Is this some wonk’s idea of a millennial? No one’s buying the awful new health insurance ads. Why Obama himself should be making a—yes—more idealistic pitch to the younger generation.
All right, conservatives, here we are. I’ve found that I agree with conservatives once a year about something.
We cut it close this year, this being the 356th day of 2013, but just under the wire, we made it: That “Pajamaboy” ad for Healthcare.gov is indeed terrible, and I’m afraid that it does say something about liberalism and liberals that someone, or several someones, at Organizing for America thought this ad would be in any way effective.
Of course I don’t agree at all with the psycho gay-baiting of the poor guy in the ad (and some of his defenders in the liberal commentariat) that’s emanated from a few voices on the right. I feel badly for the young man, who works at OFA and just decided to let it use his image (probably not knowing that when you assent to having your image become “stock art,” you’ve started asking for blowback like he received, and the law is on their side, not yours). The right just can’t help itself. Still. My side is going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this.
So Chris Christie is going to sign a Dream Act for New Jersey, which would allow undocumented immigrants--not just their children--to receive in-state tuition. Christie had said during his reelection campaign that he'd support this once another provision, one that would have provided state aid in some cases, was removed, and it was. This is Christie's first big taking of a position on an immigration issue.
From a 2016 perspective, this was the smart and basically the only move. If he opposed it he'd look like Mitt Romney used to look: afraid of the howlers on the far right, willing to do anything to placate them. If Christie suddenly started behaving like that, it would be death. The main thing he has going for him is the "he's his own man" narrative, which will contrast very favorably to Romney. I think everyone knows this. Even the way-out-there wingers know it. They will understand that a few heterodoxies are just part of the Christie package. And, of course, they understand that they need to do better with Latino voters.
This will put Christie in the enviable position, come the second half of 2015, of standing up before audiences in Ames and Waterloo and saying defiantly that he is who he is and the Republican Party should be big enough to embrace competing views etc etc etc. The media will eat it up. Eat it up.
If Christie plays his cards right, as he does here, he'll be the clear media darling of 2016 among the Morning Joe In Crowd. Those people don't want Hillary. They want a Hillary slayer. It's a better story. They'll be tired of liberal harpies after eight years of a Democratic administration. They'll fool themselves into thinking that Christie has the potential to unite the country in a way the divisive Hillary doesn't.
It’s been a messy year, but let’s not him pair him with Nixon just yet. Obama isn’t even as bad off as Bush was after his Social Security debacle—and nothing rules out a rally in 2014.
If President Obama saw the columns and news stories I keep reading lately, he’d probably have half a mind to resign and scurry back to Chicago in time to see the Bears lose a playoff game. “Tanking” approval numbers, no accomplishments, rudderlessness, and of course the website fiasco; they all add up, the conventional wisdom seems to say, to a presidency that is already all but finished, unless John Podesta can somehow save it. The Washington Post reported this week that among second-term presidents in the polling era, only Richard Nixon had a lower approval rating at this point than Obama does now.
Nixon? Is it really that bad? (By the way, there’s still a considerable distance between the two—Obama sits at 43 percent in the Post poll, while Nixon was down at 29.) I can read numbers, and I know what’s happened over the past year. Obama has lost support among core Democratic groups such as women and Latinos, and one suspects that the failure—not his failure; the failure, a distinction not enough people are evidently making—to pass immigration reform was disillusioning for these cohorts. And obviously the HealthCare.gov fiasco is the governing reality here. It’s been a messy year.
At the same time, everything that’s happened can be rebounded from. Let’s look, by way of comparison, at where President Bush was at the end of 2005. He’d started out the year, you might recall, saying, “I have political capital, and I intend to use it.” Actually, he said that right after he beat John Kerry. Bush didn’t yet reveal how he meant to use that capital, but soon enough it became clear that he meant Social Security privatization, or partial privatization.
Bush staked a lot on that project. If you were around then, you remember those endless town halls, filled with plants and ringers offering their most plangent testimonials about how they couldn’t wait to get Uncle Sam’s heavy hand out of their purses and invest their own retirement money as they saw fit, as any real Murican would insist. This was how Bush and Karl Rove were going to create the permanent Republican majority, through the new ownership society.
I got to wondering yeserday what Bill Donohue, the head of the Catholic League of America who's been a reliably reactionary defender of the Vatican for two decades as long as the Pope was denouncing gays and baby killers and trying to brush child-molestation stories under the rug, made of Pope Francis.
What a conundrum this must be! A Pope who shows some progressive inclinations. Here, on his group's web site, Donohue tries about two-thirds-heartedly to defend Francis's oft-quoted remarks about gay people ("who am I to judge?") by noting that il papa's remarks were "directly consistent" with the catechism, which says in essence hate the sin but love the sinner.
That's technically true, one supposes, but it doesn't grapple with the message that Francis's comment (and certain subsequent actions, like canning the outspoken social conservative Cardinal Burke from that council) was obviously meant to send out into the world, that he wants his Church to cool its heels a bit on this question.
But the tell came when Dononue was asked about Rush Limbaugh's denuncation of the pope as a "Marxist." Bear in mind here that if, oh, Rachel Maddow (not to say she's remotely comparable to that lying gasbag, but just for the sake of argument) had used similar language about Pope Benedict, Donohue would surely have reacted in the manner you'd expect. Picture Maddow having said at some point that Benedict was "a capitalist lickspittle." He'd have gone mad with apoplexy.
For the first time in his presidency, Obama seems truly committed to tackling inequality. Here’s how he should do it.
Is 2014 going to be the year that Barack Obama tacks—and stays—left?
He’s given big economic populism speeches before, but he has tended to raise the subject and then just quietly let it disappear for a few months at a time. Things feel a little different this time. I’d love to see Obama emphasize inequality, but there are good and bad ways to do it, both substantively and politically, and rather than take sides in an acrimonious debate that’s divided liberals and centrists for a couple of decades now, Obama ought to try to find a rhetoric and a set of ideas that both sides can make peace with. He needs to identify what we might call a Fourth Way.
First of all, it’s great that the White House pledges that Obama is going to be focused on issues like raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment insurance (and, of course, getting Americans health care). The median wage, as Center for American Progress CEO Neera Tanden pointed out, has fallen nearly 10 percent since 2000, from $56,000 to just under $51,500. The slow recovery and the prevalence of lower-wage jobs for people who have found work aren’t felt by the elites, but they’re felt all across the country by millions. Meanwhile, corporate profit hoarding is at record levels.
The left’s critics of the Bush presidency are no match to today’s paranoid right, as this week’s insane innuendo—from the Hawaii plane crash to The Handshake—perfectly illustrates.
Permit me to share with you my favorite set of headlines from Thursday.
USA Today: Official who OK’d Obama birth papers dies in crash.
© Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
NPR: Hawaiian Official Who Released Obama’s Birth Certificate Dies in Plane Crash.
House budget vote: Tea Party stock way down, Paul Ryan stock way up.
The headlines this morning are about John Boehner, how he finally unloaded on the right wing. That's understandable because he's the speaker, and it's interesting, but there's more to look at here. Three angles interest me: what last night's vote revealed about the actual balance of power within the House GOP; what's next for the outside groups; and what this does for Paul Ryan.
Mark the vote last night among House Republicans--169 of them voted for the budget, and just 62 of them opposed it. That's nearly three to one voting to play ball. Not that it's a great budget. A number of Democrats opposed it too, mostly because of the limit on unemployment benefits. And the overall funding levels, while better than the sequester, are still awfully low.
But at least it is a budget. The difference between no dinner and a bad dinner is the presence of food on the plate. At least there's food.
They could have been behaving this way the whole time, you know. I mean, this is what they are first and foremost paid to do--to legislate, the first order of business of which is to pass a budget. They could and should have been behaving this way since 2009.
From an atrocious starting point, enrollment on HealthCare.gov is essentially quadrupling. As predicted, by next fall, the law is going to be a net plus for Obama and the Democrats.
If one looks just at the raw, bottom-line number the Department of Health and Human Services released Wednesday—365,000 citizens enrolled since October 1—one might be inclined to think it’s not so hot. And it isn’t. That’s 180,000 or so a month, and if you post that number against the stated goal of 7 million by next spring, the stated goal looks awfully chimerical, and the thing seems a disaster (180,000 times six months, the enrollment period, is just 1.08 million).
Dig a little deeper and things look considerably better. If we could graph it, the bar line of enrollment would make for a pretty impressive ski slope: After just 27,000 people signed up in the whole of October, The New York Times reported over the weekend, about 100,000 people signed up in November, and then, in the first week of December alone, 112,000 chose plans. The Los Angeles Times put out slightly different numbers Wednesday but agreed on the trend. From an obviously atrocious starting place, enrollment is essentially quadrupling. If that pace were to continue, the 7 million figure would be cleared in March.
I still wouldn’t quite bet on that. But I would definitely and unflinchingly bet on the central proposition I argued last week: By next fall, HealthCare.gov is going to be a net plus for Obama and the Democrats.
Wishful thinking? You can call it that if you want to. But I warn you I’m not usually a wishful thinker. Like most partisans on either side, I tend to expect the worst. It’s usually a wise insurance policy; you’re rarely disappointed. I write such things only when I really think them, like the time in August 2012 when I wrote a column suggesting that Obama could very well win about 330 electoral votes. He won 332, which most anyone else would have said when I wrote that piece was crazy.
The budget deal tops out above $1 trillion. Can the Tea Partiers make peace with that? If it’s seen as a win for the big-spending Obamabots, GOP support could vaporize pretty quickly.
So is it a good thing, this budget deal? It’s a less bad thing than most of the bad things that have been happening on Capitol Hill over the last couple of years, so that’s progress of a sort. And to the extent that it sets spending at levels higher than the sequester did, it’s a win for liberals and others (including a few conservatives, it must be said) who want to get out from under the sequestration-imposed spending limits. The deal tops out at $1.012 trillion for 2014, a reasonable amount higher than the sequester level of $967 billion—and symbolically meaningful because it crosses that trillion threshold, which the Tea Partiers must hate. So it could be worse.
Now, the main complaint you’re going to hear about the deal is that it constitutes such small potatoes. The inside-the-Beltway group that wants a grand bargain is going to be disgusted by this budget. The Pete Peterson Foundation, the mothership of that cohort, released a harrumphing statement: “We should all welcome our lawmakers coming together on a budget agreement that would end the recent cycle of governing by crisis. But make no mistake—we still have a lot more to do to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.”
Of course, this only recommends the deal. “Sustainable fiscal path,” which in another world might mean the proper amount of public investment or the proper levels of taxation, in this context means only cuts to Social Security and Medicare. There may be future conditions under which Democrats should entertain such proposals, but not now, because from these House Republicans, there’s just no way they’re going to get enough in return to make any such deal respectable.
Case in point: In this deal, I’m told, nothing was done about budget loopholes. These loopholes, of course, mainly favor the wealthy and corporations. Republicans won’t go there. And that’s fine, in its way, because that’s their base. But it’s not fine, because Republicans have spent the last few years talking about how deliciously, lip-smackingly open they are to closing loopholes.
The American right hated Nelson Mandela when it mattered. But when have they ever been correct on a historic issue? From segregation to Iran, it’s a record of tragedy and moral nullity.
The Beast’s estimable Peter Beinart already laid bare the rancid hypocrisy of today’s Republicans honoring Nelson Mandela. Joan Walsh delivered a similarly biting critique of the “right-washing” of Mandela going on right now. American conservatives loathed the man when it mattered. This leads us to a broader question that Beinart and Walsh didn’t have the space to get into, so I’ll pick it up from here: When has the American right ever—ever—been on the right side of history?
The answer is almost never. Indeed, history is an unfolding, and more or less constant, vindication of the people who were thinking ahead, who weren’t happy with things the way they were and saw they had to change, and who have been on the side of personal liberation and de-concentration of political power. Those people are virtually by definition liberals and reformers and radicals.
Consider the great political earthquakes throughout history and imagine the contemporaneous—not retrospective, as we are seeing in these phony paeans to Mandela, but in-the-moment—conservative posture. The conservative position was wrong nearly every time—not just wrong, but often morally shocking from our later perspective.
I was in Paris over the weekend speaking to a conference at the Institut Francais du Relations Internationales (www.ifri.org, and thank you, nice people of IFRI, for your hospitality!) about American domestic politics, and more specifically, the Democrats' future and a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016. The room included a combination of American ex-pats and diplomats and, well, French people, keenly interested in America and in HRC.
They're quite sharp about American politics, extremely well-informed. I said the same thing I always say when asked about Clinton, which is that I think she will probably run, and that if she runs, she will probably win, but she does face three challenges:
1. She'll have to run a better campaign. Here I was stiffly challenged by a French journalist in the audience who was quick to remind me and fellow panelist and old friend John Zogby that she got more votes in 2008 than Barack Obama did, but she lost all those silly caucuses. I replied, well, those were the rules, and she knew them. This seemed to satisfy most of the audience.
2. She'll have to demonstrate both continuity with Obama in some respects and a break from Obama in certain others. She has say to Obama backers that she'll carry on his fights on certain issues, but at the same time most voters want some change after eight years, so she'll have to come up with some ways to signal that she'll be different.
Here’s a nightmare for John Boehner: Eight or 10 months from now, Republicans’ obsession with getting rid of the health-care law is going to look awfully stupid to a majority of voters.
If some Republicans are sounding just a little bit desperate right now, I think I know why. “Obamacare is not just a broken website,” House Speaker John Boehner sputtered the other day in retreat as it emerged that the website is now working well. “This bill is fundamentally flawed.” He sure hopes he’s right about that—and by the way, Mister, it’s a law, not a bill. But I bet late at night, when he’s having that last smoke and thinking back over his day, he fears that he’s wrong and that the central Republican…“idea,” if you want to call it that, of the last three years—get rid of Obamacare—is going to look awfully stupid to a majority of Americans eight or 10 months from now.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks during his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2013 in Washington DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
If you haven’t gone to HealthCare.gov just for kicks, I certainly recommend now that you do. Pretend that you’re from a state that didn’t create an exchange, if you aren’t, because if you’re from a state with its own exchange, you’ll just be kicked to the state website, and what you want to test here is the federal one. So just choose a yahoo state that didn’t play ball, where the law was mocked as just so much socialism.
I just did, for the first time in weeks, an hour before scribbling these sentences. I was amazed. It was lightning fast. Explanations were clear and straightforward. Instead of bureaucratese, I encountered something I didn’t expect at all: plain English!
So Obama wades back into the inequality debate today with a speech in Anacostia. He's been gunshy about this subject over these last five years. He'll give the occasional big speech, like the one in Kansas two years ago, and then he'll just sort of drop it.
Why? I see some combination of three reasons. It makes Wall Street jittery, this talk, and he seems pretty jittery about making Wall Street jittery, because the instant he does they start whining about being made into pariahs. Second, one can't help but suspect that race plays a factor here; he may fear that talking about inequality and poverty, as a black man, would sound to white middle America "too black," so to speak.
And third, there remains in the Democratic Party this intra-party fight about economic populism and growth. What used to be called, and I guess can still be called for want of anything better, the Rubin Wing of the party (the Third Way Wing?) wants the Democrats to play ball on entitlement cuts and deficit reduction, while what can already be called the Warren Wing, even though she's a pretty junior senator, but such is her outsized influence, wants more dramatic efforts in behalf of mobility for the middle class and the poor, which requires public investment that does not cut the deficit.
Talking about poverty, alas, doesn't pay many political dividends. But I don't see how it's a political loser to emphasize mobility. In a big poll that came out in September, more than half of those surveyed said they didn't think they'd move up the social ladder in their lifetimes. Not the usual American optimism. That has to include a lot of white people--indeed, a lot of white people who vote Republican because of social issues. Some portion of them could be won back by Democrats if those voters really feel the Democrats are on their side economically.
A tweet about Rosa Parks ‘ending racism’ reveals a shameful truth about the GOP: Equality has never been the party’s fight and likely never will be.
Yeah, it was probably a junior social-media staffer who threw up that Twitter post about Rosa Parks “ending racism” in 1955. And it was just a little slip.
But it’s a story because it reveals two painful and quite shameful truths about the GOP, in this year of the “autopsy” that wasn’t, this year when the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority essentially made racially discriminatory gerrymandering legal again after nearly 50 years, and when Republican state parties all over the country are redoubling their efforts to make it as difficult as possible for black people to cast a vote.
The first truth is that this staffer, whoever it was, in all likelihood made this slip for a reason. She or he has been schooled to believe that racism did end, and that all present-day discussion of the problem is just whining from society’s takers. We might call this a central tenet of the right, although the word tenet dignifies it too much. It’s more like a fact-free conviction, held by people who are never capable of imagining walking a hundred yards, let alone a mile, in another person’s shoes.
Whoever this tweeter was, s/he has been hearing the refrain since the day s/he got into the game. Yes, there was racism, and it was wrong. But racism, she’d have been tutored to believe, was a Democratic problem (check that; a Democrat problem, her tutors would undoubtedly have said). She’d have heard all about how it was really Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen who passed the civil-rights bill (which is like saying the Serbs defeated the Nazis—they were on the right side, but they hardly carried the heavy artillery). She’d have been instructed to repeat “Party of Lincoln!” at the necessary intervals, and she’d have been coached in the phony, euphemistic language that Republicans use to acknowledge certain past sins but to press forward, sunnily noting that all of that is “behind us.”
No one would have dreamed of giving an NFL team a name insulting to white people, Catholics, or Jews. So why is ‘Redskins’ okay? One reason: Native Americans’ lack of political power.
WARNING: This column contains racially and ethnically offensive words and phrases. A lot of them. That’s the point, as you’ll see. I don’t go around using these words and phrases in real life and don’t think you should, either.
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome via Getty
The other night I was settling in to watch a bit of the Washington football club versus the San Francisco 49ers. A thought occurred to me that I tweeted: If the Niners had been named in the same spirit in which the Redskins were named, they might be the San Francisco _____s.
In came the replies, some very witty ones. But while witty, they were also mostly pretty offensive. Fags, or some variant thereof, came up a lot. And this in turn got me thinking: What if every NFL team had been named in the spirit in which the Redskins were named? They were named, if you don’t know, by George Preston Marshall, the full-throttle racist who owned the team from the 1930s through the 1960s. He changed the name from Braves to Redskins because Braves wasn’t racist enough, and he moved the team from Boston to Washington because Boston wasn’t racist enough. He wanted to be the football lord of Dixie.
The Daily Beast's Michelle Cottle joined MSNBC to discuss the annual event where conservatives 'come out and let their hair down' and the tension among right-wingers over gay rights.
Under a sudden avalanche of criticism, CIA director John Brennan said President Obama can ‘ask me to go.’ Will he?