Voters in a corner of Colorado will vote Tuesday on whether to secede from the state. The movement will fail, but the underlying discord in American politics is only going to grow.
You can have your Chris Christies and Bill de Blasios and Terry McAuliffes. Oh, those are all interesting races, and they all tell us something or other about the current mood. But Tuesday night, I’m going to be watching Colorado. Individual pols come and go, but what seems to be happening out in the Rocky Mountain West is the start of a new and lamentable trend that I think may be with us for a long time in American politics.
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Eleven of Colorado’s 64 counties want to secede from the state, and there is a referendum on the ballot to that effect. It will, in all likelihood, pass. Only the voters in those 11 counties are voting on the question. Ten are contiguous, in the northeast corner of the state. In their dream world, they say sayonara to Denver and become “North Colorado.” The eleventh county is across the way, in the northwest corner. Since the U.S. Constitution mandates that states be contiguous, Moffat County would just sign up with Wyoming.
These things have popped up before. I covered one 20 years ago, when Staten Islanders voted two-to-one to break off from New York City. The voters always approve these things. Of course, Staten Island is still a borough of New York City, which tells us that although they always pass, they always amount to nothing. This one will amount to nothing too, in the short term. Congress has to approve a new state, and that isn’t going to happen.
I guess anything can still happen, but it sure looks like Terry McAuliffe is going to be the next governor of Virginia. It's worth noting that this breaks a very long-observed historical trend in the commonwealth. In every gubernatorial election sincce 1981, Virginians have elected as their governor the standard-bearer of the opposite party from the man who won the presidential election the year before.
So it's always been as if Virginia looked at what the country did one year and decided to do the opposite the next. It even more often than not did the opposite not only of what the country did, but of what it did with its own electoral votes the previous year: Reagan-Chuck Robb, Reagan-Jerry Baliles, Bush Sr.-Wilder, Bush Jr.-Warner, Bush Jr.-Kaine, Obama-McDonnell. So: what's this mean?
Maybe not a lot. These things just happen. McAuliffe is benefiting of course from the presence in the contest of that libertarian guy, without whom Ken Cuccinelli would probably be winning. But his presence itself is a reflection of where the Republican Party and the conservative movement are these days: From a libertarian perspective, even the stone-age Cuccinelli isn't pure enough.
Republicans at all levels of government have put up roadblocks to undermine the Affordable Care Act rollout. It’s an orchestrated resistance with only one very ugly precedent.
So we’re a month into the Obamacare era. What does your average American know about it? That the website is mess, and some number of Americans have suddenly lost their coverage after Barack Obama assured them that wouldn’t happen. These things are true, and a person would be quite wrong to deny this is deeply problematic.
But I wonder how many Americans know the other side of the coin. There are already numerous success stories out there. And then there’s the side of the story that has certainly received coverage but not nearly as much as it deserves to, which is the way—did I say way? Ways—the Republican Party is trying to make sure it fails. Todd Purdum wrote a piece for Politico yesterday on the GOP’s “sabotage” of the law. It was a terrific article, but he didn’t say the half of it.
All across the country, Republican governors and insurance commissioners have actively and directly blocked efforts to make the law work. In August, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded contracts to 105 “navigators” to help guide people through their new predicaments and options. There were local health-care providers, community groups, Planned Parenthood outposts, and even business groups. Again—people and groups given the job, under an existing federal law, to help people understand that law.
Instead of offering his usual concessions Wednesday, Obama borrowed from Cheney—and hit back at claims he’s forcing Americans to pick ‘Ferrari’ over ‘Ford’ health-care plans.
President Obama’s speech at Faneuil Hall was probably his most passionate and unapologetic defense of the health-care law in ages, maybe since its passage. At times like this in the past, Old Mr. Reasonable has hemmed and hawed, ceding that his opponents had a point, but insisting—reasonably, of course—that he had a better one if you just stopped and thought about it. But Wednesday afternoon in Boston gave us a different Obama. He took a page out of the Bush playbook or, dare I say it, even the Cheney one. If things are going a little rocky at the moment, it doesn’t matter; cede nothing. Stick to plan. No matter the merits or facts, it’s the only approach that our political culture respects.
President Barack Obama speaks about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Wednesday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
The money moment of the speech, of course, came when he answered the questions raised by the NBC report Tuesday. According to NBC, people who had bought insurance on the private market who don’t have either employer or government coverage were getting hammered by Obamacare. They were getting letters telling them their coverage had expired and then finding that the new coverage available to them was going to cost more. It flew in the face, said NBC’s Lisa Myers, of Obama’s promise that if you had coverage now and liked it, nothing would happen to you.
She was right. He shouldn’t have said it. And in Boston he didn’t exactly say, “I shouldn’t have said it.” But he did turn it around and say for that small percentage of people, the coverage they’re going to end up with is better! It also just might be cheaper, he said, and they are going to have peace of mind: “They can’t use allergies or pregnancy or sports injury or the fact that you’re a woman to charge you more. They can’t do that anymore!”
Republicans certainly deserved a few weeks of ‘toldja so!’ about the site’s awful rollout. But why can’t they start helping their constituents figure it out now, as Democrats did with Bush’s Medicare Part D?
OK. I’ve officially had enough of this Republican gloating about HealthCare.gov. Yes, it was a major and inexcusable fiasco, as I wrote last week. So they were entitled to a week of “we told ya so.” Or even two. But really, it’s practically a month now. Enough already. I know that we expect no decency from these people, so this will sound naïve, but truly, what they should be doing now is helping their constituents figure it all out. That’s what the Democrats did in a similar situation.
I refer, of course, to the Medicare Part D implementation in late 2005 and early 2006. That was the big prescription drug bill passed in 2003. You remember—it’s the one where the Republicans didn’t have the votes in the House, even though they controlled the House, and Speaker Tom DeLay held the floor open for 15 minutes after the bell rang as his lieutenants went around and badgered and threatened some GOP members until they changed their vote from nay to aye. My, how at home DeLay would have been with the Tea Partiers.
Anyhow. Most Democrats voted against the bill. In the House just 16 of 203 Democratic members voted yes. In the Senate, however, 11 of 48 Democrats voted for the new Bush entitlement. First, let’s just stop right there. Could you imagine 16 and 11 Republicans ever voting for an Obama legislative priority, something that was clearly Obama’s “baby” in the same way that the Part D bill was Bush’s? There’d be no end to the slobbering over Republicans for being so reasonable. As I recall, the Democrats were attacked at the time for not supporting the bill enough.
As conference committee talks begin, the GOP isn’t trying to cut $40 billion from SNAP just to save money. It wants to punish the poorest among us. By Michael Tomasky.
What’s the single worst thing the Obama-era Republicans have done? Tough one, I know.
But spare me a moment here—plus a thousand words down the page—and I think maybe you’ll agree with me that the single worst thing the Obama-era Republicans have done is try to push through a $40 billion cut to the food-stamps program. It’s just unspeakably cruel. They usually say publicly that it’s about saving money. But sometimes someone—one congressman in particular—lets slip the real reason: They want to punish poor people. The farm bill, which includes the food-stamp program, goes to conference committee next week. That’s where, the cliché has it, the two sides are supposed to “iron out their differences.” The only thing the Democrats on this committee should do with an iron is run it across the Republicans’ scowling faces.
The basic facts on the program. Its size fluctuates with the economy—when more people are working, the number of those on food stamps goes down. This, of course, isn’t one of those times. So right now the SNAP program, as it’s called, is serving nearly 48 million people in 23 million households. The average monthly individual benefit is $133, or about $4.50 a day. In 2011, 45 percent of recipients were children. Forty-one percent live in households where at least one person works. More than 900,000 are veterans. Large numbers are elderly or disabled or both.
It’s not ‘moderates’ vs. ‘conservatives. The two opposing Republican sides, if they really are opposing, are ‘radical’ and ‘conservative.’ And only one side is fighting. The other is rolling over, says Michael Tomasky.
The more I think about this Republican “civil war,” the less it looks like war to me. It often gives the appearance of being war because these Tea Party people march into the arena with a lot of fire, brimstone, and kindred pyrotechnics that suggest conflict. But what, really, in hard policy terms, are these two sides arguing about? Practically nothing. It’s a disagreement chiefly over tactics and intensity. That’s a crucial point, and so much of the media don’t understand it. But I’m here to tell you, whenever you read an article that makes a lot of hay about this “war” and then goes on to describe the Republican factions as “moderate” and “conservative,” turn the page or click away. You are either in the hands of an idiot or someone intentionally misleading you.
Members of the Tea Party rally outside the U.S. Capitol to pressure Republicans to make further budget cuts to the Federal budget in Washington, DC, USA on 06 April 2011. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Landov)
What’s going on presents many of the outward signs of political warfare. Insurgent radical extremists are challenging already very conservative incumbents whose thought and deed crimes are that they are conservative only 80- or 90-something percent of the time instead of 100 (or 110, preferably). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), American Conservative Union 2012 rating of 92, being challenged? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? He got 100 percent in 2012! Hey, I was joking about that 110!
So sure, running primaries against people like this can be called warlike acts. But a real war has two sides who believe different things and are willing to fight to the death for them. In this war, that description applies only to one side.
The failures of the health-care roll out were unacceptable, and the President’s speech didn’t offer much clarity. But, writes Michael Tomasky, they're nothing compared to the GOP's disgraceful opposition.
So nobody’s more frustrated than Barack Obama by the problems with healthcare.gov over the last couple of weeks, as he repeated two or three time in his Rose Garden address on Monday? First of all, I doubt that’s true. He has health insurance and, as far as we know, no preexisting conditions. There is bound to be some person out there with no insurance and a body full of cancer who is more frustrated than Obama.
President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act alongside health care professionals and people affected by the new legislation at the White House in Washington on October 21, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
Second, if he is that frustrated, I’d really love to know what he was doing about this in August and September. Was he calling the people in charge of this operation into the Oval Office and saying to them: “Okay, look. The one thing, people: This goddamn thing has to work. It has to work, and it has to be simple. This is my signal accomplishment, and it has my name on it, and will have my name on it forever. So show me. Right now.”
Maybe he did do that. I don’t know for a fact that he did not. But still, something tells me he did not. Democrats don’t tend to be whip-crackers. One thing I did admire about Rudy Giuliani back when I covered him: He scared the hair off his agency chiefs’ and precinct commanders’ backs. He’d call them into the mayor’s office and lean toward them and growl: “Why isn’t this fixed? I thought I told you last month to find $500,000 more in savings. Why is the crime rate still high on this corner? What the hell are you doing about it?” And usually, it worked.
A new Pew poll shows Tea Partiers’ devotion to the otherwise divisive senator. Can the Republican establishment stop him before it’s 2016? By Michael Tomasky.
Did you catch Ted Cruz’s numbers in that Pew poll that came out this week? You may not have, because there were a few other things going on. So take a guess as to his favorable ratings among Tea Party people. I can tell you that 18 percent expressed no opinion, so the numbers add up to 82. So, 65-17, 68-14? Could he possibly have topped 70?
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
He sure could have. It was 74-8. Eight! It used to be 47-10 in a prior poll. In other words, a lot of people who weren’t able to form an opinion of him now can, and it’s swooning. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, as you’d imagine, a rather different story: It’s 56-44 (everyone has an opinion!). That’s favorable, but it ain’t 74-8. And in these numbers, among dozens of other auguries, we see the Armageddon that’s coming in the GOP between now and 2016. What on earth are the establishment Republicans going to do about this man?
Examine with me a few more numbers, from an earlier Pew survey taken over the summer. That one found that while Tea Party people make up 40 percent of Republican voters, they make up 49 percent, or roughly half, of those who vote in every primary. Got that? OK.
Let’s be blunt, shall we? This was a disaster for the country, and an utterly pointless disaster. Chuck Schumer had it right last night in his brief remarks after the Senate vote. No one had any cause to be happy. Seventeen days and $2 billion in lost government revenue and $25 billion in lost economic activity later, by some estimates, we are exactly at the point where we on Sept. 30. It all could have been averted if John Boehner had simply allowed a vote—as he’d promised Harry Reid he would—on the Senate’s “clean CR,” which would have passed.
But maybe it wasn’t utterly pointless. At least the American people did get to see what assassins the Republicans are. That was valuable. Many of us have been trying to say for many years now about Washington’s polarization and dysfunction that yes, both sides are to blame, there are no Boy Scouts here, but the sides are not remotely equally to blame, and this is a crucial point, and journalists and commentators who keep insisting on framing things this way out of some devotion to “balance” that is out of whack with the facts of reality are disserving the republic; lying, basically. I don’t think now any commentator can seriously maintain that fiction. Even David Broder himself, were he around, would be pointing fingers now.
Ross Douthat, whom I sometimes reprove for pulling a punch or two when assessing the activities and habits of Republican legislators, is on target today:
So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the G.O.P. or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.
Tuesday might have ended with the Senate on the cusp of a deal to avert a default, but it also featured Boehner bowing and scraping to his House crazies to come up with a competing plan that failed. Michael Tomasky on the horror.
This is a sad and sickening spectacle, like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. Not as bad as Watergate, you say? I beg to differ. However this turns out—and there were reports as I was writing Tuesday night that the House might finally run up the white flag here—this has been in its way worse than Watergate. Watergate ultimately vindicated our system against the machinations of one sociopath. It took time, because he was a president. But even he ultimately observed democratic norms and, when cornered, did the honorable thing.
The shutdown according to everyone else.
Today, we have a clavern of sociopaths who know nothing of honor, and we have no easy way to stop them. Except at the ballot box. Except that they’ve rigged that, too, with their House districts. They’ve rigged the whole game so that they light the match and then point at President Obama and shout: “Look! Fire!” And overseeing it all is House Speaker John Boehner, as of Tuesday officially the worst high-ranking elected officer in the history of the United States.
I know, there’s been a congeries of drunkards and rapists I can barely imagine. I don’t care. Boehner is worse than all of them. Let’s review what happened Tuesday.
What the Senate is working on is not what I'd exactly call a deal. It's more like a temporary cessation of hostilities. Really: What good is a deal to keep the government open until mid-January, and to approve borrowing authority until February 7? In between now and then, we're supposed to believe that Congress and the administration are going to come to terms on all the big budget questions that we know they can't possibly come to terms on?
But before we get to all that, we have to consider two questions.
First, will Ted Cruz and/or Mike Lee let the deal move through the Senate quickly enough to avert default? The Senate will have to expedite its usual clock to do that, and that requires...dum da-dum...unanimous consent. Cruz was asked about yesterday and said, "We need to see what the details are." Great. There's our Senate. One man can totter the world economy.
Okay, let's assume for the moment that Cruz doesn't do that, and the negotiating senators nail down the final points of disagreement here, which they are apparently expected to do. Then the second question: Will the House vote for this?
Forty years ago, business interests banded together to push back against the left—and succeeded brilliantly. But now the monster they created has turned on them, says Michael Tomasky.
Back in the early 1970s, corporate America got together and developed a plan of action to combat the takeover of America by what they saw as an unremittingly radical left. If we don’t act and get politically engaged, these corporate titans said, this country is going down the chute.
Thomas "Tom" Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. "We've reached the point to put politics aside and do the economics and for the president and the leaders of the House and Senate to get into the same room," Donohue said. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty )
Forty years later, corporate America beholds the monster it created. And now, these same institutions need to step up and rein in an unremittingly radical right. Only they can stop this nonsense, and it will take an effort as concerted and well-organized as the one they undertook in the 70s.
Here’s what happened then. In the 1960s and early 70s, a good chunk of America’s corporate elite really did feel that the free-enterprise system was under threat. In 1971, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer in Richmond who would soon be nominated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, to tell them how to save America. The result was the famous Powell memo, which urged the Chamber to start fighting back to protect the system before it was too late in the following arenas: on college campuses; in the media; in the courts; at stockholder and shareholder meetings; and in the political realm.
It was a historic Thursday: The GOP finally and fully succumbed to its cultural rage. Michael Tomasky on a tumultuous day in Washington’s shutdown drama.
It was a head-spinning day in Washington, yesterday was, as the story seemed to change from hour to hour in terms of who was proposing or accepting or refusing what and who seemed up and who seemed down. But through it all, one constant did not change and doesn’t seem likely to change: The Republicans are wrecking themselves.
Indeed, historically so. This is one of those turning points in American political history, the kind you’ll tell your grandkids you were around to see: a once-respectable party that finally was eaten alive by the cultural rage it had so long used to its advantage but held in check in order to win elections. It was a long time coming and it’s a grand thing to watch, provided they don’t wreck the country along with themselves.
First, a quick recap. Thursday morning, John Boehner finally picked up on the signals the White House had been sending and offered a “clean” but short-term debt-limit increase. Since Boehner clearly knew that such a measure wouldn’t get votes from his loony-tunes caucus, he was aiming for something that might pass with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes. That was admirable. But there was a problem: He proposed to do nothing about the government shutdown until Nov. 22, and that was something most Democrats wouldn’t have gone for.
After 81 days in captivity, you really get to know someone. Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie recalls teaching a Syrian warlord how to swim.
It’s not all soldiers and veterans at The Hero Summit. You’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Alpeyrie, and you may not think of photographers as heroes. But you might think just a little differently after you hear the story of his recent captivity in Syria for 81 days.
Speaking to The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey, Alpeyrie revealed new details of his capture and captivity, which serve to remind that some journalists, too, risk life and limb. Alpeyrie was at home in Paris with about 10 days to kill until his next scheduled assignment, he said, when he decided to make his third trip to Syria to cover the civil war.
He spent time with some rebel groups, he said, and about a week into his sojourn, he was about 20 miles outside of Damascus with his fixer and one other when they drove into a checkpoint. “It was a trap,” he said. He was dragged out of the car and blindfolded. Someone held a pistol to his head and pretended to shoot. It’s how they break your will, he said, adding: “You feel like you’re dreaming, like it’s not really happening. It’s very strange.”
His kidnappers, he said, were a local militia group run by a warlord. For the first five weeks, he was blindfolded and handcuffed. Then, without explanation, he was moved to a different safe house, and the blindfold and handcuffs were taken off.
From 'principled fiscal conservative protest' to 'Obama derangement syndrome:' John Avlon talks to CNN's Carol Costello on the fifth anniversary of the Tea Party.
As hangovers cleared, on panels and in booths, Day 2’s momentum drained away from the GOP’s aging “values” peddlers—in favor of the young, energetic followers of Rand Paul.