Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 12, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

REFORM STORM....Yesterday's passage of a law creating a House ethics panel reminds me of something that Paul Glastris wrote in our current issue: whatever else you think of John McCain, he's the first Republican nominee in 80 years who's shown any interest in political reform. That sets up an interesting reform dynamic:

Regardless of who wins the Democratic primary, the 2008 general election will feature two reasonably committed political reformers. Such a thing hasn't happened since 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt mounted a third-party challenge to the GOP incumbent William Howard Taft and handed the election to the progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The conditions are right, in other words, for a perfect storm for political reform.

....But just because the potential is there doesn't mean it will happen....If we want to get a virtuous bidding war started between the candidates, we're going to need auctioneers. That would be members of the press. Normally, political reporters don't feel comfortable challenging candidates to propose reform ideas that go beyond what another candidate has offered — to do so seems too much like advocacy. But this year could be different. The public's disgust with the current rules in Washington has reached new heights. Also, reform is the logical extension of many of the big issues that candidates are already talking about: the influence of lobbyists, excess partisanship, and the abuse of presidential power, to name three. And the fact that the candidates have themselves claimed to be reformers gives journalists a chance to do what they like best: ask "Gotcha" questions.

Click the link to read Paul's questions. Especially if your first name is Wolf or Tim.

Kevin Drum 4:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Reform today, vote against tomorrow. McCain -- the ultimate flip-flopper.

Posted by: John McCain: More of the Same on March 12, 2008 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, McCain's interest in political reform is so extensive that he's asserting he has the right to withdraw himself from public financing whenever he likes, laws be damned.

Posted by: phleabo on March 12, 2008 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

John McCain became a reformer to rescue his political career from the Keating 5 scandal, and to provide some insulation so that he could get away with practices that would get others in trouble.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 12, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

"The public's disgust with the current rules in Washington has reached new heights." - Kevin

What current rules? The rules have been the same pretty much for the last 100 years. What has happened is that currently the rules are being followed to a T. This has led to congress not getting much legislation passed. I think there are some people out there that think that this is a good thing!

Posted by: optical weenie on March 12, 2008 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Yesterday's passage of a law creating a House ethics panel

Yesterday's law didn't create a House ethics panel: one has existed for quite some time. Yesterday's law created a body which reduces the perceived responsibility of members of the House for decisions made about whether or not to pursue ethics investigations.

"Independent" government bodies are almost invariably first and foremost about reducing the perceived responsibility of elected officials for politically-sensitive decisions that are within the Constitutional scope of the duties of their elected office.

Anyone who believes that they are principally "good government" reforms is extremely naive: they are conveniences set up, above all else, to deflect blame.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 12, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

McCain--totally corrupt on illegal migration--on the business pad.

Posted by: Luther on March 12, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Does anybody else get the feeling that Kevin is about to switch his support over to McCain?

Posted by: bob5540 on March 12, 2008 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Saying that McCain has an "interest in reform" is pointlessly vague.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg on March 12, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Optical weenie or should I just address you as total weenie or dickless? The reason that very little meaningful legislation gets completed has absolutely positively nothing to do with following rules or any movement towards reform. If you could just please take your head out of your ass long enough to see that republican obstructionism is at fault.

Posted by: Gandalf on March 12, 2008 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Keating. Explains everything.

Posted by: David in NY on March 12, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is probably being a bit harsh on the likes of Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie, and Thomas Dewey . . .

Posted by: rea on March 12, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Gandalf - You can call me Empress Weenie if you like, or dickless too, since I didn't come with that part when I was born.

Yah we have republican obstructionism right now. But just a few short years ago we had democratic obstructionism. Works both ways.

Posted by: optical weenie on March 12, 2008 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Wilson was a reformer? Who knew. Somehow, bringing Jim Crow to the Federal Goverment isn't my idea of reform.

Posted by: freelunch on March 12, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with congressional "ethics reform" (which, by the way has a forty year history) is illustrated in part by this post. 11 whole comments -- including some multiple posts. The latest post below about the ongoing Hillary-Obama soap opera? 116 posts. Nobody gives a shit about congressional ethics reform or campaign finance reform.

Posted by: Pat on March 12, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Funny from Big tent Democrat at Talkleft today:

"The SAME Barack Obama who is co-sponsor of the Senate version of this bill, "The Universal Right To Vote By Mail Act", which declares that NOT ALLOWING mail in voting in every state (28 do through absentee balloting) disenfranchises voters, now opposes a mail in revote. I have heard of chutzpah, but this one takes the cake.

Posted by: apishapa on March 12, 2008 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Glastris is perpetuating an old stereotype, Kev. The Taft Administration filed more antitrust lawsuits than did TR.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 12, 2008 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Ya know--when I think "Hillary Clinton," reform does not come to mind. She is very much a part of the whole rotten corrupt Senate feeding trough. In fact, her sense of entitlement to all the goodies is one reason for her success in the Senate--she shares that with 99% of the other senators.

Posted by: Helena Montana on March 12, 2008 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Helena. So you don't think there is even a single Senator who is not corrupt? Who will you be voting for this year, then, may I respectfully ask?

Posted by: Pat on March 12, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

We've long had a problem in this country with abuse of the 1st amendment. We seem to confuse free speech, with the right of big monied interests to buy government.

Posted by: bigTom on March 12, 2008 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Whomever gets in I hope the make TREASON illegal again and Habeas Corpus Legal. (Call Pelosi 1-202-225-0100, DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.)

Posted by: Mike Meyer on March 12, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

bigTom >"...We seem to confuse free speech, with the right of big monied interests to buy government."

Yes, money !== speech. Someone was quoted once saying something to the effect that freedom of the press belongs to those that can afford a press.

One person, one vote, one speech. Maybe "someday".

"...it's the ideas that count, not the number of trees you kill to print them." - Phil Carter@Intel-dump.com

Posted by: daCascadian on March 12, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Big Tent Democrat is such a dishonest whore. He claims he leans tepidly toward Obama, but he spends every last blog post trashing him and defending Hillary. Sometimes he's so over the top that Jeralyn (herself a Clinron supporter) makes him disclaim the post, i.e. "speaking for myself only." He is what I'd call a "concern troll with his own blog."

He proclaimed after Super Tuesday results that Obama was dead certain to lose the nomination race. The Holy Spirit must have told him so.

Posted by: bob5540 on March 12, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, with regard to the Dog Whistle post, when are you going to correct yourself? Check the comments. Ferraro is a FOX News analyst. She has been making the same point since February on FOX - Bill O'Reilley, John Gibson (radio). Sure sounds like a dog whistle strategy to me...and your post was dead wrong.

Example --

Just in response KD's point that "If Ferraro was trying to do some dog whistling, she sure picked an unusually ineffective forum for it," I would like to point out that she has been repeating the same talking point in multiple interviews over the last few weeks on Fox news. See, for example, her interview with Bill O'Reily:

O'REILLY: I absolutely know they can take you out of context, but do you believe that Barack Obama, if he were a white mean, white senator, would not be in the position?

FERRARO: Absolutely

Posted by: bob5540 on March 12, 2008 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

If any of these candidates is for reform, then let them say they want another 9/11 Commission. That would be interesting for starters.

How long do you think it's going to take for them to not only walk away from any hint of reform, but to start talking about NOT leaving Iraq so quickly?

Posted by: MarkH on March 12, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: Better example from February 27:
John Gibson's radio show. Near the end, she makes the same damn remark about Obama.


Posted by: bob5540 on March 12, 2008 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Gandalf: "Optical weenie or should I just address you as total weenie or dickless?"

Speaking of which, why don't you put yours back inside your zipper, and quit showing everyone your shortcomings?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on March 12, 2008 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

How is it that McCain is a reformer? He puts the word Reform in his campaign finance act from a few years ago and then he doesn't follow it when it applies to him?

Posted by: tom.a on March 12, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Helena. So you don't think there is even a single Senator who is not corrupt? Who will you be voting for this year, then, may I respectfully ask?

Posted by: Pat

Well, Pat, I do think they're all tainted, absolutely. But there are degrees of tainted. On a taintedness scale of 1-10, I say Hillary is a 8 and Obama is a 5. So I pick Obama. Not really happy about the choice I've been presented with, but that's what I have to work with, so that's my choice.

Posted by: Helena Montana on March 12, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Having sold his soul for the nomination, are we now
to expect McCain to unsell it to be a reformer again? This would require believing the man to have
depths of perfidy hitherto unplumbed. A McCain double cross of the Republicans. I'm liking it but I don't believe it. I think his "integrity" would require him to stay bought.

Posted by: AlaninWA on March 12, 2008 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Except that the mainstream press is owned by 5 people, total, in this country now. I would not be counting on the press for much of anything.

Bill Moyers is about the only guy doing actual journalism these days.

Posted by: clem on March 12, 2008 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is a phony - like most of the Republican Party. He is as much of a reformer as I am a parakeet. Don't be duped by this hypocritical man - he was a member of the Keating Five and has a long history of suckling at the corporate teat. Hillary may be worse.

Obama is the best chance for real reform among the major candidates. Nader would be better - but he is radioactive, so fuggetaboutit...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on March 12, 2008 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Glastris uses a definition of reform so broad as to include just about everything -- voting procedures, government contracting, election finance, executive branch confidentiality, interrogation practices and so forth. Under a definition that broad, nearly every President could be called a reformer of some kind; even George W. Bush can claim to have reformed the federal role in education.

Very loosely defined reform is needed to apply the reformer label to Sen. Clinton, who has been somewhat vocal on one subject -- paper trails for election ballots -- that falls under the jurisdiction of state governments, and has otherwise had staff and advisers outline ostenible reform proposals in her campaign documents and on her Web site. Both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama can claim to have led successful legislative efforts to reform campaign finance procedures, McCain in Congress and Obama in Illinois. Sen. Clinton cannot.

For what it's worth -- personally I think it is worth quite a lot -- one area of reform that Glastris does not discuss is reform of the inner workings of Congress. Given that all three of the remaining candidates now serve in the Senate, there is something like a level playing field here. McCain was standing, admittedly all but alone, for changes in Congressional procedures that leave almost all power over both spending and the design of programs on which money is spent to the Appropriations Committee, through most of the 1990s. He has also, of course, become the Senate's leading advocate of eliminating earmarked appropriations. Neither Clinton nor Obama have gone as far as McCain has on the earmark issue, and neither one has addressed the institutional emasculation of the authorizing committees.

One may, obviously, question whether all reform is good reform. However, if journalists are really going to be "autioneers" on the subject of reform, it might be wise for them to suspend election-year credulity about the candidates' staff-assembled campaign platforms and examine what they've actually tried to accomplish in the jobs they have now. Paul Glastris, this means you.

Posted by: Zathras on March 12, 2008 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Drum could you please get the advertisement with the windmills off your page or repaired. The windmills are spinning the wrong way and it is really disturbing.

Posted by: milo on March 12, 2008 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

Will, first McCain was against torture, now he is for it, or whatever Bush/Cheney says to do.

so reform, my ass. McCain is only interested in finding ways to keep Dems from finding campaign money for so-called "special interests" which is, you know, lawyers and labor unions, the voice of the people kind of thing needs to shut up in Repug corporate only world. How can anyone help but notice that McCain is walking in the showed of Karl Rove.

If Repugs really wanted reform they would have picked Huckabee, not McCain? but of course, Cheney was looking for a "yes-man" and McCain was very glad to step into the Bush role.

AND as I recall, McCain has already showed his willingness to reform the day he walked into bank regulartory office and asked the office personal to "look the other way" for Charles Keating, and it was just because Keating gave McCain lots and lots of campaign money.

Jeebus, how could Washington Monthly forget Charles Keating and and his good friend, the junk bond king Michael Milken?

Is it because the Washington Monthly is really owned by a bunch of Republicans, just like TNR, because they sure act like it a heck of alot.

McCain is not, nor ever will be the face of change, he is face of George Bush.

ANd McCain will surely start the military draft for a war nobody is interested in fighting anymore if elected to office. Iraq is not the war to stop terrorist - because this war is having the exact opposite effect, it's a war for profit and oil control. Republicans are interested in freedom, only stealing oil because we all know that freedom isn't a 100 year occupation.

Posted by: me-again on March 12, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, lots of typos but I'm really tried right now.

After Charles Keating - why would anyone think McCain is a reformer - because he's not about reform at all.

Posted by: me-again on March 12, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

What's political reform and what have Bush and company not been trying to do?

Social security reform? Grover Norquist's tax reform? Bankruptcy reform? Education department reform? EPA reform? DOJ reform? Executive power reform? . . .

Posted by: B on March 13, 2008 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK



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