This big kerfuffle reflects poorly on both sides and reveals two interesting realities of Washington journalism as it's currently practiced, realities that coexist to some degree in tension with each other:
Reality 1 is that it's true that White House reporters as a rule are vain and whiny and focus on trivia and minutaie.
Reality 2 is that in a sense the above is understandable because it's a really monotonous job that does weird things to a person's brain.
I of course have never held the job, but it can't be so different from covering campaigns at close quarters, which I have done. It ain't the salt mines or a shoe factory, but it's deadly dull. You have no space, no privacy. You spend hours and hours sitting or standing around waiting for something to happen. You are reduced to following the story of the day, even if it's completely insipid, because that's what everyone else is following and it's what your editor will want. You quickly become bored by and contemptuous of everyone, up to the president himself.
Conservatives keep reminding everyone that the sequester was Obama’s idea. But, says Michael Tomasky, that doesn’t mean he’s to blame for the current crisis.
Whose “idea” was the sequester, and why should it matter? My Twitter feed these last couple of weeks has been overflowing with people going beyond the usual “communist” and “idiot” name-calling that I get every day and throwing the occasional “liar” in there because I “withhold” the information that the sequester was the Obama administration’s idea. Very well, consider that nugget hereby unwithheld. Let’s grant that this is true. But it’s true only because the Republicans were holding a gun to the administration’s head—and besides, the Republicans immediately voted for it. In any case the important thing now is that outside of Fox News land, it’s an unimportant fact whose “idea” it was. The Republicans are partial owners of this idea, and as the party that now wants the cuts to kick in, they deserve to—and will—bear more responsibility for the negative impacts.
Obama and congressional Republicans made no progress last week in heading off $85 billion in budget-wide cuts that automatically start taking effect March 1. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
A trip back through the full context of this saga tells the story. The idea of having these deep budget cuts called “sequestration” goes back to the summer of 2011 and the debt-ceiling negotiations. You’ll recall readily enough that it was first time in history that an opposition party had attempted to attach any conditions to increasing the debt limit. You’ll also recall that the Republicans made this intention quite clear from the beginning of 2011; indeed, from campaign time the year before. Remember Obama’s quotes from late 2010 in which he said he felt sure the Republicans would behave more reasonably once the responsibility to govern was partly theirs?
Instead, they almost crashed the economy. And they were also clearly the side pushing for drastic spending cuts. Let’s go back quickly over a partial 2011 timeline. In April, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said it was the president’s position that raising the debt limit “shouldn’t be held hostage to any other action.” On May 11, Austan Goolsbee, then Obama’s chief economic adviser, said that tying a debt-limit increase to spending cuts was “quite insane.”
Imagining how President Romney would have handled the fiscal negotiations is a revealing thought experiment—because it shows just how unreasonable the current GOP position is, says Michael Tomasky.
One of the enduring mysteries of the contemporary Republican Party is whether they really believe all this gibberish that oozes out of their mouths. I suppose it will vary from issue to issue. On guns, I’d guess that many do genuinely believe that liberals basically want a gun-free America, so at least they’re more or less sincere on that one. On climate change, I think Jim Inhofe fervently believes it’s all bunk, and most of the rest of them don’t care but just figure they’ll follow his lead. But what about the broad economic questions? Here, I’ve come to conclude that somewhere way down there, they mostly know their theories haven’t worked, but they’re not anywhere near being able to acknowledge this to the rest of us. And tragically, this fact, combined with the fact of their unfortunate political power on Capitol Hill, means—in general, and with respect to this sequester battle in particular—that we’re going to have to live through more economic anguish waiting for these puerile people to join the real world.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a Super Tuesday event at the Westin Copley Place March 6, 2012, in Boston. (Win McNamee/Getty)
About 10 days ago, I wrote that it was starting to smell like the Republicans actually wanted the sequester cuts to kick in. Then the other day, John Boehner revealed the new House GOP position on the sequester. The Hill reported and Greg Sargent seized on this quote: “I’ll tell you the same thing I told my Republican colleagues at our retreat. The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”
What he’s saying is that we must balance the budget within 10 years using cuts only. As Sargent points out, that would require cuts totaling one sixth to one third of government. Now this may be the Tea Party’s dream in theory, but nothing like this will ever happen in a million years. A government that starts closing regional airports in small towns, shuttering Department of Energy and Veterans Affairs facilities all over the country, and many kindred activities, well, believe me, that’s a government that will somehow find the funding for those facilities in a hurry and reopen them. Putting aside all questions of what’s right and wrong and considering only questions of political feasibility, the Boehner position is completely from another universe, and and his fellow Republicans surely know that such closings would have deeply harmful economic impacts across the country.
Astute piece from Jonathan Mahler at Bloomberg View today on why football is not likely to go the way of boxing. The latter sport hasn't withered away, he writes, because of public revulsion at the violent nature of it. Rather, it's been simply because of lack of television exposure:
Boxing once relied heavily on prime-time Olympic exposure to introduce its future stars to the U.S. sports-viewing public. We first met Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay -- the slender, charismatic 18-year-old light-heavyweight gold medalist in 1960 in Rome. Boxing was the highest-rated Olympic sport of the 1976 summer games in Montreal, which featured Sugar Ray Leonard as well as Michael and Leon Spinks. Just 16 years later, in Barcelona, Olympic boxing made its final prime-time appearance on U.S. broadcast television.
In the intervening period, the networks basically abandoned the sport. This happened partly because an aggressive Home Box Office executive named Seth Abraham spent a lot of money systematically luring the big fights away from the networks.
Abraham figured out, correctly, that fight fans would pay $40 and $50 to see big-time bouts on HBO, so it became a niche spectator sport. This all started before Abraham came along. I remember well for the first Ali-Frazier fight in 1971, Dad took me and Steve Szapanos down to the Fairmont Armory to see it on a huge screen in closed-circuirt telecast. I was for Ali, Stevie for Frazier. God the smoke in that place.
Perhaps you've followed this week's little dust-up between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and The New York Times, whose reviewer drove a Tesla Model S from Washington DC to Connecticut and had a pretty lousy time of it and wrote a scathing review. Musk challenged its accuracy, and the Times' public editor is looking into it.
Even assuming the Times is correct and Tesla isn't ready for a long road trip, time is on the side of electric plug-in vehicles, and this is one area where the government, which is to say the Obama administration, is doing exactly the right thing and playing a terrific role. Michael Grunwald documented all this in his book The New New Deal, which I've mentioned to you before.
There was no domestic electric car-battery industry or market before 2009 because the private sector wasn't interested in making them, in turn because consumers weren't interested in buying such cars. So it might have continued forever, or for several more years anyway, if the...wait for it...stimulus bill (!) hadn't included $2.4 billion to create a domestic car-battery industry.
Today, there are nearly 100,000 plug-ins on the road. Nearly every major carmaker is building one. Sales have been sluggish, true. It takes people a while to change their habits. My wife was talking up a Volt a while ago. Even I felt...unready. A hybrid, I'm all for. My next car will definitely be either a Sonata or Camry or Fusion hybrid, or maybe a comparable sedan if another appears here in the DC market, and I hope this year. The plug-ins still feel a little in need of working out the kinks. Plus they're really expensive, even with the tax credit.
In the comment thread the other day on universal pre-K, InLightened (one of our conservatives in case you don't know) alluded to the report from last year about Head Start's failures. I'd missed that in real time I admit, so I went back and read it, or read through it. You can do the same; here it is.
It's pretty terrible, there's no denying it. Basically, the researchers found that Head Start worked fairly well, emphasis on fairly, for the time that little children were in it, and maybe a year afterward. But by the third grade and in many cases by the first grade there were no appreciable differences between the Head Start kids and the control group kids in terms of social and emotional development, in terms of health and well-being, in terms of learning development. No difference.
Here's a paper that's less pessimistic without being pollyannish and optimistic. But it's hard to deny it. Taxpayers spend $8 billion a year on this program, and we aren't getting our money's worth. You can read the links for the social-sciencey explanations. I would suspect that a good part of the explanation just lies in the simple fact that some people are really good at their jobs and other people are really lousy at their jobs.
The people who follow these things closely, for example, always talk about the problem of "scaling up." That is, there's a terrifically successful program in some county or city somewhere, and then people try to take it to the state or national level and results are mixed. And they ask: Why? Well, common sense suggests to me that at that local level, you probably had a great and energetic leader, and you just can't have one of those everywhere.
Okay, I'm not going to get in high moral dudgeon about this. The Democrats did do it to John Bolton, and they succeeded in blocking him. And I supported blocking Bolton, so it would be hypocritical of me to be outraged today. In retrospect, I might have been wrong about that. A president should probably have his head on cabinet (and near-cabinet) positions, unless we find out something really terrible about the person.
One could argue that Bolton's gig was not on the same level, although technically, that wasn't a cabinet post (as Republicans see things) and isn't nearly as important as Defense Secretary. You can go for a while without a UN ambassador, but a SecDef is a pretty necessary human being. There's a meeting of Western defense ministers in Brussels next week, and of course there are the sequestration cuts to manage, if they take effect on March 1. One can argue all that, but still one can't deny that the Bolton case is precedential here (izzat a word?).
I don't actually care very much whether Chuck Hagel becomes defense secretary. The only utility to a Democratic president of having a Republican SecDef is that Republicans will cut the guy some slack and not pester him the way they might go after a Democrat. Hagel obviously will not fulfill that purpose, so I'm not sure what good Hagel is to Obama anyway. He's more trouble than he's worth. Hagel ought to think about withdrawing his name. I'd rather see a Democrat running the shop anyway. The only problem with Hagel withdrawing is that it escalates this craziness.
What I do care about is the anti-Arab racist crap that is floating around. So Hagel spoke to Jim Zogby's group. Jim Zogby's group is always called "controversial," but it's "controversial" chiefly because journalists who are either pro-Israel ideologues or idiots who don't know any better put the adjective "controversial" in front of it. And then there's this odious business that Dave Weigel exposed about the "pro-Hagel" group Friends of Hamas, which doesn't actually exist.
Obama’s agenda isn’t necessarily about the next four years. By Michael Tomasky.
There’s an old joke in the politics world about mayors and governors who’d never approve a highway project that might take more than three years out of mortal fear that they might not be around to don the sash and cut the ribbon. Whatever problems Barack Obama has, he doesn’t have that one. A lot of commentators are amusing themselves by pointing out that very few of Obama’s long list of State of the Union goals are likely to make it into law while he’s in office. I say that seeing as how he’s a pretty smart man, he knows this. But he’s doing it anyway. Because he’s thinking more about history than his story, and because he understands that if he wants to be a transformational president, the change he initiates is going to have to continue well past his time—and yes, the great presidents have all thought this way.
US President Barack Obama returns to Andrews Air Force Base Airport February 13, 2012 in Maryland. Obama traveled to Asheville to visit the Linamar factory to speak about his economic growth plan he spoke about in last night's State of the Union. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
The conventional wisdom is that the speech was a wish list, a Christmas list. I think that metaphor says more about the metaphorer than it does about Obama. If anyone understands the brutal reality of Capitol Hill, after what he went through those first four years, I’d reckon it’s Obama. My dear mother, a normally refined woman who nevertheless enjoyed a little earthy West Virginia humor, used to love the saying “wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled faster.” Obama has seen enough of the latter from the Republicans to know that the former is a waste of time.
What is not a waste of time, however, is using your pulpit as president of the United States to lay out a vision for the sort of society you would like to see America become. Barack Obama is going to retire in January 2017, but history isn’t likely to end then. Obama knows that fighting climate change and getting universal pre-school and doing something to help the working poor are big jobs, long jobs. They’re certainly not going to happen under the current legislative configuration, and they’re probably not going to happen while he’s in office.
Jon Chait has a smart read how Rubio got to the top of the GOP heap:
As recently as a few months ago, Paul Ryan — despite his nominal subordinate position to Mitt Romney on the Republican ticket — was the unassailable leader of the Republican Party. But Marco Rubio appears to have seized the mantle from Ryan. Or, at least, if Ryan is the party’s mind, Rubio is its face, the Bush to Ryan’s Cheney.
The party’s brief post-election period of questioning its direction has, for the time being, been settled in favor of what I call the Krauthammer plan. This strategy was laid out by the ubiquitous pundit in a column published a mere two days after the election. In it, Krauthammer audaciously declared that the party needed to take a dive on immigration reform, and otherwise change nothing else.
Correctomente. Chait goes on to say that Republicans seem to think that if immigration reform does pass, it will somehow be Rubio's great victory, and not Obama's. This of course is exactly what they will try to say, and places like Politico will sort of buy it. Certainly, if immigation reform does pass, he overtakes Ryan and all the others as the front runner for 2016. But the idea that it will be his baby, when he opposed a path to citizenship until a few weeks ago, is absurd, and most Americans will know that.
As usual, when it comes to the rankings of OECD countries, on pre-school, the United States is down toward the bottom of the barrel, down there near Greece and Turkey. The average across the OECD countries in 2008 was to have 77 percent of three to five-year-olds enrolled in pre-school. The US figure looks to be about 58 percent. So it's just another one of those obvious good things that we're not going to be allowed to do in this country because of our ridiculous right wing.
But even so, it'll presumably happen someday or another, and there are going to be one hell of a lot of Barack H. Obama Pre-School facilities around this country when that day comes, believe you me. And Obama is going to put forth a specifical proposal. What will it look like?
Jon Cohn of TNR is on the spot with this one. Here's what he wrote just hours ago:
...the plan will probably resemble a recent proposal from the Center for American Progress.
Let me just put it this way. I follow a number of conservative pundits on my Twitter feed, and while Marco Rubio was talking, I sure didn't notice them lighting up the switchboard, as it were. At point Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted: "Rubio is doing well I think but why does he keep touching his face?"
A bigger question about his physical actions would, of course, present itself in short order. That was the most ill-advised drink of liquid since Socrates took hemlock. It will dominate commentary and late-night, and it deserves to. Just bush league. And the way he kept nervously looking at the camera...
Otherwise he wasn't bad. It wasn't a failure. And I don't think he's a complete lightweight. He gave a good speech at the GOP convention. But he didn't succeed last night at all. Two reasons.
First, Quixote-like, he kept tilting at the right-wing caricature of Obama that only right-wingers buy into. I doubt very strongly at this point that most Americans will just sit there listening to how Barack Obama opposes the free enterprise system and think that it makes sense to them. No. It doesn't. The R's could sell middle Americans on that idea when the memory of the stimulus was fresh, and when the jobless rate was 9 percent. But with things getting better, that's a story that only conservatives believe. They make the error of continuting to believe that others believe it.
My quick take: A very strong speech, better that most, an A-. The writing was prose, except for the "they deserve a vote flourish at the end," which was powerful, but the structure was very effective. I really liked the way he opened by diving right into the sequester (as I suggested!). The words weren't exactly the ones I'd have chosen, but it was good that he said--early, when everyone was still watching--that the Republicans are going to be the ones to blame if these cuts kick in.
The general economic program was strong. The innovation and science, the education, the energy, the immigration pitch, the big long section on climate change; all good stuff. Raising the minimum wage, and indexing it, were terrific to hear. Personally I don't think $9 an hour is enough, and I'm sure he'll settle for even less if he can get indexing, but that would be huge. Also, universal pre-K is a big, big deal. That has very broad support. Republican governors like it. It's a good thing to be associated with.
The foreign policy section, a little less successful. The conlaw prof understood that he'd better say he understands that drones are problematic. He said he'll listen more to Congress and consult more with them on this going forward; will be interesting to see exactly what that means.
Then, the ending. The right to vote, and guns. Very powerful stuff. And the Republicans looked like idiots, frankly, sitting there not applauding for that poor 102-year-old woman who waited six hours to vote, not applauding victims of gun violence. They whine that Obama says they're heartless? Can't they understand that that's how they look?
I read through your comments on my challenge about the South yesterday. Interesting. Not bad. Not overwhelmingly persuasive.
From mngeller: the Constitution, and the 16th and 17th amendments (the income tax; direction election of senators).
Constitution--okay, Madison took the lead, but really: Yes, the Constitution was a miraculous document, except for the problematic matter of its endorsement of slavery. All these PBS shows and things celebrating the genius of the Constitution, well, yes, but there's a pretty large BUT there, and we all know why it was in there.
16th Amendment--there's a little something to this one. Apparently the income tax was seen as a substitute for tariffs, which of course the South opposed. So lo and behold the South was pro income-tax. Kind of amazing but true. In any it ought to be noted that the tax was pushed by a president from Ohio, Taft, and by senators from Nebraska and Rhode Island, although it's true as mngeller writes that the first states to pass the amendment were southern ones.
The Washington Post did a clever thing with its latest poll. They asked people whether they support or oppose proposal X in general terms. Then they let respondents know Obama's position and asked them again. Someone earned his paycheck this week.
Most of the results aren't that surprising with one exception. In general, Democrats are likely to be somewhat more supportive of tihngs when Obama's name is attached, Republicans somewhat less so. Independents show greater variance. They become 9 percent less likely to back a path to citizenship, going from 70 to 61 percent, and 15 percent more likely to support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, up to 84 percent. Still, no big flips from overall support to overall opposition on anything.
Except for Republicans on path to citizenship. Without Obama, it has 60 percent support--a quite surprising number. With Obama, it's 39 percent.
That's obviously all about racial anxiety. The blacks and the browns are teaming up on us. The only question is whether that 60 percent finding is real to begin with. I think it's a little dubious, but it's the number. It's like those cases where conservatives approve of "our" blacks and Latinos with an especial zeal. In any case, I'm sure the phenomenon this poll describes was true with Bush in reverse, but I doubt to tune of 21 points.
Obama needs to expose the GOP’s fiscal dishonesty in his State of the Union, says Michael Tomasky.
Barack Obama has a lot of work to do in tonight’s State of the Union address. He has to go over the heads of recalcitrant Republicans and cowardly Democrats and make a case to the American people on his gun-control measures. He has to do something similar, although it’s not quite as high a hurdle, on immigration reform. He has to make the cases for his defense and intelligence nominees. And more. But job No. 1 seems pretty clear to me: frame the debate about the sequester and the budget. The GOP strategy on this actually stands a chance of fooling a considerable portion of the American public, unless Obama uses tonight’s stage to expose its dishonesty and paint the GOP into a corner with specifics.
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
The cuts are scheduled to happen, as I’m sure you know, on March 1. Reductions in the amount of $1.2 trillion over the next decade—$500 billion to Defense and $700 billion to domestic programs—would start kicking in on that day. The cuts will be paced as if to play out over a decade, but even so, they’re deep. There will be furloughs, maybe some layoffs, some programs discontinued or put on hiatus.
The Republicans’ position right now is to let this happen, or at least to act like they’re completely ready to let this happen. Charles Krauthammer laid out the strategy last Friday in his Washington Post column. The Republicans, he wrote, should do nothing. That is, Obama has been calling on the GOP to come to the bargaining table and agree on a package of cuts and revenues to substitute for the sequester. The Republicans, he advises, should say no thanks; we’re definitely not giving you any new tax revenue, and if you can’t come up with a set of cuts to replace the sequestration cuts, then we’ll just sit on our hands and let the sequestration cuts kick in, and people will blame you (Obama) because you keep insisting on raising taxes.
Don't have an hour to watch President Obama pontificate on the future of national security? No worries! Watch the key moments from his speech in less than 250 seconds.
What’s so bad about the IRS investigating nonprofit applications?