Content Section
The Horror

The Vampire Slayer Election

Control of the Senate depends on turnout in November. Democrats need to tap what scares their base most: fear of an unrestrained GOP.

We’ve known for a long time now that the Democrats have a lot of Senate seats to defend in red states where Barack Obama’s approval numbers aren’t much higher than George Zimmerman’s—indeed, in these states, surely lower.

But I feel like the fear has just set in here in the last couple of weeks; that is, Democrats coming to terms with the possibility-to-likelihood that they might lose the Senate this November, and after that, the utter bleakness of a final Obama two years with both House and Senate in GOP hands, saying no to anything and everything except, of course, any remote whiff of an opportunity to bring impeachment charges over something.

Republicans need a net pickup of six seats. Democrats are trying to defend incumbent status in six red states (North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia, and Alaska); also in two blue ones (Michigan and Iowa). They’re hoping for upsets in two red states (Georgia and Kentucky).

You’ll read a lot about Obamacare and the minimum wage and the War on Women and everything else, and all those things will matter. But only one thing really, really, really matters: turnout. You know the lament: The most loyal Democratic groups—young people, black people, single women, etc.—don’t come out to vote in midterms in big numbers. You may dismiss this as lazy stereotyping, but sometimes lazy stereotyping is true, and this is one of those times.

GO FOR BROKE

Obamacare Wins on Specifics

If Republicans can keep discussion around the Affordable Care Act vague, they’ll win in the midterms. The party of health care should collect stories of success and confront the party of no.

The big electoral question hanging over Democrats, of course, is what to do about Obamacare this fall. The pundits say: It’s death! The Democrats are gonna get killed. The Democratic consultants advise their candidates to be as mealy-mouthed as they can possibly get away with being and change the topic as quickly as possible.

The pundits might end up being right after all the votes are counted. But I say the quickest way for Democrats to guarantee that the pundits end up being right is to take their consultants’ advice and pussy-foot around the issue. Democrats who do that will be hoping they sound “reasonable,” but what they’ll really be sounding, and everyone will hear it, is timorous, callow, and totally without conviction. If Democrats are going to say they support the ACA at all—and most of them are going to have to—they might as well do it in a full-throttle and in-your-face way. And they can. The material is there if they just have the onions to use it.

I was struck recently by the contrast in the way two well-known Florida Democrats are approaching the issue. Charlie Crist is the ex-Republican governor who’s now seeking his old office as a Democrat and, after calling himself a proud conservative just a few years ago, is suddenly to the left to me. Alex Sink is Democrat who lost to Crist’s successor, incumbent GOP governor Rick Scott, and is now trying to get to Congress in a special election in a district just north of Tampa Bay. Their approaches are day and night with respect to Obamacare,

Crist has his issues, Lord knows, and Floridians may well question how deeply he believes all this. But be that as it may, here was Crist to Chuck Todd on MSNBC earlier this month: “About a million of my fellow Floridians are not getting health care today. And I am told by friends at SEIU that means that six people in Florida die every day as a result of that. Every day.” Whoa, Todd said; that’s kind of a heavy charge. People are dying because of Rick Scott and his failure to push for Medicaid money under Obamacare?  “That’s right. Well think about it…If people are sick, and they aren’t getting health care, what happens? They usually get sicker. Or they die.” The state would be losing, Crist noted, $51 billion in federal money over next 10 years. In other venues, Crist has been similarly full-throated, and less melodramatic, in saying that it’s a tragedy for his state not to take that money.

Plunderers

Why Aren’t Bad CEOs Ever Punished?

The Harvard economist famous for defending the one percent says America’s top earners “deserve” what they make, nevermind that our system immunizes them from the consequences of their mistakes.

I remember being mildly dismayed back in November 2011 when students at Harvard walked out on one of Gregory Mankiw’s lectures. Not that I’d agree with the economist who once headed George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. It just struck me as kind of misplaced.

But today, after having read Mankiw’s opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times, I officially reverse that position and indeed suggest—nay, plead—that every Mankiw student from here to the end of time boycott his lectures on the basis of its dishonest vapidity. The idea that someone could peddle these gaseous lies to college students (to our future leaders, no less!) fills me with horror. To the extent that the worldview he expressed is taken seriously in this country—which, alas, is a considerable extent—our economic prospects are grim.

The headline, “Yes, the Wealthy Can Be Deserving,” was undoubtedly slapped up there by the sheepish commissioning editor trying to understate the column’s more egregious claims. What Mankiw in fact argues is that nearly every super-rich corporate titan in America has earned whatever he makes, and that “the value of a good CEO is extraordinarily high.”

Sure, the value of a good CEO is extraordinarily high. Whether it’s 343 times as high as the wage of an average employee is highly debatable. But that’s not even my main criticism with Mankiw’s argument. The main problem in our society isn’t the over-compensation of good CEOs, scandalous though that is. It’s the over-compensation of bad ones.

Chattanooga

Can a Senator Stop a Union?

Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee could decide the future of unionization in the South today. Why the right is possibly breaking the law to get them to vote ‘no.’

Sometime today, we’re expected to find out whether the workers in that Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant have decided to unionize. I hope very much that they didn’t let Sen. Bob Corker’s intimidation campaign—which strikes me as a possible violation of the Wagner Act, a point to which I’ll return—scare them out of voting yes.

The vote is the perfect occasion to recall that, on the right’s very long hate list of abortionists and gays and undocumented workers and Kenyans and so on and so on, very few groups—perhaps none—occupy a higher spot than labor unions.

This may seem an odd thing for me to say. After all, we argue, our two broad political sides, about gays and immigrants all the time. It never stops. But unions, we don’t discuss much. This would give the impression that they aren’t that important to the two sides anymore.

Alas, that’s only half true. Paradoxically, perhaps, it’s on the left that unions aren’t that important today. Most liberal activists are far more interested in women’s rights, LGBT rights, climate change, and other issues that are more au courant. Furthermore, most liberal activists are white-collar, and, how to put it, white-skinned upper-middle-class people who no longer feel any deep and reflexive empathy for the working classes. Liberal elites are more interested in other people and things. The broad left’s enthusiasm for unions is still real, but it’s a shadow of what it once was.

Party Like It’s 1999

Rand’s Hot Monica Talk

Tweaking the Clintons may help win over Republicans for a presidential bid. But talk of a 15-year-old affair won’t convince women who oppose his libertarian policies.

What on earth is Rand Paul thinking, bringing up Monica Lewinsky? On cable TV, they shake their talking heads: ancient history, irrelevant, etc. Quite true, it’s all those things. But in terms of intra-GOP presidential-positioning politics, I think it’s actually quite shrewd, and another sign that he is not to be underestimated in terms of possibly nabbing the GOP nomination. Unfortunately for Paul—although fortunately for America—it’s only shrewd in terms of intra-GOP politics. Among the rest of the electorate, responses will range from indifference to hostility, and the “GOP War on Women” narrative won’t suffer a scratch.

Here’s what Paul is doing. First, he’s getting right with the base. As a devolutionist-libertarian, he takes some unorthodox positions from the conservative point of view—his neo-isolationist, anti-neocon foreign policy views, his comparatively soft-line views on same-sex marriage (he’s not for it, but he’d leave it to the states). There are reasons, in other words, for hard-shell conservatives to give him the gimlet eye.

Given that, what are some ways to make conservatives think you’re “one of us” without having to alter those positions, which he surely knows would be a disaster for him, destroying the very basis of his appeal as principled and so on? Find something conservatives hate and say you hate it too. What bigger something than the Clintons? Well, there’s Obama, but hating on him is old hat. Dredging up Lewinsky, on the other hand, shows that some care was taken to cultivate conservatives. As Paul knows, Clinton-hatred is still mother’s milk for that crowd.

He is also, as Peter Beinart noted, aiming specifically at the Christian Right. He’s been doing this for some time now, talking, for example, of the persecution of Christian minorities around the world. His father never bothered much with evangelicals, an error the son, recognizing their importance in the Iowa GOP caucuses, clearly hopes not to make.

El Foldo

The Era of Hostage-Taking Is Over

In a huge win for President Obama and sanity, the GOP suicide caucus caves on their threat to not raise the debt ceiling.

So word comes down this morning that John Boehner and company are going to present to the House a clean bill to increase the debt ceiling. No demands, no strings. Here's a description from the New York Times of how it went down between Monday night and Tuesday morning:

On Monday night, Mr. Boehner laid out a plan to link the debt ceiling increase to legislation that would have reversed a cut to veteran retirement benefits. But conservative Republicans opposed the plan, and Republican leaders worried that Democrats would not go along, holding firm to President Obama’s demand that no policy attachments come with a debt ceiling increase.

On Tuesday, the speaker gave up, a dramatic gesture for a leader who once declared the “Boehner Rule,” which holds that any debt ceiling increase should be attached to spending cuts of equal size. A House Republican who was in the room for the speaker’s announcement described the response as “stunned silence.”

The Times might also have mentioned here, in addition to the Boehner Rule, the Hastert Rule, that Republicans would never bring anything to the floor that doesn't have the support of a majority of Republicans. A clean debt bill is going to break the Hastert Rule because it would have to pass with all or virtually all Democrats and just enough Republicans to get it across the line.

The Republican Party claims—once again—that it's ready for change. But really, all this fanfare seems more like a howl for Washington's attention and a ploy for PR.

There were two important developments in the Republican Party last week. Let’s take stock.

First, after years of saying that yes, they would develop and introduce an alternative to Obamacare, three GOP senators finally presented one: Orrin Hatch, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr unveiled what they call their PCARE plan (yes, it’s another one of those syrupy, dopey Washington acronyms that have become such a pestilential constant in our city). Conservatives exulted; “See? We can be serious about policy!” But as Jonathan Chait wrote, the thing was awfully general and sketchy, and as soon as people started asking serious questions about how this or that would work, “things began to fall apart.” As of now, the plan has evanesced into something that no one really takes seriously and everyone recognizes for what it is—a mere talking point, a general outline that exists solely so Republicans can go on teevee and say they have a plan.

137928332CS061_NEWT_GINGRIC

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The second development occurred several days ago when John Boehner promised big movement on the immigration front. We’ll do a bill this year, he said. No citizenship, no “amnesty,” but a process toward legal status. The Republicans were ready to cut a deal. Boehner posted his guidelines for reform on his web site Monday. By Friday, 4,500 comments had been posted, roughly 95 percent (or more!) of them negative (“Please tell the Jews that we don’t want their One World Order. If they like immigrants send them to Israel[sic],” wrote user “Barbara Cornett”). At the end of the week, Boehner suggested that immigration reform might not, after all, be on the docket this year. (Update: I softened this language from the original, at the suggestion of Greg Sargent, and he's right about Boehner's words, although I remain a hard-shell skeptic.)

In Fox News Land, no one does anything in the public interest. It’s just Obama’s commie thugs bullying a corporate giant to do what the president thinks is ‘good for you.’

Bravo, CVS. That’s a bold and even historic move, banning cigarettes. It’s true it isn’t costing the company much—the sticks accounted for just $2 billion of its $123 billion in revenue last year, according to The New York Times. But even so, it’s a decision by an American mega-corporation that was made in… sit down and steady yourself… the public interest! Everyone’s for that, right? Right? Wait, what’s that rumble I hear over the gloaming?…

Why, it’s Fox News! And they aren’t happy. Yes—you read that right. On Fox News, CVS’s decision not to sell an addictive product that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans prematurely every year stinks of a big commie plot. Daytime host Gretchen Carlson said something idiotic Wednesday even by daytime Fox News’s idiotic standards. From Media Matters:

“Is it OK legally… to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this?” She questioned her guests as to whether they would continue shopping at CVS and observed that, “For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It’s not illegal.”

Is it legal?! Good God. Quintuple bacon cheeseburgers are legal. And yet, some restaurants choose not to offer them! Lawbreakers! Pinkos!

So much for his fairytale campaign. In the wake of Bridgegate, the New Jersey Governor stands to lose much more than his dignity, and there are quite a few candidates willing to prove it.

Is Chris Christie out of the running? This is the question everyone is asking. But it’s not the most important question. The most important question is a different and more subtle one: How, specifically and exactly, is Bridgegate hurting his presidential ambitions right now?

The way to answer this question is to begin by imagining a Christie to whom Bridgegate didn’t happen. He was overwhelmingly reelected. Half the Latino vote. Approval ratings near 70 percent. Media swooning. Speeches all over the country as head of the Republican Governors’ Association, with audiences treating him like the rock star he was instead of the potential felon he is.

You’ve thought of all that. But here’s what you may not have thought of. That Chris Christie could have spent the next six months meeting with every single big-money Republican in the country; every head of every important super PAC; every state chairman; and so on. He could have shown all of these people what the polling suggested—that he could beat Hillary Clinton. They all wouldn’t have backed him, of course. But a lot of them would have. Barring some strange development, he could have effectively ended the nomination fight before it even started.

Enter that stranger development, and poof! All gone. The Bridgegate Christie can’t do any of that stuff. He can still try. But with a federal investigation hanging over him, he’s not going to be able to lock money people down. Super PACs and state chairs aren’t going to touch him. He still might have to resign, or be impeached. There’s an off chance he could be...indicted!

That Was Stupid

Super Snore: Obama & O'Reilly

With nothing at stake, Fox's pre-Super Bowl interview between the president and O'Reilly was just going for bread and circuses. Get the ratings, go after Hillary.

Well, that was just stupid. The first time, in 2011, the last time Fox had the Super Bowl, it was kind of exciting when Bill O’Reilly interviewed Barack Obama. Obama’s aides, you’ll recall, had been knocking Fox, calling it not a real news station. Roger Ailes & Co. returned fire and then some. The tensions were deep.

Remember how much was at stake in February 2011: The GOP had just started running the House; we all knew huge showdowns were coming; and of course all of it was prelude to 2012. That O’Reilly interview—I remember a definite sense of drama around it—was a sort of Peoria tryout for everything the right would throw at Obama in his reelection campaign.

This time? It was mostly like both of them were actors playing “Barack Obama” and “Bill O’Reilly.” Going through the motions. Oh, there were brief moments of frisson. O’Reilly’s best assay was the Kathleen Sebelius question. “I’m a taxpayer,” he said; I’m confused about why she still has her job. Of course, Obama totally ducked that one, talking in vague and general terms about accountability. Here’s what he should have said, what I’ve always thought he should have said whenever anyone asked about her: It wasn’t her fault. It was my fault. I can’t fire myself, and I don’t think it was quite a fireable offense given all the other stuff I have to do, but it’s on me, not her.

Outside of that...I was genuinely surprised that O’Reilly devoted, what, half of this brief interview to Benghazi and the IRS. Again, Obama sort of ducked his direct question, about what then-SecDef Leon Panetta told him, and stuck to the White House talking points. But outside the Fox News swamps, no one thinks it’s scandalous. This was just for ratings. He’ll get a whole week’s worth of segments out of that exchange, and that’s all he wanted.

Dear, NFL. You’re killing the serious fun we could have watching the big game—because we have to WORK the next morning. You’ve already moved to the North. Why not try a night earlier?

Well, it’s Super Bowl Saturday, and boy am I… not excited.

I am doing absolutely nothing to prepare for the big day. Tomorrow, I’ll go load up on the artery-busting repast of my choosing and a few libations. But I should be doing that today, because they should be playing the damn game on Saturday.

This is as open-and-shut as cases come. The Super Bowl has become one of the biggest social events of the year. It’s a party. You want to have fun, you want to drink. What you don’t want to be doing is looking at your watch as you’re cracking open that fourth beer and thinking about that presentation you have to give tomorrow at 10 a.m.

Even as we celebrate the Super Bowl, football fans can’t ignore the violence and danger of the sport, especially when it extends beyond professional stadiums.

Uh-Oh

Wildstein Rats Out Christie

Remember what Chris Christie said about David Wildstein in his endless Jan. 9 press conference? No? This:

It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school...We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time.

140131-tomasky-christie-tease-tease

David Wildstein, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Director of Interstate Capital Projects and an ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, appears at a hearing to testify in front of state lawmakers at the New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton, New Jersey, January 9, 2014. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

I remember hearing those sentences and thinking gee, that's not very nice--and not very smart. What if Wildstein is sitting on some goods? Is he going to be happy being dismissed as too geeky for Christie to waste his time on back in high school?

SOTU Blues

Will Obama Ever Play Hardball?

The executive order stuff was good, but Obama didn't go at the GOP in the way he should have.

Was that really only the sixth Obama State of the Union address? Because somehow after watching this one, I felt I’d seen at least eight or nine and made the same complaint every time.

It was...fine. There were moments, a few moments, where it was better than fine. The Obamacare section came across to me as the most spirited, the one part where he dropped the guarded formality that characterizes his approach to SOTU addresses and talked a little bit, just a little bit, of street talk: “Let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

That was sort of a throw-down. At least it had to make Republicans feel pissed off. And that’s always what I want Obama to do at these speeches. Here’s the most obstructed president in the modern history of the country. (Yes, there’s no serious disputing this.) His approval numbers are down, dragged down by the opposition party, which does everything it can to make sure there will be no economic recovery while he’s president. He’s got three years left, three years during which he stands only one remote shot of getting anything positive done—have the Democrats win back the House this November. If that doesn’t happen, with the party simultaneously holding the Senate, then pffft.

He acknowledged this reality with all that executive order business, and that was good. But by and large, he didn’t go at the Republicans in the way I think he should have. I see it like this. Nothing’s going to pass. That’s a given. So, given that nothing’s going to pass, then what? The only thing you can do—and this ain’t very uplifting, but it’s where we are these days—is set it up so that when nothing passes, the country blames the other guys.

Revolver

A Revolution, With Guitars

It’s been 50 years since The Beatles invaded America and changed, well, everything. What made the boys from Liverpool so unique and so damn great?

This February 7 marks 50 years since The Beatles first came to America. A thousand tributes will tell you what happened. But how and why did it happen the way it did? What was America really like then, culturally and socially, that allowed the group to strike such a deep nerve? And what was it about The Beatles themselves—their backgrounds, their style, and of course their music—that made them so unlike anything Americans had seen before?

140127-tomasky-beatles-tease

In this Feb. 9, 1964. file photo Paul McCartney, right, shows his bass guitar to Ed Sullivan before the Beatles' live television appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (AP)

In his new e-book Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles and America, Then and Now, Michael Tomasky explains the group’s impact in the context of the times in a richly detailed, often surprising, I-never-knew-that! account of why they became the phenomenon they did. Kurt Andersen says of Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: “This book was a revelation. No one has more lucidly and entertainingly distilled the whys and hows and look and feel of the moment the Sixties began.”

***

Faux Concern

Hypocrisy on Privacy and The Pill

Birth control and data mining used to be things they believed in, now both are Big Government plots to be stopped.

I’m sure you chuckled at this weekend development as much as I did: At its winter meeting, the Republican National Committee, , passed a resolution condemning the NSA’s data-mining policy. The language about “unwarranted” government surveillance being an “intrusion on basic human rights” passed by voice vote, with only a few dissenters.

This is being read in the media as evidence for the party’s continuing turn away from war-mongery, Ari Fleischer-style, “watch what you say and do” Big Brotherism and toward a Pauline (as in Rand) libertarianism. And I wouldn’t deny that there’s something to that. The libertarian streak is very in vogue on the right, and neocons can’t seem to get Americans agitated about anything.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The passage of this resolution is mostly about the guy in the White House. If you want to try to tell me this was an act of principle by the RNC, then put Mitt Romney in the White House for a moment. Do you think the RNC would have considered such a resolution? Please. Reince Priebus would have had a stroke. He’d have quashed it in minutes. But with Barack Obama in the White House, the rules are different. The RNC passed this resolution to kick a little extra sand in Obama’s face.

This isn’t new of course, this rancid hypocritical sand-kicking, but it keeps getting worse, more comically transparent and more brazen. You may have read last week, for example, after Mike Huckabee’s birth-control throw down, that back in 2005 when he was Arkansas governor, Huckabee approved legislation requiring health-insurance plans in the state to cover contraceptive pills and devices. In fact, according to The Arkansas Times, Huckabee’s exemption for religious employers and organizations was narrower than the exemption in Obamacare.

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

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

- Advertisement -

'Clinton Vs. Bush? Count Me In'

A Hillary Clinton-Jeb Bush presidential faceoff would be great for America. So says Daily Beast contributor Mark McKinnon, who joined 'Morning Joe' to explain why the U.S. needs this.

  1. President Obama, Guided by Faith Play

    President Obama, Guided by Faith

  2. Behind the Benghazi Witchhunt Play

    Behind the Benghazi Witchhunt

  3. Obamacare's Full Court Press Play

    Obamacare's Full Court Press

See More

From the Daily Beast

White folks Can Talk About Race

White folks Can Talk About Race

Brit Hume is wrong. Of course white people can talk about race without being called racist. They just need to be smarter about it.

Voting Rights

The ID Whose Time Has Come

What High Ground?

Obama’s Tax Rate Hypocrisy

New Numbers

The Obamacare Win That Wasn’t?

Behind the Scenes

Inside CIA Chief’s Mission to Kiev

READ MORE

Politics