I wrote this column for the new Newsweek on the Scotus decision last week to hear the McCutcheon case, which gives them a chance to invalidate Buckley v. Valeo contribution limits. For some reason pieces written for Newsweek don't always land on this blog, so for those of you who still visit me the old-fashioned way I wanted to make sure you saw it.
Why do [contribution] limits exist? Here we go back 37 years to Buckley v. Valeo, the seminal Supreme Court decision in this area. Even if you follow this stuff only casually, you probably know that candidates and parties can spend as much as they want; that “spending is speech,” as it’s sometimes said in the trade. That was from Buckley. But Buckley also upheld limits on how much any single individual could contribute to a candidate on the grounds that excessive contributions from one person could lead to “corruption or its appearance.”
Lots of chatter about Ted Cruz, the new senator from Texas. Steve Kornacki in Salon:
So it goes for Cruz, the freshman Texas senator who in his first two months on the job has baselessly asserted that Chuck Hagel might have received money from the North Korean government, reiterated his belief that there were 12 Communists on Harvard Law School’s faculty when he was a student there, and delighted in playing the role of ideological purist, even – or especially – if it puts him at odds with fellow Republicans.
The Hagel attacks have drawn cries of McCarthyism from the left, a torrent of negative media coverage, and earned Cruz a public rebuke from John McCain. But none of this has bothered Cruz, and for good reason: His standing within the conservative movement is only growing.
And here's Greg Sargent:
There must be some systemic reason no one can host the Oscars successfully anymore. I think there's way too much silly media anticipation these days, which makes the job kind of impossible, which is not intended as any kind of excuse for Seth McFarlane, whose opening routine was just shockingly terrible.
Risque material can rise above being offensive as long as it's funny. Ted was funny for about 40 minutes, and after that it was just in relentlessly terrible taste. Well, I turned it off, I confess, after Ted's job interview at the grocery store, so I can't honestly say what the rest was like, but that one line was way out there. Nominally offensive material is funny as long as there's some wit involved. Where there's no wit, the c-word isn't funny, it's just in poor taste. Although speaking of which, I do think last night's "rhyme" of "Helen Hunt" and "adorable" was quite funny. That was witty, as it made the viewer stop and connect the dots.
The other problem is trying to package teenage humor in post-modern wrapping: See, we're not really making jokes in terrible taste, we're making jokes about making jokes about terrible taste. That was funny 15 or 20 years ago when pop culture first embraced irony, but it's old now. The "boobs" thing failed along these lines.
I think what they ought to do is start now and spend the next year building an animatronic Bob Hope. That would be genuinely funny, a fake Bob Hope, cracking the old jokes ("Welcome to the Oscars, or, as we call it at my house, Passover") and some new ones. Take it away, Disney.
Conservative pundits’ ideas about fixing the GOP are totally meaningless, says Michael Tomasky, until they deal with the problem of their party’s rage-driven fanaticism.
Conservative pundits and intellectuals have spent the past week or two—ever since the publication in Commentary magazine of Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson’s “How to Save the Republican Party”—talking about, well, how to save the Republican Party. They have lots of ideas—some good, some not so good, most very sober-minded policy prescriptions. I wrote a short blog post about this on Thursday. But then I reflected: This topic needs a longer treatment. The party they purport to support and care about has been engaged in burning down the house of American politics for three or four years now, and they are saying nothing about it; and until they say something about it, everything else they say is close to meaningless.
This past week, Lindsey Graham in essence demanded that cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel disprove rumors against him. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post, via Getty (FILE))
As I’ve written many times, the conventional view of what’s wrong with the GOP gets at only a portion of the truth. When The New York Times or Politico does such a story, the story inevitably focuses on policy positions. Immigration. Same-sex marriage. Climate change. Tinker with these positions, several sages are quoted as saying, and the GOP will be back in the game.
God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical—a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country. There’s a symbiosis of malevolence between the extreme parts of the GOP base and Washington lawmakers, and it is destroying the Republican Party. That’s fine with me, although I am constantly mystified as to why it’s all right with the people I’m talking about. But it’s also destroying the country and our democratic institutions and processes, which is not fine with me.
The Times has a front-pager today on Scott and other big-state GOP governors (in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, etc.) accepting Obamacare and agreeing to cover people with Medicaid funds. Jon Chait had a great take on Scott himself yesterday, under a provocative headline asserting that Scott had just dealt the death-blow to Obamacare repeal.
This is because Scott is the governor of a huge state with loads of old people; because he called Obamacare an evil job-killer about fifty gajillion times; because he's a former health-care exec (albeit a badly sullied one) who could speak to all this with some presumed knowledge; and because he's a Tea Party guy, although perhaps not anymore.
Scott made the decision he made in part because it's the sensible one substantively--turning down nearly $3 billion in federal money because it's going to turn people into moochers is rather insane. But look! Here's another reason:
Scott's approval rating is just 33%, with 57% of voters disapproving of him. Scott's numbers had gradually improved over the course of 2012, but these numbers represent a regression from early November when he was at a 37/48 spread. Scott meets with near universal disapproval from Democrats (21/71) and independents (32/64) and is even on pretty shaky ground with Republicans (49/38).
So I just went to a Staples and bought an item worth $3.79. I was in a hurry, and I was thinking about something, Mitch McConnell or the fate of Medicare or the creator of Underdog or something, and I dashed out the store without paying. The item wasn't magnetized, you see. I got halfway across the street and realized: "Effin'ell, I didn't pay!" I wheeled around and went back in and paid.
The guy said to me, "You're an honest man." I said, "Well, yeah, I am." Self-satisfaction inflamed my breast. But then as I left I started thinking, well, how honest am I?
That is to say, what if I'd been three blocks away? Seven? Back in my car already? For four bucks? I cannot claim that I am absolutely ethical in this regard, I confess.
It seems there is an x axis of "distance from the store" and a y axis of "cost of item," and the line probably descends accordingly. If I'd had a $30 item, obviousy you make more effort. But I think for $2, I'd have just figured the gods owed me one that day. Thoughts, calculations?
Loads of stuff this week from conservative intellectuals on the future of the Republican Party. This all begins with the essay in Commentary by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson, which is pretty good and offers a five-point plan:
1. Care about the middle and working classes in economic terms.
2. Embrace immigrants.
3. Embrace the common good (hey, watch it, bubs!)
Rough days, reports Politico:
“He’s got a donor backlash and he’s got an activists backlash,” said one prominent Republican donor. Several people who cut big checks to Crossroads feel burned, this person said, adding some believe Rove is letting his group off too easy with his insistence that the problem last year was bad candidates.
“This idea that he’s the curator” of the Republican Party has taken a beating, said the donor. Further, the donor said — echoing sentiments made by others — the Times story about the Conservative Victory Project made both Crossroads and Rove a focus, as opposed to the process of picking candidates. And it set CVP up in direct opposition to another major conservative outside group, Club for Growth, that has been able to tout electoral successes.
Rove's power in the GOP has confused me since at least 2006. It was then that he infamously said to NPR's Robert Siegel: "You're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to THE math." Rove's math, of course, was proved horribly wrong on election day. I don't know why he was taken seriously after that.
The key finding from the new Pew poll that's whipping around the Twittersphere this morning is that 76 percent of respondents favor a balanced approach to bringing down the deficit. Only 19 percent back the Republican position of no taxes at all.
Now it is true that within the 76 percent, most favor a scheme that would have more cuts than revenue. This is fine. But the point is that three-quarters of the public supports a combined approach. So how can Boehner stand up there, and McConnell and all of them, and say they are representing the American people on this? They plainly are not. At 19 percent support, their position isn't even the position of all Republicans.
Conservatives are focusing on the question where 70 percent say action on the budget deficit is "essential this year." But I found that result a little misleading as respondents were given just four choices: deficit reduction, climate change, gun control, immigration reform. The opposite of deficit reduction is government investment to spur job growth. I'd guess deficit reduction would still win that, but I think it would be pretty close.
The poll also finds that people are more likely to blame Republicans for the sequester kicking in by 49 to 31 percent. Here's one number you won't hear many Republicans talking about: The number of respondents willing to call themselves Republicans is down to 22 percent. Democrats, 32 percent. You can browse through all the numbers here. The long and short of it is that Obama's positions range from popular to meh, but that no Republican position on any issue has the backing of a majority of the country--respondents want an assault weapons ban, for example, by 56 to 41 percent. Most GOP positions are backed only by...the dwindling percentage of Republicans.
Moving beyond the question of who is to blame for sequestration, the arguably more compelling question of the moment is, so what are we going to do about it right now? Congress' choice, leave town for the week, isn't exactly indicative of any seriousness on their part.
Maybe they'll negotiate next week, but there's nothing to negotiate about, really. This whole thing actually comes down to entitlments. Republicans want to force a situation where deep entitlement cuts are made, and Democrats want to resist that. John Boehner said as much, basically, in his weird WSJ op-ed yesterday, if you know how to read these things:
Washington must get serious about its spending problem. If it can't reform America's safety net and retirement-security programs, they will no longer be there for those who rely on them. Republicans' willingness to do what is necessary to save these programs is well-known. But after four years, we haven't seen the same type of courage from the president.
Yes, their willingness is indeed "well-known," I can't quibble with that. It's also quite unpopular. But that's what the Republicans really want to force here--a Ryanesque rewrite of the Medicare and Social Security systems. And no, the alternative is not doing absolutely nothing about their costs--Obama put chained CPI on the table, and he'd do so again. The alternative is a non-Ryanesque rewrite of the way they're funded and the way benefits are paid out, but that isn't remotely on the table.
I'm going to write this just so our conservative friends can't say I brush these things under the rug. He's clearly a troubled man, but he's also a gonif and a loser, so good riddance to him. All right?
I have no time to defend petty theives on the basis of ideology. If someone gets caught up in something more complicated, and it appears there are extenuating circumstances, or maybe there was prosecutorial overreach, that's one thing. But I try to be pretty evenhanded about these things. I don't mind sex unless it involves ranks hypocrisy. I know we all screw up from time to time. And I am suspicious of prosecutors as a rule.
But JJJ? He's way out there. And he pleaded guilty, so it's not like there's much question.
I've never understood this fixation some people, especially the social striver-parvenu types, have with fancy watches. I view watches as existing to serve a purpose. I wear a Timex. I especially love the way it glows in the dark at the press of a button, so if you're bored in a movie or something, you can check the time quite easily. I looked at Rolexes online once, with the thought of buying one for Christmas for my sister, who'd done me a particularly good turn that year. But (sorry sis) they were out of my price range, even on discount, but even if I'd had the $5,000 or so I think I'd have had difficulty in good conscience in plunking it down on a watch. JJJ owns a $43,000 watch. That's enough to make me question his judgment on all matters. Jesse, once you've done your penance and had a few chats with the Lord and accepted your newly humbled station, may I recommend to you this fine Timex piece. At $53, it's more in line with your coming lifestyle.
I know I have a go at the GOP on a regular basis. That's because I think they have become uniquely radical for a major political party in American history, and also uniquely obstreperous and anti-democratic in their attitude toward the political process. So I think they're pretty nutso, but I usually understand what they are doing and can see how, from their potted perspective, it makes a certain sense.
But the hand they're trying to play now just confuses me. I do not understand it. I do not understand how they think they can be the ones calling for the sequester to kick in and then expect the public to blame Obama. Especially while Obama is out there with cops as his backdrop saying we simply cannot allow this sequester to kick in.
I really just don't get this thinking. In my column yesterday, I used an analogy of two neighbors who don't get along. So let me continue in that vein. We have a tree, a grand old oak, that straddles the property line. Let's say it's dying, but slowly. My wfie (the equivalent here of Gene Sperling and Jack Lew) says one day, a couple of years ago, "Well, if the tree isn't better by a date certain in the future, we may have to cut it down." The date nears. My neighbor wants to cut it down now. I (and my wife) say let's wait, we're against cutting it down for now.
A company comes in on that date certain and cuts it down. There's an uproar on the block because the tree was a stately old thing. Who are the neighbors going to blame? If you think they're going to blame me and my wife, I say that you are not following any earth logic of which I'm aware.
So now the Washington Free Bacon is just publishing single-sourced recollections of people who heard Chuck Hagel give a speech back in such-and-such a year who say he said X but don't have the exact quotes handy and on that basis demanding that Hagel prove he didn't say what these people seem to think he said.
I'm not going to link to that, sorry; you'll have to look for it yourself if you're so inclined. In the more recent case, there's a real-time email from a guy who was in attendance at a Hagel speech at Rutgers in 2010 in which the guy, Kenneth Wagner, writes that Hagel said Israel risks becoming an apartheid state if it didn't allow the Palestinians to form a state. Wagner put nothing in quote marks, so there is no attributed direct quote.
Amusingly, while the Washington Emancipated Pork Belly hasn't really yet found an instance of Hagel definitively saying this, Dave Weigel did find an instance of Ehud Barak saying it. Barak said this as Israel's defense minister. So the head of Israel's defense department can say this, but the head of America's cannot. If indeed he said it at all.
Meanwhile, Michael Hirsch, eminently trustworthy on such issues, argues that Hagel was the prescient one back in the Bush era:
Simpson and Bowles have returned to the stage with a far worse plan than the one they had before. Their old formula sought $2.9 trillion in cuts and $2.6 trillion in revenues, while this new one that they touted at a Politico breakfast this morning seeks just $1.3 trillion in revenues and jacks the cuts up to $3.9 trillion.
The change is driven not so much by any kind of ideological shift or decision that we need more pain as it is driven, or so says Ezra Klein, by their apparent decision this time not to create their own new thing wholly from scratch irrespective of what the pols are saying, but to use Obama's and Boehner's latest offers as sort of starting points and guides:
This isn’t meant to be an update to Simpson-Bowles 1.0. Rather, it’s meant to be an outline for a new grand bargain. To that end, Simpson and Bowles began with Obama and Boehner’s final offers from the fiscal cliff deal. That helps explain why their tax ask has fallen so far: Obama’s final tax ask was far lower than what was in the original Simpson-Bowles plan, while Boehner’s tilt towards spending cuts was far greater than what was in the original Simpson-Bowles.
That said, while this plan doesn’t include more tax increases than Obama asked for, it does include significantly more than the $1 trillion in spending cuts than Boehner asked for — about $500 to $700 billion more, if I’m reading it right. In increasing the total deficit reduction, Simpson and Bowles have put the weight on the spending side of the budget.
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.
In his immigration bill, Marco Rubio introduced a clause stipulating that immigrants become fully proficient in English before becoming American citizens. I guess he didn't realize that there are plenty of homegrown Americans who still haven't quite gotten the hang of it...
Obama’s appointment of Clifford Sloan to head the Office of Guantánamo Closure has many hoping the president finally means business. Miranda Green on whether Gitmo’s days are numbered.