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In Memoriam

Bill Lynch, the Culminator

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.

Turncoat

From Obama to This!?

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,Democratic Convention

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.

Red Fish, Blue Fish

How to Turn a Red State Blue

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

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.

House GOP Meltdown

Landing With a THUD

This was a huge development yesterday, when the House GOP leadership had to pull the transportation bill (known by the acronym THUD) because they didn't have the votes. This is the kind of thing that if every American, or say every independent swing voter, knew about, and knew the backstory and details, a large majority of them would see just how ill prepared to govern Republicans are.

Brian Beutler at TPM and Matt Yglesias at Slate have both told the story well, so I'm just summarizing them at this point, but here's the deal. As you know, the House has passed the Paul Ryan budgets for a few years, budgets that impose deep cuts on discretionary spending, especially on the domestic side. All the Republicans support their man Ryan and his cuts.

That is, in the abstract. The Ryan budgets never named exact amounts for cuts. That's not what a "budget" does. But now we are in the thick of the post-sequestration "appropriations" process, and the appropriating subcommittees are the people who are supposed to come up with those exact dollar amounts.

And here's the issue. The appropriators can't come up with numbers that meet the Ryan targets and stand a chance of getting the votes to pass. Why? Simple: the cuts are too deep for legislators to stomach. And it isn't just Democrats. Obviously, if it were just Democrats, the Republicans would have had the votes to pass the THUD bill. But it isn't just Democrats. So there aren't 218 votes for the Ryan budget when it comes down to actual numbers.

Stunning

Bastards in North Carolina

I trust you’ve been paying at least a little attention to what’s been going on in North Carolina. An arch-conservative governor and state legislature are on a mission to redefine the state as some kind of laboratory of Tea Party utopianism, where the 47 percenters and the sinners finally get what they deserve. Here’s Ari Berman in The Nation recently:

So far this year, legislation passed or pending by Republicans would eliminate the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; decline Medicaid coverage for 500,000; end federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slash taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; allow for guns to be purchased without a background check and carried in parks, playgrounds, restaurants and bars; ax public financing of judicial races; and prohibit death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts.

The actions haven’t gone unchallenged—every Monday, large numbers of protestors have shown up at the state capitol to sit in and face arrest.

Now, buckle up as I tell you about the latest turn. A week ago, the state legislature passed a new motorcycle safety law. That doesn’t sound very interesting or controversial. But legislators tucked into the law—on the last full day of the legislative session—sweeping abortion restrictions that are worded in such a way as to close 15 of the state’s 16 abortion providers. Only one existing clinic meets the standards in the new law.

There’s more. Yesterday, the state Department of Health and Human Services suspended the license of that one clinic, in Asheville. A letter cited “egregious violations” of rules such that an “imminent threat” to patients existed. The director of the clinic said the safety protocols are the same as they’ve always been and that the clinic’s track record is spotless. But now the rules have changed, in this new motorcycle safety law. [UPDATE: I'm told that this is incorrect, that the Asheville clinic wasn't closed under the new law, whose specific regulations haven't been written yet.]

GOP Base

Frankenstein

There are polls and there are polls, people, but this new poll just out from Pew contains The Most Astonishing Findings I Have Ever Seen. Got it? Check it out.

It's a poll of Republicans, taking their temperature on what their party needs to do and how the rank-and-file sees things. It starts out normal, with two-thirds saying the party needs "to address major problems" (that is, within itself, not within the country) and 59 percent saying the party "also needs to reconsider some positions."

So from that, you think, oh okay, this looks healthy, so these majorities want the party to turn toward the middle at least a little bit. Well--you would be wrong. Pew:

Move in a more conservative or moderate direction on policy? By 54% to 40%, Republican and Republican-leaning voters want the party’s leaders to move further to the right. Not surprisingly, conservatives and those who agree with the Tea Party overwhelmingly favor moving in a more conservative direction, while moderates and liberals would like to see the party take more centrist positions. Yet the more moderate wing of the party is a minority generally, and makes up an even smaller share of the likely primary electorate.

Divide and Conquer

Obama’s Best Shot at Hurting the GOP

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.

Obama

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.”

Plus: Huma’s Future

Anthony Weiner Is Probably Sexting Right Now

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?

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Ralph Nader Has Truly Lost It

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.

Econ Alert

It’s Your Moment, Obama

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.”

Obama

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.

Grimes of our Times

Lookout, Mitch

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.

Him and His Big Mouth

Christie v. Paul

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."

Apples and Oranges

They Are Not the Clintons

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.

130724-tomasky-huma-tease

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.

Go Away

Weiner &c.

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.

About the Author

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Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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