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January 31, 2015 2:27 PM Heading Towards a GOP Train Wreck

Does anyone else see a train wreck coming for this Republican Congress?

One train is coming this way:

House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) will lead along with two other top committee chairs a Republican task force to come up with a plan in case the Supreme Court strikes a blow to Obamacare later this year…

They will be tasked with working up an alternative plan if the Supreme Court invalidates tax credits in the 30-plus states that use HealthCare.gov, as well as a more general Obamacare alternative if the law were to be repealed…

Coming in the opposite direction is this train:

There is internal dissent on whether Republicans ought to come up with an alternative. One congressional GOP health aide, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said his party is as determined as ever to fight Obamacare, and will remain so as long as it exhibits failure. He said devising an alternative is fraught with the difficulty of crafting a new benefits structure that doesn’t look like the Affordable Care Act.

“If you want to say the further and further this gets down the road, the harder and harder it gets to repeal, that’s absolutely true,” the aide said. “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. … To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA. You have to have a participating mechanism, you have to have a mechanism to fund it, you have to have a mechanism to fix parts of the market.”

Pushing on the accelerator of both trains is this:

Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that.

“No, no, no, no;” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Indiana).

Rep. McDermott came up with a different analogy.

GOP congressional leaders haven’t coalesced around a specific replacement for the law should the court strike down the subsidies. Democrats say that makes them vulnerable, and plan to paint the GOP as responsible for taking away benefits that millions already receive.

“What you’re going to see is the Republican party with all their clothes off,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.) “They are standing out there naked as a jaybird and they are going to have to stand up and explain, ’Well, now we got rid of it - now what do we do?’”

It would all be humorous if it weren’t so terribly tragic.

January 31, 2015 12:38 PM The Dangers of Hysteria

This article by Molly Knefel in Rolling Stone stirred up a lot of thoughts for me. In it, she reports that there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to re-authorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

That law, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), was passed in 1974 and has been updated and strengthened several times throughout its 40 years. In addition to establishing federal oversight for the states, it also set up core requirements for how states treat their youthful offenders - things like keeping kids out of adult prisons and addressing entrenched racial disparities - as well as a grant program to facilitate and incentivize states to meet those requirements. Since 2002, however, Congress has failed to reauthorize the law, and advocates say it’s long overdue for an update.

I’m pretty familiar with JJDPA because for almost 30 years I worked in community-based programs that were initiated back in the 1970’s when it originally passed. In addition to the things Knefel referred to above, the “juvenile justice” part of the act prevented children/youth from being locked up for status offenses (things like running away, truancy, etc that are only offenses for those under 18 years of age) and the “delinquency prevention” part suggested (and in some cases funded) alternative community-based interventions.

I say all that to remind you that there was a time in this country when we were able to pass laws like that. A lot of the funding attached to these initiatives was lost during the Reagan years. But the reason JJDPA languished without reauthorization for so long probably has to do with the hysteria fabricated in the 1990’s over the idea of a looming threat from juvenile super predators.

In 1995, John DiIulio, a professor at Princeton who coined the term “superpredator,” predicted that the number of juveniles in custody would increase three-fold in the coming years and that, by 2010, there would be “an estimated 270,000 more young predators on the streets than in 1990.” Criminologist James Fox joined in the rhetoric, saying publicly, “Unless we act today, we’re going to have a bloodbath when these kids grow up.”

These predictions set off a panic, fueled by highly publicized heinous crimes committed by juvenile offenders, which led nearly every state to pass legislation between 1992 and 1999 that dramatically increased the treatment of juveniles as adults for purposes of sentencing and punishment.

Last year the NYT did a retrospective on what happened and how the whole idea of “suprepredators” turned out to be a myth.

But the result wasn’t merely a reversal of everything JJDPA had tried to do. This myth fed into the escalating “war on drugs” and “get tough on crime” mentality of the 1990’s that spurred things like “three strikes” laws in our criminal justice system, “zero tolerance” policies in our schools and “stand your ground” laws in our communities. Over the last 20 years, it meant that thousands of young lives (primarily black and brown ones) were interrupted at best and ended at worst.

Due to a lot of hard work by community members, efforts by the Obama administration and concern from Republicans that this trajectory is not financially sustainable, we’re finally seeing some sanity re-introduced - like this bipartisan effort to reauthorize JJDPA.

Knowing the toll our detour into hysteria exacted, it’s a bit hard for me to celebrate this turn of events. I’m still caught up in grieving our losses. But this is one of those “teachable moments.” As a country, we’ve seen our tendency to buy into the hysteria of fear + anger take its toll on our sanity several times. The obvious ones that come to mind - in addition to this one - are the McCarthy red-scare and the invasion of Iraq in response to 9/11.

My hope would be that, as our media and political activists attempt to stir up the hysteria, we would learn to pause and ask some questions.

Sometimes the hysteria is simply about political power games. But oftentimes, there are lives at stake.

January 31, 2015 10:37 AM About Those Speech Rules

There’s been a lot of talk this week between pundits/bloggers about “political correctness.” I’m not going to delve into the back and forth of that conversation, but I’d like to share some of my own thoughts and experiences.

As a white person, I learned a lot about what racism looks like in this country today by hanging around small blogs written by people of color about eight years ago. They have mostly all gone inactive, but back then it was fascinating to simply listen to people talking in forums that had never been available prior to the internet.

One story from a blogger named Donna was a particular turning point for me. It starts off with her explaining that she was once part of a group for Native American women. They were open about who joined - as long as the reasons had integrity. One of the women who joined the group had Native American ancestors way back in her heritage and wanted to learn what she could about them. I’ll let Donna pick up the story from there.

It was like any friend or neighbor who thinks you are interesting and you think she is interesting and you get along great. I don’t know what got up her nose this one day, but we were sitting around discussing current problems on our reservations and things like unemployment came up. She gets a little huffy and chimes in, “Well why don’t you just go get a job?” Now the others in the group just stopped talking to her, they knew they got slapped down, but I didn’t. I tried to explain that it wasn’t that easy and that alot of our reservations are out in the middle of nowhere and you need a car to go into town or maybe even get on a bus and completely leave your home. She didn’t hear any of it. She said of course it’s easy, you fill out applications and get a job! I tried one more time telling her that cars and gas cost money, that bus fare costs money, that clothes for an interview cost money, the extreme poverty means there is no money, and because of the distance to the nearest city you might be abandoning everything and everyone you know to go somewhere you know is hostile to you. And she dismissed it saying I was just making excuses. She really thought we were either too stupid to think of her simplistic answers ourselves, or too lazy to go and do it. I lost it and gave her hell over it, but her answer to that was that white people don’t have to be our friends and listen to anything we say, and yet she did it all this time, and now I was being so rude and ungrateful when she was just trying to help…

I got quiet. I didn’t know what to say. I had to stop and ask myself, am I really equal? Am I even human? At that moment in time, I didn’t know anymore. Now these kinds of things have happened to me at other times but this one was especially painful because I had been friends with this woman for 2+ years. I didn’t see it coming.

The woman’s questions sprang from her own ignorance and were therefore initially understandable. Donna didn’t see what was coming though. As her responses were increasingly met with defensiveness and - ultimately - the statement about how this woman was doing them some kind of favor by listening, the white supremacy came through…painfully.

While there is no excuse for ignorance, it is a fact of life in our culture. All white people are occasionally going to say “politically incorrect” things. The true test is how we respond when someone calls us on it. We have the choice of either getting defensive or doing a little soul-searching. The latter doesn’t mean we will eventually agree. What it does mean is that we take a moment to consider someone’s view point that springs from things we haven’t experienced.

Another blogger named Kai wrote a powerful post on this titled: The White Liberal Conundrum. Brace yourself. If you really absorb what he’s saying, its likely to trigger that choice between defensiveness and soul-searching.

As I’ve often noted, many white liberals remain oblivious to the depth and breadth of anti-racist work, opting to hide behind the delusion that anyone who votes for Democrats and doesn’t have a pointy hood in the closet is “a good guy” in the movement toward greater social justice…Some might be surprised to learn that when people of color talk about racism amongst ourselves, white liberals often receive a far harsher skewering than white conservatives or overt racists. Many of my POC friends would actually prefer to hang out with an Archie Bunker-type who spits flagrantly offensive opinions, rather than a colorblind liberal whose insidious paternalism, dehumanizing tokenism, and cognitive indoctrination ooze out between superficially progressive words. At least the former gives you something to work with, something above-board to engage and argue against; the latter tacitly insists on imposing and maintaining an illusion of non-racist moral purity which provides little to no room for genuine self-examination or racial dialogue.

Countless blogospheric discussions on racism amply demonstrate the manner in which many white liberals start acting victimized and angry if anyone attempts to burst their racism-free bubble, oftentimes inexplicably bringing up non-white friends, lovers, adopted children, relatives, ancestors; dismissing, belittling, or obtusely misreading substantive historically-informed analysis of white supremacism as either “divisive rhetoric” or “flaming”; downplaying racism as an interpersonal social stigma and bad PR, rather than an overarching system of power under which we all live and which has socialized us all; and threatening to walk away from discussion if persons of color do not comform to a narrow white-centered comfort zone. Such people aren’t necessarily racists in the hate-crime sense of the word, but they are usually acting out social dynamics created by racism and replicating the racist social relationships they were conditioned since birth to replicate.

Both Donna and Kai wrote those posts after a discussion was sparked at Nezua’s blog The Unapologetic Mexican. He was responding to this statement from Glenn Greenwald.

…part of the reason people intently run away from discussions of race…is because it is too easy to unwittingly run afoul of various unwritten speech rules, thereby triggering accusations of bigotry.

Nezua wrote:

In this analysis (or this part of his post at least) the problem is the various unwritten speech rules. But guess what? There really aren’t any. There are just poor attitudes we keep about people who look different. Or who we’ve been taught to think of differently. And there is a “White” attitude of deciding for everyone else how they should live, be, self-identify, and do many other things. There are old slurs and old tropes that hurt people. These are the things that are flushed out when people speak: attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, manners of speaking that hint at lurking attitudes.

People avoid talking about race because they are scared of exposing their thoughts and views on race…They are not afraid of “unwritten speech rules.” They are afraid that what they really think and feel will cause them to be ridiculed or ostracized in public, or that they may see a part of themselves they have to feel bad about. So they keep the potential to themselves.
But if we keep the focus on Speech Rules, we miss the opportunity to change ourselves.

That last sentence exemplifies why we tend to be more comfortable talking about speech rules and/or political correctness. In doing so, we avoid changing ourselves.

January 31, 2015 8:36 AM Obama and Clinton: Strategies for Change

It is going to pain me to say this (a lot!), but I think Ron Fournier is actually right about something.

Friends and associates of the former secretary of State, including some who are preparing her for a likely presidential bid, say Clinton obviously will embrace Obama’s progressive economic agenda. Middle-class tax cuts, judicial reform, paid sick leave, and free community-college tuition are the sort of policies that Clinton has previously supported—and would certainly push in the future.

Clinton is not worried about being associated with Obama’s policies, associates say. Her challenge is to convince voters that, unlike Obama, she can deliver on her promises…
The Clinton team is discussing how to draw a contrast between Obama’s leadership skills and hers—without overtly insulting the president.

The assumption behind this kind of strategy is that Clinton will lose if she simply runs on a “third Obama term.” I’ll leave that one aside for now because Fournier has tapped into the argument she’ll likely make.

Way back during the 2008 primary (when the contest was still between Obama, Clinton and Edwards), Mark Schmitt wrote a masterful piece on their different “theories of change.” While the GOP strategy of total obstruction was not fully implemented at the time, he did define the status quo as Republican intractability. And then he examined the candidates’ approach to overcoming the stalemate that would produce. Here’s how he summed it up:

Hillary Clinton’s stump speech is built around the speechwriter’s rule of three, applied to theories of change: one candidate believes you achieve change by “demanding it” [Edwards], another thinks you “hope for it” [Obama], while she alone knows that you have to “work for it” [Clinton].

That’s accurate as a rendering of the candidates’ language: Her message of experience and hard work, Obama’s language of hope and common purpose, Edwards’ insistence that those with power will never give it up willingly.

Schmitt goes on to suggest that simply relying on “hard work” might not be enough.

Any of the three “theories of change” has to be tested not just as a description of the current political situation, but as a tactic for breaking it. Even the non-naive Edwards believes that the structure of power can be broken — by a large, engaged social movement. Clinton’s theory in a sense takes the status quo for granted more than the others, but it’s appropriate in certain situations: I imagine her negotiating the fine points of a health care bill, having mastered every lesson from 1993 and every detail, and getting Senators McConnell and Grassley in the room, and them walking out having agreed to something they barely understand. Superior knowledge and diligence can be a tool of power…And while hard work and mastery of details is also indispensable in a president, work alone does not overcome unyielding political opposition. As Karl Rove would say, it’s not a “game changer.”

That description of how Clinton might have handled health care reform negotiations totally reminds me of the deal President Obama made during the attempt to avert a government shutdown over the FY 2011 budget. Initially conservatives went into celebration mode and liberals were incensed that “Obama caved.” Eventually Republicans figured out they’d been taken.

So the budget deal is supposed to deliver $38 billion in spending cuts, including $20 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending…Based on news accounts, quite a lot of that $20 billion could be phony: $6.2 billion in unspent money for the Census; $2.5 billion of highway funds that couldn’t be spent; $3.5 billion of unused spending authority in a children’s health-care program. Is it possible that Republicans have gone from $61 billion in domestic discretionary savings all the way down to $8 billion?

As for the Edwards theory that the status quo can be broken “by a large, engaged social movement”… President Obama has been there, done that too.

Schmitt outlines what it is that President Obama added to the mix. Something I’ve called “conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy” (hat tip to Jonathan Chait).

…perhaps we are being too literal in believing that “hope” and bipartisanship are things that Obama naively believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved… puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk…

What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism — people who don’t agree with him….
The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear…One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that’s not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists — it’s a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.

President Obama has engaged all three theories - hard work, building a social movement, and conciliatory rhetoric - in an attempt to break through Republican obstructionism. For a while, he also tried to build a “common sense caucus.” Now he’s added his “pen and phone” strategy. In other words, when it comes to change, the President has employed an “all of the above” strategy. None of these things have been unquestionably successful - but they’ve all had their moments. And in the end, he’s managed to accomplish quite a lot.

If Ron Fournier is right and Hillary Clinton wants to show that she can “deliver” in a way that President Obama has not, she’s going to have to dig deep in search of something new. Otherwise it’s just empty rhetoric that would come back to haunt her once she’s in office.

January 31, 2015 7:53 AM Daylight Video

I was a pre-teen when the Beatles came to the U.S. And so I became part of the cohort that participated in “Beatlemania.”

Twenty years later I went to see Tina Turner during her “Private Dancer Tour.” Listening to her sing this song, I felt like I really heard it for the first time. That’s some “Diva Soul” for you.

January 30, 2015 5:59 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

Funny how quickly the past recedes. I checked out my entry on the TNR archives earlier today before briefly describing my relationship with the magazine, and was shocked to discover it included 27 pages of links. That’s a lot of rides on the old TNR ship, and in just a little over three years. Though I never worked in their office, and my parting of ways with them was not very friendly, it’s no wonder I still feel a bit embarrassed by their past lack of diversity.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Romney’s announcement stepped all over Scott Walker’s big DC speech, in which he refined his electability-without-compromise pitch. Don’t know if he had ‘em rockin’ in the aisles, though.

* Democrat Ted Strickland reportedly set to run against Rob Portman next year.

* Interesting David Graham column on Mitt as the guy who could never get the timing right for his presidential bids.

* At Ten Miles Square, Julia Azari discusses Scott Walker’s choice of fundraising instruments for his pre-announcement campaign.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer explains why poor people are the only ones who are likely to be exposed to the “unbundling” of higher ed services from individual colleges.

And in non-political news:

* Everything you want to know about the financial side of Super Bowl XLIX.

That’s it for Friday. Nancy Le Tourneau will be in for weekend blogging. For those of you wanting to celebrate the non-candidacy of Mitt Romney, and in response to a commenter request yesterday, here’s The Call performing “The Walls Came Down,” with The Band’s Garth Hudson on keyboards.

Selah.

January 30, 2015 5:12 PM Jindal on Religious Liberty: Contradiction or Revelation?

I’m really pleased to see Peter Beinart go after Bobby Jindal with an analytical scalpel, because I’m tired of being semi-alone in viewing the Louisiana governor as especially cynical and dangerous. No, I don’t think he’s going to win the presidential nomination, but right now he’s a cinch for a Cabinet post if Republicans regain the White House, and as Chris Rock would say, “That ain’t right!.”

In any event, Beinart focuses on the rather problematic relationship between two of Jindal’s big themes: “religious liberty” for conservative Christians, which he defines as sanctioned non-compliance with secular laws they don’t like, and hostility to Muslims for alleged refusal to assimilate to secular American customs.

[L]et’s imagine a scenario. A devout Christian emigrates from Nigeria to a progressive American college town, where she takes up work as a pharmacist. She quickly finds herself at odds with the dominant culture around her. Co-workers mock her modest dress and her insistence on interrupting work to pray. When she calls homosexuality a sin, they denounce her as a bigot. Ultimately, her employer fires her for refusing to dispense contraception.
Based on his speeches at Liberty University and the Reagan Library, Jindal’s advice to this woman would be clear: Wage “silent war” against the culture that oppresses you, even if you’re a minority of one. If necessary, “establish a separate culture within” the dominant one so you can raise children who fear and obey God.
Now imagine that our devout Nigerian is a Muslim. Suddenly her resistance to the dominant culture makes her not a hero but a menace. Jindal supporters might resist the analogy. Christians, they might argue, don’t kill cartoonists or establish their own separate legal systems. But Jindal’s point in London was that the problems with Muslim immigrants go beyond issues of violence and law. The core danger, he insisted, is their refusal to assimilate into the culture of the countries to which they immigrate. And since Jindal has already declared that American (let alone European) culture is secular, any immigrant who refuses to assimilate into it is, by his definition, a threat. Our Nigerian pharmacist should never been given a visa.
Why point out the contradiction between Jindal’s heroic portrayal of Christian non-assimilators and his demonization of Muslim ones? Because it exposes his lofty talk about culture and identity to be an elaborate ruse. The only principle he’s really defending is anti-Muslim bigotry.

I agree with the conclusion, but differ in one respect. Embedded in Bobby’s idea of the conflict between conservative Christians and secular America is the belief that America should be conservative Christian. I don’t know if he’s specifically used Sarah Palin’s useful “Real America” distinction, but it’s implicit in his approach to issues ranging from same-sex marriage to education. So that’s also implicit in how he talks about Muslims, who are in his view a threat to both secular and “real” Americans. Different religions can’t be held to the same standards because some are “American” and some aren’t. And ultimately secular Americans will have to bend the knee just like Muslims. When you look at Jindal’s views from that perspective, It’s not so much a contradiction as a revelation.

UPDATE: Conservative WaPo columnist Michael Gerson also goes after Bobby today for “extremism,” which is especially interesting because Gerson is himself a conservative evangelical. Gerson, of course, has to end his column with a graph assuring us that plenty of people on the Left are just as nasty, but it reads like boilerplate. Wouldn’t it be nice, chirrens, if Jindal ended his presidential bid not only broke and stuck at 2% in the polls, and out of office (he’s term-limited at the end of this year), but with his wonky reputation shredded? It could definitely happen.

January 30, 2015 4:22 PM Spin That Poll!

It wasn’t an ideal day for releasing polling data on the 2016 Republican presidential nominating contest. But you have to admire the folks at Bloomberg Politics, who found an opportunity to pre-release and contextualize some select findings from a planned Monday release of the latest Iowa Poll that Ann Selzer does for BP and the Des Moines Register. The headline made it sound like they went right into the field in anticipation of a Romney withdrawal: “Romney Would Have Faced Many Campaign Hurdles.” And John McCormick and Margaret Telev, who wrote this up, also teased out a finding that nearly half of likely caucus-goers didn’t want Romney to run.

Interestingly, they go on to show Romney beating Bush in every preferred candidate characteristic category they tested, which doesn’t quite match the headline. And then over at the Register, in a similar article drawing from the same poll (hard to tell which went up first), Jason Noble shows Mitt with plurality positives on several leading questions about his vulnerabilities; we’re apparently supposed to see these results as showing why Mitt was smart not to run.

Oh well. You work with what you’ve got, I guess.

Meanwhile, they were luckier at Fox News, which put out a new national poll this morning showing Mitt with more than double the support of the next-strongest Republican proto-candidate. But they did some back-up polling of the field without Mitt, and so were able to show that now he’s out of the race, Bush leads with 15%; Huck and Paul are right behind at 13%; Ben Carson’s at 10% and Scott Walker is at 9%. No spinning was necessary, which is nice when you are dealing with Fox News.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I attributed the item I’m mildly mocking to Bloomberg View rather than Bloomberg Politics. My buddy Jonathan Bernstein, of the former outfit, informed me of the error. So sorry.

January 30, 2015 3:37 PM 4th Quarter GDP Growth: Okay, But Not Gangbusters

If you haven’t seen one of the many leaks on this data, here’s the official word from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Real gross domestic product — the value of the production of goods and services in the United States, adjusted for price changes — increased at an annual rate of 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 5.0 percent….
The deceleration in real GDP growth in the fourth quarter primarily reflected an upturn in imports, a downturn in federal government spending, and decelerations in nonresidential fixed investment and in exports that were partly offset by an upturn in private inventory investment and an acceleration in PCE [personal consumption expenditures].

There’s a silver lining:

The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, decreased 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter, in contrast to an increase of 1.4 percent in the third. Excluding food and energy prices, the price index for gross domestic purchases increased 0.7 percent, compared with an increase of 1.6 percent.

No need right now for interest rate increases, O ye Fed.

January 30, 2015 3:01 PM Just Don’t Call It a “Fix,” Please

So one aspect of the GOP’s response to a potential Supreme Court-generated crisis over Obamacare’s purchasing subsidies is becoming very clear: whatever they do or propose to do, they won’t let you call it a “fix.” That’s the message congressional Republicans tried to send via a Wall Street Journal article by Louise Radnofsky. But even the messengers have trouble avoiding the “f” word:

Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that.
“No, no, no, no,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Indiana). “Even Democrats have acknowledged that this needs fixing.”

Ooops.

The rest of the piece discusses exactly how radical Republicans want to be in exploiting the opportunity to come up with an Obamacare “alternative,” which is interesting insofar as coming up with any consensus alternative to the health care status quo has eluded Republicans for decades. There’s also the little matter of getting the president to go along. But it’s good to know that whatever they decide to do, they won’t be calling it a “fix.” I bet even Dan Coats starts getting that straight.

January 30, 2015 1:55 PM Lunch Buffet

Interesting morning, eh? Started the day enjoying a Mitt-Jeb slugfest and then had to change gears. It’s one of those days when I wish I had the luxury of beginning to write about Noon EST.

Here are some post-Noon EST news/views treats:

* Halperin rewrite of his original, immensely misleading “insider” report on Mitt Romney’s intentions claims it was accurate Thursday night, but not Friday morning. Yeah, right.

* Know who whiffed on the Romney story worse than Mark Halperin? The Daily Beast.

* House GOP buys time by appointing troika “task force”—Ryan, Upton and Kline—to work on “Plan B” if Obamacare messed up by SCOTUS.

* Group of GOP senators led by Jerry Moran trying to revive interest in VA scandal.

* Obama FY 2016 budget to arrive on Monday; call for end to sequestration will draw most attention.

And in non-political news:

* Suge Knight arrested for suspicion of murder in hit-and-run; his attorneys say he was “fleeing for his life.”

As we break for lunch, here’s more Ruth Brown from the Apollo: “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”

January 30, 2015 1:30 PM TNR and Race

Yesterday I briefly mentioned Jeet Heer’s big piece for TNR about TNR’s legacy on racial matters. I’d been hearing about it quite a bit in informal conversations, but have now finally read it, and it’s a very useful overview that pulls few punches. I guess the circumstances of the recent rupture at TNR, when a mostly (though not exclusively) white male exodus left virtually no one from the Marty Peretz years, made it pretty easy for the new management and staff to ruthlessly examine “itself” without implicating itself. But it’s still a very good exercise, particularly with respect to the earlier years of TNR, where Heer had to do a lot of reading.

Heer suggests that in its early days TNR reflected but did not exceed the racism of white society generally (he didn’t mention, but might have, that Woodrow Wilson, a leader of the Democratic wing of the Progressive movement well into his White House days, was a virulent racist), but finally began to change during the Depression, and actually became a voice for racial progress as the civil rights era developed:

One could argue that between the late ’30s and the mid-’70s, The New Republic was one of the best magazines outside the black press in its coverage of the rise of the civil rights movement. Thomas Sancton, Sr., managing editor from 1942-1943, was a particularly radical advocate, holding FDR’s feet to the fire for his compromises with the Jim Crow South, and doing brave reporting on the Detroit race riots of 1943. Some of the best work from this period is enshrined in the Library of America’s two-volume Reporting Civil Rights, including Lucille B. Milner’s “Jim Crow in the Army” (1944) and Andrew Kopkind’s “Selma” (1965).

Then came the Peretz era, and it’s only a bit of an exaggeration to say that in Heer’s account editors and writers who fought Marty kept the magazine from too much in the way of dubious commentary on race, while those who didn’t fight him at all (especially Andrew Sullivan and the late Michael Kelly) allowed some embarrassing lapses to occur. But regardless of what was being said about race in the pages of TNR, there wasn’t much diversity among those producing it, reflecting, says Heer, Peretz’s strong preference for working with Ivy League white men.

I should mention that my own regular but less-than-intimate relationship with TNR from the middle of 2009 through 2012 as a frequent freelancer who was eventually signed on for a regular online column occurred after Peretz had sold his majority-share of the magazine and withdrew from editorial involvement, though for a while he continued to write the occasional incendiary blog post. I had more women as editors than men, and no one challenged my non-Ivy educational credentials (actually, Jonathan Chait once busted me for suggesting there was an Ivy test for working there). But in my infrequent visits to the TNR offices, I can’t say I ever encountered a person of color. So the airing of the magazine’s legacy on race is not just a matter of distant memory.

January 30, 2015 12:41 PM Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty in Climate Change Survey?

The New York Times’ Coral Davenport and Marjorie Connelly clearly think their newspaper’s new poll on climate change is a big deal, showing that “most Americans”—and nearly half of Republicans—favor government action to deal with the challenge. But I dunno: maybe it’s that I remember a million years ago—or was it just ten?—seeing polls showing relatively little partisan difference on the subject, which is why someone like John McCain could support a cap-and-trade bill, until he couldn’t.

So I’m more inclined than some to pay closer attention to another finding:

Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to say that the issue of global warming is important to them. Among Democrats, 63 percent said the issue was very or extremely important to them personally. In contrast, 40 percent of independents and only 18 percent of Republicans said the same.

What this suggests is that while blatant denialism might get a Republican presidential candidate into trouble, such old-fashioned evasions as “experts differ” and “we’ll deal with it maƱana, when the economy’s better” probably won’t be damaging, unless Democrats make a very big deal about it.

The other way to look at it, of course, is that Democrats should have plenty of public support for promoting action on climate change, at least in non-coal-producing areas. But they’re going to have to get over the prevailing feeling among political strategists that it’s just too difficult to weave together economic and environmental themes. There’s entirely too little faith in the Donkey Party, I fear, in the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

January 30, 2015 11:15 AM Never Mind the Mitt-o-Mania

So remember that conference call Mitt Romney was having today to update his followers on this current thinking about 2016? You know, the one that Mark Halperin indicated would show steady if not definitive progress towards a candidacy, along with considerable disrespect for rivals?

Well, conservative radio talk host and opinion-leader Hugh Hewitt has put out what he says is the prepared text of Romney’s statement for the conference call. And it says he’s decided against running.

After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee….

After some throat-clearing about how he was currently the best-equipped candidate to win the nomination and the White House, here’s the pivot:

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.
I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president. You can’t imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country. But we believe it is for the best of the Party and the nation.

Nobody on Twitter seems to be doubting the authenticity of Hewitt’s info. So it’s done, I guess, and for good:

I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.

It’s not quite a Sherman Statement, but since it’s not exactly as though the whole world was begging Mitt to run, it’s close enough to unleash the donors and other Mitt loyalists to sign up with others. I don’t know whether to read anything into the business about favoring someone from the “next generation of Republican leaders” and “one who is just getting started;” maybe it’s a veiled shot at Jebbie or his 2008 tormenter Huck or his 2012 rivals Santo and Perry. But for now Romney will probably be quickly and thoroughly forgotten—again. I’d say the reaction of HuffPost’s Sam Stein reflected what a lot of us in the commentariat are thinking right now:

wow. we wasted so much f***ing time writing about and discussing Romney running. i won’t ever get that back

UPDATE: It’s official, per the New York Times’ Martin and Barbaro. Mitt dropped the bomb on a conference call, and even that did not go well:

Friday’s conference call seemed bittersweet for the Romney family. At one point, Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, came on the line and thanked the former aides for their steadfast support.
But luck was clearly not with Mr. Romney this time, even as he shared the news with his former staff members on his morning call. Mr. Romney’s voice fell off the line as the connection was suddenly dropped.
January 30, 2015 10:07 AM “Small-Time Businessman” Snags Key Romney Op

It may be a total coincidence that on the day Team Romney gave the world a peak via Mark Halperin of its very low opinion of Jeb Bush, the proto-candidacy of Jeb Bush gave Des Moines Register political reporter Jennifer Jacobs a scoop that it had pulled off a coup by recruiting long-time Romney Iowa operative David Kochel—not just for an Iowa Caucus campaign, but to run the whole Jebbie shooting match down in Miami.
Word must have gotten around quickly, because in Halperin’s account Romney knew about Kochel’s impending defection, and wrote it off as attributable to Kochel’s longstanding relationship with Bush consiglieri Mike Murphy, who in turn worked with Kochel on many of Terry Branstad’s 150 gubernatorial campaigns. Indeed, as a sign of how incestuous Iowa presidential politics can be on both sides of the candidate/media barricades, Jacobs quoted Halperin’s extremely characteristic reaction to her exclusive:

“Ain’t no hyperbole to say that @JebBush’s hiring of @ddkochel is 1 of the 5 most significant developments of ‘16 cycle so far,” tweeted Mark Halperin, co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and one of the nation’s top TV political pundits.

But most of Jacob’s piece is a gushing profile of Kochel’s power and glory. To understand it, you have to appreciate the funhouse mirror of Iowa politics. On the one hand, it is the Land of Giants, so thick on the ground with Political Geniuses and Kingmakers and Power-brokers you can’t stir ‘em with a stick. On the other, this puffed-up self-image has some insecurity at its core; thus Jacobs seems very excited that an Iowan may actually be running a top-shelf presidential campaign (the only precedent, she carefully notes, was Terry Nelson of the 2008 McCain campaign).

So it’s hard to say how much this matters, since the news may be eclipsed by the next hiring of an Iowa Political Titan next week, just as the Kochel news eclipsed Scott Walker’s “coup” in retaining David Polyanski last week, which Jennifer Jacobs was also excited about. Maybe it’s just the intimate size of the state and its political class, but the Invisible Primary there is very visible in the sense that everybody’s eventually in the same line for soup or a sandwich at Palmer’s Deli.

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