The more the president drives a wedge between the GOP and its traditional backers, the better for him and for his party down the road.
So the president came out yesterday with another economic proposal that isn’t going anywhere. I don’t mean to sound snarky. Some people are snarking about it, or lamenting it anyway. But I see it differently. At this point it goes without saying that anything Obama proposes is DOA. So he can’t get that done. But he can get something else done: Pry the nutso GOP away from its traditional constituencies one by one, so that all they’re left with is the Tea Party lunatic fringe. It’s the only play Obama really has at this point, and while it might not pay dividends for him, it will help the Democrats running in the midterm elections, the next president, and the country over the long term.
President Obama speaks at an Amazon.com distribution center on July 30, touting his private-sector job-growth plan. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Yesterday’s proposal was as follows: Obama offered to lower the corporate tax rate to 28 percent (from the current 35 percent) in exchange for some infrastructure investments. Republicans have been clamoring for a lower corporate rate since forever. Even many Democrats support this—the U.S. corporate rate is among the developed world’s highest, and the idea that the rate should be lowered in exchange for closing some capacious corporate loopholes has long been an idea that a lot of Democrats are fine with. But fundamentally, it should be something that gets Republicans’ juices flowing. They’re the party of corporate America, right?
And not only is this GOP-friendly. Even on the investment side, the proposal is geared toward projects that the Republican Party hasn’t shown utter contempt for in the past. As Jared Bernstein noted yesterday, the investment is directed almost wholly away from the public sector—no money for teachers, who to Republicans are just another group of bought-off Democratic voters. As Bernstein summarizes the package: “We’ve got a big drop in the corporate rate that doesn’t add to the deficit, for which the Republicans have only to swallow a paid-for jobs program in areas they’ve historically supported.”
What else are we to conclude from his interview with New York Daily News columnist Denis Hamill, published today? Nothing else. Check out these two questions and answers, which are for some odd reason buried within an avalanche of self-regarding pabulum:
Q. Is there yet another woman's shoe about to drop in this campaign?
A. I have no idea. These are people who I thought were friends, people I trusted when I communicated with them. But who knows what they might do now. But none of it is new. It's all old stuff. So I'll be in this race for at least the next 44 days. And I think I can win.
Q. There is no one you are sexting now?
I actually quit prefacing my Ralph Nader screeds with the obligatory he-gave-us-the-seatbelt boilerplate years ago. I think he stopped earning that encomium in about the summer of 2000. He's grown progressively loopier as a theorist of political change in the years since, and now he seems to have gone completely around the bend. From Joan Walsh:
Nader’s current crusade — for a third party powered by billionaires that would put up a presidential candidate for 2016, to save the country from both Democrats and Republicans — is so ludicrous, and so illuminating of his cracked theory of political change, that it bears a little discussion. In March he told C-SPAN’s Washington Journal that he was looking to recruit billionaires to run as third-party candidates for president. “There are some mega-billionaires who are seriously considering running third party. And the minute a mega-billionaire announces, like Ross Perot, they get enormous press, they get the polls and they are in play.”
There is something to be said for the idea that a billionaire can be unbought and unbossed. But what Nader seems to gloss over with this effort is that these self-financing billionaires are rarely populist in any left sense. The complaint is often made of Mayor Bloomberg, whom Nader invoked favorably in remarks this morning on Chuck Todd's show, that he has been an absolutely great mayor for the entrepreneurial class, but for the working classes, nothing special. There is no reason to think that that Nader's mythic billionaire would be any different.
In point of fact, he or she could be sort of right-wing, especially on economic issues. This is kind of the norm, innit, with these tech people who get great business press and could immediately attract the fond gazes of the chattering classes if they enter politics. They're socially liberal, but they damn well want to keep their money. Is that what Nader wants in a president these days? I guess this is what he says; that the influence of money on the two parties is so corrupting that it's more important just to get someone, practically anyone, in there who isn't in hock to the moneyed interests.
The president is at last sounding aggressive about progressive policies—namely, that to save the country, we need to save the middle class. It’s not rocket science, writes Michael Tomasky.
My favorite presidential sentence in quite some time was uttered over the weekend by Barack Obama, or whenever exactly he sat down and told The New York Times what it quoted him as saying Sunday: “I want to make sure that all of us in Washington are investing as much time, as much energy, as much debate on how we grow the economy and grow the middle class as we’ve spent over the last two to three years arguing about how we reduce the deficits.”
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about the economy on July 25 at the Jacksonville Port Authority in Jacksonville, Florida. (John Raoux/AP)
Now of course that’s not going to happen, not with this Congress. But if Obama keeps up with the aggressive progressive posture on the economy that he debuted last week, he can start to reframe the way we’ve talked about economic issues, like austerity and inequality, for the past 30 years.
For a long time, President Obama was throwing plenty of his own chips into the austerity pot. Liberal economists (Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, Dean Baker) and liberal economics writers (Bob Kuttner, notably) were irate. I was a little more sympathetic to the political realities—contra my friend Kuttner, I never thought, for example, that there was a “Rooseveltian moment” in the wake of the 2008 crash. Indeed the vicious irony of the crash, and the resultant havoc, was that it was exactly large enough to piss off the top 5 percent (who lost large amounts of wealth) but not large enough to piss off the top 40 percent (most of whom, even with the high jobless rates of 2010, did keep their jobs and held on through the storm). Structurally speaking, this is why we got the revolution—the counter-revolution—we got, in the form of the Tea Party. If we’d had 24 percent unemployment in 2009, as FDR did in 1933, Obama would have had a much freer hand to attempt more radical experimentation.
If you haven’t seen the video by Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat who is challenging Mitch McConnell, please give it a gander as soon as you can. It is amazingly good. Smart. It’s really smart on several levels. The smart money in July 2013 says she’ll make a nice run but in the end Mitch will outmuscle her and win by seven or so points. But I see intelligence in this video that suggests that just maybe in this case, the smart money won’t be so smart.
She opens sitting at the dining room table where she evidently sat for an apparently memorable ad with her two grandmothers when she ran for secretary of state in 2012. This ad was unknown to me, obviously (it is shown within this new video), but I presume it will have been known to Kentuckians. The two old ladies are feisty and charming in a way that feels natural and unrehearsed; they're like the two ladies who always have audiences gathered around them slapping their knees down at the V.F.W. pancake breakfast.
In the old, 2012 ad, they’re both sitting in front of laptops. Excellent touch. Something in there for young people to relate to. And one of them is at a PC, the other a Mac! Somebody was thinking about that one.
Now we come back to the present. The Mac grandma is gone. She died, the candidate says, shortly after filming the commercial, at 92. On paper, this sounds sappy, because right now in your mind you are making assumptions about how this was filmed and the words she speaks that you know from every other political ad like this you’ve seen. But this one has a different quality. The words aren’t as lachrymose, the background music not as syrupy. There is still an air here of getting down to business.
A small but significant step forward for the coming GOP civil war over foreign policy: Yesterday, Chris Christie lit into "this strain of libertarianism" in his party as a "very dangerous thought." Of course, he invoked 9-11, saying he wanted people who talk like to come to New Jersey and sit down with the widows and children and tell them to their faces that we don't need the national security state, etc.
Christie was always the logical choice to be the candidate favored by the boom-boom caucus. Assuming he runs, he and Paul will engage in a massive showdown over this. The fashionable thing to say right now is that the GOP has become a libertarian party on these questions and will tilt toward Paul. But is that really true? I don't think so. I bet if someone polled rock-ribbed conservatives, the neocon point of view would still defeat the libertarian one by at least 60-40.
But then it depends on whether these issues even matter much in 2016, right? If nothing too concerning happens on the foreign-policy front, the issues will remain pretty abstract, in which case Paul can (in the minds of conservative voters) pass the gravitas test. So Christie will be in the position of needing people to be more worried about terrorism than they are now.
Finally, in his remarks, Christie again displayed the quality that seems to me most likely to do him in. He praised Obama: “I want to say that I think both the way President Bush conducted himself and the way President Obama has conducted himself in the main on those types of decisions hasn’t been different because they were right and because we haven’t had another one of those attacks that cost thousands and thousands of lives."
The comparisons between Weiner and Clinton are absurd. One’s a loser, the other a great historical figure. And don’t get me started on Huma. By Michael Tomasky
Here’s a piece of adulterated nonsense about the Anthony Weiner situation that needs nipping in the bud and quick: that this is somehow “like” the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal. I hate a number of things about my chosen profession, but as I slouch toward my third decade of doing this, I’ve come to hate nothing more than glib, facile, reflexive, and just ignorant comparisons. Clinton and Weiner: two powerful men caught up in sex scandals. They must be alike! Please. The differences between the men and the circumstances are legion, and the blurring of those differences, aside from just making our culture that much stupider, do a profound disservice to what was at stake back in 1998.
Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives a note from her aide Huma Abedin as she testifies on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/Getty)
Those differences begin with the personal. Say what you will about what Clinton did. It was bad, and he should not have been doing it with her. But at least the behavior fell broadly within the realm of stuff that normal human beings do. And at least he didn’t do it again within less than a year of being caught. About Weiner, on the other hand, we can make neither of those claims. If I were a woman, or gay, I’m pretty clear on which one of the two I’d rather be on the receiving end of advances from.
But that’s a side point. The real differences are political, and the essential fact is this: Clinton had a presidency to protect. Yes, yes, he almost threw it away; granted and stipulated. But whomever you choose to blame, the fact is that he was the sitting president, and there was no way—no way—he could possibly let the right wing set the precedent of forcing a president from office over a sex scandal that, it is well to recall, a quite large majority of Americans never considered grounds for removal from office.
I'm going to be writing a column later today for posting tomorrow morning giving some of my fuller thoughts on this Weiner situation, but I'll just say now that it ought to be obvious that this man has no business being mayor of my dear Morgantown, let alone New York. The man really has no shame. And it would seem that his oft-pitied spouse--who according to what Weiner said yesterday knew all about this new woman before they decided he deserved to be the mayor--doesn't have much either.
What happened to shame? Bill Bennett wrote that liberal humanism destroyed shame. Then, Bennett proved that he himself was a pretty good liberal humanist, having the gall to lecture the rest of us about our morals while he was losing tens of thousands of dollars at crap tables.
I say the market is the chief culprit. In a nutshell, you can get rich and famous by being outrageous. Some people want wealth and fame so much that they'll endure these rituals of public humiliation, knowing that they'll pass and they'll get book or television deals on one of these many absurd cable channels that make a business of recycling publicity whores. Who can doubt that if Weiner does quite the race or lose it, we'll have an Anthony and Huma reality show within six months?
If I'd read my post-modern philosophy more recently and more thoroughly, I'm sure I'd have at hand the apposite cutting quote from Baudrillard or one of those guys about all this. But I don't, so I'll just have to. say it more prosaically. It's a real sickness in our culture, that people become famous for doing appalling things. I'm on the train right now, up to NY, and I'll be on Alex Wagner's show at noon, for those of you interested.
The speaker says Republicans should be judged on how many laws they repeal. This is unprecedented, irresponsible, and terrifying. Michael Tomasky on the desperate need for thinking GOP leaders.
It would be impossible to name the craziest thing said by a Republican so far this year. This year? This week.
House Speaker John Boehner holds a news conference on Capitol Hill on July 11, during which he talked about immigration reform, student loans, and Obamacare. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
New entrants arrive constantly and the competition is feral. And yet paradoxically they don’t even shock anymore. But one recent Republican remark should arrest you and deserves your contemplation: John Boehner’s statement on Face the Nation Sunday that he and his House Republicans “ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”
It’s not an outrageous statement in the Obama-wants-to-impose-Sharia vein, but in its way it’s more disturbing. The Republican Party now sees dysfunction as not just an unfortunate consequence of a set of historical factors, something that they might work every now and again to correct. Now, the Republican Party sees dysfunction as its mission.
Mara Liasson had a report on NPR this morning about next year's Senate elections (can't find a link). She definitely makes it sound as if the R's are in a great position to take control of the Senate.
Here's the skinny. Democrats now have a 54-46 advantage. Democrats are retiring in three states—West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana—where the Republicans seem poised to pick up. Those three would get them almost there, and they're pretty much givens (possible exception is Montana, depending on who runs).
The other best chances for Republican pick-ups are four red states where incumbent Democrats are fighting to keep their seats: Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Alaska (Mark Begich), and North Carolina (Kay Hagan). If the R's pick off two of those, which can certainly happen, they get to 51.
But that's provided they don't lose any seats. The math there just changed yesterday in Georgia, where Sam Nunn's daughter Michelle just declared to run as a Democrat. The leading R's are way out there. If Nunn can win, that's a bit of a firewall. Then there's Kentucky. A McConnell loss has to be considered a longshot at this point, but at the very least it's going to be a high-profile race against an incumbent who isn't exactly adored.
If 2016 pits Clinton against Cruz, the Democrats will carry Georgia, writes Michael Tomasky.
So Ted Cruz is off to the races. Don’t know if you caught his This Week segment yesterday, but he was (a) in Iowa, and (b), insisting that he’s not thinking about 2016, the combination of which is a sure-fire sign that he’s in (it was for a guy named Obama in 2006). And what do we make of this? Seven months in the Senate! That’s less than Obama by two full years at a similar point. It seems preposterous and impossible, but in today’s Republican Party nothing is preposterous or impossible. He will run. He could win the nomination. But could he actually win the presidency? The real question is how far out there the GOP is prepared to go before it faces up to reality and comes back to the planet the rest of us inhabit. And the answer to that question, I think, is pretty damn far, far enough for it to benefit Cruz even as it kills the GOP.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) waiting to speak at a fundraising picnic for the Iowa Republican Party on July 19, 2013, in Des Moines. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Let’s start by acknowledging that Cruz isn’t a yahoo. He takes the wildest yahoo positions arguably of any prominent politician in America, although of course the competition for that distinction is increasingly fierce. I mean, he is way out there. The right 30-second attack ads could just shred him to bits. Plus, smooth-tongued though he is, he’s bound to say crazy things on the campaign trail, about women, gays, undocumented immigrants, what have you. He practically makes Paul Ryan look like Paul Wellstone.
But in spite of that, he is at the same time something of an intellectual. He’s Harvard Law. He has argued before the Supreme Court. He is widely read. He can quote Rawls, they tell me (John, not Lou). He’s no Dubya and is not to be misunderestimated.
There was nothing to be gained politically by Obama making those remarks today. In fact there was, and is, a lot to be lost politically, and the hate machine is starting already (although I am watching Fox right now, and they're only revved up to about third gear; just wait til prime time!). Obama is being accused by the usual suspects of making this racial. Anyone who thinks it wasn't racial, as I wrote the other day, is in fantasy land. So I give him credit for doing something risky that isn't going to have any immediate payoff.
That said, I would say that while I think he struck generally the right tone, he could have said more to show that he saw the question--not about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but the larger questions of race and crime and criminal justice--from its many different sides. The first half of his 20-or-so minute impromptu speech was him explaining to white America how black America felt about the verdict. That's fine. He's black, after all. When he noted that he had experienced himself some of those things white people do when a young black man comes near them, and when he said that 35 years ago that could have happened to him, it was pretty powerful and rang true.
He did make sure to acknowledge that young black men are more often perpetrators of crime, and he did say that that history of prejudice that informs how African Americans see things like the Zimmerman verdict don't excuse crime. But I have to say, as one who urged him to make remarks along these lines and who still thinks it was good of him to try to do this, I felt he didn't really talk with the same feeling to black people about how others (not racists, but just other Americans of all colors, because we come in many colors now) see these questions.
A case in point. Toward the end, on his last point about about we all need to do some soul-searching, he said we need to ask ourselves, "Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?" There, the sentiment would have been improved by him saying right after that: "And by the way, I mean that to apply to African Americans as much as to anyone else; no one is completely clean here." Just a little signal like that would have said to the broader audience that this wasn't intended as a lecture. A few more tough words for his side were, I think, in order, and loathe as I am to give some wingnut the license to write "even Tomasky says..," if I'm being honest, I have to say that I felt it came off a little bit lecture-y.
After calling ‘bullshit’ on McConnell, Bob Corker said he was ‘glad that that occurred.’ Michael Tomasky on the minority leader’s restless caucus.
This has been a really important week in the United States Senate, as important a week as we’ve seen there in a long, long time. No, not because Harry Reid out-pokered Mitch McConnell on the filibuster fight. No, not because President Obama finally got some long-scuttled nominees approved on bipartisan votes. No, not because John McCain decided to become, for a while at least, the mavericky McCain of the 1990s and early 2000s. And no, not even because of the bipartisan (did I really use that word twice, to describe the Senate?) deal to keep student-loan rates low, on which they’ll vote next week. Rather, it was a really important week because of the upshot of all those things, or the reason they all happened: this is the week that Mitch McConnell lost his iron grip on the Senate Republican caucus.
Mitch McConnell is losing influence. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
That McConnell has had that grip is beyond question, I trust you’d agree. When people like Olympia Snowe (now retired) and Lisa Murkowski (effectively thrown out of the party by Alaska’s voters) vote no on virtually everything, as they did for the duration of Obama’s term, when major items on the president’s agenda (jobs bill, infrastructure banks, etc.) can’t even get a hearing, let alone a vote ... well, it’s not entirely provable, but Senate watchers all know there is only one reason for that: the opposition party’s leadership is basically telling senators, “You vote for X, and I can’t protect you if someone decides to primary you.” That’s a McConnell deal straight up and down.
There were a few, very few, exceptions on high-profile votes. Four Republicans actually voted for the Dodd-Frank bill. There was the fiscal-cliff vote, when, in the late innings, even Fox News hosts were warning Republicans about the polls showing clearly that Republicans would shoulder the bulk of the blame if the government went over the cliff. Even McConnell voted for that one.
This, as some of you know, is one of my pet issues. There are moderate Republicans in this country. Or even if maybe not very many of those anymore, then at least there are conservative Republicans in the Reagan mold who aren't full of social rage and aren't hell-bent on destroying Democrats and would welcome seeing Washington work better and seeing the two parties get something done once in a while. There are millions of such.
The problem is they have little to no voice on Capitol Hill, and no pressure-group vehicle through which to make their views and collective power known. So consequently, the hardened assemblage that is Capitol Hill Republicans listens only to the most extreme people back home, the ones who make the most noise, threaten primaries, and all that.
This, my friend Greg Sargent, is in my view the answer to the question you pose. Sargent writes up a new poll showing that 60 percent of Republicans support either the Senate bill as is or the Senate bill with toughter border security. Sargent writes:
It’s been widely accepted at face value that House Republicans can’t support comprehensive immigration reform because they will face a massive backlash from their voters and even will face primaries and all but certain political destruction. (Buzzfeed’s John Stanton has been one of the view to challenge this conventional wisdom.) But is it even true? The above poll suggests a solid majority of Republicans want action on reform, even including citizenship under certain conditions. and that only a minority of Republicans support reform without citizenship or no action at all.
When Hillary Clinton was first considering running for Senate, Harold Ickes once told me, the first thing he said to her was something like this. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you really want that job. It's a hard job. Nonstop fundraising. Back and forth between Washington and New York on that shuttle all the time. Weekends up in Watertown and Oneonta listening to people bitch about their SSI payments. Being one of 100, very, very difficult to pass signature legislation. Yes, it's glamorous in some ways. But it's a slog.
Wise words, equally applicable in the Liz Cheney case. Why would she want to be a senator? She has enough standing in the GOP that she could already, conceivably, be someone's vice-presidential pick. She nails down the neocons for any candidate, and that could be important because none of the leading candidates right now is much of a neocon.
I don't know the woman. But I think Matt Duss at the Prospect has it correct here:
Cheney’s run can be seen as another escalation in the ongoing battle for control of Republican foreign policy. In a 2010 piece for the Nation, I looked at the developing alliance between the Cheneys and the neoconservative network led by The Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. Their goal, I wrote, was “to resuscitate the neocons' post-September 11 vision of a world in which the United States, unbound by rules or reality, imposes its will on friend and enemy alike.” The key instrument of that effort was Keep America Safe, a 501c4 organization (now shut down, its website and Twitter feed have disappeared) whose main function was to keep America scared with wild stories of the terrorists that Obama couldn’t wait to release into your neighborhood.
From 'principled fiscal conservative protest' to 'Obama derangement syndrome:' John Avlon talks to CNN's Carol Costello on the fifth anniversary of the Tea Party.
For all the urgency in the 2012 post-mortem’s directive to reach out to minority voters, the GOP’s vanguard still isn’t offering them anything new—not that anyone’s listening anyway.