Tomorrow people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington. It is worth remembering two points.
First, there'd never been something like that before in the United States. People march today at the drop of a hat, and the news of a new march is now just wallpaper, something in the background of our lives; but then, it was brand new and without precedent. It's just worth remembering what a big, big deal it was for Americans to see 200,000 of their fellows converge on the mall.
Second, it's worth remembering what a plantation Washington DC was in 1963. I just re-watched the other day, for the fourth or fifth time, a WETA documentary on Washington in the 60s. Here is some info about it. Incredible. A moral focal point was Glen Echo Park, a wonderful art-deco playland in Maryland along the Potomac. Today it just has a carousel and some pavillions, while offering tons of activities and classes for the kiddies. But then it was a full-fledged amusement park.
And whites only. Although unofficially. A commuter train ran right up to it. Blacks, this show said, understood that they had to get off before the Glen Echo stop. The doc featured an amazing audio tape of a young African American who rode to the Glen Echo stop and asked a guard why he couldn't enter the park, the guard fumbling around for lies because he couldn't outright say "the color of your skin." Shocking to think this was in Montgomery County, my county, one of the most liberal Democratic counties in all of America, arguably. But those were the times. And that on top of all the stuff you already know--the racist senators and congressmen who prevented home rule and all that.
The majority of congressional Republicans, as well as the public, think that defunding Obamacare is a bad idea. Michael Tomasky on what that means for the election cycles ahead.
Are the Republicans really serious about defunding Obamacare? The answer depends on (a) which Republicans you mean and (b) how you define serious. We’ll get into all that below, but let’s cut to the chase: No. Defunding health-care implementation is something that I believe they will find to be totally impossible to do while in the congressional opposition, especially under the circumstances that are being discussed currently. For a lot of Republicans, the likely coming failure of this effort will redirect them to the next presidential election. And that, in turn, is likely to benefit the candidacy of the man who has most closely identified himself with the defunding movement, Ted Cruz. The question is, how much will he benefit?
Rep. Tom Price (R–Georgia), center, flanked by Rep. Mike Kelly (R–Pennsylvania), left, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R–North Carolina) speaks about his bill, which targets health-care reform by preventing the Internal Revenue Service from implementing any part of the health-care law. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The lay of the land right now, after you strip away the rhetorical bluster, is this. A mere 14 Republican senators (out of 45) have signed Mike Lee’s letter pressing for defunding Obamacare. The letter has been out there for a while, and I’m told that few, if any, more are expected to sign. So, one third of the Senate caucus.
Then Thursday, a House version (PDF) of the Lee letter was released. It has 80 signatures. That’s a big drop-off from last year, when 127 Republicans signed a similar letter. As with the Senate, this 80 number constitutes almost exactly one third of the House GOP caucus. Not a huge number. In addition, this letter, circulated by a North Carolina representative named Mark Meadows, contains no explicit threat that the undersigned will oppose any funding bills that include Obamacare money. It just “urges” John Boehner and Eric Cantor to defund health care.
Some of my regulars readers who go back to my Guardian days have been asking—nay demanding—that I weigh in on the latest round of news on that front. I’m not sure I understand the obligation, but I aim to serve, so here you are.
Recent events haven’t really changed my previous position. I think Snowden broke the law and behaved egregiously; on the other hand, this is what it took to open up this badly needed debate, so in that sense I applaud him, and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, for making that happen. Somewhat contradictory positions, sure. The world’s a complicated place.
I just can’t see Snowden as a hero. There’s a lot of difference to me, morally if perhaps not legally, between Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. In the Pentagon Papers case, Ellsberg had a longstanding security-cleared gig at the Rand Corporation. He was a believer who slowly rose to outrage over Vietnam, and he decided to break the law. Snowden took a job expressly to break the law. While it’s surely true that Snowden went through a similar arc of disillusionment, I think it’s a different thing to apply for a job swearing an oath that you’re going to do X but knowing all the time in your heart that your intention is to violate and destroy X (views on this will depend of course on how evil the beholder thinks X is).
Plus, Ellsberg turned himself in. He sought to remain anonymous, but once he was named, he pretty quickly reported to authorities. He was prepared to pay the price for his actions. He stood trial. It lasted 89 long days in the spring of 1971 before the judge declare a mistrial because of “improper government conduct” (White House plumbers breaking into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and other acts) and made Ellsberg a free man.
If you thought the GOP would adopt more moderate positions after its 2012 debacle, you were wrong. From debate threats to defunding Obamacare and even more purges, Michael Tomasky on how the insanity’s only increasing.
If you’d asked me six months ago whether the Republican Party would manage to find a few ways to sidle back toward the center between now and 2016, I’d have said yes. But today, on the basis of evidence offered so far this year, I’d have to say a big fat no. With every passing month, the party contrives new ways to go crazier. There’s a lot of time between now and 2016, but it’s hard to watch recent events without concluding that the extreme part of the base is gaining more and more internal control.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (center) speaks as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) (left), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (second from right) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (right) listen during a news conference May 16, 2013, on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty)
Let’s start with this recent party meeting in Boston. As with the previous winter meeting, the Republican National Committee was trying to spin inclusiveness as the theme and goal. But what real news came out of the meeting? Go to the RNC website. Before you even make it to the home page, you’ll be presented with a petition imploring you to “Hold the Liberal Media Accountable!” and “Tell CNN and NBC to drop their planned programming promoting Hillary Clinton or no 2016 debates!” The photo is of She Who Is in Question, smiling all the way to the White House.
You know, I trust, that the petition augments a position adopted at the meeting in protest of the biopics of Clinton planned by those two networks. As an “issue,” this is totally absurd. How many voters are going to walk into the booth on Election Day 2016, if Clinton is the Democratic nominee, thinking, “Gee whiz, I never cared that much for Hillary until I saw that wonderful biopic about a year ago, which is what sealed it for me!” Ridiculous. Besides, has anyone stopped to wonder whether Clinton herself wants these movies aired? (Actually, Al Hunt has). A decent argument can be made that her interest in seeing Gennifer and Monica and Tammy Wynette and all those unflattering hairstyles dredged up again is slim indeed.
More documents have been released showing that there's nothing to the IRS scandal. Yeah, yeah, I know; Washington has "moved on." But Washington has a strange definition of moving on, which is, if there's no longer a foul odor lingering in the air around what people very excitedly once thought was a scandal, they just mostly ignore it and write nothing.
I suppose you could call that moving on, but I think actual moving on involves settling accounts and setting things right. If there was no scandal, then why did everyone initially believe there was? And if the press got something wrong, isn't there a responsibility to go back and get it right?
The new documents released today by House Democrats show that more progressive groups were targeted in the IRS screenings along with conservative ones. A 2010 PowerPoint freshly unearthed lists "progressive" and "emerge" as words to watch out for. The emerge movement was and is a network of progressive state-based groups, and the groups from Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine were all denied c4 status in 2011.
Another slide presentation tells IRS staffers to be on the lookout for "Acorn successor" groups, meaning left-leaning outfits created in the wake of the demise of Acorn, which as you know stole the election in 2008 for the guy who won it by 9.5 million votes.
Most people don't want to hear this, I think, but my colleague Les Gelb puts a morally difficult case very well in his Beast column, in which he argues that the least bad choice for the United States in Egypt--in terms of trying to help that country move to real democracy, as opposed to thinking narrowly of US security interests or whatever--is to stick with the military and try to reform it. We have, he argues, some shot at influencing the military, but no shot at all of influencing the Brotherhood.
Les, take it from here:
Let’s get real and tamp down the moral posturing about democracy in Egypt. Freely elected President Morsi and his now-deposed Muslim Brotherhood government weren’t practicing democracy. They were co-opting the laws and slowly destroying all possible opposition. Besides, they were aligning with America’s jihadist enemies in Syria, Gaza, and elsewhere. Egypt’s military leaders, no democratic sweethearts either, are aligned with moderates, need Washington more than the Islamists, and back U.S. interests on the Suez Canal and Israel. Americans rightly can’t stand the military street slaughters. For sure, bloody casualties will mount. But the United States has some modest chance to influence the military in right directions. It has little or no chance of saving Egypt for democracy if the Islamists return to power.
I think that's pretty hard to argue with. Then, a little later, more on the Islamists:
So the WikiLeaks founder, from his embassy hideout, says he’s a Rand Paul fan—and the GOP’s libertarian wing is Congress’s ‘only useful political voice.’ At least they’re both opportunists, says Michael Tomasky.
Julian Assange, who back when he roamed the earth freely used to do things like show up on the steps of St. Paul’s to protest the wrongs of capitalism, has now apparently placed his faith in the man who is arguably the capitalists’ single biggest lickspittle in Washington, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). In and of itself, this is only mildly interesting. But Assange’s admirers on the left are so seduced by his oppositionalist posture and his desire to stick it to the man (as long as the man is the government of the United States) that they seem willing to follow him off any cliff, maybe even the cliff of voting for Paul in 2016. It’s a jejune politics, and ultimately a politics of leisure. No one whose day-to-day life is materially affected by the question of who is in office has time for such silly games, and therefore, no one who purports to be in solidarity with those people should either.
In an interview over the weekend with Campus Reform, a conservative college students’ group and website, Assange offered up a range of choice thoughts, none more interesting than this one: “In relation to Rand Paul. I’m a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues. They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the U.S. attack on WikiLeaks and on me in the U.S. Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial killing.” And then this: “The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress. It will be the driver that shifts the United States around.”
Assange also praised Matt Drudge in the interview, saying Drudge “should be applauded for breaking a lot of that censorship” of the mainstream news media. Drudge, it should be recalled, didn’t break any “censorship” at all. Conspiracy theorists of left and right have always had trouble distinguishing between censorship and editorial judgment, and it was Newsweek’s judgment (long before current ownership, I note) in January 1998 that its Monica Lewinsky story wasn’t ready for print. Drudge simply “reported” on that fact—or rather was spoon-fed it by disgruntled internal sources. The Lewinsky story was getting around, and so it’s a near certainty that Newsweek, or someone, would have published it soon. But Assange elevates Drudge to hero status.
After two decades in purgatory, the Democrats are poised to take back New York City. But is the Big Apple ready for Bill de Blasio? Michael Tomasky talks to the surging candidate.
What difference should the New York City mayoral race make to you if you live elsewhere? Well, New York is still New York, and what happens there matters. There’s more. As fate would have it, this is a particularly interesting year: This is the year that it finally seems likely that after two decades in purgatory, the Democrats will take back City Hall. And it’s starting to look like the person who’s going to do it is Bill de Blasio, who just vaulted to the head of the pack in recent polling.
New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference outside the city’s East Side Community High School on August 15. (Mario Tama/Getty)
De Blasio is the most liberal-populist of the leading Democrats, and he is crystal clear that a de Blasio mayoralty won’t be so much about underwriting the “job creators” or making Midtown prettier for the folks coming in from Westchester to see Kinky Boots, but about trying to help the people who clean up after both of those groups. Is New York ready for that change, and is de Blasio the agent of New York City liberalism’s rebirth?
Let’s first go back in time. In its default mode, going back to Boss Tweed’s day or even before, New York City was run by Democrats. But once a generation or two, when the stench of corruption became utterly unignorable, Republicans who fashioned themselves reformers would be given their chance. A hundred years ago, it was Seth Low, who had also been a president of Columbia University. Thirty years later and far more famously came Fiorello La Guardia. By that time, New York City had a number of small political parties, some of them based around labor unions, and various independent groups. The Little Flower was a Republican, but a liberal (different times), and he enjoyed backing from both the GOP and these labor and independent leaders. This was “Fusion”—a coalescing of all the reform tendencies behind one man to defeat the corrupt Democrats.
Let me go ahead and dredge this up before someone else does. On July 5, I wrote a column in defense of the coup against Morsi, under the headline (exceedingly unfortunate from today's vantage point) "A Coup to Celebrate." I believe in pundit accountability, not least for myself, so I inivite everyone to have at me.
Obviously, that column looks pretty horrible today. What happened yesterday is, equally obviously, indefensible by any human or democratic standard. The people who voted for Morsi of course have every right to feel the deepest betrayal, and even Egypt's liberal reformers--the people who really matter most to me--are no doubt chagrined by this turn of events.
I will still say that it behooves us not to forget that Morsi was no democrat. This is being a bit glossed over right now. Rachel Maddow last night had an excellent factual report on the situation, but both she and Richard Engel, NBC's man on the ground in Cairo who was clearly in danger of being shot yesterday, kind of glossed over this aspect of things.
Don't forget the thousands who massed in Tahrir six weeks ago demanding the ouster of a president who, though elected democratically, did not behave remotely like a democrat in office. I know the retort: So vote him out in three years. Well, maybe. On the other hand, I'm sure Zimbabweans unhappy with Mugabe back in 1980-whatever said "Well, we'll just vote him out in three years" (the parallel isn't exact, but you get my point).
Very sad to hear of Germond's passing. I met him once, at Harvard, at the Kennedy School. We were on some sort of panel together. It was not long after I'd reviewed (favorably, fortunately) his book in the Sunday Times. He told me he was grateful for the review, which was nice. I remember some expression of contempt for George H.W. Bush along the lines of, "Two biggest decisions of his life, he gave us Dan Quayle and Clarence Thomas. Think about that."
It must have been great fun to be one of those guys. Newspapers and wire services were minting money in those days, and no one gave a shit about budgets. If Germond or Jules Witcover or whomever wanted to get on a plane and go size up some House race in New Mexico, off he went on one of the sleek 707s that had entered service. Expenses? Whatever. Don't worry about it.
There's a lot to be said for today's media over yesterday's. We have a lot more voices of all different kinds, and that's good. I love the interactions with readers, especially on Twitter, even with the people egging me toward auto-proctology. The rise of people like Nate Silver has opened up new ways to talk and think about politics that moves the center of gravity away from the day to day horse race, which is good. Germond, by the way, was always completely unapologetic about the horse race. This is what people want to know, he said; who's ahead. But he always did say, and said to me that day, that "there's smart horse race and dumb horse race," and he was right about that. I would imagine that dumb horse race wasn't so different in 2012 (Romney's going to carry Minnesota--G.F. Will) from what it was in Germond's day.
On balance I think readers are much better served today by this multitude of voices. But Germond and his contemporaries were a better high priesthood than the priesthood we have now. This was before high-pundit journalists became members of the 1 percent. They were working- and middle-class men, and their views on politics reflected that. Today of course, most really prominent journalists share the class interests of the politicians and lobbyists they cover. This change is part of the reason that policies that steal from the middle and the bottom to finance the rich, which should be laughed out of town in two seconds, get a serious hearing in today's Washington. So in that way, Germond's generation was superior to ours.
There are already signs Hillary’s presidential campaign will drudge up the weird, obsessive hatred the Boomer left developed for the Clintons in the 1990s. But this time, their derision will only have the power to do one thing: help her win.
I’m quite looking forward to Hillary Clinton being president of the United States. I think she will probably run, I think she will probably win, and I think she’ll be at least a good and maybe a great president. What I’m not particularly looking forward to is the process by which she’ll have to get there. Just in the past few days here, Maureen Dowd and Richard Cohen have laid before us in the form of two recent and silly columns little reminders of the prejudice against Clinton within a certain slice of the liberal chattering class, a prejudice that will swell predictably as she passes the various posts that stand between her and the nomination and, finally, election. Fortunately, these chatterers are less and less relevant every election. Clinton should welcome their animus. It can only help her.
Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds international delegates, where she spoke at a women's leadership symposium at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on July 9, 2013. (Matt Rourke/AP)
I have observed many strange things in my years of tilling these fields, but surely nothing stranger than the way the arbiters of conventional wisdom in America have viewed the Clintons. It’s a deep and weird Baby Boomer psychodrama that I can summarize as follows: when the Clintons first hit the national scene, they were doing so at the same time that strivers of their generation were starting to displace the old graybeards in the news business. Tim Russert took over Meet the Press in 1991. Dowd got her column in 1995. The ’60s generation was taking over. Things were going to be different. Here was a cohort, after all, that grew up thinking that it could, and would, change the world. And now one of their own was president! We would witness the dawn of a new era of authenticity, to use a big ’60s word, and the Clintons would lead it.
Soon enough, though, the Boomer generation turned out to be no more authentic than any other—indeed quite less authentic, or at least less admirable, than the greatest generation, whom Tom Brokaw limned between hard covers the same year the world learned the name Monica Lewinsky. Though the Boomer journalists began to turn on the Clintons before the Lewinsky scandal, that really sealed it. Obviously, there were good reasons for any human being to consider what Bill Clinton did there to be unacceptable. But there was a self-regarding quality to many Boomer journalists’ scribblings (and on-air musings—the cable nets were taking off around this time) about the whole mess, as if the Clintons had somehow done this to them. Chris Matthews—oh, if you could have heard him in those days going on and on and on about the Clintons, and about Al Gore too (Matthews has even said that he voted for George W. Bush in 2000).
Bill Lynch died last week at 72, and if I give you the one-sentence thing—that he was the guy who masterminded the election of David Dinkins as mayor of New York City in 1989—you might well say either “that was awfully long ago” or something snarky like “so what, he wasn’t a good mayor.” But Lynch did more than just elect Dinkins; the story is richer and more interesting than that, and it’s a piece of American political history—specifically, the story of how blacks attained political power in the United States, a story to which Lynch was central—that you should know a little something about.
If you go back and see, say, a large group photograph of the New York County (i.e. Manhattan) Democratic Party Annual Dinner from the late 1940s, you will see a number of black faces in the picture. Kings County (Brooklyn) dinners, too. New York County was still run by Tammany Hall then, and Tammany Hall saw blacks in those days not so differently from the way it had seen the Irish 70 or 80 years earlier: maybe as inferiors, but chiefly as voters, and potentially loyal ones. So African Americans were included. But of course there were limits. There was to be, from the city, one black member of Congress only, from Harlem (one out of, in those days, 10 or more). In Brooklyn, they sliced Bed-Stuy into four or five different districts so that black voters couldn’t elect one of their own. The Manhattan borough presidency, by the early 1950s, was ceded as a “black” seat, but it was the only one of the eight prominent city elected offices that was so designated.
Harlem always had more political power than black Brooklyn; the Harlemites had deeper and older roots in America, while black Brooklyn was even then pretty strongly Caribbean. Brooklyn resented Harlem’s power, and the two factions were always at odds. Brooklyn was more militant—which is why, by the late ’60s, the infamous Ocean Hill-Brownsville teachers’ strike happened there, and not in Manhattan. Harlem was more establishment, personified by J. Raymond Jones, the longtime Harlem political leader who cut the deals with “downtown,” and Adam Clayton Powell III, the flamboyant congressman.
What was going on in New York was, of course, going on in every major city. There were battles to desegregate unions. Deindustrialization and resultant poverty—life was no longer like the old days, when a high-school dropout could go down to the docks and get a decent job—sparked poor peoples’ campaigns. Ferocious debates over civilian complaint review boards tore the civic fabric to shreds. Riots. Crime. Dr. King trying to elevate things, black radicals rejecting his message.
So you think it’s not a big deal to go from spearheading Obama’s reelection to advising Cameron and his Conservative Party? From immigration to austerity, Michael Tomasky on the insanity of Jim Messina’s move.
WTF, Jim Messina? How does a person go from running Barack Obama’s reelection campaign to working for David Cameron and the Tories? Well, you might be thinking, perhaps there really isn’t all that much space between Obama and Cameron. The big-C Conservatives over there, after all, aren’t remotely like our small-c conservatives over here. I say that’s about as faint as praise can possibly be. I also say, and will hope to show you, that it isn’t as true as you think it is. How an operative willing to tether himself to some of Cameron’s policies can come back home and work again in Democratic politics without facing some very tough questioning indeed is hard to imagine.
Jim Messina tours the floor at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 3, 2012. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Let’s start with immigration. A pretty hot topic in America, and one on which Obama’s position—a course toward citizenship for 11 million people who are here illegally—is well-known and universally shared within the Democratic Party. Turns out immigration is pretty hot stuff in the U.K. too—specifically, illegal immigration. Earlier this year, the Home Office reported 863,000 undocumented people living in Britain. That’s about 1.3 percent of the total population, considerably less than the United States’ roughly 3.6 percent. Still, the people are in a state, or some of them are. So the Tory government has just recently begun a campaign. What kind of campaign, you ask?
Well, imagine if a border-state conservative governor—Rick Perry of Texas, Jan Brewer of Arizona—started sending a billboarded van into immigrant neighborhoods advising illegals to “go home.” That would be rather controversial here, don’t you think? And I daresay that nearly every Democratic politician I can think of, starting with Obama, would denounce such an effort.
Via Ezra I see this fascinating set of graphs from Brendan Nyhan at CJR about coverage of the IRS "scandal" at major media outlets. He finds that at the New York Times and the Washington Post, they published far more IRS stories in the early days, when everyone thought it might be a real story, and far fewer over the period of time that it has become clear to everyone this side of Our Lady of the Magic Dolphins that it's a nothing sandwich.
And over at Politico, perhaps unsurprisingly, the numbers are far, far, far more extreme. The Times and Post ran 10, 15 stories during the hot period. Politico ran nearly 70! And after all the excuplatory news breaks, about the White House not being involved and some progressive groups being targeted and so on--the stuff I've been writing about over the past three, four weeks--they've been down in single digits. I'm proud to say that if Nyhan had charted me, my line would be pretty much the opposite of Politico's.
I wonder what Politco's jefes would say about this. No, I know what they would say. We were "driving the day"!
This gets to the heart something that's very wrong about the way we define the word "news," and how it distorts people's views of...well, I guess I want to write here, of reality. In this case we had an admittedly suspicious looking set of circumstances. That guarantees huge coverage. Then on top of that we had a Republican (Darrell Issa) willing to say anything, make outlandish allegations. That guarantees huge coverage. But the closed-door testimony of bureaucrats? Not so much. And yet, the media helped get nearly half of America to think something corrupt happened here, when it did not. And the media are not set up to put toothpaste back in the tube.
Her name is Alison Lundergan Grimes, and a new poll has her ahead of Mitch McConnell in the race for his Senate seat. Kentucky might not be so red after all, writes Michael Tomasky.
I don’t know why everyone is so shocked at yesterday’s PPP poll showing Alison Lundergan Grimes leading Mitch McConnell by 1 point, 45–44 (obviously, a statistical tie). Back in April, before anyone outside Kentucky knew who she was, she was within 4 points; and last December, also according to PPP, McConnell was leading actress Ashley Judd by just 4 points.
Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes. (AP (2))
But this isn’t just about numbers. After a quarter century of doing this, I can tell, even from the distance of Washington, that something very interesting is going on here. And readers who dismiss Kentucky as blood-red are wrong. Kentucky is not South Carolina, and Grimes can win this thing.
Let’s start with her shatteringly impressive roll-out. Last week I wrote about her Web-only announcement video, which is one of the most effective I’ve ever seen (the man behind it, for those who care about such things: Mark Putnam, a Democratic media consultant here in Washington). That showed us, in ways large and small, a campaign that was really thinking on its feet.
The Daily Beast's Michelle Cottle joined MSNBC to discuss the annual event where conservatives 'come out and let their hair down' and the tension among right-wingers over gay rights.
Gays are bullying Americans, the congresswoman says. That's not even the wildest claim she's made in the last 12 months.