Political Animal


July 30, 2014 6:16 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Quick notice: tomorrow we’re interring my mother’s ashes with her late husband Chuck at the V.A. National Cemetery, so Martin will be filling in with a couple of midday posts.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Exhaustive briefing by Irin Carmon on the Notre Dame “religious liberty” case, which she calls “the next Hobby Lobby.”

* OMG! Investigation of Wisconsin professor exposes “Google Group used by over 1,000 state and national leftwing leaders and activists.” Another JournoList! And nobody thought to include me!

* David Dayen interviews Rick Perlstein about the latest volume his chronicle of U.S. conservatism, this one focused on Ronald Reagan. Can’t wait to read it.

* At Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Bernstein discusses revelations of self-defeating reporting requirements for understaffed federal agencies.

* At College Guide, Conor Williams reports on new research showing mixed evidence about effectiveness of school breakfast programs.

And in non-political news:

* Sharknado 2 on SyFy tonight!

That’s it for Wednesday. Here, because it’s mandatory, is Jimi Hendrix performing “Wild Thing” at Monterey in 1967, the performance where he immolates his guitar.


July 30, 2014 5:44 PM The Return of Nick Ayers

Bells may ring in the memories of some political junkies—particularly those familiar with Georgia politics—when the name “Nick Ayers” is mentioned. Ayers was a College Republican activist and student at Kennesaw State University in 2002 when he signed up for and played a surprisingly significantly role in the upset gubernatorial victory of Sonny Perdue. When Perdue ran for re-election, Ayers was his campaign manager. The next year, he became Executive Director of the Republican Governors’ Association, and got a lot of credit for the boffo performance of GOP gubernatorial candidates that year. The word “wunderkind” was often attached to him.

Indeed, when Ayers passed up a run for RNC chairman and then surfaced as Tim Pawlenty’s campaign manager for the 2012 presidential cycle, his presence was one of the reasons TPaw looked so very good on paper. But until today I can’t recall seeing Ayers’ name in print after Pawlenty crashed and burned at the Ames Straw Poll three years ago.

But he’s been a busy boy, especially back in his ancestral stomping grounds.

According to a long, fascinating piece by Russ Choma at the Open Secrets blog, Ayers has been at the center of several Super PAC operations that, among other venues, poured over $2 million into attack ads on Rep. Jack Kingston in the recently concluded Republican Senate primary and runoff. It also seems Kingston’s rival David Perdue used a firm run by Ayers for a lot of its own ad buys. As you might know, David is Sonny Perdue’s cousin.

Choma pulled together much of his information in an effort to show that the SuperPACs and Perdue’s campaign illegally coordinated their activities via Ayers. But any way you cut it, the wunderkind is big and bad and back in the Peach State—at the ripe old age of 31. If his candidates do well this year (he’s also heavily involved in the campaigns of Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton and Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner), I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes another run at the White House in 2016.

July 30, 2014 4:45 PM Lining Up For The New Immigration Reform Bus

As the drive for comprehensive immigration reform legislation has stalled, it’s been replaced by the high likelihood of executive action to provide de facto legalization to millions of undocumented immigrants. And inevitably, various interests who have long hitched their grievances and aspirations to the former are now taking a long look at signing up for the latter.

This potentially very important development is explained today by Greg Sargent:

Is it possible that Democrats could build some kind of coalition behind the coming executive action that includes GOP-aligned constituencies — agricultural interests, business, evangelicals — who have long pushed Republicans to adopt broader reform?
It’s far fetched idea, but some Dems are beginning to think about whether there are ways to broaden out Obama’s coming executive action — not in terms of the number who would be impacted by easing deportations, but more in terms of administrative reforms that could address some of these groups’ problems. Some of the constituencies themselves are quietly debating whether to ask for such reforms as part of Obama’s action, according to several people involved in these discussions.

The more you think about it, in fact, the less the idea of a broad-based log-rolling coalition behind executive action seems “far-fetched” at all. There’s even the beginning of a strategic plan in pursuit of it:

Dem Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida, a key player on immigration, is circulating a memo among Dems arguing that the White House could take several actions that could appeal to such groups. Among them would be recapturing and re-issuing old work visas that have gone unused for various bureaucratic reasons — something that tech interests have wanted. Another is granting employment authorization for spouses of foreign nationals — something that might appeal to business. A third is giving more work flexibility to students, something educational institutions might like.

Republicans—even those who support comprehensive reform—can thank themselves for creating this dynamic. By engaging in overkill—or indulging those who engage in overkill—in burying the Senate-passed bill and taking no real steps towards an alternative, they’ve left many Republican and non-partisan constituencies high and dry for the foreseeable future. Moroever, it takes no deep thinking to understand that if Obama “goes big” on a legalization initiative, it will reduce the pressure for a legislative solution. So the old bus is on blocks with the engine removed, while a new bus is about to leave the station. It wouldn’t be surprising if there’s suddenly a long line for tickets.

July 30, 2014 3:55 PM Can the Big Brains of the GOP Survive the Primaries?

Not a day after I wrote some uncharitable things about the emerging 2016 GOP presidential field, John Dickerson suggested that field is just bursting with brains. No, really:

What if they held a presidential campaign and a think tank broke out? House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who is considering running for president, offered his thoughts on poverty last week. Sen. Marco Rubio has been giving regular policy speeches on poverty, college loans, and helping the middle class. Former senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is promoting a book of policy proposals on education, family, and revitalizing American manufacturing. Sen. Rand Paul is offering ideas on criminal justice and will give a big foreign policy speech in the fall. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has given speeches on health care and education aimed at a national audience. His staff recently sent an email titled “policy leader” that linked to a Time piece about how he is preparing to be the candidate of ideas in 2016.

Dickerson goes on to make it clear he’s only temporarily leaving Rick Perry and Jeb Bush out of this Field of Dreams until such time as they flex their brains in public. I guess Ted Cruz and Scott Walker were left out deliberately, since they don’t at this point compare to the dazzling intellect of their potential rivals. Still:

The class of candidates for 2016 has the potential to be the most robust in almost 40 years—perhaps in modern Republican history.

At the original publication site of Dickerson’s piece, this comment appears prominently:

I love it when Slate reprints articles from The Onion.

That was my initial reaction as well. But no, this seems to be a serious assessment by Dickerson, who then quickly goes on to fret that the pressures of the nomination contest will force these brilliant candidates—clearly the twenty-first century’s answer to those early eighteenth century tilts featuring titans like John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Martin Van Buren—to dumb down their ideas.

So what is it about the ‘16 field that would so impress anyone?

Yes, Paul Ryan recently issued a significant poverty plan. But it was interesting mainly because it contradicted his own and the GOP’s earlier (and perhaps current and future) determination to decimate rather than reform or replace federal safety net programs. Its prescriptions, such as a boost in the Earned Income Tax Credit and block grants, aren’t particularly new; his EITC proposal is quite similar to the president’s in 2012.

Much the same can be said of Rubio’s poverty proposals.

And yes, Rand Paul’s (and for that matter, Rick Perry’s) recent willingness to reverse field on criminal justice sentencing policies is important. But it hardly takes an act of genius to understand that long mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes have failed in every respect other than high occupancy rates for prisons.

Bobby the Brainiac Jindal is perhaps the worst example of bold innovative thinking in the GOP, since he’s in the process of recycling every old conservative policy pet rock in existence.

And Rick Santorum? I admit I haven’t rushed out to read his latest tome (Blue-Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works). But he’s been mainly notable in the past for an American packaging of the best ideas of the Francisco Franco administration.

Dickerson is right that the pressures of the nomination contest will likely reduce the candidates to bringing out hand puppets to show their determination to plow up and salt the ground beneath every Democratic accomplishment from LBJ (if not FDR) through Barack Obama. But if we’re at the high point of conservative policy intellect looking down at the abyss of base-dictated red-meat dispensing, it’s going to be a short, quick jump into Iowa.

July 30, 2014 12:49 PM Lunch Buffet

Want to know how slow a news day it is here in Georgia? Atlanta Journal-Constitution did write-up of Republican congressional staffer from Augusta who made The Hill’s “50 Most Beautiful Washingtonians” list.

Here are some newsier midday treats:

* Justin Wolfers notes that among economists there’s no longer any doubt the 2009 stimulus legislation lifted the economy.

* The Hill’s Alexandre Jaffe reports on disagreement among observers about November implications of bad primary turnout.

* Satanists having fun with Hobby Lobby-based claims on behalf of their own “religious liberty.”

* Mark Liebovich enjoys ludicrous praise being heaped on the ever-bland Terry Branstad by GOP presidential wannabes.

* Evan Thomas plumbs new depths of Nixon White House tapes.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Fox Democrat Bob Beckel jumps shark again by calling Bachelorette Andi Dorfman “a slut.” Definitely time to retire, Bob.

As we break for lunch—I was already planning on using different versions of “Wild Thing,” but thanks to commenter kendoran for reminding me of the “Senator Bobby” version that came out in 1967, featuring “Teddy” on ocarina:

July 30, 2014 12:24 PM More Catholic Than the Pope

Want a good indication of how savagely House Republicans hate “liberalism,” particularly when it comes to a determination to deal with economic inequality? It looks like an blandly-worded bipartisan resolution honoring Pope Francis is stuck in a House committee because some GOP conservatives dislike the Pontiff’s powerful statements on economic justice. Here’s a report from The Hill’s Molly Hooper:

A popular piece of legislation that seeks to honor Pope Francis is stuck in Congress.
With time running out on the Capitol Hill calendar, the lawmakers who crafted the bipartisan measure are getting impatient with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The resolution, written by Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), congratulates Francis on his March 2013 election and recognizes “his inspirational statements and actions.” The seemingly innocuous resolution was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which hasn’t acted on it. The panel didn’t comment for this article.
The inaction and the lack of a white smoke signal from Boehner have sparked speculation that politics is at play.
Only 19 of the 221 co-sponsors are Republicans. The dearth of GOP members on the measure could be attributable to assertions that the pope is “too liberal,” according to a Republican backer of the legislation.
The source noted that Francis last year denounced “trickle-down economics.”
Some Republicans believe the pope is “sounding like [President] Obama. [The pope] talks about equality — he actually used the term ‘trickle-down economics,’ which is politically charged,” the GOP official said.

So I guess the Holy See is supposed to stick to subjects like abortion where it is in agreement with conservative Republicans. Or maybe Boenher—a loyal son of the Church of Rome, according to the official records—has decided he’s more Catholic than the Pope.

July 30, 2014 11:52 AM Fleeing the Scene of the Crime

This column at WaPo from the Cook Political Report’s intrepid analyst David Wasserman kinda speaks for itself:

As a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, I’ve personally interviewed over 300 congressional candidates over the course of seven years, both to get to know them and evaluate their chances of winning. I’ve been impressed by just as many Republicans as Democrats, and underwhelmed by equal numbers, too. Most are accustomed to tough questions.
But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday. It’s tough to decide which party’s worst nightmare she would be.

Wow. You have to appreciate that the Cook folk talk to a lot of very strange candidates; when they make public appearances (I’ve attended quite a few over the years), they are invariably asked about the “best” and “worst” they’ve met in the current cycle. But “frightening?” That’s a new one.

[Whitney] clearly relishes poking Democrats in the eye, cites Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) as a political role model, and takes kindly to the nickname “Palin of the South….”

[S]he has sought to boost her profile and appeal to conservative donors with a slickly made YouTube video entitled “GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX” (84,000 views so far). In the video, Whitney gleefully and confidently asserts that the theory of global warming is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind” and that “any 10-year-old” can disprove it with a simple household thermometer.

Here you go. Don’t try to drink any beverages while watching this video:

I’d say this is “going big” on climate science denialism, eh?

Back to Wasserman:

Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first “climate denier” elected to Congress. But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

Hell, she couldn’t even name a 10-year-old with a thermometer!

To change the subject, I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”
It was the first time in hundreds of Cook Political Report meetings that a candidate has fled the room.

Candidates are normally very responsive to Cook interviews, since a favorable rating or even a reference to a particular candidate’s strong personal qualities can mean more donor dollars. But it appears Whitney is appealing to the kind of donors who would be more impressed with a candidate surviving a “Palin-style interview” with a godless liberal inquisitor.

July 30, 2014 10:31 AM Mideast Fatigue

One of the most common expressions you hear from pundits (and for that matter, regular Americans) about the Israel-Palestinian conflict is one of sheer fatigue. Peace seems a perpetual mirage; apportioning blame for violence is painfully difficult; and identifying grounds for optimism looks more like folly each time hope arises on the wings of a diplomatic initiative, usually offered by the United States. Nor is it possible to just ignore the whole intractable mess, given heavy U.S. involvement in the region via aid and security commitments, not to mention historic and cultural ties.

But hard as it is for all us political writers to deal with the latest Mideast crisis, it’s especially hard for a certain type of liberal Jewish writer, who more often than not has spent enormous energy defending Israel from its detractors while battling with Israeli and U.S. Neocon advocates of policies that threaten Israel’s moral and strategic position.

Jonathan Chait wrote a candid piece yesterday expressing his own demoralization:

I don’t mean to overdramatize the change within my own thinking. While less sympathetic to Israel than before, I still find myself far more sympathetic to Israel than to Hamas. I still believe a two-state partition will happen eventually, though the odds are increasing that a catastrophe will be required to bring it about first. I also bitterly attribute the shriveling of the Israeli left to the Palestinian rejectionists who deliberately engineered this very outcome. The change in my thinking is gradational, not transformational. Like many liberal Jews — Roger Cohen today being one of the latest — I recognize that the facts change, and I have changed my mind.

Commenting on Chait’s confession, a similarly positioned writer, Ezra Klein, suggests that just looking away from the Mideast is becoming a regular temptation:

I used to write about Israel often. It felt, even a few years ago, that peace was a live possibility, that Israel had choices — and that some of them might even turn out well. But Israel seems to have made its choice, at least for now, and the results are painful to watch. I haven’t become less pro-Israel. But I’ve become much more pessimistic about its prospects, and more confused and occasionally horrified by its policies. My sense is that’s happened to Chait, too. I notice he writes about Israel less these days, also. My sense is it’s happened to a lot of us.

I hope Israelis solicitous of U.S. solidarity are noticing.

July 30, 2014 9:59 AM The NLRB Lifts the Veil From the Franchise Model

TNR’s Alec MacGillis calls it an object-lesson in why it matters who controls the executive branch of the federal government, and it is that. But more basically, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board decided to treat McDonald’s as responsible for the labor practices of its franchisees, puncturing a legal artifice that has made it possible for fast-food companies to exert control without accountability.

[F]ast-food chains like McDonald’s have been able to hide behind the veil of the franchise model, disavowing responsibility for what happened inside restaurants. Worker advocates have long argued that this was a charade, given the strict terms that the company dictates to its franchisees (whose plight Tim Noah described not so long ago in Pacific Standard). “There’s no doubt who’s in control,” said Micah Wissinger, the Levy Ratner partner who is arguing the unfair labor practice complaints before the NLRB. As Richard Eiker, a veteran McDonald’s worker from Kansas City, described to reporters on a conference call Tuesday, the company sends representatives to his store a half-dozen times a year to check on the business, in addition to sending “secret shoppers” for undercover visits, and the restaurant’s operations are closely tracked on a corporate computer system. “The only thing the franchisees can skimp on is wages,” said Eiker, who now makes $11.05 per hour taking out the trash and cleaning bathrooms—after 25 years as a McDonald’s employee.

Yet up until now, those agitating for better working conditions at McDonald’s and similar companies have been forced to deal with individual franchisees that often have little actual control over what they can pay. Now “unions may no longer have to go about the near-impossible task of organizing restaurants outlets one-by-one.”

Sorta doubt this would have happened under President Romney.

July 30, 2014 9:29 AM GDP Back in Black

Some sort of rebound from the terrible first quarter numbers was inevitable, but the actual second-quarter GDP estimates were nothing less than outstanding, per this report from the New York Times’ Dionne Searcey:

The United States economy rebounded in the spring after a dismal winter, the Commerce Department reported on Wednesday, growing at an annual rate of 4 percent for the three months from April through June.
In its initial estimate for the second quarter, the government cited gains in personal consumption spending, exports and private inventory investment as the main contributors to growth. The increase exceeded economists’ expectations and further cemented their views that the decrease in America’s overall output during the first quarter was most likely a fluke tied in large part to unusually stormy winter weather as well as other anomalies.

The first quarter numbers were also adjusted upward:

During the first quarter, output shrank by 2.1 percent, less than had been reported, according to the Commerce Department’s newly revised G.D.P. figures, also released on Wednesday. The department had previously said first-quarter output decreased 2.9 percent.

There are always, of course, shadows in the data:

While the economy seems generally to be bouncing back from the recession, overall growth remains lackluster. Wages have failed to rise significantly, an area of concern that Janet L. Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, noted when she appeared before Congress this month.
Second-quarter earnings for many companies were mixed. Home prices are rising at the slowest pace in more than a year. Many economists say the mediocre housing market and underwhelming labor conditions are the driving forces behind the Fed’s plan to keep interest rates low well into next year.

We’ll see if the Fed reacts in any tangible way later today. And on Friday the July Jobs Report comes out. Fun week.

July 30, 2014 8:44 AM Boomerang

Over at TPM Cafe I did a column that pulls together several themes I’ve been writing about here: among others, the GOP’s consistent choice of short-term over long-term strategies; the major landscape differences between 2014 and 2016; and the strong possibility that the 2016 Republican presidential field will be as big a mess as the 2012 clown show.

This last thought is one I’m really beginning to ponder. I’m convinced John McCain’s nomination in 2008 and Mitt Romney’s in 2012 were both somewhat fortuitous, based on a demolition derby of rivals. The odds of the most “electable” candidate winning the nomination for a third time in a row seem less than outstanding, particularly if Republicans come out of 2014 thinking some sort of historical shift in their direction is under way that makes electability a far less important quality than ideological reliability.

Everything that boosts GOP over-confidence today can make 2016 another encounter with the unknown in which Republicans cannot understand how and why they are in trouble.

July 30, 2014 8:08 AM Daylight Video

On this day in 1966, the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” reached number one on the U.S. charts. Here it is:

July 29, 2014 4:49 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

I have some time-sensitive and labor-intensive family business to conduct, so I’m wrapping up a bit early today.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Three-judge panel of 5th Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down Mississippi’s abortion restriction law, saving (at least temporarily) the state’s only abortion clinic.

* George Zimmerman at it again: “patrolling” (but not at the owner’s request) outside a recently robbed Florida gun shop.

* Republicans continue to hype underwhelming Wehby Senate candidacy in Oregon.

* At Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Bernstein discusses continuing GOP “tantrum” holding up executive branch nominations.

* At College Guide, Jon Marcus reports 31 million Americans have college credits but no degree.

And in non-political news:

* Circulation up, but profits down 21%, at New York Times.

That’s it for Tuesday. Let’s close with one more Cream performance, of a song every garage band was playing in 1968: “Sunshine of Your Love.”


July 29, 2014 4:33 PM Paul Joins the Presidential Campaign Book Parade

Here’s an entirely predictable report from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is working on a new book that will come out early next year - about the same time he will decide whether to run for president.

“Just coincidence, probably just coincidence, yeah,” the Republican said, chuckling in a recent interview with The Courier-Journal.
The publisher has not yet announced the upcoming book and Paul was reluctant to share the working title. But he said the possible subtitle was “Beyond Partisanship.”
“Beyond the left-right paradigm kind of thing,” the senator elaborated.

Oh brother.

But we’d better get used to it. Paul is certain to project his ideology as exerting a magical pull on non-Republican voters, instead of representing a largely extremist point of view. If you get far enough “beyond” the mainstream, you definitely can occupy your own “paradigm.”

July 29, 2014 3:44 PM No, Rich Coastal Liberals Aren’t Trying to “Exile” Poor Californians

One of the most revealing and powerfully supported movement-conservative memes going back to the Nixon years is that liberals are mostly upscale parasites who are actually hostile to poor and middle-class working people, and only use them to increase their own political and economic power. The idea is at the heart of right-wing “populist” thinking, and at the margins borrows from the ancient “producerist” wing of reactionary politics that seeks a coalition between different economic classes that allegedly share an interest in destroying the power of professional elites, bureaucrats and financiers, parasites every one.

National Review’s Kevin Williamson (a very self-confident writer famed for his widly counter-factual revisionist history of the civil rights movement) offers an aggressive version of this “New Class” hypothesis in an angry meditation on talk of conservatives adjusting their ideology to reach “downscale” voters:

[T]he fact is that, despite the po-faced rhetoric, progressives do not really care about the poor, the brown, the black, or the marginalized. Progressivism is very little more than the managerial class pursuing its own class interests under cover of altruism.
That, and not the state’s gentle native loopiness, is what is really behind “Six Californias,” the eccentric enthusiasm for subdividing California into six states: Having made a mess of the impoverished interior of the state, progressives seek to exile the poor and the unwashed to the new states of Central California (which gets Bakersfield and Stockton) and Jefferson (Chico, Redding), while Silicon Valley and the coastal stretch from Los Angeles up to San Luis Obispo get their own states — golden gated communities, in effect. Affluent progressives already have a great deal of social insulation — the Manhattan doorman serves the same purpose as the $5,000 rental in San Francisco — to keep them from interacting with the human effects of their policies. Journalists, senior bureaucrats, lawyers, union bosses — they all claim to know what’s best for the poor and the middle class, but they end up doing what’s best for themselves. And when the poor and the unglamorous grow sufficiently numerous and concentrated, then it’s time to build a Berlin wall between Malibu and Modesto.

Aside from indicating that Williamson has overdosed on the writing of his NR colleague Victor Davis Hanson, this rant shows a rather striking ignorance of the actual politics of the “six Californias” initiative. Its primary promoter, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper, has conceded his private polling shows the “golden-gated” Silicon Valley itself hates the idea, and that the only region actually supporting it is the Central Valley, which Williamson treats as its victim. A February 2014 Field Poll testing the older idea of letting several hyper-conservative rural counties secede from California to form their own state showed the wealthy liberal regions opposing it overwhelmingly.

In other words, Williamson’s got the whole thing entirely backwards.

Now perhaps he’s somehow confusing Michael Lind’s support for breaking up the big states (which I jocularly wrote about earlier today) with the entire point of view of “progressivism.” Or maybe the whole “New Class” analysis of the left is just as big a crock as it’s always been.

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