psychology of the Supreme Court (p. 79), “Marshall recused himself from 98 of the 171 cases that were decided by the Supreme Court during the 1967-1968 term.” That’s 57% of the total. (Wrightsman states that “most of these were cases in which the federal government had been a party”; I suspect that all or nearly all of them were.)

One well-informed source tells me that the percentage of cases in which the United States takes part is much higher than in Marshall’s day and that in a recent term that figure approached 80%. My quick tally of the hearing lists for cases argued so far this term yields a figure of around 76%.

In other words, during Ms Kagan's first year, the court would have a 5-3 conservative-liberal split on most cases, instead of 5-4. That's something to think about.
Here's my question: if she's the most popular choice among conservatives--if she's best buds with Scalia and gets the endorsement of Bill Kristol--doesn't it make sense to keep her in reserve in case one of the more conservative justices retires? Then you'd be moving the court leftward overall in such an event.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Health care brown shoots

Josh Marshall is worried about a dip in health care's poll numbers. He doesn't posit an explanation, but it seems simple to me: over the past few weeks, Republicans and the media hyped up the decisions by several companies to possibly cut benefits after HCR ended senior prescription drug subsidies. The Democrats, to my observation, had hardly anything to say on the matter. Of course, these cuts are eminently defensible, as they were a sort of double-counting giveaway left over from Bush's Medicare bill, but nobody seemed to figure an explanation was warranted. I'd give half the Democratic majority for a competent press shop, I swear to you.

The way I see it, approval for this bill is going to be won on the basis of headlines. If there are lots of headlines about new consumer protections, coverage going up, new community health centers being built, etc., then people are going to think the venture is a good idea. If there are lots of stories about benefit cuts and the like, the opposite will occur. Democrats obviously think the former will outweigh the latter in time, and I do suppose it will. But in the here and now, this pretty much explains it. Of course, I'd feel a lot better if the Dems had someone manning the press shop that was actually good at getting messages into media coverage like Howard Wolfson, instead of Robert Gibbs.

By the way, I'm not ever sure if Gingrich is telling the truth or bullshitting, and it's especially unclear here. That he thinks that this polling dip is due to the public finding out more about the bill is pretty hard to believe. The round of coverage after the bill passed that focused on the benefits of the bill, and the polling went up. Then there was coverage of these write-offs, and the polling went down. The next round might well be positive, and the polls will go up. Gingrich isn't much of a politician, but rather a great self-promoter. That he is becoming a more plausible presidential candidate by the day is...interesting.

Today in brutal takedowns

I don't know when it happened, but at some point Jon Chait became my favorite blogger. Here he is shredding Jonah Goldberg on epistemic closure with respect to climate change:
In Goldberg's view, liberals and the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, with their peer-reviewed studies, who live in a sealed information bubble. And it's the conservatives -- backed by a handful of scientific renegades, a lot of oil company-sponsored propaganda, and a stream of observations about how Winter in North America remains cold -- who are really open to all sorts of data and interpretation here. I suppose if you take it as a given that climate change skepticism is correct, then a huge majority of the scientific world and intellectual elite is living in a bubble, and the tiny band of Fox News-watching, Limbaugh-listening conservatives are the ones outside the bubble.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Worst Conservative Columnist Strikes Again

My liberal brethren might prefer Bill Kristol, but for me good old Dennis Prager is the worst right-wing columnist in the land. In my view, the man is sort of the final stage of evolution in conservative thought: not only does he have no new innovative ideas, not only does he not really have a grasp of the classic conservative ideas, but he barely even understands the dogmatic propaganda practiced by the gutter rightists of conservative talk radio. He is to William F. Buckley what Fred Durst is to Paul McCartney, the rigor mortis of something once interesting and vital. I suppose it's just part of the natural cycle of things, but just sad nonetheless.

Here's how he starts his newest column: "Reading the onslaught of angry denunciations of Burger King by mental health organizations and mainstream media reporters this past week reminded me of a characteristic of the Left not often commented on [sic]..." Now, there are a number of characteristics of the Left that aren't frequently commented upon. Many of them would be perfectly fair grist for criticism from the right. Perhaps we could have a column about the ascendancy of science on the left vs. the irritating vaccine truthism that undermines that claim? No, rather it's one of the most obvious and lazy stereotypes of liberals one can find: "a certain joylessness, even an antipathy to the little joys that contribute more than almost anything else to most people's ability to endure the difficulties of life." Of course, the common stereotype of a liberal is either a hippie or a stern sermonizer (likely a feminist) which goes all the way back to jokes about those damn annoying suffragettes who won't just go home and please their men. That view is never never a middle-class black man or a union plumber, or an urban-dwelling twentysomething just living a normal life, which I'd guess are more prevalent paradigms for liberals these days.

So, Prager is lazy. But the hilarious part is how he diagnoses this supposed flaw:
Leftism functions as a (secular) religion. Like medieval Christians who wore hair shirts and Puritans who thought dancing was sacrilegious, the Left, consciously or not, is uncomfortable with many of the joys -- with notable exceptions such as sex and drugs -- that people experience.
Of course liberalism proceeds naturally from Puritanism. Because that makes sense. It's uninspired right agitprop that isn't even that good: the attack on Christianity is wrong for this readership, and the standard conservative line is that the left are hedonists who say, "Hey, man, if it feels good, do it!" This is what happens when one never reads any books on political philosophy and just has their worldview created by half-heard broadcasts of El Rushbo and Hannity. Meet Karl Pilkington, conservative pundit.

But Prager's article includes the other fresh new topics:
  • Liberals are just too sensitive
  • Smoking is great! Liberals hate it.
  • Kids should be playing more violent school games
  • Women should just accept sexism. No biggie.
  • The left sometimes puts limits on conspicuous consumption, and this is totally an infringement of our basic freedoms, man!
Look, I'm not going to say that all these are completely wrong. Liberals can be oversensitive. It's true. But this usually springs from a desire to make other people feel comfortable and welcomed. Perhaps there is overkill in this direction, certainly. But I think it stems from a fundamentally noble impulse. What one sees from Prager here is hostility to the notion that people should be concerned about the feelings of others. Hostility to the notion that he should have his behavior restrained in any way, from driving a big car to hitting on coworkers, from using his own light bulbs to smoking in public, although he hedges enough that it seems that little of the examples he cites (or, more often, refuses to cite) pertain to him. He confuses legislation with social mores, and while the former are debatable on a policy level, it's his take on the latter that confuses me. It's this whacked-out half-bit notion of freedom that some conservatives possess who apparently don't have a clue about the intense pressures that all society places on individuals to fit in, which are largely not evil and can actually make life quite a bit less stressful. On the whole I favor letting people do what they want to do, but this notion that society should be some sort of free-for-all bothers me. Frankly, it's not just women who are uncomfortable with a Hustler centerfold staring them in the face at an auto shop--it's me too. What's important to note here is that Prager is not defending some sort of vision of a less intrusive and more mellow society. He is defending his own boorishness and his mania to do whatever he wants. If someone has a problem with it, well, that's their problem. If you can't handle it, too bad. It's interesting that this guy makes two separate points about o'erweaning gender sensitivity despite the fact that he's been married about four times. It's practically poignant in his case. And you just know that if Prager got his wish, and people just dropped their inhibitions and started acting in the brutal, no-holds-barred way that he evidently likes, he'd be the first one whining about people being rude to him in public. What's he even advocating? Who even wants this stuff?

One of the liberal quips of conservative thought is that you can replace "freedom" in conservative slogans with "privilege" and get the desired result. This is generally reductive. For Prager, it's practically an understatement. (White male) privilege is not orthogonal to what he's saying. It's at best at a 45 degree angle.

Granholm for SCOTUS

It's interesting that, despite not being in the earliest lists, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has evidently become a top contender for the new Supreme Court berth. It's interesting because I thought (and think) she's the most obvious choice for the job.

Why? Because the politics sort of work out, just as they did for Sotomayor. It's regrettable that personal narrative tends to dominate these affairs, but Granholm has a pretty good rags-to-riches story and is definitely a self-made person. She's a political figure, true, which opens up new attacks on whether she'll be a partisan justice (though I suppose the right will say that about anybody), but she's from a moderate/swing state and will therefore be tough to portray as a hard-core leftist, and there are advantages to being a political figure as well, such as media skills, for example. She's got lots of legal and governing experience, the latter of which has been sorely lacking since Sandra Day O'Connor left the bench. And she's only 51, which means she'd probably get a good 35-plus years on the Court, which is an important consideration.

Ultimately, though, Granholm's best asset would be leadership and people skills--must-haves for a successful politician, though evidently not common among justices. These could make her a consequential figure on the bench, a la Earl Warren, who was hardly the most brilliant legal mind nor the most eloquent speaker, but who was an extremely talented manager and people person and thus exercised great power on the bench. I'll confess to not knowing much about some of the short list contenders, but it strikes me that Diane Wood and Merrick Garland are perhaps a bit old to get the nod, and Janet Napolitano could have a bumpy ride when one considers her tenure as Homeland Security chief. I suspect it will be either Elena Kagan or Granholm getting the nod, with perhaps a slight advantage to the latter because the sales case is more straightforward. Also, Kagan might have problems with the left because of her record on civil liberties. Picking her might unleash some unsightly and unnecessary drama. Considering Obama team's lack of desire to court unnecessary drama (I believe he earned some sort of nickname to that effect?), Granholm stands out as the most obvious, qualified, and perhaps best pick.

So she's my prediction. Then again, my prediction record is spotty--I've guessed the outcomes of the past couple of elections right, but I have also guessed that Charlie Crist would be Obama's Republican successor in 2017. I suppose it's too soon to say, but that seems less likely than it did about a year ago.

Monday, April 12, 2010

No liberal Scalia!

Okay, so it's not the most popular meme anymore. But you do hear liberals wishing for such a thing from time to time. I think it is misguided. Oh, I understand from whence it comes, but Scalia has not really been an asset for conservatives on the court. They certainly like Scalia, but one never hears about Scalia winning over moderate and liberal members of the Court to a certain decision, or doing anything aside from issuing scathing dissents. I have read a number of books about the Supreme Court during Scalia's tenure, and by all accounts he's frequently driven away moderate votes (notably Sandra Day O'Connor) to conciliatory liberals like Bill Brennan (and, later, Stephen Breyer). These days Scalia is mostly in the majority thanks to Bush-era appointees shifting the Court to the right, but this has little to do with his persuasive abilities. I'd much rather have someone like Earl Warren or Bill Brennan added to the Court--in other words, someone with leadership skills and persuasive ability--over an (admittedly brilliant) sneerer and splutterer. In other words, I'm not the sort of liberal who got excited when liberals yelled and screamed about Bush and Iraq, I'm the sort of liberal who gets excited when Bush gets voted out and when the war actually ends. Results are key, not feel-good righteous indignation that does nothing.

I did have another thought in this vein recently. In retrospect, the Democrats' inability to properly exploit the Harriet Miers nomination was a big mistake. I think it's very hard to argue that, from a liberal perspective, Alito is preferable to a potential Miers judgeship. She wasn't exactly prepared for the job, but the Dems' desire to defeat a Bush nominee and win a tactical victory ended up doing no good at all, as Miers's lack of conservative indoctrination might well have led her to follow the path that your Tony Kennedys and Sandra Day O'Connors followed, which is to say, toward a moderate approach of interpreting the law. My view is and has always been that the job of Supreme Court justice is not as hard as it is made out to be, and that any smart, hardworking lawyer will probably wind up doing a good job at it after a time of learning and adjustment. Then again, considering the Dem leadership of the time, I suppose we should just be thankful they didn't botch it any worse.


Larison analyzes Romney's latest tortured spin on health care here. Basically, he's trying to take credit for his state's HCR while denouncing Obama's HCR, and seeks to lead the opposition to Obama's bill despite being thoroughly compromised at best. And this guy's the best the Republicans have got? He'll get torn apart in a debate with Obama on this issue.

It occurs to me that health care is an albatross for Romney, but it's not the only one.
  1. He's a bad candidate. After raising and spending more money than any other Republican in the race in 2008, he's now confused with John Edwards, despite their looking not too much alike. He hasn't made much of an impression and isn't a national figure. One must conclude that he lacks the sort of charisma usually associated with the presidency. Now, if we had a parliamentary system in this country, he'd probably be an acceptable candidate for prime minister. But we don't have that kind of system.

  2. He's the wrong sort of Republican candidate. In the post-Eisenhower period, GOP presidential nominees have tended to be more on the plainspoken side of things (as opposed to smooth-talking), have tended to be more utilitarian-looking instead of movie-star handsome, and have tended to be more "gut thinkers" than intellectuals. There are exceptions to this, I suppose, Reagan being an obvious one for the first two conditions and Bush 41 being a possible exception for the third. But there's a reason why there are so few "Kennedyesque" Republican candidates in recent memory, and basically it's because an antigovernment party will naturally gravitate toward antipoliticians, even if they are studied and insincere antipoliticians (like Bush 43). Romney is a politician, not an antipolitician. And I suspect his campaign will be a lot like McCain's was in 2008. I don't think he'll have a significant problem with evangelicals because of his religion, as they'll show up to vote after Fox News yells socialism enough times. But he'll have problems with exciting the base more broadly. He's not one of them, and they won't forget it.

  3. Tone-deafness. Much has been made of Obama's political jiu-jitsu. Basically, he is able to turn around his opponents' attacks on themselves by subtly baiting them and then acting as though the other side is the aggressor to garner sympathy. It's a classic but difficult political strategy--Nixon was a notable practitioner of it as well. But with Romney, Obama won't even have to put in the effort. If history is any guide, Romney will unleash an incredibly scathing campaign against Obama, perhaps for holding views Romney recently held as well. And, if history is any guide, it won't work. Romney is not an especially nimble politician, and has never really proven able to present himself as the solution to everyone's problems. His establishment air and patrician nature--which he can't attenuate a la Bush 43--are likely to make Obama a far more appealing option, even despite issues with Wall Street and the economy. What would Romney's message even be? Change? Easy enough to turn into a punchline for him. I can just see the ads with two friends talking about Romney, with one saying that he's pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-gun control, good on the environment and immigration reform, and the other guy saying that he heard the opposite, and then the first guy asks which one is running for president, with the announcer saying that that is a good question. He'd be easy enough for Obama to define.

  4. What would it mean? A Romney loss would basically be as pointless and unproductive as McCain's loss. He would be invariably faulted as being insufficiently conservative, and we'd get another four years of FNC-style mayhem that denies the political space for across-the-aisle deals to be made.
I've been saying for ages that Palin would be the 2012 nominee, because it just makes sense. I actually think it could be a good thing. There's no way she'd be elected*, and it would be difficult for the right to blame the loss retrospectively on insufficient conservatism. Such a loss could be followed by a David Cameron-style movement to a sensible right, though that might be a little optimistic.

* Keep in mind that Palin getting elected would require her to stow the crazy and put in insane amounts of hard, grinding work for about 22 months. She hasn't even been on the national stage for 22 months and look what's happened already.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A post on she who must not be named

I said I'd never post on her again, but this post from OpenLeft is cropping up on the internets:
If Sarah Palin runs for President in 2012, I have a difficult time imagining someone else winning the Republican nomination. While this is pretty good news for Democrats, as Palin polls worse against Obama than almost any other Republican (see also PPP polling), it is also pretty scary. A continually weak economy--which is very possible--could actually make her President less than three years from now.
Huckabee is the big variable here. I don't think he'll run, but if he doesn't rule himself out early Palin might not get in. Her career over the past two years shows a politician who, when confronted with a choice between putting in difficult, tough work and reaping easy gains, chooses the latter every time. If Huck bows out and his support mostly goes to Sarah, and the polls have her up by 10% or so, my guess is that she'll get in. If, on the other hand, she's neck and neck with Romney, she won't. Palin sees herself in elevated terms and would likely want to avoid the demeaning chores of the two-year job of being a presidential candidate, but she would get in if she thought it was a gimme and she could just do big rallies every once in a while. Of course, she might get in even if it doesn't seem like a sure thing, but it also seems entirely possible that her campaign might turn out the same as another candidate who hoped to coast on media skills, celebrity and laurels, who wrote off so many contests and just hoped that inevitability would carry him across the finish line. There are a number of similarities between Palin and Rudy Giuliani. What a mind-bender that ticket would be.

I have to say that I'm not terribly worried about Palin actually becoming president. Sure, a weak economy is a weak economy, but I don't think there's much of a reason to think she'll be a competent candidate. Part of the reason a lot of people started taking Obama seriously because he ran a disciplined, professional campaigned that was staffed with talented people. Obama, in other words, proved himself to be a good manager and an excellent judge of character and ability as a candidate, which are strengths that translated into a successful presidency. Palin has proven herself to be a slouch in all these respects, raiding the dregs of the McCain campaign for staff (e.g. Randy Schunemann), and her record as a manager is sketchy at best. Obama proved himself to be a competitor who thrived on pressure, not to mention an effective closer. Palin proved herself to be a basketcase under pressure. This whole thing about the Tea Parties strikes me as equivalent to the 70s-era New Left--an enthusiasm rather than a true movement. Perhaps appealing to nation wanting to blow off steam about a lousy economy, but doomed as soon as it has to put out a realistic agenda. And, of course, Nixon wasn't really running on a rock-solid economy in 1972.

Or so I hope. But I continue to think that a Palin candidacy would be every bit as bad for the right as George McGovern was for the left. Both were/are extremely out of their depth on that platform, and when one considers that Palin can basically only do one thing, and that it's continually being proven that that one thing isn't really that popular with voters, I'm not that gloomy at this point. Actually, it could be great--the sort of thing that could break the back of the angry noise machine if she loses in a landslide. I think you'll start to see the White House making subtle barbs at Palin starting after the midterm elections, with other Democrats making more obvious swipes at her, in hopes that there will be a Clinton effect in which attacks from the outside make Republicans rally around Palin.

Well, I suppose he would know a little something about that

Reading anything by Karl Rove is a strange experience. Virtually every accusation he lobs at his opponents is not only untrue, but it's almost perfectly true of himself. Here's one good example from the Wall Street Journal:

Obama Has Overpromised and Underdelivered

In the real world, the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate has produced the following accomplishments so far:
  • Passing the stimulus bill, which has cushioned the blow from the recession
  • Passed the Lily Ledbetter Act
  • Passed student loan reform
  • Passed health care reform
  • Passed sweeping regulation of the credit card industry, and is likely to reregulate Wall Street
  • Passed new regulations on the tobacco industry
  • Has signed a new treaty to reduce the prevalence of nuclear arms
Admittedly, Obama hasn't been nearly good enough on security matters, often taking Republican-lite stands on these matters (though the end of torture, of course, removes the most objectionable of Bush-era practices). He's unfortunately (though understandably) reversed himself on recognizing the Armenian genocide. Immigration reform is very unlikely to happen, except for as part of a strategy to make the right look awful (possibly in conjunction with a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell). And Obama's economic team vastly misread the depth of our economic problems at the outset of their term and foolishly didn't try to put a safety cushion in the stimulus in case the problems were worse than they seemed. But the truth is that Obama has generally produced about at the level at which he promised.

Now, the Bush White House was a different story. Coming off an election in 2004 that was supposed to settle a permanent Republican majority--in itself a dubious goal, as states with protracted one-party rule tend to be corrupt, dysfunctional and ruling parties tend to do whatever will keep them in power--the GOP failed catastrophically to deliver the goods, tossing away senior support with an abandoned attempt to privatize Social Security and losing Hispanic support by botching the immigration reform debate. In neither case could the Republicans deliver what they promised, in the first case because few people actually wanted to mess with Social Security, and the latter because immigration is anathema to conservatives. And, of course, there's Bush's foreign policy adventures that were billed as a way to turn the Middle East into a democratic oasis.

In fact, I'd go even bigger than this. Movement conservatism has for decades overpromised its followers on things like abortion, the scope of government, the Clinton impeachment, and so on. While many former right-wingers have been disgruntled at the results of all this and have moved to the center, the remaining core is actually completely uninterested in the results of the enterprise. They must be, since they apparently read columns by Karl Rove.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Clinton Healthcare Counterfactual

Kevin Drum ponders Bruce Bartlett's counterfactual that Clinton would have governed more conservatively than Obama here.

I don't know the answer to this, but I suspect that Bartlett is correct in general. I don't think he's specifically right about health care, which always seemed to be the issue she cared about most, but I don't really think you would have seen a lot of the successes that Obama has had under Clinton. I highly doubt that, for example, Clinton would have made any of the same moves Obama has to tamp down the drug war. Coming of age politically when she did, I doubt she would have touched that. I doubt even more that Clinton would have pursued an ambitious arms control treaty as Obama has. As for foreign policy, I think Obama's approach has generally yielded good results, perhaps better than a Clinton Administration would have, though one can never be sure. A Clinton Administration would undoubtedly have pursued different priorities--a stronger emphasis on women's rights around the world, probably less of an emphasis on Israel-Palestine considering Bill Clinton's disappointment in 2000, and in general probably the same broad contours with respect to Iraq and Af-Pak. That might have been good! Or not. Honestly, Obama hasn't really done too many out-of-the-mainstream things on foreign policy, and it's easy to imagine Clinton ordering many of the same actions.

There have been some disappointments for me over the past year or so, and a few blunders as well. But I still think the right guy won, and his record has been such that I'm happy with his performance so far--and the ways in which I'm unhappy with it (mostly security and civil liberties stuff) certainly weren't going to be any better with Clinton or McCain in command.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why not Blanche?

Chait thinks liberals should leave Blanche Lincoln alone:
I don't quite get why Lincoln is facing a primary challenger at all. I understand the general principle of fielding primary challengers to force Democrats to accept some political risk for the sake of enacting progressive policies. I just don't get why Lincoln is the target. I'm not an enormous fan of hers -- I'm fairly proud of my 2006 column ridiculing her incoherent views on fiscal policy -- but she does indeed hail from a very conservative state.
I'm not impervious to this logic. If Lincoln's the best candidate who can win, then I say leave her alone. But Chait misses an important fact: she's highly unlikely to win. Nate Silver gives her a 4% chance against the most likely Republican candidate, John Boozman. If Lincoln were tied or even a modest underdog against Boozman, he'd be right. But she's almost a certain loser, and she evidently intends to lose in a dispiriting fit of triangulation. Which means we're most likely in a Lion In Winter-style situation, as in this (frequently misquoted) part from the play/film (courtesy of IMDB):
Prince Richard: [the sons - in the dungeon - think they hear Henry approach] He's here. He'll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn't going to see me beg.
Prince Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool... as if the way one fell down mattered.
Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.
I really don't see any downside to trying to dump Lincoln. She did vote for health care reform, this is true. But she has even less of a chance of winning than Mark Halter, and Halter has more of a chance of being a wild card--younger, more passionate, more principled, and something resembling a real Democrat--instead of a Clintonian anachronism like Blanche. It's going to be a strange new world next Congress, with the most obvious avatars of Clintonism--namely Bayh and Lincoln--out of the picture. It will be interesting. But Halter is, to my mind, a smart choice for progressives.

A smarter choice, in any event, than dumping Arlen Specter, which seems unlikely to happen at this point. I like Joe Sestak just fine, but he seems to have miscalculated in taking on this contest instead of running for governor, which would have suited him better. Specter's record this Congress has given progressives little to complain about, and Sestak's emails have become less compelling over the past few months, mostly focusing on Specter's previous Republicanism that seems ages old at this point. Plus, the old guy's been doing better in the polls in the past few months. I have no particular love for Specter and would prefer Sestak to win it, all things being equal, but then again they never are. At the very least, his continued presence in the Senate will really irritate the Erick Ericksons of the world for a few more years.

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.