What is going on with John McCain? Maybe he just despises Barack Obama so completely that he almost can't help himself. That's one option. Another is that he has decided for whatever reason to finish his Senate career as a full-out tea partier. A third is that he's just a nasty man, which is pretty widely known to be true in Washington.
Hard to say. But this jihad of his against Susan Rice really is about the nastiest thing we've ever seen him do. Rice had nothing to do with security at the Benghazi consulate. Nothing. That just isn't her portfolio. The only thing she had to do with Libya, in any substantive way, is that she worked like a dog to assemble the coalition that toppled Muammar Ghaddafi, and she did an outstanding job at that. Indeed, as Eleanor Clift reported for the Beast back in January, Rice did travel once to Benghazi and was given a hero's welcome there.
All Rice had to do with the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack was that she happened to be the one who was sent out on television that fateful Sunday in September to state the talking points. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, and as I've passed along to you previously, she said what she was told that morning to say, and intelligence was being revised toward a conclusion that the attack was a terrorist act at the very moment that she was on the air.
McCain knows all this. He just wants a scalp, he and Lindsey Graham, over the whole Benghazi thing. And he wants to show he's relevant. The two of them are trying to make do with Kelly Ayotte now in the old Joe Lieberman role, but they've lost their bipartisan cover, which takes their whining and wailing down one notch on the legitmacy big board, and even the new independent coming into the Senate, Angus King, said yesterday that he thought McCain was out of line in attack Rice.
It's almost too easy piling on Mitt Romney's foul comments from yesterday, but hey, I'll do it. It's amazing that he can think of government programs to expand opportunity as "gifts." As a friend of mine wrote yesterday, in other circles, like most of America, as ways to help people better their lives.
It's nice that Bobby Jindal laid into him, but honestly: among rank and file conservatives, what percentage do we reckon agrees with Romney, and what percentage with Jindal? Romney was articulating a longstanding conservative view of government clientelism. It was an argument made against Social Security in the 1930s, Medicare in the 1960s, the Clinton health plan in the 1990s, and Obamacare today.
Romney's words are straight out of Martin, Barton, and Fish, or Albert Jay Nock, the noted libertarian anti-New Dealer. There is no ability to see that these programs might help people; only that they were created cynically for the purpose of getting their votes and, by implication, turning them into slaves of the states:
You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.
With Obama out to strike a “grand bargain” with Republicans, liberals need to play politics smarter than they did in 2009 and show that they have the president’s back.
There’s one question on the minds of liberals in Washington right now, or maybe I should say there’s one fear—that Barack Obama is going to give the Republicans more than he needs to in order to consummate this elusive “grand bargain” over taxing and spending. There are reasonable grounds for concern, and the people who don’t want Obama to touch entitlements should by all means make their position known and exert as much influence on the president as they possibly can. But what they emphatically should not do is take positions and use language that helps to make inevitable a split between the administration and its progressive flank of the kind we saw in 2009. If there’s one thing that’s going put wind in those ragged and depleted Republican sails, that is surely it.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks about working with Congress to avoid the so-called 'fiscal cliff' in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC, USA, 09 November 2012. (Shawn Thew / EPA / Landov)
The standard liberal position right now, to the extent that there is one, is essentially this: we don’t need a grand bargain. Obama is holding all the cards and doesn’t need to deal. The Bush tax rates expire on Jan. 1. So, let them expire. Then pass a bill that restores the Bush rates on all dollars earned below $250,000, resulting in an effective tax increase for dollars above that amount.
That’s the tax side. On the spending side—the “sequestration” cuts that also kick in Jan. 1 if there’s no big agreement—there’s less of a consensus, but I have been hearing from some liberals that Obama could and should be blithe about this deadline, too. The domestic portion of those cuts, these people say, can be ameliorated through some complicated budgetary chicanery, and after all, these cuts would be in effect just for a year. Liberals don’t talk as much about the automatic defense cuts, which, let’s face it, as a group they don’t care as much about.
Did you watch the press conference? Wowzie, zowie, that was quite a throw-down at McCain and Graham. Of course they've had that coming for a long time in my view.
McCain thinks he was elected president. He is a bully, and he must be spoken to like a bully. Also, this nonsense of his about a "Watergate-style" committee on Benghazi is an outrage. As the journalist Michael Cohen just tweeted: "So did John McCain call for a Watergate-style commission after 3,000 Americans were killed on 9/11?"
That language was as personal and direct and harsh as I've ever heard a president use about a couple of sitting senators. He is pissed. It'll be a bit of a letdown now if he doesn't nominate Rice to Foggy Bottom, which I'm still guessing he won't at the end of the day.
On the fiscal cliff front, Obama left a little room for compromise. He was asked, basically: Must the increase be all in going back to the Clinton-era rates on the top end? He said, basically: I'm open to new ideas, if they have any.
I was just reading through the comment thread on yesterday afternoon's post and finding it pretty fascinating. So let me ask you, my liberal readers, what you would find it acceptable for Obama to compromise on. Conservatives of course may weigh in as well, but I'm particularly interested here in what the people who gave Obama their vote think.
I'm going to list five ideas floating around the Beltway. You can order them from acceptable to unacceptable, if you wish, and give us your thoughts on them. I'll throw in some my thoughts in below as well.
1. Index Social Security benefits to the so-called "chained" consumer price index. This would have the effect of reducing benefits as a person ages, so that one who lives to 88 or 90 would see monthly checks much lower than under the current formula. I think accepting this would constitute a very real diminution in our social insurance policy and would really be crossing a line.
2. Increasing the retirement age. It's increasing right now; see this chart. For me (born in 1960, when I was, and after), full retirement age is going to be 67. There are no plans to raise it beyond that. Would doing so be okay? I don't exactly like this idea, but I'd conceivably be okay with it as long as there are exceptions made for people who work in certain labor-intensive categories. I remember reading that some other OECD countries do this.
So Obama's opening bid of $1.6 trillion over 10 years in new tax revenues from the well-off and corporations appears to have shocked the Republicans. Here's Daniel Strauss, reporting in The Hill:
House Republicans on Wednesday were incredulous at the president's opening bid.
"That is so 2009. It's like he is still in charge of this place," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), referring to the last time Democrats had a majority in the House.
Obviously, that's his opening bid, so I don't think it means much. The more interesting comment yesterday came from Tim Geithner, who is still the treasury secretary. He said: "I don’t see how you do this without higher rates. I don’t think there’s any feasible, realistic way to do it. When you take a cold, hard look at the amount of resources you can raise from that top 2 percent of Americans through limiting deductions, you will find yourself disappointed relative to the magnitude of the revenue increases that we need."
Mike Lind has a smart column in Salon that argues, from a strongly reality-based perch, that Social Security and Medicare have nothing--nothing!--to do with our current fiscal jam-up. He is right. I don't do charts here, but he does. You should click over and look at the chart of the factors that have contributed to our present deficit. The numbers are roughly as follows:
Economic downturn, $350 billion; Stimulus and other recovery measures, $350 billion; Bush tax cuts, $300 billion; unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $150 billion. Interestingly, in the out years, like from 2014 onward, the Obama portion of the tab (stimulus/recovery) dwindles to almost nothing; the Bush portions (the other three) stay quite high, especially the cost of the Bush tax cuts, which grow and grow.
So Lind writes:
Note what is missing from the chart. The ballooning of the public debt was not caused in any way by any explosion of spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or other middle-class entitlements or safety-net programs for the poor. And yet the proponents of a “Grand Bargain” like Simpson and Bowles tells us that we need to move quickly to cut these essential social insurance programs, which — it bears repeating — had nothing at all to do with the present fiscal crisis.
I'm sure you've been reading about the secession petitions. There's a place on the White House web site for citizens to push petitions, and if they get 25,000 signatures, the White House says it will do something or other to respond, no matter the cause.
Twelve states advanced secession petitions after Obama won reelection. Only Texas's got remotely close to the required number of signatures (indeed Texans met the threshold). But that no-fun-nik Rick Perry came out today against the idea.
Now there's a new petition: to deport every jerkazoid who signed a secession petition. If you wanna sign, it's right here. It's early days yet, so it has only about 2,000 signatories so far.
Perry might want to reconsider after reading this Houston Chronicle item looking at demographic and political trends in his state:
At TPM today, Sahil Kapur has a good run down of the five senators most likely to leave Norquististan and back Obama on a tax increase on dollars earned (remember? dollars earned, not people!) above $250,000. He says: Susan Collins of Maine; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Dean Heller of Nevada; Mark Kirk of Illinois; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
That's a good list. Three of the five are from blue states, and Heller, from the least blue of the four, just won reelection, so he won't have to worry about Sharron Angle for a while yet. Murkowski is from a very red state but at this point in her career she probably likes Barack Obama a lot more than she likes Mitch McConnell. Besides, there can't be that many taxpayers in the state of Alaska whose taxable income is greater than $250,000 a year. Well, there's one, but Murkowski doesn't like her, either, so that just provides Murkowski with motivation.
Graham is Kapur's wild card, especially because Graham does face reelection in 2014. but Kapur writes:
...the senator has, in recent years, collaborated with Democrats on major issues like immigration and climate change, and in the wake of Obama’s re-election, is urging his party to soften its opposition on immigration reform in order to win back Hispanics. He has also been vocal about his support for raising tax revenues to reduce the .debt.
Post-election chatter has focused on demographics, Latinos, and the culture war. But the most significant consequence of the election may be the death of trickle-down economics.
Here’s something that happened in this election that has been largely overlooked but I think is a very big deal indeed. Trickle-down economics died last Tuesday. The post-election chatter has been dominated by demographics, Latinos, women, and the culture war. But economics played a strong and even pivotal role in this election too, and Reaganomics came out a huge loser, while the Democrats have started to wrap their arms around a simple, winning alternative: the idea that government must invest in the middle class and not the rich. It’s middle-out economics instead of trickle-down, and it won last week and will keep on winning.
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney takes the stage to concede his quest for President of the United State at his election night event at the Boston Convention Center in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (Stephan Savoia / AP Photo)
You know the history. Arthur Laffer sketched out his famous curve—whether on a napkin or not is apparently still debated—back in 1974, when the top marginal rate was 90 percent. There is a certain point, Laffer explained, at which rates decrease revenue. Since many of the people to whom he was doing this explaining found themselves to be in or near the top bracket, quite naturally they liked his theory a lot.
Up sprang the nonprofits devoted to getting the little people to buy in to the idea that taxes on the wealthy should be lowered, and soon enough supply-side economics was born. Along came Ronald Reagan to assure everyone that the rising tide would lift all boats. It’s never happened quite the way conservatives said it would. Even during the general prosperity of the second Reagan term, income inequality began to expand dramatically, wage stagnation became a permanent feature of American life, and the immiseration of the poor worsened.
I think Politico's Jonathan Martin is reaching a little with this analogy. Although I admit that's about as interested as I've been in a Politico home page in many a day, when I looked down there and saw a woman who looked a lot like Pauline Kael and...turned out to be Pauline Kael!
Actually, it was suggested to him by a Republican source. The idea is that there's this famous quote from Kael describing the liberal coccoon she lived in in New York in the 70s, and that now it's conservatives who live in a coccoon:
In this reassuring conservative pocket universe, Rasmussen polls are gospel, the Benghazi controversy is worse than Watergate, “Fair and Balanced” isn’t just marketing and Dick Morris is a political seer.
Even this past weekend, days after a convincing Obama win, it wasn’t hard to find fringes of the right who are convinced he did so only because of mass voter fraud and mysteriously missing military ballots. Like a political version of “Thelma and Louise,” some far-right conservatives are in such denial that they’d just as soon keep on driving off the cliff than face up to a reality they’d rather not confront.
We should be leaving Romney in peace soon, but I’ve meaning to write this what he might have done differently post, and I’m interested in your thoughts.
David Axelrod shared some reflections on this with Mike Allen. Axelrod thinks the Romney message was “at war with itself” because there was, at the end, simultaneous playing to the base and trying to sound conciliatory, and it clashed. He also pointed to the Jeep ad, the late messaging on the auto bailout, as being pretty disastrous for Romney.
I’d agree with that. But what might he have done differently? Here are my thoughts:
1. He should have created a Sister Souljah moment of his own with the right sometime over the summer. Not sure on what. But he should have found some occasion and used it to give a speech that said to the nation broadly, “I’m not just in these people’s pocket.” I will lead, I won’t just follow.
Jane Mayer has an interesting take on the Petraeus matter that she posted yesterday at the New Yorker's site. Citing reporting over the weekend from the Times, she notes that one FBI agent, apparently freelancing, took the information the FBI had confirmed about the affair to two Republican members of Congress, one of whom was Eric Cantor, John Boehner's number two in the House.
Cantor evidently came to know about the affair on Halloween. And yet, he obviously did not leak it before the election (we don't know that he didn't try or think about it, but we obviously know that nothing appeared). He's not known as a wallflower, and you might think that in the week before the election, he'd want to try to put something out there that would inevitably be embarrassing to Obama.
If Cantor spoke with Mueller on Halloween, as the Times chronology suggests, what happened between then and November 6th, which is when the F.B.I. reportedly informed James Clapper Jr., the Director of National Intelligence, about Petraeus’s extra-marital affair? The internal pressure must have been enormous on Petraeus during this period. Perhaps he tried to outlast the election in order to shelter Obama from the fallout of his own personal foibles. Perhaps the F.B.I. director, Mueller, who has a reputation for integrity, tried to keep the scandal from political exploitation by keeping it under wraps until Election Day. Cantor, too, appears to have kept quiet, despite the political advantage his party might have gained from going public. Why? It is possible that, because the investigation had national-security implications, those in the know needed to tread carefully for legal reasons.
Bravo to the GOP for entertaining an amnesty program for undocumented immigrants. But it won’t make a difference at the ballot box until the party stops its race baiting.
Well, it’s all very touching now that Sean Hannity wants the Republicans to embrace immigration reform, isn’t it? And Charles Krauthammer, bless him, calling on the GOP to repeat the word “amnesty” as if it were some tantric mantra of salvation. Look, I think it would be great if Republicans would vote for a bill including a path to citizenship for people who came here illegally. But if they think they don’t have a long list of other problems, these people are just delusional. And the list of problems starts with the phrase made famous by Mitt Romney, a little phrase perfumed enough in racial code to have raised a wry smile on Jesse Helms’s face.
Sean Hannity: immigration reformer? (John Amis / AP)
Let’s travel back in time to Romney’s infamous NAACP speech, the one he gave (in my view) basically so that he could be booed by a black audience in order to impress his skeptical base. That was July 11. The next day, he spoke at a fundraiser in Hamilton, Mont.—I’m just guessing here, but it was probably a pretty melanin-deprived room. And he told them: “When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response. That’s OK, I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff.”
The superstitious mind pondering any question latches on to the first answer that is both a) plausible and b) supportive of its darkest suspicions. And so, just as some in the olden days concluded that a woman was guilty of being a witch if she didn’t cry when she was accused, today’s conservatives took to Romney’s analysis like Donald Trump to styling mousse. Of course! It explained everything! These people—or, to put it in the usual way, “those people”—just want government to take care of them.
Obama just finished his remarks on the fiscal cliff, and he was direct and no-nonsense. Yes, I want to work with the other side, blah blah. But let's pass the middle-class tax cuts now. The Senate has passed a bill already protecting incomes under $250,000 from higher rates. The House just needs to do the same. I have a pen, and I'm ready to sign it [brandishes pen, even!].
The 2009 Obama would not have been that direct and confident. Not even the 2011 Obama. This is new. He's saying, "I am the president, I won. Deal with it, and deal with me." Too often in his first term, he let the Republicans set the basic terms of debate. Not this time. He just set them.
Now, Boehner and McConnell have to come back and explain why they're going to block a bill that would keep rates lower for 98 percent of taxpayers in order to protect the 2 percent. They'll carry on about job creators. That's a losing argument--I mean, it is precisely the argument that just got thumped in the election.
They may stand pat on it, but their standing will drop badly. Remember, 60 percent in exit polls said they back higher taxes on dollars above $250,000 (within that, 13 percent even supported higher taxes for everyone). Obama got just under 51 percent of the vote. That means that raising these taxes had the support of a few million Romney voters. Think about that.
As the debate heats up over whether NSA-leaker Edward Snowden is a hero or traitor, Megan McArdle joins NOW with Alex Wagner on MSNBC to give her take.
Younger voters and independents have soured significantly on the president in the last month, writes John Avlon.