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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?

Heritage Foundation Report

Another Blow for Immigration Reform

The Heritage Foundation has now come out against immigration reform, without exactly taking that position, indeed while claiming to take the opposite position, but calculating that adding that many citizens is going to cost $6.3 trillion in new Social Security and Medicare spending, education spending, welfare payments, and what not. McGrubio, as Laura Ingraham has dubbed the troika of Republican senators leading the pro-reform push, have been arguing preemptively that that number is brazenly exaggerated.

Of course these costs would increase, but so would revenues. In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the immigration reform bill then under consideration would increase spending by around $23 billion but revenues by just more than twice that. The CBO apparently hasn't scored this bill, but Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo has a good run-down here of what's changed since 2007, and of course his point is at odds with Heritage's.

This is an old conservative play--go after the cost of something, which permits them not to be against the idea per se, only against its fiscal ramifications. "We're not against immigration reform. Quite the contrary! We're just against the cost of this particular bill." It's a cousin of the old saw one always heard back in the Cold War days: "We're not against arms-control treaties in general at all, but we are certainly against this one," which just happened to be the case with regard to every single one.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the Senate Gang of Eight members think they can get a dozen or so GOP senators. This is still too early to get a good whiff of where the wind is blowing. If the pro-reform people get Rand Paul, then we probably will see a bill pass. Is that the smart play for Paul? I don't know. I'd guess probably not. If he is sizing Rubio (pro-reform) and Ted Cruz (anti) as possible 2016 opponents, I would think that Rubio is the more serious opponent of the two, and therefore Paul would want to position himself opposite Rubio and then just hope/assume he can outduel Cruz on fundraising and other issue.

Age of Keynes

Niall Ferguson and the Future

You are undoubtedly aware of the Niall Ferguson contretemps that exploded on Saturday over his remark that John Maynard Keynes didn't care about the future because he was childless. He offered what he called an "unqualified apology" on his own web site, and indeed it seemed quite ingenuous and contrite, until it was quickly revealed that he written similarly about Keynes in a previous book, which suggests that the remark was maybe not quite as "off-the-cuff" as he suggested but was a notion that's been jumping across his synapses for some time now.

It turns out that there's a whole conservative critique that puts Keynes's sexuality at the center of his economics, which Brad DeLong discusses here. It's pretty fascinating and warped. But another development concerns Ferguson's own concern about the future. David Roberts of Grist tweeted Sunday that Ferguson apparently isn't concerned about climate change. Here's a 2011 column by a Telegraph right-winger celebrating a Fergusonian jibe on British television:

Civilization – Niall Ferguson's brilliant, impeccably right-wing analysis of why it is that the West is going to hell in a handcart just gets better and better. (H/T Phantom Skier)

In the latest episode, he explored how the roots of the Holocaust lay in a dry run genocide carried out by the Germans (who else?) in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) in the 1900s against the Herero and Namaqua natives. Around 80 per cent of the former tribe and 50 per cent of the latter were brutally massacred with many of the survivors sent to concentration camps where their racial characteristics were studied by proto-Dr-Mengeles as part of the fashionable new scientific field popularised by Francis Galton – eugenics.

The Constitution

There Are No ‘Absolute’ Rights

Nearly every idea in the Bill of Rights comes with restrictions and limitations. To think that the Second Amendment should be any different is absurd, writes Michael Tomasky.

Every time I write a column on guns, the howl arises that I am talking about a right that is enshrined in the Constitution, buddy, and I better watch myself. The howl then transmutes into an extended harangue that this right is absolute, and no libtard fascist, whether me or the Satanesque Dianne Feinstein, is going to limit the right in any way. The first soldier to charge across this rhetorical veld is followed by hundreds harrumphing their assent. The only problem is that it’s an ahistorical, afactual, and barbaric argument. No right is absolute. In fact, the Second Amendment arguably has fewer restrictions on it these days than many of the other first 10, and there is and should be no guarantee that things are going to stay that way. In fact, if we’re ever going to be serious about trying to stop this mass butchery that we endure every few months, they cannot.

NRA Annual Meeting

Attendees hold handguns in the Sig Sauer booth during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 4 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Let’s begin by going down the list and reviewing various limits placed on nearly all the amendments of the Bill of Rights (I thank Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center for helping me out here). The First Amendment, of course, guarantees the right to free speech and assembly, and to worship as one pleases. There haven’t been that many restrictions placed on the freedom to worship in the United States, although there is a steady stream of cases involving some local government or school board preventing someone from wearing religious clothing or facial hair or what have you. Sometimes a Christian school or church is denied a zoning permit; but more often it’s the freedom to worship of a minority (Muslim, Sikh, etc.) that is threatened.

As for free speech, of course it is restricted. Over the past 50 or so years in a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on free speech. To restrict speech in general, the government must meet four tests. But this is always being revised and negotiated. Here’s one restriction on the Bill of Rights that I’d wager most conservatives would happily approve of. In 1988, the HHS under Reagan promulgated rules prohibiting a family-planning professional at a clinic that received federal dollars from “promoting” (i.e. telling a woman about) abortion. This was challenged partially on free-speech grounds. In Rust v. Sullivan (1991), the Supreme Court held that these rules did not violate the clinicians’ free-speech rights. So far as I can see, this is still law. It’s just one example from many free-speech restrictions that have been imposed over the years, as you can see here.

So the jobs numbers are good. The unemployment rate is down another tick to 7.5 percent (and is down a respectable .4 percent this year). We gained 16,000 non-farm jobs last month, but the revisions upward of the previous months were huge--February to 332,000, for example, up from 268,000, and March up 50,000 to 138,000. This follows a pattern that's been in place for some time, so we can reasonably expect that next month, this month will be revised upward into the range of 200,000.

Yes, the labor-force participation rate is still low, and yes, the number of people employed part-time increased, for those of you looking for black linings. But were some positive trends below the top-line numbers as well:

In April, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined by 258,000 to 4.4 million; their share of the unemployed declined by 2.2 percentage points to 37.4 percent. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has decreased by 687,000, and their share has declined by 3.1 percentage points.

I am not the only person to have this thought this morning, but numbers like these--mind you, not great, but certainly good--do make one wonder what the economy might be doing if one of our two major political parties wasn't trying to sabotage it to prevent the president from looking good. And please, spare me the comments about how that's a heavy charge to level. It's so obvious at this point that it shouldn't even be controversial. The Republicans are demanding an austerity that nearly every economist agrees is harming economic growth.


The Right and Immigration

I've been saying for a long time, here and on TV and such, to keep an eye on the conservative base as immigration reform begins the march from amorphous idea to legislative reality. I meant that while loads of Republicans were talking nicey-nicey and most pundits judged success to be a near-sure thing, let's just wait and see if the base rises up in opposition.

That hasn't happened yet, but we see signs. Three emerged today. There's a poll out from Quinnipiac showing that support for a path to citizenship has dipped from 59 to 52 percent. The crosstabs don't show exactly where support has dipped, but they do show that more Republicans think undocumented immigrants should "not stay" (42 percent) than should "stay/citizenship" (36 percent).

Number two, Jenny Beth Martin, the big national tea party leader, seems to have come out against the bill, albeit mainly on process objection rather than substantive ones. Now I don't know whether Jenny Beth Martin moves mountains, but if her position is not "just" her but a reflection of a congealing conventional wisdom amongst the tea set, then that could matter.

Number three, The National Review, which once found itself in the business of promoting Marco Rubio's bright future, released its new cover story, called Rubio's Folly. It's not clear that they've released the article, just the cover (which, interestingly, photoshopped out Grover Norquist, who was standing in the background of the original--strange, since Grover is a sellout supporter of a path to citizenship himself).

Yesterday I wrote that today's GOP "is simply not a mainstream political party in the traditional American sense. It is a radical oppositionalist faction, way beyond the normal American parameters both in terms of ideology and tactics." I don't think think this point even needs to be proven, but I guess some people do think it does. So it occurred to me yesterday afternoon, after reading some of your interesting comments (and pumpkinface, thank you for saying something nice about me, I was floored!) to try the following.

My thesis is that today's GOP is unique in American history, or at least recent American history, since the United States became the leading world power and its lawmakers started thinking about in those terms. So if you say I should prove that thesis, fine. It's a hard thing to "prove," and any conservative who wants to remain unpersuaded will remain so. But nevertheless, I aim to show by plucking some examples of some key congressional votes in recent US history that my thesis is correct.

I choose to start with the Panama Canal Treaty of 1978. Here was a Democratic president willingly giving up American sovereignty over something that we build and paid for basically because it was just time to do. Panamanians had been fighting for control since 1964. Carter just thought it was the right thing to do.

Debate started in the fall of 1977, Carter's first year, and continued into the next spring, when the vote occurred. April 18, 1978. This was a treaty, and ratification of a treaty, then as now, required a constitutionally mandated 67 votes.


Next Time, the NRA Will Lose

The background-check bill isn’t finished. And when it comes up for a vote again, says Michael Tomasky, the pressure will be on the senators who recently did the NRA’s bidding.

How stupid does the Senate background-check vote look now, I ask the pundits and others who thought it was dumb politics for Obama and the Democrats to push for a vote that they obviously knew they were going to lose. I’d say not very stupid at all. The nosedive taken in the polls by a number of senators who voted against the bill, most of them in red states, makes public sentiment here crystal clear. And now, for the first time since arguably right after the Reagan assassination attempt—a damn long time, in other words—legislators in Washington are feeling political heat on guns that isn’t coming from the NRA. This bill will come back to the Senate, maybe before the August recess, and it already seems possible and maybe even likely to have 60 votes next time.


Anti-gun violence demonstrators, including Rachel Ahrens (L), 13, Abby Ahrens, 8, and their mother Betty Ahrens hold signs condeming the National Rifle Association during a protest in McPhearson Square April 25, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

You’ve seen the poll results showing at least five senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill losing significant support. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the only one of the five from a blue state, so it’s probably not surprising that she lost the most, 15 points. But Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost about as much in net terms. Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, lost about half that. Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona also tumbled.

Egad. Could it possibly be that those pre-vote polls of all these states by Mayor Bloomberg’s group were ... right? All the clever people pooh-poohed them, because, well, they were done by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and because it just seemed impossible that 70 percent of people from a red state could support the bill. But the polls were evidently right, or at least a lot closer to right than the brilliant minds who laughed at Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey and Harry Reid.

Veritas Videtur

A Word on "Obamabot"-ism

I don't mind being called an Obamabot. I mean, I've written a few columns about the guy that were brutal, toughing than anything Dowd's written, especially at the time of the debt ceiling fiasco. But I understand the game, and it doesn't bother me.

I have something I wish to make crystal clear, however. If it seems to you (I mean you, pumpkinface!) that I'm always excusing Obama, you're misreading me. I am instead seeking to cast blame where it properly belongs. And that is almost always the Republican Party. I've said all this a jillion times before, but it is simply not a mainstream political party in the traditional American sense. It is a radical oppositionalist faction, way beyond the normal American parameters both in terms of ideology and tactics. And that needs to be pointed out, unfortunately, again and again and again.

Just today, Pat Toomey said of the background-check bill:

"In the end it didn’t pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it."

Another Sleazy Christian

Bob McDonnell Is Never Going to Be President

This is so sleazy and cowardly, what he said about the $15,000 from the CEO who helped to pay for his daughter's wedding:

In Virginia, gifts to family members don't need to be reported. The governor says that's why he did not report the $15,000 gift from Williams to help pay for his daughter's wedding. The FBI is now looking into the details of that gift.

"My daughter indicated that she wanted to pay for the wedding. She and her husband Chris. It's something my wife and I did 37 years ago," said Gov. McDonnell.

"As I've said publicly, I signed the initial contract, we put down some initial deposits, but my daughter and her husband wanted to pay for the wedding, in fact...they paid a significant amount, in fact, almost all the other expenses and they wanted to do this. Now they accepted the gift from Mr. Williams. And I believe under the reporting laws that this would be a gift to my daughter and not to me," explained Governor McDonnell.

Apparently not. Dowd, apparently miffed by Obama's remarks about Aaron Sorkin's liberal fantasy at the correspondents' dinner, which were obviously aimed at her, is at it again today, riffing on some of Obama's remarks at the press conference yesterday:

"But, Jonathan,” he lectured Karl, “you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”

Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.

This is ridiculous. It is their job to behave. What we mean by behave is act in some remotely vague way how our founders hoped legislators would act, which most certainly does not include opposing anything and everything of importance that the president proposes. I can guarantee you that no one read those paragraphs this morning with more pleasure (assuming they read them, or had someone read them to them) than John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. The Sorkin-Dowd liberal fantasy lets them completely off the hook, and they know it, and they love every column by people like Dowd and Ron Fournier that proceeds from the assumption that Obama should just be more like the presidents in the movies.

Air Defenses

Syria Is No Libya

JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey is quoting making the following statements in Buzzfeed:

"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome that not just members of Congress but all of us would desire — which is an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties and a stable Syria — that's the reason I've been cautious, is the right word, about the application of the military instrument of power, because it's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome," Dempsey said at a lunch with reporters.

"That said, options are ready," Dempsey said. "If either it becomes clear to me, or I'm ordered to do, so we will act."

Dempsey, who just returned from a 10-day trip abroad to Asia, declined to specifically address what President Obama said on Tuesday about whether or not the United States will intervene in Syria; "I won't go into detail about what those options might be," for possible intervention, Obama said at a press conference. But Dempsey said that the military's posture on the issue has not changed.

Benghazi Thing Explained

The Obama Press Conference

Well, we learned something new about what's going on in wingnut land. Apparently, you see, there are four--no; make that at least four!--diplomatic officials who are in possession of vital information about Benghazi: the department's (er, Hillary's) refusal to increase security in the months before the attack; the diplo security forces (er, Hillary's) failure to respond to the attack in the most forceful way; and finally, the administration's (er, Hillary's) cover-up and lies in the aftermath.

Ed Henry asked about this right off the bat, injecting a dose of Breitbartism into the proceedings. Like everyone else in America who tries not to patronize the fever swamps, I went "huh?" Then I Googled it and got this Fox News piece laying out the whole vast conspiracy:

Victoria Toensing, a former Justice Department official and Republican counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, is now representing one of the State Department employees. She told Fox News her client and some of the others, who consider themselves whistle-blowers, have been threatened by unnamed Obama administration officials.

“I'm not talking generally, I'm talking specifically about Benghazi – that people have been threatened,” Toensing said in an interview Monday. “And not just the State Department. People have been threatened at the CIA.”...

For the first time, black turnout exceeded white turnout in 2012. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to alienate black voters. Michael Tomasky on the GOP’s self-destructive behavior.

Did black turnout exceed white turnout for the first time in history, as the Associated Press reported over the weekend, simply because a black guy was on the ballot? Look, there’s no denying Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket made a substantial difference. But Obama wasn’t the only factor driving this, and I invite conservatives to deceive themselves into thinking that this is the case. Because for all this talk about a “new” GOP out to steal minorities’ hearts, the (usually white) people doing the talking seem to forget that today’s Republican Party is doing more to stop black people from voting than George Wallace ever did.

First, let’s look over the AP findings. It’s pretty amusing, really, because this is one of those cases where the interpretation and implied lesson depends wholly on who’s writing it up. At HuffPo, the headline read “Black Voter Turnout Rate Passes Whites in 2012 Election,” which is pretty neutral and straightforward, but if anything I suppose is designed to make your average HuffPo reader think: good.

Whereas at The Daily Caller, the head was “Report: 2004 turnout numbers would have elected Romney,” which of course was designed (whether intentionally or not) to make your average Caller reader resent the march of time and its ineluctable effects on the body politic. There is also the implication in Caller-style packaging that Republicans don’t need the brown people. Just nominate someone who can crank up the “white community,” and problems solved. We’ll be hearing more, I suspect, from that faction as the months and years propel us toward 2016.

In any case. African-American turnout, the AP reported, was just slightly higher than white turnout. Now I wouldn’t deny that Obama had a lot to do with this. That’s just the way it works. Ethnic or racial groups who don’t normally have a chance to vote for one of their own for president tend to come out in pretty big numbers—Greeks in 1988, for example. So there’s basic pride. Additionally, there can be no serious question that African-Americans watched the Republicans’ barely sane thrusts and parries against Obama, the birtherism and the Kenyan socialist meme and all the rest, and thought, “What a bunch of racist loons,” thus resolving even more deeply to get to the polls.

Thanks, Sandy Baby

Now She Tells Us

Did you catch Sandra Day O'Connor's comments over the weekend? From the Chicago Tribune:

Looking back, O'Connor said, she isn't sure the high court should have taken the case.

"It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue," O'Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'"

The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation."

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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