Political Animal


August 01, 2014 8:49 AM Another Undramatic Jobs Report

The July jobs report can be spun in one of two ways. With a net increase in jobs of 209,000, this was the sixth straight month of job gains over 200,000. But it fell short of consensus economist expectations of 230,000, and the official unemployment rate, which matters a great deal politically, actually ticked up slightly from 6.1% to 6.2%.

Most of the other indicators, from workforce participation rate to the number of “discouraged” workers, were unchanged. What you see is pretty much what you get; there’s not much “hidden” economic news.

So for the umpteenth time, we’re reminded that we’re not in the midst of some rip-roaring recovery. But on the other hand, since stocks dropped precipitously yesterday on fears that falling unemployment and robust growth would spur the Fed to raise interest rates sooner rather than later, maybe we’ll see a good strong rally today.

August 01, 2014 8:25 AM Oh, No, Not Again!

As a long, rather difficult week comes to a close, you really don’t want to get up early with a headache, check out the news aggregator, and see this headline:

Why Mitt Romney is perfectly poised for a comeback in 2016

I don’t know why Matt Lewis chose this theme for a column at The Week. But he doesn’t really make a very compelling case for Mitt 3.0. We’re told that Romney has been “proven right” on all sort of things since 2012, though only Russia’s nastiness (hardly a real point of contention) is mentioned. But the main argument is that Romney’s now been made a humble and even lovable Rocky-figure because he would be undertaking a comeback.

That’s right, Mitt Romney the scrappy underdog — the loser who’s out to redeem himself — is a more attractive Mitt.
You know the term “lovable loser?” He should embrace it.

Well, if that’s all it takes, there are plenty of other “losers” available to the GOP. There’s Rick Santorum, who can also cite the “It’s My Turn” meme. There’s Rick Perry, whose self-immolation in 2012 just cries out for “redemption.” Nobody’s “scrappier” than Rudy Giuliani, and the MSM found Mike Huckabee very “lovable” in 2008.

But Mitt? He wasn’t very lovable even within his own party, and even when they were lifting him to their presidential nomination. And at the risk of sounding like a “class warrior” here, I’d observe that people with Mitt’s kind of wealth simply cannot come across as “humble”or generate the sort of empathy that feeds a comeback. I mean, it’s not like he woke up the day after he lost the 2012 presidential election wondering where his next paycheck would come from, like millions of folk from the despised 47%.

So spare us the bathos, Matt. If you are longing for another Romney run, that’s your prerogative. But let’s don’t pretend the man is “perfectly poised” for anything other than doing reverse mortgage ads.

August 01, 2014 7:58 AM Daylight Video

World War I broke out on this day a century ago, as Russia and Germany declared war on each other. Here’s one of the strange songs generated by that savage conflict: “The Bells of Hell Go Ting a Ling a Ling,” from the movie Oh! What A Lovely War.

July 31, 2014 5:11 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Blogging from a gridlocked I-285 right now. Anyone who’s been on that perimeter highway during rush hour can imagine my chagrin.

Here are some remains of the day:

* WaPo update on DCCC’s African-American turnout operation, viewed as a midterm Democratic “firewall.”

* Current Congress still on track to become least productive in last two decades.

* At TNR, Rebecca Traister outlines history of conservative efforts to separate reproductive health from “women’s health.”

* At Ten Miles Square, John Bradshaw argues progressives should play active role in encouraging nuclear deal with Iran.

* At College Guide, Jackie Mader reports on “huge confusion” in Mississippi over actual provisions of Common Core.

And in non-political news:

* A’s trade Yoenis Cespedes two days before planned giveaway of 10,000 t-shirts honoring him.

That’s it for Thursday. Let’s close with one more Trip Shakespeare tune: the poignant “Bonneville.”


July 31, 2014 4:45 PM Wall Street as a New York State of Mind

Nestled in a long Prospect interview of Walter Shapiro by Harold Meyerson on All Things Hillary is a nugget that’s worth pondering:

[T]he worst thing that could have happened to her in terms of framing any economic populist message was to run for the Senate from New York rather than, say, Arkansas. Not only do the Clintons have a certain psychological need for money—that would probably be a separate course in the Department of Hillary Studies—but her constituents were Wall Street, and they were also the people who were funding all the Clinton initiatives and giving speaking fees to Bill.

Usually “populist” Democrats blame the solicitude of the Clintons (and other “centrist” Democrats) on either ideology or plain corruption. But in some cases, and not only with respect to “centrists,” tending to powerful industries has been a matter of constituent service and “bringing home the bacon.” It’s an observation that was made in Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s 2011 book, Winner-Take All Politics, which concluded the favoritism showed the financial industry by congressional Democrats in the 1990s owed as much to geography as ideology.

In terms of HRC, you can conclude, as Shapiro apparently did, that she’s been affected permanently by this affinity to the financial industry. But you could also conclude that free of both the White House culture of her husband’s administration and of service to New York as a senator, HRC is also free to adopt a far more independent attitude towards Wall Street. We may just have to wait and see.

July 31, 2014 4:18 PM No Laughing Matter

After today’s activities in the U.S. House of Representatives, I read for a second time Gail Collins’ New York Times column on the bill that did pass today, authorizing a lawsuit against the president. Here’s the pertinent passage:

Rather than suing the president for everything he’s ever done, the Republicans tried to improve their legal prospects by picking a particular executive order. They settled on the one postponing enforcement of part of Obamacare that requires businesses to provide health coverage for their employees. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” demanded Boehner.
“Not a single one of them voted for the Affordable Care Act,” said Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “They spent $ 79 million holding votes to kill it. And now they’re going to sue him for not implementing it fast enough.”
We will look back on this moment in Washington as The Week That Irony Died.

I’m sure not laughing.

July 31, 2014 3:34 PM Another Big House GOP Fail

Despite some nativist tweaks aimed at getting conservatives on board, the House GOP leadership (operating for the first time with Kevin McCarthy instead of Eric Cantor holding the whip) had to pull its much trumpeted border bill this afternoon, apparently abandoning the whole effort while Members head off on their long August recess. Here’s Sahil Kapur’s summation for TPM:

Immigration-weary conservatives said the $659 million supplemental, and the subsequent measure to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, didn’t go far enough in rebuking the president’s actions.
It was a remarkable defeat for the new GOP leadership team on the day that Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) stepped down as majority leader.

Seems language prohibiting any extension of DACA wasn’t enough—probably because it wasn’t going anywhere in the Senate. If the House was going to pass any primarily symbolic DACA measure, it would have to restrict and reverse the earlier program implemented by the president in 2012 to provider relief for DREAMers.

You may recall that after the government shutdown fiasco last autumn, we were assured by Establishment Republicans and the MSM that the House Conference had learned its lesson, and wouldn’t engage in these sort of undisciplined actions. Now the destructive chaos is back for the whole world to see, and the only cover being provided (other than the usual effort to blame Obama) is an emptying Capitol.

Nice work, House GOP.

July 31, 2014 2:19 PM Lunch Buffet

Sorry for the late lunch, but as explained earlier, it was unavoidable. Thanks to Martin for filling in.

Here are some just-in-time midday news/views treats.

* Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduces national sugary soda tax legislation.

* Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds law eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employees.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman predicts the willingness to sue Obama to become an early litmus test for all Republicans.

* TNR’s David Dayen reports on the metro-wide Bay Area minimum-wage campaign.

* At The Nation, Steven Gillers discusses possible obstruction of justice charges against Andrew Cuomo.

And in non-political news:

* MLB trade deadline liveblog!

As we break for lunch, here’s some more Trip Shakespeare, with the title track to Lulu.

July 31, 2014 1:19 PM Breaking the Fever

At The Week, Damon Linker speaks for a lot of non-Republicans and what’s left of the GOP’s more conventionally conservative wing in suggesting that the party won’t be open to genuine “reform” ideas until it nominates a “true conservative” who proceeds to get trounced in a presidential election:

As long as the Republican base and its would-be electoral champions use the RINO charge to police GOP ranks, there will be a strong incentive for presidential candidates to avoid embracing too much of the reformicon agenda — which in its details can sound an awful lot like ideas for, you know, reforming government rather than just cutting, slashing, and gutting it. Nothing could be more RINO, after all, than failing to see that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem…..”

[T]he best chance for genuine Republican reform will be for the party to nominate a firebrand who gets roundly and unambiguously repudiated by voters. That defeat, coming after two previous ones, just might provoke genuine soul searching, and a dawning awareness that the GOP has gone down a dead end and can only find its way out by a dramatic change of direction. Think of liberals nominating New Democrat Bill Clinton after losing with Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael “Card-Carrying Member of the ACLU” Dukakis. Or Tony “Third Way” Blair leading the U.K.’s Labour Party to victory after 15 years in the wilderness under the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Sometimes a political party needs to get knocked upside the head before it can come back to its collective senses.

Now as the analogies Damon mentions should indicate, it wasn’t completely obvious to Democrats that its pre-Clinton defeats were attributable to excessive liberalism. Jimmy Carter was in some respects a moderate, or even a conservative, Democrat. Mondale was hardly a “firebrand,” and the Dukakis campaign had a lot of problems, of which his ACLU membership was but one. Clinton’s candidacy had assets that weren’t just attributable to an ideological readjustments, and moreover, he never won a popular majority.

Beyond those shortcomings of a simple analysis that what ailed Democrats then and Republicans now has been abandonment of the “median voter theorem,” today’s conservatives approach politics quite differently than yesterday’s (and today’s) liberals. The essential meaning and purpose of the “constitutional conservative” movement is the conviction that conservative governing norms and cultural totems are eternally the same, grounded in divine and natural law, and in “American Exceptionalism.” Yes, such conservatives may have deluded themselves into thinking that there is a “hidden majority” for their point of view. But in the end, many of them would prefer righteousness to electoral victories, or to put it another way, would prefer to hold out for one big and total victory for The Cause even if that means short-term losses. That is not something most liberals are willing to risk.

Still, it’s true that losing with candidates like McCain and Romney makes it easier for Republicans to imagine they’d win with Cruz or Paul or Walker. So eliminating that illusion might have a salutory effect. But personally, I’m not inclined to hope that someone like Cruz or Paul or Walker gets one accident or economic calamity away from the presidency.

July 31, 2014 11:46 AM We Are So Far From Owning Our Responsibilities

Although some people dispute this, when the sun comes up in the morning, it is sometimes described as a sunrise. In other news, when you torture someone to death, it is sometimes described as torture. This is the insight of The Hill’s Mario Trujillo, who managed to get the following published without spontaneously combusting:

A forthcoming report on the defunct CIA enhanced interrogation program “tells a story of which no American is proud,” according to leaked State Department talking points.
The White House on Wednesday accidentally emailed The Associated Press the proposed “topline messages” the department prepared in anticipation of the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
The executive summary of the committee’s report on the Bush-era techniques — sometimes described as torture — is expected to be declassified in the next few weeks.

The CIA’s use of torture is not the end of the story. People were murdered:

The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.
“”There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths,”” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “”High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.”“

We’ve buried this information so deeply that our reporters can’t even begin to call it murder. They can’t even call it torture. It is “sometimes described” that way, but, you know, opinions differ.

July 31, 2014 11:01 AM Should We Re-Elect a Do-Nothing Congress?

Bill Kristol advises the House Republicans to pass nothing to address the crisis at the border involving a flood of unaccompanied minors arriving from distressed Central American countries.

If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there’s no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the president to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won’t have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they’ll make. Republican challengers won’t have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president—on his refusal to enforce the immigration law, on the effect of his unwise and arbitrary executive actions in 2012, on his pending rash and illegal further executive acts in 2014, and on his refusal to deal with the real legal and policy problems causing the border crisis. And with nothing passed in either house (assuming Senate Republicans stick together and deny Harry Reid cloture today), immigration won’t dominate August—except as a problem the president is responsible for and refuses seriously to address. Meanwhile, the GOP can go on the offensive on a host of other issues.

When you think about it, whether the House Republicans pass something to deal with the crisis or not, they are basically going to have to go to the public in the fall and defend their decisions to do nothing about anything.

In fact, their pitch to the electorate will be “reelect us and we’ll continue to do nothing.”

I think they may be overestimating the allure of that pitch.

July 31, 2014 9:15 AM Equipose at the Fed

The monthly Open Market Committee meeting of the Federal Reserve Board coincided with yesterday’s second-quarter GDP estimates, which means monetary hawks were raising the volume of their harsh cries for deflation. But it seems Janet Yellen is determined to maintain equipose, continuing the “tapering” of bond purchases as scheduled but not signalling any intention of raising interest rates until and unless inflation accelerates significantly.

Tomorrow, of course, the July Jobs Report comes out, and if the official unemployment rate drops, it will intensify demands for refocusing the Fed on inflation-fighting rather than economy- stimulating. Good news is always an argument for creating bad news when it comes to the “responsible” advocates of monetary “stability.”

July 31, 2014 8:23 AM Nothing To See Here, Folks, Just Talking To Our Lawyers

So on a virtual party-line vote (no Democrats voted “yea,” five Republicans—two of whom actually favor impeachment—voted “nay”), House GOPers formally authorized a lawsuit against the president over his alleged abuse of executive authority in temporarily delaying the Obamacare employer mandate.

In figuratively the same breath, House GOP leaders from John Boehner on down are claiming any talk of impeaching the president is a “scam” cooked up by Democrats.

Totally aside from the hardly-insignificant level of talk about impeachment by Republicans before they were told to shut up and get behind the lawsuit, why would a political party trying to look sober and non-demagogic resort to a lawsuit whose main issues will be entirely moot by the time a decision is rendered? There’s really no answer to that question, other than that the suit is a pressure valve designed to give Republicans something destructive to do before they risk the fateful step of going down the road to impeachment. The real “scam” here is that they are angrily denying it.

July 31, 2014 7:58 AM Big Fight Over When To Deport Everybody

Whenever there’s talk of a “Republican civil war,” the first thing I want to know is whether a given dispute is over values and politics, or instead over strategy and tactics. If it’s the latter, it’s an argument, not a “war.”

That would seem to be the case with immigration policy these days, as Greg Sargent explained yesterday: the disagreement among House Republicans over the linkage of border “relief” to deportation of DREAMers is mostly about timing:

Republican leaders don’t want to include any measure against Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the current border plan because the politics are terrible. That would entail responding to a crisis involving migrating minors not just by expediting deportations (which the current GOP bill would do), but also by calling for still more deportations from the interior. But the GOP leadership’s position is only that they don’t want any anti-DACA language in their current response to the crisis. The GOP position writ large is still that we should deport all the DREAMers, block Obama from any further executive action to ease deportations, and not act in any way to legalize the 11 million.
Remember: The House GOP already voted last year to end DACA. Meanwhile, Republicans are preparing to cast any future Obama action to ease deportations, no matter what it is, as out-of-control lawlessness and executive overreach, which is functionally equivalent to calling for maximum deportations from the interior. And they are heaping outright derision on the mere suggestion by Democrats that perhaps this crisis should be an occasion to revisit broader reform — yet another reminder that they won’t act to legalize the 11 million under any circumstances. So how, exactly, is this collection of positions, broadly speaking, any different from those of Cruz, King, Sessions, et. al.?

Good question, and one that should be asked on other topics where intraparty differences aren’t that significant once you examine them.

And now that House GOP leaders are in the process of modifying their border bill to include language barring the president from expanding DACA, the differences between “responsible” and “extremist” Republicans are shrinking every minute.

July 31, 2014 7:40 AM Daylight Video

The furor over this season’s Bachelorette revived memories of the song of that name by Trip Shakespeare, circa 1991:

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