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Wrong Movie

Forget Bulworth. Try Rambo.

Obama has reportedly spoken about ‘going Bulworth.’ Michael Tomasky says that would be a terrible idea—and he has another Hollywood role model in mind for the president.

If ever there was a made-for-Twitter revelation, it was the little nugget in Peter Baker’s New York Times report Wednesday that had an aide saying Obama sometimes pines at the thought of “going Bulworth.” In all the commentary I’ve seen on this, I haven’t yet seen anyone point out that going Bulworth is a pretty stupid idea, because the Warren Beatty character, after enjoying a brief resurgence in the polls, became as I recall sort of a laughingstock (at least, that’s what I thought) and then ended up staging his own assassination at the depths of his self-loathing. No. If we’re going to delve into movieland for analogies, it’s not Bulworth that Obama needs to “go,” but Rambo—on the Republicans, and in a hurry.


Alex Wong

The House hearings yesterday on the IRS matter only left the Republicans hungry for more. NBC’s Lisa Myers, who repeatedly proved back in the Clinton era that she had good Republican sources and that she took them at their word, now says the IRS chose to withhold information relating to the current mess until after last year’s election. This is meant, of course, to raise the specter that the White House was in on this, possibly the president himself.

Then we have Benghazi. And beyond that we have, you know, the actual affairs of state. This doesn’t quite qualify as that, since it’s a waste of everyone’s time and everyone knows it, but the House voted yet again to repeal Obamacare. Of course it hopes never to have to vote on background checks. But by cracky, a 38th meaningless vote to repeal the health-care act, let’s do it!


Will ABC Finger the Liar?

We know now that someone, shall we say, inaccurately described a key Benghazi-related email to Jonathan Karl of ABC. And that Karl didn't represent his findings in a completely transparent way last week. I'm not going to go down deep into the weeds of all the details here. Mediaite did a great job of it in this post yesterday. I encourage you to read it.

I'll just remind you of the context. Remember, Karl's scoop last week, timed to the testimony of the three consular aides, set off an earthquake. It appeared to show that the administration was chiefly concerned with how the State Department would look, and with doctoring the talking points to minimize political damage. That's pretty damning stuff. It's why a number of commentators who had theretofore said Benghazi was nothing was now something. It's why a lot of people said Jay Carney had lied about the talking points.

But now it turns out, beyond argument, that Karl didn't see the emails, and that portions were read to him and were fabricated. Karl put those fabrications inside quote marks. Let's assume for now the most benign explanation of Karl's behavior: He trusted a source, and that source fucked him.

What should he and ABC do? Do you stand by sources who you know lied to you? There are certain circumstances when "burning" a source is considered permissible. Suppose you were a journalist and a source told you someone had committed a felony but that person had not. Do you have to protect that source? No.

The Times' account is this:

 E-mails released by the White House on Wednesday revealed a fierce internal jostling over the government’s official talking points in the aftermath of last September’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, not only between the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, but at the highest levels of the C.I.A.

The 100 pages of e-mails showed a disagreement between David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and his deputy, Michael J. Morell, over how much to disclose in the talking points, which were used by Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, in television appearances days after the attack.

The paper goes on to describe the disagreement, which seems to me profoundly unimportant. It was about how much detail go into for a Democratic member of Congress who asked the CIA for guidance about what he should say to the media. Hoop de do. The fate of the nation turns on such question as this? Give me a break.

How to Stop a Scandal

Washington’s understanding of damage control is all wrong, says Michael Tomasky. To win, you have to be willing to hand the other side a temporary victory.

Did I, as a liberal columnist who called immediately on President Obama to seek Eric Holder’s resignation over the Associated Press scandal, provide aid and comfort to the enemy? First of all, I don’t care—what happened struck me as a serious abuse of power. It’s rather obvious to all of you that I support Obama’s agenda in broad terms, but I sure don’t support what happened with the AP. And second, no, I don’t think I provided them aid and comfort anyway. In fact I think recent history shows beyond a doubt that foot-dragging and avoidance are the true aid-and-comforters; they always, always, always make these things worse. That, not my recommended course of action, is what’s going to give Republicans both fodder and power. Thus my aphorism of the week: trying to contain damage only does more damage.

Attorney General Eric Holder

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the 32nd annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama delivered remarks at the event, invoking the law enforcement officers who worked to bring the Boston Marathon bombing suspects to justice. (Pool photo by Olivier Douliery )

The president demonstrated that he understood this point with respect to the IRS situation—to Republicans, the most toothsome of the three problems the White House is now trying to manage. Firing the acting IRS commissioner within days was the kind of move Obama hasn’t made often enough while in office. He knows very well how potentially dangerous this issue is for him, but whatever the motivation, good for him for moving so fast and striking an assertive posture.

In contrast, Holder’s two attempts at damage control on Tuesday and Wednesday, his press conference and his testimony to the House, struck a defensive one. At his press conference, he wasn’t sure how often reporters’ records are seized, among other lapses. The next day on the Hill, he acknowledged that he did not submit his recusal in writing (it took all of eight seconds for someone on Twitter to produce the relevant legal language showing that such was required), and that he couldn’t remember the date! All Holder’s damage control accomplished was the raising of more questions that will be masticated for days and days.

Here's a good case study in how people get trapped in conventional wisdom that's wrong. I speak of Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman, showcased at TPM this morning because he misled a voter about his position on background checks--like Kelley Ayotte and Jeff Flake, trying to make it sound like he backed them even after he voted against them.

Portman, you'll recall, announced his support for same-sex marriage back in mid-March. Then a poll came out in April showing that he lost a lot of ground among Republicans, going from just 8 percent disapproval to 21 percent. He also gained among Democrats. But what good does that do him?

So he figured well, I went left on gays, but I can't do it on guns, too. That's too much for the voters of Ohio. Right?

Wrong! He dropped in the polls after his gun vote too! Here's the PPP analysis from late April:

Shrinking Fast

The Death of Deficit Scare-Mongering, Please

The CBO released new deficit projections, and it's down to $645 billion for this fiscal year, about $200 billion lower than earlier estimates. Simpson-Bowles wanted the deficit to be down to 2.3 percent of GDP by 2015. This would be 2.1 percent. Deficit scare-mongers, please go home now, okay?

The incredibly shrinking deficit is due to more tax revenues and more payouts from Fannie and Freddie--you know, conservatives, the entities you wanted to see closed down. But all it really means is the economy is getting better, in spite of the one political party that is trying to sabotage it.

...there's really no need to panic or think that there has to be a grand bargain. What we need are more measures to reduce the cost of health care and more measures to boost economic growth.

Benghazi Oops

Was the "Incriminating" Email Doctored?

You should be aware of this scoop from Jake Tapper of CNN today. The big scoops last week from Jonathan Karl of ABC and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard about the White House emails that allegedly showed that the White House was trying to cover for the State Department and hang the intel people out to dry? They may have been doctored by someone before they were released.

From CNN's account:

CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.

The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department's desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.

Now, the AP Flap

Obama Should Ask Holder to Resign

In my world, there’s a breed of person known as a “process liberal.” This is someone—at a foundation, say—who believes in process uber alles. There are lots of different kinds of liberalism, just as there are different kinds of conservatism, and process liberalism has always struck me as rooted in two developments in liberalism that started happening in the early-20th-century: first, the professionalization of the social sciences and what you might call the “idea class”; and second, the establishment in the law of civil liberties, a notion that didn’t really exist per se until around that time (the ACLU was founded in 1920). To this kind of liberalism, when problems and complications arise, there’s a process to look into them, and there are responsible, competent, well-intended people overseeing it. This is a very different liberalism, for example, from people whose beliefs were shaped in the first instance by economics (e.g., me).

Barack Obama is a process liberal. A law and social-science liberal (much more, it has always seemed, than an economics liberal). If he’d never gone into politics, he’d be a law professor, as he was; and, I’m guessing, after a certain number of years, chairman of the board of a major Chicago foundation. And if the CEO of the foundation in question did something wrong and needed to be relieved of his post, Obama would let the process play out, even if it took two years, which, in foundation-world, is about how long these things take.

So now we have this situation involving the Justice Department and the Associated Press, news of which broke last night. DoJ, after presumably subpoenaing phone companies, obtained logs of outgoing calls (numbers called only—there was no wiretapping) made by some AP reporters and editors involved in producing a story that appeared in May 2012 about how a plot by a Yemeni terrorist to bomb an airliner was foiled.

AP actually held the story for a few days at the time at the administration’s request, and then published only when it got the green light. But even so, the administration wanted to know who AP’s source was. And so the subpoena—extremely far-reaching as these things go, and possibly sought in violation of the guidelines governing such action.


The Impending Impeachment

The idea of impeaching Obama is industrial-strength insane. Republicans will probably try anyway, predicts Michael Tomasky.

When the histories of this administration are written, I hope fervently that last Friday, May 10, does not figure prominently in them. But I fear that it might: the double-barrel revelations that the White House hasn’t quite been telling the whole story on Benghazi and that some mid-level IRS people targeted some Tea Party groups for scrutiny are guaranteed to ramp up the crazy. But to what extent? I fear it could be considerable, and the people in the White House damn well better fear the same, or we’re going to be contemplating an extremely ugly situation come 2015, especially if the Republicans have held the House and captured the Senate in the by-elections.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama gestures as he speak during his visits Manor New Technology High School on May 9, 2013 in Manor, Texas. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Let me clarify a point that’s been going around. On MSNBC Friday, I broached the I-word. You know the one. Three syllables. Links Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton. I said something like: I have little doubt the Republicans would try to pursue it—something I’ve written dozens of times without readers really batting an eye. But I guess saying it on TV, and on a fateful day, is different. I was on the business end of a small number of angry tweets from liberal readers, and I see that the UK Daily Mail trotted out my statement in a way that made it sound as if I thought it was legitimate.

Tomasky said the 'I-word' on TV Friday.

EPA Nominee

The New McCarthyism

If the McCarthy in question is a Democrat, and especially if she is an Obama nominee (as in, EPA nominee Gina McCarthy), then the defintion of the New McCarthyism is "imposing completely ridiculous demands on a presidential nominee in order to give yourself a stupid fig-leaf excuse for opposing her nomination." Politico:

Republican leaders were unmoved, though, saying the Obama administration deserves blame for the impasse by refusing to fully answer questions that GOP nominees have posed about McCarthy and the EPA. They include questions about the “underlying data used to justify EPA’s job-killing regulations,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to POLITICO.

Democrats have noted that the GOP questions totaled more than 1,000 — what they call a record — with Vitter alone contributing 653.

Who on Vitter's staff got paid a taxpayer-funded salary to sit around and dream up 653 questions? How can anybody take these people seriously?

The I-Word

The Benghazi Hearing

It would be too dismissive to say that nothing of interest or importance happened at yesterday's Benghazi hearing. But what I can see from reading around suggests to me that the only potentially useful stuff the Republicans got out of it can be turned into ammo to be used against Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton.

Gregory Hicks is the new hero of the right and is, I think, a case in point. His heaviest allegations were two: one, that he begged the military to do something the night of the attack and it did not; two, that he was later silenced and demoted. The first matter is a Pentagon matter, and thus by extension an administration/Obama one, while the second one is about Cheryl Mills and Clinton. But are the American people going to care that much what happened to a guy they've never heard of?

It would depend to some extent on the circumstances, and we don't know those fully. But it's not exactly a pressing matter of state. Whereas the question of why no help arrived on the night of the attack is one Americans might more readily be interested in. The Pentagon has said there's no way any reinforcements could have arrived on time. Michael Hirsh wrote it up this way at the Atlantic:

The administration's response has been that Hicks, a diplomat, is no expert in military capabilities, and his allegations have already been directly rebutted by both Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, and former Defense Sec. Leon Panetta. Dempsey testified in February that it would have taken "up to 20 hours or so" to get F-16s to the site, and he called them "the wrong tool for the job." Panetta testified that "the bottom line" is that "we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault, which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response, very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region. Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response."


Is Rubio Trapped?

He’s stuck between Republicans who want to water down the immigration bill and Democrats who don’t. Can he find a way out? Michael Tomasky doesn’t like the odds.

Finally, committee action is set to start today in the Senate on the immigration bill. The dead-enders on the right are gearing up. Utah’s Mike Lee, for example, is evidently introducing amendments that say in essence, “strike everything after the words ‘an act.’” Less extreme colleagues are still trying to push the bill rightward in various ways. This puts Marco Rubio in a spot. He needs to placate these forces if he’s going to have a shot at the GOP nomination in 2016. But somewhere on that continuum, there’s a tipping point, at which he loses the trust of the Democrats he has spent months negotiating with, and the bill itself perhaps loses some Democratic support. The sweet spot is awfully small, and if he doesn’t find it, his 2016 hopes, and maybe even the bill, are in agua caliente.

Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio has to maintain a fine balance in placating conflicting sides on the immigration bill. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Here’s the situation. What the conservatives are hopping mad about—aside of course from the general idea that they have to do this in the first place, which in many ways is the inescapable problem—is something called the RPI provision. That’s “registered provisional immigrant” status. In the current language, if an undocumented immigrant was in the United States on December 31, 2011, that person can come forward and get a work authorization and permission to travel. Then they start the 10- or 13-year process of becoming a citizen.

But this is all contingent, to some extent, on the border being secure. In the first year of the law’s life, the secretary of Homeland Security has to put forward a plan to achieve 90 percent control of the border. Once the plan is submitted, processing of the people applying for RPI status can begin.

Second Amendment

Pol Pot and Me (and Guns)

Some interesting responses to the weekend column about how there are no absolute rights. Here's an excerpt of my favorite, all spellings as in original:

Comrad Tomasky, not sense the days of Pot Pol's "Killing Fields" of Asia, has any one socialist done more to enable the advance of World Marxist Domination. I think your efforts also may rival that of Germany's Adolf Hitler in his attempt to exterminate an entire race of people. You, comrad, have succeeded in putting a "smiley-face on the anti-liberty, anti-freedom, intimidating, underhanded, and sinister regimes of the world.  You could do well for yourself in North Korea. So, Comrad Tomasky, in recognition of your efforts to enslave the masses, Marxist operatives are truly indebted to you.

Such power I have! I had no idea. Funny though, how I keep writing these things and the nation keeps not bending to my indomitable will. Here's a more sober dissent:

There is a reason for the order and priority of the amendments. In some ways however, some may view amendment #2 as more important than amendment #1. Because without amendment 2, we may have no defense of amendment 1 or for that matter #'s 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10. The second amendment protects us against a corrupt government.

Affinity Voting

Mark Sanford's Win

I was a little surprised by the margin, but really, is this shocking? It's an R +11 district. Districts that can swing are typically no more than +5 in one direction or another.

I thought Colbert had a chance to pull it out, maybe a hidden women's vote. But Sanford just kept saying "Pelosi," and that reminded people that as voters, they care more about ideology than morality. I should have thought back to my visits to Charleston and my conversations with some liberals there. Not politicos, just people--art gallery owners, people at the bar, and so on.

When these chats turned political, the vibe I invariably got from people was: Yeah, we're liberal, but it's hopeless, we're surrounded. When people feel like that as a general propostion, they're not going to go to the mat to elect a congresswoman. They're going to try to spend as little time as possible thinking about politics and as much as possible thinking about other things.

Anyway, it's one of politics' oldest rules. He may be a creep (or crook or asshole or whatever), but he's our creep. The "our" in that sentence is entirely about affinity (he's one of us) and ideology (he thinks like we do). The silver lining is that he's just a junior member of the crazy House from a crazy (politically) state who won't matter very much in the national scheme of things. Against all that history and emotion, Colbert-Busch actually did a pretty good job, and she would have a future if she lived in a quasi-normal state.


Keynes’s Gift to Posterity

John Maynard Keynes may have been childless. And Arthur Laffer, the creator of supply-side economics, may have fathered six children. But which one, asks Michael Tomasky, did more for future generations?

Count me as one who never knew, until this past weekend’s Niall Ferguson dust-up, that conservatives have long held John Maynard Keynes’s sexuality against him. I know, silly me; of course they did. And the nature of the protest is so typical of the conservative mind. The insistence on highlighting (usually inaccurately) one element of a person’s biography, and then arguing that this element represents the person’s full “character,” and then making the claim that said character is destiny; that’s how conservatives tend to see and explain the world, whether in limning their heroes (how Ronald Reagan “won” the Cold War) or in making sense of villains like Keynes.


John Maynard Keynes on March 16, 1940. (Getty)

Many commentators have by now risen to Keynes’s defense on a personal level and argued that his childlessness does not prove that he didn’t care about future generations. But surprisingly to me—especially as we concurrently debate the abysmal failures of austerity—no one that I’ve seen has defended Keynes against the larger historical charge and said the obvious: that in fact, Keynes-inspired policies as implemented in the United States and elsewhere have done immeasurable good for future generations, one hell of a lot more good than supply-side economics could ever even pretend to.

Let’s review the allegation, which Jonah Goldberg summarized over the weekend with the kind of bemused indifference that did not characterize his earlier iteration of the bill of particulars supporting his claim that John Kennedy was a fascist. Goldberg pronounced himself surprised that what Ferguson said was news to anyone. He then carries us on a brisk journey from Joseph Schumpeter (whose 1946 quote about Keynes has been oft-mentioned these last few days) to Gertrude Himmelfarb to William Rees-Mogg (see, even the Brits said it!) to Bill Greider (see, even a lefty said it!) to show that people have been saying this about Keynes for years, so what’s the big deal?

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

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

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