June 28, 2010

I am trying to decide what the creepiest thing about this video is (via Ben Smith).

  • The way in which Barber blithely equates taxation to pay for social welfare programs with slavery.
  • Zombie Abraham Lincoln.
  • The juxtaposition of standard-issue Tea Party ranting about taxation and liberty with PHOTOS OF AUSCHWITZ HOLY SHIT.
  • The David Lynch-esque musical interlude.
  • The militia of well-armed aryans, plus a lone black guy in the front row to prove that this isn’t, like, a race war or anything.
  • The fact that the ad ends with Barber taking a jab at Glenn Beck for being insufficiently crazy.

See, this is what I talk about when I fret over the corrosion of any kind of basic national consensus in this country. The public and its elected representatives don’t need to agree on everything—in fact, it’s better if we have substantive disagreements on a lot of things—but at the very least we should be able to agree that there’s no moral equivalence between the modest health care reform and, say, the Holocaust. Because, remember, the general consensus is that armed insurrection directed towards the goal of preventing or ending the Holocaust is morally permissible. And if a small but politically significant chunk of the electorate believes the same thing applies to incremental expansions of the welfare state, well, that’s a problem.

An even bigger problem is that I think Barber is actually sincere, and not just irresponsibly stoking populist rage to further his own advancement. Contrast that with a man who like Nixon, who was fundamentally sociopathic in the lengths he was willing to go to further his career, but also sufficiently cognizant of reality to be an effective manager. What he failed to account for—and this is perhaps among his biggest sins—is that the people to whom he was serving cups of kool-aid would eventually run for office themselves.

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Passing Any Legislation At All Will Kill the Climate Change Bill
April 25, 2010

Supporting my earlier point, Greg Sargent digs through the archives and recalls that Graham made the exact same threats regarding health care reform that he is now making regarding immigration. So if you’re taking notes on the type of thing that could “poison the well” when it comes to garnering support for progressive causes, I guess the answer is any attempt to push for progressive causes. Good to know!

The Amazing Sliminess of Lindsey Graham
April 24, 2010

I really should be writing that essay on whether or not Simone de Beauvoir builds a convincing ethical framework in The Ethics of Ambiguity (A: Sort of!), but I have to take a moment here to just marvel at Senator Graham’s chutzpah.

A bipartisan deal on climate change legislation suffered a major setback today as a key author of the measure accused Senate Democrats and President Obama of abandoning the issue to instead focus on an election-year immigration bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was set to release a climate change plan Monday with Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, but today Graham wrote a letter to “leaders in the energy independence effort” saying it was obvious the energy bill would have “no chance of success.

Graham’s been making noises like this for a while, but it has never been quite so obvious before just how little interest he actually has in passing climate change reform. No one publicly declares a policy dead if they want to pass it unless it has actually been killed. With that in mind, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with the “maverick” designator friend of the blog Sarah Libby gave him. You only get that particular badge if you make political sacrifices to do something you believe is right, and that’s not the case here; Graham is being disingenuous about his intentions and obstructing policy he claims to think is right in a way that is to the advantage of both himself and his party.

The logic goes like this: If Graham declares the climate change bill dead because of immigration reform, one of two things could happen:

A) It hobbles immigration reform because the Democrats consider climate change a larger priority, thereby saving the GOP from picking a fight that will only further alienate Hispanic voters. Meanwhile, Graham continues to get lauded as a hero by virtue of his maverick-ness.

(Option A was never very likely, especially now that the federal government has to do something to undermine this nightmare of a law that just got signed in AZ. And indeed it looks like the White House intends to continue pressing forward on both initiatives.)

B) Assuming it doesn’t hobble immigration reform, Graham now has a handy pretext for why he’s not even trying to whip GOP votes for the climate change bill: Democrats “poisoned the well,” so he can’t get anyone to support the proposal. Better yet, he can withdraw his own support–no doubt after much teary-eyed soul-searching–because the climate change bill is insufficiently bipartisan. He still gets the press attention and centrist cred from trying, but doesn’t need to actually do anything that his party wouldn’t like.

I’ll believe the guy is genuinely for climate change legislation when he takes a political hit for its sake. Right now, all he’s doing is playing everyone who actually wants energy independence and sustainability.

HELL NO YOU CAN’T (Offshore Drilling Edition)
March 31, 2010

Boehner on the White House’s new offshore drilling policy:

The Obama Administration continues to defy the will of the American people who-

Aaargh stop it stop it stop it.

Anyway, here’s the full sentence:

The Obama Administration continues to defy the will of the American people who strongly supported the bipartisan decision of Congress in 2008 to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling not just off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, but off the Pacific Coast and Alaskan shores as well.

Does Boehner seriously think there’s anyone up in arms that Obama only lifted the moratorium in the east? Not even the Tea Partiers have enough rage on their hands to dump it into this. For all this talk about the “will of the American people,” my guess is that there’s not much will to spread around one way or the other.

Not that this is going to stop the GOP from abusing that already-exhausted rhetorical trope at every available opportunity.

Back to Sort of Work
March 30, 2010

It looks like a handful of Senate Republicans have dropped this whole “poisoning the well” nonsense, although it’s hard to say for how long. My read on Lindsay Graham in particular is he likes being in the press to talk about how he’s working on bipartisan compromises infinitely more than he likes actually crafting and passing potentially controversial legislation. Especially since doing the latter requires keeping the entire Democratic caucus together while also rounding up a couple votes from his own caucus, which is hard and ugly work.

But who knows, really? Maybe a couple of Republican Senators will surprise us. Scott Brown voted for the jobs bill, after all; although, needless to say, there aren’t many other members of the increasingly regional party who have to worry about a constituency as liberal as his.

Pissing in the Poisoned Well
March 26, 2010

The typically great Brian Beutler has a typically great piece over at TPMDC regarding the GOP’s insistence that the Democrats “poisoned the well” on the Hill by ramming through passing HCR. The result of the contaminated water supply: Congressional Republicans, who were apparently just about getting ready to quit the blind obstructionism and get back to actually legislation, are now so incensed that they’re going to stay the course.

But I think Beutler missed a critical opportunity when he spoke to Lindsay Graham–who, like the other Republicans quoted in the piece, blames Democrats for creating a bad atmosphere but doesn’t specify which formerly cooperative Republicans are now going to hew to the party line.

That is, of course, because he’s referring to himself. Graham wants to keep things in the passive tense because it gives him an excuse to stop making pro-immigration reform noises that could be potentially upsetting to the party base. But of course if he wants to trash reform, he should be up front about it. I’d like to see some enterprising journalist ask him straight up whether or not he would still vote for it.

Yet Another Obstacle to Filibuster Reform
March 4, 2010

When Republicans defend the filibuster, they tend to talk about “minority rights” (Ironic!). Democrats did that in 2005, but now the popular pro-filibuster line among that party is that it’s a venerable tradition that needs to be preserved because of, well, its venerability, I suppose.

But why take them at their word when we can look at the structural incentives that might compel a Democrat to block reform? For example, others (including a few Democratic Senators) have already noted that Democrats are bound to be in the minority again eventually, and they’d probably like to be able to filibuster stuff when that happens. But I think there’s another incentive pushing resistance as well: the new 60-vote minimum to get anything done is a really convenient excuse for getting nothing done.

Legislators, after all, have a certain problem when running for reelection that members of the executive branch don’t: their voting records. If you’re taking on a Senator in an election, then it’s a time-honored tradition to pluck some vote that can be spun to look bad from out of the archives and hammer it over and over again. It gets even worse for Senators with presidential ambitions (Look at how the Bush administration cornered John Kerry into giving the now-infamous “voted for it before I voted against it” explanation).

So the trick is to have as slim a voting record as possible. Hell, it worked for Barack Obama; the fact that his school transcript was relatively anemic compared to those of upperclassmen John and Hillary actually worked in his favor.

But now Obama is president, and he has an agenda he wants to get passed. In fact, he wants members of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote for some pretty high-profile, controversial stuff, like health care reform and climate change. And with legislation that huge, there’s always going to be something that Republicans and primary challengers can pick out of the footnotes to use as a cudgel.

Reticent Democrats must be slaughtering lambs for the gods, then, for giving them this Senate rule that conveniently makes it insanely difficult to pass a lot of stuff even with their votes. Because when a bill’s that vulnerable, there’s no chance it will make it to the floor in an even semi-recognizable form. Nobody will have to choose whether to vote for or against it.

Of course, any Democrat who’s decided to hide behind the filibuster has made a grievous miscalculation, because the inability of the Democratic Party to get anything at all done is depressing their base’s enthusiasm and even pissing off a lot of independents. But the chain of reasoning that led us here might, along with a healthy dose of Democratic myopia, explain why some members of the caucus are opposed to rules changes that would enable them to do their jobs.

Halter versus Lincoln in Arkansas
March 3, 2010

Regarding Bill Halter’s primary challenge to Arkansas Blue Dog Blanche Lincoln:

1.) Anyone named Bill Halter is almost guaranteed to constantly obstruct legislation.

(I know. LAME. But I couldn’t resist.)

2.) I’m actually profoundly ambivalent about the whole thing. I mean, in principle, I wish we saw a lot more of the grassroots using primaries as a way to put more pressure on Blue Dogs (and force out the really bad ones). But in Arkansas? I have a hard time imagining anyone even one millimeter to the left of Blanche Lincoln could take that seat, and if a leftward challenger did best her in the primary, that would basically mean a freebie for the GOP in 2010.

But after listening to the opinions of very smart people and holding on the topic, I think I’ve come to my own convoluted deeply nuanced position.

Basically, I like Halter, for obvious reasons. And I’m willing to root for him to beat Lincoln in the primary, because Nate Silver says either of them would lose the general. Think of the NY-23 race; the Tea Party candidate lost that in the general, but it was still a victory for the far right because they demonstrated that they had the power to put enormous pressure on moderate Republican candidates. Taking out Lincoln in Arkansas may have the same effect.

That being said, I think the White House is doing the right thing in backing Lincoln. Let the grassroots support her opponent, but if Obama and the DNC didn’t show their support for Lincoln, then she’d have no incentive to vote for health care reform before the election. And make no mistake: passing health care reform is the single most important thing the Democratic caucus can get done before the midterms, both in terms of slowing their own bleeding and, y’know, also unfucking the country and its millions of suffering uninsured.

Now if only I could fit all of that onto a bumper sticker.

So Hard to Say GoodBayh
February 15, 2010

(Yes, the obvious pun is “Bye Bayh,” but I’ve seen no less than four separate political blogs already use that, not to mention one of my friends suggesting it and Steve Clemons’ slight variation on the theme, so in the interest of variety I’m trying to play a different chord on the same instrument.)

So. Evan Bayh is out. I’m late in commenting on this because I resisted doing so for most of the day, which in turn is because even the pun-related bases have already been covered by other, sharper analysts. However, I do feel like I should say something, if only because the callow, perfectly coifed Indiana Senator has been a bête noire* of mine for so long. Yglesias, as usual, puts it best:

Obviously, Evan Bayh’s never been my favorite Senator. And the more one learns about both the manner of his departure, and the thinking behind it, the clearer it is why. Simply put: He’s an immoral person who conducts his affairs in public life with a callous disregard for the impact of his decisions on human welfare. He’s sad he’s not going to be president? He doesn’t like liberal activists? He finds senate life annoying? Well, boo-hoo. We all shed a tear.

What this whole thing most reminds me of is Palin’s abrupt departure from the Alaskan state house over the summer. In both cases, it came off as a tactical move by a political sociopath who realized that s/he had already milked his/her current position for as much press attention and moolah as it was likely to yield. And for that reason alone, I find it difficult to mourn the potential loss of yet another seat for the Democratic Party in 2010; because Glenn Greenwald was spot on when he called Bayh “the pure expression of virtually every attribute that makes the Beltway so dysfunctional, deceitful and corrupt.” The absolute worst case scenario is that he gets replaced with someone every bit as monstrous as he is, but who happens to be a Republican. Either way, good riddance.

*Which is French for “pretentious phrase to use on a blog but go to hell imaginary critic because I can use whatever term paper-caliber prose I want.”

How to Force Senate Rules Reform
February 8, 2010

This whole kerfuffle over Shelby’s blanket ban on Obama’s nominees has got me thinking: What would happen if some reform-minded, suicidally courageous (or at least not running for reelection) Senator vowed to block and filibuster every single piece of legislation and nominee* passing through the Senate until the chamber finally seriously addressed reforming the rules that would allow him to do that?

Now, that could be seen as playing games with the agenda, but the situation in the Senate is so dire I think it could warrant this kind of drastic action. And not only could it force reform, but it would also perfectly demonstrate why it’s so desperately needed; because one lone Senator could potentially kneecap the federal government’s ability to pass any legislation at all.

As for what those reforms would look like: I don’t know enough about holds to say definitively whether or not there’s any reason to keep them around. But I do have a thought on a compromise measure for the filibuster: We’re all familiar with the common misconception over how a filibuster works. Why don’t we just change the rules to reflect what everyone already thinks the rules are? Get a little preference intensity in there.

*Exempting, say, whatever HCR deal gets hammered out, and maybe the next jobs bill.

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