First, my own little Iraq war story. I was an opponent of the war but was mistaken by not a few folks as a supporter, which happened because I wrote an essay for a book edited by George Packer called The Fight Is For Democracy. When George asked me to contribute to the volume, it wasn't clear to me that he was pro-war. I would guess that in his own mind George wasn't yet pro-war at that point. We never really talked about it directly. I just assumed he was against.
But Paul Berman was in the volume, and we all knew where Paul stood. Also Kenan Makiya. But then there was Todd Gitlin, who was against, and Susie Linfield of New York University, whose position I don't know to this day but whom I assume to have been against. So there was no "line" in the book.
But my essay lead off the collection, and it was about how American liberals needed to stand "Between Chomsky and Cheney" (my rather felicitous title, if I may say it, although Chomsky sure didn't think so!) and not get sucked into a reflexive leftist anti-imperialist posture when it came to terrorism.
I intended this as an endorsement of the Afghanistan war, which I backed, but not Iran. Indeed as I recall it, the bulk of the essay was taken up with telling readers about PNAC (remember it?), the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, and various other neocon lies. That was really the point of my essay: Liberals must not be reflexively against the use of American power in this post-9-11 world, but we also most definitely should not support its use when it is being sold to us through a series of obvious lies.
It’s nice that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman now backs same-sex marriage. But why, asks Michael Tomasky, does it always take a gay family member for conservatives to adopt the morally right position?
It’s delightful that Rob Portman now supports same-sex marriage. I don’t know how many conservatives or Republicans follow the lead of Ohio’s junior senator, but it’s a long march to equality, and every step helps. So good for him. But even so, I couldn’t help wondering: what if his son weren’t gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step. And this brings us to a difference, for my money the single most important difference, between liberals and conservatives: in general, conservatives have no social empathy. It shouldn’t take filial love and loyalty to bring a person to a position that he should reach via a simple combination of compassion and principle.
File photo: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, August 29, 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)
What makes a person a liberal? Lots of things, but fundamentally, it’s the ability to think beyond self-interest—to examine an issue through other people’s eyes, and to imagine such a thing as the common interest or common good. The obvious example from American history is civil rights. For your average Northern white person in 1963, it wasn’t so difficult to identify with the interests of the Southern black person. Millions of white Americans were thus “liberals” at that point in time, at least with regard to that issue. Whites were able to see the issue through black eyes, in a sense; most even saw that their own self-interest as Americans was bound up in Southern blacks’ self-interest. That meeting place of self-interest and another’s interest is exactly where the common good lives.
That was an easy case, in a way, because Northern whites didn’t have to give anything up to embrace the enfranchisement of Southern blacks. There are harder cases, cases involving questions of taxation and spending, where liberals still think beyond self-interest. This is how I’d define social empathy—the ability to put the interests of those less fortunate ahead of your own. Conservative readers are rolling their eyes, but millions of Americans take this position and live their lives in this fashion. Anyone who makes, say, a six-figure income but votes Democratic is on some level voting against her own self-interest, at least in economic terms. The Republicans are the party that is far, far more likely to look after your interests if you make $100,000 or more (although history shows also that Republicans tend to be the ones who create financial crashes and meltdowns and Democrats tend to be the ones who fix them, but that’s a different column). And yet, many millions of such Americans vote Democratic. They are willing to sacrifice some self-interest for the sake of others’ interests and of what they perceive to be the common interest.
It seems worth reiterating this morning that there is no basis on which Obama can make a deal with Republicans. Greg Sargent took note of a vote in the Senate yesterday that was telling. This was on an amendment designed to ensure that corporations could not use loopholes to avoid entirely the payment of income taxes. Note that word "entirely."
Every Republican on the Budget Committee voted no. Sargent:
Republicans have argued in the past that corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders to reduce the amount they pay in taxes as much as possible within the law. But what this vote shows is that Republicans prioritize this corporate imperative over deficit reduction, even in the cases of corporations that pay no taxes at all. This really doesn’t bode well for the chances that Republicans may agree to new revenues, does it?
When Republicans say Obama needs to show "leadership," what they mean is that he ought to just embrace the Ryan budget. They really won't accept anything else. Oh, they might accept $4.4 trillion in cuts over 10 years instead of Ryan's $4.65 trillion, but that's about all the compromise they're up for. We need to remind ourselves of this fact on a regular basis and say it often. There is nothing Obama can do to please them except drop entirely his demand for revenue, which would be indefensible on political and policy grounds.
Apparently Rubio knocked 'em dead yesterday at CPAC, and they particularly ate up these lines:
Now in order to work together with people that you disagree with, there has to be mutual respect. That means I respect people that disagree with me on certain things, but they have to respect me too.
Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot. Just because we believe life, all life — all human life is worthy of protection at every stage in its development does not make you a chauvinist.
All right. I know it sounds intolerant to dismiss every American who agrees with Rubio as a bigot. But look at this from the other side.
So I kept thinking as I watched Ed Schultz’s interview last night with Scott Prouty—as we now know, the man who made and leaked the 47 percent video—I kept trying to check my impulses by asking myself: Now, suppose this were Fox, and suppose Scott Prouty had secretly taped Barack Obama saying that corporate leaders were heartless mercenaries who cared nothing about their employees or America, and suppose that that had helped cost Obama the election. What would I be thinking about him?
I admit easily and breezily that I would have disliked him and would have spent the hour probing for weaknesses and points of possible attack. That’s how it goes in this business.
However, I also say this: I don’t think I would have found many. Prouty was intelligent, judicious, and thoughtful. He seemed completely sincere (I say seemed since I don’t know the man). He knew exactly what he was doing. Weaknesses were few to nonexistent.
Let me put it this way. In my post yesterday, I fretted about the onslaught he was about to experience from the right. But as I Google his name this morning, I see nothing from the right-wing media. If you’ve ever done such a search on a topic that the right-wing press has jumped on, you know that the first page and sometimes the first two pages return you nothing but conservative media. So they aren’t piling on the guy, so far at least. Long experience teaches me: When they go dark is when they know they can’t win.
The annual conservative gathering is always bad, says Michael Tomasky, but this year’s choices of main speakers seem designed to alienate as many Americans as possible.
So March Madness begins today. The basketball tournament? Bah. I mean CPAC. The conference just gets lamer and somehow more bizarre every year, this allegedly marquee gathering of the nation’s conservatives; and this year, with the longest speaking slots going to an irrelevant has-been and America’s most obnoxious man, the trajectory is downward on a scale so operatic and yet so pulverizingly tedious that I have difficulty comprehending it. Can these people really believe they are accomplishing something? On rereading that sentence, I partially take it back. They are accomplishing something, all right: showing America that they are mad as hatters and thereby helping to ensure the election of more Democrats.
Sarah Palin delivers the keynote address to activists from America’s political right at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
I love, first of all, the irony of this year’s venue. Did I say irony? It occurs that there are more than one. The National Harbor in Prince George’s County is, in certain respects, an attractive enough place; any development sitting right on a river as broad as the Potomac is at that point (more than a mile) would have to be. But it’s an ersatz community built to resemble a real one, in certain ways not unlike the gusher of AstroTurf groups we’ve seen cashing those Koch brothers checks in recent years.
Then of course there is the fact that P.G. County has among the highest percentages of African-Americans of any county in the United States and is also home to one of the country’s largest black, middle-class populations. This reality has delivered the electoral impact you’d expect and then some. Of Maryland’s 24 voting jurisdictions—23 counties plus Baltimore City (Baltimore City and Baltimore County are two different entities)—P.G. County gave Obama his highest support level in the state, at 90 percent, higher even than Baltimore City.
I was supposed to be on tonight, but I got bumped to Friday--for what I admit is a very good reason. Tonight, my friend Ed has the first exclusive interview with the man who had the 47 percent tape and gave it to David Corn. I will certainly be watching and I think you should too.
The guy, who hasn't revealed his name but will do so tonight, has been giving some interviews to HuffPo and to Schultz's team for some period of time now. Apparently it was after he saw Romney in his Fox News interview earlier this month that he decided to blazes with this jerk, I'm going public.
The funny thing is that as HuffPo's Ryan Grim and Jason Cherkis relay the story today, it was Bill Clinton who played a key role here:
Clinton, it turns out, inspired the man who filmed Mitt Romney's infamous and game-changing 47 percent comments.
Well, this Ryan business isn't working out so well this time. When you're a Republican, and not just any Republican but their great fiscal guru, and even Fox News personalities are calling you unrealistic, you've laid an egg.
Here's a salient snip from this morning's Washington Post editorial, which is mostly negative and unlike previous editorials is written in the bored tone of having seen this movie before:
This brings us to the ideas that are too unrealistic to worry about: chiefly, Mr. Ryan’s proposal to save $1.8 trillion by repealing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges. Combined with $700 billion in anticipated net interest savings, the Obamacare repeal accounts for more than half of the deficit reduction in Mr. Ryan’s budget — which pretty much closes the book on it as a serious guide to future policy.
There you have it. Not serious. There is no greater sin in these matters.
The Senate Judiciary Committee just approved legislation requiring stricter gun background checks. The vote was along strict party lines, with all Republicans voting no.
A poll came out this morning showing 91 percent of Americans approve stricter gun background checks.
Um...I just don't see that anything else needs to be said here. Shortest post ever. Madness.
From what I can tell, the reception to this new Ryan travesty is mixed. Of course he's being savaged on my side of the pond, which is to be expected and is deserved. In the redoubts of deficit hawkery, it's hard to make out a clear line yet.
The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery can always be counted on to give the deficit hawks favorable coverage, but her piece that's up is pretty neutral. She hasn't yet gotten around to quoting Erskine Bowles and the others about how serious and responsible all this shitting on poor people is. So the jury is still out there. And of course we've yet to hear from the Post's ed page, which will come tomorrow morning.
Politico at least has refrained from giving us a headline praising Ryan today. That's a step in the right direction. However, the lead Politico piece right now is "Is he serious?", which is not a mocking article about Ryan's budget but is aimed at Obama, fretting that he's not serious about a grand bargain. Tsk tsk.
Amazing. I mean, a sentence like this one: "If Obama fails to hit the right notes, his overtures may only exacerbate GOP concerns." What on earth are the writers talking about? What right notes? Here are the notes that Obama would have to hit to mollify the GOP: no revenue, severely deep cuts to domestic programs across the board, no cuts for a military budget that has grown at unprecedented levels for the last 15 years, and deep cuts to entitlements.
Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg are out with a long-ish rebuttal to a recent New Republic essay by Sam Tanenhaus declaiming on the continuing legacy of John C. Calhoun in today's Republicans Party. I'm something of an unlikely Tanenhaus defender, and in fact the conservatives make a few points that ring true to my reading of the Tanenhaus essay--it is the case, for example, that both sides use the phrase "Take Back America" when the other side has the White House, so it's hard to make a claim as Tanenhaus does that the phrase carries a racial whiff.
However...Well, first of all, what Ponnuru and Goldberg are basically doing here is crying foul about what they see as extremist name-calling and a rather over-determined use of a historical figure. That's pretty rich coming from one guy who wrote a book about the Democrats called Party of Death (death!) and another who wrote Liberal Fascism, in which Woodrow Wilson and Jack Kennedy were described--not ironically, not hyberbolically, but specifically and literally--as fascist presidents.
They set up the usual straw man early on:
The explanation for conservatives’ opposition to President Obama and his agenda must be found not in our ideas but in our pathologies.
You can bet that Paul Ryan’s budget will set the hearts of Washington’s deficit hawks aflutter. Obama should ignore them—and make it clear that jobs, not deficits, are his main priority. By Michael Tomasky.
Paul Ryan’s new budget is now out on its shakedown cruise, as they did with Broadway plays in the old movie musicals about Broadway shows, playing New Haven and Providence before hitting the Great White Way, as it were, when he officially unveils it Wednesday. Early reviews are deservedly brutal, because Ryan assumes the repeal of Obamacare and reverses his position from last year on the $716 billion Medicare savings, over which he and Mitt Romney used to savage Barack Obama but which Ryan now assumes. Even so, something tells me that when the plan is released in full, the “serious” people will applaud the effort and will implore the president to mimic Ryan’s alleged sincerity about deficit reduction. And that makes this week probably the most important week in his presidency for Obama to stand up and refuse to do that.
(L-R) Rep. Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama in March 2013. (AP)
You’ve probably followed what has happened so far. These two Ryan assumptions—about the repeal of Obamacare and his inclusion of the Medicare cuts that only last year he and Romney were calling brutal—expose his entire exercise for what it is: a wholly political act designed to do two things. The first is to maintain Ryan’s viability on the hard right as a 2016 presidential candidate. As I mentioned in a blog post yesterday, failure on his part to assume the repeal of Obamacare could have exposed him to vicious attacks from other wannabes and from the Limbaugh caucus. So there’s no way he could risk that.
Ryan’s second purpose with this budget is more substantive, and it’s the same purpose that drove his first two budgets. He wants to kickstart a process that leads to monstrous cuts in domestic discretionary programs and in entitlements. That’s what he’s really about. He certainly isn’t about balancing the budget. Ryan Budget I achieved balance in 2047. When that was laughed out of the park, he came back with Ryan Budget II, which achieved balance about a decade earlier. Mind you these “achievements of balance” were entirely chimerical anyway, because he wouldn’t say in either budget exactly what he was putting on the table in the realm of revenue, so it was actually impossible to say when they’d be balanced. But in any case, the point is that budgets that achieved balance in 25 or 30-odd years weren’t about attacking the deficit. What he really sought with those first two budgets was not to egg Washington toward deficit hawkery, but to egg it toward cuts to programs he doesn’t like—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other projects that assist poor people, keep the air clean, and perform all those bothersome functions that keep America’s potential Galts in chains.
Hello, I am back. We will discuss aspects of my vacation in due course, but first, our friend Mr. Ryan.
He's facing lots of derision for assuming the repeal of Obamacare in his new budget. First of all, credit where it's due--it was apparently Chris Wallace of Fox News who brought this information to light in questioning Ryan, so good for him.
And second of all, yes, this is a total howler. Repeal of Obamacare? Not going to happen. Could theoretically happen in 2017, one supposes, but by that time, even if there is a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, including the super-majority of 60 in the Senate that would presumably be needed to enact full repeal, states will be getting billions in federal funding to put working poor people on the rolls of their new exchanges. It seems pretty unlikely that broad support for undoing that would exist.
So Ryan's assumption doesn't pass any known laugh test. So why does he do it? Well, because of the old saying "that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it." Which is to say...
As some of my regulars may remember from last week, I'm on vacation this week. Touring around Charleston a bit this morning I learned something I hadn't known, which is that the Abner Doubleday, the self-safe Doubleday who invented baseball, fired the first Union shot at Ft. Sumter. Good man, Doubleday! Gave those yellow-bellied traitors a strong wihff of the grape. (Actually, not really, but he tried.)
Turns out Doubleday was quite a fellow. He was there at Gettysburg, gallantly leading outnumbered Yankee divisions before suffering a neck injury. He then took over the defense of the nation's capital. He rode with Lincoln on the president's train up to the Gettysburg dedication that November. After the war, he moved to San Francisco. All he managed to do there was to patent the cable car!
Anyway. Charleston is beautiful, of this there is no doubt. It still feels a little strange down here. I couldn't believe along I-95 that I still saw a billboard for Pedro's South of the Border that used the word "Sometheeng," spelled just like that. I thought those billboards were racist in 1981, the last time I saw them.
So this is it for this week unless some truly earth-rattling news event takes place. Talk amongst yourselves about Ft. Sumter, baseball, the South, whatevah.
Why does Bob Woodward get to lie—twice!—and still be Bob Woodward? And why is it that the Republicans can be so intransigent and Barack Obama gets blamed? Michael Tomasky explains.
Woodwardgate got me reflecting on the question of Washington morality. Now yes, that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one. But surely there is some set (however bizarre) of impulses and rules that lets Bob Woodward say what he said, and Politico promote it as if it were a feud between two soap opera stars, with both walking away essentially unharmed, as they likely will (certainly in Politico’s case; Woodward’s black eye will need a little time to heal). More important than that, there must be a set of impulses and rules that observes what has been going on in this town for the last four years, with Republicans being the most obstructionist opposition in the country’s modern history, and yet somehow contrives to blame Barack Obama for the fact that our government can’t function. I have divined three such rules that seem to apply to the present case and to most of the big dilemmas the capital has confronted in recent times.
US journalist Bob Woodward. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty)
Rule One: When information is being injected into the discourse, the content of the information is far less important than the stature of and/or establishment’s feeling about the person injecting the information. You could be as prescient as old Tiresias bumping his way around Thebes, but if the Washington bigwigs have never heard of you or haven’t already given you their seal of approval, you’re wasting your time. However, if you already possess said seal of approval, you can say pretty much anything, and you will be taken seriously.
Think of Colin Powell at the U.N. That was one howler after another. Now granted it was hard to know that in real time. But what it wasn’t hard to know at that point in the spring of 2003 was that the neoconservatives then peopling the Bush administration had been thirsting for war against Saddam since 1991, and anyone who knew that (as all of Washington should have) would have taken the general’s presentation with several grains of salt. Of course, the opposite happened. Powell was widely respected, and, well, it seemed impressive, with all those photos of all those trucks surely doing clandestine, trucky things.
With the approval rating of Congress at an all time low, The Daily Beast columnist Keli Goff says term limits may be the best remedy for the current political situation.
The Senate’s youngest member, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, held his fellow lawmakers’ feet to the fire on gun control. A year after Newtown, he says he’s not giving up the fight.