Rough days, reports Politico:
“He’s got a donor backlash and he’s got an activists backlash,” said one prominent Republican donor. Several people who cut big checks to Crossroads feel burned, this person said, adding some believe Rove is letting his group off too easy with his insistence that the problem last year was bad candidates.
“This idea that he’s the curator” of the Republican Party has taken a beating, said the donor. Further, the donor said — echoing sentiments made by others — the Times story about the Conservative Victory Project made both Crossroads and Rove a focus, as opposed to the process of picking candidates. And it set CVP up in direct opposition to another major conservative outside group, Club for Growth, that has been able to tout electoral successes.
Rove's power in the GOP has confused me since at least 2006. It was then that he infamously said to NPR's Robert Siegel: "You're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to THE math." Rove's math, of course, was proved horribly wrong on election day. I don't know why he was taken seriously after that.
The key finding from the new Pew poll that's whipping around the Twittersphere this morning is that 76 percent of respondents favor a balanced approach to bringing down the deficit. Only 19 percent back the Republican position of no taxes at all.
Now it is true that within the 76 percent, most favor a scheme that would have more cuts than revenue. This is fine. But the point is that three-quarters of the public supports a combined approach. So how can Boehner stand up there, and McConnell and all of them, and say they are representing the American people on this? They plainly are not. At 19 percent support, their position isn't even the position of all Republicans.
Conservatives are focusing on the question where 70 percent say action on the budget deficit is "essential this year." But I found that result a little misleading as respondents were given just four choices: deficit reduction, climate change, gun control, immigration reform. The opposite of deficit reduction is government investment to spur job growth. I'd guess deficit reduction would still win that, but I think it would be pretty close.
The poll also finds that people are more likely to blame Republicans for the sequester kicking in by 49 to 31 percent. Here's one number you won't hear many Republicans talking about: The number of respondents willing to call themselves Republicans is down to 22 percent. Democrats, 32 percent. You can browse through all the numbers here. The long and short of it is that Obama's positions range from popular to meh, but that no Republican position on any issue has the backing of a majority of the country--respondents want an assault weapons ban, for example, by 56 to 41 percent. Most GOP positions are backed only by...the dwindling percentage of Republicans.
Moving beyond the question of who is to blame for sequestration, the arguably more compelling question of the moment is, so what are we going to do about it right now? Congress' choice, leave town for the week, isn't exactly indicative of any seriousness on their part.
Maybe they'll negotiate next week, but there's nothing to negotiate about, really. This whole thing actually comes down to entitlments. Republicans want to force a situation where deep entitlement cuts are made, and Democrats want to resist that. John Boehner said as much, basically, in his weird WSJ op-ed yesterday, if you know how to read these things:
Washington must get serious about its spending problem. If it can't reform America's safety net and retirement-security programs, they will no longer be there for those who rely on them. Republicans' willingness to do what is necessary to save these programs is well-known. But after four years, we haven't seen the same type of courage from the president.
Yes, their willingness is indeed "well-known," I can't quibble with that. It's also quite unpopular. But that's what the Republicans really want to force here--a Ryanesque rewrite of the Medicare and Social Security systems. And no, the alternative is not doing absolutely nothing about their costs--Obama put chained CPI on the table, and he'd do so again. The alternative is a non-Ryanesque rewrite of the way they're funded and the way benefits are paid out, but that isn't remotely on the table.
I'm going to write this just so our conservative friends can't say I brush these things under the rug. He's clearly a troubled man, but he's also a gonif and a loser, so good riddance to him. All right?
I have no time to defend petty theives on the basis of ideology. If someone gets caught up in something more complicated, and it appears there are extenuating circumstances, or maybe there was prosecutorial overreach, that's one thing. But I try to be pretty evenhanded about these things. I don't mind sex unless it involves ranks hypocrisy. I know we all screw up from time to time. And I am suspicious of prosecutors as a rule.
But JJJ? He's way out there. And he pleaded guilty, so it's not like there's much question.
I've never understood this fixation some people, especially the social striver-parvenu types, have with fancy watches. I view watches as existing to serve a purpose. I wear a Timex. I especially love the way it glows in the dark at the press of a button, so if you're bored in a movie or something, you can check the time quite easily. I looked at Rolexes online once, with the thought of buying one for Christmas for my sister, who'd done me a particularly good turn that year. But (sorry sis) they were out of my price range, even on discount, but even if I'd had the $5,000 or so I think I'd have had difficulty in good conscience in plunking it down on a watch. JJJ owns a $43,000 watch. That's enough to make me question his judgment on all matters. Jesse, once you've done your penance and had a few chats with the Lord and accepted your newly humbled station, may I recommend to you this fine Timex piece. At $53, it's more in line with your coming lifestyle.
I know I have a go at the GOP on a regular basis. That's because I think they have become uniquely radical for a major political party in American history, and also uniquely obstreperous and anti-democratic in their attitude toward the political process. So I think they're pretty nutso, but I usually understand what they are doing and can see how, from their potted perspective, it makes a certain sense.
But the hand they're trying to play now just confuses me. I do not understand it. I do not understand how they think they can be the ones calling for the sequester to kick in and then expect the public to blame Obama. Especially while Obama is out there with cops as his backdrop saying we simply cannot allow this sequester to kick in.
I really just don't get this thinking. In my column yesterday, I used an analogy of two neighbors who don't get along. So let me continue in that vein. We have a tree, a grand old oak, that straddles the property line. Let's say it's dying, but slowly. My wfie (the equivalent here of Gene Sperling and Jack Lew) says one day, a couple of years ago, "Well, if the tree isn't better by a date certain in the future, we may have to cut it down." The date nears. My neighbor wants to cut it down now. I (and my wife) say let's wait, we're against cutting it down for now.
A company comes in on that date certain and cuts it down. There's an uproar on the block because the tree was a stately old thing. Who are the neighbors going to blame? If you think they're going to blame me and my wife, I say that you are not following any earth logic of which I'm aware.
So now the Washington Free Bacon is just publishing single-sourced recollections of people who heard Chuck Hagel give a speech back in such-and-such a year who say he said X but don't have the exact quotes handy and on that basis demanding that Hagel prove he didn't say what these people seem to think he said.
I'm not going to link to that, sorry; you'll have to look for it yourself if you're so inclined. In the more recent case, there's a real-time email from a guy who was in attendance at a Hagel speech at Rutgers in 2010 in which the guy, Kenneth Wagner, writes that Hagel said Israel risks becoming an apartheid state if it didn't allow the Palestinians to form a state. Wagner put nothing in quote marks, so there is no attributed direct quote.
Amusingly, while the Washington Emancipated Pork Belly hasn't really yet found an instance of Hagel definitively saying this, Dave Weigel did find an instance of Ehud Barak saying it. Barak said this as Israel's defense minister. So the head of Israel's defense department can say this, but the head of America's cannot. If indeed he said it at all.
Meanwhile, Michael Hirsch, eminently trustworthy on such issues, argues that Hagel was the prescient one back in the Bush era:
Simpson and Bowles have returned to the stage with a far worse plan than the one they had before. Their old formula sought $2.9 trillion in cuts and $2.6 trillion in revenues, while this new one that they touted at a Politico breakfast this morning seeks just $1.3 trillion in revenues and jacks the cuts up to $3.9 trillion.
The change is driven not so much by any kind of ideological shift or decision that we need more pain as it is driven, or so says Ezra Klein, by their apparent decision this time not to create their own new thing wholly from scratch irrespective of what the pols are saying, but to use Obama's and Boehner's latest offers as sort of starting points and guides:
This isn’t meant to be an update to Simpson-Bowles 1.0. Rather, it’s meant to be an outline for a new grand bargain. To that end, Simpson and Bowles began with Obama and Boehner’s final offers from the fiscal cliff deal. That helps explain why their tax ask has fallen so far: Obama’s final tax ask was far lower than what was in the original Simpson-Bowles plan, while Boehner’s tilt towards spending cuts was far greater than what was in the original Simpson-Bowles.
That said, while this plan doesn’t include more tax increases than Obama asked for, it does include significantly more than the $1 trillion in spending cuts than Boehner asked for — about $500 to $700 billion more, if I’m reading it right. In increasing the total deficit reduction, Simpson and Bowles have put the weight on the spending side of the budget.
This big kerfuffle reflects poorly on both sides and reveals two interesting realities of Washington journalism as it's currently practiced, realities that coexist to some degree in tension with each other:
Reality 1 is that it's true that White House reporters as a rule are vain and whiny and focus on trivia and minutaie.
Reality 2 is that in a sense the above is understandable because it's a really monotonous job that does weird things to a person's brain.
I of course have never held the job, but it can't be so different from covering campaigns at close quarters, which I have done. It ain't the salt mines or a shoe factory, but it's deadly dull. You have no space, no privacy. You spend hours and hours sitting or standing around waiting for something to happen. You are reduced to following the story of the day, even if it's completely insipid, because that's what everyone else is following and it's what your editor will want. You quickly become bored by and contemptuous of everyone, up to the president himself.
Conservatives keep reminding everyone that the sequester was Obama’s idea. But, says Michael Tomasky, that doesn’t mean he’s to blame for the current crisis.
Whose “idea” was the sequester, and why should it matter? My Twitter feed these last couple of weeks has been overflowing with people going beyond the usual “communist” and “idiot” name-calling that I get every day and throwing the occasional “liar” in there because I “withhold” the information that the sequester was the Obama administration’s idea. Very well, consider that nugget hereby unwithheld. Let’s grant that this is true. But it’s true only because the Republicans were holding a gun to the administration’s head—and besides, the Republicans immediately voted for it. In any case the important thing now is that outside of Fox News land, it’s an unimportant fact whose “idea” it was. The Republicans are partial owners of this idea, and as the party that now wants the cuts to kick in, they deserve to—and will—bear more responsibility for the negative impacts.
Obama and congressional Republicans made no progress last week in heading off $85 billion in budget-wide cuts that automatically start taking effect March 1. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
A trip back through the full context of this saga tells the story. The idea of having these deep budget cuts called “sequestration” goes back to the summer of 2011 and the debt-ceiling negotiations. You’ll recall readily enough that it was first time in history that an opposition party had attempted to attach any conditions to increasing the debt limit. You’ll also recall that the Republicans made this intention quite clear from the beginning of 2011; indeed, from campaign time the year before. Remember Obama’s quotes from late 2010 in which he said he felt sure the Republicans would behave more reasonably once the responsibility to govern was partly theirs?
Instead, they almost crashed the economy. And they were also clearly the side pushing for drastic spending cuts. Let’s go back quickly over a partial 2011 timeline. In April, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said it was the president’s position that raising the debt limit “shouldn’t be held hostage to any other action.” On May 11, Austan Goolsbee, then Obama’s chief economic adviser, said that tying a debt-limit increase to spending cuts was “quite insane.”
Imagining how President Romney would have handled the fiscal negotiations is a revealing thought experiment—because it shows just how unreasonable the current GOP position is, says Michael Tomasky.
One of the enduring mysteries of the contemporary Republican Party is whether they really believe all this gibberish that oozes out of their mouths. I suppose it will vary from issue to issue. On guns, I’d guess that many do genuinely believe that liberals basically want a gun-free America, so at least they’re more or less sincere on that one. On climate change, I think Jim Inhofe fervently believes it’s all bunk, and most of the rest of them don’t care but just figure they’ll follow his lead. But what about the broad economic questions? Here, I’ve come to conclude that somewhere way down there, they mostly know their theories haven’t worked, but they’re not anywhere near being able to acknowledge this to the rest of us. And tragically, this fact, combined with the fact of their unfortunate political power on Capitol Hill, means—in general, and with respect to this sequester battle in particular—that we’re going to have to live through more economic anguish waiting for these puerile people to join the real world.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a Super Tuesday event at the Westin Copley Place March 6, 2012, in Boston. (Win McNamee/Getty)
About 10 days ago, I wrote that it was starting to smell like the Republicans actually wanted the sequester cuts to kick in. Then the other day, John Boehner revealed the new House GOP position on the sequester. The Hill reported and Greg Sargent seized on this quote: “I’ll tell you the same thing I told my Republican colleagues at our retreat. The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”
What he’s saying is that we must balance the budget within 10 years using cuts only. As Sargent points out, that would require cuts totaling one sixth to one third of government. Now this may be the Tea Party’s dream in theory, but nothing like this will ever happen in a million years. A government that starts closing regional airports in small towns, shuttering Department of Energy and Veterans Affairs facilities all over the country, and many kindred activities, well, believe me, that’s a government that will somehow find the funding for those facilities in a hurry and reopen them. Putting aside all questions of what’s right and wrong and considering only questions of political feasibility, the Boehner position is completely from another universe, and and his fellow Republicans surely know that such closings would have deeply harmful economic impacts across the country.
Astute piece from Jonathan Mahler at Bloomberg View today on why football is not likely to go the way of boxing. The latter sport hasn't withered away, he writes, because of public revulsion at the violent nature of it. Rather, it's been simply because of lack of television exposure:
Boxing once relied heavily on prime-time Olympic exposure to introduce its future stars to the U.S. sports-viewing public. We first met Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay -- the slender, charismatic 18-year-old light-heavyweight gold medalist in 1960 in Rome. Boxing was the highest-rated Olympic sport of the 1976 summer games in Montreal, which featured Sugar Ray Leonard as well as Michael and Leon Spinks. Just 16 years later, in Barcelona, Olympic boxing made its final prime-time appearance on U.S. broadcast television.
In the intervening period, the networks basically abandoned the sport. This happened partly because an aggressive Home Box Office executive named Seth Abraham spent a lot of money systematically luring the big fights away from the networks.
Abraham figured out, correctly, that fight fans would pay $40 and $50 to see big-time bouts on HBO, so it became a niche spectator sport. This all started before Abraham came along. I remember well for the first Ali-Frazier fight in 1971, Dad took me and Steve Szapanos down to the Fairmont Armory to see it on a huge screen in closed-circuirt telecast. I was for Ali, Stevie for Frazier. God the smoke in that place.
Perhaps you've followed this week's little dust-up between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and The New York Times, whose reviewer drove a Tesla Model S from Washington DC to Connecticut and had a pretty lousy time of it and wrote a scathing review. Musk challenged its accuracy, and the Times' public editor is looking into it.
Even assuming the Times is correct and Tesla isn't ready for a long road trip, time is on the side of electric plug-in vehicles, and this is one area where the government, which is to say the Obama administration, is doing exactly the right thing and playing a terrific role. Michael Grunwald documented all this in his book The New New Deal, which I've mentioned to you before.
There was no domestic electric car-battery industry or market before 2009 because the private sector wasn't interested in making them, in turn because consumers weren't interested in buying such cars. So it might have continued forever, or for several more years anyway, if the...wait for it...stimulus bill (!) hadn't included $2.4 billion to create a domestic car-battery industry.
Today, there are nearly 100,000 plug-ins on the road. Nearly every major carmaker is building one. Sales have been sluggish, true. It takes people a while to change their habits. My wife was talking up a Volt a while ago. Even I felt...unready. A hybrid, I'm all for. My next car will definitely be either a Sonata or Camry or Fusion hybrid, or maybe a comparable sedan if another appears here in the DC market, and I hope this year. The plug-ins still feel a little in need of working out the kinks. Plus they're really expensive, even with the tax credit.
In the comment thread the other day on universal pre-K, InLightened (one of our conservatives in case you don't know) alluded to the report from last year about Head Start's failures. I'd missed that in real time I admit, so I went back and read it, or read through it. You can do the same; here it is.
It's pretty terrible, there's no denying it. Basically, the researchers found that Head Start worked fairly well, emphasis on fairly, for the time that little children were in it, and maybe a year afterward. But by the third grade and in many cases by the first grade there were no appreciable differences between the Head Start kids and the control group kids in terms of social and emotional development, in terms of health and well-being, in terms of learning development. No difference.
Here's a paper that's less pessimistic without being pollyannish and optimistic. But it's hard to deny it. Taxpayers spend $8 billion a year on this program, and we aren't getting our money's worth. You can read the links for the social-sciencey explanations. I would suspect that a good part of the explanation just lies in the simple fact that some people are really good at their jobs and other people are really lousy at their jobs.
The people who follow these things closely, for example, always talk about the problem of "scaling up." That is, there's a terrifically successful program in some county or city somewhere, and then people try to take it to the state or national level and results are mixed. And they ask: Why? Well, common sense suggests to me that at that local level, you probably had a great and energetic leader, and you just can't have one of those everywhere.
Okay, I'm not going to get in high moral dudgeon about this. The Democrats did do it to John Bolton, and they succeeded in blocking him. And I supported blocking Bolton, so it would be hypocritical of me to be outraged today. In retrospect, I might have been wrong about that. A president should probably have his head on cabinet (and near-cabinet) positions, unless we find out something really terrible about the person.
One could argue that Bolton's gig was not on the same level, although technically, that wasn't a cabinet post (as Republicans see things) and isn't nearly as important as Defense Secretary. You can go for a while without a UN ambassador, but a SecDef is a pretty necessary human being. There's a meeting of Western defense ministers in Brussels next week, and of course there are the sequestration cuts to manage, if they take effect on March 1. One can argue all that, but still one can't deny that the Bolton case is precedential here (izzat a word?).
I don't actually care very much whether Chuck Hagel becomes defense secretary. The only utility to a Democratic president of having a Republican SecDef is that Republicans will cut the guy some slack and not pester him the way they might go after a Democrat. Hagel obviously will not fulfill that purpose, so I'm not sure what good Hagel is to Obama anyway. He's more trouble than he's worth. Hagel ought to think about withdrawing his name. I'd rather see a Democrat running the shop anyway. The only problem with Hagel withdrawing is that it escalates this craziness.
What I do care about is the anti-Arab racist crap that is floating around. So Hagel spoke to Jim Zogby's group. Jim Zogby's group is always called "controversial," but it's "controversial" chiefly because journalists who are either pro-Israel ideologues or idiots who don't know any better put the adjective "controversial" in front of it. And then there's this odious business that Dave Weigel exposed about the "pro-Hagel" group Friends of Hamas, which doesn't actually exist.
Obama’s agenda isn’t necessarily about the next four years. By Michael Tomasky.
There’s an old joke in the politics world about mayors and governors who’d never approve a highway project that might take more than three years out of mortal fear that they might not be around to don the sash and cut the ribbon. Whatever problems Barack Obama has, he doesn’t have that one. A lot of commentators are amusing themselves by pointing out that very few of Obama’s long list of State of the Union goals are likely to make it into law while he’s in office. I say that seeing as how he’s a pretty smart man, he knows this. But he’s doing it anyway. Because he’s thinking more about history than his story, and because he understands that if he wants to be a transformational president, the change he initiates is going to have to continue well past his time—and yes, the great presidents have all thought this way.
US President Barack Obama returns to Andrews Air Force Base Airport February 13, 2012 in Maryland. Obama traveled to Asheville to visit the Linamar factory to speak about his economic growth plan he spoke about in last night's State of the Union. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
The conventional wisdom is that the speech was a wish list, a Christmas list. I think that metaphor says more about the metaphorer than it does about Obama. If anyone understands the brutal reality of Capitol Hill, after what he went through those first four years, I’d reckon it’s Obama. My dear mother, a normally refined woman who nevertheless enjoyed a little earthy West Virginia humor, used to love the saying “wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled faster.” Obama has seen enough of the latter from the Republicans to know that the former is a waste of time.
What is not a waste of time, however, is using your pulpit as president of the United States to lay out a vision for the sort of society you would like to see America become. Barack Obama is going to retire in January 2017, but history isn’t likely to end then. Obama knows that fighting climate change and getting universal pre-school and doing something to help the working poor are big jobs, long jobs. They’re certainly not going to happen under the current legislative configuration, and they’re probably not going to happen while he’s in office.
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.
Few expected Mississippi’s senior senator to stand for reelection. Now he’ll be bringing the Republican Party’s civil war to another state, facing an insurgent from the right next June.