John Avlon on the mayor whose voice defined New York for a generation.
For a generation of Americans, and especially New Yorkers, Ed Koch was simply “Mayor.”
New York City Mayor Ed Koch in his office in 1980. He served three terms from 1978 and 1989. (Express, via Getty)
It was the title of his bestselling memoir, followed by a sequel, Politics, and even an off-Broadway tribute to Hizzonor. With typical talent for good timing, Koch departed this world at age 88, just days after the debut of a new documentary on his three terms at city hall. The news was announced by his longtime spokesman, George Arzt.
Here’s the elevator pitch: At a time when New York City seemed on its knees, inevitably on the decline, decadent, and in debt, Ed Koch’s exuberant common sense revived the City that was his one true love. He willed it back into health by helping New Yorkers believe again in themselves.
In truth, it was a model based on the Depression-era mayoralty of Fiorello La Guardia, but Koch updated the model with a 1970s style that was simultaneously no-nonsense and infused with showmanship. The Bronx-born World War II vet came of age in Greenwich Village reform politics, taking on the remnants of the Tammany Hall Democratic machine as a self-described “liberal with sanity.”
His rise to the “second-toughest job in America” was not fueled exclusively by the idealism of Washington Square. Instead, Koch positioned himself as the unexpected champion of the middle class. After climbing from City Council to Congress, Koch’s first campaign for mayor was framed as a repudiation of liberal excess and the ensuing civic decay. “This city is like it has never been before, with people at one another’s throats, suspicious of their neighbors, angry with their government, frustrated that no one in authority seems to care or even wants to listen ... As walking the streets of this city became a lottery of life and death, as business and industry fled to the suburbs or beyond, as corruption has been uncovered at deeper and deeper levels of city government, more and more people have begun to think that perhaps New York really is ungovernable after all.”
He won his first mayoral campaign in 1977, defeating pint-size City Comptroller Abe Beame, who presided over the city’s fiscal failure (commemorated by the Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead”) after John Lindsay’s libidinous late-’60s administration. Four years later, Koch was back at it, looking for vindication. It was the season that the Yankees’ playoff appearance was crystallized in the minds of Americans by Howard Cosell gazing at arson flames from the press box of Yankee Stadium and announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning.”
It was not a time of urban optimism. People were fleeing the city for the suburbs, and it was generally accepted that Gotham’s best days were behind it. Koch believed otherwise, making a frank pitch to his would-be constituents: “After eight years of charisma and four years of the clubhouse, why not try competence?”
The Senate’s disrespectful treatment of a man wholly qualified to be secretary of defense is another sign that partisanship trumps patriotism.
The contentious Senate hearing for secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel divided starkly along partisan lines, with Republicans attacking their former colleague with the pitchfork zeal of heretic hunters.
Chuck Hagel arrives to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill on Jan. 31, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Hagel’s calm recitation of consensus catechism on issues ranging from Iran to Israel to nuclear weapons didn’t seem to make any impression on his conservative critics.
This was personal. John McCain repeatedly interrupted his “old friend” and fellow Vietnam vet with palpable anger, his fury directed at Hagel’s opposition to the Iraq War and the 2007 troop surge. The core offense appeared to be Hagel’s contention that the invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy “disaster” since Vietnam—a parallel that infuriates McCain.
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican, reinforced his reputation as possibly the worst U.S. senator with bear-baiting questions like this: “Why do you think that the Iranian Foreign Ministry so strongly supports your nomination for secretary of defense?”
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions doggedly focused on a report by the anti-nuke group Global Zero, which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. The report was co-authored by Hagel, four generals, and a number of ambassadors. The organization itself has hundreds of international leaders who have signed on to its recommendations, including Reagan’s secretary of defense Frank Carlucci, Carter national security adviser Zbignew Brezinksi, 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and Gen. Anthony Zinni. Sessions and other Republican senators kept cherry-picking phrases from the report and ignoring substantive subtlety, despite Hagel’s repeated assurance and demonstrated record in opposing unilateral disarmament and support for modernizing the U.S. nuclear program. This clarification by the authors might help calm any genuine concerns, if they exist.
It made me wonder what Sessions would have said to Ronald Reagan, who advocated for nuclear disarmament more than 150 times, according to his aide Martin Anderson, in statements like this: “I believe we’ve come to the point that we must go at the matter of realistically reducing … if not totally eliminating, nuclear weapons—the threat to the world.”
This is not an ironic aside so much as it cuts to the core controversy about the Hagel nomination.
Split over immigration, the GOP’s own stalwarts are attacking it as lost, dying, even ‘stupid.’ John Avlon argues that the party can solve its existential crisis by nurturing more politicians like Chris Christie, who have moderate records and wide appeal—including among Democrats.
Chris Christie speaks at a news conference at New Jersey's State House on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, in Trenton, N.J. (Tim Larsen/AP)
There’s grumbling agreement even among the party faithful that the GOP is facing an existential crisis. The belated embrace of comprehensive immigration reform with nary a scream about “amnesty” by anyone except Rush Limbaugh and the House radicals is just the latest indication that the default formula of anger and obstruction isn’t working anymore.
The 2012 ass-kicking is forcing Republicans to confront their deepest demons—namely, that they cannot simply write off whole regions of the country and remain a viable national party. They cannot afford to alienate the fastest-growing communities of color in the USA. They cannot win a war against modernity.
The big tent has been burnt down but it can still be rebuilt—if the Republican Party is willing to embrace reformers who don’t fit in an ideological straitjacket.
This ain’t no naïve pipe dream. What if I told you that there was a Northeast Republican who currently enjoys 62 percent support from Democrats, 69 percent support from non-whites, 70 percent support from women, and 72 percent support among independent voters? But wait, there’s more—the Republican is pulling those numbers in a state President Obama won by 17 points, where registered Republicans make up only 20 percent of the electorate.
As the president unveils his vision for immigration reform, an unlikely trio of special interests is standing behind him: the Bible, the badge, and business.
This time it will be different.
Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) (L) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) confer during a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform at the Capitol, Jan. 28, 2013. (Gary Cameron/Reuters, via Landov)
After repeated failures at the federal level, comprehensive immigration reform finally looks like a real possibility this year. And that’s because a broad bipartisan coalition has been built in the Senate, motivated by both self-interest and national interest. Today in Nevada, President Obama will add his vision to their legislative foundation, officially making immigration reform the core of his second-term agenda.
Obama’s unexpected ally in this effort is the evangelical community—part of an emerging conservative coalition in favor of immigration reform that supporters describe as “the Bible, the badge, and business.”
Back in 2007, when President Bush tried belatedly to push through a bipartisan immigration bill, the prevailing winds were against progress. The presidential race to succeed him was already underway and the right-wing talk-radio crowd attacked the McCain-Kennedy bill as “amnesty”—providing a pre–Tea Party bandwagon that candidates like Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo climbed on to beat back McCain’s center-right campaign. Often forgotten in this narrative is the fact that congressional Democrats weren’t particularly in the mood to hand Bush a victory either.
But six years later, the right-wing talk-radio crowd is receding in relevance as their listeners age out of existence. Many conservatives who opposed the last comprehensive are realizing that failure to win over Hispanic votes represents an existential threat to the Republican Party.
But perhaps most of all, the attitudes of the Republican rank and file have changed.
“In 2013 you have people who hold the Bible, wear a badge, or own a business who all want broad immigration reform,” says Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum, a D.C.-based policy institution. “From a faith perspective, their faith commands them to treat people humanely. From a law enforcement perspective, they realize that in order to keep the public safe they need to be enforcing criminal law and not federal immigration law. And from a business perspective, immigrants are the workforce of the present and the future. Those three constituencies are realizing that the extreme right wing is not the voice of reason.”
Obama promised to avenge the murders of four Americans. But while Secretary Clinton faced a grilling over the attack, there’s been no retaliation. That sends a dangerous message, says John Avlon.
Benghazi. Algeria. This is the ground where Americans have been killed by Islamist terrorists over the past four months. And so far, nothing has been done to avenge their deaths.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
“Avenge.” That’s the word President Obama used when he spoke to the widow of Sean Smith after his murder in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, as recounted by Michael Hastings in his bracing new book, Panic 2012.
It was a sentiment the president repeated the day after the attack to a campaign crowd in Nevada, saying: “We want to send a message to all around the world who would do us harm. No act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America ... I want to assure you we will bring their killers to justice.”
It is now late January. There has been no justice. There has been no vengeance. There have, of course, been accusations and congressional hearings. Political finger-pointing has been the preoccupation, but action has been lacking.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more than held her own in the cross-examination from occasionally hostile senators and members of Congress. But one line of questioning revealed the weakness of the administration’s response to date. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) asked Clinton about the whereabouts of one of the prime suspects detained in Tunisia and even interviewed in the days after the Benghazi attack.
Here is what she said:
“We have been assured that he is under the monitoring of the [Tunisian] court. He was released, because at that time—and [FBI] Director [Robert] Mueller and I spoke about this at some length—there was not an ability for evidence to be presented yet that was capable of being presented in an open court. But the Tunisians have assured us that they are keeping an eye on him. I have no reason to believe he is not still in Tunis, but we are checking that all the time.”
John Avlon breaks down the president’s audacious political speech, which took aim at conservatives’ claim to represent American exceptionalism.
“To form a more perfect union” has always been the core idea animating President Obama’s career, an attempt to bridge old divides, blending the personal and the political.
President Obama, surrounded by members of his family, listens to the National Anthem during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)
The president used his second inaugural address to try to demolish the false dichotomies that have defined the overheated political debates of the past four years, implicitly making the case that his Democratic Party’s agenda is squarely in the mainstream of American history—expanding individual freedom through collective action.
It was an audaciously political speech, a statement of personal and partisan principle, rather than the expected broad bipartisan outreach. From the outset, the president took aim at conservatives’ claim to represent the idea of American exceptionalism, arguing instead that it is achieved by the constant struggle to expand equal opportunity.
This is a decidedly Lincoln-ian reading of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, rooted in reality: “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”
As evidence, President Obama charted the many times throughout our history when citizen movements were ultimately successful because of government action, making his second inaugural address double as a progressive manifesto.
In the most moving section, the president seamlessly traced the expansion of women’s rights from Seneca Falls to Martin Luther King’s March on Washington to the Stonewall riots. Not incidentally, these groups are all considered core to the Obama coalition—but more important, they are now seen not merely as interest groups but as core parts of the American community. The president’s historic addition of gay rights to this litany of liberation movements marked a moment of permanent legitimacy of this community, now codified in a presidential inaugural address.
This defense of Democratic Party ideals was consistent throughout, especially when the president declared, “The commitments we make to each other—through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security—these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
At The Daily Beast bipartisan brunch, guests give their best advice for President Obama’s big day on Monday. The brunch, in partnership with Credit Suisse at Cafe Milano in Georgetown, was co-hosted by Tina Brown, Pamela Thomas-Graham, Eva Longoria, Harvey Weinstein, and Mark McKinnon.
The Daily Beast bipartisan brunch, in partnership with Credit Suisse, lived up to its billing: Democrats, Republicans, and independents, shoulder to shoulder at Cafe Milano, chowing down and toasting the start of a new term.
(L-R) David Axelrod, Frank Luntz, and CBS’s Norah O’Donnell attend The Daily Beast bipartisan brunch at Cafe Milano in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2013. (Scott Henrichsen/Newsweek)
With the second inaugural address one day away, I asked some of the assembled what they were hoping to hear from President Obama.
Frank Luntz, Republican pollster and author of Words That Work: The president should say “We’re not Republicans. We’re not Democrats. We’re Americans. And I extend my hand”—as he actually physically does it—“I extend my hand to the speaker, the minority leader of the Senate and their colleagues. Let us make a commitment on this great day to get great things done for great Americans.’”
'Did you miss Obama's first term? Here's everything that happened, in 120 seconds.'
Ray LaHood, Obama administration transportation secretary and Illinois Republican: “We need to really come together here in Washington and work together because that’s what the American people want.” Why should we have any rational hope of that? I asked. “Because we didn’t go over the fiscal cliff. Because the president, vice president, the leaders of Congress came to an agreement. They did it at the 11th hour; now they need to start at the 12th hour and move on and continue to make progress.” Fair enough. My final question: are you going to stay for the second term? “There’ll be more to say about that later.”
Laura D’Andrea Tyson, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Clinton administration: “That we’ve put in place the foundation for a stronger, sounder, fairer economic recovery. I think the administration in the first term did a number of incredibly important things to get the foundation together … A lot of discussion is about the long-term budget. The long-term budget is basically health care. Every single thing that we know how to do about controlling cost is in the health-care-reform legislation. We should speed it up … I’m optimistic we can get the cost turned in a serious way and that’s the most important long-term issue.”
He was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party, a rising GOP governor with White House buzz. An extramarital scandal ended all that—or did it? Mark Sanford tells John Avlon about running for his old House seat, how he got his ex-wife’s blessing, and his marriage plans with Belen.
It’s official: Mark Sanford is running for his old congressional seat in South Carolina.
Mark Sanford at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The former South Carolina governor has announced a run for his old House seat. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The former governor, who ended his second term in disgrace after admitting to an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman he described as his “soulmate,” had previously been considered a leading potential contender for the 2012 GOP nomination before the scandal consumed those ambitions.
But suddenly Sanford is back. Among many locals, he is considered the frontrunner in the special election to fill the congressional seat held by Tim Scott before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate—an unusual degree of turnover in a state where Fritz Hollings served as junior senator to Strom Thurmond for 36 years.
“Life has a lot of different strange twists and turns, as I’ve come to understand firsthand,” Sanford said over the phone from South Carolina on Wednesday, when he announced his run. “Lo and behold, a U.S. senator resigns—that happens so infrequently—and then the governor appoints the congressman from the First District, which I used to represent. When that happened, the phones lines lit up. I started getting these phone calls and emails, and the intensity told me something was going on ... Tom Davis [a friend and South Carolina legislator] said, ‘Mark, you’ve to do this thing. You were talking about debt and deficit spending decades ago.’”
This is true. Sanford was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party—and before the brand was damaged by Michele Bachmann–like zealots. A charter member of the 1994 Republican revolution, Sanford was a sometimes lonely voice arguing for Social Security reform at a time when the public treasury was piling high with surpluses in the late 1990s. He was never afraid to take hold of that politically perilous third rail and talk about existential issues facing the United States.
But Sanford was also a modernizer, committed to a new Republican Party that was fiscally conservative but not dogmatic on matters of faith, despite representing a state often considered a bastion of the religious right. He exhibited a rare and welcome soft libertarian streak amid Southern conservatism. He criticized pork-laden bills that were backed by fellow Republicans. His Lowcountry district—where my parents live—has always been a bit more relaxed and live and let live, inspiring the title of a glowing Economist profile from 1998, “Mark Sanford, Surfboarding Revolutionary.”
Before the scandal, Sanford was known as an unusually honest and self-effacing politician, and he says he understands the obligation to rebuild trust from the ground up. Nothing is assumed. He peppers his conversation with phrases like “If I’m afforded this second chance,” acknowledging the need to admit to his mistakes if he ever hopes to move on.
The California governor deserves credit for turning his state’s deficit into a surplus, although the increased tax burden may drive away the wealthy—eroding the state’s tax base.
Something close to a civic miracle seems to have occurred—at least on the surface.
Gov. Jerry Brown points to a chart showing the reduction of the budget deficit as he unveiled his proposed state budget at the capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 10, 2013. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
California has long been synonymous with budget deficits so deep that it looked like the Golden State would inevitably be our Greece—beautiful and bankrupt.
But Gov. Jerry Brown announced that his state has suddenly projected a surplus of $851 million. Two years ago, when Brown came back into office, the state had a $25.4 billion deficit, a Sisyphean problem Governor Arnold struggled with unsuccessfully all last decade.
This reversal of fortune raises a lot of questions. What caused California’s budget turnaround? Is it sustainable? And finally, could there be a national lesson here as Washington tries to confront deficits and debt?
The top-line takeaway is that a balanced deficit-reduction approach seems to have worked in the Golden State. When he entered office in 2011, Brown proposed billion-dollar-plus cuts in welfare and Medi-Cal, as well as $500 billion from the UC system.
All told, his initial proposed budget was almost $20 billion less than Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2008–09 budget, which clocked in at $103 billion. Democrats and unions howled, and Brown’s ultimate budget was less austere than originally advertised, but deep cuts were enacted.
Crucially, Brown also took on the unpopular task of raising taxes—winning a 2012 ballot fight sonorously known as Proposition 30 and 39—that raised sales taxes and closed business tax loopholes. Next year, the combined new revenues are expected to exceed $5.8 billion.
With a straight face, the king of ranting is cynically trying to recast himself as a sensible libertarian. John Avlon isn’t buying it.
It took me a few days to stop laughing.
Glenn Beck is rebranding himself as–get this–the alternative to “far-right, far-left” polarized debates on cable news, dominated by people “yelling at each other.”
Beck speaks to Tea Party supporters in Texas last summer. (Joan Barnett Lee/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT, via Getty)
“We're not going to play in that crazy space as a network," he announced earnestly.
The irony meter just died. Hypocrisy and chutzpah had a child.
This is, after all, the man who rode to riches by screaming louder and crazier than anyone else in the collective conservative nervous breakdown known as Obama Derangement Syndrome circa 2009 and 2010. Here are just a few of his unhinged greatest hits, lest we forget:
• “There is a coup going on. There is a stealing of America … done through the guise of an election.”
• “They’re marching us to a non-violent fascism. Or to put it another way, they’re marching us to 1984. Big Brother. Like it or not, fascism is on the rise.”
• “The president is a Marxist ... who is setting up a class system.”
• “The health care bill is reparations. It’s the beginning of reparations.”
• “We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination.”
• “The government is a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.”
Glenn Beck used his 15 minutes of fame to cast himself as King of the Wingnuts, eventually becoming too extreme for even Roger Ailes to put up with on Fox News.
After coming unglued in an interview with Piers Morgan, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claims he's being stalked by an 'armed mafia.' John Avlon on America's battiest personality.
Most Americans got their first taste of Alex Jones’s brand of crazy last night on Piers Morgan Tonight, when the CNN host confronted this particular critic, who in turn called the CNN host “a hatchet man of the new world order,” raved that “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!” and warned of “foreigners” and “mega-banks” trying to disarm Americans as part of a master plan to institute “world tyranny.”
Piers Morgan withstood a verbal assault from Alex Jones on his show Monday night.
Unedited and in person, Jones comes off even more unhinged than on primetime or in his role as a conspiracy entrepreneur on his syndicated radio show and at InfoWars.com. Jones was booked by Morgan because he started a petition, much promoted on the Drudge Report, to have the British host deported.
But the real mystery is why this manifestly unstable personality manages to claim any role in civic debates at all. In a post-Piers video Jones posted to YouTube, he warned viewers about the possibility of his assassination at the hands of the NYPD under orders from Michael Bloomberg. He tells his listeners: “If something happens to us and we’re killed by crackheads, it was the NYPD or mafia.”
Below the video, which has the title “Armed Mafia Are Stalking Us: Post Piers Morgan Debate,” is a note:
“We just got off CNN and undercover cops are all over us. They have been on our ass all day but now they are stalking us! We need to put this on the record in case the [sic] set us up.”
Despite such ravings, Jones has kept his profile up with the help of a steady stream of traffic-pushing Drudge Report links—114 of them in a 12-month stretch ending last year, according to Aviva Shen of Think Progress, as the hysterical tone of Jones’s headlines and stories creates a mutually beneficial cycle of clicks.
But Drudge has no responsibilities beyond his self-selecting audience—and the real scrutiny should be directed at members of Congress like Sen. Rand Paul, his father former congressman Ron Paul, and current Reps Louie Gohmert, Alan Grayson, and Dennis Kucinich, who regularly appear on this 9/11 Truther’s radio show, giving him their imprimatur of respectability.
The Republican congressmen who use New York as a campaign ATM, but turn a blind eye to suffering here must be held accountable, writes John Avlon.
Slap a scarlet “S” on these callous conservatives. Sixty-seven members of Congress–all Republicans—voted against even $9 billion of Hurricane Sandy relief yesterday.
Remember their names, and hold them accountable.
A laborer empties debris from a home damaged by Superstorm Sandy on January 4, 2013 in the Midland Beach area of the Staten Island borough of New York City. More than two months after the storm, Congress passed legislation that will provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy. (John Moore/Getty)
Twelve of the scarlet 67 voted for Hurricane Katrina relief—which passed ten days after that devastating Gulf Coast storm—but against Hurricane Sandy relief 69 days after its landfall in the Northeast. Their names: Trent Franks (AZ), Ed Royce (CA), Sam Graves (MO), Steve Pearce (NM), Steve Chabot (OH), Jimmy Duncan (TN), Kenny Marchant (TX), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Mac Thornberry (TX), Bob Goodlatte (VA), Tom Petri (WI), and Paul Ryan (WI).
These congressmen are content to use New York City and the tri-state area as an ATM when they are looking for campaign funds, yet they willfully turn a blind eye when hundreds of thousands of homes and small businesses are damaged or destroyed and more than 100 Americans are dead.
Note the name of last year’s vice presidential nominee and potential 2016 presidential candidate Paul Ryan on this list. Donors would do well to ask him about this vote. The Texas delegation likewise asked for federal funds when hurricanes have devastated their state, yet are ignoring suffering in the Northeast. But then conservatives often become liberal when an issue affects them personally. Just two years ago, Missouri Congressman Sam Graves begged President Obama for an emergency declaration to deal with flooding in his district—now he is afflicted with convenient amnesia.
The full list of the 67 “nos” is tilted toward the conservative Gulf Coast states and the congressmen—many elected after Katrina—whose constituents often feel the brunt of natural disasters.
Congressman Paul Broun—who when Obama was elected in 2008 called the president-elect a “Marxist” and compared him to Hitler, who denounced evolution as a “lie from the pit of hell” despite serving on the Science Committee—had no trouble asking for FEMA funds when his district was flooded in 2009. And Alabama’s Mo Brooks was equally eager for federal funds when tornados devastated his district in 2011.
There’s reason to hope that Capitol Hill’s new lawmakers—more diverse and solution-oriented than their do-nothing predecessors—will go beyond politics and work together to benefit America, says John Avlon.
Today, the new 113th Congress officially enters Capitol Hill. Their swearing-in represents a fresh start and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the ideological excesses and obstructionism of the Tea Party class of 2012 are over.
“Spread your legs, you’re gonna be frisked!” Yes, Vice President Joe Biden did say that during Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) mock swearing in. Enjoy.
Ironically, the first major act of the new Congress will be to deal with some of the priorities the Tea Party established for itself—dealing with the deficit and debt through a combination of entitlement reforms, spending cuts, and tax reform—which is expected to come due with the debt ceiling and sequester cuts in two months. The Congress’s challenge will be to deal with this opportunity more constructively and cooperatively than its Tea Party predecessors.
There is some rational reason for optimism rooted in the key differences between the 2010 and 2012 elections.
The Class of 2010 was elected by a narrow but intense slice of the electorate—the anti-Obama, recession-fueled rage of the 2010 midterm election landslide.
The Class of 2012 was elected in a presidential year, with a broader and more representative segment of the electorate. The message this freshman class heard from voters was all about finding a way to work together in Washington—stop fighting and start fixing. And, at least so far, that demand seems to be reflected in the attitudes of this freshman class.
For example, many of the 2013 freshmen attended an orientation session at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government after the election. The director of the Institute of Politics, Trey Grayson told me the staff noticed a distinct difference between these new congressmen and previous classes.
“The common attitude among those who attended our conference was that they wanted to be solution-oriented,” said Grayson. “They heard loud and clear from voters during the campaign that voters wanted solutions, not rhetoric.”
Apparently drywall safety and a war memorial 96 years in the works are more urgent than getting billions of dollars in aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. John Avlon on the GOP’s new low.
It was a congressional slap in the face to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
More than two months after hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the tristate area were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Republicans in the House of Representatives intentionally killed the $60 billion bill passed by the Senate by refusing to bring it to a vote on New Year’s Day.
New York Republican Peter King told CNN that the GOP ‘turned its back’ on his constituents, and suggested he might leave the party.
Yes, the final hours of the 112th Congress were crowded with the chaos of avoiding the fiscal cliff, a vote that Speaker Boehner pushed despite the opposition of a majority of conservatives in his conference. Nonetheless, there were plenty of opportunities.
As a reality check, here is a list of items Speaker Boehner did decide to bring for a vote on New Year’s Day before Congress fled for the night/year, provoking well-deserved outcries from New York Republicans like Pete King and Michael Grimm. These are the items that are apparently more urgent than Hurricane Sandy relief, excluding multiple post-office renamings.
• Drywall safety
• Frank Buckles WWI Memorial
• Redesignate Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research
Center and Hugh L. Dryden Test Range
• Conveyance of certain property in Kotzebue, AK
None of these items exactly screams urgency. The World War I memorial has waited 96 years, and drywall safety seems like the definition of optional. Paying tribute to Neil Armstrong is always welcome but could have waited until the next Congress or for that matter been passed earlier without much objection. And as far as the “Conveyance of certain property in Kotzebue, AK”—after multiple readings, I don’t have a clue what it means, and I’m willing to guess that the vast majority of congressman who voted for it don’t either, although I’m sure it’s important to the 3,201 people who live there.
Yes, the House did manage to push through a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff at the last possible moment. But the ugly scramble was exasperating—and leaves us facing yet another showdown before spring, says John Avlon.
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else,” Winston Churchill once said. But even by that standard, the scramble to avoid the entirely predictable fiscal cliff at the last possible minute was an exasperating exercise that made sausage-making look good.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, flanked by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), left, and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), at a news conference on Capitol Hill to discuss the fiscal-cliff bill passed by the Senate, Jan. 1, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Despite 518 days to deal with the sequestration cuts and 12 years to anticipate the end of the Bush tax cuts, it took two late-night votes on the hinge of the New Year to stop Congress from kicking America’s economic recovery in the teeth. The Chinese must have been laughing, watching C-Span these last few days. This is not a textbook example how great nations govern themselves.
But as bad as it looked from the outside, the atmosphere in the corridors of Congress was even worse, according to staffers. With the sun setting on New Year’s Day, chaos was the order of the day inside the House Republican conference, when Majority Leader Eric Cantor came out against the Senate’s bipartisan bill to avoid the fiscal cliff. The complaint among conservatives was that spending cuts were absent from the last-minute deal.
That’s true—and irrelevant at this particular moment. All hope of a grand bargain evaporated when House conservatives undercut Speaker John Boehner’s attempts to negotiate with President Obama. House Republicans’ rational right to amend any bill ended when they hightailed it out of town to enjoy an extended Christmas vacation and kicked the responsibility for negotiations to the Senate.
The irony, of course, is that hard-core conservatives’ impulse to condemn any compromise ended up costing them a better, more comprehensive deal on overall deficit and debt reduction. The president had been offering entitlement reform, at the risk of angering his base. None was included in this package.
As it stands, the fiscal-cliff bridge—crafted largely by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—represents a compromise on taxes that in saner times would be seen as a win for the center right, permanently extending tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, fixing the onerous Alternative Minimum Tax by adjusting it for inflation, and taxing estates over $5 million at 40 percent—lower than just a few years ago. Revenue is going up, but not nearly as much as many liberals had wished. The AFL-CIO strongly opposed the measure.
But despite this, almost precisely two times the number of House Democrats supported the bipartisan Senate plan as Republicans. The final vote count was 172 Democrats in favor versus just 85 Republicans in favor, including Speaker Boehner. The no votes from Republicans totaled 151, while just 16 Democrats gave the Heisman.
Last week's tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, has brought the issue of government regulation back to the forefront. On Friday night's Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Beast's Political Director John Avlon denounces deregulation rhetoric.
The strange, opaque world of politically minded nonprofits. By John Avlon and Michael Keller.