Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

October 31, 2010

THIS ALMOST CERTAINLY ISN'T A HEAD-FAKE.... Jacob Weisberg posted a Slate item yesterday making the case that the congressional Republican leadership, after the elections, "will feint right while legislating closer to the center." Seriously.

Weisberg relies on history to point to a credible pattern -- Republican leaders are great at "the right fake," but don't follow through. Reagan, for example, raised taxes, expanded the size of government, largely ignored the legislative priorities of the religious right, and compromised all the time with his rivals, but conservatives loved him anyway.

As Weisberg sees it, we'll see this model again. Republican leaders will realize "they're being handed a gift, not a mandate." These same leaders, Weisberg argues, "don't think working with Democrats is evil. On the big picture tax and budget issues, they plan compromise with President Obama."

In all sincerity, I'd love to think Weisberg's right, but I have no idea where his confidence comes from. Nearly all evidence points in the exact opposite direction -- the Republicans' Senate leader insisted just last week that his top priority is destroying President Obama, and similarly, the Republicans' House leader boldly proclaimed, "This is not a time for compromise." The number of GOP candidates talking about shutting down the government next year is pretty large.

This does not sound like a party that "plans to compromise" with President Obama. Extremism, obstructionism, and antagonism will very likely push the GOP into the majority, and expecting Republican leaders to suddenly drop all of this once they're in a position of power is a fantasy. It is, to be sure, a pleasant fantasy, and one that would benefit the country, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it.

Why? Because as Dana Milbank explains today, the modern Republican Party "is sorely in need of grown-ups."

When Republicans gained control of Congress 16 years ago, the revolutionaries were eventually convinced by their leaders to cut deals with President Bill Clinton, leading to milestone achievements on the budget and welfare reform.

But there is no Bob Dole in the Republican leadership today; there isn't even a Newt Gingrich. There is nobody with the clout to tell Tea Party-inspired backbenchers when it's time to put down the grenades and negotiate. Rather, there are weak leaders who, frightened by the Tea Party radicals, have become unquestioning followers of a radical approach. [...]

Compromise was not always a dirty word for conservatives. Ronald Reagan -- so idolized by Pence that he has perfected a Reaganesque head-tilt while speaking -- compromised with the Democrats on Social Security and taxes. American Democracy couldn't function without compromise.

But now there is nobody to stand up to the take-no-prisoners caucus, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who has floated the notion of impeaching Obama because she doesn't like his policies, and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who threatens to leave the GOP if his colleagues don't pursue his biblical-law agenda.

In Weisberg's model, GOP leaders are strong, pragmatic, and responsible. In Milbank's model, those same leaders are weak, reckless, and easily cowed by radicals. Anyone watching D.C. in recent years shouldn't have any trouble concluding which model has more merit.

Just a few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said John Boehner and his leadership team "are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious."

It's a party that's demonstrated no interest in substance, no interest in cooperation, and no interest in resisting the unhinged demands of Limbaugh, Palin, and Beck. Unless some well-hidden Republican adults suddenly emerge in the new year, Weisberg's predictions are literally impossible to believe.

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

Bookmark and Share

THAT STUBBORN GAP.... The top-line results in the new Washington Post/ABC News poll are about what we'd expect given the prevailing political winds -- Republicans are well positioned to make huge gains on Election Day.

But the gap between all Americans and those Americans likely to vote continues to be one of the year's most important trends.

Among registered voters...

* On the generic ballot, Democrats lead Republicans by five points (49% to 44%).

* On which party would do better coping with the nation's problems over the next few years, Democrats lead Republicans by five points (45% to 40%).

* On which party is more trustworthy on the economy, Democrats lead Republicans by five points (47% to 42%).

* On which party better represents your own personal values, Democrats lead Republicans by six points (48% to 42%).

Among likely voters...

* On the generic ballot, Republicans lead Democrats by four points (49% to 45%).

* On which party would do better coping with the nation's problems over the next few years, Republicans lead Democrats by four points (45% to 41%).

* On which party is more trustworthy on the economy, Republicans lead Democrats by four points (47% to 43%).

* On which party better represents your own personal values, Republicans lead Democrats by four points (48% to 44%).

This really isn't complicated. If it were up to the larger population of registered voters, Dems would be poised to do fairly well on Tuesday. But at this point, it's Republicans who plan to show up on Election Day.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

REPUBLICANS BAIL ON MILLER IN ALASKA?.... At this point, there are exactly zero U.S. Senate seats currently held by a Republican expected to flip from "red" to "blue." There were several that looked promising for Democrats earlier in the year -- Missouri, Ohio, New Hampshire, Louisiana, North Carolina, maybe even Florida -- but none is still considered in play.

That said, Alaska remains a bit of a mystery.

Polling a three-way contest in which the incumbent and ostensible frontrunner isn't on the ballot -- Lisa Murkowski is instead running as a write-in candidate -- is inherently tricky. Recent polls show Murkowski surging as voters sour on extremist GOP nominee Joe Miller, but whether these results come to pass remains to be seen.

Oddly enough, just yesterday, Miller's highest-profile backer -- Alaska's former half-term governor -- referred to him as a "lost cause," though Palin seems to have meant it as some kind of compliment. ABC's Jonathan Karl reports this morning that the Republican establishment is coming to see Miller the same way, though GOP officials don't mean it as a positive.

A high-level GOP source tells me that party leaders have essentially given up on Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller and are now banking on a victory by write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski as the best bet for Republicans to keep the Alaska Senate seat.

Murkowski defied party leaders by running a write-in campaign after she lost the Republican primary last month. But with Miller's campaign faltering, the source tells me that Republican leaders are now worried that Democrat Scott McAdams has a shot of winning and that Murkowski may be the only way to stop him. [...]

The nightmare scenario for Republicans is that McAdams comes in second on Election Day, trailing "write-in candidate." Those write-in votes won't be counted unless there are more write-in votes than there are votes for any candidate on the ballot. Once the write-in votes are counted, however, some of them will inevitably be disqualified (illegible writing, wrong name, etc.). And a small number will be for candidates other than Murkowski. If enough are tossed out, second place McAdams would be the winner.

Note, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been forced to go on the air in Alaska, after expecting to save its money for other races. If the Republicans' priority were to elect the Republican nominee, the NRSC's ad would be going after Murkowski with a vengeance, since she's apparently in the lead. It's not -- the spot attacks McAdams, who Republicans obviously now consider a threat, and doesn't mention Murkowski at all.

In the meantime, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also taken an interest in the race, and has a new ad going after Murkowski.

A few months ago, Alaska's Senate race was barely an afterthought. Now, it's anyone's guess who'll win.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

Bookmark and Share

BRODER EYES TEHRAN.... David Broder notes in his column today that President Obama's political fortunes will largely depend on the state of the economy over the next two years. That seems like a more than reasonable assumption.

Broder adds in the same column that President Obama's ability to shape the business cycle is severely limited, and that it "cannot be rushed and almost resists political command." This is less persuasive -- government stimulus can and does have a positive effect on demand -- but the columnist's point is not without some merit.

It's Broder's conclusion that left me amazed. He noted, for example, that the Great Depression was finally overcome in large part by the largest economic stimulus in history: World War II. And it's "here," Broder argues, "where Obama is likely to prevail."

With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, [the president] can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

Just to clarify, this was published by David Broder, not Bill Kristol. This Halloween, Broder decided to dress up like a neocon, but neglected to mention the costume to his readers.

I'm not sure what's more bizarre -- the fact that Broder presents a war with Iran as some sort of inevitability, or the assertion, based on nothing, that "accelerating preparations for war" with Iran will necessarily "improve" the economy.

By that reasoning, shouldn't the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also boosted the economy? The evidence to bolster such a notion is scarce.

But if we take the reasoning a little further, Broder seems to be implicitly arguing that spending boosts the economy. It prompted Dean Baker to note this morning, "If spending on war can provide jobs and lift the economy then so can spending on roads, weatherizing homes, or educating our kids. Yes, that's right, all the forms of stimulus spending that Broder derided so much because they add to the deficit will increase GDP and generate jobs just like the war that Broder is advocating (which will also add to the deficit). So, we have two routes to prosperity. We can either build up our physical infrastructure and improve the skills and education of our workers or we can go kill Iranians. Broder has made it clear where he stands."

Here's hoping the White House has the good sense not to stand with him.

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share

ABC FEELS THE HEAT AFTER BIZARRE BREITBART INVITATION.... Even for those of us who expect very little from major media outlets, the news late on Friday was depressing. ABC News had invited right-wing propagandist Andrew Breitbart to be part of the network's election-night team, and when asked about the decision, the network said the dishonest hatchet-man "will be one of many voices on our air."

The decision immediately became a point of embarrassment for ABC News, and even people in the network's own newsroom were troubled by the announcement. By mid-day yesterday, the network was clarifying its decision, and ABC News Digital's executive producer Andrew Morse issued a statement:

Mr. Breitbart is not an ABC News analyst.

He is not an ABC News consultant.

He is not, in any way, affiliated with ABC News.

He is not being paid by ABC News.

He has not been asked to analyze the results of the election for ABC News.

Mr. Breitbart will not be a part of the ABC News broadcast coverage, anchored by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. For the broadcast coverage, David Muir and Facebook's Randi Zuckerberg will contribute reaction and response gathered from the students and faculty of Arizona State University at an ABC News/Facebook town hall.

He has been invited as one of several guests, from a variety of different political persuasions, to engage with a live, studio audience that will be closely following the election results and participating in an online-only discussion and debate to be moderated by David Muir and Facebook's Randi Zuckerberg on ABCNews.com and Facebook. We will have other guests, as well as a live studio audience and a large audience on ABCNews.com and Facebook, who can question the guests and the audience's opinions.

Or, to summarize, Breitbart is just going to be on ABC's website, so stop yelling.

What's interesting about this is not just the defensive tone -- I can only assume ABC received quite a few phone calls yesterday -- but also the ways in which it seems different from what those involved were saying the day before. On Friday, ABC said Breitbart "will be ... on our air." Breitbart himself boasted about being "featured" in ABC's "election night coverage," bringing "live" analysis.

Nearly 24 hours later, however, ABC News wants us to know Breitbart will be "participating in an online-only discussion."

I'm not in a position to say for sure whether this was ABC's plan all along, or if the network switched gears in the face of criticism. But I am glad the criticism was loud enough for ABC to hear it and respond.

I'd just add one nagging detail: online broadcasts count. Breitbart is a far-right activist with a history of deceiving the public, and credible news outlets with professional standards should want nothing to do with him. I'm glad he won't be part of ABC's on-air coverage, but what ABC News features on its website matters, and can reflect well or poorly on the news team itself. In the 21st century, "it's only online" is no longer an excuse.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share

SERVING UP A HOT CUP OF SANITY.... Towards the very end of yesterday's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the D.C. Mall, Jon Stewart thanked the massive crowd for showing up, though he acknowledged "none of us are quite sure why" they were there.

It was one of the oddities of the entire event, and arguably the only thing the Stewart/Colbert rally had in common with the Tea Partiers' and Glen Beck gatherings in D.C. -- it wasn't altogether clear what the point was, exactly.

But that's not to say it wasn't worthwhile. I didn't get a chance to watch all of yesterday's rally, but from what I could tell, the Stewart/Colbert event had very little to do with politics, literally nothing to do with the elections (none of the speakers even mentioned voting), and everything to do with the sense that the basics of our civil discourse are badly off track.

Indeed, when Stewart talked -- not just yesterday, but in the weeks leading up to the event -- about restoring "sanity," I'm fairly sure he wasn't talking about policy at any level. I just get the sense he's driven a little crazy by what's shown on broadcast media, and wants Americans to be able to talk to each other again.

The host had a closing statement of sorts, speaking at the very end for about 12 minutes, and if you haven't seen it, it's worth watching -- not just for the humor or the poignancy, but because it helped summarize the point of the gathering. Stewart didn't seem especially disappointed with partisans, ideologues, or activists; he reserved his discontent for the "tool" we're supposed to rely on for "delineating" between sanity and insanity -- i.e., the American media -- which Stewart believes "broke."

The 24-hour news media, Stewart said, "did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder.... If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we eventually get sicker."

I don't know Stewart personally, so I'm not going to pretend to know what motivates him. But watching him yesterday, I kept thinking about his appearance on CNN's "Crossfire" several years ago, when he told the hosts their show is "hurting America." The program soon after disappeared from the CNN lineup, but I get the sense Stewart believes the qualities that made "Crossfire" horrible have spread throughout American media, making "sanity" harder to come by.

And if that is what he's thinking, I happen to believe Stewart is right.

The Washington Monthly had a correspondent on hand for the event, and I'll publish his piece a little later. But in the meantime, I'll note that sanity is not without supporters, though Tuesday's election results are likely to suggest otherwise. CBS News did an analysis of the crowd and estimated that 215,000 people were on hand. The network relied on the same company to estimate the crowd size at Glenn Beck's event in August, and found 87,000 people.

If, in America, sanity can continue to outnumber insanity by better than two-to-one, our future might not be so bleak after all.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 30, 2010

HOW BAD WOULD IT BE?.... We'll know soon enough what the midterm elections have in store for us, but it's interesting to see how political observers prepare for the likely outcome. Given the expected rancor and gridlock, it's not unreasonable to wonder just how bad things might get in 2011 and 2012.

For some, there's no reason to be too worried. Over the last couple of decades, we've seen the White House change party hands more than once, and the same goes for fleeting congressional majorities. We've been pushed to the brink, and some constitutional crises have popped up, but we've generally weathered some unpleasant storms. For much of the '90s, we even enjoyed peace and prosperity.

For others, the avoidable future poses a more a serious danger. Paul Krugman, expecting a GOP majority, noted yesterday that "this is going to be terrible." Worse, the Nobel laureate predicted that "future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness."

When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the U.S. economy had strong fundamentals. Household debt was much lower than it is today. Business investment was surging, in large part thanks to the new opportunities created by information technology -- opportunities that were much broader than the follies of the dot-com bubble.

In this favorable environment, economic management was mainly a matter of putting the brakes on the boom, so as to keep the economy from overheating and head off potential inflation. And this was a job the Federal Reserve could do on its own by raising interest rates, without any help from Congress.

Today's situation is completely different. The economy, weighed down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble, is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. And it's not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap.

But we won't get those policies if Republicans control the House. In fact, if they get their way, we'll get the worst of both worlds: They'll refuse to do anything to boost the economy now, claiming to be worried about the deficit, while simultaneously increasing long-run deficits with irresponsible tax cuts -- cuts they have already announced won't have to be offset with spending cuts.

So if the elections go as expected next week, here's my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I'd feel slightly less horrified if Krugman didn't have such a good track record.

What's more, his dire warning doesn't even touch on the likelihood of a government shutdown, the possibility of default if the GOP blocks a debt extension, the partisan witch-hunts, and the mind-numbing fight to keep the progress we've already made.

Of course, there's still a little more time before the bulk of voters head to the polls, and who knows, maybe the "Rally for Sanity" will give a boost to voices of reason.

More on that later.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

Bookmark and Share

'IT COMES DOWN TO A SIMPLE CHOICE'.... I've been fascinated lately by leading Republicans who've gone out of their way to argue that they have no intention of compromising with anyone in the coming years, regardless of merit or popular will.

As it turns out, the White House seemed to find it pretty interesting, too. In President Obama's weekly address this morning, the president emphasized the importance of policymakers working together, regardless of the election results, to solve problems.

"Whatever the outcome on Tuesday, we need to come together to help put people who are still looking for jobs back to work," Obama noted." And there are some practical steps we can take right away to promote growth and encourage businesses to hire and expand. These are steps we all should be able to agree on -- not Democratic or Republican ideas, but proposals that have traditionally been supported by both parties."

I think phrases like "traditionally been" are used as a reminder to note how extreme the current crop of Republicans is, even by Republican standards.

But the president also noted how "troubling" it was to hear "the top two Republicans in Congress" foreswear good-faith negotiations: "The Republican leader of the House actually said that 'this is not the time for compromise.' And the Republican leader of the Senate said his main goal after this election is simply to win the next one.

"I know that we're in the final days of a campaign. So it's not surprising that we're seeing this heated rhetoric. That's politics. But when the ballots are cast and the voting is done, we need to put this kind of partisanship aside -- win, lose, or draw.

"In the end, it comes down to a simple choice. We can spend the next two years arguing with one another, trapped in stale debates, mired in gridlock, unable to make progress in solving the serious problems facing our country. We can stand still while our competitors -- like China and others around the world -- try to pass us by, making the critical decisions that will allow them to gain an edge in new industries.

"Or we can do what the American people are demanding that we do. We can move forward. We can promote new jobs and businesses by harnessing the talents and ingenuity of our people. We can take the necessary steps to help the next generation -- instead of just worrying about the next election. We can live up to an allegiance far stronger than our membership in any political party. And that's the allegiance we hold to our country."

If you listen closely outside the RNC, you can probably hear staffers laughing at the very idea.

Steve Benen 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

A UNIQUE ANGLE ON NATIONAL SECURITY.... There was a classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch way back in 1988, with a debate between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. Bush was asked about rampant homelessness and poverty, and delivered a rambling, incoherent response. Dukakis, played by Jon Lovitz, said in his rebuttal, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."

I can only assume Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has a very similar thought just about every day.

This video shows a segment of a news broadcast from Las Vegas' CBS affiliate, which extremist candidate Sharron Angle has refused to speak to at any point during the campaign. A reporter from the station met up with the Republican nominee at the airport, in the hopes of getting some answers about her positions on national security and military policy.

"I'll answer those questions when I'm the senator," Angle told the reporter. When he asked about answers voters would need before Election Day, she refused to respond.

Asked about her desire to end U.S. participation in the United Nations, Angle again refused to answer, and said she wanted news outlets to help her "get out the vote."

Noting the Nevadans involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reporter noted that Angle hasn't told anyone how she would vote on war-related issues. After she literally said nothing, the reporter added, "You are literally staying silent about the two wars we're in right now?"

Angle finally turned and said, "You know, the two wars that we're in right now is exactly what we're in."

First, I give the reporter, Nathan Baca, a lot of credit for doing the kind of journalism that needs to be done.

Second, if reason had any meaning, a clip like this one would be an immediate career killer for anyone seeking powerful federal office.

Just for good measure, also note that the Angle campaign, outraged that a reporter would ask a Senate candidate about her positions on two ongoing wars, announced late yesterday that the CBS affiliate would be prohibited from entering Angle's election night festivities.

In 2010, journalists asking basic questions of U.S. Senate candidates are now punished by unhinged, right-wing campaigns. This is what's become of our political system.

To paraphrase Lovitz, I can't believe Reid is losing to this challenger.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share

THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the religious right movement's considerable interest in the midterm election cycle. While religious right groups and activists have intermixed faith and politics -- often in legally dubious ways -- for many years, one example this week captured the larger trend with unique salience.

The activist is David Barton, a pseudo-historian who regularly partners with deranged media personality Glenn Beck, who this week made a veiled threat of divine punishment to evangelical Christians who might be tempted to vote the "wrong" way.

David Barton has released a nearly nine minute video explaining to Christians that God will only bless this nation if we are righteous and that our national righteousness is determined by our public policies. As such, if we want God to bless our nation, we have to give him a reason to do so and that is why Christians must vote.

But not only do Christians have an obligation to vote, Barton says, but they will one day have to answer to God for exactly how they used that vote.

"One day," Barton insists, "we'll stand before [God] and He'll say, 'What did you do with that vote I gave you?' And we'll have to answer.... If we stand before God and He says, 'Why did you vote for a leader who's attempting to redefine my institution of marriage and who wills the unborn children that I knew before they were in the womb?' If He asks us that and our answer is 'Because that leader was good on jobs and the economy,' He's not going to accept that."

Yes, David Barton feels comfortable claiming to know what his God finds acceptable and unacceptable, and then relaying that information along to the rest of us.

By the way, isn't the implication here that Barton thinks pro-choice candidates who support marriage equality are also better stewards of the economy?

Either way, expect similar rhetoric in conservative Christian churches nationwide tomorrow.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Still more fallout from the scandal involving the Roman Catholic Church and the sexual abuse of children: "Attorneys for nearly 150 people who claim sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests made nearly 10,000 pages of previously sealed internal church documents public Sunday, revealing at least one previously unknown decades-old case in which a priest under police investigation was allowed to leave the U.S. after the Diocese of San Diego intervened." (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip)

* Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence under Donald Rumsfeld, continues his hysterical evangelical crusade, and this week released a video claiming that the Affordable Care Act is evidence of a "Marxist insurgency" and the looming threat of "Brownshirts."

* In preparation for a possible presidential campaign, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is continuing to reach out to the religious right, and delivered a bizarre series of remarks this week at Liberty University, the Virginia school created by deceased radical cleric Jerry Falwell.

* Military chaplains who don't like gays are deeply worried about the possible repeal of DADT.

* And a recent survey asked Americans about Christianity's greatest positive and negative contribution to society in recent years. Well over a third (36%) "either did not think or could not think of any positive contributions Christianity had made." Ouch. (thanks to D.J. for the heads-up)

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

NOW THERE'S A STRONG CAMPAIGN SLOGAN.... In June 2009, Rep. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois was one of just eight House Republicans to break party ranks and support the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), which included a cap-and-trade system. Far-right activists, who believe overwhelming evidence pointing to global warming is a communist conspiracy, vowed revenge.

Exactly one month to the day later, Kirk, fearing a primary loss as he ran for the Senate, reversed course and announced his opposition to the bill he'd just supported.

Kirk, whose reputation for borderline-pathological dishonesty is well deserved, has never fully explained why he voted for legislation he disagrees with. This week, a voter pressed Kirk on this point.

At a town hall meeting [Thursday], Kirk was questioned about his position on cap-and-trade legislation, which he voted for in the House, but has pledged to oppose if he's elected to the Senate. Kirk defended his reversal, explaining that he supported the bill out of "ignorance" and "lack of understanding" of the economy:

"We make a lot of errors in Congress, not out of malice or corruption. It's out of ignorance and lack of understanding of how a $14 trillion economy operates," Kirk said.

I suppose there's a refreshing quality to candor like this, but in the midst of an extremely close Senate race, it doesn't exactly seem like a winning message: Vote Kirk, he supports sweeping national legislation without getting his facts straight.

It wasn't like this bill snuck up on him. The ACES legislation followed an extensive House debate, in which Kirk was confronted with plenty of arguments on both sides. It was his job to evaluate the information and choose wisely. Given the quality of the bill, Kirk made the right call.

That is, until Kirk decided he was for it before he was against it, and only voted the way he did because of "ignorance" and a "lack of understanding."

I'll give Kirk a B+ for candor, an F for competence, and a D for judgment.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

Bookmark and Share

IF WE'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT INTIMIDATING VOTERS.... It's been pretty common lately to hear Republicans raise the specter of "voter intimidation," as if roving bands of Democrats are using threats to coerce the public.

When pressed for evidence, the GOP claims tend to quickly fall apart. On the other hand, illegal voter intimidation does exist; it's just that Democrats aren't the one who are doing it.

When workers in a McDonald's restaurant in Canton, Ohio, opened their paychecks this month, they found a pamphlet urging them to vote for the Republican candidates for governor, Senate and Congress, or possibly face financial repercussions.

The pamphlet appeared calculated to intimidate workers into voting for Republican candidates by making a direct reference to their wages and benefits, said Allen Schulman, a Democrat who is president of the Canton City Council and said he obtained a copy of the pamphlet on Wednesday.

The pamphlet said: "If the right people are elected, we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above the current levels. If others are elected, we will not."

It then named three Republican candidates after stating, "The following candidates are the ones we believe will help our business move forward."

The deceptive propaganda was literally placed inside the envelope with workers' paychecks, and was printed on McDonald's corporate letterhead.

The franchise owner didn't deny the incident, but apologized through a corporate spokesperson. McDonald's USA, the parent company, denied having a role in the workplace voter coercion.

Attorney Allen Schulman, who brought the voter intimidation scheme to public light, explained: "The handbill endorses candidates who have in essence pledged to roll back the minimum wage and eviscerate the safety net that protects the most vulnerable members of our workforce. But it's more than that. When a corporation like McDonald's intimidates its employees into voting a specific way, it violates both state and federal election law."

Schulman has turned over the materials to local prosecutors, and is seeking a criminal probe. It's not an unreasonable request -- Gerald Hebert, a former Acting Chief of the Voting Section of the Justice Department now with the Campaign Legal Center, said that it's possible Siegfried's actions may even violate federal law.

I don't imagine this will be on Fox News anytime soon, but it's something to keep in mind the next time right-wing voices allege "voter intimidation" tactics this year.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

ABC NEWS IS DOING WHAT?.... About three months ago, in the wake of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, E.J. Dionne Jr. identified activist Andrew Breitbart as a "right-wing hit man." Dionne added that the incident "ought to be a turning point in American politics," one in which "the mainstream media" starts appreciating the difference between "news and propaganda."

A few days prior, The Atlantic's Josh Green noted, "[I]t's hard for me to see how the media can justify continuing to treat Breitbart as simply a roguish provocateur. He's something much darker."

As it turns out, it wasn't a "turning point," and it's not hard at all for the media to justify taking Breitbart seriously.

Media Matters has confirmed that noted propagandist Andrew Breitbart will provide analysis for ABC News during their election night coverage.

After Breitbart's BigJournalism.com website reported that Breitbart would "be bringing analysis live from Arizona" for ABC, Media Matters confirmed his participation in a town hall meeting anchored by ABC's David Muir and Facebook's Randi Zuckerberg that will be featured in the network's coverage.

Asked about Breitbart's history of unethical behavior and misinformation, ABC News' David Ford told Media Matters: "He will be one of many voices on our air, including Bill Adair of Politifact. If Andrew Breitbart says something that is incorrect, we have other voices to call him on it."

It's hard to overstate how ridiculous this is. For ABC News to invite a professional propagandist -- a man ABC News has exposed on the air as a practiced liar -- to be part of its election-night coverage is an embarrassment to the network.

The point is not that conservative voices should be excluded from broadcasts like these. The point is major news outlets are supposed to have credible journalistic standards. And yet, these same outlets keep undermining the discourse by extending invitations to right-wing activists, who really have no business in pretending to belong in such a setting.

ABC's explanation for this is woefully unpersuasive -- if the right-wing hatchet-man starts lying on the air, "we have other voices to call him on it"? Here's a crazy thought: if ABC News has reason to believe Breitbart might try to deceive the network's audience, then maybe he shouldn't be part of the election-night broadcast.

For that matter, this isn't exactly a recipe for quality journalism -- Breitbart will spew propaganda; others on the broadcast will be there to "call him on it." Viewers will, in other words, hear some falsehoods and some corrections, but won't necessarily know who's right.

I'd be surprised if ABC News reversed course so close to Tuesday, but it's important that the network realize it's making a humiliating mistake.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share

DETAILS OF TERROR PLOT COME TO LIGHT.... Throughout the day yesterday, there were reports on a potential terrorist threat targeting the U.S., but the accounts were at best incomplete, and at times, contradictory.

Yesterday afternoon, the White House briefed the media on the details of what we know so far, and what President Obama characterized as a "credible terrorist threat" to the United States.

Officials searched for suspicious packages in the United States and other countries after two shipments containing explosives, sent from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago, were intercepted in Britain and Dubai.

The discovery of the explosives packed in toner cartridges for computer printers, based on a tip from Saudi intelligence officials, set off a broad terrorism scare on Friday that included the scrambling of fighter jets to accompany a passenger flight as it landed safely in New York.

Cargo planes were moved to secure areas of airports in Philadelphia and Newark for searches, and a United Parcel Service truck in Brooklyn was stopped and inspected. No additional explosives had been discovered by early Saturday morning.

Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said Friday that the packages seized in Britain and Dubai contained PETN, the same chemical explosive contained in the bomb sewn into the underwear of the Nigerian man who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit last Dec. 25. That plot, too, was hatched in Yemen, a country that is regarded as one of the most significant fronts in the battle with extremists.

It's likely more information will yet come to light, but based on reports this morning, the explosive was put in computer printer cartridges. We do not yet know how the explosives were intended to be activated.

The U.S. government was alerted to the shipment by intelligence officials in Saudi Arabia, who closely monitor radicals in Yemen -- where plots against Saudis are not uncommon -- and who were able to give U.S. officials detailed information about the threat.

And before anyone starts talking about the need to invade Yemen, it's worth emphasizing that Yemeni officials are reportedly "working closely with the United States and other countries to assess the episode," and John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, offered public praise for Yemen's cooperation.

As for the politics of all of this, Republicans are not yet whining or trying to exploit the threat for partisan gain -- the day is young -- and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, conceded late yesterday, "So far everything has worked the right way."

I can only assume Liz Cheney and Rudy Giuliani will be along soon to argue otherwise.

In any case, while these explosives have been found, U.S. officials continue to search for other possible packages, just in case. "We don't want to presume we know the bounds of this plot, so we are looking at all packages," Brennan said.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 29, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Terror threat: "Two packages containing explosive devices originating in Yemen and bound for two places of Jewish worship in Chicago set off a global terror alert that began when one package was found at a FedEx facility in Dubai on Thursday, and then another was found early Friday morning near London, sparking a day of dramatic precautionary activity in the United States."

* Earlier media reports suggested there were no explosives found in the packages. President Obama told reporters this afternoon, however, that there were explosives and this represented a "credible terrorist threat."

* The packages reportedly originated in Yemen, where the "underwear bomber" originated, but the president did not explicitly assign blame to al Qaeda.

* I feel like we've heard this before, but maybe this time will be different: "Iran said Friday that it would resume talks with the West about its nuclear program in November, according to officials at the European Union."

* Just like the good ol' days -- Halliburton trying to shift the blame: "Halliburton, whose failed cement job on the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico was identified as a contributing factor to the deadly blowout by a presidential investigative panel on Thursday, is defending its work and assigning the blame for the accident to BP."

* Some clever folks launch the "Vote Sanity" initiative.

* Hearing Rush Limbaugh accuse Democrats of racism buries the needle on the Irony-O-Meter.

* If Tim Profitt is waiting for Lauren Valle to apologize for having her head under his shoe in Kentucky earlier this week, he shouldn't hold his breath.

* I fear the moral of the story is, if Glenn Beck criticizes you on the air, his minions will threaten to kill you.

* The bigot on the Arkansas school board who urged "fags" and "queers" to kill themselves told CNN last night that he will resign.

* Dick Morris will say anything for money.

* Is Jonah Goldberg seriously suggesting someone should murder Julian Assange? It sure seems like it.

* University of Phoenix draws renewed scrutiny: "Apparently it's not just the coming education debt rules about which the University of Phoenix needs to worry. Federal regulators have asked the school's parent company, Apollo Group Inc., to provide information and documentation about the company's internal practices."

* And Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker announced this week -- in a televised campaign ad, no less -- that the federal judge who found DADT unconstitutional is as big a "security threat" as al Qaeda. He wasn't kidding.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

Bookmark and Share

FOUR QUESTIONS.... Daily Kos' Jed Lewison posed four questions today, encouraging Republicans and undecided voters to consider the answers. They're fairly compelling. (John Hodgman from "The Daily Show" conceded he was "surprised" by some of the answers.)

1. What was the average monthly private sector job growth in 2008, the final year of the Bush presidency, and what has it been so far in 2010?

2. What was the Federal deficit for the last fiscal year of the Bush presidency, and what was it for the first full fiscal year of the Obama presidency?

3. What was the stock market at on the last day of the Bush presidency? What is it at today?

4. Which party's candidate for speaker will campaign this weekend with a Nazi reenactor who dressed up in a SS uniform?

Regular readers probably know the answers to these, but the facts are nevertheless rather striking. On the first question, the private sector, through September, has added 863,000 private-sector jobs in 2010, for an average of about 96,000 jobs created per month. In the final year of the Bush administration, after eight years of experimenting with the conservative economic agenda, the economy lost 3.8 million jobs, for an average of about 863,000 job losses per month.

On the second, the deficit has gone from $1.416 trillion to $1.291 trillion, a decline of $125 billion. For the deficit hawks who keep track of such things, it's one of the largest, quickest declines in nominal terms on record.

On the third, all of the major Wall Street indexes have soared since the end of the Bush/Cheney administration.

And on the fourth, it'll be John Boehner (R-Ohio) hanging out with Nazi re-enactor Rich Iott the weekend before the election.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

Bookmark and Share

THE ACCOMPLISHMENT-FREE ALTERNATE UNIVERSE.... In the wake of the 1994 midterms, it was not uncommon for many -- in the Democratic Party, in the media, in the country in general -- to wonder whether the results would have been different had the health care reform effort not failed. Maybe, the thinking went at the time, if Dems could have pointed to a milestone accomplishment, and hadn't suffered such a legislative fiasco, they wouldn't have lost the House and Senate.

Sixteen years later, a "war" is beginning to break out in some Democratic circles with a similar question: maybe if Dems didn't achieve this milestone accomplishment, they wouldn't be poised to endure drastic losses in the midterm elections.

Obviously, it's a speculative issue, and no one can say with confidence what public attitudes would be like now if (a) health care reform had failed; or (b) Democrats never even tried to get it done. The economy is, was, and will be the top issue on voters' minds, and right now, it's just not good enough to help the incumbent majority withstand the prevailing/historical winds.

But that won't stop the debate. Jonathan Cohn imagines an alternate universe in which Democrats failed to deliver on health care reform and President Obama dropped the issue. It's well worth reading.

Of course, the second-guessers could be wrong. Imagine for a second that the future had turned out differently -- that, after passing the stimulus, Obama turned to health care reform and made it the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. Maybe the fight would have turned into a fourteen-month-long political boondoggle, helping to turn independents against Washington and allowing conservatives to rally. Maybe the final bill would have included major compromises, leaving the liberal base dispirited. And maybe, after it was all done, Democrats would be likely to lose the House and in danger of surrendering the Senate -- with losses even more severe than the ones they face now.

It's possible -- just as it's possible that the outcome of this election actually has very little to do with health care. It could have been determined back in February, 2009, when Obama and his allies settled on a too-small stimulus -- whether out of political necessity or economic misjudgment -- while standing behind necessary but unpopular rescues of the banking and auto industries. The truth about these counterfactuals is that you can never really know what might have been if history had unfolded differently.

One thing is certain, however. Had Obama succeeded in passing health care reform, he would have brought financial security and access to basic care to millions of Americans, while beginning the hard and necessary work of reengineering the health system to make it more efficient. Yeah, the voters might still be really angry. The Democrats might still be on the verge of a historic defeat. But the country would be a lot better off.

This is, of course, a description of imaginary circumstances, but the point should be obvious.

Similarly, Matt Yglesias' take yesterday was very compelling: "[O]bviously you don't want to risk a congressional majority over something trivial. But the Affordable Care Act is not a trivial law. It's one of the most important laws of the past 30 years. So then the question becomes, was it important in a good way? I think it was. And that's the job of a congressional majority -- to pass important bills that change the world for the better. I think the 111th Congress did a fair amount of that."

This is, I've long assumed, why people seek to serve the public through elected office in the first place.

The alternative, by the way, is leaving a dysfunctional health care system in place for the indefinite future -- bankrupting families, businesses, and government agencies. As Greg Sargent noted today, "Those who think Dems shouldn't have tried reform this time around need to be asked when Dems would have gotten their next bite at the health care apple -- particularly with such big majorities."

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share

CRIST WOULD CAUCUS WITH DEMS.... It's almost certainly a moot point. Florida's U.S. Senate race, barring an 11th-hour surge or a polling failure of epic proportions, is just about over, and far-right Republican Marco Rubio is poised to win fairly easily.

But ever since Gov. Charlie Crist was driven out of the Republican Party for being too moderate, and decided to run for the Senate as an independent, there's been a nagging question: if he won, which party would he caucus with? When pressed, Crist tends to say he would caucus "with the people," or with "Florida's best interests," which is deliberately vague.

At this point, though, there's not much doubt about which direction he'd go.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist would caucus with Senate Democrats if he wins Florida's three-way U.S. Senate contest on Tuesday, a close advisor told Washington Wire Friday.

That's a big "if." Mr. Crist is trailing Republican candidate Marco Rubio in most polls. But the declaration by Florida trial lawyer John Morgan sheds light on one of the many mysteries in the Bill Clinton-Charlie Crist-Kendrick Meek imbroglio.

"Crist is going to caucus with the Democrats," Mr. Morgan said. "I don't think there's any ifs, ands or buts about it. It would be, in a very tight year, almost like a Democratic pickup in a solid Republican state."

Well, "going to" is probably the wrong way to phrase this, since Rubio is cruising, but it's nevertheless an interesting thing to say.

Keep in mind, John Morgan isn't just some random Crist associate -- he's a long-time ally of the governor's, who has advised and raised money for Crist's campaigns, including when Crist was still a Republican.

Over the summer, Kendrick Meek (D) believed his path to victory was watching Rubio and Crist split the right, while he picked up Florida Democrats. That was the right strategy for the wrong candidate -- Rubio is watching Crist and Meek split the sensible vote.

Nevertheless, Morgan's remarks, if publicized, add just a little more incentive for Floridian Democrats before they head to the polls on Tuesday.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

IDIOCY WATCH.... In 2009, three Americans were detained and imprisoned by the Iranian government while hiking near the Iran/Iraq border. Two of the three -- Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer -- remain behind bars, accused of espionage.

The United States, of course, wants Iran to set them free, and this morning, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Philip Crowley used Twitter to send a sardonic message to the Iranian president: "Happy birthday President Ahmadinejad. Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. What a gift that would be.... Your 54th year was full of lost opportunities. Hope in your 55th year you will open Iran to a different relationship with the world."

Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) apparently only read the first four words, doesn't know what sardonic humor is, and responded with a Twitter message that's so blisteringly stupid, I almost wonder if someone else posted it to make her look like an idiot. The tweet read:

"Happy B'Day Ahmadinejad wish sent by US Govt. Mind boggling foreign policy: kowtow & coddle enemies; snub allies. Obama Doctrine is nonsense"*

I'd swear she's getting dumber.

Honestly, how could anyone above the age of 12 look at Philip Crowley's messages and interpret them as "coddling enemies"?

* Update: I wondered if Palin, embarrassed, might pull the item down once she realized how ridiculous it was. Alas, she doubled down with yet another tweet: "Americans awaken 2 bizarre natl security thinking of Obama Admn: Ahmadinejad b'day greeting after call 4 Israel's destruction speaks volumes."

Actually, Palin's inability to read at a junior-high-school level is what speaks volumes.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

Bookmark and Share

THE TROOPS DON'T MIND, EITHER.... During his discussion with bloggers at the White House this week, President Obama was asked about the future of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay asked, "Is there a strategy for the lame-duck session to..." and the president interrupted to say, "Yes."

Pressed for some details, Obama added, "I'm not going to tip my hand now. But there is a strategy ... and my hope is that will culminate in getting this thing overturned before the end of the year." The president went on to say with just a couple of GOP votes to overcome the Republican filibuster, "this is done."

And by "this," I think the president meant ending DADT entirely.

I have no idea what strategy the White House has in mind, but I wouldn't be surprised if this had something to do with it.

A majority of active-duty and reserve service members surveyed by the Defense Department would not object to serving and living alongside openly gay troops, according to multiple people familiar with the findings.

The survey's results are expected to be included in a Pentagon report, due to President Obama on Dec. 1, regarding how the military would end enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bans openly gay men and lesbians from serving in uniform.

Not surprisingly, the results were not unanimous, and some servicemen and women -- many of whom almost certainly already serve alongside gay colleagues-- would rather quit than be part of an armed services with openly-gay volunteers. According to the reports, though, these anti-gay troops were in the minority.

The significance of the report, still a month away from release, relates strongly to the debate in the Senate. Several weeks ago, Republicans, led by the strongly anti-gay John McCain, blocked funding for the troops because of a provision that could lead to DADT's repeal. To hear Republicans tell it, Congress couldn't possibly move on this before first reading the results of the Pentagon's poll of 400,000 active-duty and reserve troops, as well as 150,000 family members.

The idea, I suspect, is to bring the defense authorization bill back to the floor in the lame-duck session, after Dec. 1, so McCain and his cohorts will have their main talking point taken away. At that point, a majority of the troops, a majority of American civilians, a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and two of his recent predecessors will all be saying the exact same thing: it's time to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

And at that point, McCain and other anti-gay senators will come up with some new rationale, and depending on how things turn out in the Senate races in Illinois and Delaware, Dems will have to struggle even more to find GOP votes to overcome the filibuster.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

THE ADDED BENEFIT OF BEING TRUE.... On "The Daily Show" the other night, Jon Stewart asked President Obama about unemployment, and the president responded with some relevant details.

"We lost 4 million jobs before I was sworn in; 750,000 jobs the month I was sworn in; 600,000, the month after that; 600,000 the month after that," Obama noted. "So most of the jobs that we lost were lost before the economic policies we put in place had any effect."

PolitiFact decided to see whether that was true. It was.

...Looking at BLS data on seasonally adjusted non-farm employment from December 2007, when the recession officially began, to January 2009, the month before the stimulus was enacted (a 25-month period), the jobs number declined by 4.4 million. So Obama's first number was right, although he could have been clearer about the time frame. [...]

"I watched the president on Stewart's show last night, and I thought his basic point about the timing of the employment losses was correct and ought to be noncontroversial," Gary Burtless, a labor markets expert at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution said in an e-mail.

Of course, this assumes that objective, "noncontroversial" truths still matter. There's reason to believe otherwise.

Indeed, most Americans will probably believe the exact opposite, while many more will react negatively to the truth, dismissing it as "Bush-bashing" and "making excuses."

And voters who claim to care about job creation and economic growth will, in turn, elect more policymakers who want to go back to the policies that failed, and will then wonder why things didn't get better.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share

FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* In Nevada's U.S. Senate race, Sharron Angle (R) backers are distributing flyers to Nevada seniors telling them their "lifespan will depend" on how they vote on Tuesday. Demagoguery doesn't get much more odious than this.

* On a related note, Angle leads Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in a new Mason-Dixon poll, 49% to 45%. It is the sixth consecutive poll to show the borderline-deranged candidate poised to win a U.S. Senate seat.

* In Wisconsin, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Russ Feingold (D) continuing to struggle badly, trailing right-wing businessman Ron Johnson (R) by nine points, 53% to 44%. The same poll shows Scott Walker (R) leading Wisconsin's gubernatorial race over Tom Barrett (D) by the same margin.

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Alex Sink (D) narrowly leading Rick Scott (R), 46% to 43%.

* In California's U.S. Senate race, a new Field Poll shows Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R), 49% to 41%.

* In an unexpected twist, Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois' Democratic Senate candidate, has announced that he is only running positive campaign ads over the last seven days of the campaign. His opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk (R), appears to be doing the opposite.

* As the bizarre U.S. Senate race in Louisiana wraps up, much of the closing discussion is about Sen. David Vitter's (R) background in hiring prostitutes, despite running on a "family-values" platform.

* In Delaware's U.S. Senate race, Chris Coons (D) still leads Christine O'Donnell (R), but the margin varies by poll. A new Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind survey shows Coons up by 19 points, but a Monmouth University poll puts Coons' lead at 10 points.

* While it looked for a while like the outcome of Texas' gubernatorial race might be in doubt, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R) ahead of former Houston Mayor Bill White (D), 53% to 44%.

* In Michigan's gubernatorial race, the latest Detroit News poll shows Rick Snyder (R) cruising past Virg Bernero (D), 53% to 35%.

* And in Massachusetts's gubernatorial race, a new Suffolk University poll shows incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) hanging on against Charlie Baker (R), 46% to 39%. Independent Tim Cahill is third with 8%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share

THE CHALLENGE OF OVERCOMING IGNORANCE, PART II.... We talked in the last item about public confusion. When it comes to taxes, economic growth, and the financial industry rescue, what most voters believe is actually the exact opposite of reality.

But this ignorance also extends to perceptions about Congress.

After a historic legislative session that saw the passage of health care and Wall Street reform bills, most Americans think Congress accomplished less than or the same amount as usual.

In a new Gallup Poll, 37 percent said Congress did less than what is accomplished in a typical session, while 35 percent said it did the same amount.

Only 23 percent said Congress accomplished more than usual.

If this sounds familiar, it's because a separate poll conducted earlier this month by Pew and National Journal, found similar results.

Remember, this isn't about merit. Gallup didn't ask whether folks like what Congress did; it asked whether people perceive the Congress as having accomplished more or less than the typical Congress. Whether one is fully satisfied or not, denying the policy breakthroughs of the last two years is a serious mistake.

Evaluating the quality of these accomplishments is a subjective question, open to all kinds of competing opinions. Evaluating whether the accomplishments exceed the norm is an objective question and the answer, whether people realize it or not, is unambiguous.

I don't expect the public to have an extensive knowledge of federal policymaking history, but I at least hoped Americans would realize the scope of recent accomplishments. We are, after all, talking about a two-year span in which Congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, etc. Policymakers might yet add to this list in the lame-duck session.

Some of these efforts have been decades in the making. In the case of health care reform, politicians have been talking about a major overhaul for a full century, but it took this Congress and this president to get it done.

A plurality of Americans, though, perceive this Congress as having done less than usual. I'm not even sure how a political system is supposed to function with an electorate so far detached from reality.

Again, maybe you agree with these accomplishments, or maybe you think they were mistakes. That's not the point here. What's worth acknowledging is that we haven't seen this many accomplishments, on this scale, in a very long time. Norm Ornstein has characterized this Congress as being the most productive in 45 years. Rachel Maddow recently went further, observing, "The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that."

Whether folks realize it or not, this is why the Republicans' right-wing base is as animated this year as it is -- it's not because Dems are pushing a lot of key progressive priorities that have languished for years; it's because Dems are passing a lot of key progressive priorities that have languished for years.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

THE CHALLENGE OF OVERCOMING IGNORANCE.... In a democracy, the system breaks down and produces counter-productive results when those in charge -- the voters -- are uninformed. And the fact is, a whole lot of Americans are deeply confused about the facts.

The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks and has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters.

Most voters don't believe it.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 24-26 finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won't be recovered.

Public perceptions aren't even close to reality -- by a 52% to 19% margin, for example, likely voters think their federal tax burden has gone up over the last couple of years, even though it hasn't. Indeed, Democrats approved one of the largest middle-class tax cuts in American history, and the public has no idea that it even happened.

The same is true of the strength of the economy in general -- the economy stopped shrinking and started growing more than a year ago, but 61% of respondents in this poll said the economy continued to shrink in 2010, even though it hasn't.

In general, I've long considered one of President Obama's better qualities is his reluctance to talk down to voters. But it's possible his assumptions about maturity and the public discourse are simply too generous -- leaders can't assume the electorate has the wisdom to ignore nonsense when the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

Worse, this rewards Republicans, not just at the ballot box, but for lying uncontrollably for nearly two years. GOP leaders no doubt see polls like this and realize that the more nonsense they pump into the national discourse, the more anxiety-ridden Americans will believe things that aren't true.

I'll gladly leave it to others to explain how one overcomes such systemic ignorance, because I honestly don't have the foggiest idea. It's one thing for policymakers to adopt policies that make things better; it's something else for much of the public to simply ignore those policies and reject reality altogether.

To be sure, folks are busy. They have jobs and families, and it's not easy keeping up on the details of current events. I don't expect the typical middle-class household, struggling with bills and worried about the future, to start reading CBO reports in their spare time.

But it's worth realizing that uninformed voters make unwise decisions. The public has enormous responsibilities in our political system, and right now, far too many aren't prepared to act on those responsibilities in an effective way.

Ignorance spreads like a cancer, and right about now, it's making our body politic pretty sick.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share

U.S. ECONOMY KEEPS GROWING, BUT NOT WELL.... The good news is, the U.S. economy continued to grow in the third quarter. The better news is, the economy was even slightly healthier than it was in the second quarter.

The bad news is, this kind of tepid growth isn't even close to what we need for a robust economic recovery.

Economic growth accelerated a bit late this summer, according to new government data, even as the nation remained stuck in a pattern of expansion that is too slow to bring down joblessness.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2 percent annual rate in the July-through-September quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday, matching economists' forecasts. That was a slight improvement from the 1.7 percent growth rate of the second quarter and the fifth straight quarter of expansion.

Spending by U.S. consumers, the largest component of GDP, spurred the uptick, rising in the third quarter to a 2.6 percent annual rate. The numbers also got a boost from business investment, federal government spending and businesses building inventories. International trade and the housing sector were both drains on economic growth.

The Bloomberg News report noted that the growth in consumer spending was the best in nearly four years, which it considered "a sign the expansion is developing staying power."

That's nice, but 2% growth isn't the kind of economy that will bring down the unemployment rate.

Of course, ideally results like these would encourage policymakers to take additional actions to improve conditions, but that hasn't been possible due to Republican obstructionism this year, and it almost certainly won't happen after the midterms, after GOP candidates make sizable gains and demand an end to any efforts to grow the economy (other than tax cuts for the wealthy, which do little to grow the economy).

And with that, here's another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began in late 2007. The red columns show the economy under the Bush administration; the blue columns show the economy under the Obama administration.

gdp3Q2010.jpg

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

Bookmark and Share

MEEK'S REPUBLICAN CHAMPIONS EMERGE.... It was always the scenario Republicans feared. The only development likely to prevent Marco Rubio (R) from winning Florida's U.S. Senate race fairly easily is if Kendrick Meek (D) stepped aside, and his supporters shifted to Gov. Charlie Crist (I). And as we learned overnight, as of a week ago, that very nearly happened.

But now that the deal appears to have fallen through, Republicans have a new message: the entire effort is evidence of some kind of racism. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement:

"President Clinton's actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African Americans. One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race -- in the 11th hour -- a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek."

I rather doubt anyone is actually supposed to take this seriously; it's just too ridiculous on its face. The RNC may not have heard, but Bill Clinton tends to have a fair amount of credibility in many African American communities, and the idea that Clinton tried to broker a deal to prevent a far-right victory because of some kind of racial animus is pretty crazy, even for Michael Steele.

But it's especially amusing to see Republicans push this line given the larger context. Steele may not have noticed, but this election season, it's been hard to overlook the systemic Republican attempts to use identity politics to win elections. Steele conceded earlier this year that his party relied on a racially-divisive Southern Strategy for at least four decades. He neglected to mention that the party's affinity for the approach never really went away.

The examples from just this cycle are too numerous to list, but it's worth taking note of West Virginia's John Raese's attempts at ethnic "humor," Nevada's Sharron Angle's racist TV ad followed by her telling Hispanic students they look Asian, New York's Carl Paladino's racist emails, Colorado's Tom Tancredo's call for a return to Jim Crow policies, Kentucky's Rand Paul's discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a variety of Republican House candidates who've embraced elements of white supremacism.

Also note that the Republican Party and its media outlets have spent much of the past several months obsessing over "controversies" with unmistakable undertones -- Park51, the New Black Panther Party, Birther nonsense, talk of "liberation theology" -- all of which seemed focused on scaring the bejesus out of white people in an election year.

But now the RNC would have African-American voters believe that Clinton and other Dems somehow treated Meek unfairly because of race. The irony is rich.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

Bookmark and Share

CLINTON NEARLY BROKERED DEAL IN FLORIDA SENATE RACE.... In Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the campaign has unfolded exactly as the center-left feared -- the far-right former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) is cruising to a comfortable victory, as former Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) split the reasonable vote.

To prevent a Rubio win, the only plausible scenario was to have Meek drop out, throw his support to Crist, or both. Publicly, Meek refused to even consider the possibility. Privately, it appears a deal very nearly came together, thanks to the intervention of Meek's most prominent advocate. Ben Smith had the scoop late yesterday.

Bill Clinton sought to persuade Rep. Kendrick Meek to drop out of the race for Senate during a trip to Florida last week -- and nearly succeeded.

Meek agreed -- twice -- to drop out and endorse Gov. Charlie Crist's independent bid in a last-ditch effort to stop Marco Rubio, the Republican nominee who stands on the cusp of national stardom.

Meek, a staunch Clinton ally from Miami, has failed to broaden his appeal around the state and is mired in third place in most public polls, with a survey today showing him with just 15 percent of the vote. His withdrawal, polls suggest, would throw core Democratic voters to the moderate governor, rocking a complicated three-way contest and likely throwing the election to Crist.

The Meek campaign is denying that any such deal was ever in place. But multiple reports from a variety of outlets note that the former president was involved in talks; Meek had expressed a willingness to consider dropping out; and Crist, who had originally reached out to the Clinton camp, was very much involved in the process.

Indeed, the sources aren't exactly anonymous here. Clinton told CNN he'd talked with Meek about the possible arrangement; top Clinton aide Doug Band confirmed that Meek was open to the deal; and Crist told MSNBC that he was in direct talks with Clinton's team. Crist's campaign spokesperson even issued a statement describing the Politico report as "accurate."

This is not, in other words, anonymously-sourced campaign gossip.

Accounts vary on the timeline, but Clinton apparently believed he'd completed the deal last week, and an endorsement rally had been set for Tuesday, Oct. 26, in Miami. Meek, however, changed his mind this past weekend.

So, what happens now? Given the intensity of the Meek campaign's response, I'd be surprised if the Democrat suddenly reversed course, just five days before Election Day. In fact, I'm not even sure if it would make much of a difference -- Meek's name would still be on the ballot, and many Meek backers have already participated in early voting.

But the news itself, which I suspect will be a hot topic of conversation throughout the Sunshine State today, may also reinforce a not-so-subtle message to Florida Democrats: if defeating Rubio is the principal goal, Crist is the candidate better positioned to make that happen.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 28, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm looking forward to seeing some serious consequences for this: "Halliburton knew weeks before the fatal explosion of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico that the cement mixture they planned to use to seal the bottom of the well was unstable but still went ahead with the job, the presidential commission investigating the accident said on Thursday."

* Death toll in Indonesia tops 400.

* It's still too high, but this is encouraging: "Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the second drop in a row and a hopeful sign the job market could be improving. The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for jobless benefits dropped by 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 434,000 in the week that ended Oct. 23." This far exceeded analysts' expectations.

* Had it not been for pointless GOP obstructionism, this could have happened months ago: "Just one month after the President signed the Small Business Jobs Act, SBA has supported nearly $3 billion in loans to more than 5,000 small businesses across the country. That's more than 5,000 small business owners who've felt first-hand, within one month, the impact this new law is having on our economy."

* Remember, GM keeps paying us back. That's a good thing.

* Offensive anti-gay rhetoric is, alas, not uncommon. But Arkansas District School board member Clint McCance's rant was more disgusting than most.

* On a related note, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who struggling to a surprising degree to keep up with current events, continues to really dislike Muslims.

* I wonder if RNC Chairman Michael Steele realizes that Democrats hope he stays on for another term. I'm guessing not.

* Fox News, in an apparent attempt to become a parody of itself, has created an email address so its Republican fans can alert them to non-existent examples of "voter fraud." Seriously.

* Pundits didn't seem especially pleased with the appearance, but I actually kind of liked President Obama's interview with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."

* What college costs and how Americans buy it.

* The right gets pretty worked up if a court cites foreign precedent, but what about Vulcans?

* I'm not a parent, but if I were, I wouldn't want my kids anywhere near Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio).

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

Bookmark and Share

IT'S A GOOD THING OBAMA SAVED THE AUTO INDUSTRY, CONT'D.... Remember, if we'd followed the Republican economic policy last year, this wouldn't happen.

Chrysler Group LLC will spend $600 million to upgrade production at its Illinois assembly plant, bringing the auto maker's total announced U.S. investment to $2.1 billion since its exit from bankruptcy court last year.

The company will use the funds to build a body shop and install new machines at the Belvidere assembly plant to support the production of future models in 2012. The plant is home to the Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot and Dodge Caliber.

New production means more work means more jobs. In other words, it's good news. As a political matter, MSNBC's First Read noted in July, "We said it at the time: As the [auto industry] bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency. It was the bailout everyone in America could understand, and it wasn't popular.... A year later, however, the Obama administration believes it has a good story to tell."

The administration's right. Republicans were prepared to let the American auto industry fail at the height of the Great Recession, but President Obama rescued it instead. If the auto bailout and Obama's presidency are inextricably tied, the White House has reason to boast.

It also reminds me of a point I've been meaning to get to. I mentioned the other day that Ford reported earnings of $1.7 billion in the third quarter, and now expects to have zero net debt by the end of the calendar year -- a year ahead of schedule. Despite the still-sluggish economy, Ford's third quarter was the best in more than 20 years, and I again emphasized how glad I am the president rescued the American automotive industry.

Torr Leonard suggested this was off-base, since Ford wasn't part of the GM/Chrysler rescue.

It's not an unreasonable point, but by all available evidence, it's mistaken. Ford may not have been bailed out, but the company, like its American competitors, was struggling badly. If GM and Chrysler had collapsed, there's absolutely no doubt that Ford wouldn't have had the suppliers it needed to survive. Ford's executives have already acknowledged this; it's not exactly a contentious point.

I realize the auto industry rescue wasn't popular; bailouts never are. But as industry production and profits keep improving, this definitely belongs in the political "win" category for the Obama White House. The president's approach is a success story, and we can all be very glad the decision was in his, not Republican, hands.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

Bookmark and Share

BENNET'S FAITH IS ENTIRELY 'MAINSTREAM'.... In Colorado's very competitive U.S. Senate race, incumbent appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has been attacked for all kinds of things, so I suppose it's not too surprising that the right would take an interest in his religious beliefs.

This week, Politics Daily sent the Bennet campaign a questionnaire, and we learned that Bennet "does not affiliate with a particular religion but says he believes in God." Growing up, the senator was raised by a Jewish mother and Christian father (for me, it was the other way around), and the questionnaire quoted him saying, "I am proud that both heritages are part of me, and I believe in God."

Bennet and his wife were married by an Episcopal priest, but he is not a member of a congregation.

This doesn't sound especially interesting, but far-right pundit Erick Erickson is unimpressed. After noting what he perceived as unfair criticisms of Republicans, CNN's Erickson wrote a RedState post arguing:

Michael Bennet, you see, rejects religion. Yes, he says he believes in God, but he makes clear he does not go to worship, does not believe in organized religion, and does not affiliate with a religion.

And they say the Republicans are running candidates outside the mainstream.

This is pretty silly. If someone chooses not to join a specific congregation, that doesn't mean the person "rejects religion." For that matter, I'm not even sure what "does not believe in organized religion" means. A person can chose not to affiliate with a specific tradition without rejecting the idea of "organized religion."

But just as important is the notion that Bennet's approach to religion -- he believes in God, but doesn't affiliate with a particular religion -- is somehow "outside the mainstream." At the risk of getting into a semantics debate over the word "mainstream," Bennet's beliefs are actually quite common.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life publishes an annual "Religious Landscape Survey," which is ecumenical, non-ideological, and well respected by experts. In its most recent report, the Pew Forum found more than 12% of Americans -- not including self-identified atheists -- don't identify with a specific religious group. That may not sound like much, but the "Unaffiliated" are actually the nation's fourth largest religious group, representing a larger percentage of Americans than Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Mormons combined -- times two.

To characterize Bennet's beliefs as "outside the mainstream" is absurd.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

AT LEAST HE RESISTED THE URGE TO STOMP ON HER HEAD.... If we could just go a few days without reports of an angry conservative assaulting a young progressive woman, I'd sure appreciate it.

A 72-year-old man was arrested two weeks ago for allegedly assaulting a 23-year-old activist protesting Dino Rossi's Republican campaign for Senate in Washington state, according to local reports.

The incident occurred outside GOP headquarters in Walla Walla County where the demonstrator, Christie Stordeur, was "one of five protesters standing about 40 feet from the entrance of the office," according to the Tri-City Herald.

Stordeur and the other protesters "were wearing bags over their heads and holding a sign that looked like a check." That's when Victor Phillips, according to a Sheriff's deputy on scene, walked over to Stordeur to "lift her bag off her head." When Stordeur "lifted her arm in defense," Phillips hit it "with 'force.'"

The Herald reports that the deputy on scene "immediately stepped between the two and arrested Phillips on a charge of investigation of assault."

I did some cursory poking around to see if the young woman was injured, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

But that hardly makes stories like this any better. That we've seen more than one of the incidents reinforces the notion of a larger problem.

Josh Marshall added, "What stands out to me though is how each one of these seems to be a nutshell symbolism of the boiled down essence -- the precipitate -- of blue and red state America, almost to a degree we wouldn't buy from a writer if we found it in a novel."

Amanda Terkel, who put together a helpful round-up of related incidents, also reported this afternoon, "This election season, a man was arrested for hitting a protester at a rally for Washington GOP Senate candidate Dino Rossi, a man stomped on the head of a woman at a campaign event for Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul, local police wrestled to the ground a Democratic man at an event for Rep. Eric Cantor (R), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) received suspicious powder to his office, biker supporters of Florida GOP congressional candidate Allen West harassed a Democratic tracker and Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller's private security force handcuffed and detained a reporter.

"And all that was in just the past two weeks."

I realize it's an election season. Passions are running high and the right-wing Republican base has been whipped into a frenzy, but with public safety in mind, here's hoping things settle down soon.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

A MEDIA STRATEGY LIKE NO OTHER.... If there have been modern, competitive U.S. Senate candidates who's adopted a media strategy similar to Sharron Angle, I can't think of them. In the latest development, the extremist Nevadan said she'll begin speaking to journalists at major media outlets -- Angle calls them the "lamestream media" -- but only after she's elected.

Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle told a conservative radio host on Wednesday that when she is elected to office, she will reverse her now-longstanding policy of avoiding the political press.

During an appearance on the Heidi Harris Show (one of the few forums that Angle visits), the Tea Party backed candidate explained that the reason she has dodged reporters during the campaign is because they don't "promote" her.

Consider how this ties into the larger context, and how the borderline-deranged Senate candidate has crafted a fairly specific media strategy.

Shortly after winning her primary campaign, Angle drew increased scrutiny from the Nevada and D.C. media, but she literally refused to speak to reporters. When pressed to defend her own remarks and positions, Angle had a habit of literally running away.

When the national party moved in to help make Angle less of a laughingstock, the media strategy took shape. In July, the radical Republican conceded, for example, that she only wants to talk to media outlets that will let her beg for cash on the air.

In August, Angle went on to say that she's trying to manipulate the media into being "our friend." Asked to explain what that means, she said, "[W]e wanted [journalists] to ask the questions we want to answer so that they report the news the way we want it to be reported."

I've just never heard a candidate seeking a powerful public office boasting, on the record and on camera, that her campaign's media strategy is built around the notion of manipulating news organizations, getting the questions Angle wants, so she can give the answers she wants, so the public will hear the news the way Angle wants it to be heard.

More recently, Angle has taken to using decoys to fool reporters covering her campaign.

And now Angle is assuring reporters at "lamestream" outlets (what is this, junior high?) that she'll talk to journalists, but only if voters elect her first.

I feel like there's a doctoral thesis for some journalism student in here somewhere.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

BUCK TRIES, FAILS TO CLARIFY CHURCH-STATE LINE.... We learned this week that extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) has told Colorado voters, "I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution." He added that the very idea "concerns me a great deal."

As a substantive matter, Buck had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. This week, the right-wing candidate appeared on CNN to try to clarify matters. He failed.

First Buck said his comments were "taken out of context." That was untrue. Then he said church-state separation had gone too far, but cited a scenario that's also wrong.

"My problem isn't with separation of church and state. It is with how far we have gone in that area. I think when you have a soup kitchen for example that is run by the Salvation Army which has religious ties in town and you have another soup kitchen in town which is purely secular. For the federal government to give one organization money but not the other because one has ties with a religious group is wrong.

"The idea is that we need to have compassionate programs for people. And if religious organizations are performing some of those functions without proselytizing then I think the federal government should include both."

This is what happens when confused, far-right politicians talk about subjects they don't understand.

In Buck's mind, the separation of church and state is a problem if it prevents non-proselytizing, faith-based groups from receiving public funds to provide social services. But Buck neglected to do his homework and get his facts straight -- non-proselytizing, faith-based groups receive public funds to provide social services all the time.

This isn't even new. For years, the Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, and a wide variety of religious groups have sought and received public funds to run soup kitchens, host homeless shelters, etc. This has been the status quo for decades.

In other words, Buck's example of excessive church-state separation is exactly backwards -- the very scenario he believes should exist already exists. The CNN interviewer wasn't aware of this, so there was no pushback.

So, we're left with the same question. Ken Buck, in his own words, "strongly disagrees" with the very concept of separation of church and state. Can he explain why?

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW -- 2010 VERSION.... When Arizona considered and passed its infamous anti-immigrant measure earlier this year, it was easy to see it as the result of a rise in right-wing bigotry. But how the proposal came to be is actually more complicated than that.

NPR has a remarkable report this week about Arizona's SB1070, which requires those who can't prove their citizenship to be locked up after law enforcement thinks they might appear to have entered the country illegally. But it's worth remembering that it wasn't anti-immigrant, Republican, or Tea Party groups that came up with the idea.

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

Late last year, a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held a meeting in D.C. for its members, which include state lawmakers, assorted organizations like the NRA, and powerful corporations like ExxonMobil. The billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America was also on hand, and connected with state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), who's spearheaded anti-immigrant efforts in Arizona.

A business model was born. As the report explained, "According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market."

So, at the ALEC event, members discussed and debated language, and sent Pearce back to Arizona with a proposal in hand. Four months later, NPR's piece noted, "that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona's immigration law."

In case this doesn't appear quite nefarious enough for you, also note that most of the co-sponsors of SB1070 were attendees to the ALEC event. The Corrections Corporation of America quickly hired a powerful new lobbyist, and 30 of the 36 co-sponsors received donations from prison lobbyists or prison companies.

And wouldn't you know it, the bill quickly sailed through the state legislature, and onto Gov. Jan Brewer's desk.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

GOP SENATE HOPEFUL: GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN 'MAY BE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY'.... About a week ago, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appeared on Fox News and was asked about threats from his party about shutting down the government next year. Steele replied, "I have not heard any candidates say that."

Similarly, last month, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said talk of a possible shutdown is "absurd," and the very idea is little more than "the left" and "the media" attempting to "create an issue that doesn't exist."

These guys really aren't paying close enough attention. At this point, all kinds of Republican candidates have been talking up the shutdown idea. The latest is Senate hopeful Mike Lee (R), the overwhelming favorite to win in Utah on Tuesday, who intends to force a confrontation on the federal debt limit.

"Our current debt is a little shy of $14 trillion. And I don't want it to increase 1 cent above the current debt limit and I will vote against that," he says.

Even if it leads to government default and shutdown?

"It's an inconvenience, it would be frustrating to many, many people and it's not a great thing, and yet at the same time, it's not something that we can rule out," he says. "It may be absolutely necessary."

The likelihood of the GOP using the debt limit to force a shutdown is already pretty high, and the fight could come early next year.

It's also worth keeping in mind that a government shutdown isn't just "an inconvenience." As Alex Seitz-Wald noted this morning, "Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's government shutdown in 1995 was disastrous; it ended up costing taxpayers over $800 million in losses for salaries paid to furloughed employees, delayed access to Medicare and Social Security, and caused a '[m]ajor curtailment in services,' including health services, to veterans."

A few weeks ago, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asked if we're likely to see a replay of the showdown that led Gingrich to shut down the government. Cantor replied, "No. I don't think the country needs or wants a shutdown." He added that when it comes to pursuing their agenda, Republicans "have to be careful" or they'll be "seen as a bunch of yahoos."

The number of Republicans who disagree with Cantor appears to be growing.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* In a boost for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in bid in Alaska, the state Supreme Court ruled late yesterday that "voters can look at a list of certified write-in candidates when they go to the polls." A lower court ruling had said the opposite.

* Speaking of Alaska, a new Hays Research poll, which some have raised legitimate questions about, shows extremist candidate Joe Miller (R) dropping to third place in the U.S. Senate race.

* In California's gubernatorial race, a new Field Poll shows Jerry Brown (D) leading Meg Whitman (R) 49% to 39%. A month ago, they were tied. A new Time/CNN poll shows Brown with a smaller lead, 51% to 44%.

* In California's U.S. Senate race, Republican Carly Fiorina was released from the hospital yesterday, and is expected to be on the campaign trail today. A new Time/CNN poll shows her trailing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), 50% to 45%.

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, most recent polls show Rick Scott (R) with a modest lead, but a new Quinnipiac poll shows Alex Sink edging past Scott, 45% to 41%.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, Quinnipiac shows Marco Rubio out in front, but with a smaller lead over Gov. Charlie Crist (I), 42% to 35%. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is third with 15%.

* In Colorado, the new Time/CNN poll shows Ken Buck with the narrowest of leads over Sen. Michael Bennet in the U.S. Senate race, 47% to 46%. The same poll shows John Hickenlooper (D) leading Colorado's gubernatorial race over Tom Tancredo (I), 51% to 37%.

* In Nevada's U.S. Senate race, the new Time/CNN poll shows Sharron Angle (R) leading Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), 49% to 45%.

* In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, the new Time/CNN poll shows Rand Paul (R) leading Jack Conway (D), 50% to 45%.

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, the new Time/CNN poll shows Pat Toomey (R) leading Joe Sestak (D), 49% to 45%.

* And in Delaware, the details are still hard to understand, but Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell (R) has threatened to sue a local radio station which recorded an interview with the candidate. O'Donnell's campaign has threatened to "crush" the station if it aired the candidate's remarks.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

Bookmark and Share

RAESE'S CONSERVATORY PLANS APPROVED -- IN FLORIDA.... Someone on Senate candidate John Raese's (R) campaign team probably should have realized that this would be embarrassing.

Libertarians everywhere will be glad to know that the Palm Beach Architecture Commission today relented and approved John Raese's new, 100 square-foot Victorian conservatory replacing a giant dollhouse on the grounds of his Florida mansion.

Raese's architect explained that a new eugenia hedge and eight palm trees would screen the new building from a distressed neighbor to his south.

The Commission, finding the color's white structure a bit tacky, did insist that it be bronze colored.

So, let me get this straight. Raese is running for the U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia, despite the fact that he and his family live in Florida. During the campaign in which Raese's extravagant lifestyle has become an issue, he decided to fight a local planning commission who resisted his plans to build a Victorian conservatory on the grounds of his Florida estate (near the exclusive country club where he's a member).

Did it not occur to Raese or his team that West Virginians, in a relatively low-income state where the median household income is less than $38,000, might find it odd to vote for a Floridian who fights with a planning commission over his plan for a Victorian conservatory?

It doesn't exactly scream "man of the people," and it certainly doesn't scream "man of the people of West Virginia."

"Congratulations to John Raese on his big win in front of the Palm Beach Architecture Commission," DSCC Communications Director Eric Schultz said in a statement. "If your home is where your heart is, John Raese's heart is in Palm Beach. We wish him the best with this new solarium."

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

'THIS IS NOT A TIME FOR COMPROMISE'.... There seems to be a pattern here.

Republicans aren't in the mood for compromise, especially on repealing healthcare reform, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday. [...]

"This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles," Boehner said during an appearance on conservative Sean Hannity's radio show.

Republicans aren't exactly being subtle here. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.... Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

A few days earlier, Ken Buck (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Colorado, insisted, "I'm not compromising." House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) insisted the last Republican majority that worked with a Democratic White House -- you know, the one that shut down the government (twice) and impeached the president -- compromised "too much," and the GOP shouldn't repeat that mistake next year.

I know I keep harping on this, but I think it matters. One of the angles I emphasized yesterday related to the perception that the American mainstream has a visceral dislike for this kind GOP rhetoric. Today, there's evidence to back that up.

A newly-released New York Times/CBS News poll, for example, found that 75% of likely voters want Republicans, if they regain a majority, to compromise in order to get things done. (Keep in mind, 75% of Americans don't agree on much, but they agree on this.) Perhaps more important, 66% of self-identified likely Republican voters also want to see their party compromise with Democrats in the next Congress.

It's not like Boehner can say, "Well, I'd love to compromise, but my party won't let me." Two-thirds of GOP voters are already urging him to negotiate and be willing to make concessions.

In a new Bloomberg News poll, the results were even more one-sided. Respondents were asked, "If Republicans win control of Congress, what do you want to happen -- do you want the parties to stick to their principles even if means gridlock and nothing gets done, or do you want parties to work together even if it means compromising some principles?" A whopping 80% chose the latter.

Boehner, McConnell, and their cohorts seem to think they'll be better off ignoring this vast American mainstream. "This," Boehner insists, "is not a time for compromise."

We'll see how that turns out for them.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share

'EVOLVING' ATTITUDES ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY.... President Obama sat down in the Roosevelt Room yesterday to chat with five high-profile bloggers -- Crooks & Liars' John Amato, Eschaton's Duncan Black, Daily Kos' Barbara Morrill, AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay, and Oliver Willis -- and over the course of about an hour, they covered quite a bit ground.

There were several exchanges of note, but I was especially struck by a question from Sudbay about same-sex marriage. For context, I should note that while Obama had expressed at least some support for marriage equality before coming to Washington, his position for years has been to support civil unions, but not to go any further.

It's why I found his response interesting.

THE PRESIDENT: Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are. (Laughter.) But I'll say this --

Q: I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you this question.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course.

Q: People in our community are really desperate to know.

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's a fair question to ask. I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.

But I also think you're right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.

And I care about them deeply. And so while I'm not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it's fair to say that it's something that I think a lot about. That's probably the best you'll do out of me today. (Laughter.)

He went on to add, "I think it's pretty clear where the trendlines are going," suggesting he sees marriage equality as an inevitability.

Now, I don't want to read too much into this, and I didn't see or hear how Obama was communicating this, but reading the transcript leads me to think the president may actually be prepared to move on this, perhaps even before his re-election bid in two years.

Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, noted after learning of the comments, "Presidents don't usually think out loud unless they intend to send a signal that they are shifting a position."

It's obviously speculative, and we haven't received any other hints on this, but it's something to keep an eye on, at a minimum.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share

CHUTZPAH WATCH.... Even during an election cycle with some truly breathtaking Republican candidates, Ohio's Rich Iott seemed to stand out. Iott, recruited by the NRCC to take on Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) in Ohio's 9th district, hadn't made much of a name for himself, until we learned he spent years dressing up as a Nazi for recreational purposes.

The story seemed to run its course a couple of weeks ago. The NRCC put some distance between Iott and the party, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) denounced Iott's recreational habits on national television.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the would-be Speaker, has a very different approach.

House Minority Leader John Boehner will campaign this weekend with Rich Iott, the Ohio Republican congressional candidate who found himself embroiled in controversy several weeks ago when photos surfaced of him dressed in a Nazi SS uniform.

The Iott campaign confirmed to the Huffington Post that the two will appear together at the Lucas County Republican Party headquarters. It is, if nothing else, a risky stop for Boehner to make just days before the election.

Iott's chances at winning the seat were seemingly downgraded after photos of him dressed in Nazi garb surfaced.

The Atlantic's Josh Green, who broke the Iott story in the first place, talked to Boehner's office, which had no qualms about Boehner's role at the campaign rally.

Boehner just doesn't care anymore. He assumed that Republicans will thrive on Tuesday no matter how offensive their campaigns, and he may very well be right.

The DCCC's Ryan Rudominer responded, "Not only has John Boehner recruited, embraced, and financed a disgraced Nazi enthusiast running for Congress, but now Boehner is pouring gasoline on the fire by holding a campaign rally with him. Unbelievably, this comes on the heels of John Boehner also embracing an Ohio congressional candidate being sued for attempted rape and sexual assault, and another who has ties to an organized crime syndicate that brands women like cattle. Thumbing his nose at our nation's veterans, women, and people of the Jewish faith, all the while refusing to stand up for basic American values in order to try and win an election, apparently this is what Boehner meant when he said, 'We're not going to be any different than what we've been.'"

Josh Marshall added, "I don't surprise easily. But who exactly told Boehner or someone on Boehner's staff this would be a good move on the weekend before election day?"

This is what overconfidence looks like.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share

WHAT SHARRON ANGLE CONSIDERS 'WICKED'.... In some uses of slang, I suppose "wicked" could be flattering. If Chuckie Sullivan says, "My friend Will Hunting is wicked smart," it's intended as praise.

When extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle characterizes Social Security as "wicked," the Nevadan has a very different meaning in mind.

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle called welfare, Medicare and Social Security symptoms of the nation's "wicked ways" in comments to a church group earlier this month, even as she was publicly vowing to preserve Social Security, according to audio of the remarks obtained by POLITICO.

"We as a nation have been walking away from our constitutional freedom and relying on government instead to take care of the widow and the orphan," Angle said during the Oct. 10 appearance in the northern Nevada town of Gardnerville. She lists government safety-net programs, along with abortion, divorce and gay marriage, among the "wicked ways that we can confess as a church."

Angle campaign spokesman Jarrod Agen said it was a "ridiculous leap" to read Angle's words as advocating the elimination of the government social safety net.

No, it's actually a "ridiculous leap" to defend Angle's bizarre nonsense.

The notion of "wicked ways" has a fairly specific meaning. In Second Chronicles 7:14, the Bible reads, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." When Angle refers to "wicked ways," she's referring to activities that are, in effect, ungodly.

This, by the way, the same unhinged candidate who believes much of the federal government is at odds with the First Commandment.

Also keep in mind, Angle has been trying to convince Nevadans that she actually wants to preserve Social Security, despite having already committed herself to trying to "phase out" the bedrock American safety-net program. What we have, then, is a borderline-deranged Senate hopeful telling reporters she supports Social Security, while quietly telling supporters she considers Social Security -- along with Medicare, abortion, divorce, and gay marriage -- to be "wicked."

Despite this, and the bigotry, ignorance, extremism, and talk of violence that has come from the Republican campaign, of the last five polls out of Nevada, conducted over the last two weeks, Angle is ahead in all five.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

MAKING A PROFIT FROM PROFITT.... In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, Rand Paul (R) actually has a fairly compelling response to the awful head-stomping incident from Monday night: don't blame the candidate; he wasn't responsible.

Tim Profitt, who still wants an apology from the defenseless woman whose head he stepped on, has been a prominent Paul backer and campaign coordinator, but after the incident, the campaign "disassociated" itself from the violent activist. Paul was exceedingly slow in actually condemning the assault -- he initially blamed "both sides" and "crowd control" -- but he eventually issued a statement saying the right thing.

Indeed, the right-wing ophthalmologist even announced on Fox News that he would return the $1,950 his campaign received from Profitt.

With this in mind, it's more challenging for Paul's detractors to pin the incident on the Republican nominee. At least it was, before Paul flip-flopped on the two grand.

[O]n Wednesday Paul's campaign said that it won't return $1,950 in contributions from the man, Tim Profitt, who had been Paul's campaign coordinator in Bourbon County before the campaign said it was "disassociating" itself from him. [...]

Paul's spokesman, Jesse Benton, said that the campaign had adequately dealt with the situation and that it would not return Profitt's contributions.

This is bizarre. It's not as if Profitt's $1,950 is going to make the difference between winning and losing this race. If on Tuesday, Paul was committed to returning the money and severing ties between the campaign on Profitt, there's no reason to reverse course and do the opposite a day later.

The significance here is the message Rand Paul is choosing to send. On Tuesday, the campaign disassociated itself from Profitt and his apparent crime. Yesterday, the campaign seemed to be suggesting that maybe Paul is comfortable with this political violence after all.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 27, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Scary stuff: "Federal law enforcement authorities have arrested a Northern Virginia man in connection with an alleged plot to carry out a series of terrorist bombings at stations in the Washington Metro system, according to a federal indictment. Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Ashburn, conspired with people he believed to be al-Qaeda operatives to attack the stations at Arlington National Cemetery, Pentagon City, Crystal City and Court House, the indictment said."

* Indonesia: "The death toll from a tsunami and a volcano rose to more than 300 Wednesday as more victims of Indonesia's double disasters were found and an official said a warning system installed after a deadly ocean wave in 2004 had broken from a lack of maintenance."

* I probably wouldn't characterize this as progress: "An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan."

* This tragedy would be even worse without ongoing conservation efforts: "A growing number of creatures could disappear from the earth, with one-fifth of all vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays now facing the threat of extinction, according to a new survey assessing nearly 26,000 species across the globe."

* No, state of Arizona, you can't require documents proving citizenship for new voter registration.

* The White House hosted a discussion with representatives of LGBT organizations and senior administration officials yesterday, discussing DADT repeal. President Obama stopped in unexpectedly "to directly convey to the participants his personal commitment on this issue."

* Not again: "Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, put a second and final stop on Wednesday morning to the most expensive public works project under way in the country, a proposed rail tunnel under the Hudson River that could have doubled commuter-train service to Manhattan."

* It pains me to see that we have to endure another phony debate about non-existent "voter fraud."

* House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana might give up his leadership post in advance of a silly presidential campaign.

* Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) has described President Obama as "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Ruth Marcus wrote today, "If Issa believes this, he is deranged. If he doesn't and is saying it anyway, he is dangerous."

* Todd Lally, a Republican congressional candidate in Kentucky, hasn't personally witnessed gender discrimination, and therefore, suspects it doesn't exist.

* Substance abuse within the Iraqi Security Forces is a real problem.

* What happens when a college student gets a scholarship, but it's too short?

* And Ralph Reed, who inexplicably feels comfortable showing his face in public, is launching campaign ads that are almost a parody of themselves.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST HEALTH CARE DIDN'T END IN MARCH.... Many proponents of health care reform, including me, hoped the Affordable Care Act would enjoy broader public support as the intense dispute faded. The ACA would become law; Americans would learn more about it; new popular benefits would kick in; and Americans would invariably begin to appreciate it more.

That obviously hasn't happened, at least not yet. The numbers appeared to improve soon after President Obama signed the landmark bill into law, but in the ensuing months, support stalled and opposition inched higher.

One possible reason: those who invested heavily to kill health care reform kept investing to ensure Americans' hostility for the breakthrough accomplishment.

Opponents of the legislation, including independent groups, have spent $108 million since March to advertise against it, according to Evan L. Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks advertising.

That is six times more than supporters have spent, including $5.1 million by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the new law, Mr. Tracey said.

That's right, there's been more than $100 million in anti-reform advertising "since signed the bill into law in March. And many ads on health care contain multiple falsehoods and distortions."

I'm not arguing that the ACA would be wildly popular were it not for the attack campaign, but let's not forget, health care reform -- at a conceptual level -- has always been pretty popular. When President Obama first started pursuing this last year, opposition was initially very low. After all, he was elected in large part to deliver on reform after a century of trying.

What changed was a coordinated destruction campaign launched by insurance companies, right-wing activists, and Republicans desperate to prevent Democrats from completing a task that has eluded policymakers since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars to crush the effort, and they very nearly succeeded.

And when they came up short, they spent another $108 million to convince the public, with still more deceptions, to continue to disapprove of the effort they'd already been told not to like.

Ask Americans if they like the law, they'll say no. Ask Americans if they like the provisions in the law, they'll say yes. Why is that? Because some powerful folks -- some motivated by greed, others by petty partisanship -- have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make the case that the law is somehow a bad thing. If they didn't, the law not only would be more widely appreciated, but Democrats would very likely be positioned to have a much better midterm cycle.

Voters' attitudes aren't exactly for sale, but you can rent a lot of ill will for $108 million.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

THE GOOD OL' DAYS.... We talked briefly last week about Republicans pining for the halcyon days they remember so fondly. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) lamented not too long ago the notion that Democrats are "snuffing out the America that I grew up in" during the 1950s and 1960s.

Putting aside what that era was like for women and minority groups, the striking thing about such pining is how extraordinarily liberal the country was, economically, during these good ol' days. The top marginal tax rate was 90% (nearly triple today's figure); union membership was 30% (more than quadruple today's figure); the Republican Party, which still had plenty of liberals, endorsed all kinds of progressive ideas (spending projects, living wage); and the economy was heavily regulated -- airlines didn't even set their own prices.

Harold Meyerson explores this in even more detail in his column today, emphasizing conservative activists' misguided understanding of what it is they think has gone wrong.

When the Tea Partyers get around to identifying how America has changed and to whose benefit, however, they get it almost all wrong. In the worldview of the American right -- and the polling shows conclusively that that's who the Tea Party is -- the nation, misled by President Obama, has gone down the path to socialism. In fact, far from venturing down that road, we've been stuck on the road to hyper-capitalism for three decades now.

The Tea Partyers are right to be wary of income redistribution, but if they had even the slightest openness to empiricism, they'd see that the redistribution of the past 30 years has all been upward -- radically upward. From 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to the bottom 90 percent of Americans -- effectively, all but the rich -- increased from 64 percent to 65 percent, according to an analysis of tax data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. Because the nation's economy was growing handsomely, that means that the average income of Americans in the bottom 90 percent was growing, too -- from $17,719 in 1950 to $30,941 in 1980 -- a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

Since 1980, it's been a very different story. The economy has continued to grow handsomely, but for the bottom 90 percent of Americans, it's been a time of stagnation and loss. Since 1980, the share of all income in America going to the bottom 90 percent has declined from 65 percent to 52 percent. In actual dollars, the average income of Americans in the bottom 90 percent flat-lined -- going from the $30,941 of 1980 to $31,244 in 2008.

In short, the economic life and prospects for Americans since the Reagan Revolution have grown dim, while the lives of the rich -- the super-rich in particular -- have never been brighter. The share of income accruing to America's wealthiest 1 percent rose from 9 percent in 1974 to a tidy 23.5 percent in 2007.

It's important to appreciate the economic anxieties so many are experiencing. Millions of middle-class families feel put upon and helpless. They're working longer and harder, for less, and their optimism about the opportunities for future generations has all but disappeared.

But the problem is that these same working folks also struggle to tell friend from foe. Too many have been convinced that "government spending" is somehow evil, despite the fact that it's this spending that often goes to benefit the middle class. They've been convinced that the Affordable Care Act that will deliver tremendous benefits to their family is awful.

In short, for 30 years, people who struggling to keep their heads above water have been told not to trust life-preservers if they're paid for with public funds.

For conservative activists who nod their heads when Boehner wistfully thinks back to the '50s and '60s, there's a fundamental confusion over what that means -- the era they liked is the one in which New Deal policies created "economic security and opportunity" that were "widely shared," thanks in part to high marginal top rates and wages that nearly kept pace with the cost of living.

If Boehner and his allies want to go back to "the America they grew up in," we can, but it'll require a pretty sharp left-hand turn.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

CRIST URGES VOTERS TO REJECT 'EXTREMIST' ROAD.... In Florida's U.S. Senate race, Gov. Charlie Crist (I) has seen his fortunes fade as Democratic voters "returned home" after the party's primary, and Republicans rallied behind the state's far-right former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R). While polls showed Crist looking good in July, he now trails by double digits with less than a week to go.

He has an interesting closing argument, though. In this new clip, Crist tells Floridians, "On Tuesday, you're going to choose a path for our state and nation. Down one road is extremism -- where Roe v. Wade is overturned and being a moderate is a curse. That's the road Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and Marco Rubio want to take us down.

"It's a dangerous road, and the polls say I'm the only one who can stop them. So if you're sick of the extremism and the gridlock, then join our fight for common sense."

You'll notice that Crist makes no mention of Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek, and it's not hard to understand why -- Meek is a distant third literally in every poll. If Crist is going to have any shot at all, he'll need Florida Democrats to think, "A vote for Meek is a vote for Rubio," which as a practical matter, may very well be the case.

But it's also noteworthy to acknowledge exactly what Crist believes will resonate with independents and Democrats in Florida: no to extremism, no to Palin, no to banning reproductive rights. It stands to reason the Crist campaign's internal polling shows pretty solid numbers to bolster this case.

Will it work? I kind of doubt it, but if anecdotal evidence means anything to you (it almost certainly shouldn't), just about every Democrat I know in the state is voting for Crist, in the hopes of beating Rubio.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

GET TO KNOW 'CUTGO'.... The "Paygo" policies of the 1990s proved to be pretty popular and effective. It's a basic idea -- in a nutshell, if policymakers want to increase spending or cut taxes, they have to figure out a way to pay for it. The point is to prevent increases to the deficit by telling officials to "pay as you go." It helped Clinton eliminate the deficit altogether and deliver some of the largest surpluses ever.

Republicans of the Bush era didn't care for the policy, and quickly scrapped it. The GOP couldn't pay for massive tax breaks, or two wars, or Medicare expansion, or No Child Left Behind, but they passed them all anyway, each time just throwing the costs onto the deficit. It's how Republicans managed to add $5 trillion to the national debt in just eight years.

Last year, Democrats brought Paygo back, though they waived it for emergency spending. When Dems took up health care reform, for example, they made sure it was paid for. Indeed, all of the major Democratic initiatives considered in this Congress, other than the Recovery Act, were careful not to add to the deficit at all. (When Senate Dems voted to bring back Paygo, literally all of the Republicans balked -- including the Republicans who claimed to support it.)

With Republicans apparently poised to regain power -- ironically while talking about fiscal responsibility -- the GOP is once again poised to scrap Paygo, but Boehner & Co. intend to replace it. The new plan is to go with something called "Cutgo."

And what's Cutgo all about? Instead of paying for new initiatives as they're considered, Republicans want to cut existing spending to offset the costs of any new spending.

If this sounds dubious to you, there's a good reason. Jon Chait explains:

Looking ahead to controlling Congress, Republicans again propose to eliminate Paygo, as they did under Bush. But this time they propose to replace it with a different rule, Cutgo, which would require that new spending be offset with spending cuts. That would indeed be an effective way to limit new spending programs. Of course, it would retain the ability to pass tax cuts with no offsets whatsoever. The decision once again reflects the core Republican belief that tax revenues do not need to bear any relationship to expenditures.

Right. This is precisely the kind of shell game one expects from politicians who don't take policy or fiscal responsibility seriously.

Republicans don't like the idea of "paying for" policies, because that opens the door to all kinds of possibilities. If they want trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, for example, Paygo ties their hands, since they can't find trillions of dollars in spending cuts to make up the difference.

Indeed, some crazy people, drunk on communist wine, might even try to pay for new programs by, say, closing tax loopholes. Worse, they might go so far as to raise a tax on someone by some amount at some point, in order to help deal with the budget mess Republicans created through 2008.

And since that's wholly unacceptable on its face, Boehner & Co. prefer "Cutgo," precisely because it limits options. If policymakers are going to make new investments, they're going to have to cut -- and only cut -- somewhere else.

Republicans exist, in other words, to (a) cut taxes; and (b) prevent tax increases. It's a shallow, destructive charade, but that probably won't matter on Tuesday.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share

SHINING A LIGHT ON MCCONNELL'S SHORT-TERM THINKING.... It was a bit of a delayed reaction, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) remarks to National Journal about his plans for next year are becoming increasingly interesting in Democratic circles.

If you're just joining us, McConnell noted the strategy he has in mind for 2011 and 2012. "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," McConnell said, adding, "Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spoke about this at some length during a briefing yesterday, and the Democratic National Committee released this video today.

Just to clarify, it's worth emphasizing that the clip isn't going to be aired on television -- it's 47 seconds, not 30 -- though the DNC no doubt hopes it makes the rounds online.

Greg Sargent has a worthwhile take on this, questioning whether the issue really moves the needle, and noting that McConnell and his party just don't seem to care about how such sentiments are perceived: "[I]f anything, what's really interesting here is that McConnell sees no need whatsoever to even disguise his real aims, and never really has."

That's clearly true. But I think it's worthwhile for Democrats to incorporate this into the party's message anyway, for a few reasons. The first is that it might have a marginal effect on the Democratic base, which has frequently been infuriated by Republican obstructionism, and which may not like to hear McConnell boast that his agenda involves destroying the president next year.

The second has to do with so-called, self-identified "independents," who claim to like the idea of Dems and Republicans cooperating and working together. With McConnell and other Republicans already declaring -- in public and on the record -- they have no intention of doing anything of the sort, it might matter to some of these voters that a vote for the GOP is a vote for intensified partisan strife.

Ultimately, though, the key angle here is laying the groundwork for future debates. The next Congress, if the midterms go as expected, will be very ugly, and Americans are likely to ask why policymakers can't get anything done. The race will be on for each side to blame the other.

Since Republicans really will be responsible -- they're the ones already bragging about their unwillingness to compromise -- it makes sense for Dems to hammer the point now.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share

'THIS IS THE WORLD THAT FOX NEWS HAS CREATED'.... If you missed "The Rachel Maddow Show" reporting from Alaska last night, the episode was chock full of interesting content. There was one fairly brief segment, however, that stood out for me.

Rachel chatted with some Joe Miller supporters campaigning on a street corner, but before she could walk away, the activists wanted to emphasize that they resent Sen. Lisa Murkowski for being one of 19 Republicans to vote to confirm Eric Holder as the U.S. Attorney General. Rachel asked why that was a bad thing. That's when it got amusing.

One young man insisted that Holder is "the most anti-gun attorney general this nation has ever had." When Rachel asked how he arrived at this, he had absolutely no idea why he believes what he believes. He referenced Holder's "voting record beforehand," which made no sense, since Holder has never held elected office. Asked what it was, exactly, that Holder did on gun policy he didn't like, the Miller supporter -- who, remember, feels so strongly about this issue that he brought it up -- replied, "I, uh, I honestly, uh, I don't know enough about him to answer that truthfully."

So, Rachel moved to the next voter who's mad about Holder, and who also brought up the subject. "He's anti-gun," the woman said. Asked what he'd done that's anti-gun, the Miller support replied, "I don't have all the facts, but I know that he is."

Paul Waldman noted, "Keep in mind that these are folks who are so mad about this particular issue, and so fervent in their defense of their Second Amendment rights, that they're out on a corner talking to people about it."

In the same segment, a third Miller supporter insisted Holder was bad because of "the voter intimidation with the Black Panthers."

That voter later argued that members of the New Black Panther Party -- which the Bush administration saw as too meaningless to pursue -- aren't being prosecuted because they're black. This is one of the reasons she's voting for Joe Miller.

"This is the world that Fox News has created," Rachel concluded.

Ignorance spreads like a cancer, and right about now, it's making our body politic pretty sick.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

Bookmark and Share

WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, the closely-watched contest is either getting more competitive or less, depending on which poll you believe. The new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Joe Sestak (D) and Pat Toomey (R) tied at 46% each. But a new Franklin and Marshall poll shows Toomey up by seven, 43% to 36%.

* In California's U.S. Senate race, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R), 52% to 43%. A Suffolk University poll found the identical result.

* Fiorina was forced off the campaign trail yesterday, having to be hospitalized in Los Angeles with an infection stemming from reconstructive breast surgery.

* And speaking of California, the Suffolk poll also shows Jerry Brown (D) leading in the state's gubernatorial race, 50% to 42%.

* In Minnesota's gubernatorial race, the latest St. Cloud State University poll shows former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) up by 10 over Tom Emmer (R), 40% to 30%. Independence Party nominee Tom Horner is a competitive third with 19%.

* Salon lists the "10 most terrifying would-be congressmen." That's a fair description; it's a scary list.

* In Connecticut's Rhode Island's gubernatorial race, Independent Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator, has a new ad touting kind words about him from President Obama. (The remarks were delivered in 2008, not this year.)

* Any hopes of Dems keeping Evan Bayh's Senate seat in Indiana are long gone. The latest EPIC/MRA poll shows corporate lobbyist Dan Coats (R) leading Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D), 53% to 35%.

* And in Hawaii's gubernatorial race, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll shows former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) up by eight over Duke Aiona (R), 51% to 43%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

Bookmark and Share

QUANTIFYING ELITISM.... Following up on Charles Murray's odd piece on "elitism," Claire Berlinski created the "How Plebe Are You?" test. Kevin Drum suggest this "deserves meme-dom," and I'm inclined to agree. Here's how I did:

1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?"

I can and I do.

2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?"

Yes, in great detail.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?"

Oddly enough, yes, but I haven't seen the show since I was a kid.

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end?

Yes, but it's been a long while.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga?

Not a chance.

6. How about pilates?

I've heard the word, but I'm not entirely sure what pilates even are.

7. How about skiing?

I like skiing, but can I "hold forth animatedly" on the subject? Sort of.

8. Mountain biking?

Not even a little.

9. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?

I do, but NASCAR isn't for me.

10. Does the acronym MMA mean anything to you?

I know what it is and what it stands for, but I've never watched it.

11. Can you talk about books endlessly?

Sure.

12. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel?

No, but I can tell you quite a bit about how looney one of its authors is.

13. How about a Harlequin romance?

Nope.

14. Do you take interesting vacations?

I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with this word "vacation." Put me down for a "no."

15. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada?

I don't even know of any awful backpacking spots in the Sierra Nevada. No.

16. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor?

I hear it's a lovely area, but no.

17. Would you be caught dead in an RV?

I'm not philosophically opposed to being in an RV, but I have no experience with them.

18. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?

If I didn't get brutally sea sick before even leaving the dock, sure.

19. Have you ever heard of Branson, Mo?

Of course, though I haven't personally been there.

20. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club?

Nope.

21. How about the Rotary Club?

Nope.

22. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town?

Depending on how one defines "small town," absolutely.

23. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees?

I've never thought to ask, but I'm guessing no.

24. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line?

Actually, yes, though it's been a while.

25. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

I have a limited number of people I consider "close friends," but if we expand it to mean people I talk to on a regular basis, sure.

26. Have you ever visited a factory floor?

Yes.

27. Have you worked on one?

No.

I'm not sure if that makes me an "elitist," but that's my record.

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

Bookmark and Share

GIBBS BLASTS MCCONNELL'S PARTISAN VOW.... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) concession in an interview with National Journal that he already has a strategy in mind for 2011 and 2012. "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," McConnell said, adding, "Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

It was quite a concession. In the near future, the Senate Republican strategy, based on McConnell's own remarks, will be built around destroying the president, not solving problems.

Joe Scarborough characterized McConnell's comments as "embarrassing" and "pathetic," while Chris Hayes noted that the McConnell quote "should be dominating the news cycle."

Alas, political reporters have largely ignored the remarks. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to elevate the story yesterday during a briefing, telling reporters "it's a deeply disappointing message that regardless of the outcome of this election, political gridlock and political gamesmanship is what the American people have to look forward to over the next two years."

"I doubt that regardless of the outcome of the election in a week, that the message that the voters of this country are going to send is that they want to see more politics being played, that they want to see the process bogged down and mired in more partisan political games.

"Our job should be to work together to move this country forward, to strengthen our economy, and to improve the lives of its citizens. There's time for a political campaign now and there will be time in two years for a presidential campaign. But in the days and the weeks and the months after this campaign, the message that voters are going to send and the message that we as elected officials should take is that of working together, of getting things done that are constructive, again, that help strengthen our economy.

"We have had over the past two years enough game-playing to satisfy ourselves for many political lifetimes.... There will be time for a political campaign. But members of the Senate are elected and hired by the people of the United States to get stuff done for the people of the United States, not to posture and play political games."

Watch for this to be a central message in the coming months. If Americans choose gridlock and partisan strife on Tuesday, as seems likely, those same voters will wonder why policymakers can't get anything done in the next Congress. Party leaders will be going to great lengths to insist their rivals are to blame.

The challenge for Republicans will be avoiding responsibility after already having boasted that they have no intention of compromising with anyone about anything.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

Bookmark and Share

MAYBE SHE SMUDGED HIS SHOE?.... After Ginni Thomas left that creepy voicemail for Anita Hill, it's made for some amusing mockery online. In the jokes, victims are supposed to be the ones apologizing -- Muslims should tell Juan Williams they're sorry; underage pages should apologize to Mark Foley, etc.

Brian Beutler, who's had more than a few of these, joked yesterday, "Hey, MoveOn activist? It's that Rand Paul fan here. The one with the size 13s? I'm just calling to see if perhaps you're ready to apologize."

Let's not forget how exceedingly difficult it is to take satirical shots at conservatives, given how farcical real-life is.

Tim Profitt -- the former Rand Paul volunteer who stomped on the head of a MoveOn activist -- told local CBS station WKYT that he wants an apology from the woman he stomped and that she started the whole thing.

"I don't think it's that big of a deal," Profitt said. "I would like for her to apologize to me to be honest with you."

Just so we're absolutely clear, the guy who stomped on a defenseless woman's head wants her to apologize to him.

Maybe she smudged his shoe or something.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share

ANNOYING BOTH SIDES OF AN EQUALITY DEBATE SIMULTANEOUSLY.... We learned this week that President Obama, after less than two years in office, has already "appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in history." By one estimate, there are now more than 150 officials -- "from agency heads and commission members to policy officials and senior staffers" -- in the administration, easily surpassing the 140 officials spanning eight years of the Clinton administration.

Not surprisingly, the religious right isn't happy about this. The Christian Broadcasting Network ran an item yesterday:

Gay activist groups estimate Obama has made 150 of the appointments so far. About a dozen of them required Senate confirmation.

The White House is proud of the numbers and noted that President Obama has hired more gay officials than the Clinton and Bush administrations combined.

Many conservative groups have blasted some of the appointments, saying they will use their roles to push a homosexual agenda on the country.

The far-right Alliance Defense Fund isn't happy, either.

I feel like this keeps coming up, and it's fascinating to watch. To the far-right opponents of gay rights, President Obama is a disaster, advancing LGBT equality in ways conservatives have feared for years. At the exact same time, progressive supporters of gay rights are also convinced that President Obama is a disaster, failing to advance LGBT equality in ways they'd expected.

For the right, Obama is so supportive of the LGBT community, he's literally labeled "our first gay president." For the left, the very idea seems ridiculous.

As the debate continues, it's probably worth emphasizing some noteworthy accomplishments. The administration, in addition to hiring more openly gay officials than any administration in history, has made a variety of advances, including hospital visitation rights, a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal workers, lifting the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, expanded hate-crime laws, addressing the diplomatic passport issue, ordering the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans, expanding the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship, endorsing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, and making the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act law.

There have also been more symbolic gestures, including the White House hosting an event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, announcing the first-ever transgender presidential appointee, honoring same-sex couples in his Mother's Day and Father's Day proclamations, recording a video for the "It Gets Better" Project, and hosting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month events at the White House.

Nevertheless, a sizable number of LGBT voters are prepared to stay home on Election Day or vote against Democrats, unsatisfied with the pace of change. The religious right, incensed by how pro-gay Dems have been, no doubt finds this inexplicable.

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

Bookmark and Share

NO WONDER MILLER WANTS TO AVOID HIS RECORD.... Just two weeks ago, Alaska's extremist Senate candidate, Joe Miller (R), announced that his background would be off limits for the rest of the campaign. He was willing to talk about all the things he'd do in the Senate -- oppose the minimum wage, oppose unemployment aid, oppose Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- without all these pesky questions about his skills, background, qualifications, and professional history.

It turns out, Miller wasn't just being obsessive about privacy. He didn't want to talk about his background because it happens to be pretty embarrassing. The headline in the Anchorage Daily News reads this morning, for example, "Miller admits to lies about his actions."

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joe Miller admitted in 2008 that he lied after being caught using Fairbanks North Star Borough computers for political purposes while he was working as a part-time borough lawyer.

"I lied about accessing all of the computers. I then admitted about accessing the computers, but lied about what I was doing. Finally, I admitted what I did," Miller wrote in a March 17, 2008, e-mail to Fairbanks North Star Borough Attorney Rene Broker.

Miller's admission and a disciplinary letter were among his employee records released by the Fairbanks North Star Borough on Tuesday as a result of a lawsuit by media organizations. Miller initially fought release of the documents, but state Superior Court Judge Winston Burbank ordered most of the records sought to be released, and Miller decided not to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

After his dishonesty and ethical lapse was discovered, Miller was suspended and reprimanded. Facing likely dismissal from the job, he abruptly resigned.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski's statement on this happens to be accurate: "The bottom line is Joe cheated, he lied, tried to cover it up, lied again, then finally got caught and had to admit it, just as he lied to Alaskans when he initially denied any problems with his employment at the Borough, claiming his record was 'exceptional' and 'second to none.'"

These revelations come a week after another report on Miller's three-year tenure at a top Anchorage law firm. His supervisor at the firm was limited by the firm's personnel policies and wouldn't go into specifics*, but he conceded last week, "We at this firm were not eager to have him stay, and so when he announced he was leaving, we were relieved."

Looking back, Miller hasn't held that many positions in Alaska since moving to the state, and those jobs he held didn't go well at all.

That this guy, largely unknown to voters up until very recently, is poised to win a U.S. Senate seat is more than a little bizarre. Miller's pitch to voters is, in effect, "Never mind my background, never mind my qualifications, never mind my record, never mind my inexperience, never mind my record of professional misconduct, and never mind my scandalous campaign tactics. Vote for me anyway, because I'm really right-wing."

* edited for clarity

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share

THE KENTUCKY STOMPER'S RIDICULOUS EXCUSE.... Following up on yesterday's reports, Tim Profitt, a former coordinator for extremist Senate candidate Rand Paul's (R) campaign, fully admits that he was the one who stepped on a defenseless woman's head Monday night.

But Profitt spoke to the CBS affiliate in Lexington late yesterday, and said "his actions were misunderstood."

He says at the time, he didn't know what she was trying to do.

"We thought she was a danger; we didn't know what she was doing."

Profitt explained that he used his foot to try and keep her down because he can't bend over because of back problems.

He added, "All I was trying to do was hold her until police could get her."

I realize Profitt's in a rough spot right now. He's facing an assault charge; the Paul campaign wants nothing to do with him; and much of the country has seen him stomping on a young woman's head, putting her in the hospital with a concussion. It's the kind of situation that might lead someone to spin desperately, coming with any kind of rationale, however implausible.

But suggesting he was trying to restrain Lauren Valle with his foot quite literally adds insult to injury. The explanation is so patently absurd on its face, it's impossible to believe anyone could take it seriously.

Valle had already been wrestled to the ground, and was being restrained by other large men. Profitt would have us believe he thought she might get away, which necessitated briefly but forcefully stepping on her head as she laid defenseless on pavement?

I'm not an attorney, but if I were advising this guy, I might suggest some other kind of explanation when he gets to court. And should this be a civil case someday, here's guessing a jury wouldn't buy this, either.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share

WHO'S RIGHT ON BIOFUELS?.... How can America achieve energy independence? The Obama Administration believes increased production of biofuels is key, as most recently signaled by its decision to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline. Yet critics warn that biofuels produced from corn and other crops damage the environment and drive up the cost of food. Who's right?

In the current issue of The Washington Monthly, two authors square off on the question. The first is retired four-star general and former Supreme Allied Commander, Wesley K. Clark., who argues that the U.S. should commit to biofuels as fully as Brazil has done for decades. Today's major automakers produce cars for the Brazilian market that run just fine even on pure ethanol, thus saving billions on the nation's oil bill.

Clark also points out that the efficiency of ethanol production has improved dramatically in recent years. According to a study released in June by the USDA, modern U.S. ethanol plants produce about 2.3 times more energy than they consume, including the energy required for planting, cultivating, fertilizing, and harvesting the corn from which most of ethanol is currently made in the U.S.

Yet what would be the consequences for the environment, and for the price of food, of increased biofuel production? Heather Rogers, author of Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy is Undermining the Environmental Revolution, argues that the heavy use of synthetic chemicals to grow vast mono-cultures of corn and other grains are already straining the environment and wearing out the fertility of the soil. She also warns against putting much faith in the promise that we will soon be able to produce large amounts of biofuels from algae, switch grass, or other biological materials that are not part of the human food chain.

The case for ethanol, she argues is instead purely political: subsidizing ethanol favors farm state interests whose votes are crucial, whether for winning the Iowa caucuses or passing legislation in the U.S. Senate. Yet by adjusting agricultural subsidies to favor more sustainable forms of production, farmers could again become the stewards of the land most want to be, while also bringing deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Compensating farmers for sustainable agricultural practices would blunt the growing political power of the biofuel lobby, she argues, and put America on track to develop energy policies based on conservation and the development of truly green technologies.

To read Clark's piece "Bringing it All Back Home" click here.

To read Rogers' piece "Against the Grain" click here.

Steve Benen 7:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 26, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* I really am glad President Obama rescued the American automotive industry: "The Ford Motor Company said on Tuesday that it earned $1.7 billion in the third quarter and that it expected to have zero net debt by the end of December, one year ahead of forecast. It was the sixth consecutive profitable quarter and the best third quarter in more than 20 years for Ford."

* On a related note, the administration has unveiled new rules to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants by requiring greater fuel efficiency for big trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles starting with 2014 models." Look for more regulatory moves like this in 2011 and 2012, after Congress completely loses the ability to act.

* I'm starting to think some folks consider Voting While Brown to be illegal: "Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration applications and have announced plans to question individual voters at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible. In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates are sounding an alarm, claiming that such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and poor voters."

* Given the larger context, this may not generate as much praise as it probably deserves: "Less than halfway through his first term, President Barack Obama has appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in history. Gay activists say the estimate of more than 150 appointments so far -- from agency heads and commission members to policy officials and senior staffers -- surpasses the previous high of about 140 reached during two full terms under President Bill Clinton."

* First Lady Michelle Obama is working with OFA to encourage folks to take advantage of early voting.

* Congress still hasn't taken care of that Pell Grant problem that's been building up since the summer.

* I really do wish I knew whether it's all right to keep my cell phone in my pocket.

* Interesting-but-polite confrontation yesterday between a Fox News crew and Wisconsin Democrats.

* Right-wing hate blogger Pamela Geller has a plan to profit handsomely from bigotry.

* Based on the perspective of a woman who knew him pretty well, Clarence Thomas seems like a strange, scary man.

* From time to time, I genuinely struggle to understand how Richard Cohen's mind works.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share

DETAILS OF ASSAULT IN KENTUCKY COME TOGETHER.... Over the last few hours, we've learned quite a bit about the incident in Lexington last night, in which supporters of Senate candidate Rand Paul (R) grabbed a MoveOn activist, forced her to the ground, and at one point, literally stomped on her head as she lay helpless on the curb.

First, the victim, Lauren Valle, was diagnosed at the hospital with a concussion and a sprained arm and shoulder. She is, not surprisingly, pressing charges in the wake of the incident.

Second, multiple reports indicate we now also know who stomped on Valle's head.

A volunteer with Rand Paul's Senate campaign has admitted to placing his shoe firmly on the face of a MoveOn.org volunteer outside a Senate debate on Monday night, but insisted that the camera angle of the footage that captured the alteration made the scuffle look worse than it was.

Tim Profitt apologized for the incident in a statement sent to a local AP reporter. But he also criticized the police for not stepping in to calm down the crowd and argued that other supporters had previously warned authorities about the MoveOn activist, Lauren Valle.

Profitt is not, it appears, a random campaign volunteer. As the local blog Barefoot and Progressive noted, the Paul campaign touted his endorsement at the bottom of an ad they had taken out in a Bourbon County paper.

Third, Valle spoke to a handful of reporters this afternoon, and explained that she'd been to several other campaign events in Kentucky through her work with MoveOn.org, and that the Paul campaign knows her and expressed their "distaste" for her work. Given this, Valle believes the assault was "premeditated."

"What happened last night was that about five minutes before Rand Paul's car arrived they identified me and my partner, Alex, who was with me," Valle said this afternoon. "They surrounded me. There was five of them. They motioned to each other and got behind me. My partner Alex heard them say 'We are here to do crowd control we might have to take someone out.'"

She added that the video we've all seen doesn't show the fact that she tried to get away from her attackers.

As for how Valle was able to talk to the media after the incident, without showing signs of injury, she explained that she felt the full brunt of the pain as it hit her later. "I was in severe shock," she said, adding that the pain in her head started in earnest "an hour and a half afterwards."

As for Paul, who tried to blame "crowd control" and "both sides" this morning on Fox News, the extremist ophthalmologist issued another statement this afternoon, explaining that the campaign "condemns the actions" of its supporter. Why it took so long for Paul's team to say this is unclear.

What's next? As of a few minutes ago, the Lexington police has served Profitt with a criminal summons for his assault.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share

AN OLD, DISCREDITED TALKING POINT MAKES A COMEBACK.... Last year, as the debate over health care reform intensified, Republicans not only turned on the individual-mandate idea that they'd come up with, they also desperately tried to make it as scary as possible. That meant repeating one message over and over again: if you don't get insurance, the government will put you in jail.

In fact, this was a major part of the offensive for a while. Glenn Beck told Fox News' audience that "there will be jail time" for those who refuse to participate in the health care system. Dick Morris said the same thing, arguing, "One of the provisions in the Pelosi bill is you actually can go to jail for not having health insurance." A year ago, a "Fox & Friends" on-screen graphic during told viewers during a segment on the health care debate, "Comply or go to jail."

The argument didn't really go anywhere, and for the most part, Republicans moved on to other attacks. By April, Bill O'Reilly pretended the entire argument never happened, insisting, "[Y]ou don't know anybody on Fox News -- because there hasn't been anyone -- that said people will go to jail if they don't buy mandatory insurance... [W]e researched to find out if anybody had ever said you are going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody has ever said it." (He was blatantly lying.)

Unfortunately, the nonsense is back. A shadowy far-right outfit called American Action Network is attacking Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in a new ad for supporting a health care law that means, among other things, "jail time for anyone without coverage."

That's the bad news. The good news, as Greg Sargent reports today, is that a Connecticut station will not run the deceptive spot.

FoxCT, the local Fox affiliate, informed the Murphy campaign that it would stop running the American Action Network ad after the Murphy camp sent the station a letter detailing the ad's falsehoods, the Murphy campaign confirms.

"We have verified that the ad in question is not accurate and will pull their schedule going forward," a FoxCT executive wrote to the Murphy campaign in an email sent my way. "I hope you have reached out to the other stations and they follow the same course."

I'm told other another Connecticut station may follow suit.

It's always heartening when this happens. I've long believed ads would be less deceptive if stations refused to air spots that could be proven false.

What's more, as Greg keeps reminding us, the larger point is that these shadowy organizations aren't just trying to sway elections with secret money, they're doing so with ads intended to mislead the public.

Postscript: For the record, in case there's any lingering confusion, those who refuse to buy insurance would be subjected to a fine, but the law specifies that "such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution." The American Action Network simply intended to lie and hope voters wouldn't know the difference.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

Bookmark and Share

LINCOLN BLAMES HALTER.... Of the sure-fire pickups for Senate Republicans, only one seat is held by a Democratic incumbent. That, of course, would be Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln (D), who's definitely going to lose.

At this point, Lincoln is no doubt aware of her fate, and has already begun offering explanations for her political downfall. One in particular appears to be her favorite.

Beleaguered Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln says she would be in a dead heat with Republican Rep. John Boozman if it were not for the draining Democratic primary challenge she fought off this spring.

Speaking to Arkansas Public Radio in Little Rock on Monday, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee appeared to blame Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and the swarm of outside groups that backed his insurgent bid for her current perilous political position.

FM-89 reporter Kelly MacNeil asked Lincoln whether she thought she would be even with Boozman now if "it weren't for that tough primary." Lincoln replied, "Yeah, oh yeah ... I believe I would."

I suppose it's only human nature to start coming up with rationales for failure, but this really isn't compelling. In January, several weeks before Halter stated his intentions, Public Policy Polling showed Lincoln trailing Boozman by 23 points, 56% to 33%. As a rule, when an incumbent falls below 50%, it's a sign of potential trouble -- and Lincoln barely topped 30%.

I suspect Lincoln would respond that her campaign could have closed the gap over the course of the year if it weren't for the Halter distraction. That strikes me as backwards -- when a scandal-free incumbent enters an election year trailing by 23 points, it's evidence that the party primary probably should have gone the other way. Lincoln's fate seemed entirely obvious all year. Would Halter have done better? It's impossible to say for sure, obviously, but he's bound to have been in a better position right now than the incumbent.

For what it's worth, I was re-reading some general advice I recommended Lincoln consider a year ago, and I still think it was the better option. As Arkansas has moved sharply to the right in recent years, Lincoln didn't stand a chance aiming for some amorphous middle (to the right of her party, to the left of Republicans).

I suggested last November that Lincoln give ambitious populism a shot, positioning herself as a Kennedy-like guardian of those suffering under the status quo.

Arkansas has a high percentage of low-income families, struggling to get by. They'll never vote Democratic on cultural and/or social issues, but they're open to the Democratic message on economic policy -- looking out for working families' interests. A candidate who positioned herself as a populist people's champion had a better shot than an apologetic Democrat who hopes Republicans won't mind her party affiliation.

Lincoln chose a more predictable course, and now she's going to lose.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

Bookmark and Share

IDEOLOGICAL LITMUS TESTS FOR FUTURE HILL STAFFERS.... There are no doubt legions of far-right activists looking forward to applying for new Capitol Hill positions. No matter what happens in the midterms, there will be jobs to be filled, and if there's a GOP majority in the House, Republicans will have a lot of openings to fill with eager young ideologues.

And in preparation for these employment opportunities, the House Republican Study Committee is asking would-be employees who want to work for one of its members to check in with a couple of websites first.

"Once we receive your resume, it will be passed along in a binder to each new Member (and to any existing RSC Member requesting to see resumes) for consideration," reads an e-mail Tuesday from RSC staff, obtained by Roll Call. "We also strongly encourage you to submit your resume and complete the ideological questionnaires at the following two websites, as we will be checking these questionnaires as well."

The links to questionnaires on the websites of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and Leadership Institute's conservativejobs.com site, are pasted into the RSC e-mail. The RSC claims more than 115 House Republicans as its membership.

For the record, I'm not especially interested in seeking employment with a member of the House Republican Study Committee, but I was curious what these applicants might be asked before being considered for positions on Capitol Hill.

So I stopped by the Heritage questionnaire that Republicans are encouraging potential staffers to fill out. The "correct" answers seemed pretty obvious. Agree or disagree: "The U.N. should not have authority over the citizens or public policies of sovereign nations." Agree or disagree: "The U.S. has the right to use force to protect its national interests." Agree or disagree: "Judges should not make decisions based on their policy preferences."

I especially liked the next section in which applicants were presented a list of people and organizations, and asked to express general agreement or disagreement. The list includes Al Gore, the NRA, CATO, the National Organization of Women*, George W. Bush, Clarence Thomas, James Dobson, Bill Bennett, and for some reason, Dianne Feinstein.

The Leadership Institute's questionnaire, meanwhile, wants to know, among other things, if you think "homosexual activity should be incompatible with service in the U.S. military forces," and whether "minimum wage laws contribute to unemployment."

There was no explicit demands made by the House Republican Study Committee, but it's probably a safe bet that those with the "wrong" answers won't be eligible for employment.

The next Congress really isn't going to be a pleasant experience.

* Update: NOW, of course, stands for National Organization for Women, not National Organization of Women. The mistake was the Heritage Foundation's, not mine.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

THE WAR ON THE CHURCH-STATE WALL.... Republican candidates' antipathy for constitutional principles has been on display quite a bit lately, but ThinkProgress flags another gem this morning, highlighting extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck's (R) approach to church-state separation.

"I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution. While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that's sanctioned by the government, it doesn't mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion. And so that, that concerns me a great deal. So I think there are cultural differences, I think there, we are as strong as we, our culture, our culture gives us our strength, I guess is the best way to put that.

"And, and I am worried about the fact that we seem to be walking away from culture. And, and one thing that President Obama has done that I would certainly speak about is calling the Christmas tree, which has historically been called a Christmas tree in Washington DC, a holiday tree. It's just flat wrong in my mind."

The comments, made in Colorado late last year, are remarkably dumb, and the argument that President Obama re-named a Christmas tree is demonstrably false. Either Buck was lying, or was popping off on a subject he knew nothing about.

Of course, if this sounds familiar, it's because we've seen and heard quite a few attacks these First Amendment principles lately. Delaware's Christine O'Donnell recently humiliated herself during a debate by rejecting the separation of church state as a constitutional principle, and Nevada's Sharron Angle recently made very similar remarks. Last week, Rush Limbaugh denounced the very idea of church-state separation, and in April, former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) rejected any notion that "God should be separated from the state."

I just wrote up a lengthy item on the history here a few days ago, so I won't re-hash it again. Needless to say, the separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of the American system of government, and the foundation for the greatest experiment in religious liberty the world has ever known.

But putting aside the fact that these unhinged Republicans simply have no idea what they're talking about, I have a related concern: what is it, exactly, they'd replace church-state separation with?

What we're seeing is, to a certain extent, the rise of the Taliban wing of the Republican Party -- the Taliban rails against secularism, and insists that the law must mirror and be based on their interpretation of a religious text. Buck, O'Donnell, Angle, Limbaugh, and Palin have all argued something eerily similar. Thomas Jefferson said the First Amendment built "a wall of separation between church and state," and these Republicans are anxious to tear it down.

Let's say, for the sake of conversation, they succeed. What then? Once the foundation for religious liberty in America is gone, what does Ken Buck suggest we replace it with? There are some countries that endorse Buck's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

So what do Buck and his ilk have in store for us? A European-style official church? A theocracy along the lines of Saudi Arabia? Are conservatives who want the government to shrink also telling us they want the state to play a larger role in promoting and "helping" religious institutions?

When the right denounces the American principles that have made us great, they stop being merely wrong, and start becoming even more dangerous.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

Bookmark and Share

THE PERILOUS FATE OF IMMIGRATION REFORM.... In the abstract, when thinking about the kinds of key issues where compromise is possible in 2011 and 2012, immigration reform looks like a compelling option. President Obama's approach is largely in line with the Bush/Cheney policy, and it's not ridiculous to think some kind of deal could be reached with some Senate Republicans.

So, why does everyone assume an immigration reform package is doomed? Because House Republicans are an extreme bunch.

Immigration reform would not only be dead in a Republican House; the policy debate would take a decidedly rightward turn in the House Judiciary Committee, which could become a hotbed of conservative activism on one of the most volatile issues in U.S. politics.

Chairman-in-waiting Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has been an advocate of national Arizona-type immigration laws, implementing a mandatory verification program and revisiting the birthright citizenship guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Smith's wingman on the Judiciary Committee would be Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the fiercest critics of illegal immigration, who would chair the immigration subcommittee.

It's unrealistic to think of voters making choices on such a meta/strategic level, but by electing a Republican House majority, Americans would put some real radicals in key positions of authority. This is especially true on immigration. Steven King is easily one of the craziest people to serve in Congress in my lifetime, and any immigration bill would start in a subcommittee he'd chair.

Smith's long-term cause has been a national mandatory verification program, which he has included in at least three bills since the early 1990s. One got through the House in 2005 despite the qualms of business groups. Smith has also been a longtime supporter of revising birthright citizenship so children can be U.S. citizens only if they have at least one legal parent, and he has conducted several hearings on the issue. [...]

King, on the other hand, is well-known for headline-grabbing claims. At a tea party event in Colorado in June, he said he would support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants only if "every time we give amnesty for an illegal alien, we deport a liberal."

In an interview with POLITICO, King promised to interrogate Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton and Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher about enforcement of immigration laws.... King rattled off a list of legislation he'd like to push to the floor: a birthright citizenship bill, legislation to reaffirm states' right to enact Arizona-like immigration laws, a bill to take away deductions from employers who pay illegal immigrants and legislation to crack down on cities that don't go after illegal residents.

I've seen a few pieces lately suggesting the lawmaking process won't necessarily be a trainwreck in the event of a Republican-led House, and it's still possible worthwhile bills might pass.

Under the circumstances, and with GOP figures publicly vowing to deliver gridlock and increased partisan strife, optimism is in short supply.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share

TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* Though some recent polling showed a more competitive U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Rand Paul (R) leading Jack Conway (D) by an even greater margin, 53% to 40%.

* In Ohio's gubernatorial race, John Kasich (R) refused to participate in an NPR debate yesterday after learning, 15 minutes beforehand, that listeners would be able to submit questions. Nevertheless, a Quinnipiac poll released this morning shows Kasich leading Gov. Ted Strickland (D), 49% to 43%,

* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Ken Buck (R) tied at 47% each. PPP also has John Hickenlooper (D) leading in Colorado's gubernatorial race, but only by three points over former Rep. Tom Tancredo (I), 47% to 44%.

* In West Virginia's U.S. Senate race, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Gov. Joe Manchin (D) with a slightly larger lead over John Raese (R), 50% to 44%.

* In Alaska's U.S. Senate race, Joe Miller (R) has admitted to an ethics violation during his limited tenure with the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

* In Nevada's U.S. Senate race, Sharron Angle (R) has now resorted to using decoys to hide from journalists.

* Some may think the U.S. Senate race in California is effectively over, but Republicans clearly don't think so -- the National Republican Senatorial Committee will run $3 million in television ads in California this week.

* In Connecticut's U.S. Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Richard Blumenthal (D) leading Linda McMahon (R), 54% to 42%, The same poll shows Dan Malloy (D) leading Tom Foley (R) in the gubernatorial race, 48% to 43%.

* In Illinois' gubernatorial race, a new poll from the Chicago Tribune shows Bill Brady (R) with a narrow lead over Gov. Pat Quinn (D), 43% to 39%.

* And in Arizona, a new PPP poll for Daily Kos shows Gov. Jan Brewer (R) shaking off a horrific debate performance and rumors about her poor health, and leading Terry Goddard (D) by eight, 52% to 44%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

Bookmark and Share

CONDEMNING VIOLENCE SHOULDN'T BE DIFFICULT.... We talked earlier about the pre-debate assault in Kentucky last night, in which Rand Paul (R) supporters grabbed a MoveOn activist, forced her to the ground, and at one point, literally stomped on her head as she lay helpless on the curb.

This morning, Paul apparently felt compelled to address the incident, so he did what Republicans always do: he scurried to Fox News. Here's what the right-wing ophthalmologist had to say about the incident:

"We want everybody to be civil; we want the campaign to be about issues. I will tell you that when we arrived, there was enormous passion on both sides and it really was something where you walked into a daze of lights flashing, people yelling and screaming, bumping up. There was a bit of a crowd control problem.

"I don't want anybody, though, to be involved in things that aren't civil. I think it should always be about the issues. It is an unusual situation to have so many people, so passionate on both sides, jockeying back and forth and it wasn't something that I liked or anybody liked about that situation. So I hope in the future it's going to be better."

I don't mean to sound picky, but a defenseless woman was stomped on the head by Rand Paul supporters, and wound up in the hospital. I was hoping Paul would have the decency to use words like "condemn" and "denounce." Maybe he could give her a call to see how she's doing.

Instead, he sought comfort on a Republican news network -- where Paul knew he wouldn't be pressed for a stronger statement or face follow-up questions -- and talked about "both sides" being worked up, and his dissatisfaction with "crowd control."

Here's a hypothetical: if large, male union members had grabbed a young woman who worked with Tea Partiers, dragged her to the ground, and literally stepped on her head, would Rand Paul be on Fox News saying "it wasn't something that I liked," or might his response be a little stronger?

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share

TAKING A JACKHAMMER TO THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION.... When coming to terms with the radicalism of the contemporary Republican agenda, it's convenient to turn to the right's approach to the Constitution. This year, we've seen a growing number of prominent Republican officials and candidates talk about scrapping the 17th Amendment, repealing the 16th Amendment, getting rid of at least one part of the 14th Amendment, "restoring" the "original" 13th Amendment, and proposing dozens of new amendments.

But this isn't just a question of what they want to do to the Constitution; it's the consequences of how they interpret the Constitution. Brian Beutler had an interesting item this morning.

It seems as if we've heard more about the Constitution this election than we did in 2008, when questions of due process and cruel and unusual punishment were bona fide election issues. Two years in to Barack Obama's presidency, after turning a blind eye throughout the Bush years, a key goal for the Tea Party this election is to "return" to the Constitution. Minus certain parts of it. And only if you read other parts in a very specific way.

We know the Tea Party has a ... unique interpretation of the country's foundational text, but it's hard sometimes to keep track of all the things their favored candidates would like to see abolished or relegated as part of this "return."

Their convenient reading of various amendments -- particularly the 10th -- would radically transform the country as we know it.

Quite right. We're not just talking about far-right candidates who disapprove of some of the bedrocks of modern American life; we're talking about far-right candidates who believe these bedrocks are unconstitutional and shouldn't exist.

Brian's list notes that Social Security and Medicare would have to be scrapped. As far as several GOP candidates are concerned, the minimum wage and unemployment benefits would necessarily meet the same fate. Some, including Nevada's Sharron Angle, would also eliminate American participation in the United Nations on constitutional grounds, and in the case of Kentucky's Rand Paul, the Civil Rights Act isn't legally sound, either.

I have to wonder if the electorate fully appreciates what's become of Republicans' ideology in recent years.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share

IT'S LIKE RA-I-AIN ON YOUR ELECTION DAY.... The lead story from The Hill this morning strikes me as a little silly. There may be some merit to the underlying point, but forecasting nationwide weather conditions a week ahead of time is probably a mistake.

In more bad news for Democrats, rain is in the forecast for much of the country on Election Day. Weather tracking websites, including weather.com and The Old Farmer's Almanac, are calling for rain in the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast regions, with chances for precipitation in other parts of the country as well. According to Laurel Harbridge, a Northwestern University political science professor, GOP voters are not typically discouraged by rain. "Republicans are helped by bad weather ... it does harm Democratic prospects."

Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, echoed Harbridge. "Bad weather almost always hurts Democrats," she said. "The traditional Democratic base tends to include lower-income people and the elderly. Both of those demographic groups have a hard time getting to the polls."

When I saw the headline, talking about "rain in the forecast" for Democrats, I assumed it was metaphorical. But in this case, we're talking about literal rain.

It's certainly possible that bad weather could give the GOP an added edge in some areas, but (a) it's tough to predict the weather a week in advance; and (b) it's even tougher to forecast rain in "the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast regions," which happens to cover most of a pretty large country.

Postscript: If you have no idea what the headline is in reference to, ask Alanis Morissette.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

ARE WE REALLY GOING TO HAVE THE WMD DEBATE AGAIN?.... It's been nearly eight years since the Bush/Cheney administration launched its spectacularly misguided invasion of Iraq, and certain truths are unavoidable. Near the top of the list: U.S. officials said Saddam Hussein's regime had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and quite possibly a nuclear program. None of this was true.

And yet, that's not what "Fox & Friends" viewers were told yesterday. Steve Doocy insisted, "It turns out President George W. Bush was right about Saddam Hussein hiding weapons of mass destruction.... Bush was right; they had 'em." Later in the show, Gretchen Carlson said nearly the exact same thing.

Sigh.

It's hard to know whether to be annoyed or sad that Republicans are still trying to win the long-completed debate over WMD. Either way, in case anyone is wondering if Fox News might be right, Media Matters sets the record straight: "Right-wing media figures have seized on a Wired article about the classified Iraq war documents recently released by WikiLeaks.com to desperately claim "Bush was right" that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In fact, the Wired article reported the documents did not 'reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime,' but rather remnants of the stockpiles largely destroyed during the Gulf War."

The Wired article is online here. The cast of "Fox & Friends" may want to read it before offering an on-air correction, which should happen right around the time Brian Kilmeade rides onto the set on a unicorn.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

I'M SURE THEY LOOK ASIAN TO HER.... In Nevada's U.S. Senate, extremist candidate Sharron Angle's (R) use of racism for political gain bas been appalling. This week, it managed to get worse.

The Angle campaign had been airing a racist, deceptive ad, relying on images of young Latino men as part of a divisive attempt to scare white people. When asked about it, Angle told a Hispanic students' group that she's "not sure" the Mexicans in her ad are, in fact, Latino, and went on to argue that her seemingly-racist commercial is intended to raise fears about the Canadian border. Angle added that some Hispanic teenagers look "a little more Asian" to her.

If there was any hope the humiliating questions might force Angle down a less-racist path, those hopes were dashed yesterday with the release of her new ad -- which actually manages to make matters worse.

In this odious new spot, Angle bombards viewers with images of young Latino men, all of whom are shown as criminals. They're contrasted with white people, all of whom are shown as potential victims. For good measure, Angle throws in pictures of a U.S./Mexico border crossing and the president of Mexico.

There were no Canadians included in the commercial.

Please tell us again, Sharron, about how you're "not sure" about whether the Mexicans in your ad are, in fact, Latino.

This is political messaging at its worst. Sharron Angle is well past the point of feeling shame, and she'll clearly do anything to win, no matter how vile, but it's worth appreciating how odious this is.

The point is as subtle as a sledgehammer -- white Nevadans are supposed to fear and hate Latinos, and then channel that revulsion into voting for her borderline-unstable political campaign. It's a strategy premised on dividing people, and pitting Nevadans against one another, all in the hopes of convincing voters to overlook the fact that Sharron Angle appears to be stark raving mad.

I don't know if Angle will win next week, though recent polls show her in the lead. I do know that the way she's chosen to conduct herself in this campaign is a disgrace and a national embarrassment.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

RAND PAUL SUPPORTERS ATTACK MOVEON ACTIVIST IN KENTUCKY.... The heated U.S. Senate race in Kentucky has already proven itself to be one of the uglier contests of the year, but conditions took a turn towards violence last night in Lexington.

As far-right ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) arrived for the candidates' final debate, Lauren Valle of MoveOn.org tried to give him a satirical "employee of the month award" from Republicorp, a pseudo-entity created by MoveOn to draw attention to the merger of the GOP and corporate interests.

But before Valle could reach the candidate, Paul supporters grabbed her, forced her to the ground, and at one point, literally stomped on her head as she lay helpless on the curb.

There was apparently some talk from Paul backers that the woman simply fell. The video shows otherwise.

Valle did not initially appear to be seriously injured in the attack -- she spoke to reporters after having been assaulted, complaining of headaches -- but last night, Valle was in a local hospital. Her condition has not yet been reported this morning. We also do not yet know who stomped on her head, though local police are investigating.

I'd like to think this goes without saying, but apparently that's not the case: politically-motivated violence is unacceptable. Large men attacking a defenseless woman and stomping on her head is unacceptable. I know passions are running high and the right-wing Republican base has been whipped into a frenzy, but under no circumstances can we tolerate such misconduct.

It's possible Paul's supporters saw Valle as some sort of threat, which is why they tried to prevent her from reaching the candidate. That's fine. On the video, we can even hear one of these supporters suggest calling the police. That's fine, too.

But once these thugs reached the curb-stomping phase, it was simply out of control.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 25, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As if Haiti weren't struggling enough, it's now dealing with a cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 250 people so far.

* A step in the right direction on real estate, but dangers loom: "Sales of previously occupied homes are bouncing back from their anemic levels last summer, but the gains may not be sustainable if the abrupt halt in foreclosures in some states drags out and pulls down future sales."

* Try to contain your shock: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted at a press conference Monday that his office accepts 'bags of money' from the Iranian government."

* The White House tries circumventing Beijing: "In a shift from its assiduous one-on-one courtship of Beijing, the administration is trying to line up coalitions -- among China's next-door neighbors and far-flung trading partners -- to present Chinese leaders with a unified front on thorny issues like the currency and its territorial claims in the South China Sea."

* If you missed it over the weekend, a WikiLeaks document dump advanced questions about the stability of Iraq.

* President Obama clearly hasn't forgotten about immigration reform, but Republican gains in the midterms will make progress extremely unlikely for the foreseeable future.

* O'Reilly sure does love his ambushes.

* If the right wants to talk about wasteful public spending, can we have a conversation about the conservative-controlled U.S. Commission on Civil Rights spending over $173,000 -- of our money -- "investigating an incident involving voter intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party -- a case in which no voters have alleged they were intimidated"?

* I've never heard of a state that's worried about having too many colleges.

* Remember the felony charges pending against disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas)? His trial is finally getting underway.

* And finally, eight years ago today, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) died in a tragic plane crash. His thoughtful leadership is still greatly missed.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... It's not at all uncommon to hear voters describe their preferred political scenario -- well-intentioned officials from both parties who work together, with a sense of common interest, to solve policy problems. It's idealized and naive, but the idea of a functioning political system is a vision many Americans probably find appealing.

Very few people actually want gridlock and increased partisan strife. It's odd, then, that this is exactly what Americans are poised to give themselves.

Voters should expect "good old-fashioned gridlock" in Washington if Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress, one GOP lawmaker said.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a vice chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, told students at Utah State University on Friday that a GOP-held House might not be able to accomplish too much as long as President Obama's in the White House.

"The most you can expect is two years of good old-fashioned gridlock," he said at an event on the campus, according to a report by the university's paper, the Utah Statesman.

Got that? We're not only going to see the entire policymaking process grind to a halt, according to a House GOP leader, that's "the most" we can expect.

It's tempting to think that, right about now, with a week to go, Republicans would be sending a very different signal to the country. Don't worry, the GOP might tell voters, we're serious about working in good faith to get things done. We know people are expecting results, they could say, and we have every intention of finding common ground and delivering.

Except, that's the opposite of the party's message in the cycle's closing days. A Senate Republican leader just finished announcing that everything going forward will be filtered through the GOP's intention to destroy President Obama politically. A House Republican leader announced last week that GOP lawmakers don't intend to compromise with anyone.

And here's another top House Republican declaring in public that "gridlock" is the very best America can do in 2011 and 2012.

I rather doubt this message is reaching the American mainstream, but I can't help but wonder how voters would respond to it if they heard about it. A huge chunk of the electorate, especially the amorphous group of self-identified "independents," claims to like the idea of Dems and Republicans cooperating and working together. A growing number of key Republicans are already declaring -- in public and on the record -- they have no intention of doing anything of the sort.

We know why, of course -- the GOP just isn't serious about governing or problem-solving -- but doesn't this sound like an awful closing message for a party poised to make huge gains?

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

BOOKERS IN NEED OF BIGGER ROLODEXES.... When it came to the 2009 calendar year, "Meet the Press" had one guest on more than any other: disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Gingrich, who left public office more than a decade ago, made five appearances on NBC's Sunday morning show.

How about this year? There are still more than two months left in the 2010 calendar year, but Jon Chait notes this year's MTP frontrunner.

Harold Ford was a guest on Meet The Press this weekend, marking the sixth time the former Tennessee representative has been on the show this year. That's more appearances than anyone else (besides the pundit superteam of David Brooks and E.J. Dionne), including more than any other NBC political contributor, and more than any current officeholder.

Reviewing the list, Jon's not only right, I'd add that no one else is especially close to Ford's six (and counting) appearances in 2010. Even John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- staples of the genre -- have only been on twice each, at least so far. Gingrich, after five appearances in 2009, hasn't been back at all this year.

So I guess the next question is, why Harold Ford? He was a congressman, but he's also a failed Senate candidate from four years ago.

Why have him on six times in eight months? Jon argues:

What explains the ubiquity of the bland and notably un-incisive Ford? Part of it may be his preternatural ability to meld himself into the prevailing sentiment of whatever milieu in which he finds himself. But primarily I believe Meet The Press always invites Ford for the same reason there are so many Olive Gardens -- you always know exactly what you're going to get.

That sounds about right, but I'd add one thing: Harold Ford, Jr., is the chair of the Democratic Leadership Council. The Sunday shows tend to go out of their way to avoid Democrats, but when they find a conservative Democrat who'll argue that the party should move to the right, the bookers are bound to keep bringing him back.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

THE SPECIAL INGREDIENT: SECRECY.... About four months ago, American Crossroads, created in part by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie to destroy Democratic campaigns, reported on its recent fundraising. After raising over $1 million in start-up funds, the GOP campaign operation had collected only $200. It prompted a fair amount of guffaws.

That laughter has long since faded, as American Crossroads has since raised tens of millions of dollars in secret donations, all of which is being used to air deceptive, anti-Democratic attack ads.

So, what was with those initial paltry totals? As it turns out, American Crossroads intended to play by more honorable rules, at least at first. Its organizers only ditched the plan when they saw it wouldn't work.

From the outset, American Crossroads leaders placed a high value on transparency and embraced the idea of full public disclosure when it came to contributions. Indeed, when the entity was created, Rove & Co. registered American Crossroads as a 527 -- which required regular donor disclosure. It was all part of a larger commitment to, in the words of one group leader, "full accountability."

Ken Vogel reports that those principles were quickly thrown out the window when the American Crossroads team learned the right-wing fat cats preferred a system of secret money.

But, less than one month after the panel, with American Crossroads entering its fourth month of existence struggling to raise money from donors leery of having their names disclosed, the Crossroads operatives spun off a sister group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (or Crossroads GPS, for short), which they registered under a different section of the tax code -- section 501(c)4 -- that does not require donor disclosure.

With the Crossroads fundraising team, led by Rove, emphasizing to prospective donors the ability to give to Crossroads GPS anonymously, fundraising took off. [...]

The success Crossroads has had in attracting anonymous donors highlights a broader trend on the right in which political activity has increasingly shifted to non-profit corporations that can conceal donors' identities. Republican finance insiders interviewed for this story say it is easier to get major GOP donors to contribute when there's no risk of having their identities disclosed and being subjected to either additional appeals for money from other groups, or to criticism from President Barack Obama and other Democrats.

They're apparently motivated by a combination of fear and paranoia. Donors don't want to have to deal with the public scrutiny that comes with trying to purchase American democracy -- go figure -- and they're apparently genuinely afraid of some kind of punishment from the Obama administration.

And so, for all the talk about the value of transparency, disclosure, and the norms of American democracy, Crossroads' leaders were more than willing to sell their principles for the value of secrecy.

I'm not sure who are bigger cowards -- the donors who buy elections from the shadows or Rove and his team who abandoned their commitments when fundraising totals were underwhelming.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

PRIORITIZING DEFICIT REDUCTION IS A MISTAKE.... It's too soon to say what kind of policy agenda the White House might pursue in the next Congress. Much of it will be dictated by the results of the midterms, but unpredictable circumstances are also likely to play a role. Planning ahead at this stage is tricky.

That said, it's easy to imagine the kinds of things President Obama would like to tackle over the next couple of years. One imagines initiatives that weren't completed in this Congress will get top billing in the next one -- including immigration and energy, for example.

The AP reports that another issue is likely to be on the president's mind, though I'm hoping the AP piece is wrong.

Preparing for political life after a bruising election, President Barack Obama will put greater emphasis on fiscal discipline, a nod to a nation sick of spending and to a Congress poised to become more Republican, conservative and determined to stop him. [...]

Moving to the fore will be a more serious focus on how to balance the federal budget and pay for the programs that keep sinking the country into debt.

In other times, that discussion might seem like dry, Washington talk. Not now. People are fed up with federal spending, particularly as many remain jobless.

Now, I'm not at all sure about the AP report's assumptions about public attitudes. The article states, simply as a matter of fact, that Americans are "fed up with federal spending," but I suspect that's only true in the most shallow and superficial sense. Folks like the idea of spending cuts until they hear about what might actually get the knife. It's precisely why Republicans refuse to offer any specifics about their spending plans -- if they told the truth, they'd lose.

But putting aside the media's willingness to simply accept GOP frames as fact, I can only hope the White House isn't taking this deficit reduction effort too seriously.

There's a reason Democrats are likely to suffer a brutal midterm cycle, and it has nothing to do with the debt -- the economy stinks. When unemployment is pushing 10%, the incumbent party gets slammed. When there's a jobs crisis and billionaires start buying elections for the party that created the crisis, the incumbent party has it even tougher.

But no one really cares about the deficit. They do, however, care about jobs. In tough times, the president will not do himself any favors by taking money out of the economy and undermining public programs that are more important than ever.

It's not like this is even an area where the White House can find common ground with Republicans -- the GOP's leaders have already made clear that making the deficit much bigger is fine with them, just so long as the money goes to tax cuts for the wealthy.

I know the president has a long to-do list, and the next Congress will be nightmarish if right-wing children are in charge. But that's all the more reason to get the right priorities in line now. Putting the deficit near the top of the list is a mistake.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

THE VALUE OF MCCONNELL'S OCCASIONAL CANDOR.... For all of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) many faults, he has one especially interesting habit. Once in a while, for no apparent reason, McConnell will say what he's actually thinking, giving us fairly valuable insights into his plans and motivations.

This isn't to say he's honest -- McConnell has repeatedly proven he isn't -- but rather, that he has occasional flashes of candor. McConnell conceded in August, for example, that as far as he's concerned, literally every idea considered by the Senate in the next Congress "is going to have to be center-right," even if there's a Democratic majority.

In March, McConnell acknowledged the entire basis for his health care strategy, explaining that he demanded unanimous GOP opposition, even to ideas Republicans liked, as a way of making reform unpopular. The strategy had nothing to do with policy or actually helping people, and everything to do with denying Democrats a victory.

And McConnell was candid once more in a new interview with National Journal, explaining what he sees as his "single most important" task in the near future.

"[W]e need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, 'Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.' [...]

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.... Our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

This wasn't just some throwaway line -- McConnell is explaining, on the record, how he intends to approach the policymaking process in 2011 and 2012. And as far as the Republicans' Senate leader is concerned, all of his efforts will be built around destruction.

It's tempting to think responsible lawmakers, when asked about their top goals, would talk about job creation, national security, immigration policy, energy, etc. But not Mitch McConnell. He sees destroying the president of the United States in the midst of multiple crises as his "single most important" goal. This is what the administration is supposed to negotiate with next year.

Even Joe Scarborough characterized McConnell's comments as "embarrassing" and "pathetic." He's right.

This comes, by the way, on the heels of several other high-profile Republicans admitting last week that they have no intention of compromising with the White House on anything.

The obvious takeaway here is that GOP leaders have literally no interest in actually solving problems or passing legislation. None. But the larger truth is that President Obama, who's spoken a bit lately about the need for "humility," needs to realize that Republican obstinacy and extremist tactics aren't going to get better after the midterms; they're going to get worse.

McConnell and his cohorts have made abundantly clear that Americans' welfare and the nation's future pale in comparison to the Republican quest for power. The president stands in the way. If he's not prepared for what they intend to bring, the showdown isn't going to go well.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share

THE CAMPAIGN ROAD NOT TRAVELED.... In Virginia's 7th congressional district, it's probably fair to say Democratic nominee Rick Waugh has no realistic chance of even coming close to winning. He's taking on House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R) in a conservative district, and Nate Silver pegs Waugh's odds of success at 0%.

But that doesn't mean the longshot candidate can't make an important contribution to the larger debate. The Waugh campaign unveiled this ad over the weekend, embracing a message I thought we'd be seeing more of right about now.

For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, the ad starts with images of pictures drawn by children, with a voice-over that says, "A little girl who survived cancer, a boy who was born with a heart defect. Recently, it became illegal to reject these children because they had pre-existing conditions.

"Eric Cantor reject this idea. He wants to repeal the new law and allow insurance companies to reject children who've been fighting these battles all of their short lives." The ad closes with Waugh reiterating his commitment to children's health care.

A Democratic source told Ben Smith this morning that the ad "could have been a blueprint for Democrats in other races."

That's entirely right. For all of the contentiousness about the Affordable Care Act, it includes some really popular provisions, which Republicans fought like hell to kill -- and which Republicans have vowed to repeal.

When I first started talking about the "repeal trap" nearly a year ago, this is what I was referring to. Every GOP candidate who opposed health care reform and has vowed to repeal it -- in other words, nearly everyone in the party -- is necessarily taking a stand against wildly popular policies. Dems were supposed to push Republicans into the trap -- pressing them on their opposition to ideas that enjoy broad national support.

We've seen a little of this in recent months, but in general, the effort never came together.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* It seems inexplicable under the circumstances, but the U.S. Senate race may be slipping away from Democrats in Illinois. A new Chicago Tribune/WGN poll shows Rep. Mark Kirk (R) leading Alexi Giannoulias (D), 44% to 41%, despite Giannoulias' earlier lead in the same poll. The latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Kirk ahead by a similar margin, 43% to 41%.

* In Florida, a new St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll shows the state's U.S. Senate race all but over, with Marco Rubio (R) leading Gov. Charlie Crist (I), 41% to 26%, with Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) third with 20%. The same poll shows Rick Scott (R) with a narrow lead over Alex Sink (D) in Florida's gubernatorial race, 44% to 41%.

* In Colorado, a Denver Post/9 News poll shows the U.S. Senate race all tied up, with Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Ken Buck (R) with 47% each. The same poll shows Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) leading the gubernatorial race with 49% support, followed by former Rep. Tom Tancredo (I) with 39%, and Republican candidate Dan Maes with 9%.

* In California, a Los Angeles Times/USC poll released over the weekend showed Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R), 50% to 42%. The same poll also found Jerry Brown (D) with an even bigger lead over Meg Whitman (R) in the state's gubernatorial race, 52% to 39%.

* In Missouri's U.S. Senate race, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Rep. Roy Blunt (R) leading Robin Carnahan (D) by a fairly comfortable margin, 49% to 40%.

* In Ohio's gubernatorial race, a Dayton Daily News/Ohio Newspaper poll shows John Kasich (R) narrowly leading incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D), 49% to 47%.

* In Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, a new Boston Globe poll shows incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) with a narrow lead over Charles Baker (R), 42% to 39%. Independent Tim Cahill (I) is third in the poll with 8%.

* In Maryland's gubernatorial race, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is starting to pull away in his rematch against former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). A Baltimore Sun poll shows the incumbent up, 52% to 38%, and the Washington Post shows O'Malley up by a similar margin, 54% to 40%.

* And in Minnesota's gubernatorial race, a new Star Tribune poll shows former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) ahead of Tom Emmer (R), 41% to 34%. Independent Tom Horner is third with 13%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share

WHEN CONSERVATIVE MEDIA GAY BAITING GETS CHEAP.... Given the Washington Times' unabashed conservatism and antipathy towards the LGBT community, I expect it to defend the status quo on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But is it too much to ask that the paper steer clear of cheap gay-baiting? Actually, yes, it is too much to ask.

Media Matters flagged this ugly Washington Times editorial today, that reads like decades-old anti-gay propaganda.

The destructive force unleashed by the Pentagon's collaboration with the leftist agenda is apparent from the circus created when homosexual activists like Dan Choi sashayed over to the Times Square recruiting center to make a political point in the short period in which the Phillips order was effective. Leftists are only interested in political points and symbolism here. Providing defense to the nation in the most effective way possible is the furthest thing from their mind.

Treating military recruitment primarily as a diversity issue opens up a closet full of absurdities. On what basis, then, would the military discriminate against the elderly? Why can't grandpa become a paratrooper? Should the military not reject someone merely because he is handicapped? Why not a wheelchair-bound infantryman?

Yes, the Washington Times is comparing gay troops to the disabled ... and Dan Choi "sashays."

The editorial is almost a caricature of far-right nonsense. In the editors' minds, it makes sense to compare able-bodied, well-trained, patriotic American volunteers who've already proven they can help keep Americans safe through military service to "a wheelchair-bound infantryman."

As Adam Serwer noted this morning, "The Washington Times isn't making an empirical or rational argument, it's just counting on the reader being as frightened and hateful as they are. There's no response to that, other than disgust."

I also couldn't help but note that as far the editors of the far-right paper are concerned, those who support ending the existing policy -- a majority of Americans, a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and two of his recent predecessors -- just don't care enough about "providing defense to the nation in the most effective way possible."

This is pretty idiotic, even by Washington Times standards, but I'd encourage the editors to consider a real-world example. Take the case of Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. He's an F-15 fighter pilot, and an 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force. He flew combat missions over Afghanistan in 2002, and over Iraq in 2003.

The U.S. government invested $25 million in training Fehrenbach, and it was money well spent -- he's a highly decorated pilot, having received nine air medals, including one for heroism. He's flown 88 combat missions, and logged more than 2,000 flying hours. In the midst of two wars, this war hero is ready to deploy again, hoping to serve his country honorably, but because of his sexual orientation, the government has said Fehrenbach's services are no longer needed.

The Washington Times is convinced Americans are less safe with Fehrenbach serving his country. It's a reminder why it's often difficult to take conservatives seriously when it comes to national security.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share

BENEFITTING FROM BAILED OUT BOOSTERS.... The financial industry rescue from 2008 remains wildly unpopular, and more than a few candidates are running for Congress this year emphasizing their anti-bailout beliefs. But the Washington Post runs an interesting item today, noting that those that received bailout money aren't exactly sitting on the campaign sidelines.

"Companies that received federal bailout money," the piece noted, "including some that still owe money to the government, are giving to political candidates with vigor." And not surprisingly, Republicans are benefiting from bailed out boosters.

This isn't illegal, but there is something striking about the politics. This election season, Republicans are benefiting from a bizarre confluence of attitudes -- the GOP supported the bailout, the GOP is picking up votes from those angry about the bailout, and the GOP is collecting cash from the companies that received the bailout.

Ezra Klein had a smart take on this earlier:

On Sunday, I rewatched an old episode of the West Wing. "Enemies Foreign and Domestic," it was called, and one of the subplots involved a computer-chip manufacturer who'd just discovered a serious defect. The company was doing the right thing and recalling the product, but that left it, and its 90,000 workers, in jeopardy. Leo wants a bailout. President Bartlett doesn't. And though, for awhile, the arguments gets made in economic terms, eventually Bartlett rounds on Leo. "They were huge contributors!" He yells. "Huge!"

The company gets some government help, but it comes at a cost. You can never donate to me, or any other candidate, again, Bartlett tells the CEO. "You can vote, but that's it."

The Obama White House is probably wishing it had added a similar clause to TARP. Not only are the bailed-out companies giving significant amounts of money -- more than $1.4 million, at last count -- but they're giving most of it to Republicans. That leaves Democrats in an unhappy position: The voters blame them for the bailout (most Americans don't know TARP was conceived and signed by the Bush administration), and the bailed-out companies are funding the other guys. They've managed to end up on the wrong side of both the people and the powerful.

It's quite a trick the GOP has pulled off. Republicans demanded the bailout; Republicans are picking up big campaign checks from those that received the bailout; Republicans even tried to kill Wall Street reform to bring some safeguards and accountability to the industry that needed the bailout; but whenever the bailout comes up, everyone's still mad at Democrats.

Even the perceptions are hard to shake. The Washington Post story on the donations noted in passing that "the TARP program was approved primarily with Democratic support."

That's sort of true, to the extent that more congressional Democrats voted for it than congressional Republicans.

But the details matter here. The financial industry bailout was passed in October 2008. It was requested by a conservative Republican administration (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney). It was enthusiastically endorsed by the House Republican leadership (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Roy Blunt), the Senate Republican leadership (Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl), both members of the Republican presidential ticket (John McCain and Sarah Palin), and assorted, high-profile conservative voices (Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck).

Indeed, this year, the National Republican Congressional Committee is running attack ads against Dems who voted for TARP, despite the fact that they voted the same way as the chairman of ... the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The political dynamic here made a right-turn at reasonable, hit the gas, and never looked back.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

UNSOPHISTICATED -- BUT IN A GOOD WAY.... Karl Rove's remarks to Germany's Der Spiegel last week generated a fair amount of attention, mainly because he described Tea Partiers as "not sophisticated" -- a remark that isn't going over well in some far-right circles, most notably with Rush Limbaugh.

Yesterday, Mike Huckabee piled on, lamenting the "elitism within the Republican establishment." He complained about "the kind of country club attitude that we're not sure there are certain people we really want as members of the club and we're not going to vote them in."

Yesterday, Rove tried to backpedal a bit, suggesting he was taken "out of context." Sure, he said, he described the far-right activists as "unsophisticated," but he meant that in a good way.

Rove said his definition of sophisticated is "pretentiously or superficially wise." Limbaugh, remarking on Rove's comment, had said establishment Republicans see the Tea Party movement as a threat.

Rove went on to explain that he sees Tea Party activists as unaccustomed to politics.

"These are not people who are skilled in the ways of Washington. They don't want to be," he said.

Recent history has shown Tea Partiers are easily manipulated and duped into believing all kinds of things. But even in this crowd, it's going to be a tough sell convincing them that "unsophisticated" is some kind of compliment.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share

THERE'S NOTHING ROUTINE ABOUT IT.... There was some discussion on the Sunday shows about what's become of campaign financing in American elections, but much of the talk made it seem as if this year was par for the course.

It's not. E.J. Dionne Jr. explains this morning that this is "a huge, historic deal," despite media reports that have "treated the spending avalanche as a normal political story and arguments about its dangers as partisan Democratic whining."

Imagine an election in a Third World nation where a small number of millionaires and billionaires spent massive sums to push the outcome in their preferred direction. Wouldn't many people here condescendingly tut-tut over such a country's "poorly developed" sense of democracy and the inadequacy of its political system?

That, of course, is what is going on in our country as you read this. If you travel any place where there is a contested House or Senate race, you are bombarded with attack ads, almost all against Democrats, paid for by groups that do not have to reveal where their money comes from.

What we do know from enterprising journalism and the limited disclosure the law requires is that much of this money is donated in large sums from a rather small number of wealthy individuals. [...]

The outside money should be an issue for Democrats. They ought to be asking, even more forcefully than they have been, what these secret donors expect for their money. You can be sure that the benefactors will not keep their identities hidden from the members of Congress they help elect. Only the voters will be in the dark.

I don't doubt that at some point next week, leading Dems are going to note that Republican gains were purchased by shadowy far-right groups, relying on secret donations from a handful of extremely rich conservatives, which progressives simply couldn't keep up with. Republicans and news outlets will call this an "excuse" -- a word Politico used in this context this morning.

But dismissing this as little more than an after-the-fact rationalization is a mistake. For one thing, the argument happens to be true. For another, the new system is simply unhealthy. Dionne added, "Secret money is dangerous. Secret money corrupts. Secret money is antithetical to the transparency that democracy requires. And concentrated money, which is what we're talking about here, buys more influence and access than small contributions."

And right on cue, the New York Times reports, "The anonymously financed conservative groups that have played such a crucial role this campaign year are starting a carefully coordinated final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans, shifting money among some 80 House races they are monitoring day by day. Officials involved in the effort over the midterm elections' final week say it is being spearheaded by a core subset of the largest outside conservative groups, which have millions of dollars left to spend on television advertisements, mailings and phone calls for five potentially decisive Senate races, as well as the scores of House races."

One of the right-wing hatchet-men boosting Republican candidates, boasted, "We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it's sniper time."

Anyone who thinks this is good for the American political system isn't paying attention.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

MAKING THE BIGOTRY MORE TRANSPARENT.... That the far-right would go after Rep. Rep. Keith Ellison (D) in Minnesota's 5th congressional district is not surprising. Ellison is one of Congress' leading progressives, and it stands to reason conservatives would love to defeat him.

More relevant, though, is how the right shapes its message. Jamil Smith highlights a message distributed over the weekend by Tea Party Nation, touting its support for Ellison's GOP challenger, Lynne Torgeson. Here's the far-right group's message:

There are a lot of liberals who need to be retired this year, but there are few I can think of more deserving than Keith Ellison. Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel [sic] for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax [sic] to terrorists in Gaza. [emphasis added]

As a factual matter, a great deal of this is wrong, or at least misleading. That last line was especially amusing -- if the U.S. government sends aid into Israel, which in turn benefits people in Gaza, and Keith Ellison voted with congressional majorities on the spending bills, so he necessarily has "helped congress send millions of tax to terrorists."

But it's that italicized line that's of particular interest. For Tea Party Nation, the incumbent congressman deserves to lose because he's "the only Muslim" lawmaker on the Hill. First, that's simply wrong -- Rep. Andre Carson (D) of Indiana is also Muslim. But putting sloppy errors aside, what difference does Ellison's religion make?

We've reached the point in some conservative circles that simply identifying someone as Muslim is an insult. Or in the case of Tea Party Nation, a disqualifier for congressional service.

The 2010 cycle will be known for a lot of things, but the use of overt bigotry on the right shouldn't be overlooked as of the key components of the elections.

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share

CHARLES MURRAY'S 'NEW ELITE'.... The Washington Post ran a rather long rant from Charles Murray yesterday, lamenting the "New Elite" and its members' disconnect from the rest of us. Putting aside the question of whether it's wise for the Post to publish Murray at all, the controversial writer wants us to know the good folks who identify with the Tea Party believe "elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans."

And if you saw the headline, read the lede, and thought, "Wait, is this just going to be another piece about how latte-sipping Volvo drivers see the world differently from Joe Six Pack?" you were definitely on the right track.

Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows -- "Mad Men" now, "The Sopranos" a few years ago. But they haven't any idea who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right." They know who Oprah is, but they've never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

They can talk about books endlessly, but they've never read a "Left Behind" novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).

They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn't be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.

There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven't ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn't count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don't count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn't count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.

If you read that carefully, you'll notice that Murray used the word "probably" twice and "unlikely" three times. In other words, Murray thinks he knows quite a bit about how his "New Elite" think and act, but he doesn't really know, and he's not basing his observations on anything but his own assumptions. There are a set of cultural cliches about elites, and Murray wants us know they're true. How does he know? Apparently we're supposed to take his word for it.

But whether there's truth to Murray's premise or not, I'm not sure why we're supposed to care. The notion of elites having different cultural norms, vacation spots, lifestyle choices, and leisure activities than others isn't exactly new -- this has been true for a very long time. Indeed, I think that's why they're called the "elite."

Are we witnessing something different with this "New Elite"? Murray doesn't say. Are there cultural consequences of this with broader meaning? Murray doesn't say.

His argument ostensibly has something to do with Tea Partiers, but even that's dubious. If there's some kind of class/cultural resentment playing out, why are these far-right activists working to elect candidates who'll prioritize tax cuts for the "New Elite" above all?

Steve Benen 8:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

Bookmark and Share

FROM THE WEEKEND.... Reader reactions were positive last week, so let's make this a standard Monday-morning feature. Here's a recap of what we covered over the weekend:

On Sunday, we talked about...

* E.J. Dionne Jr. dropped the pretense and described Fox News as a "Republican propaganda network."

* Why it's still a mistake to characterize Tea Partiers as a "movement."

* Extremist Senate candidate Pat Toomey is comfortable describing moderate Dems as "extremists."

* An unintentionally amusing congressional candidate in Pennsylvania seems deeply confused about the meaning of the word "specifics."

* Former President Bill Clinton's campaign efforts are pretty impressive, but 1994 remains relevant history.

* Voters who eat food may have a problem with a congressional candidate in Arizona running on a pro-salmonella platform.

And on Saturday...

* Why the right's fringe seems so much more extreme than the left's.

* Why it's deeply silly for GOP leaders to think the Recovery Act caused unemployment.

* In "This Week in God," we covered, among other things, why it's a shame the Justice Department actually has to explain in Tennessee that Islam is a religion.

* The conventional wisdom about which party is "pro-military" is neither conventional nor wise.

* When it comes to his extremist allies, Glenn Beck doesn't want to believe his lying eyes.

* And Democrats looking for a morale boost will love the latest Newsweek poll, though that doesn't necessarily make it right.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

Bookmark and Share

THE NEXT REAL ESTATE BOOM.... The housing market, which drove the economy into ditch, could become the engine that pulls it out. So argue Patrick Doherty and Christopher Leinberger in a provocative cover story in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly.

A vast wave of new demand for housing is coming, note the authors, thanks to an epic demographic convergence. Baby boomers, the biggest demographic bloc in the country, are looking to downsize as their nests empty and retirement looms, while their children, the similarly numerous millennial generation, will soon want to purchase their first homes.

Neither group, however, is much interested in low-density, auto-dependent suburbs on the metropolitan fringe -- the overbuilding of which helped cause the recession. Instead, these buyers are drawn to denser, lively neighborhoods in cities or inner suburbs where it's possible to walk to stores, restaurants, and mass transit -- think D.C.'s Dupont Circle area, or suburban town centers like Clayton, Missouri, outside St. Louis. Home prices in such places have soared in recent years and stayed relatively high even during the downturn. That's a measure of growing market demand, but also limited supply: thanks to zoning restrictions and infrastructure priorities set by the federal government, too few such neighborhoods exist.

But more walkable neighborhoods could be built (and quickly, argue the authors) if the next Congress will act -- for instance, by shifting federal transportation dollars from highways to mass transit. Despite what Republicans might think, such actions would not increase the deficit, but would instead draw hundreds of billions of private investment dollars now sitting on the sidelines back into the productive economy, creating millions of jobs and neighborhoods that are healthier, more energy-efficient, and in line with the way more and more Americans actually want to live.

Click to read the story, "The Next Real Estate Boom."

Steve Benen 7:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

Bookmark and Share

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER ISSUE IS NOW ONLINE.... As of this morning, the Washington Monthly's November/December issue is online. Here's the table of contents:

Editor's Note

Give 'Em What They Want
by Paul Glastris

Tilting at Windmills
Mad money . . . Regulation by milquetoasts . . . Pulp this item . . .
by Charles Peters

Cover . . .


The Next Real Estate Boom


How housing (yes, housing) can turn the economy around.
by Patrick C. Doherty and Christopher B. Leinberger

Bringing It All Back Home

Want to really fix the economy? Stop spending $300 billion a year on foreign oil, and invest it instead in ethanol and other homegrown fuels.
by Wesley K. Clark

Against the Grain

President Obama wants us to support ethanol. How about we do something better for the American farmer?
by Heather Rogers

Prison Break

How Michigan managed to empty its penitentiaries while lowering its crime rate.
by Luke Mogelson

On Political Books . . .

Surge Behind

An ill-timed but illuminating romp through the golden age of grassroots Democratic enthusiasm -- a whole twenty-four months ago.
by Walter Shapiro

Lines of Authority

"Net neutrality" isn't the only way to keep big telecom companies from controlling what we see, hear, and read.
by Steven Pearlstein

Liberalism Without Limits

When will we know that government has grown large enough? When our freedom is restored.
by John E. Schwarz

Inscrutable Shoppers

If we want to sell more to the Chinese, maybe we should find out what they actually want to buy.
by Christina Larson

Belief in Relief

Why humanitarian aid isn't the lost cause critics say it is.
by Charles Kenny

Moynihan's Legacy

Great writer, lousy senator.
by Michael O'Donnell

Steve Benen 7:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

Bookmark and Share
 
October 24, 2010

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... A fair amount of the Sunday shows appear to have been devoted to discussing NPR's decision to part ways with Juan Williams. "Fox News Sunday," perhaps not surprisingly given Williams' presence for the roundtable, talked about it at some length, including Brit Hume's suggestion that perhaps NPR is racist.

On the flip side, Andrew Sullivan raised a fair point, noting, "On Fox News, if you say something bigoted, you get rewarded, you get promoted, and you get celebrated -- and that's a direct media strategy."

But it was E.J. Dionne, appearing on "Meet the Press," whose words seemed especially relevant this morning: "NPR is quite simply one of the best news organizations in the world... Fox News, on the other hand, is a Republican propaganda network."

Now, Dionne has a reputation as an influential center-left voice -- he identified himself later in the show as a "liberal" -- but it's worth noting that there was no pushback when he made the observation.

I found this noteworthy, not because it was new, but because of Dionne's willingness to state this simply as a matter of incontrovertible fact. We've all seen plenty of commentators, including the one you're reading now, describe Fox News as a "Republican propaganda network." But here was a respected member of the D.C. political establishment, stating plainly on one of the leading Sunday shows -- where such talk is uncommon -- what we all know to be true about Fox News.

Good for him. Here's hoping others also drop the "some have accused" and "many Democrats believe" pretenses, and just start describing the network the same way.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share

DON'T CALL IT A MOVEMENT.... Describing the Tea Party crowd last week, Karl Rove told a reporter, "There have been movements like this before -- the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, the pro-life movement, the Second Amendment rights movement."

The observation was based on a dubious premise. As Rove and other Republicans see it, there's a Tea Party "movement," somehow distinct-but-not-really from the GOP base, with a set of grievances and priorities that is every bit as clear as those real political movements.

But the reason I put "movement" in quotes every time I write about the Tea Partiers is that it's an amorphous group of activists with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no real areas of expertise. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they're talking about. Genuine political movements -- civil rights, women's suffrage, labor unions -- have, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) recently put it, a "coherent vision." The Tea Party has rage and a cable news network, but that's not much of a substitute.

With that in mind, the Washington Post did something quite interesting -- over the course of months, the paper tried to identify, find, contact, and poll literally every self-identified Tea Party group in the country. It is, to my knowledge, an unprecedented media project.

The result, Amy Gardner reported today, painted a portrait of "a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process."

Seventy percent of the grass-roots groups said they have not participated in any political campaigning this year. As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general. [...]

The findings suggest that the breadth of the tea party may be inflated. The Atlanta-based Tea Party Patriots, for example, says it has a listing of more than 2,300 local groups, but The Post was unable to identify anywhere near that many, despite help from the organization and independent research.

In all, The Post identified more than 1,400 possible groups and was able to verify and reach 647 of them. Each answered a lengthy questionnaire about their beliefs, members and goals. The Post tried calling the others as many as six times.

There can be little doubt that these activists exist, and that the political world takes them quite seriously. But beyond this, groups and members of this "movement" don't necessarily even agree with one another about their priorities or beliefs. This even applies to the basics -- "less than half" the Tea Party organizations identified "spending and limiting the size of government" as a top concern.

It's something to keep in mind the next time someone compares these folks to a real political movement. At least for now, that's not even close to being true.

Steve Benen 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

DEPARTMENT OF POTS AND KETTLES.... In a bit of surprise, Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race has quickly become one of the nation's more competitive. Republican Pat Toomey, the former congressman turned Wall Street executive turned right-wing activist, enjoyed considerable leads for months, but as Election Day nears, the race has narrowed considerably. Rep. Joe Sestak (D), the decorated retired Navy admiral, has pulled even in some polls this week.

With that in mind, with time running out, voters are getting a much better sense of who Toomey is, and what he's all about. One recent statistical analysis of Toomey's voting record, for example, found that, if elected, he'd be much more conservative than Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum, and his votes make him "more conservative than 97.9% of all United States legislators since 1995."

He's talked about privatizing Social Security; he blames FDR for the Great Depression; and he believes laws that don't exist are responsible for the Great Recession. And this doesn't even get to Toomey's controversial Wall Street past, or the fact that he compares moderate Republicans to communists.

So, when Toomey appeared on Fox News this morning to make his case, what was his message?

Toomey said Sestak is "extreme" and "outside the mainstream of Pennsylvania."

Wow.

For the record, according to VoteView scores, Sestak's voting record puts him about in the middle of the House Democratic caucus. There's a House Progressive Caucus for the chamber's most liberal lawmakers, and Sestak isn't a member. On the campaign trail this fall, Sestak has boasted of his endorsements, not from liberal Dems, but from NYC's independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Of all the talking points Toomey could push the week before the election, he wants to have an argument about "extremism"?

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

Bookmark and Share

MAYBE HE FORGOT WHAT 'SPECIFICITY' MEANS.... Pennsylvania's 3rd congressional district is home to one of the most likely Republican pick-up opportunities, with Nate Silver giving the GOP a 93% chance of flipping the seat from "blue" to "red."

Locals had a good opportunity to learn more about the man likely to win the race, Republican Mike Kelly, at a debate the other night. The moderator noted Kelly's intention to cut spending, and asked the candidate to offer voters some specifics. Kelly replied, "Sure, I'll address that, and I'll address it very specifically."

And here's what that effort at specificity amounted to:

"Absolutely, there's stuff to be cut. What is it right now? I can't tell you. [...]

"Specifically what would you do? Specifically, what I would do? I would be the most responsible legislator who's out there."

Well, it's clear Mike Kelly has given this a lot of thought, and has clearly done his homework.

He's ahead in the polls, and voters probably no longer care, but perhaps sometime before he's sworn in, someone could take Kelly aside and explain what "specific" means.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

Bookmark and Share

THE BIG DOG ON THE ROAD.... He's the most popular political figure in America, and arguably the only national politician who would be welcome to campaign literally everywhere in the country.

And right now, he's working as hard as he can to prevent a dreadful electoral mistake.

Bill Clinton is baffled. The former president's friends say he is in disbelief that in the closing weeks of the midterm campaigns Democrats have failed to articulate a coherent message on the economy and, worse, have allowed themselves to become "human pinatas."

So Clinton is deploying himself on a last-ditch, dawn-to-dusk sprint to rescue his beleaguered party. And as the only president in modern times who has balanced the federal budget, he is leveraging his credibility to become one of the most fierce defenders of President Obama's economic policies.

"To hear the Republicans tell it, from the second President Obama took his hand off the Bible taking the oath of office, everything that happened after that was his fault," Clinton said this week at a campaign rally for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "I'd like to see any of you get behind a locomotive going straight downhill at 200 miles an hour and stop it in 10 seconds."

It's a pretty fascinating piece about the former president's campaign efforts, which are considerable. By Election Day, Clinton will have appeared in more than 100 events from coast to coast.

To say that the Big Dog is taking his campaign efforts seriously would be a dramatic understatement. On the only day off he's taken over the past two weeks, Clinton sat with a legal pad, late into the night, writing up talking points that he wanted Terry McAuliffe to help distribute to candidates.

Clinton's concerns strike me as pretty compelling. He thinks his party, for example, has been ineffective in fighting to defend its accomplishments, and I'm very much inclined to agree. The former president isn't satisfied with Democrats' messaging and communications strategies, and that strikes me as more than fair.

But there is a pertinent detail that the article largely overlooked. Bill Clinton is arguably the most naturally gifted politician most of us have ever seen, and long-time readers know that I make no secret of my fondness for him (I even interned in his White House in 1995). But for all of Clinton's considerable talents, in his first midterm cycle, his party's candidates ran away from him; he wasn't welcome in districts nationwide; his fellow Democrats allowed themselves to become "human pinatas"; and his party lost both the House and Senate.

I mention this because there's a subtext to articles like these: why can't Barack Obama play this game as well as Bill Clinton? The answer is: there's a problem with that question.

Josh Marshall had a good piece on this yesterday: "Being president is hard. Being president two years into your first term is hard. And being at the center of the polarizing political storm -- as Obama is today and Clinton was 16 years ago -- tends to wipe the political genius and midas touch and all the other good stuff right off of you. 10% unemployment doesn't make you look that good either. This isn't justifying any mistakes. But I'm surprised how short the memories are of many people who do this political analysis thing for a living."

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share

E COLI CONSERVATISM ISN'T GOING ANYWHERE.... Over the summer, there was a major egg recall, following at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer. The Washington Post reported in August that the outbreak highlights the need to fix "the holes in the country's food safety net."

That truth was hard to deny, and even harder to ignore. As we learned more about the story, we saw that the salmonella problems stemmed from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. The need for better regulations and enforcement has been obvious for decades, but conservative, anti-regulatory lawmakers have consistently put industry profits above public safety.

With this in mind, Zaid Jilani flags a story that's so astounding, it's almost hard to believe.

Although there are a diverse set of political beliefs in the United States, there are currently two major political philosophies clashing for control of the American body politic. One, the progressive view, believes in a society where a democratically elected government plays an active role in helping all people achieve the American Dream, no matter who they are. The other, the conservative vision, believes in the on-your-own-society that favors the wealthy, big corporations, and other privileged sectors of society.

GOP House candidate Jesse Kelly, who is running in Arizona's 8th congressional district, championed this second vision a week ago at a campaign rally hosted by the Pima County Tea Party Patriots. During a question-and-answer period, a voter asked Kelly about the recent salmonella outbreak, which led to recall of more than half a billion eggs.

The voter asked if Kelly, if elected, would he help pass a law that would allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies to shut down companies that have too many safety violations, such as the companies that allowed millions of eggs that sickened people to be sold to the public. Kelly responded that he doesn't "believe what we're lacking right now is more regulations on companies," complaining that "you could probably spit on the grass and get arrested by the federal government by now." When the voter followed up by asking, "Who's protecting us?" Kelly responded, "It's our job to protect ourselves." The exasperated voter asked once more, "Am I supposed to go to a chicken farmer and say I'd like you to close down because all of your birds are half dead?" Kelly once more answered, "There's a new thing that comes along every day. But I know this: Every part of our economy that is regulated by the government doesn't have fewer disasters, it has more."

If you're skeptical a congressional candidate could really be this crazy, all of this was captured on video.

It really never occurred to me that right-wing Republicans would start running on a pro-salmonella platform, but Jesse Kelly and his Tea Party allies have a surprisingly twisted worldview. Kelly seriously seems to believe that laws to enforce food safety are unnecessary, and may ultimately make matters worse. Just let the free market work its magic, and everything will be fine.

It's hard to overstate how radical this is. A lack of regulation is literally putting Americans who eat food in the hospital with life-threatening illnesses, but instead of wanting to improve safeguards, zealots like Kelly insist the FDA should stand aside and let us fend for ourselves. Usually, when an outbreak occurs, reasonable people notice the need for public safety and reject the anti-government crusade. This congressional candidate -- who stands a fairly strong chance of winning -- is doubling down. Jesse Kelly actually supports the notion of Americans playing Russian Roulette every time they go to the grocery store.

A few years ago, Rick Perlstein even coined a phrase to capture this ideology: "E. Coli Conservatism."

I can only assume the vast majority of the country has no idea what they're about the elect.

Steve Benen 8:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share

ON THE GROUND IN FRANCE.... There's been a fair amount of domestic coverage this week about austerity measures being debated in France, and the ensuing protests from workers who'll bear the brunt of the cutbacks.

Stephen Hill, in Europe for a 20-city tour, published an item for his Washington Monthly project yesterday, reporting from Paris.

The headlines are ablaze with reports of strikes in France, and the strikes are getting increasingly intense. As the date arrived for the Senate to vote on the legislation to increase the retirement age (the lower house, the National Assembly, already had passed it), things began coming to a head.

Protesters blockaded Marseille's airport and strikers shut down fuel depots which in turn caused a quarter of the nation's gas stations to run out of fuel. More young people joined the fray, barricading high schools and taking to the streets nationwide. Some of them were masked and hooded, raising fears of a replay of the banlieue youth riots back in November 2005 in which 10,000 cars were burned. Vehicles have been set on fire and overturned. Police turned to teargas and helicopters to try and control the situation as the Senate vote loomed (update: the Senate passed the legislation on Friday October 22, but the unions, students and other protesters say their direct actions will continue). [...]

The media has been reporting that the French are protesting the increase of their retirement age from 60 to 62, but this is only part of the proposed legislation. It also raises the age for retirement with FULL benefits from 65 to 67. Most of the French retiring early do so with only partial benefits. This is an important distinction, yet most media outlets have stubbornly refused to report it. It seems that they have decided that the French are whiners and complainers -- come on, is 62 years old for retirement really such a bad deal? -- and want their news audiences to think that too. But that's not the entire story, many French effectively are having their retirement age increased to 67, not 62 as widely reported. It's amazing to me that the media can't get this simple distinction right. Perhaps they don't want to.

It's a helpful take on recent events and the larger context. Take a look.

Steve Benen 7:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 23, 2010

WHY PARTISAN STORM WINDS BLOW STRONGER IN ONE DIRECTION.... There's something easy, if not lazy, about describing partisan pushback against an incumbent majority as little more than a natural cycle. When Democrats are ascendant, Republicans go berserk; when the GOP is running the show, it's Dems who are enraged.

Both sides have their share of angry partisans, the argument goes, but this doesn't tell us anything meaningful about the larger parties and/or ideologies.

I'm fairly confident these assumptions are entirely wrong. There's something fundamentally different about how the left and right approach partisan rage, at least in the modern era, and there's value in understanding why.

I remember Kevin Drum had an item about a year ago, describing the "surge" in conservative nuttiness in the Obama era. At the time, he chalked it up to two main problems: (1) "conservative nutballs" are larger in number than the liberal fringe; and (2) the "conservative lunatic brigade appeared so goddamn fast."

Kevin reconsidered the question this week, and came up with an even-better list.

(1) Conservatives go nuts faster. It took a couple of years for anti-Bush sentiment to really get up to speed. Both Clinton and Obama got the full treatment within weeks of taking office. (2) Conservatives go nuts in greater numbers. Two-thirds of Republicans think Obama is a socialist and upwards of half aren't sure he was born in America. Nobody ever bothered polling Democrats on whether they thought Bush was a fascist or a raging alcoholic, but I think it's safe to say the numbers would have been way, way less than half.

(3) Conservatives go nuts at higher levels. There are lots of big-time conservatives -- members of Congress, radio and TV talkers, think tankers -- who are every bit as hard edged as the most hard edged tea partier. But how many big-time Democrats thought Bush had stolen Ohio? Or that banks should have been nationalized following the financial collapse? (4) Conservatives go nuts in the media. During the Clinton era, it was talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. These days it's Fox News (and talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page). Liberals just don't have anything even close. Our nutballs are mostly relegated to C-list blogs and a few low-wattage radio stations. Keith Olbermann is about as outrageous as liberals get in the big-time media, and he's a shrinking violet compared to guys like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I think numbers 3 and 4 are the most compelling, in large part because I think the fundamental problem with right-wing hysteria is that it's so darn mainstream. In Democratic circles, 9/11 Truthers, Code Pink, Diebold folks, and the like can't get any establishment attention at all. Members of Congress won't return their phone calls or even be seen in public with them. On the right, however, there's practically nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite company.

There's a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists. Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm's length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms. Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

That said, Kevin added that there's "something different about left-wing and right-wing craziness that goes beyond just the ideological differences," and I know what he means. His list is very strong -- I can't think of anything he missed -- but there seems to be more going on here.

So, I thought I'd open it up to some discussion. What are we missing?

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

Bookmark and Share

WHAT SESSIONS THINKS 'CREATED UNEMPLOYMENT'.... I can understand why Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), this year's chairman of the NRCC, would feel a little embarrassed. We learned this week that the far-right Texan, who's spent quite a bit of time lately trashing the Recovery Act, has taken steps that suggest he doesn't believe his own talking points.

While Sessions has argued that government spending couldn't possibly improve the economy, and that the stimulus was one big waste, Sessions also quietly urged the Obama administration to spend stimulus money in his district. Indeed, the Republican lawmaker said government spending in his area would create jobs -- while simultaneously telling the public that government spending is incapable of creating jobs.

But while some humiliation is expected, that's hardly an excuse for rhetoric that makes Sessions look even more ridiculous. ABC News chatted with Sessions this week about his stimulus contradictions, but his response clearly needs some work.

Sessions ... ramped up his criticism of the stimulus, saying not only did it not create jobs, but that it actually contributed to job loss.

"Let me just say this: The stimulus was excessive spending that did not meet the intended targets or consequences and was the wrong thing to do and has created not only unemployment, but the big circumstance with the debt that we're dealing with."

Blaming the stimulus for the debt is pretty silly. Republicans added $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years, and the deficit is actually smaller now than it was when President Obama took office. If Sessions were serious about debt reduction, he could start by denouncing his own intention to pass $4 trillion in tax cuts that aren't paid for.

But it's that other point that really stands out for me. As Sessions sees it, the Recovery Act "created" unemployment. There are plenty of credible ways for grown-ups to look at the stimulus, but this isn't one of them. The argument is just too crazy.

If one wants to argue that the stimulus should have been bigger and more ambitious to create a more robust recovery, that's certainly fair. If one wants to argue that the economy would be in the identical shape it's in now had the Recovery Act never passed, that's wrong, but we can at least have the conversation.

Arguing that the stimulus actually hurt the economy, however, is evidence of a deeply confused person.

The stimulus "created" unemployment? In what universe is that true? Just recently, the Congressional Budget Office said the stimulus boosted overall economic growth in the second quarter by as much as 4.5%, and as many as 3.3 million Americans have jobs now who wouldn't otherwise if the stimulus hasn't passed.

If Sessions wants to characterize this as inadequate, that's fine, since no one's satisfied with the status quo. But blaming unemployment on the stimulus is insane.

I don't expect much from this guy -- Sessions is the one who insisted America has to go back to "the exact same agenda" we had during the Bush/Cheney years -- but this absurd, even for him.

Steve Benen 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a step from the U.S. Justice Department that, under more sensible circumstances, would have never been necessary.

Islam is a valid religion that is entitled to constitutional protection, said a U.S. attorney who stepped into a debate about a proposed mosque and Islamic center in Tennessee.

"To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous," said U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin of Nashville in a statement Monday (Oct. 18). "Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world."

At issue is a court case in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in which a group of locals hope to prevent another group of locals from building a new mosque/community center. That the community has been home to a group of Muslim Americans for several decades, without incident, is apparently irrelevant.

As part of the plaintiff's case, opponents of the proposed building hope to convince a judge that -- in all seriousness -- Islam, one of the world's largest faith traditions, isn't actually a religion, and therefore local Muslim Americans have no First Amendment rights. The absurdity of the argument prompted the Justice Department to weigh in, explaining that denying Muslims in this case would be a civil rights violation.

"A mosque is quite plainly a place of worship, and the county rightly recognized that it had an obligation to treat mosques the same as churches, synagogues or any other religious assemblies," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, in a statement from the Department of Justice.

That this even has to be said in the 21st century is a national embarrassment.

Also from the God Machine this wek:

* The Falwell-created Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college in Virginia, routinely condemns "welfare" and government aid to Americans in need. At the same time, however, Liberty University's students rely heavily on taxpayer-financed tuition aid, and school officials don't seem to notice the contradiction. (thanks to Morbo for the heads-up)

* As if this story couldn't get any worse, Belgium's Roman Catholic Church, already reeling from its suspected role in the systemic sexual abuse of children, was at the center of a new scandal this week after its primate, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, described AIDS as "a sort of inherent justice." (thanks to reader R.P.)

* California's Crystal Cathedral megachurch has filed for bankruptcy, drowning in $43 million of debt. Crystal Cathedral is perhaps best known for launching the "Hour of Power" program.

* The Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage, and Rick Santorum are working together to target several Iowa Supreme Court Justices who ruled last year that two consenting adults have a legal right to get married.

* I believe the right's talk about a "War on Christmas" should wait at least until after Halloween. If only the American Family Association agreed.

* And finally, the Vatican's newspaper is, I'm pleased to report, fond of "The Simpsons." (thanks to D.J.)

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

THE PRO-MILITARY PARTY.... Over the last couple of years, there's been a striking trend that runs counter to the conventional wisdom: on nearly all issues related to the military and national security, military leaders and Republicans have been on opposite sides.

Since President Obama's inauguration, the divide has been unmistakable. On everything from counter-proliferation to Iran to civilian trials to Gitmo to torture to how the U.S. perceives the Middle East peace process in the context of our national security interests, the White House's approach enjoys the backing of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Petraeus, and other senior military leaders, while Republicans are on a separate page altogether.

The general perception that characterizes Republicans as "pro-military" stands in contrast to the fact that the official GOP line has deliberately rejected the judgment of the nation's military leaders on nearly everything.

The issue came into sharper focus this week, with the release of a congressional scorecard from the nonpartisan Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America Action Fund, rating lawmakers on their votes related to veterans' issues. The partisan divide was as obvious as it was important.

Brad Johnson reminds us that Rachel Maddow did a good segment on this the other day, highlighting the fact of the 94 members of Congress who earned an A or an A+, 91 were Democrats. Of the 154 lawmakers who received a D or F, 142 were Republicans:

All of this, meanwhile, comes against a backdrop of GOP candidates who appear surprisingly anxious to privatize the Veterans' Administration.

Remind me, which party has a more credible case for being labeled "pro-military"?

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

BECK ON BRODEN.... Even by the standards of GOP House candidates this year, Stephen Broden is rather shocking. The Republican nominee in Texas' 30th congressional district was asked this week to explain comments he made regarding launching a "revolution" against the United States government. Broden responded that the violent overthrow of America's elected leadership "is on the table."

On his radio show yesterday, Fox News' Glenn Beck said the media accounts don't seem credible to him.

"Stephen Broden is -- I wouldn't say he was a friend of mine -- I have met Pastor Stephen Broden maybe four times. He seems like a guy who gets it. He's a friend of Alveda King's. It is in the press today that he has said that violence is not off the table -- that a violent revolution is not off the table.

"If Pastor Stephen Broden actually said those words, I denounce those words and I denounce him. But I don't believe the press has those words right. I don't believe it. I don't believe it for a second."

In fairness to Beck, he went on to re-emphasize that if Broden really did say what he'd been quoted saying, Beck would "denounce him and I would come out and campaign against it." It's just that Beck assumes, confidently, that the press is wrong.

This struck me as interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that news accounts aren't just entirely correct, there's even a video of Broden making the remarks. Indeed, Broden isn't even trying to deny the accuracy of the reports. Beck can choose not to believe his lying eyes, but reality is stubborn.

But the other angle to this is that I suspect Beck's response is probably pretty widespread on the right, representing some sort of conservative defense mechanism to counter news they don't care for. Broden is open to violence against the United States? "I don't believe it." Candidate So-and-so has an awful voting record? "I don't believe it for a second." There's overwhelming evidence pointing to global climate change? "I don't believe the press has that science right."

It's a knee-jerk denial that makes everything seem better.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share

ABANDON ALL HOPE? NOT QUITE YET.... The question isn't whether Democrats are in for a beating in the midterm elections; the question is how severe it will be. But before a sense of dread and gloom overcomes the party and its supporters, it's worth pausing to take note of at least some evidence that suggests the results might not be that bad.

The Washington Post reports this morning, for example, "In an election year when good news has been scarce for Democrats, anxious party strategists are heartened by at least one development: In states that have started voting, early indications are that Democratic turnout could be stronger than expected." McClatchy reported overnight that "in a handful of states -- Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- the Democrats now have at least a fighting chance to hold Senate seats that looked lost in September. If they succeed, they greatly increase their odds of retaining control of the Senate, even as they still appear likely to lose control of the House of Representatives."

And then there's the newly-published Newsweek poll.

Despite doom-saying about Democrats' chances in the midterms, the latest NEWSWEEK Poll shows that they remain in a close race with Republicans 12 days before Election Day, while the president's approval ratings have climbed sharply. The poll finds that 48 percent of registered voters would be more likely to vote for Democrats, compared with 42 percent who lean Republican (those numbers are similar to those in the last NEWSWEEK Poll, which found Democrats favored 48 percent to 43 percent). [...]

While two thirds (69 percent) of self-identified Republican voters say they've given a lot or some thought to the election, 62 percent of Democrats say they have. This result indicates that the difference in enthusiasm between Democratic and Republican voters may be less stark than some other polls have suggested.

While several recent polls have shown Dems faring well among registered voters, the more important measurement is with likely voters. Newsweek, though, shows Democrats leading with them, too -- 48% to 45%.

The same poll shows President Obama's approval rating getting a big bump, to 54%, its highest point in a very long while. Congressional Dems' approval rating is up a bit in this poll, while Newsweek shows the congressional GOP sliding a bit.

There's good reason for skepticism here. It's tempting to think polls that tell you what you want to hear must be right, but that's generally unwise. For much of the year, Newsweek polls have shown a far more favorable Democratic landscape, and no other major pollster is showing trends similar to this one.

That doesn't mean it's wrong, but it means caution would be prudent before Dems get too excited with the results.

That said, this, when coupled with the other recent reports, suggests the election cycle isn't quite over yet.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 22, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* About those talks in Afghanistan: "Despite news reports of high-level talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, no significant peace negotiations are under way in Afghanistan, U.S. officials and Afghanistan experts said Thursday."

* Nevertheless, Gen. David Petraeus continues to sound optimistic. (More surprisingly, Fred Kaplan is starting to sound more optimistic, too.)

* A swastika-adorned package was sent to Rep. Rep. Raul Grijalva's (D-Ariz.) this week, with a suspicious powder inside. The FBI has determined, as of this afternoon, that the substance is "non-toxic."

* An attempt to limit trade imbalances: "The Obama administration on Friday urged the world's biggest economies to set a numerical limit on their trade imbalances, in a major new effort to broker an international consensus on how to handle festering exchange-rate tensions."

* For the right, there's some kind of Democratic/Republican equivalence between groups using undisclosed funds to influence election outcomes. Given the actual numbers -- nearly $75 million to help the GOP, under $10 million in support of Democrats -- the talking point is demonstrably ridiculous.

* The Pentagon isn't going to ignore the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued a directive that would make discharges under the law a lot more difficult.

* President Obama will name Denis McDonough as his new Deputy National Security Advisor.

* In an apparent attempt to sound reasonable, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said there's "not a chance" he would pursue impeachment against the president if there's a GOP majority in the House.

* Student debt gets worse, as does the ability to pay off these student loans.

* Fox News has rewarded Juan Williams with a three-year, $2 million contract. Imagine that.

* Remember when Republicans said the Andy Griffith/Medicare commercials HHS ran were illegal propaganda? Well, the allegations were wrong.

* The idea of defunding the Supreme Court out of partisan spite is insane.

* Remember the Citizens Against Government Waste ad we talked about earlier? Campus Progress quickly put together a very clever spoof, which (a) is pretty darn clever; and (b) already annoying the hell out of Citizens Against Government Waste. (thanks to reader K.A. for the tip)

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

EXTENDED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS ON THE LINE (AGAIN).... In economic conditions like these, Congress has never failed to extend unemployment benefits. But with the Republican Party never having been this uniformly conservative before, and with the Senate no longer operating by majority rule, an extension that would need to pass in the lame-duck session is very much in doubt.

The consequences for struggling Americans matter.

More than 1.2 million people would have their federal unemployment payments curtailed next month if Congress fails to renew jobless benefits when it returns to work following the midterm elections, according to a report released Friday.

The report by the National Employment Law Project, a workers' advocacy group, said that suspension of benefits would financially cripple people, many of whom are barely subsisting on unemployment payments that average $290 a week.

Christine Owens, executive director of the NELP, said today, "Over one million workers will be cut off unemployment insurance in just one month, starting November, unless Congress continues the federal emergency extensions for jobless Americans. These are people who have been laid off through no fault of their own and are desperately looking for jobs, but would be snapped from the lifeline of jobless benefits just as holiday season kicks into high gear."

For Republicans, who've suggested that those struggling to find work in the midst of a jobs crisis are lazy and quite possibly drug addicts, this isn't cause for concern. Indeed, while the GOP has repeatedly demanded that trillions of dollars in an additional debt is entirely acceptable when it's tax cuts on the line, the same Republican officials have said aid to the unemployed shouldn't even get an up-or-down vote unless they're fully paid for (at which point much of the GOP will vote against the benefits anyway).

Now, you might be thinking, "But wait, won't this be awful for the economy? If more than 1.2 million people lose their benefits, which they invariably spend, won't this mean hardship for those families compounded by less economic activity for everyone else?"

And if that is what you're thinking, you probably aren't going to enjoy the next Congress very much.

Of course, if everyone who's lost their job, or are worried they might lose their job, were to vote in the midterms for candidates most likely to look out for them, this wouldn't be much of a problem. But given that such turnout is unlikely, Congress' ability to extend these benefits very likely won't come together.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share

GREAT PRODUCTION VALUES, DUMB MESSAGE.... One of this week's most talked about television ads is a 63-second spot from a far-right group called Citizens Against Government Waste. It's extremely slick, but what it has in style it lacks in honesty, substance, and basic understanding of recent history.

For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, the "ad" (whether it's actually going to air anywhere is unclear) purports to show a university-style classroom in Beijing in 2030. We see by way of subtitles that a professor tells his students why "great nations fall," pointing to Ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the United States. All four, we're told, turned their backs on their "principles." The U.S. "tried to tax and spend itself out of a great recession," including "enormous so-called 'stimulus' spending," changing the health care system, "government takeover of private industries," and "crushing debt."

The professor, turning smug, tells his students that China owned most of America's debt, which is why Americans now "work for" the Chinese. The students chuckle at those foolish Americans.

This is so blisteringly dumb, it's hard to even know where to start.

I suppose the most glaring problem is with the premise that those rascally Democrats destroyed America by believing in progressive policy solutions. Putting aside the fact that Recovery Act really did help the economy enormously, James Fallows added that the ad is "hilariously wrong" given the Chinese context: "The ad has the Chinese official saying that America collapsed because, in the midst of a recession, it relied on (a) government stimulus spending, (b) big changes in its health care systems, and (c) public intervention in major industries -- all of which of course, have been crucial parts of China's (successful) anti-recession policy."

If only Citizens Against Government Waste appreciated current events as much as production values.

What's more, if this right-wing group that created the ad were so concerned about debt and deficits, why complain about a health care reform package that reduces budget shortfalls? Indeed, why hasn't this group gone after Republicans for adding $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years, refusing to pay for wars and a Medicare expansion?

For that matter, literally right now Republicans are demanding an additional $4 trillion in tax cuts, all of which would be paid for by borrowing, largely through the Chinese. Where's the Citizens Against Government Waste campaign against the GOP tax plan that would, apparently, hasten our national demise and enslave us to China?

I also love the idea of a Chinese professor blasting the U.S. for "government takeovers of private industries." Yeah, the Chinese wouldn't know anything about that. Obama rescued American auto manufacturers and prevented a collapse of our manufacturing industry, but never mind all that, says the silly conservative activist group.

I can appreciate the spot is representative of misguided Tea Party-style fantasies, and many conservatives may even find this silliness persuasive. I suppose the moral of the story, then, is that the left needs to figure out a way to make reality look as slick as deceptive far-right propaganda.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

Bookmark and Share

BUSH GETS INTROSPECTIVE.... George W. Bush appeared in Chicago yesterday, speaking at a conference for a finance trade association, and talked a bit about his upcoming book -- which will be published the week after the midterm elections. There was one point from the Chicago Tribune's report, however, that stood out for me.

Of his legacy, Bush said he "would like to be remembered as a guy who had a set of priorities and was willing to live by those priorities."

"In terms of accomplishments, my biggest accomplishment is that I kept the country safe amid a real danger," he said.

I hate to be a stickler about such things, but that's not quite right. As I recall, amid a real danger, quite a few national security catastrophes happened -- including the attacks of 9/11, the anthrax attacks against Americans, terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the summer of 2001, against the backdrop of reports of a pending al Qaeda attack, a CIA official traveled to Bush's summer getaway to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."

His biggest accomplishment was keeping the country safe amid a real danger?

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share

PENTAGON BUDGET CUTS HAVE TO BE ON THE TABLE.... I continue to believe in a simple litmus test -- if you claim to believe in fiscal responsibility and want to cut the deficit, you can't insist that the Pentagon budget is untouchable. It's an immediate credibility killer, reflecting a fundamental lack of seriousness about the subject.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Republican Party line on this remains ambiguous, and "whether major cuts to military spending will be on the table remains unresolved."

The GOP's Pledge to America platform calls for fiscal austerity but makes notable exceptions for the military. Marco Rubio, the party's Senate nominee in Florida, for instance, generally supports efforts to trim federal spending but opposes specific measures to roll back defense budgets. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who commands a following among tea-party groups, has said publicly that defense shouldn't be touched.

Those on the right resisting any reductions in military spending are actually pretty plentiful -- and powerful. Arthur Brooks, Ed Feulner, and Bill Kristol recently made the case that slashing spending would be a good idea, just as soon as policymakers agree to put a fence around the Pentagon budget so it's protected. The American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation recently issued a report making the same case.

It's important to emphasize, though, that the right isn't united on this one. A lot of Tea Partiers have endorsed Pentagon cuts, and we've heard some encouraging rhetoric in recent weeks from Illinois' Mark Kirk (R), Georgia's Johnny Isakson (R), and Kentucky's Rand Paul (R). Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, conceded recently, "The Pentagon's budget itself is not working right, so there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste. We're buying some weapons systems I would argue you don't need anymore."

What's more, a Sustainable Defense Task Force, led by Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), but featuring 55 other lawmakers from both parties, recently sent a letter to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, recommending sensible, responsible cuts to the Pentagon budget.

This shouldn't even be controversial. Defense spending will top $700 billion in the next fiscal year. For so many Republicans to insist that we cut spending, but deliberately ignore the largest discretionary portion of the budget, is absurd.

The United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, publicly and repeatedly, that the United States can't keep spending such vast amounts of money on the military indefinitely. It's simply unsustainable.

It's the first hurdle that has to be cleared for the rest of the fiscal discussion to even get underway. Those who claim credibility on the subject, but believe a bloated Pentagon budget is untouchable, shouldn't even be part of the conversation.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

BIG NAMES, SMALL MEMBERSHIPS.... As far-right groups organize to help buy elections for Republican congressional candidates, voters are hearing names they've never heard before. Attack ads certainly aren't new, but unknown political entities financing them are.

What's interesting, though, is peeling back the curtain a bit, and seeing just how tiny the number of right-wing financiers is. We learned this week, for example, that Concerned Taxpayers of America, a new conservative group, appears to consist of only two taxpayers, who just happen to be spending heavily to attack a couple of Democrats.

Voters see the outfit's message, but don't realize that "Concerned Taxpayers" is two wealthy guys who created a "Super PAC" that can spend and raise unlimited funds.

Amanda Terkel reports today on just common this is.

With many outside political groups able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision, a new type of independent expenditure has popped up: ones bankrolled completely by just one donor. These funds allow wealthy contributors to dump large amounts of money into whichever races they choose -- often with very little transparency -- essentially rendering the old rules limiting individual political contributions a joke.

An outfit calling itself the Concerned Citizens for a Working America is one shadowy non-profit. Taxpayers Against Earmarks is just one taxpayer who seems to hate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).

Individuals are allowed to donate only $2,400 per election to a federal candidate or the candidate's campaign committee, according to federal law. People can donate to $5,000 to a traditional political action committee, which essentially funnels contributions to individual candidates, and $30,400 to a national party committee each year.

But the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Citizens United cleared the way for a federal court's decision in Speechnow.org v. FEC, which opened the floodgates for unlimited election spending by certain outside groups, as long as they do not coordinate their activities with any political candidates or party committees.

In the past, independent expenditures needed to collect contributions from a large number of individuals, who were bound by federal contribution limits, in order to be influential. Even currently, the vast majority still do. But what's also now possible is that an individual can start one of these groups, be the sole funder and therefore direct in which race -- or races -- he or she wants to intervene. Essentially, for the very wealthy, the old rules no longer exist.

The Wild West of campaign financing sure is unpleasant.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

DEMINT EYES DEFUNDING OF NPR, PBS.... I suppose this was the inevitable result of the Juan Williams firing. When Fox News personalities are under fire, congressional Republicans are generally willing to intervene.

Conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina today announced plans to introduce legislation stripping federal funding from National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service. [...]

The firing prompted calls from Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and others on the right to strip NPR of funding, and now DeMint, who is beloved in the Tea Party movement despite his Senate perch, has taken up the call.

"Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree. The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today's issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda," he said in a statement.

Of course, anyone who's listened to NPR knows how very wrong that is, but this little stunt isn't about accuracy; it's about the right's anti-media campaign.

DeMint's statement added, "Since 2001, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds programming for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service, has received nearly $4 billion in taxpayer money."

I don't know if that's true -- DeMint is not above making things up -- but let's say for the sake of conversation that the figure is accurate, and that the CPB has received nearly $4 billion since 2001. My next question is, why is DeMint just starting to care now?

DeMint was elected to Congress in 1998, and has been in the Senate since 2004. As far as I can tell, he's never tried to strip the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of its public financing before. NPR fires one pretty awful political commentator for, among other things, having a problem with one of the world's largest religions, and now DeMint is ready act?

House Republicans -- who had a majority and a Republican president for six years not too long ago, but took no interest in this -- are making similar noises, despite not having lifted a finger on this for years.

I have no idea how or whether this will resonate with the public, though I seem to recall Newt Gingrich getting vilified in the mid-'90s for trying to "kill Big Bird" when a similar effort came up.

But it's not unreasonable to wonder whether Republicans are tripping over their own closing statement here. Instead of talking about any of the issues that have worked pretty well for them, leading GOP officials want to talk about ... the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Dave Weigel asked, "Doesn't this remind that voter whom the Democrats are trying to spook with Christine O'Donnell attacks that the GOP he's voting for is going to wage culture war as much as it's going to try and bring back jobs?"

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

Bookmark and Share

FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* President Obama's travel schedule has added a few more campaign stops. In the final weekend of the election cycle, the president will hold rallies in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Chicago, and Cleveland.

* In Ohio, the latest Time/CNN poll shows incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D) actually leading John Kasich (R), 48% to 47%. No other poll in recent weeks shows Kasich trailing, so take it with a grain of salt. The same poll shows Rob Portman leading Ohio's U.S. Senate race by 15 points.

* Florida's gubernatorial race couldn't be much closer, with a new Sunshine State News Poll showing Alex Sink (D) and Rick Scott (R) tied at 45% each.

* Speaking of competitive gubernatorial races, the race to replace Gov. Ed Rendell (D) in Pennsylvania looked like a blowout up until very recently, and now a new Quinnipiac poll shows Tom Corbett's (R) lead over Dan Onorato (D) shrinking to just five points, 49% to 44%.

* In Nevada, extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) has taken to literally shushing reporters who ask questions she doesn't like.

* In a reminder of why GOP candidates are poised to do very well despite the Republican National Committee, the national party wrote a $15,000 check to Guam recently, hoping to boost a Republican candidate running in the island territory's gubernatorial election.

* In Connecticut's U.S. Senate race, Richard Blumenthal (D) appears to be pulling away, with a new Suffolk University poll showing him leading Linda McMahon (R), 57% to 39%.

* In Arkansas, the latest Time/CNN poll shows incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) trailing John Boozman (R), 55% to 41%, in one of the year's easiest GOP pick-ups. The same poll, however, also shows incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe (D) cruising to re-election, despite the state's shift to the sharp right.

* In Illinois' gubernatorial race, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Bill Brady (R) narrowly leading Gov. Pat Quinn (D), 42% to 41%.

* And in New York's gubernatorial race, the latest Marist poll shows Andrew Cuomo (D) with a big lead over Carl Paladino (R), 60% to 37%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

Bookmark and Share

DON'T PUT VIOLENCE 'ON THE TABLE'.... No sooner do I publish an item about a House Republican candidate and politically violent rhetoric than an even more striking example comes up.

In Texas' 30th congressional district, Republican candidate Stephen Broden was asked to explain comments he made regarding launching a "revolution" against the United States government. His response wasn't compelling.

"If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary," Broden said, adding the nation was founded on a violent revolt against Britain's King George III.

Watson asked if violence would be in option in 2010, under the current government.

"The option is on the table. I don't think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms," Broden said, without elaborating. "However, it is not the first option."

How gracious of him. He hasn't ruled out a violent overthrow of our government, but he's not ready to take up arms against the United States as a "first option."

I feel safer already.

For what it's worth, Broden appears to be a longshot in his race against incumbent Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D), but the fact that his violence-related rhetoric hasn't been enough to cause the Republican Party at any level to denounce Broden isn't exactly encouraging.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

'I'D TRUST HIM WITH MY BULLET'.... I realize it's a contentious election season, and candidates, pundits, and even regular ol' voters are going to push the rhetorical envelope a bit. But I continue to feel deeply uncomfortable with instances in which the right talks up using violence for political ends.

In New York's 20th district, Republican Chris Gibson is taking on incumbent Rep. Scott Murphy (D), and using all of the old, tired talking points. But in a new video, Gibson, after complaining about "big government," asks a group of voters, "What do you think he thinks of your privacy? You trust a guy like that with your guns?"

Many in the audience say, "No," but one attendee is clearly heard yelling out, "I'd trust him with my bullet!" Gibson said nothing in response.

The Republican campaign argued yesterday that the far-right candidate didn't hear the comment. That's very hard to believe -- not only is the remark easily heard on the clip, but Gibson appears to look right at the guy after he said it.

Now, I have no idea whether the voter who yelled out actually intends to commit an act of violence -- we can certainly hope not -- but I'd feel a whole lot better about Republican candidates like Gibson if they were willing to tell their supporters that such talk is unacceptable.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox once said, "To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men." Chris Gibson offers a pretty clear example of this.

What's more, Chris Gibson told the same group, "We are facing threats from both abroad and from within. Al-Qaida from abroad and federal encroachment here at home."

What kind of candidate for public office compares the government of the United States to al Qaeda? I guess the kind of candidate who remains silent when a supporter talks about shooting his opponent.

Gibson, by the way, remains a very competitive GOP challenger, with a chance of actually winning that seat.

Update: What's more, Gibson isn't just some random fringe candidate who won a primary on a fluke -- he's a member of the NRCC's "Young Guns" program.

Second Update: I originally thought the "bullet" and "al Qaeda" remarks were from separate events, but they came from the same gathering. I've corrected the text accordingly.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

HEALTH CARE POLL SEVERELY UNDERCUTS GOP MESSAGE.... The good news for Republicans in the new Associated Press poll is that the smear campaign against health care reform remains largely effective -- Americans don't necessarily know what it's in the Affordable Care Act, but a majority of them still don't like it.

The bad news is public attitudes still aren't close to where the right wants them to be.

First it was President Barack Obama's health care overhaul that divided the nation. Now it's the Republican cry for repeal.

An Associated Press-GfK poll found likely voters evenly split on whether the law should be scrapped or retooled to make even bigger changes in the way Americans get their health care.

Tea party enthusiasm for repeal has failed to catch on with other groups, the poll found, which may be a problem for Republicans vowing to strike down Obama's signature accomplishment if they gain control of Congress in the Nov. 2 elections.

As far as conservatives go, the line is pretty straightforward: the new health care law is unpopular because Americans are uncomfortable with how sweeping it is and how far it goes. It's this sentiment, they assume, that will fuel Republicans' "repeal" push.

But their assumptions are still wrong. In the AP poll, 37% adopt the far-right line and prefer a full repeal, but a nearly identical number, 36%, want revisions to the Affordable Care Act so that it goes even further. These 36% aren't necessarily thrilled with the new law, but from their perspective, they want the reforms to be more expansive, not less.

And if I had to guess, of the 37% who want a full repeal, that number would drop considerably if these folks knew what the consequences would be.

I wonder what the discourse would be like if equal attention were paid to those who want even more ambitious health care reforms, as compared to those who think the Affordable Care Act is some sort of secret communist plot.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

Bookmark and Share

HATCHET-MEN ARE NOT WITHOUT A SENSE OF HUMOR.... In Nevada's U.S. Senate race, a new ad from the Karl Rove-affiliated group Crossroads GPS asks voters, "Are you tired of all these negative political ads?"

It's almost amusing.

The ad pretends to be a positive spot, complete with a squealing-brakes sound effect and a rhetorical "Are you tired of all these negative political ads?" Of course, Crossroads GPS is an anonymous money mill, and there's no sense in "wasting" undisclosed funds on a positive spot. So the ad quickly pivots back to the same old misinformation about Democratic policies. It's a rare beast: a negative attack ad that decries negative attack ads.

I'd go just a little further still -- a group that specializes in running almost nothing but deceptive and negative attack ads, created in part by a GOP hatchet-man who specializes in crafting nothing but deceptive and negative attack ads, is running a spot that's deceptive and negative, asking voters, "Are you tired of all these negative political ads?"

Down the rabbit hole we go.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

Bookmark and Share

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR FUTURE OBSTINACY.... I distinctly remember President Clinton's State of the Union address in 1995, just a few months after Republicans took back Congress. If anyone was wondering whether he'd be combative in the wake of a dreadful midterm cycle, Clinton quickly showed otherwise, insisting that the GOP-led Congress and the Democratic White House must "work together." All told, he used the word "together" 17 times in the speech.

Given the way the political winds are blowing, it's easy to imagine President Obama delivering a similar address early next year, trying to find areas of agreement and policies where compromise is possible.

With that in mind, Republicans are already laying the groundwork, making clear they have no intention of compromising with anyone.

The third-ranking Republican plans to tell an audience in Florida on Thursday that GOP congresses of yesteryear compromised "too much" -- a warning to Republicans who are signaling that they'd be willing to work with the Obama administration on some issues.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, in a clear jab at a Wall Street Journal story that indicated the GOP would look to avoid gridlock, plans to say that "there can be no compromise that allows more borrowing, more spending, more deficits and more debt."

"Now, the last few days there has been some talk about how Republicans could avoid the 'mistakes' of 1995 by seeking compromise with this administration," according to an excerpt reported by the conservative blog Redstate. "The last Republican Congress didn't suffer from too little compromise, it suffered from too much."

Pence's remarks come the same week as Ken Buck (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Colorado, insisted that he'll refuse to cooperate with those he disagrees with if elected. "I think it's wrong to compromise your values to fit in with the social climate in Washington, D.C.," he said. "When it comes to spending, I'm not compromising. I don't care who, what, when or where, I'm not compromising."

The polling on this can be a little tricky, but I suspect much of the American mainstream -- especially self-identified "independents" -- likes the idea of policymakers from different parties finding areas of common ground and making compromises to advance solutions. I tend to think far too much is made of this -- I prefer policies with merit, whether they enjoy bipartisan support or not, and think it's a mistake to ignore the substantive differences between the parties -- but it still seems pretty clear that a huge chunk of the electorate, exasperated by partisan fights, can't imagine why Democratic and Republican leaders won't make concessions and reach agreements on key issues.

Which is why I think remarks like those from Pence and Buck are actually pretty important. Eleven days before Election Day, high-profile Republicans want Americans to know that a vote for the GOP is a vote against compromise, against bipartisan agreements, and against powerful officials working together with a sense of common purpose.

Is this the sort of message that resonates with voters?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share

PRESIDENT OBAMA: 'IT GETS BETTER'.... With several recent youth suicides stemming from anti-gay bullying, an initiative like the It Gets Better Project has an opportunity to make an enormous difference. As part of the effort, created last month by Dan Savage, people from a variety of backgrounds submit videos reminding LGBT young people that in time, life really does get better, even if it's hard to imagine a better future now.

Last night, the initiative received a major boost from the White House, with President Obama recording a video for the project. "You are not alone," the president explained. "You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything to deserve being bullied. And there is a whole world waiting for you, filled with possibilities. There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are. And so, if you ever feel like because of bullying, because of what people are saying, that you're getting down on yourself, you've got to make sure to reach out to people you trust. Whether it's your parents, teachers, folks that you know care about you just the way you are. You've got to reach out to them, don't feel like you're in this by yourself.

"The other thing you need to know is, things will get better. And more than that, with time you're going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength. You'll look back on the struggles you've faced with compassion and wisdom."

What's more, the White House posted an item from Brian Bond, the deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, who not only shared his own story about being taunted as a young person, but who who also acknowledged that he considered suicide. His piece on the White House blog also includes links and information on anti-bullying resources.

All of this comes the same week as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also recorded a video message for the It Gets Better project.

I don't know what the response will be from the LGBT community about these efforts, and I suppose it's possible that some of the frustrations surrounding DADT and other issues will lead some to look askance at all of this.

But if we put politics and motivations aside, if even just one young person who's feeling isolated and who's struggling right now sees President Obama's video and feels a little more hopeful about his or her future, then this will have been well worth it.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 21, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The total is still obviously too high, but it was good to see the initial jobless claims drop even more than expected over the last week.

* Passing the Affordable Care Act was a milestone achievement, but it was the first of many steps. Implementing the new law will be a major undertaking, and today's initial work on medical-loss ratios was very encouraging. (When consumer advocates are thrilled, and insurance industry lobbyists are not, it's a good sign.)

* I realize why the Juan Williams story is interesting, but reasonable people should be able to agree his story isn't similar to Shirley Sherrod's.

* Most of the benefactors backing Karl Rove's attack operations are still secret, but not all of them -- the financier of the Swift Boat Liars ponied up $7 million recently.

* As you've no doubt heard, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the Pentagon to go back to enforcing DADT late yesterday.

* Farcical: "Dick Morris used his position as a Fox News 'political analyst' to tout and solicit donations for the Republican-aligned group Americans for New Leadership weeks after they began paying him thousands of dollars. During his appearances, Morris did not disclose that he was receiving money from the group."

* Speaking of Fox News, the Republican network is being sued by a former employee who claims he was fired after complaining about workplace racism.

* The regional trends are unmistakable: in the Northeast, where sex-ed is the norm, teen-birth rates are extremely low. In the "Bible Belt," where abstinence education is the norm, teen-birth rates are extremely high. That's not a coincidence.

* I don't really mind that Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D) attacked the Affordable Care Act in the Wall Street Journal. I mind that his argument is filled with errors of fact and judgment.

* The country seems to be growing a lot more segregated by education.

* Have I mentioned lately that Tom Toles is a national treasure? Well, he is.

* A Tea Party group in South Dakota is sponsoring an event with Glenn Beck in just a few days. The venue holds 10,000 people, and around 9,000 seats are still available.

* And my favorite quote of the day comes from a woman named Kelly Khuri, a prominent Tea Party activist in Indiana, who tried to explain why she's so opposed to the idea of dealing with the climate crisis. "Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it's all just a money-control avenue," Khuri said. "Some people say I'm extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too." That has to be one of my favorite quotes in a long while.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

THE SUBTEXT OF DISHING PALIN DIRT.... Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is obviously one of the more active national players this year, making plenty of campaign appearances for her preferred far-right candidates. Jonathan Martin notes today that those who come in contact with her and her team, however, are left feeling "angered and frustrated."

The election is two weeks away, but the campaign trail reviews of Sarah Palin already are in, and they aren't pretty.

According to multiple Republican campaign sources, the former Alaska governor wreaks havoc on campaign logistics and planning. She offers little notice about her availability, refuses to do certain events, is obsessive about press coverage and sometimes backs out with as little lead time as she gave in the first place.

In short, her seat-of-the-pants operation can be a nightmare to deal with.

Martin added that Palin has "trust issues," which means she won't expand her inner circle and can't "establish the sort of infrastructure necessary to coordinate basic matters such as surrogacy and travel." The result is a sizable group of GOP officials, who characterize Palin's "disorganization and restrictions ... as rude."

Martin wasn't lacking in anecdotes for the piece -- candidates, state parties, conservative media outlets, and party operatives all seemed anxious to let Politico know how truly awful it is to even try to deal with the chaos, incompetence, and excessive demands surrounding Team Palin.

But what I found especially interesting about this was the subtext: the Republican Party may love Palin's ability to whip the base into a frenzy, but it doesn't mind dishing to the media about how ill prepared she is to lead or have real responsibilities.

Jonathan Bernstein had a good piece on this, noting the importance of the underlying politics behind stories like these: "always think about why people talk to reporters, and why these particular sources talked to this reporter about this particular topic."

Why are Republican operatives feeding negative stories about Palin to Politico two weeks before the midterm elections? I certainly don't know, but that's my first reaction when I read the story. Are they trying to deflate her as a 2012 contender? If so, is it because other candidates have friends around the country? Could be. Is it because many GOP insiders read the polls, and think she's poison for the party? Could be. Is it because Republicans are at heart hierarchical and traditional, and just really can't stomach this crazy person...ahem, this crazy woman, from nowheresville, who just doesn't look like what they think a President of the United States should look? I don't know.

I thought it was certainly very interesting that Chuck Grassley's campaign was identified by name; Grassley has an easy reelection bid right now and doesn't have to face a primary for six years, so he's pretty safe from retribution, and he may be reminding not just Palin but all prospective candidates to pay proper fealty to him as the caucuses approach. Don't forget the obvious possibility that perhaps it's just straightforward: she really does have an incompetent operation, which has repeatedly burned and angered so many people that it's produced a subset willing to talk to a good, aggressive, reporter. Again, could be.

Something to keep an eye on as Palin gears up for 2012.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES.... Ben Smith notes in an interesting piece today that at least some of the 2010 elections have "devolved" into a battle "over who's stupid, and who's a snob." Ben raises some fair points, but I'm not sure the premise is persuasive.

Republican candidates have served up their share of bloopers -- humanoid mice, sunspots causing climate change -- and Democrats have taken the expected delight in their opponents' stumbles. But they've taken their mockery one step further -- contending as a part of their closing argument that the tea party movement, its champion Sarah Palin, and the left's favorite Republican candidate, Christine O'Donnell, are, frankly, dumb. [...]

In doing so, [Democrats have] also brought to light some of the party's most self-destructive tendencies, the elitism and condescension that Bill Clinton sought to purge in the 1990s, when he matched a progressive agenda with the persona of a likeable "Bubba" to win two terms. Not many Democrats could pull it off.

The most striking problem with the argument is that Ben questions the utility of Democrats accusing Republicans of being dumb, but proceeds to note exactly zero examples of Democrats accusing Republicans of being dumb. Literally, none.

Indeed, it was rather jarring reading the piece. Ben argues, "Waging battle over the Politics of Dumbness may not be smart for Democrats," which may be true. But before we can evaluate whether such a strategy has merit, it's worth appreciating the fact that not one Democrat was mentioned waging a battle over the Politics of Dumbness.

Ben notes examples of Republicans being mocked by Maureen Dowd, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, but this group has two things in common: (1) they're all in media, where highlighting politicians' stupidity is expected (two are comedians, where this is practically mandatory); and (2) none of them are Democrats in any formal, organized sense. They're not candidates; they're not campaigning; and they haven't made any endorsements. It's not even clear if all four will be voting for Democrats.

If four media figures -- two of whom are on Comedy Central -- are the best examples of "Democrats" mocking Republicans as dumb as "part of their closing argument," then there's almost certainly a problem with the premise.

And if the premise is wrong, there's probably no point in arguing further, but I also can't help but wonder: what happens if a candidate, of either party, really is dumb? By that I mean, if there's a genuinely stupid person on the ballot, seeking a powerful public office, is it really so outrageous to think the candidate's rival party and/or opponent might want to make that a campaign issue? Shouldn't voters hear about this before actual morons hold key public offices?

Under the circumstances, I think Ben may actually have this backwards -- given some of the conspicuously unintelligent candidates who've won GOP primaries this year, I'm amazed at how much restraint Democrats have shown. The question isn't whether Dems made a mistake mocking Republican idiocy this year; the question is whether Dems made a mistake by neglecting to go after Republican idiocy this year.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

Bookmark and Share

'HOAX'.... Literally every Republican running for the U.S. Senate this year has a problem with climate science, but some are clearly more outrageous than others. All of them reject the evidence, but some are at least willing to concede climbing global temperatures, while balking at the causes.

But even within a group of global warming deniers, this is some pretty extreme stuff.

Colorado Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck has made his first public comments since Sunday, when he drew headlines for comparing being gay to alcoholism on Meet The Press. In a meeting with supporters Wednesday, Buck tried to put that comment behind him, and urged his backers to stay focused on the economy. Then he said global warming is a big ol' hoax.

The Coloradoan reports that after the meeting with supporters in Fort Collins, CO, Buck was heading to a fundraiser featuring Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

"Sen. Inhofe was the first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated," Buck told The Coloradoan. "The evidence just keeps supporting his view, and more and more people's view, of what's going on."

Now, it's unnerving enough for right-wing candidates to simply reject science and reason out of hand, but once we get to the territory of "the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated," we're into some truly mind-numbing nonsense.

That his remarks come the same week as data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing 2010 to be tied for "the warmest combined land and ocean surface temperature on record," makes it all the more ridiculous.

I'm trying to imagine the scenario that exists in Buck's mind. If he merely said the evidence is "inconclusive" or that he believes there's competing data pointing in another direction, he'd merely be dangerously wrong. But Buck actually endorsed the idea of an elaborate "hoax" -- suggesting he thinks there's an international conspiracy involving countless governments, agencies, scientists, and universities, all of which have gotten together, in secret, to fool the entire planet about climate trends, for some unknown reason.

There's literally no evidence of such a convoluted conspiracy -- on the contrary, the evidence actually says global warming is real -- but for Buck and Inhofe, it seems plausible anyway.

I haven't been to Colorado in many years, but is this the sort of thing that plays well? A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that Colorado is likely to incur annually "more than $1 billion in losses due to impacts on tourism, forestry, water resources and human health from a predicted drier, warmer climate."

Are locals prepared to risk a cataclysm based on Buck's notion of a "hoax"?

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

Bookmark and Share

COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE APPARENT DADT CONTRADICTION.... At face value, the Obama administration's approach to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" doesn't make sense. On the one hand, President Obama has repeatedly vowed to end the policy, and has pushed Congress to repeal the existing law. On the other hand, the Justice Department continues to fight for DADT in the courts, challenging litigants who the White House presumably agrees with.

Complicating matters, while the administration argues that it's simply doing its due diligence in the courts, while waiting for Congress to act, there are many who believe Obama's team is taking steps it need not take. After the law was recently struck down as unconstitutional by a federal court, some DADT critics say, the administration could have just accepted the verdict, rather than appealing.

Even Bush's former solicitor general, Ted Olson, who's become surprisingly progressive on LGBT issues, told ABC yesterday that "every once in a while" an administration will accept a lower-court ruling and choose not to appeal.

So, what's the real story here? Why would Obama and his team fight to preserve a law they claim to oppose? It no doubt seems unsatisfying to those of us who abhor the policy -- and I really do -- but the AP has a compelling report on what the administration is thinking, and "they must secretly hate gays" isn't the correct explanation.

The answer is one that perhaps only a lawyer could love: There is a long tradition that the Justice Department defends laws adopted by Congress and signed by a president, regardless of whether the president in office likes them.

This practice cuts across party lines. And it has caused serious heartburn for more than one attorney general.

The tradition flows directly from the president's constitutional duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, says Paul Clement, who served four years in President George W. Bush's administration as solicitor general, the executive branch's top lawyer at the Supreme Court.

Otherwise, Clement says, the nation would be subjected to "the spectacle of the executive branch defending only laws it likes, with Congress intervening to defend others." ... On occasion, the Justice Department will even defend a law it knows is likely to be judged unconstitutional, said Seth Waxman, who served as President Bill Clinton's solicitor general.

This is just what administrations are supposed to do, and have done, as part of the legal process.

Indeed, Justice Department guidelines -- which, admittedly, are not law, but nevertheless help dictate how the cabinet agency functions -- call on officials to keep defending laws passed by Congress as long as "a reasonable argument can be made in [the law's] support." The "duty to defend" obligations don't necessarily end after a lower-court ruling.

Beth Hillman, a constitutional law professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law and who also opposes DADT, also highlighted a larger legal context.

Hillman said the administration's actions could be reasonably viewed as an honest attempt to adhere to tradition. But she also said the administration may have taken this course to avoid setting a precedent that could imperil the new health care law, which is facing challenges on constitutional grounds.

"Let's say Obama is out of office before those legal challenges are resolved and then a president who follows Obama and opposes the health care reform bill and believes it not to be constitutional could fail to defend it. It's that argument that this would set a precedent in motion," she said.

What's more, also note that while supporters of gay rights are outraged by the appeals, anti-gay conservatives are outraged by what they see as the administration's deliberate attempts to lose in court. Ed Whelan insisted the Justice Department is "only pretending to mount a vigorous defense" of DADT, while Elaine Donnelly, arguably the nation's leading supporter of military discrimination, argued that President Obama is actually "determined" to end the existing policy by losing in the courts on purpose.

I can't speak to the veracity of right's allegations, but I can say I truly loathe the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" status quo. It's discriminatory, expensive, offensive, and quite literally dangerous. I anxiously look forward to the day when Congress clears the way for repeal -- a day that could come quickly, if literally just a few Senate Republicans showed a little decency.

But as much as I abhor the current DADT law, everything I've seen suggests the administration's legal efforts are defensible.

Update: Yale Law School's Robert Burt, who also opposes DADT, added, "If there is an act of Congress, it seems reasonable to me to say that it binds the president and he must faithfully execute it. It is within the president's discretion to say that the ruling in Log Cabin Republicans is so clear that there's no point in appealing. But that's not the case here: there have been conflicts among district courts and courts of appeal that have looked at this statute."

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

Bookmark and Share

WHAT ELSE ROVE SAID.... Much of the attention surrounding Karl Rove's remarks to Germany's Der Spiegel has focused on his description of Tea Partiers as "not sophisticated" -- a remark that isn't going over well in some far-right circles.

But there were some other interesting exchanges, too.

Spiegel: It is, however, difficult to understand the smear campaigns against Obama, claiming that he falsified his birth certificate and is not the legitimate president.

Rove: Please, with all due respect. That's what happened for eight years with Bush. Just before George W. Bush was sworn into office, on "Meet the Press," Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, was asked by Tim Russert twice if he believed George W. Bush was the legitimately elected president of the United States. And twice, the leader of the Democrats refused to answer the question. I was shocked, and that was what we had to deal with for eight years.

But that's absurd. Birthers are pushing imaginary, racially-tinged garbage that has no foundation in reality. Those who questioned the 2000 recount in Florida actually have a strong case -- had all the ballots been counted, of even if the "butterfly" ballot hadn't existed, Bush would have lost the electoral college, just as we know he lost the popular vote. There's just no comparison here.

But more importantly, questions about Bush's dubious legitimacy quickly vanished, especially after 9/11. I don't recall Gephardt's interview from before Bush's inauguration, but whatever he said, the White House certainly didn't have to endure such questions "for eight years."

There was also this exchange:

Spiegel: Are you convinced, then, that the Republican Party will be able to integrate the Tea Party without drifting too far to the right?

Rove: Sure. There have been movements like this before -- the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, the pro-life movement, the Second Amendment rights movement.

Rove's larger point was about the transition groups face as they realize the "system produces mostly incremental progress and takes time and compromise." That said, comparing Tea Partiers to these other, actual political movements is silly.

We knew exactly what the civil rights movement wanted -- they highlighted a system social injustice and presented a moral/legal remedy. Similarly, there were no ambiguities about the agendas and beliefs of anti-war protestors, opponents of abortion rights, or NRA members.

The difference is Tea Partiers are an amorphous group of zealots who don't necessarily agree with one another. Their demands, such as they are, are ambiguous and contradictory. By no reasonable definition are we talking about a real "movement" -- this is a group of confused, easily manipulated activists with no real leadership, expertise, policy agenda, clarity of thought, or internal structure, made up almost entirely of the most hysterical wing of the Republican Party base.

For Rove to even mention these guys in the same sentence as the civil rights movement is ridiculous.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Pat Toomey's (R) lead over Joe Sestak (D) shrinking to just two points, 48% to 46%. Muhlenberg's tracking poll, meanwhile, shows the two tied at 43% each.

* Speaking of Pennsylvania, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Tom Corbett's (R) lead over Dan Onorato (D) also shrinking to just two points, 48% to 46%. Nearly every other recent poll, however, shows Corbett with a much larger lead.

* In Illinois' U.S. Senate race, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Mark Kirk (R) leading Alexi Giannoulias (D), 42% to 40%. The pollster's analysis said the biggest problem is Democratic voters who may not show up, handing the seat to Republicans.

* In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Rand Paul's (R) lead over Jack Conway (D) shrinking to five points, 48% to 43%.

* Going into October, the RNC had $3.4 million in cash on hand -- about $10 million less than the DNC.

* In Alaska's U.S. Senate race, a new Time/CNN poll shows Republicans Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski tied with 37% each, followed by Scott McAdams at 23%.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, a new Time/CNN poll shows Republican Marco Rubio (R) continuing to pull away, leading Gov. Charlie Crist (I) by 14 points. The same poll shows a more competitive gubernatorial race, with Rick Scott (R) narrowly leading Alex Sink (D), 49% to 46%.

* Did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) run afoul of his own campaign finance law by using his coffers to run an ad for a different candidate? It sure looks like it.

* On a related note, it seems as if Linda McMahon's (R) Senate campaign in Connecticut is coordinating its efforts with McMahon's wrestling company, which is also illegal.

* In California, a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows Jerry Brown (D) leading Meg Whitman (R) in the gubernatorial race, 44% to 36%, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R), 43% to 37%.

* In New York's gubernatorial race, Carl Paladino (R) has seen the bottom fall out of his statewide support, and the latest Siena poll shows him trailing Andrew Cuomo (D) by 37 points, 63% to 26%. Nearly 7 in 10 New Yorkers have an unfavorable view of the GOP nominee.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

Bookmark and Share

SHINING A LIGHT ON ISSUE THAT MATTERS.... For a couple of weeks, a wide variety of pundits have said Democrats are making a mistake focusing on undisclosed contributions fueling Republicans in the midterms. Much of the political establishment has concluded that of all the issues on voters' minds, no one really cares about secret, possibly foreign, campaign donations.

There's been at least some evidence to suggest the pundits are wrong, and more evidence continues to arrive. Take the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example.

So how has the White House/Democratic campaign against the GOP-leaning outside groups that have been spending so much on TV ads this midterm cycle fared? Per our poll, 74% say it's a concern that outside groups have their own agenda and care only about electing or defeating candidates based on their own issues; 72% say it's a concern that these groups don't have to disclose who's contributing to them; 71% say it's a concern that the candidates who are helped by these groups could be beholden to their interests; and 68% say they're concerned these groups are funded by unions or large corporations.

The poll noted, of course, that the "overall dynamics" of the cycle haven't necessarily changed as a result of these concerns, at least not yet, but the results nevertheless show that voters do care.

Indeed, the same poll asked whether respondents believe the parties are more interested in the concerns of average Americans or the needs of large corporations. At this point, Dems have benefitted, as more of the public perceives them as being on the side of the public, while a large majority believe Republicans are beholden to big business.

Greg Sargent, who's been following this as closely (and as well) as anyone in media, added:

Again: No one ever expected this attack line to produce an immediate and dramatic turnaround in Dem fortunes. And it very well may be that the above shifts in public attitudes aren't enough to substantially limit Dem losses in an environment where the economy trumps all.

But every little bit helps, and it's very clear that the Dem attacks on secret money are resonating to some degree.

What's more, it's certainly resonating with Democratic donors -- as far-right entities collect secret cash hand over fist, rank-and-file Dems are grabbing their checkbooks to help their party compete in the campaign's final weeks.

I suspect most pundits will continue to scoff, but there's every reason to believe this offensive against undisclosed contributions fueling the GOP has been entirely worthwhile.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

Bookmark and Share

DETAILS, SCHMETAILS IN WISCONSIN.... Wisconsin's Republican Senate nominee, right-wing millionaire Ron Johnson, doesn't much care for substantive policy details. What's more, he's hoping his disregard for specifics is seen as one of his strengths.

Johnson's chat with the Green Bay Press Gazette's editorial board the other day offered a high-profile example. The editors wanted to know about his plan to create jobs, and Johnson just ended up shrugging his shoulders. He vowed to cut some form of spending at some point by some undetermined amount. This, Johnson said, was his "jobs plan."

But this kind of approach to policy problems keeps coming up.

Wisconsin's Republican Senate hopeful Ron Johnson got tripped up on a point of policy during a recent interview: Asked what the Department of Veterans' Affairs' responsibility is to homeless veterans, Johnson declared that his election fight against Sen. Russ Feingold is not "about details." [...]

The moderator pressed Johnson -- a government skeptic -- to explain exactly how the government should respond to the issue of homeless vets. "Are there specific things that you think need to happen within that galaxy of services, perhaps, that the VA has some responsibility for or other organizations that would help homeless veterans?"

Johnson responded, flummoxed.

"Specifically I can't really -- I haven't been there, I don't have all the details. One thing I will point out: I don't believe this election really is about details. It just isn't."

He used nearly identical language at another forum, telling voters, "I don't believe this election is about details. I really don't."

Johnson is of the "figure it out later" mold. Wisconsin may not know him very well, but if folks vote for him anyway, he'll try to come up with good ideas eventually.

How would Johnson create jobs? He doesn't know, but if voters support him, he'll figure it out later. Why does he think "sunspots" generate global warming? He doesn't know, but if voters support him, he'll figure it out later. How should the nation provide for veterans? He doesn't know, but if voters support him, he'll figure it out later. How would Social Security work if he successfully privatizes it? He doesn't know, but if voters support him, he'll figure it out later.

This is, by the way, the same Ron Johnson who was asked last week what kind of innovative ideas he might pursue as a U.S. senator. Johnson skipped right past substantive issues, and committed himself to a "re-education of America."

Maybe Johnson should be more interested in a "re-education" of himself?

For what it's worth, this is wearing thin on some in Wisconsin. The Green Bay Press Gazette's editorial board, almost immediately after chatting with Johnson, endorsed incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D). It was the first time the paper has ever supported one of Feingold's campaigns.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

THE MISJUDGMENTS OF A POOR PROSECUTOR.... There's been a fair amount of attention lately on Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck's (R) handling of a 2005 rape case, and with good reason. The extremist candidate chose not to prosecute what appeared to be a horrible, violent crime in which the rapist practically confessed to local police. As Buck saw it, a jury might think the rape victim was merely suffering from "buyer's remorse," since she'd invited her attacker into her home.

But it's not the only case in which Buck's judgment has come into question. Bob Barr had an item in the Denver Post this week on Buck's handling of a gun case. Barr has a unique perspective -- he's a former Republican congressman, a former federal prosecutor, and a board member of the NRA -- so his criticism is especially noteworthy.

In 1998, an investigation was presented to Buck, serving at the time as one of the top assistants in then-U.S. Attorney Henry Solano's office. The investigating agency, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, believed a firearms dealer in Aurora was engaged in the sale of guns to so-called "straw buyers," in violation of federal law. Buck declined to pursue the prosecution, and the ATF apparently did not at the time appeal that decision to Solano.

Shortly thereafter, Tom Strickland, Solano's successor, decided to review the gun case -- as was his prerogative as a U.S. attorney. He elected to present the case to a grand jury, which returned an indictment against Greg and Leonid Golyansky and Dmitriy Baravik. And that's when the trouble began.

There obviously was disagreement within the U.S. attorney's office over the decision to pursue the case against the alleged firearms violators, something not unheard of. Normally, such internal opinions are kept within the four walls of the prosecutor's office. This is not only ethical and professional, but pragmatic as well. If word were to leak out -- especially to a defense attorney -- that questions about the strength or weaknesses of the government's case had been raised internally, this would almost certainly provide grist for defense arguments to the judge and the jury; and would at least indirectly pressure the government to settle the case more favorably to the defendant.

But that's what Buck did, quietly revealing details to the defense and undermining his own office's case against criminals. Buck was then reprimanded by the Justice Department for his ethical and professional lapses, which in turn led to his resignation. Barr noted that his behavior "raises legitimate concerns about ethics, professionalism and loyalty in one of the most sensitive of public jobs."

The issue is still largely below the radar, though it's the subject of some new campaign advertising in Colorado.

I've long questioned Ken Buck's judgment. He does, after all, support repealing the 17th Amendment, privatizing Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education, scrapping the federal student loan program, and has even said liberals are a bigger threat than terrorists. Yesterday, Buck insisted the entirety of climate science is an elaborate hoax, which is insane.

But the basis for Buck's entire campaign is that he's been a capable prosecutor -- and even that claim now appears dubious, at best.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

Bookmark and Share

RUSH VS. ROVE.... Just a couple of months ago, Rush Limbaugh tapped Karl Rove to be a guest-host for his right-wing radio program, suggesting the two are fairly close, if not personally, than at least ideologically.

But there are some lines of division, even among powerful far-right media personalities. In a recent interview, Rove noted that Tea Partiers are "not sophisticated," an observation that seems more than fair. Limbaugh didn't quite see it that way.

"[M]eanwhile, there are Republican political operatives insulting Tea Party members of not being sophisticated, not having read Friedrich Von Hayek. Wonderful, great people, but just not sophisticated. Karl Rove said this, but he's not alone. I got a note today from a friend, 'Why would Karl be saying this, Rush? You know Karl. Why would he be saying this? Why doesn't Karl learn to keep his mouth shut?'

I said, 'Karl means to say this. Mike Murphy, all these guys, they think this.' It's not easy for me say here, folks, it really isn't. But it's what ought to be a euphoric period still indicates that on the Republican side there are divisions and jealousies and egos and competition.

And the simplest explanation is that the Tea Party cannot be claimed as credit by anybody. Nobody can say, 'I am the Tea Party.' Nobody can say, 'I started the Tea Party.' Nobody can say, 'I saw the Tea Party coming, and I steered it.' Nobody who makes a living generating political support, generating political donations, nobody in that business can point to the Tea Party and say, 'I did it.' So it's a threat."

This isn't the first time Rove has annoyed the GOP's extremist base with observations that seemed incontrovertibly true. A month ago, Rove dismissed Christine O'Donnell as a "nutty" candidate who's very likely to lose. Far-right activists were extremely unhappy with the remarks, and Rove quickly backpedaled.

This is, I suspect, evidence of genuine tensions between the Republican establishment and its foot-soldiers, which certainly bears watching, especially after the midterms.

But I'm not sure either Rove or Limbaugh are correct. They both consider Tea Party zealots to be part of a powerful, bottom-up movement, though I think the evidence is equally strong that we're just talking about an agitated Republican base with a different brand name, led by the nose by corporate lobbyists, Dick Armey, Fox News, and the Republican Party that needs extremists' enthusiasm to win elections.

Regardless, the next step will be watching to see if Rove apologizes, as Republicans who upset Limbaugh are generally expected to do.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

Bookmark and Share

WHEN THE ANTI-IMMIGRANT CROWD EXEMPTS WHITE PEOPLE.... Arizona's odious anti-immigrant bill has inspired far-right lawmakers to push related proposals in states nationwide, but state Rep. William Snyder (R) in Florida seems to have a unique spin on the issue.

In Arizona, of course, when local law enforcement officials have "reasonable suspicions" that someone may have entered the country illegally, suspects are expected to prove their citizenship status. Of course, as a practical matter, "reasonable suspicions" effectively means "being darker than a manila envelope."

In Florida, Snyder insists that he opposes racial profiling, but the closer one looks at his proposal, the harder that is to believe.

What few observers seem to have noticed, though, is a bizarre clause Snyder included on page 3. Even if an officer has "reasonable suspicions" over a person's immigration status, the bill says, a person will be "presumed to be legally in the United States" if he or she provides "a Canadian passport" or a passport from any "visa waiver country."

What are the visa waiver countries? Other than four Asian nations, all 36 are in Western Europe, from France to Germany to Luxembourg.

In other words, Snyder's bill tells police to drop their "reasonable suspicions" of anyone hailing from dozens of countries full of white people.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott has already endorsed Snyder's proposal, and has vowed to support it if elected.

Asked in a recent radio interview about the provision, Snyder said it's intended to be "comfort language" for "Canadians wintering here in Florida."

First, winter is not a verb. Second, as a South Florida native, I know from experience that plenty of families from throughout Latin America spend their summers in the state, too. Do they not deserve "comfort language," or is Snyder deliberately trying to undermine the tourism industry Florida is so dependent upon?

And third, Alex Pareene added sarcastically, "I guess Canadians and Europeans are never in the U.S., on expired or no visas, working jobs illegally. It's just the Mexicans."

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share

JUAN WILLIAMS BOOTED FROM NPR.... NPR has never seemed entirely comfortable with Juan Williams' propensity for nonsense when he appears on Fox News. Last year, for example, less than a week after President Obama's inauguration, Williams lashed out at First Lady Michelle Obama, calling her an "albatross" with a "Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going."

Soon after, NPR insisted that Williams no longer identify himself on Fox News as a "senior correspondent for NPR," though that was his title.

This week, that discomfort reached a new level, to the point that NPR chose to sever the relationship altogether.

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

NPR said in a statement that it gave Mr. Williams notice of his termination on Wednesday night. [...]

NPR said in its statement that the remarks "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."

At issue is Monday night's episode of Bill O'Reilly's Fox News episode. The host went on yet another anti-Muslim tirade, insisting there's "a Muslim problem in the world," and the "Muslim threat to the world is not isolated." He sought Williams' approval, and received it.

Williams told O'Reilly he's "right," adding "political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality." Williams went on to say, "I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot.... But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

In candor, this kind of talk seems so routine on Fox News, I didn't really expect Williams to face any punishment. I hope reasonable people can agree his remarks were ugly and narrow-minded, but this is Fox News. Williams' anti-Muslim sentiment is expressed in various forms throughout the day, every day, on the network. There are no consequences because it's expected -- intolerance and prejudice from Fox News personalities are just par for the course.

The difference with Williams, though, is that he wears more than one hat. On Fox News, he's a token "liberal" who isn't liberal, free to make ridiculous on-air observations. On NPR, he's a less contentious political analyst, who strives for some degree of credibility.

But the tension was always problematic. When Williams was back at his NPR home, the audience was supposed to simply forget that this was the same guy they heard earlier on making offensive remarks on television. It was an untenable relationship.

And so Williams joins Rick Sanchez in the recently-ousted-for-ugly-intolerance club. The group would be larger if Fox News executive cared about such things, but bigotry goes unpunished at the Republican cable news network.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

Bookmark and Share

THE MARIJUANA-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.... When Californians go to the polls on November 2nd to vote on Proposition 19 -- officially known as the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act -- they will not only be deciding whether to make marijuana legal in the most populous state in the union. They'll also be determining the shape of a large and potentially powerful new American industry.

In his new article, "The Closing of the Marijuana Frontier," John Gravois offers a vivid, authoritative portrait of the existing black market economy of cannabis production in Northern California, where prohibition has created a bizarre refuge of the old American agrarian ideal. Outlaw farmers in rural marijuana strongholds are trying to brand themselves as the new Napa Valley of pot, where day-tripping connoisseurs might one day sample organic, sustainably grown weed at a premium. In such a system, the profits and power from the state's largest cash crop would remain in the hands of thousands of small producers -- an outcome Thomas Jefferson might have cheered.

But that vision is already being undermined by political deals cut by some of Prop 19's biggest backers: the prominent urban middlemen who increasingly control pot distribution in the existing medical marijuana retail market. Their efforts favor a much more consolidated and centralized industry, one that could set us on a path towards a world of marijuana lobbying groups, Super Bowl spots for "Marlboro Greens," and a cannabis sector that cannot be easily controlled by the democratic process.

To read the article, click here.

Steve Benen 7:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 20, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Talks to end the war in Afghanistan involve extensive, face-to-face discussions with Taliban commanders from the highest levels of the group's leadership, who are secretly leaving their sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of NATO troops, officials here say."

* The British brand of conservatism sure sounds familiar: "The British government on Wednesday unveiled the country's steepest public spending cuts in more than 60 years, reducing costs in government departments by an average of 19 percent, sharply curtailing welfare benefits, raising the retirement age to 66 by 2020 and eliminating hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs in an effort to bring down the bloated budget deficit."

* A possible shift in Palestinian strategy: "The Palestinian leadership, near despair about attaining a negotiated agreement with Israel on a two-state solution, is increasingly focusing on how to get international bodies and courts to declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem."

* When corporations use the Affordable Care Act to justify scaling back employee benefits, remember, they're lying.

* Remember, while it's important that Karl Rove is using secret donations to buy elections with anti-Democratic attack ads, it's also important that Rove's operations are using those attack ads to blatantly lie to the public.

* From now on, when conservatives hyperventilate about George Soros helping finance Media Matters, they won't be lying. As for why Soros investments are supposed to be considered controversial, I still haven't the foggiest idea.

* It was good to see President Obama sign an executive order yesterday intended to improve the education of Hispanic students.

* A Republican congressional candidate was asked this week to name a recent Supreme Court ruling he disagreed with. He pointed to the Dred Scott decision, which was issued 153 years ago.

* Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-La.) is so worried about re-election, has said he'd consider supporting Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker.

* A radical right-wing group in Colorado has released an ad describing President Obama as "the Angel of Death." Classy.

* Ta-Nehisi Coates had a beautiful item today on the culture of poverty. Take a few minutes to read it.

* Maybe it's time for more consistently reliable fact-checking websites.

* And former President George W. Bush is still keeping a very low profile, but he showed up recently at an Alabama fundraiser, and conceded, "I miss being pampered." And I'm reminded why I don't miss him.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

NOT A BAD RETURN ON A COSTLY INVESTMENT, CONT'D.... I continue to think the debate over the utility, merit, and structure of the TARP program is entirely fair and worth having. But wherever one falls on the substance, I also continue to think we should all feel some relief over its price tag.

The New York Times recently noted that the final cost of the Troubled Asset Relief Program "could end up costing far less" than expected, "or even nothing." Bloomberg takes a closer look today at just the financial industry aspect of the 2008 rescue bill, and finds American taxpayers making a profit on their investment.

The U.S. government's bailout of financial firms through the Troubled Asset Relief Program provided taxpayers with higher returns than yields paid on 30-year Treasury bonds -- enough money to fund the Securities and Exchange Commission for the next two decades.

The government has earned $25.2 billion on its investment of $309 billion in banks and insurance companies, an 8.2 percent return over two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That beat U.S. Treasuries, high-yield savings accounts, money-market funds and certificates of deposit. Investing in the stock market or gold would have paid off better.

When the government first announced its intention to plow funds into the nation's banks in October 2008 to resuscitate the financial system, many expected it to lose hundreds of billions of dollars. Two years later TARP's bank and insurance investments have made money, and about two-thirds of the funds have been paid back.

I realize there's a political toxicity involved with the bailout that doesn't exist on almost any other issue, but part of me wonders whether there's a partisan line the Obama White House and congressional Democrats could have tried but didn't: Bush and Republicans agreed to give a whole lot of your money to Wall Street, while Obama and Democrats made sure Wall Street paid that money back. When Bush sent the money out the door, we thought we'd never see it again; when Obama collected on Wall Street's debts, the American taxpayers made a profit.

Since everyone involved would just as soon forget TARP ever happened, I don't really expect to anyone to actually make this argument. But I often wonder whether an effort to spin the rescue as a positive could have changed public attitudes, at least a little.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

THE PROBLEM WE'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT.... Back in July, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) lamented the notion that Democrats are "snuffing out the America that I grew up in." In other words, Boehner remembers the 1950s and 1960s - he was born in '49 -- and wishes the country were more like it was then.

There were more than a few problems with his assessment, but what was striking was to remember how extraordinarily liberal the country was, at least economically, when Boehner was "growing up." The top marginal tax rate was 90% (nearly triple today's figure); union membership was 30% (more than quadruple today's figure); the Republican Party, which included plenty of liberals, endorsed massive spending projects; and the economy was heavily regulated -- airlines didn't even set their own prices.

And perhaps most importantly, the chasm between the rich and poor wasn't nearly as wide as it is now. According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the gap between the richest 1% and the middle and poorest fifths of the country "more than tripled between 1979 and 2007." We have greater income concentration at the top of the income scale now than at any point since 1928.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently told the United Steelworkers that she thinks such dramatic income disparities are bad for the country. And here's how Fox News responded to the very idea that this is a social issue worthy of officials' attention:

socialisttone.jpg

If you even mention the gap between rich and poor, the Republican response is knee-jerk: socialism. It doesn't matter what these income disparities mean for the economy, for our social fabric, for Americans' ability to get ahead -- what matters is making sure no one is even allowed to consider this an issue worth addressing.

And as Jon Chait added, "By the way, [the screen shot] was taken during the 'straight news' portion of Fox News, not the opinion portion. Just so you can keep it straight." [Update: Reader B.G. reminds me that Chait may be wrong about this one -- last year, Fox News conceded that "Fox & Friends" is not considered part of the network's "news" programming.]

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

Bookmark and Share

WHAT POPULISM ISN'T.... About a week ago, in a rather classic example of why I think the notion of conservative populism is silly on a fundamental level, Glenn Beck urged his followers today to start sending donations directly to corporate interests so the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can buy more elections for far-right candidates. The minions took their orders well -- the Chamber's online donation page crashed after regular folks tried to give their money to the already-extremely-wealthy business lobby.

Dana Milbank fleshes this out today in a little more detail, and explains just how twisted the larger political dynamic really is.

It was one of the more extraordinary events in the annals of American populism: the common man voluntarily giving money to make the rich richer.

These donors to the cause of the Fortune 500 were motivated by a radio appeal from the de facto leader of the Tea Party movement, Glenn Beck, who told them: "Put your money where your mouth is. If you have a dollar, please go to . . . the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and donate today." Chamber members, he said, "are our parents. They're our grandparents. They are us."

They are? Listed as members of the chamber's board are representatives from Pfizer, ConocoPhillips, Lockheed Martin, JPMorgan Chase, Dow Chemical, Ken Starr's old law and lobbying firm, and Rolls-Royce North America. Nothing says grass-roots insurgency quite like Rolls-Royce -- and nothing says populist revolt quite like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In describing the big-business group as "us," Beck (annual revenue: $32 million) provided an unintended moment of clarity into the power behind the Tea Party movement. These aren't peasants with pitchforks; these are plutocrats with payrolls.

Karl Rove recently conceded that the Tea Party crowd just "is not sophisticated," and I'm inclined to agree. We're dealing with a group of sincere but deeply confused ideologues who are just ignorant enough to be exploited, shamelessly, by interest groups and corporate lobbyists who'd never be able to earn genuine grassroots support. They've found a group of energetic suckers, and they're manipulating these folks for all their worth.

That Beck stunt was, however, truly extraordinary. The Chamber didn't even have to lift a finger -- a deranged media personality told his audience, many of whom are middle-class and having a tough time in a struggling economy, to start throwing money at one of the nation's wealthiest lobbying groups. And these folks did as they were told, voluntarily handing over donations to some of the country's richest corporations.

Why? So these corporations could elect candidates who will, in turn, favor policies that hurt the middle class, undermine workers and consumers, and boost these businesses' profits.

Better yet, these same Tea Partiers -- folks who feel like they've been getting screwed by unaccountable, powerful interests -- are also rallying behind multi-millionaire candidates this year, who'll work on issues like eliminating the estate tax for the extremely wealthy.

Milbank concluded, "A movement of the plutocrats, by the political professionals and for the powerful: Now that's something Tea Partyers should be mad about."

And maybe if they were, in Rove's words, more "sophisticated," they would be. As things stand, I can only assume Republican leaders and their far-right allies spend most of their time laughing hysterically at these zealots, wondering how in the world they managed to find such dupes.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

PAY SOME ATTENTION TO THAT PARTY BEHIND THE CURTAIN.... This year, just about every sentence uttered by Republican candidates includes a noun, a verb, and a pledge to "cut spending." There's ample evidence voters actually like this sort of rhetoric, just so long as there are no specifics about what spending would get cut.

There are, of course, a few problems with the GOP argument. The first, as noted in this helpful NYT piece from David Herszenhorn, is that Republicans won't actually commit to any detailed proposal.

[W]hile polls show that the Republicans' message is succeeding politically, Republican candidates and party leaders are offering few specifics about how they would tackle the nation's $13.7 trillion debt, and budget analysts said the party was glossing over the difficulty of carrying out its ideas, especially when sharp spending cuts could impede an already weak economic recovery.

The second is that the kind of cuts the GOP has in mind almost certainly won't happen.

The House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, has called for immediate cuts in "non-security discretionary" spending to prerecession 2008 levels. Independent analysts say that would require eliminating about $105 billion -- or more than 20 percent of spending by departments like Education, Transportation, Interior, Commerce and Energy -0 a level of reductions that history suggests would be extremely hard to execute. (Since 1982, nonmilitary discretionary spending has never dropped by more than 5.5 percentage points in any given year.)

The third is that the idea of cuts is intended to bolster Republicans' credibility on fiscal responsibility, but the GOP doesn't want to cut spending to lower the deficit; it wants to cut spending while slashing taxes by $4 trillion -- all of which would be deficit financed.

At the same time, most Republicans are calling for the permanent extension of all Bush-era tax cuts, which would add $700 billion more to the deficit over the next 10 years than President Obama and Democratic leaders have proposed by continuing only some of the lower rates.

And finally, there's the inconvenient fact that Republicans believe the federal budget is a huge mess, but seem to overlook the fact that it's a mess they created.

The parties share blame for the current fiscal situation, but federal budget statistics show that Republican policies over the last decade, and the cost of the two wars, added far more to the deficit than initiatives approved by the Democratic Congress since 2006, giving voters reason to be skeptical of campaign promises.

Calculations by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other independent fiscal experts show that the $1.1 trillion cost over the next 10 years of the Medicare prescription drug program, which the Republican-controlled Congress adopted in 2003, by itself would add more to the deficit than the combined costs of the bailout, the stimulus and the health care law.

Read that last sentence again. For all the over-the-top whining about the costs of health care reform, the Recovery Act, and the financial industry rescue, all of those costs combined are less than the Republicans' prescription-drug bill (which was passed under corrupt circumstances, and which the GOP didn't even try to pay for). For that matter, if Republicans successfully repealed the Affordable Care Act, that would make the budget outlook even worse, since health care reform reduces the deficit.

Just a little something to keep in mind as Republican candidates lecture voters about how responsible they are with the public's money.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

KOCH BROTHERS PLAN AHEAD.... I realize there are plenty of liberal Americans who genuinely fear a right-wing conspiracy, featuring right-wing zillionaires who meet in private resorts to plot, scheme, and shape agendas to undermine the public and boost their own profits.

But what's that old joke? You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you?

A secretive network of Republican donors is heading to the Palm Springs area for a long weekend in January, but it will not be to relax after a hard-fought election -- it will be to plan for the next one.

Koch Industries, the longtime underwriter of libertarian causes from the Cato Institute in Washington to the ballot initiative that would suspend California's landmark law capping greenhouse gases, is planning a confidential meeting at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa to, as an invitation says, "develop strategies to counter the most severe threats facing our free society and outline a vision of how we can foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity."

The invitation, sent to potential new participants, offers a rare peek at the Koch network of the ultrawealthy and the politically well-connected, its far-reaching agenda to enlist ordinary Americans to its cause, and its desire for the utmost secrecy.

Though the story only touches on this briefly, these are the same Koch Brothers who are helping buy the midterms for Republicans this year, and who are apparently so pleased with themselves that they're ready to plot future successes.

Also note, this isn't just about partisan politics, though it's obvious the Kochs and the cohorts are intent on boosting the GOP. It's also about, as the invitation to the confab puts it, "review[ing] strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it."

Yes, these nutjobs actually use language like this, even when they think no one will see it.

And what are these policies that must be crushed? Addressing climate change, repairing our dysfunctional health care system, and a regulatory system that looks out for workers and consumers.

It sounds a bit like a Dickensian cliche -- powerful fat-cats will huddle in secret at a posh resort, dining on fine cuisine while being waited on hand and foot, to complain bitterly about how rough they have it, and while plotting on how best to destroy those who might interfere with their already-huge profits. Indeed, Charles Koch says in his invitation that "prosperity is under attack" by the Obama administration. Of course, Charles Koch is worth more than $21 billion, and given Wall Street's returns last year, he's probably seen his wealth grow considerably since the president was sworn in.

In fairness, I should note that it's not especially surprising that these events happen. For that matter, wealthy liberals get together on occasion to bounce around ideas, too.

But I do care that the Kochs' gatherings include powerful far-right officials, including Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Paul Waldman noted, "[I]magine if it were discovered that among the participants at the Democracy Alliance meetings were Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- that two sitting Supreme Court justices were getting together with top liberal donors to plot political strategy. To say there would be outrage would be an understatement. Forget about all the fulminating about 'activist judges' on Fox News and conservative talk radio that would ensue. Republicans would almost certainly propose impeaching the two justices, arguing, with some justification, that it is grossly improper for members of the Supreme Court to be participating in such plainly political activities."

And yet, here we are.

Postcript: ThinkProgress has much more on the Koch Brothers' efforts, including their work in shaping the 2010 cycle.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... There's nothing quite as bewildering as listening to the right try to explain their hostility towards modern science.

On his radio show today, Glenn Beck pondered the significance of biology. "I don't think we came from monkeys," he told listeners. "I think that's ridiculous. I haven't seen a half-monkey, half-person yet. Did evolution just stop? There's no other species that is developing into half-human?"

This got me thinking about a story President Obama told about a year ago, after he returned from a trip to Asia. He shared an anecdote about a luncheon he attended with the president of South Korea.

"I was interested in education policy -- they've grown enormously over the last 40 years," Obama said. "And I asked him, 'What are the biggest challenges in your education policy?' He said, 'The biggest challenge that I have is that my parents are too demanding.' He said, 'Even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education.' He said, 'I've had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they're all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school.' That was the biggest education challenge that he had, was an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools.

"And the same thing was true when I went to China. I was talking to the mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they've got 25 million people in this one city. He said, 'We don't have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions. '

"That gives you a sense of what's happening around the world. There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning. That used to be what we were about."

Yes, it was. Now, one of the nation's most influential media personalities tells his minions, "I haven't seen a half-monkey, half-person yet," as part of an effort to get conservatives to continue to reject the foundation of modern biology.

We all hear talk from time to time about "American decline," but I hope people appreciate the ways in which stupidity spreads like a cancer, undermining our ability to thrive, prosper, and compete in the world.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share

WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* In Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race, a new Wisconsin Public Radio poll shows a more competitive race, with Ron Johnson's (R) lead shrinking to just two points over Sen. Russ Feingold (D), 49% to 47%.

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, following up on a PPP poll showing the Democrat inching ahead, a new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College Tracker poll shows Rep. Joe Sestak (D) with a narrow lead over former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), 44% to 41%.

* In the state of Washington, polls have continue to show Sen. Patty Murray (D) leading Dino Rossi (R) in her re-election bid, but the gap has narrowed considerably. A new survey from Public Policy Polling puts Murray's lead at just two points, 49% to 47%, while a McClatchy poll shows her up by just one, 48% to 47%.

* In Missouri's U.S. Senate race, did Rep. Roy Blunt (R) hire an immigrant who entered the country illegally? Maybe.

* In a very effective ad in California's gubernatorial race, Jerry Brown (D) is noting the eerie similarities between Meg Whitman's (R) rhetoric and that of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

* In Oregon's gubernatorial race, a new PPP poll for Daily Kos shows former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) leading retired basketball player Chris Dudley (R) by just one point, 48% to 47%.

* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, PPP shows Elaine Marshall (D) closing the gap a bit against Sen. Richard Burr (R), but the incumbent still leads by eight, 48% to 40%.

* We can probably stop paying attention to Ohio's U.S. Senate race, where a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Bush Budget Director Rob Portman (R) leading Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D), 55% to 34%.

* In Utah's U.S. Senate race, a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows Mike Lee (R) leading Sam Granato (D) in the race to replace Sen. Bob Bennett, 53% to 31%.

* And in Colorado, Republicans launched an attack ad targeting Rep. Betsy Markey (D) for a vote she didn't cast, because the GOP confused her with Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts. They're not related.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share

MIKE HUCKABEE'S VERY SHORT MEMORY.... Jack Conway's ad in Kentucky about Rand Paul's "Aqua Buddha" has sparked plenty of interesting debate, but one take in particular struck me as amusing.

Mike Huckabee is outraged -- outraged! -- by Jack Conway's ad because "the only thing worse than a person attempting to show-off and parade his faith for the purpose of getting a vote is a person who would falsely and viciously attack his political opponent's faith and lie about it."

Yes, Mike Huckabee said, in print, that he disapproves of those who try to "show-off and parade" their faith "for the purpose of getting a vote."

I don't mean to sound picky, but Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign ran an ad in 2007 that described him as a "Christian leader," and explained that his faith "defines" him.

Soon after, he ran another television ad saying "what really matters" in late December is "the birth of Christ." Huckabee had a bright cross over his shoulder while he was speaking to the camera.

Around the same time, Huckabee suggested he personally was God's anointed presidential candidate.

We're not exactly talking about a guy who takes Matthew 6:6 to heart.

As for Huckabee's assertion that it's truly offensive for political candidates to go after an opponent's faith, it's also worth mentioning that during his presidential campaign, Huckabee went after Mitt Romney's faith, telling the New York Times, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

If Huckabee thinks he has the standing to go after Jack Conway, he must have blocked the entire 2008 presidential campaign from memory.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share

A CONCISE SUMMARY OF AN ECONOMIC AGENDA.... Republican Ron Johnson (R), still hopeful about buying Sen. Russ Feingold's (D) Senate seat, has been reluctant to talk too much to journalists, but he agreed to sit down with the editorial board of the Green Bay Press Gazette the other day. One exchange was of particular interest.

One of the editors noticed that Johnson, a right-wing millionaire, doesn't have any specific approach to creating jobs, other than "cutting spending." She asked the candidate whether he was prepared to offer a "real jobs plan." Johnson replied, "Bring fiscal discipline to the federal government. You know, we've got to curb spending."

Confused, the editor followed up, asking, "So, your jobs plan is to control spending. But what about the middle class?" Johnson literally just shrugs his shoulders, and says, "We have to get the economy moving."

I guess there's a reason this guy has been avoiding journalists.

That said, Johnson's remarks, while frustrating to watch, nevertheless offer a concise summary of a specific economic agenda, widely embraced by the Republican Party in the wake of the Great Recession. Indeed, the Wisconsin candidate was surprisingly candid -- his plan to create jobs is to not have a plan to create jobs.

As Johnson sees it, unemployment may be pushing 10%, but that will come down just as soon as the government takes more money out of the economy and lays off more public workers.

What else might help create jobs? Johnson doesn't have an answer. How would cutting spending produce economic growth? Johnson doesn't have an answer. What would he cut as part of his drive for fiscal discipline? Johnson doesn't say.

The larger point isn't just that Ron Johnson seems deeply confused about the #1 issue on Americans' minds; the point is that Ron Johnson's economic message is a perfect representation of his party's entire economic message this election season. Republicans have gone from saying spending cuts and public-sector layoffs will help with the deficit to saying these same tactics will inexplicably make the economy better.

I know plenty of Americans find this persuasive, but I'm still not sure why.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share

THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY LIVES.... The chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party sent around an email this year, sharing a little "joke" he found amusing. His message was that his dog should be eligible for welfare because, as the "joke" goes, the dog is "black, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is."

As racist displays go, this is unambiguously ugly, and the local GOP chairman was forced to resign this week. But it's worth contextualizing the incident to appreciate the larger truth. Indeed, it's hard not to notice the broader, more systemic Republican attempts this year to use identity politics to win votes.

Rachel Maddow began her show last night with another powerful segment on the subject, noting the Republicans' notorious "Southern Strategy," and the ways in which it hasn't fully gone away. The examples from just this cycle were too many to even feature, though Rachel took note of West Virginia's John Raese's attempts at ethnic "humor," Nevada's Sharron Angle's racist TV ad followed by her telling Hispanic students they look Asian, New York's Carl Paladino's racist emails, Colorado's Tom Tancredo's call for a return to Jim Crow policies, Kentucky's Rand Paul's discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a variety of Republican House candidates who've embraced elements of white supremacism.

What's more, there are plenty of other recent examples that Rachel didn't get to, but which could have been included. All of these could have been "Macaca moments" for Republicans, but politics seems to be playing by different rules this year.

Rachel drew a parallel between the current efforts and the Southern Strategy of years past: "Republicans learned strategically, mathematically, that sometimes it makes sense to turn every minority voter against you and have that be the cost you pay to lock up all the white votes.

"As Richard Nixon's chief political analyst explained back in 1970, 'The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. And that's where the votes are.'

"Does this work in 2010? Does this work in more than just the South? Does this work in what's expected to be a low turnout general election? The Southern Strategy now means floating the Dr. Chow Mein stuff. It means floating the anti-Civil Rights Act arguments. It means floating the racist jokes, bearing the criticism for it, but locking up the white vote in compensation."

That's entirely true, and I'd go just a little further. Also note that the Republican Party and its media outlets spent much of the past several months obsessing over "controversies" with unmistakable undertones -- Park51, the New Black Panther Party, Birther nonsense, talk of "liberation theology" -- all of which seemed focused on scaring the bejesus out of white people in an election year.

Earlier this year, RNC Chairman Michael Steele conceded that his party relied on a racially-divisive Southern Strategy for at least four decades. He neglected to mention that the party's affinity for the approach never really went away.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share

DNC HAMMERS GOP OVER SECRET CAMPAIGN FUNDS.... Pundits continue to argue that Democrats are making a big mistake focusing on undisclosed contributions fueling Republican hopes in the midterms. The argument from the establishment, in a nutshell, is that no one really cares.

With at least some evidence that the pundits are wrong, the Democratic National Committee launched this new ad overnight, continuing to hammer the attack ads fueled by secret money. For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, a voice-over tells viewers, "You've seen the ads. Millions being spent by right wing groups to buy an election -- all from secret donors. What's not a secret is why. Republicans and their corporate buddies want to be back in charge. Wall Street writing its own rules again. Big oil and Insurance Companies calling the shots. More jobs shipped overseas. Millions in attack ads to put the corporate interests back in charge.

"If they're in charge, what happens to you? Fight back."

Describing the importance of the ad, DNC spokesperson Brad Woodhouse said, "The debate over the secret money Republican-aligned groups are spending to win the election and the economy is inextricably linked -- because if Republicans win -- they are going to reward this special interest backing by returning to the economic policies of the Bush era that cost eight million Americans their jobs."

Pundit criticism notwithstanding, I continue to think this message has merit. For one thing, ads like these make the connection between secretly-financed attack ads and the issue foremost on voters' minds: economic policy.

For another, Dems want to put a hint of doubt in voters' minds when it comes to these attack ads. Folks are bound to see the spots financed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and/or Karl Rove's hatchet-job operations. With the right blanketing the airwaves to destroy Democratic candidates, Dems are anxious to have voters ask themselves, "Who paid for that ad? What will they expect in return? And was foreign money involved?"

The DNC's ad is set to begin airing on national cable outlets today.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

GINNI THOMAS STAYS AWFULLY BUSY.... The bizarre right-wing activism of Ginni Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife, has taken on a higher profile this year. As she sees it, "there's a war going on against tyranny," and in her worldview, the tyrants are America's elected leaders.

What's more, Thomas heads an activist group that receives massive, undisclosed contributions from secret donors, some of whom may have cases before the high court.

But Ginni Thomas is also generating headlines with efforts that seem pretty creepy. ABC News' Jake Tapper had this report late yesterday:

A few days ago, Brandeis University professor Anita Hill received a message on her voice mail at work.

"Good morning, Anita Hill, it's Ginni Thomas," said the voice, "I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay have a good day."

Hill didn't think the call was real.

"I initially thought it was a prank," Hill tells ABC News. "And if it was, I thought the authorities should know about it."

Hill contacted campus police, but it turns out that Thomas really did place the call, saying she was "extending an olive branch" in the hopes of starting a dialog that would lead to an apology.

Of course, this isn't just creepy, it's accusatory. There's no reason to assume Hill has anything to apologize for -- if anything, the legal scholar's credibility remains unimpeachable, which is more than we can say about the strange Thomases.

What's more, Ginni Thomas' voicemail didn't exactly sound like an olive branch. She called Hill's office at 7:31 a.m. on Oct. 9 -- a Saturday morning -- to reiterate her assumption that Hill was lying, when there's no evidence to point to such a conclusion.

The whole thing is so bizarre, I'm finding it hard to wrap my head around it. Is Ginni Thomas trying to embarrass her husband? Is she trying to get her name in the media to help with her activist fundraising? Does she think her husband was lying, and left the voicemail as some kind of bizarre coping mechanism?

For her part, Hill told the NYT, "I appreciate that no offense was intended, but she can't ask for an apology without suggesting that I did something wrong, and that is offensive."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

Bookmark and Share

LIMBAUGH PLAYS CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR.... The significance of Christine O'Donnell's ignorance about the separation of church and state goes beyond just pointing and laughing. There's a striking push this year among right-wing candidates to attack constitutional principles -- all the while, running as "constitutional conservatives" -- an assault that is likely to continue if they make significant gains in the midterm elections.

In this particular case, O'Donnell asked during a debate at a law school, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" While that may not have been too unusual for conservatives, when Chris Coons reminded her of the constitutional language, she asked, "That's in the First Amendment?"

Of course, Nevada's Sharron Angle, who actually has a strong chance of winning, has made very similar remarks, and yesterday, Rush Limbaugh endorsed the nonsense -- which suggests Republicans everywhere will be expected to agree.

In one of his signature rants this afternoon, Limbaugh excoriated O'Donnell's detractors by claiming the left has used the shorthand "separation of church and state" as a rationale for excluding religious people from government -- as evidenced by the profusion of atheists serving in national office.

"Are you telling me separation of church and state's in the First Amendment?" Limbaugh asked. "It's not. Christine O'Donnell was absolutely correct -- the First Amendment says absolutely nothing about the separation of church and state."

Limbaugh added that liberals have interpreted the First Amendment to mean "that religious people cannot be in government." I knew there was a reason government had been overrun by atheists.

Given where I used to work many years ago, this is a subject of particular interest. The right has been saying that church-state separation isn't in the Constitution for a very long time -- the Limbaugh/O'Donnell/Angle line isn't new, though O'Donnell took it a little further than most -- but reality is stubborn.

In a January 1, 1802 letter, President Thomas Jefferson wrote of the intended relationship between religion and government: "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

The Establishment Clause sets up a line of demarcation between religion and government in our society, and the Supreme Court determines where the line is drawn to accommodate liberties in our ever-changing society. Although the exact language is absent, the Supreme Court has repeatedly determined that the Constitution does indeed call for separation between church and state.

Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" was first noted by the Supreme Court in an 1878 opinion by Chief Justice Morrison Waite. Justice Hugo Black later reaffirmed the wall's significance in the landmark case Everson v. Board of Education (1947). Black wrote "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'" The wall forbids government to actually or effectively favor one religion over another, favor religion over non-religion and vice-versa. Requiring neutrality removes the authority of government from religious practice and protects each citizen's right to express his or her personal beliefs.

One can obviously read the Constitution and see that the literal phrase "separation of church and state" isn't there, but a basic understanding of history and the law makes clear that the phrase is a shorthand to describe what the First Amendment does -- it separates church from state.

Indeed, a variety of constitutional principles we all know and recognize aren't literally referenced in the text. Americans' "right to a fair trial" is well understood, but the exact phrase isn't in the Constitution. "Separation of powers" is a basic principle of the U.S. Constitution, but it isn't mentioned, either. More to the point, you can look for the phrase "freedom of religion" in the First Amendment, but those three words also don't appear.

Ultimately, if you're relying on extremist candidates and right-wing media personalities for constitutional scholarship, you're going to be deeply confused.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 19, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* China rattles global investors: "China's central bank unexpectedly announced Tuesday that it would raise interest rates for the first time in nearly three years, apparently in the hopes of dampening inflation and cooling off this country's hot property market."

* Violence at the Chechen Parliament: "Heavily armed gunmen burst into the Parliament of Chechnya in southern Russia on Tuesday morning, killing at least three people and wounding more than a dozen others before they were killed by police or by their own explosives, officials said."

* Someone shot at the Pentagon shortly before 5 a.m. this morning, possibly using a high-powered rifle. No one was injured, and for now, authorities are considering this "a random event."

* As of this afternoon, U.S. military recruiters are required to accept the applications of gays and lesbians who wish to join the military. Those same recruiters will have to inform those joining, however, that DADT may be re-imposed fairly soon.

* A far-right group hoping to deliberately suppress the Hispanic vote in Nevada will not be able to purchase airtime on Univision.

* With undisclosed millions poised to deliver huge gains for Republicans, there's a reason Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are laughing at their critics.

* Extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) thinks terrorists have entered the U.S. through Canada. That's completely wrong, and Canadian officials aren't happy about Angle's ignorance.

* Repealing health care reform really isn't as easy as the right might think.

* Students with cerebral disabilities are enrolling in colleges in greater numbers, and even if they don't get a degree, the education will help these young people be more competitive in the job market.

* Juan Williams is afraid of Muslims on airplanes. He seemed unembarrassed about saying this on national television.

* And we talked earlier about Christine O'Donnell's lack of familiarity with the separation of church and state, but seeing the video -- and hearing the audience marvel at the extent of her stupidity -- really helps capture the moment in ways the printed text cannot.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share

WE'LL GET THERE FAST AND THEN WE'LL TAKE IT SLOW.... It's always good to see stimulus success stories.

Kokomo is going back to work.

A year and a half ago the fate of this car town, home to four Chrysler plants and a Delphi facility, was as uncertain as the American auto industry itself.

Now, thanks largely to the federal government, the town's unemployment rate has gone from over 20% to under 14%.

Economists disagree over the real nationwide impact of the massive stimulus jolt orchestrated by President Obama. But here in Kokomo, the Recovery Act and Obama's auto bailout have jolted Kokomo back to life -- keeping big industry from fleeing and attracting newcomers as well.

"We wouldn't be standing here," said Brian Harlow, a 32-year Chrysler veteran who grew up in Kokomo and now is based at the company's headquarters outside Detroit. "It would have been a ghost town."

Obviously, when a community's unemployment rate is above 13%, it's not exactly thriving. But in this Indiana town, new jobs have been created, investments are being made, and plants that were closed are starting to get back into gear. Even the downtown area has been revitalized thanks to another stimulus program.

From government managers to corporate execs, nearly every leader in Kokomo attributes the turnaround to the federal government's willingness to step in.

"We would not be manufacturing in the United States if it wasn't for the stimulus money," said Lisa Hardwick, Delphi's plant manager, during a tour of the facility.

If I were advising Democrats, I'd be talking about communities like Kokomo quite a bit.

And if I were a Democratic candidate in Indiana, I'd be asking Republican candidates why they opposed the one piece of legislation that rescued this community from collapse.

* Postscript: Was the headline too subtle? Or too corny?

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

THE TAX CUT THAT WASN'T NOTICED.... In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama noted the tax cuts in the Recovery Act. Conservatives who usually applaud such things seemed annoyed.

Shortly after the speech, National Review ran one piece that said the "strained credulity" with the claim. The same outlet ran another item insisting, "If the taxes of 95 percent of Americans actully [sic] had been cut, surely somebody other than Obama would have noticed."

For the right, this seemed to be a matter of opinion. Obama says he cut taxes for millions of Americans, but since people didn't really notice, the argument goes, then maybe it didn't happen.

But there was an objective truth here. Democrats passed one of the largest middle-class tax cuts in the history of the country, and Republicans voted against it and fought to kill it. As it turns out, though, even those inclined to like tax cuts aren't inclined to give the president or Congress any credit for this, because they missed the news entirely.

What if a president cut Americans' income taxes by $116 billion and nobody noticed?

It is not a rhetorical question. At Pig Pickin' and Politickin', a barbecue-fed rally organized here last week by a Republican women's club, a half-dozen guests were asked by a reporter what had happened to their taxes since President Obama took office.

"Federal and state have both gone up," said Bob Paratore, 59, from nearby Charlotte, echoing the comments of others.

After further prodding -- including a reminder that a provision of the stimulus bill had cut taxes for 95 percent of working families by changing withholding rates -- Mr. Paratore's memory was jogged.

"You're right, you're right," he said. "I'll be honest with you: it was so subtle that personally, I didn't notice it."

Mr. Paratore was certain that his federal taxes had gone up, when in reality, they'd gone down. It's not subjective -- he can go back and look at his paystubs and see that his taxes were reduced when Obama signed the Recovery Act into law. But even when talking to a reporter, his first instinct was to say the exact opposite of what really happened.

The point, of course, is not to pick on one guy at a Republican rally, because he's obviously not the only one who's confused. Less than 10% of the country knows about the tax cuts, while about a third of the population thinks their federal tax burden went up, even though it didn't.

Oddly enough, this was not entirely an accident. In fact, the tax cut was designed to be subtle -- rebate checks tend to be saved, not spent, so Obama made it so that everyone's paychecks would simply be a little higher every pay period -- an average of about $65 a month, for the typical family -- hoping that more people would be more likely to spend that extra bit, and for the most part, it was effective.

But what makes for good policy often has no bearing on politics or public opinion. Obama could have gone with rebate checks that would have been better noticed, but the policy result would have been worse. The president chose to go with an approach that worked better, but paid fewer political dividends.

Indeed, almost immediately after Obama signed one of the largest tax cuts in American history, right-wing zealots started organizing rallies to announce they're Taxed Enough Already. The disconnect didn't seem to bother them, because they didn't understand their own issues, and weren't paying close enough attention to know the president had just given them a tax break.

Jonathan Cohn added, "[T}he political implications seem pretty clear. Obama gets a lot of blame for things he didn't do wrong and very little credit for things he did right. It's not the best place to be on the eve of midterm elections."

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share

ALL WE HAVE TO FEAR IS, ANTI-EMPIRICISM ITSELF.... President Obama spoke at event in Boston over the weekend, and made an observation that struck me as rather obvious.

"[I]n some ways what is remarkable is how, despite this body blow that the country took, the country once again has proven more resilient and more adaptable and more dynamic than I think a lot of folks give us credit for. But it's also to remind you that we've got so much more work to do. People out there are still hurting very badly, and they are still scared. "And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared, and [Americans] have good reason to be.

"Our job, then, is to make sure that even as we make progress, that we are also giving people a sense of hope and a vision for the future; a sense that we will get through these tough times, and the country will come out stronger for it, having gone through this trauma."

This hardly struck me as especially noteworthy. Indeed, it didn't even sound especially new, since I think the president has made similar remarks before.

What's more, everything Obama said seems plainly true -- we're a resilient country, but conditions are still awful for so many. Facts, science, evidence, and reason seem to be under siege right now, but when people are overcome with anxiety, their judgment is sometimes clouded.

As it happens, the right heard it a little differently. Bush speechwriter-turned-columnist Michael Gerson was disgusted, calling the president's remarks "some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president." National Review and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal are at least pretending to be outraged, too.

It's fascinating how Bushies in the media, National Review, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and their collective cohorts always seem to take an interest in the same obscure story at the same time. It's almost as if there were some kind of coordination going on.

Regardless, reading their complaints, it's not altogether clear what has Republicans so annoyed, but it seems to be the president's contention that "facts and science and argument" aren't doing especially well right now. But why is that so outrageous?

As Jon Chait noted, "I can see why conservatives would be insulted at the suggestion that they don't have facts and science and argument on their side. But, well, they don't."

It's not the president's fault the right has abandoned reason and rejected the premise of empiricism, so there's no point in them complaining about Obama pointing this out.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

Bookmark and Share

BLAMING THE FUTURE FOR THE PAST.... Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania this year, thinks he has a firm grasp on economic policy. He took his case to a group of voters the other day, explaining why he thinks the economy is in rough shape.

"If you think of what we've witnessed in just the last 18 months or so, serial bailouts of failing companies, nationalizing whole industries, spending money on a scale we've never seen before, deficits and debts that are completely unsustainable, you add in cap and trade, card check, government-run health care, is it any wonder we haven't had an economic recovery?

"Is it any wonder we don't have job growth? How hard is this to figure out?"

Apparently, it's harder than it should be, since Toomey's entire approach is gibberish. It's almost as if the poor man has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.

His indictment is amusing in its absurdity. To hear Toomey tell it, rescuing Wall Street and American auto manufacturers was bad for the economy, though reality suggests the opposite is true. Toomey thinks we've "nationalized whole industries," which isn't at all true. He also thinks deficits are undermining the economy, which is (a) wrong; and (b) at odds with his vow to add trillions to the debt through tax cuts for millionaires.

But it's that other sentence that really stands out. For Pat Toomey, the recovery has been weak because of "cap and trade, card check, government-run health care." But none of those things exist.

The cap-and-trade proposal didn't pass, and neither did card check. Health care reform passed, but it's barely begun to be implemented, and no sensible person could characterize it as "government-run health care."

In other words, in Toomey's bizarre worldview, policies that don't exist and couldn't pass are somehow dragging down the economy.

In Grown-Up Land, job losses are the result of a deep recession, which was the result of economic policies Pat Toomey supported. He has a few rhetorical choices here -- my personal preference would be to hear Toomey apologize for having been so wrong, so often -- but blaming legislation that hasn't passed isn't one of them.

I realize the parties don't agree on much, but can we at least agree that it's literally impossible for laws that don't exist to undermine the world's largest economy? Toomey isn't well grounded -- the man blames FDR for the Great Depression -- but this doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

THE LIKELIHOOD OF A SHUTDOWN.... Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appeared on Fox News this morning, and was asked, "What about this idea of shutting down the government? ... Have you heard any candidates out there saying that that's what they want to do? That that's what they're going to do once they get to Washington?"

Steele replied, "I have not heard any candidates say that."

Maybe he's not listening, because all kinds of Republican candidates have been saying exactly that. Some have been demanding a shutdown, and when CNN pressed House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the issue of a shutdown, he refused to answer either way.

The question to me isn't whether House Republicans would push the government towards a shutdown; the question to me is which issue they'll use to make it happen.

The most common assumption is that the GOP will pick a fight over health care, vowing to shut down the government unless Democrats agree to destroy the Affordable Care Act. Just last month, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) even demanded this his party's leadership sign a "blood oath" that they will gut America's health care system, even if the effort leads to a government shutdown.

But it could happen even sooner, on an issue that has nothing to do with health care.

The campaign rhetoric of tea-party-inspired Republicans is on a collision course with the federal debt limit, which could make the threat of a government shutdown an early order of business in a new Republican majority.

Republican candidates across the country are attacking Democrats for growth in government spending -- specifically, their votes earlier this year to raise the debt limit to $14.3 trillion.

But with the deficit running over $100 billion a month and the national debt already above $13.6 trillion, Treasury Department officials predicted earlier this month that they would need Congress to raise the debt limit again in the first or second quarter of 2011. A failure to raise the debt limit could result in a government shutdown, because the government could not borrow more money to operate.

It's worth emphasizing that the National Republican Congressional Committee is running several attack ads on debt-limit votes, and several House GOP candidates have already vowed to reject any additional increases. Republican lawmakers, if they're in the majority, may very well see this as an opportunity to exploit.

Of course, these are the same Republican lawmakers who insist on adding trillions of dollars to the debt in the form of tax cuts for millionaires, so their consistency on fiscal responsibility leaves much to be desired.

Regardless, if there's a GOP majority in at least one chamber, as appears likely, it wouldn't be too surprising if Republicans shut down the government fairly early on next year.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... One of the odd rhetorical labels that's popped up in recent years is "constitutional conservative." Its meaning can vary a bit, but it's generally used by far-right zealots who believe fealty to the Constitution requires eliminating most of the American political advances of the 20th century.

But there are a few problems with these folks' ideology. For one thing, "constitutional conservatives" don't seem especially interesting in conserving the Constitution -- they've talked about repealing or altering several existing constitutional amendments, and then adding plenty of new ones.

For another, some of these "constitutional conservatives" don't seem to have any idea what's in the Constitution they claim to revere. Take last night's debate in Delaware, for example, between Chris Coons (D) and Christine O'Donnell (R).

Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that "religious doctrine doesn't belong in our public schools."

"Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" O'Donnell asked him.

When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O'Donnell asked: "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?"

Did I mention that the debate was held in a law school?

Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone told the AP afterwards, "You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp" among those in attendance.

Erin Daly, an expert in constitutional law at Widener, added, "She seemed genuinely surprised that the principle of separation of church and state derives from the First Amendment, and I think to many of us in the law school that was a surprise."

It's only a surprise if one assumes that the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate is a functioning, coherent adult.

For the record, the first 16 words of the First Amendment read, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Thomas Jefferson said the Founding Fathers adopted this language, "thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

The right has been trying to take a sledgehammer to that wall for quite a while, but thankfully, it's still standing, Christine O'Donnell's ridiculous worldview notwithstanding.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share

TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* While extremist Senate candidate Joe Miller (R) in Alaska has been reluctant to answer questions about his professional background, yesterday he finally reversed course. The Republican Senate hopeful told the Anchorage Daily News that he was disciplined for violating ethics rules as a public employee, and conceded that he has "many flaws."

* On a related note, if you're waiting for Lisa Murkowski or Scott McAdams to drop out in Alaska, it's almost certainly not going to happen.

* In a bit of a shock, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Rep. Joe Sestak (D) edging ahead in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, leading former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), 46% to 45%. Reminder: this is only one poll, and no other outlets show Sestak ahead.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, a new Suffolk University poll shows Marco Rubio (R) leading Gov. Charlie Crist (I), 39% to 31%. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is third with 22%.

* The same poll, meanwhile, shows Alex Sink (D) leading Rick Scott (R) in Florida's gubernatorial race, 45% to 38%.

* In Missouri's U.S. Senate race, which the Democratic establishment seems to have all but written off, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Robin Carnahan (D) trailing Rep. Roy Blunt (R) by just five points, 46% to 41%.

* In Ohio's gubernatorial race, it appears John Kasich (R) is pulling away. A new Quinnipiac poll shows the former Fox News personality and Wall Street executive leading Gov. Ted Strickland (D), 51% to 41%.

* In Wisconsin's gubernatorial race, a new Wisconsin Public Radio poll shows Scott Walker (R) continuing to lead Tom Barrett (D), 50% to 41%.

* In New York's two U.S. Senate race, a new poll from the New York Times shows both Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Chuck Schumer (D) with very large leads.

* And in Arizona, a PPP poll commissioned by Daily Kos shows Jon Hulburd (D) edging past Ben Quayle (R), 46% to 44%, in the race to succeed retiring Rep. John Shaddegg (R) in this conservative district.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

Bookmark and Share

'NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE'.... If you missed last night's "The Rachel Maddow Show," I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch Rachel's opening segment, highlighting not only the parallels between media narratives and Republican campaign messages, but also how deeply misguided both are.

It's a little tough to summarize -- if you can't watch clips online, there's a transcript online -- but the wrap-up was especially poignant.

After noting some of the extremists poised to win in November, Rachel explained, "There's not a cogent argument to make about what kind of challenge these folks present and what's going to happen in these elections.

"It's not the deficit. It's not big government. It's not the stimulus. It's not Obamacare. It's not populism. It's not that all of these people are outsiders.

"It's none of these things. These things are all provably not what's going on. They're not bolstered by the facts no matter how many times you hear from the Beltway media. This is not what's happening.

"But the media dressing these guys up like there is some coherent narrative, like there is some cogent argument here, that conveniently obscures what's really going here, which is that we are on the precipice of elevating to federal office the most extreme and in some cases strange set of conservative candidates in a lifetime.

"Yes, this has happened to a smaller degree before.... There are extremist candidates who from time to time survive the churn of electoral politics and actually make it into the mainstream. There's always a few. But there has never been this many.

"None of this makes any sense. We're just about to elect a whole bunch of extremists -- unless things change in the next two weeks."

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

Bookmark and Share

IT'S ABOUT FAR MORE THAN HYPOCRISY.... If it were up to me, reports like these would have been near the top of the Democratic Party's talking points for the last year.

Rep. Pete Sessions, the firebrand conservative from Texas, has relentlessly assailed the Democratic stimulus efforts as a package of wasteful "trillion-dollar spending sprees" that was "more about stimulating the government and rewarding political allies than growing the economy and creating jobs."

But that didn't stop the Republican lawmaker from seeking stimulus money behind the scenes for the Dallas suburb of Carrollton after the GOP campaign against the 2009 stimulus law quieted down.

Sessions wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in February urging him to give "full and fair consideration" to the affluent city's request for $81 million for a rail project, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. His letter suggested that the project would create jobs, undercutting his public arguments against the stimulus.

Obviously, this isn't just about Sessions. Literally the same exact conservative lawmakers who voted against the stimulus, and continue to rail against it, also urged the administration to spend stimulus money in their states and districts. And we're not just talking about random backbenchers -- we're talking about high-profile Republicans, including several members of the GOP leadership in both chambers.

The key angle to this isn't the hypocrisy, though that's certainly amusing. The point to remember here is what this tells us about the Republicans' economic agenda and the coherence of these members' ideologies.

GOP lawmakers, all of whom rejected and tried to kill the Recovery Act, continue to tell the media and Tea Party zealots that government spending is a disaster. The Republican line is (a) stimulus spending didn't work; and (b) stimulus spending is literally incapable of working.

But when several dozen congressional Republicans plead for additional government spending -- in order to help the economy -- the whole argument falls apart.

I'm well aware of the standard Republican reply to all of this -- the funds were going to be spent anyway, so these members figured they might as well seek some resources for their own constituents.

But that's not only wrong; it misses the point. The correspondence these Republicans sent to the Obama administration makes the entire GOP talking point look demonstrably ridiculous precisely because they explicitly argue that the requested stimulus funds would create jobs.

In other words, Republicans have argued that the Recovery Act can't create jobs, won't create jobs, hasn't created jobs, will create jobs, and has created jobs -- all at the same time.

If these GOP officials believed their own rhetoric, this would be impossible, suggesting they couldn't possibly mean what they say. Indeed, we have the written requests for stimulus funds to prove that even Republicans think the stimulus is good policy.

Here's a letter from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) saying that government spending in his district would "create jobs." And here's a letter from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) saying that government spending in his district would "create jobs." And here's a letter from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that government spending in his state would "create jobs." And here's a letter from Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) saying that government spending in his state would help with "job creation." And here's a letter from Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) saying that government spending in his district would help "put people back to work."

Despite the deep partisan divides, we're all Keynesians now.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

THE WHITE BOARD RETURNS.... Three weeks ago, Austan Goolsbee, the new chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, unveiled the "White House White Board." In a helpful little clip, Goolsbee used a sharpie and a dry-erase board to explain the debate over tax policy -- and he did it quite well.

With that in mind, I was delighted to see the white board return again this morning, this time with Goolsbee talking about job creation, standing in front of a chart that (ahem) looks awfully familiar.

Goolsbee's message and visual evidence strikes me as pretty irrefutable. Through 2007 and 2008, we saw catastrophic job losses. President Obama took office, signed the Recovery Act, and saw things start to get better. We obviously have a long way to go, but we've had nine consecutive months of positive private-sector job growth, which is a hell of a lot better than where we were.

Just once, I want to see a Republican on one of the Sunday morning shows get asked about this. "Sen. Smith," the host would ask in my imagination, "you said the stimulus would fail, and continue to believe the stimulus has failed. But here's this chart that seems relevant. Here's where things stood when Obama was inaugurated. By your logic, Sen. Smith, we would have expected to see the trajectory fall even lower, or at least stay the same. But reality shows otherwise, with an obvious improvement under this administration. The questions, then, are (1) why do you consider success a failure; and (2) why do you want to go back to the policies that lead to these declining red columns over here on the left side of the chart?"

Of course, American journalism doesn't allow for questions like these. But the media does allow the White House to publish brief clips like Goolsbee's latest edition of the White House White Board.

More like this, please.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share

MAKING VOTE-SUPPRESSION TACTICS LITERAL.... Conservatives embrace a variety of efforts to suppress the votes of those who might disagree with them. The tactics are no doubt familiar by now: vote caging, ID laws, "voter integrity" squads, etc.

But in Nevada, a conservative group is taking a vote-suppression strategy to its literal ends, taking out ads telling Hispanic Americans that they just shouldn't vote at all.

The president of Latinos for Reform, Robert Desposada, is a conservative political consultant and political analyst for Univision, but he said the ad is a sincere effort to express Hispanic frustration with the Democrats failure to deliver on immigration reform.

"We're saying what a lot of people are feeling. It's the only way for Hispanics to stand up and demand some attention," Desposada said, adding that he also couldn't ask voters to support Sharon Angle.

Let me get this straight. Desposada sees Angle running on an anti-Hispanic campaign platform, and believes Angle's approach to immigration policy is racist. Desposada also knows that if Angle wins, she'll pursue an anti-Hispanic policy agenda in the Senate.

Logically, then, Desposada believes Hispanic voters should make a conscious, deliberate effort to help Angle win, so she can work against the community's interests for the next six years. What's more, Desposada believes Hispanics will have their voices heard if they stay home, refuse to say anything, and play no role in the political process at all.

Latinos for Reform, in other words, is trying to suppress the Latino vote, and make reform far less likely.

I've seen some dumb campaign strategies this year, but this might be the most inexplicable.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

ALASKA'S MILLER SEES VALUE IN EMULATING COMMUNISTS.... We talked at some length yesterday about extremist Senate candidate Joe Miller's (R) event at an Alaska middle school yesterday, which culminated in the candidate's private security team "arresting" Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger. But let's not overlook what Miller had to say at the event itself.

Yesterday, Miller spoke to (who else?) Fox News about the incident, and justified the forced detention of a journalist by saying Hopfinger was "unruly" in asking the candidate questions. The so-called "constitutional conservative" seems to have forgotten that reporters pressing political candidates is entirely legal, even when the candidates are Republicans.

But Miller has not yet been asked to explain one of the answers he provided during the event itself, in response to a question about dealing with immigrants to enter the U.S. illegally.

Anchorage blogger Steve Aufrecht was there and is among those today who are criticizing Miller's response that Communist East Germany is a good example of a nation achieving border security. He quotes Miller as saying: "The first thing that has to be done is secure the border.... East Germany was very, very able to reduce the flow. Now, obviously, other things were involved. We have the capacity to, as a great nation, secure the border. If East Germany could do it, we could do it."

Now, as a rule, right-wing candidates don't look to East Germany for inspiration. During the Cold War, East Germany was communist.

Indeed, Miller may not realize this, but East Germany "was very, very able to reduce the flow" because there was a heavily-fortified wall intended to keep people from fleeing the country, not enter it. Reducing the "flow" is easy when no one wants to go in, and no one's allowed to leave.

What's more, the border was protected by well-armed East German soldiers, all of whom were ordered to open fire on anyone trying to sneak past them.

In fairness, I don't imagine Joe Miller really wants to duplicate Cold War tactics, with Americans emulating the communists -- but then again, I'm not certain exactly what he has in mind, either. One of the downsides of fringe extremists winning Republican primaries for key public offices is that no one's really sure what the public will get if they win.

In Miller's case, his limited professional background includes allegations of professional misconduct. As a candidate, we've heard him talk about eliminating the minimum wage and unemployment benefits, and looking to communists for guidance on immigration policy.

In the Year of the Nutjob, this somehow seems par for the course.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share

THE COMPANY ALLEN WEST KEEPS, CONT'D.... Following up on an item from the weekend, there's no shortage of extremists seeking key public offices this year, but even by 2010 standards, Florida congressional candidate Allen West (R) stands out as someone who seems unhinged to an almost dangerous degree.

West first gained notoriety during his military service in Iraq, when he was forced to retire from the Army for engaging in abusive interrogation techniques. More recently, he's incorporated violent rhetoric into his campaign speeches, and made demonstrably ridiculous claims about his own background.

Friday night, the story got considerably worse. NBC News ran a report documenting West's background associating with a violent gang of criminals, which the Justice Department believes is involved in drug running, arson, prostitution, robbery, and murder.

Yesterday, things managed to get even worse, still. West spoke at a public park in the South Florida district, and a 23-year-old videographer was on hand to record the candidate's remarks, which is hardly an unusual modern campaign practice. But things got ugly when West's gang allies were caught on tape harassing and threatening the Democratic staffer.

As the local NBC affiliate noted, "Threats can be heard on the video tape. The West supporters forced him to get back into his car."

In the interests of keeping staffers from becoming victims of Republican violence, the Florida Democratic Party felt compelled to take the videographer off the campaign trail altogether yesterday.

Would now be a good time to note that violent biker gangs and congressional campaigns don't mix?

Keep in mind, the GOP establishment doesn't seem embarrassed by West's candidacy at all. He's been endorsed by Eric Cantor and Sarah Palin, and just this week, the NRCC touted West's candidacy.

And as of now, West is favored to win in Florida's 22nd congressional district.

It's as if some kind of contagious madness has spread throughout much of the country.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 18, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "Members of United States-allied Awakening Councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent months, prey to an intensive recruitment campaign by the Sunni insurgency, according to government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents."

* That was quick: "Bank of America said Monday that it will effectively lift its foreclosure freeze on Oct. 25 when it begins resubmitting foreclosure documents to courts in 23 states. The bank said the new documents will be used in 102,000 foreclosure actions in which judgment is pending in the 23 states."

* You've got to be kidding me: "Some employees of Florida's largest 'foreclosure mill' were given jewelry, cars and houses from the firm, in exchange for altering and forging key documents used to obtain foreclosures, according to a statement released today by the Florida Attorney General's Office."

* Homegrown terrorism: "Four men accused of planting bombs outside synagogues in the Bronx and plotting to fire missiles at military planes were convicted on Monday, in a case that was widely seen as an important test of the entrapment defense.... The four defendants -- Onta Williams, Laguerre Payen, James Cromitie and David Williams IV -- face up to life in prison. Mr. Williams and Mr. Payen were found not guilty of one charge, attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States."

* That's really not what we wanted to see: "Output at factories, mines and utilities fell 0.2 percent, the first decline since the recession ended in June 2009, according to figures from the Fed today."

* Headlines like these tells us quite a bit: "Rather Than Investigating Foreclosure Fraud, House Republicans Vow To Investigate Loans To Poor People."

* A minor detail that the far-right Concerned Taxpayers of America neglects to mention to the public: the group consists of just two people.

* Former New York Stock Exchange Director Ken Langone's partisan whining appears to have no foundation in reality.

* When PayPal's founder offered to give $100,000 to kids to drop out of college and become entrepreneurs, it really wasn't a good idea.

* If you haven't seen Jonah Goldberg's Book TV panel, it featured an exchange -- which had nothing to do with Jonah Goldberg -- that has to be one of the more bizarre things ever aired on C-SPAN.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

MILLER'S PRIVATE SECURITY TEAM SEEN ON VIDEO.... Following up on a couple of earlier items, there's now some video available from the Anchorage Daily News of extremist Senate candidate Joe Miller's (R) event at an Alaska middle school yesterday.

There is, as of now, no footage of Miller's private security force "arresting" Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger after he asked Miller about allegations of professional misconduct, but this video was apparently taken soon after.

Pay particular attention to the man who refused to identify himself, but who threatened a Daily News reporter with "arrest."


Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

Bookmark and Share

U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND THE GOP, SITTIN' IN A TREE.... The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending tens of millions of dollars to buy midterm elections for far-right Republican candidates. As if that weren't enough, the business lobby is using undisclosed contributions. And as if that weren't enough, some of the financing for these ads may have come from foreign corporations and foreign governments.

But just to add insult to injury, the Chamber's pro-GOP ads also happen to mislead the public. Greg Sargent had this report today on the Chamber's ads targeting House Democrats:

These Chamber ads, which are running or have run in multiple districts across the country, contain many claims that are demonstrable distortions or have been repeatedly debunked as false by independent fact-checkers.

This is the side of this story that continues to unfold under the media radar. Much of the media focus has been on the high-profile Beltway spat between these groups and the White House and Dems over their undisclosed donors. But the ads themselves are not receiving anywhere near the high-profile media scrutiny that Dem claims about the Chamber have -- even though they constitute a massive national campaign flooding airwaves in multiple races that could tip the balance of power in Congress.

Greg's analysis is worth checking out in full, because the demonstrably-false claims featured in the Chamber's ads -- including some arguments that were debunked months ago -- are the same claims that may very well mislead voters and sway election outcomes.

What's also interesting, though, was the Chamber's response to the fact-checking. The business lobby put together a fairly detailed rebuttal, which Greg also posted.

But as rebuttals go, the Chamber of Commerce's retort seems to create as many problems as it resolves. Not only does it rehash tired and misguided Republican talking points, but it relies heavily on a report commissioned by House Republicans.

In other words, the Chamber (a) is airing misleading attack ads in order to help Republicans; and (b) relying on Republicans to defend themselves against evidence that the attacks are misleading.

The Chamber is effectively arguing, "See? The ads we're airing on behalf of Republicans are accurate -- because Republicans say so."

The thinly-veiled pretense of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce being "independent" and "non-partisan" has all but disappeared.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

Bookmark and Share

CONWAY SPARKS DISCUSSION WITH 'AQUA BUDDHA' AD.... Chris Cillizza asks today, "Did Jack Conway go too far?" He's not the only one asking.

The issue is a new ad in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, launched by state Attorney General Jack Conway (D), and targeting right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R). The spot, released over the weekend, is rather odd: it goes after Paul's controversial background, including the secret society he joined in college, which mocked Christianity, and Paul's drug-induced fondness for the "Aqua Buddha."

The ad has sparked a fair amount of criticism, even from the left, most notably this item from Jon Chait. But that in turn has generated some defenses, from Digby, Markos, and this item from Theda Skocpol:

I have a real problem with all the prissy condemnations coming from liberal commentators about Conway's ad on Rand Paul's youthful playing with contempt for Christianity. People are acting as if it is some kind of political sin to point out to ordinary Kentucky voters the kind of stuff about Paul's extremist libertarian views that everyone in the punditry already knows. This does not amount to saying that Christian belief is a "requirement for public office" as one site huffs. It is a matter of letting regular voters who themselves care deeply about Christian belief know that Paul is basically playing them. No different really than letting folks who care about Social Security and Medicare know that Paul is playing them,

One reason that Dems do not seem to be able to play hardball -- in a viciously hardball political world -- is that Dems often lack conviction or the will to be eloquently honest (for example, on taxes). But an equal problem is that when someone does play hardball, the rest of the prissy liberal Mugwumps tut-tut them about it.

I say, go for it, Jack Conway. Does anyone doubt that Paul and his supporters would have used similar publicly documented material against Conway (or even less material)?

I understand the point of those who disapprove of the ad, Candidates, especially Dems, aren't supposed to go after rivals for their religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

But having watched the Conway spot several times, I'm inclined to think a little too much is being made of this angle. Should questions of faith be off limits in attack ads? As a rule, probably. Does this get close to the line? Maybe. But the point of the spot seems to be that Rand Paul is a still largely unknown weirdo with a bizarre background and extremist ideology. And that happens to be true -- Paul really is a still largely unknown weirdo with a bizarre background and extremist ideology.

For the record, I didn't much care for the ad, not because I found it offensive or divisive, but because I found it unpersuasive, especially as a closing message in the race's final two weeks. Not only does Rand Paul have far more serious vulnerabilities, I also have a hard time imagining why anyone would care about the odd antics of the man's college years.

Maybe I've become desensitized in the midst of an ugly election season, but the Conway spot doesn't strike me as that harsh. It's not flagrantly dishonest -- Lord knows we've had our share of those ads this year -- and to Skocpol's point, there's no doubt in my mind that if the situations were reversed, and Conway's religious background could be exploited in an attack ad, Paul and his party would be all over it.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

Bookmark and Share

HEADS IN THE SAND.... A decade ago, George W. Bush told voters he'd support a cap on carbon dioxide. Two years ago, the GOP's McCain/Palin presidential ticket supported a cap-and-trade policy.

The Republican hostility towards science and evidence isn't new, but its wholesale, party-wide rejection of all climate data is new.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has to be smiling. With one exception, none of the Republicans running for the Senate -- including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning -- accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming.

The candidates are not simply rejecting solutions, like putting a price on carbon, though these, too, are demonized. They are re-running the strategy of denial perfected by Mr. Cheney a decade ago, repudiating years of peer-reviewed findings about global warming and creating an alternative reality in which climate change is a hoax or conspiracy.

Some candidates are emphatic in their denial, like the Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, who flatly rejects "the man-caused climate change mantra of the left." Others are merely wiggly, like California's Carly Fiorina, who says, "I'm not sure." Yet, over all (the exception being Mark Kirk in Illinois), the Republicans are huddled around an amazingly dismissive view of climate change.

For context, it's worth emphasizing that Mark Kirk voted for cap-and-trade, only to announce soon after that he opposed cap-and-trade and would vote against it in the Senate if given the chance.

We're not talking about a party that tries to resolve problems with misguided solutions; we're talking about a party that has convinced itself that the problems don't exist.

Worse, the approach extends to far too much of the policy landscape. Kevin Drum had this item last night.

The modern, tea party-inflected conservative movement is based on a few core principles. Global warming is a hoax. Income inequality hasn't been growing. Tax cuts don't increase the deficit. America has the best healthcare in the world. Evolution is a myth. The economy is weak because of regulatory uncertainty. Barack Obama is a socialist.

I'm trying to think of another successful political movement in history based on so many objectively fantastical beliefs. Not really coming up with any....

It's also striking to me the ways in which these same conservatives act as if they have some kind of allergy to reason. One can present them with all kinds of evidence, but it's still like entering a Python-esque Argument Clinic.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share

CELEBRATING SCIENCE.... A few months after his inauguration, President Obama was showing so much passion for science and scientific integrity that one observer characterized him as "almost strident" on the issue. The description put a negative spin on what I consider to be one of the president's more endearing qualities -- I can't think of a modern president who speaks as often and as enthusiastically about science as Obama.

Indeed, nearly a year ago, the president announced that, from now on, there will be an annual White House Science Fair. Obama explained at the time, "If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person and you've produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we're going to lead by example. We're going to show young people how cool science can be."

With that in mind, Jonathan Cohn notes that today is "Geek Day" at the White House, and in this context, that's definitely a good thing.

Today at the White House President Obama hosts another group of students who won a national championship. But it's not the hockey team from Boston College or the swimmers from Texas. It's the Rock'n'Roll Robots from Southern California.

And who are the Rock'n'Roll Robots? I'm glad you asked. They're a group of Girl Scouts who were part of a team that won a national robot-building competition for students. They're among more than 80 students the White House is honoring as part of its first annual Science Fair. [...]

I'm sure this is not the first group of accomplished student innovators to win White House recognition. But I don't recall past presidents giving the event the trappings of a sports championship visit. And while it's just a public relations event, it also sends a broader message about the value this administration and its allies place on intellectual achievement.

Damn straight. America's future depends on our willingness to make a real commitment to innovation, science, research, and intellectual pursuits. I consider it a huge step in the right direction that we've gone from a semi-literate president who publicly and repeatedly mocked those with post-graduate degrees, to a president hosting a White House Science Fair.

Indeed, it shouldn't be this way, but there is a political undercurrent to all of this. It's tragic, but Republican hostility towards science, evidence, and reason speaks to the larger inability of the GOP to shape effective public policy, and the apparent cultural divide over the value of intellectual achievements.

In 2010, the nation's leading Democrat is a president who values science, innovation, and learning. On the flip side, one of the nation's leading Republicans is a former half-term governor who rejects modern biology, considers climate science "snake oil", and who disdains elites with "Ivy League educations."

Whether the United States is able to maintain its role as the global leader will depend on which side of this divide wins.

Postscript: At the Science Fair today, the president will announce his appearance on an upcoming episode of "Mythbusters" on the Discovery Channel. I find this exciting because, well, I love "Mythbusters."

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

Bookmark and Share

ANGLE JUST CAN'T HELP HERSELF.... It's far too soon to say who'll win Nevada's U.S. Senate race -- with 15 days to go, the polls show Harry Reid and Sharron Angle just about tied -- but a few weeks from now, we may look back at Angle's appearance at Rancho High School as the turning point. It was her remarks at the school that helped make abundantly clear just how far gone the extremist candidate really is.

Consider these remarks Angle made during her appearance.

"So that's what we want is a secure and sovereign nation and, you know, I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don't know that. [Note: it's the Hispanic Student Union. The whole room is Hispanic teenagers.] What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I'm evidence of that. I've been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly."

As Jon Ralston noted, no one's ever called Angle, who is not Asian, the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly. She seems to have made this up.

Also note, this is the same appearance in which Angle was asked about her racist, deceptive ad, which uses an image of young Latino men as part of a divisive attempt to scare white people. She told the Hispanic Student Union that she's "not sure" the Mexicans in her ad are, in fact, Latino, and went on to argue that her seemingly-racist commercial is intended to raise fears about the Canadian border.

Seriously. That's what she said.

As we talked about over the weekend, I really should be beyond surprise by now. But the derangement of some unbalanced candidates for powerful public offices is so overwhelming, I often feel like I'm watching some kind of twisted performance art.

After 20 years following politics closely, I've just never seen anything so pathological. Sharron Angle is either mentally disturbed or she thinks the people of Nevada are morons.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

Bookmark and Share

MARK KIRK'S VERACITY BACK IN THE NEWS.... The good news for Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican Senate hopeful in Illinois, is that he's gone a few months without new revelations surrounding his exaggerated record and background. The bad news is, there's a new one.

Kirk -- if that is his real name -- has experienced a humiliating year when it comes to dishonesty. He's been caught lying repeatedly about everything from his military service to having been a nursery-school teacher. He's made a wide variety of false claims about foreign policy issues, which is supposed to be an area of expertise for him, and has even been forced to literally flee reporters trying to get Kirk to reconcile his stories with reality. In July, we learned that one of Kirk's favorite stories -- the one about being inspired to enter public service after the Coast Guard rescued him from drowning in Lake Michigan as a teenager-- wasn't entirely true, either.

Today, it appears yet another example has emerged.

Rep. Mark Kirk claims credit for being a driving force behind a bill signed into law this year that requires the president to crack down on companies doing business with Iran.

But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Howard Berman, says Kirk is guilty of "exaggeration" when he says the "Kirk bill" became the "Berman bill" so it could pass the Democratic Congress.

"We didn't even look at his legislation at the time," Berman said. "Our bill did so much more and went so far beyond his bill, I would have to put it in the context of an exaggeration."

Last month, Kirk told the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times that it was his bill on policy towards Iran that was advancing in the House, even though Berman was taking credit for it.

That, like most of Kirk's claims, doesn't appear to be true. Berman, the committee chairman, explained that while Kirk has worked on sanctions related to Iran, "The bill that I was involved with, we didn't even look at his legislation at the time." The final bill that advanced went much further, and was far more expansive, than Kirk's initial effort.

Taken in isolation, this may seem largely meaningless. Kirk claimed credit for work he didn't do, but this this isn't exactly unprecedented on Capitol Hill.

The point is the larger pattern -- Mark Kirk tells a lot of stories, asks voters to believe those stories, and then we find out that those stories aren't true. In some instances, Kirk's tall tales are demonstrable lies with no basis in fact, but more often, the Republican embellishes reality, giving the truth a more dramatic spin that makes him look better.

If it were just an anecdote here or there that was exaggerated for effect, this would be entirely forgivable, even expected for a U.S. Senate candidate. But Kirk has done this repeatedly, with a wide variety of subjects over the course of many years, as if he has some kind of uncontrollable urge to mislead those around him about his own life.

That this latest example came in September -- after he vowed to speak with more "precision" about his record -- suggests Kirk just can't help himself when it comes to telling tall tales.

How voters are supposed to find Mark Kirk trustworthy remains a mystery.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama appeared at a huge "Moving America Forward" rally in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, drawing 35,000 attendees according to local law enforcement.

* The Republican Party distanced itself from Nazi-reenacting House candidate Rich Iott last week, but House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) political action committee continues to support Iott financially.

* In September, the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $8.3 million, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $15.5 million over the same period. The Dems entered October leading when it comes to cash on hand, $25.6 million to $19.2 million.

* The Senate debate in Kentucky last night between Jack Conway (D) and Rand Paul (R) was quite ugly, capped by Paul's refusal to shake Conway's hand.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn't expect to have to worry about Reps. Jim Costa (Calif.) and Raul Grijalva (Ariz.). That's suddenly changed.

* Rush Limbaugh endorsed West Virginia's John Raese's (R) Senate campaign the other day, noting that the two are both members of the same exclusive golf club in South Florida. Oddly enough, that helps reinforce the Democrats' message surprisingly well.

* On a related note, because the Raese family doesn't live in West Virginia, the Senate candidate's wife will not be able to legally vote for him this year.

* In a poll that sent shivers down the spine of many Democrats, the latest Reuters poll showed Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R) in California's U.S. Senate race by just one point, 46% to 45%.

* The same poll showed Jerry Brown (D) leading Meg Whitman (R) in California's gubernatorial race, 48% to 44%.

* In the state of Washington, Sen. Patty Murray (D) leads Dino Rossi (R) in the latest Washington Post poll, 50% to 42%.

* In New York's gubernatorial race, a new New York Times poll shows Andrew Cuomo (D) leading Carl Paladino (R) by 35 points, 59% to 24%.

* And in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, the latest Magellan Strategies poll shows Tom Corbett (R) continuing to lead Dan Onorato (D), 48% to 38%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

Bookmark and Share

WHAT IS LINDSEY GRAHAM TALKING ABOUT?.... Every time major media outlets characterize Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as the kind of conservative Democrats should able to work with, we're reminded of evidence to the contrary.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that not only are endangered Democrats not running on healthcare reform, they're running against "the Obama takeover of most of society."

Look, I get it. Graham is a conservative Republican; President Obama isn't. The White House and congressional Democrats have had a lot of policymaking success, and Graham has split his time between blocking a progressive agenda and walking away from compromises he helped strike with Democrats.

But the president has launched a "takeover of most of society"? In what universe does this make sense?

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

IMAGINING IF MILLER WERE A DEMOCRAT.... We talked earlier about Senate candidate Joe Miller's (R) private security team detaining a journalist after he asked the candidate an uncomfortable question at a public event on public property. Noting the story, Adam Serwer mentioned this morning:

Imagine if Dem "bodyguards" had handcuffed a journalist. You'd need a new planet to fit all the Nazi references.

I realize the "imagine if a Dem had done this" line of argument gets tiresome, but in a case like this, I think it's worth asking anyway.

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama mentioned the idea of having a civilian reserve corps that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts such as rebuilding infrastructure. A Republican member of Congress, Georgia's Paul Broun, said the idea, which had been endorsed by the Bush administration, is the equivalent of "what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he's proposing to have a national security force that's answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he's showing me signs of being Marxist." Glenn Beck and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) still talk about this to make the case that the president is some kind of fascist.

The hysterical right-wing line was, of course, insane. But yet, yesterday, a major-party candidate, who refuses to answer questions about his professional background, was asked by a reporter about allegations of professional misconduct. For his trouble, the reporter was put in handcuffs by a private security team, which also tried to restrict the freedom of the press -- on public property, at a public event -- for other journalists in attendance.

If state Senator Obama, in 2004, had done something similar, it would be used forevermore as evidence of "liberal fascism," wouldn't it?

In this case, it's not even clear why Miller would hire a private security team in the first place. Most candidates travel with a driver/scheduler, and maybe another aide or two to help talk to voters, answer a cell phone, etc. Miller, campaigning in a small-population state with a low crime rate, travels to a middle school with three members of a private security force, all wearing radio earphones, and at least one of whom carries a set of steel handcuffs.

Worse, this trio, with members who won't share their names, feels empowered to detain reporters against their will, and threaten to "arrest" other journalists trying to do their constitutionally-protected jobs.

If a Democrat had done this, I suspect it would not only be the biggest political story in the country, there'd be an expectation that Dems everywhere would denounce these "thuggish, Gestapo-like tactics." Glenn Beck would be crying this afternoon, weeping uncontrollably at the thought of what has become of America and our freedoms.

Anyone want to lay odds on whether Beck condemns Miller's campaign today? I'd put them somewhere around 1 in a not-going-to-happen.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share

KILMEADE DOESN'T SOUND ESPECIALLY SORRY.... On Friday, "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade felt compelled to share his unique perspective on religion and terrorism: "[A] certain group of people attacked us on 9/11, it wasn't just one person, it was one religion. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."

That is, of course, both ridiculous and offensive, and had the makings of a Rick Sanchez Moment. It was made worse when Kilmeade returned to the subject on his Fox News Radio show, insisting once again, "Not every Muslim is an extremist, a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim. You can't avoid that fact."

Media Matters asked, "What does Brian Kilmeade have to say to get fired?" Apparently, quite a bit more. This morning, Kilmeade told viewers, "On the show on Friday, I was talking about Bill O'Reilly's appearance on 'The View,' and I said this: 'Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.' Well, I misspoke. I don't believe all terrorists are Muslims. I'm sorry about that, if I offended or offended or hurt anybody's feelings. But that's it."

The "that's it" declaration seems to be Kilmeade's way of saying, "I'm not Rick Sanchez."

If you watch Kilmeade's "apology," such as it is, this wasn't exactly a sincere expression of regret. Indeed, claiming he "misspoke" is silly, given that Kilmeade made the comment, then repeated it hours later, insisting that his misguided, intolerant analysis is a "fact."

Nevertheless, it's a reminder not only of Fox News' imaginary professional principles, but also of the competing standards. This is a network that tolerates religious bigotry on the air, just so long as it's target at certain faith traditions.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

Bookmark and Share

HOW TO CREATE A BEST SELLER (WHEN NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR BOOK).... Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) recognizes the expectation facing all presidential candidates -- he needs another book. Just as importantly, he needs it to look like a successful book.

In 2007, in advance of his first national campaign, Romney published Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games. This year, he released No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, which actually managed to reach #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Who are these mysterious people, rushing out to purchase Romney's silly text? Well, it's a funny story, actually.

Mitt Romney boosted sales of his book this spring by asking institutions to buy thousands of copies in exchange for his speeches, according to a document obtained by POLITICO. [...]

The hosts ranged from Claremont McKenna College to the Restaurant Leadership Conference, many of whom are accustomed to paying for high-profile speakers like Romney. Asking that hosts buy books is also a standard feature of book tours. But Romney's total price -- $50,000 -- was on the high end, and his publisher, according to the document from the book tour -- provided on the condition it not be described in detail -- asked institutions to pay at least $25,000, and up to the full $50,000 price, in bulk purchases of the book. With a discount of roughly 40 percent, that meant institutions could wind up with more than 3,000 copies of the book -- and a person associated with one of his hosts said they still have quite a pile left over.

You don't say.

It's a reminder that the appearance of conservative books on the best-seller list should generally be taken with a grain of salt. One might see a book like Romney's atop the list and assume he has a real base of support -- which is precisely the appearance his team hopes to create. But in reality, Romney forced institutions to buy thousands of copies, inflating sales totals to almost comical heights.

By most accounts the book is, as a substantive matter, rather ridiculous. Worse, it was probably ghost-written. But forcing bookstores, universities, conferences, and private groups to make it a best-seller, whether the public wanted to buy it or not, is kind of sad.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

Bookmark and Share

GOP SENATE CAMPAIGN 'ARRESTS' JOURNALIST.... I've occasionally seen items that characterize Alaska as being like "a whole different country." It would have to be, since in the United States, Senate campaigns don't try to take journalists into custody.

The editor of the Alaska Dispatch website was arrested by U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller's private security guards Sunday as the editor attempted to interview Miller at the end of a public event in an Anchorage school.

Tony Hopfinger was handcuffed by the guards and detained in a hallway at Central Middle School until Anchorage police came and told the guards to release Hopfinger.

Hopfinger has not been charged but the owner of the Drop Zone, the private security firm that's been providing Miller's security, accused Hopfinger of trespassing at the public event, a town hall sponsored by the Miller campaign.

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see how it's possible for a member of the media to be "trespassing" at an event open to the public, and held on public property.

I wasn't there, and not surprisingly, accounts vary on exactly what transpired. Based on a variety of accounts, Hopfinger sought comment from Miller about allegations of professional misconduct, which the extremist candidate refuses to address before the election. Miller walked away, and his private security team, all wearing radio earphones, quickly surrounded the reporter. Feeling threatened, Hopfinger reportedly pushed one of the guards away, though the man who was shoved was not injured.

At that point, according to accounts, guards grabbed Hopfinger and placed him in steel handcuffs. The private security team also grabbed Hopfinger's camera, and according to the reporter, a recorded portion of his "arrest" had been deleted, though Miller's guards, who refused to be identified, denied erasing anything.

And just to make this truly extraordinary, when other media professionals on hand for the event tried to cover the incident, Miller's private security team tried to prevent them from talking to Hopfinger -- and threaten to "arrest" them, too. The guards also said photographs in the public hallway at the public event were prohibited, though this chilling shot was taken anyway.

The right-wing Miller campaign issued a statement blaming Hopfinger for the incident, but neither the campaign nor the bizarre candidate were willing to answer questions about what transpired. Hopfinger, meanwhile, was released from handcuffs when local police arrived, and at this point, no charges have been filed against anyone.

Miller, a fringe lawyer, is running on a platform premised on his alleged love of the Constitution. He may want to re-read that part about the Bill of Rights.

And in the larger context, I can't help but wonder: is this what the Tea Party crowd has in mind for America's future? In their version of "limited government," should we expect extremists candidates to hire private security forces with the power to detain reporters who ask candidates about their background?

Is this their vision of American "freedom"?

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

Bookmark and Share

A TYPICAL POLITICAL ANSWER.... California's Carly Fiorina (R), still hoping to parlay her striking failures in the corporate world into a successful U.S. Senate campaign, took her message to Fox News yesterday. She was asked one question in particular she really didn't want to answer.

California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) reiterated her call for an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts on Sunday but refused to name entitlement programs she'd cut to offset the resulting growth of the deficit.

Extending all the tax cuts is estimated to add $4 trillion to the deficit.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Fiorina, who's challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), which programs she'd cut.

But she didn't want to talk about it. Like far too many of her GOP brethren, Fiorina loves the idea of cutting taxes for millionaires, and is equally fond of touting the idea of deficit reduction, but seems to fall apart fairly quickly when pressed for any kind of substance that would make this agenda coherent.

Eventually, a frustrated Wallace asked, "Where are you going to cut entitlements? What benefits are you going to cut? What eligibilities are you going to change?" Fiorina refused to answer, calling the line of inquiry a "typical political question."

I haven't the foggiest idea what that means. Asking a Senate candidate who's talked about entitlements to answer a question about the details of her approach to entitlements is too "typically political" to warrant a response? By this reasoning, isn't literally every question directed to candidates about the major issues of the day a "typical political question"?

Watching the interview, it became clear Fiorina just isn't ready for prime time (or Sunday morning, as the case may be). She eventually suggested our problems could be solved by "engaging the American people in a conversation," which is a dull euphemism for "I'll lose if I talk about substance before Election Day."

Seven times Wallace asked for any kind of details about the kind of spending cuts Fiorina would support if elected. Seven times, the confused conservative candidate declined. It was embarrassing for the candidate, exasperating for the host, and painful for the viewers.

What's more, as Tanya Somanader noted, it fits in nicely to a larger pattern: "While frustrating, Fiorina's lack of solutions should not be surprising. As a member of the GOP, Fiorina joins a slew of Republicans in their refusal to offer any deficit solutions no matter how many times a reporter may beg."

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

FROM THE WEEKEND.... There were plenty of interesting developments over the weekend, so here's a recap for readers looking to catch up.

On Sunday, we talked about...

* Extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) of Colorado explained that he not only thinks homosexuality is a choice, but he also finds it comparable to alcoholism.

* The GOP push to privatize the Veterans' Administration seems to be continuing apace, merit notwithstanding.

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, Joe Sestak (D) has drawn an interesting parallel between GOP candidate Pat Toomey and the Sestak family dog.

* Extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) of Nevada defended one of the most racist campaign attacks of the year by suggesting it was in reference to Canadians.

* In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, Jack Conway (D) has an odd new ad, going after Rand Paul (R) for having dabbled in odd religious practices.

And on Saturday, we talked about...

* The effects of a conservative movement without sensible grown-ups are serious.

* A U.S. House candidate claims he temporarily forgot the basics of his political ideology because of a "headache."

* Sharron Angle's recently quarterly fundraising report isn't quite what it appears to be.

* Talk of the public option hasn't gone away, and that's clearly a good thing.

* "This Week in God" touched on, among other things, Sen. Sam Brownback's (R-Kan.) relationship with a radical cleric.

* News Corp isn't quite done trying to help Republicans' campaign efforts.

* A U.S. House candidate in Florida has scandalous connections to a gang of violent criminals.

* And Fox News' Brian Kilmeade isn't quite done characterizing all terrorists as Muslims.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 17, 2010

BUCK COMPARES HOMOSEXUALITY TO ALCOHOLISM.... Ken Buck has already made quite a name for himself as Colorado's right-wing Senate candidate. From extremist positions on the issues to inexplicable professional misjudgments, the Republican nominee stands out -- but not in a good way.

This morning on NBC's "Meet the Press," viewers got another opportunity to get to know Buck. Host David Gregory noted to the GOP challenger, "In a debate last month, you expressed your support for Don't Ask, Don't Tell [and] you alluded to 'lifestyle choices.' Do you believe being gay say choice?"

Buck replied, "I do." Gregory followed up, asking, "Based on what?" After initially pretending not to understand the question, Buck added, "I guess you can choose who your partner is."

Let's pause to note that Buck, if elected, wouldn't exactly be one of the towering intellects of the United States Senate.

Before moving on, Gregory pressed further, asking, "You don't think it's something that's determined at birth?" Buck replied, "I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice."

Sen. Michael Bennet (D) responded that he "absolutely" believes his right-wing rival is "outside the mainstream" on this.

Bennet's right, but he's also understating the case. Buck's* views on human sexuality are evidence of a bizarre worldview. That he'd compare gays and lesbians to alcoholics -- dispassionately, as if this were a routine thing to say -- is a reminder that the leading U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado would be a voice of ignorance and intolerance in the chamber.

It's also a reminder about a larger truth this campaign season. Like Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, and Florida's Marco Rubio, Buck has benefited greatly from the fact that he's been overshadowed by other extremist candidates.

In a typical year, someone like Buck would be an almost cartoonish right-wing nut, and the subject of national ridicule. After all, the far-right candidate supports repealing the 17th Amendment, eliminating the Department of Education, scrapping the federal student loan program, banning certain forms of birth control and all abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest. He's said Americans he doesn't like are a bigger threat than terrorists, and is on record talking about privatizing Social Security, the V.A., and the Centers for Disease Control.

And now Buck is insisting sexual orientation is a choice and gays are like alcoholics.

I like to think Colorado is better than this, but I suppose we'll find out in 16 days.

*Corrected

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share

WHEN DID THE V.A. BECOME SUCH A FAR-RIGHT TARGET?.... During a debate between Nevada's U.S. Senate candidates this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that Sharron Angle has raised the specter of privatizing the Veterans' Administration.

Rush Limbaugh loves the idea, and has no idea why Reid would consider that criticism.

"What is wrong with privatizing the VA? What's wrong with privatizing? Somebody tell me where it's working!"

This is the second time I've heard this from the far-right recently. Just a couple of weeks ago, extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) of Colorado made a similar case:

"Would a Veterans Administration hospital that is run by the private sector be better run then by the public sector? In my view, yes."

I'm not sure why the right decided to launch this anti-VA nonsense, but so long as conservatives are pushing this line, it's worth setting the record straight.

For the Washington Monthly, this has been a long-time area of interest. In 2005, we published a Philip Longman piece on V.A. hospitals called, "The Best Care Anywhere."

As Longman explained at the time, "Who do you think receives higher-quality health care. Medicare patients who are free to pick their own doctors and specialists? Or aging veterans stuck in those presumably filthy VA hospitals with their antiquated equipment, uncaring administrators, and incompetent staff? An answer came in 2003, when the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study that compared veterans health facilities on 11 measures of quality with fee-for-service Medicare. On all 11 measures, the quality of care in veterans facilities proved to be 'significantly better.' ... The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a study that compared veterans health facilities with commercial managed-care systems in their treatment of diabetes patients. In seven out of seven measures of quality, the VA provided better care."

Yes, the taxpayer-financed, government-run VA hospitals are some of the finest medical facilities in the country. Limbaugh and Buck think they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

Bookmark and Share

WHAT BELLE AND TOOMEY HAVE IN COMMON.... It's not uncommon to hear Democrats talk about the difficulties and inconveniences of having to clean up Republicans' messes. But Senate hopeful Joe Sestak (D) is making that case to Pennsylvania voters in a more literal way.

In a clever new television ad, Sestak, a congressman and retired Navy Admiral, introduces voters to his family's dog. "I'm Joe Sestak, and this is Belle," Sestak says. "My family loves Belle, but she can make a mess -- and we have to clean it up.

"I think about Belle when I see Congressman Toomey's ads attacking me. It made me sick to bail out the banks. But I had clean up the mess left behind by these guys," Sestak says, pointing to photos of Toomey, his right-wing opponent, and former President Bush. "They let Wall Street run wild. Now Pat Toomey is attacking me for cleaning up his mess."

If you're going to run an ad defending the financial industry rescue, this is the way to do it.

As for the race itself, is there much of a chance that Sestak can come from behind and eke out a win here, just as he did in the primary? Nate Silver doubts it, but it's worth noting that some polls suggest the contest is tightening a bit in the Keystone State, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee recently redirected funds out of Florida and into Pennsylvania, suggesting the GOP isn't as confident about the race as it once was.

Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

ANGLE PLAYS NEVADANS FOR FOOLS.... Even in an ugly political cycle, some offensive attacks stand out for being uniquely ugly. This month, for example, we saw right-wing candidates Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Sharron Angle (R) use an identical image of young Latino men as part of a divisive attempt to scare white people.

Upon closer inspection, the entire message isn't just racially divisive, it's also intended to deceive voters. But for Angle, the extremist candidate in Nevada, we've got it all wrong. At least, that's what she told a group of Hispanic high school students the other day.

U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle defended a series of campaign advertisements that use images of sullen, dark-skinned men and a map of Mexico to blast the immigration record of her Democratic opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. [...]

"I think that you're misinterpreting those commercials," said Angle, a tea party favorite who has rallied for stricter border enforcement.

Angle told the students she was "not sure that those are Latinos in that commercial" and appeared to suggest that the ad seeks to draw attention to the danger of potential terrorists entering the country from Canada.

I really should be beyond surprise by now. But the derangement of some unbalanced candidates for powerful public offices is so overwhelming, I often feel like I'm watching some kind of twisted performance art.

Angle's race-baiting ads, some of the ugliest since Jesse Helms, have all the subtlety of a wrecking ball. She shows viewers images of Mexicans and a map of Mexico over on-screen text about "illegal aliens."

But she's "not sure that those are Latinos"? Her point relates to Canada?

After 20 years following politics closely, I've just never seen anything so pathological. Sharron Angle is either mentally disturbed or she thinks the people of Nevada are morons.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share

CONWAY REACHES FOR THE KITCHEN SINK.... In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) is trailing right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R), but the underdog appears to be within striking distance. With two weeks to go, the Democratic campaign is prepared to do what it takes to close the gap.

That, apparently, includes this bizarre new ad, going after Paul's controversial background, including the secret society he joined in college, which mocked Christianity, and Paul's drug-induced fondness for the "Aqua Buddha."

I have no idea whether something like this will be effective. Kentucky's cultural conservatism and strong evangelical majority may respond well to the message, and reinforce fears about Paul's personal oddities. (The point is spelled out plainly in the ad's conclusion: "Why are there so many questions about Rand Paul?")

Still, I much preferred when Democrats didn't attack rival candidates over their religious beliefs.

What's more, I also think Conway has an even stronger line of attack going after Rand Paul's support for a regressive 23% sales tax on everything Kentuckians purchase. Not only has the Republican candidate endorsed the radical idea, he's even lied about it.

This week, Paul told reporters of the tax scheme, "I haven't really been saying anything like that." But the evidence to the contrary is clear -- Paul endorsed the 23% sales tax in writing; in April he delivered a speech calling it a "great" idea; and he's expressed his support for the tax policy over and over and over again.

Forget Paul's quirky religious background and his college days; this seems like the real vulnerability.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 16, 2010

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, A NATION TURNS ITS LONELY EYES TO YOU.... There's an ongoing and worthwhile effort underway to understand exactly how and why the conservative movement appears to have gone berserk. Some have argued there's a racial/demographic shift underway, while others point, more persuasively, to the cyclical nature of far-right hysteria.

But Adam Serwer wrote an item this week that resonated with me, pointing to a Sean Wilentz piece about "an unprecedented mainstreaming of once fringe far-right ideas," which Wilentz blames on a lack of "forthright leadership."

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy deplored the far right's "counsels of fear and suspicion." Today, Obama's White House is still struggling to make sense of its enemies. In the absence of forthright leadership, on both the right and the left, the job of standing up to extremists appears to have been left to the electorate.

Candidates like O'Donnell may prove too eccentric to prevail, or voters may simply become disillusioned by politicians who campaign on their hatred of government. After the election, mainstream conservatives may well engage in what Richard Viguerie has forecast as "a massive, almost historic battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party." (Already, Rove and some leading Bush political operatives, including the former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, have been quietly supplanting the battered G.O.P. establishment in the effort to raise funds for this year's candidates.) But, according to a recent poll, more than seventy percent of Republicans support the Tea Party, and it seems almost certain that a Republican Party that has unstintingly appeased the far right will enjoy a strong and perhaps smashing victory in the coming midterm elections.

It didn't used to be this way. William F. Buckley* once famously took on the John Birch Society and made them unwelcome in the Republican Party of the era. In 2010, Buckley has passed, and it's no longer unusual for GOP officials and their party platforms to echo the same fringe ideas Birchers and their ilk have been pushing for years.

As Adam explained, "the right currently lacks a Buckley-like figure who could beat back the fringe while maintaining his conservative credibility.... Countering the conspiracy-minded right was a job for the kind of ideological ombudsman the modern right just doesn't have. "

Agreed. He was writing about a very different point, but Ezra Klein noted the other day, "This isn't a very popular statement, but there is a role for elites in public life. Just like I want knowledgeable CEOs running companies and knowledgeable doctors performing surgeries, I want knowledgeable legislators crafting public policy. That's why we have a representative democracy, rather than some form of government-by-referendum. But of late, the elites in the Republican Party are abdicating their roles, preferring to pander."

To be crude about it, there's just no one left on the right to tell their brethren, "Um, guys? You've gone stark raving mad." To varying degrees, David Frum, Bruce Bartlett, Brink Lindsey, and Will Wilkinson have all tried -- and were all quickly punished for their efforts.

The media won't do it; Democrats don't seem able to do it; and the electorate seems unwilling to do it. Indeed, voters appear to poised to do the exact opposite, rewarding extremism instead of punishing it. In the wake of Bush/Cheney, there was a leadership vacuum, but the country is yet to come to terms with the fact that it was filled by radicals.

The result, as Wilentz explained with painful precision, is that "the extreme right wing is on the verge of securing a degree of power over Congress and the Republican Party that is unprecedented in modern American history."

* Postscript: This is not to characterize Buckley as some kind of moderate. He was, after all, a staunch critic of the civil rights movement, an apologist for Jim Crow, and a supporter of segregation. My point here, though, is that when it came to fringe hysterics and wild-eyed conspiracy theories, Buckley played the role of a voice of reason. As the conservative movement descends further into madness, there is no comparable voice now.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

Bookmark and Share

NOT TONIGHT, REPUBLICANS, BILL FLORES HAS A HEADACHE.... If Republicans are going to take the House, they're going to have to win races like the one in Texas' 17th congressional district, a center-right district represented by Democrat Chet Edwards. At this point, millionaire oil executive Bill Flores (R) appears well positioned to win, despite Edwards' exceptional career.

But before Flores celebrates, he may want to take some Advil.

The Central Texas district is home to a high percentage of seniors, which is why it seemed odd to see the GOP candidate adopt the right's controversial approach to undermining Social Security. Indeed, on Thursday, Flores explained in a television appearance that he's "not philosophically opposed to raising the retirement age" to 70. He added that he wants Social Security to be there for him, "and I accept the fact I may have to raise my retirement age for that."

The next day, Flores used a novel approach to try to walk back his own comments.

Republican congressional candidate Bill Flores, blaming a headache for a verbal miscue, has backed away from saying he's "not philosophically opposed" to raising the Social Security retirement age for future recipients. [...]

"Voters should be assured that I absolutely do not support raising the retirement age for Social Security," he said in a statement. [...]

Thursday, Flores, a retired oil and gas executive from Bryan, called program host Brad Watson and asked him not to air his response on Social Security because he had a headache during the interview and the remarks did not properly characterize his position.

I've been keeping an eye on quite a few campaigns this year, and I've seen some doozies when candidates get caught saying something embarrassing. Usually, they go with "that was taken out of context," even when it wasn't, or "I never said that," even when they did.

But Flores is breaking new, creative ground here. On Thursday, he was open to raising the retirement age; on Friday, he wasn't. The difference was ... a headache?

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but like everyone else, I can think of times I've had headaches. Not once have they caused me to forget the basics of my own political ideology.

In a couple of weeks, if anyone's considering midterm-election awards, I think Bill Flores has wrapped up the "Most Laughable Excuse" category.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

A CLOSER LOOK AT ANGLE'S IMPRESSIVE HAUL.... Among many campaign observers, many jaws dropped this week when extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) reported having raised a stunning $14 million in the last quarter. To put that in perspective, her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), who isn't exactly a slouch in the fundraising department, he raised one-seventh the total of his Nevada rival over the same period.

But there was a catch that wasn't evident when the Angle campaign made the announcement, and it's an interesting story.

Not long after winning her primary with almost no money at all, Angle hired a controversial fundraising firm called Base Connect, which has a habit of raising huge sums for its GOP clients, and then taking exorbitant commissions/fees for itself.

As Justin Elliott reported in July, "For the past several election cycles, the firm's M.O. has gone like this: find a longshot conservative candidate running against a well-established Democratic incumbent, then launch a national fundraising campaign by sending direct mail to a list of true-believing but small-time conservative donors around the country. The catch is that as much 75 or 80 or even 95 percent of the money raised is paid back to Base Connect and its 'partner' companies."

Which brings us to this week, and Angle's remarkable $14 million quarter. How much of that haul will the right-wing candidate have left for the closing weeks of the campaign? The answer makes a big difference.

Nevada Republican Sharron Angle announced earlier this week she raised a staggering $14 million between the start of July and the end of September. Observers seized on the impressive total as a sign her challenge to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was gaining momentum.

But what her campaign failed to mention in its announcement was that the bulk of that money has already been spent.... Despite the impressive total -- which was actually $14.3 million -- Angle had only $4 million left in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Yes, despite that impressive quarterly report, Angle and Reid have about the same amount of money left in the bank for the campaign's homestretch (though this doesn't include the far-right "independent" groups that will be trying to buy the race on Angle's behalf.) Angle raised over $14 million, but that's much less impressive when one notices that she spent $12 million.

It's unclear exactly how big a cut Base Connect has taken from Angle thus far, but it looks like more than a third of the money she raised went to paying for the fundraising itself, and that doesn't include possible fees for Base Connect's "partner" companies.

In other words, the massive quarterly report only told part of a larger story.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

Bookmark and Share

THE PUBLIC OPTION AGENDA HASN'T GONE AWAY (NOR SHOULD IT).... Ask the typical proponent of health care reform what he/she would have liked to see in the Affordable Care Act, but which didn't make the cut, and you'll likely hear about the public option.

The idea of a publicly-run competitor for private insurance consistently polled well, but ended up lacking the political support necessary to prevail. Yesterday, a House Democratic leader noted that the party wouldn't mind another chance at getting this done.

Democrats could revive the public healthcare option if they maintain their majorities in Congress, the House Democrats' third-ranking member said Friday.

"Reelect me, keep Democrats on the field. And when we come back next year, maybe we will get to the public option," Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) said during an appearance on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Obviously, there's no reason to take this too seriously. The likelihood of Dems maintaining a House majority is remote, at best, and even if there were some kind of electoral miracle, and a majority of the House still supported a public option next year, the dysfunctional Senate wouldn't allow a vote on the idea. President Obama would almost certainly welcome a bill with a public option reaching his desk, but I don't imagine he wants to have another big fight over health care policy anytime soon. More likely, he's going to have to fight just to keep what he's already won.

That said, I'm glad Clyburn brought it up anyway, even if the comments were borne of desperation. It's worth noting, from time to time, that the public option belongs on the list of policies Democrats want, and will continue to want, until it's law. The most recent push for the proposal wasn't the last time we'll see an appeal for a public option; it was the first.

Indeed, after the lengthy fight to pass the ACA, it's easy to forget that this was the first time the idea of a public option had ever been considered by lawmakers. As recently as 2004, leading Democratic presidential candidates offered some reasonably good health care plans -- though none was as ambitious as the final version of the Affordable Care Act -- but not one, not even Howard Dean, made any reference to a public option. It wasn't because they were opposed to the concept, it's because the concept hadn't really taken shape yet.

Clyburn's underlying point happens to be true -- the Democratic desire to create a public option hasn't gone away. If its proponents don't want to get further away from their goal, they should help prevent a Republican takeover of Congress.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share

THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a controversial association between a sitting U.S. senator and a scandalous pastor.

The preacher's name is Lou Engle, whose name may or may not be familiar, though you've probably heard of his work. Engle is perhaps best known for working with lawmakers in Uganda on legislation allowing the execution of gays and lesbians, but he's also argued publicly that President Obama is responsible for unleashing "demons" upon the United States, and that Satan has gained control over the American government.

This week, reports surfaced that Sen. Sam Brownback (R), currently the frontrunner in Kansas' gubernatorial race, has not only worked closely with the radical cleric, but the two even lived together for several months. After initially refusing to discuss his relationship with the extremist religious leader, Brownback finally addressed the matter on Wednesday, expressing "uneasiness" with some of Engle's work.

The Kansas Democratic Party raised questions about ties between the Republican Party's nominee for governor and the minister with headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. Brownback has participated in religious rallies in Tennessee and elsewhere hosted by Engle, who says Christians may need to martyr themselves in the campaign against abortion and homosexuality.

Engle and Brownback were together as recently as December 2009 when they appeared on the Internet broadcast of a prayer service seeking God's intervention to block Senate passage of health reform.

Brownback, interviewed following a TV appearance in Topeka, said Kansas voters should understand he doesn't agree with all positions expressed by Engle.

The senator/gubernatorial frontrunner did not specify which positions espoused by the radical cleric Brownback found disagreeable.

Brownback is under increasing pressure to formally denounce Engle once and for all, but as of now, the far-right Republican has refused.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* This week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints scrambled to denounce bullying, including for reasons of sexual orientation, after a senior Mormon leader made anti-gay remarks against a backdrop of bullying and suicides of numerous gay teenagers. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

* Glenn Beck has been using his Fox News program to urge Christians to reject climate science, and is relying on a religious group funded by ExxonMobil to do it.

* A poll in Tennessee this week found that two-thirds of Tennesseans "agree" or "strongly agree" that Muslims should have the same religious rights as other Americans. The same poll found that 14% of people in the state disagreed.

* In Los Angeles this week, an atheist conference sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism brought together some notable non-believers. The NYT noted, "They agreed on two things: People can be good without religion, and religion has too much influence. But they disagreed about how stridently to make those claims."

* And Media Matters noted this week that a variety of Fox News personalities are using their media platform to "promote theories about Biblical Armageddon." Seriously.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share

NEWS CORP'S SHAMELESSNESS.... In mid-August, we learned that media giant News Corp., Fox News' parent company, had broken new political ground by contributing $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. There was no modern precedent for this kind of financial intervention by a media company, and asked for an explanation, a spokesperson said it was because News Corp agrees with Republicans.

Last month, the story got slightly worse -- in addition to the RGA donation, and in-kind contributions by Fox News personalities on a daily basis, News Corp has now also contributed an additional $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its pro-Republican election-year activities.

Were there any other contributions? Yep.

This evening, IRS disclosures reveal that News Corporation gave another check, time for $250,000, bringing his total donation amount to $1,250,000. Other donors include Bill Koch, who donated $100,000, Swift Boat-funder Bob Perry, who gave $3.5 million, and right-wing casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who gave $1 million to the Republican campaign group.

As it turns out, shortly before we learned of this latest six-figure check, Rupert Murdoch "got a grilling from his company's shareholders" about the "reputational risk" News Corp created by writing huge checks to help Republicans by the election cycle.

Murdoch seemed unfazed by the questions. Asked if News Corp would involve shareholders in the political donation process, Murdoch said no. Asked if News Corp would commit to transparency about the media company's campaign contributions, Murdoch hedged.

He did, however, insist that using News Corp's bank account to influence the outcome of U.S. elections is worthwhile, because he wants to see "a fair amount of change in Washington."

The striking shamelessness of it all is a sight to behold.

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

THE COMPANY ALLEN WEST KEEPS.... Even in a year with an excessive number of extremists seeking key offices, Florida congressional candidate Allen West (R) stands out as someone who seems unhinged to an almost dangerous, out-of-control degree.

West first gained notoriety during his military service in Iraq, when he was forced to retire from the Army for engaging in abusive interrogation techniques. More recently, he's incorporated violent rhetoric into his campaign speeches, and made demonstrably ridiculous claims about his own background.

Last night, the story got considerably worse. NBC News ran a report documenting West's background associating with a violent gang of criminals, which the Justice Department believes is involved in drug running, arson, prostitution, robbery, and murder.

West has had personal dealings with the Florida chapter of this violent gang, and has even defended them in emails (despite having lied about those emails).

At this point, the two questions that come to mind are: (1) where do Republicans find guys like this to seek federal office? and (2) why on earth are candidates like these considered acceptable by Republicans in the 21st century?

Keep in mind, the GOP establishment doesn't seem embarrassed by West's candidacy at all. He's been endorsed by Eric Cantor and Sarah Palin, and just this week, the NRCC touted West's candidacy.

And as of now, West is favored to win in Florida's 22nd congressional district.

It's as if some kind of contagious madness has spread throughout much of the country.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share

KILMEADE DOUBLES DOWN, CONDEMNS MUSLIMS AGAIN.... On yesterday's "Fox & Friends," co-host Brian Kilmeade felt compelled to share his unique perspective on religion and terrorism: "[A] certain group of people attacked us on 9/11, it wasn't just one person, it was one religion. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."

That is, of course, both ridiculous and offensive, and had the makings of a Rick Sanchez Moment. Major media outlets didn't quite see it that way -- Kilmeade's comments were widely ignored -- but several online outlets (including this one) raised the visibility of his condemnation a bit.

So, Kilmeade returned to the subject on his Fox News Radio show. After taking note of some Muslim terrorists, he insisted once again, "Not every Muslim is an extremist, a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim. You can't avoid that fact."

Actually, you can avoid that "fact," since it's not a fact at all. There are many kinds of terrorists around the world who commit brutal acts of violence, and they're not Muslim. Kilmeade's bigotry has rendered him embarrassingly, shamelessly ignorant. But instead of walking back his ugly comments when he had the chance, Kilmeade decided to double down and repeat them.

Media Matters asked, "What does Brian Kilmeade have to say to get fired?" I've been wondering the same thing.

To reiterate a point from yesterday, the larger lesson seems to be that bigotry is acceptable, so long as it's directed towards some groups and not others. If Kilmeade had said, "Not all Jews run media organizations, but all media organizations are run by Jews," there'd probably be some pushback. If he'd told his national television audience, "Not all Roman Catholic priests are caught up in abuse scandals, but everyone caught up in abuse scandals is a Roman Catholic priest," I suspect it would have been a bigger deal.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share
 
October 15, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Fed eyes a new round of intervention: "The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, appeared to remove any lingering doubt Friday that the central bank would take new actions to fortify the torpid recovery and fight low inflation and high unemployment."

* Social Security: "Another year without an increase in Social Security retirement and disability benefits is creating a political backlash that has President Barack Obama and Democrats pushing to give a $250 bonus to each of the program's 58 million recipients."

* Not helpful: "Israel ended an unofficial construction freeze in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem on Friday, announcing plans to build 238 housing units. The move comes as hard-won peace talks are stalled over the question of whether Israel will extend its broader construction moratorium in the West Bank."

* Those worried about inflation aren't paying attention: "The economy continued to show little sign of inflation as consumer prices eased marginally in September, while the retail sector provided a glimmer of hope for consumers, government reports said on Friday."

* Seems like a no-brainer: "A domestic abuse victim filed a lawsuit Friday claiming a disgraced Wisconsin prosecutor violated her constitutional rights by sending her text messages seeking to start an affair while prosecuting her ex-boyfriend."

* Remember, not all earmarks are wasteful: "Earmarks have long been maligned as pork. I thought I'd go see what one looks like in Massachusetts, so I went to the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge." (thanks to R.L. for the tip)

* The Forgive Student Loan Debt initiative will piggyback onto Jon Stewart's upcoming rally, in the hopes of making the case that forgiving all students loans would boost the economy.

* During a debate this week between Delaware's major-party Senate candidates, Christine O'Donnell (R) insisted that Chris Coons (D) "paid $53,000 in a men's fashion show." She was lying.

* If you haven't taken the time to watch the clip of Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns' message to GLBT teens, you should. It's quite powerful. (thanks to S.Y. for passing it along.)

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

Bookmark and Share

DEFICIT SHRINKS FROM LAST YEAR'S RECORD.... Deficit hawks probably won't be pleased with the total, but they should at least be pleased with the direction.

The federal government budget deficit shrank in fiscal 2010, but the big gap was only $122 billion lower than the record high set a year ago.

The U.S. spent $1.294 trillion more than it collected in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Treasury Department said Friday.

The deficit amounted to 8.9% of gross domestic product. That's down from fiscal 2009, when the deficit of $1.416 trillion was 10.0% of GDP.

Spending fell and revenues rose in fiscal 2010 as the economy recovered from the deep recession that contributed to the nation's troubled fiscal condition.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the Congressional Budget Office reported on its estimate of the federal budget deficit for FY2010 would just last week. Today's Treasury report is the official deficit tally, though as it turns out, the CBO projection was almost on the nose.

The $1.294 trillion shortfall is smaller than last year's total; it's slightly lower than the deficit President Obama inherited from his predecessor; and the final figure was smaller than projections made by the administration and the CBO earlier this year.

Want to have some fun? Ask your favorite Tea Partier whether the deficit they claim to care so much about is higher or lower now than when Obama took office. They won't care for the answer, but it's true.

What's more, as Stan Collender recently noted, the $122 billion improvement on the deficit "is the biggest one-year nominal drop in the deficit that has ever occurred." We probably won't see headlines blaring, "U.S. achieves biggest one-year deficit reduction in American history," but that just happens to be the case.

So, why won't this news be heralded as a positive development. For all the reasons we talked about last week.

For those of us who want to see the government borrow more in order to invest in economic growth and job creation, news of the deficit going down isn't good news at all. Borrowing more money is exceedingly cheap right now, and the economy desperately needs a boost. The fact that the deficit is shrinking may seem like good news in the abstract, but it's arguably the opposite of what we need.

And for those who consider the deficit a civilization-threatening scourge, we may be witnessing "the biggest one-year nominal drop in the deficit that has ever occurred," but it's not enough because it's still $1.29 trillion. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to the report showing a shrinking a deficit with a press release, boasting that the new figure is proof that Republicans are right (about what was unclear).

As Collender put the reduction "was both too much and not enough."

Jonathan Cohn added last week that there were plenty of center-right Dems who balked at deficit spending, even to improve the economy, because they were afraid of a backlash: "Running higher deficits, they thought, would incur the wrath of voters and make re-election difficult. Well, now they've gotten their way. The deficit is coming down. Let's see how much the voters care come November."

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

Bookmark and Share

ANGLE: LEAVE THE INSURANCE COMPANIES ALONE.... Last night's debate between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and Sharron Angle (R) may have been dull, but it wasn't without substantive revelations.

Greg Sargent noted that the moderator asked Angle if there are literally any medical treatments or exams that health insurance companies should be required to cover. She eventually replied, "What we have here is a choice between the free markets and Americanism. America is about choices. The free market will weed out those companies that do not offer as many choices and do not have a cost-effective system."

Of course, for decades we've had insurers that offered fewer choices and cost-ineffective systems, but relying on the free market wasn't enough to help families who needed more.

The Reid campaign quickly put together this new ad, explaining what Angle's approach means in the real world: "At the debate, Sharron Angle couldn't think of a single thing insurance companies should be made to cover. Not one thing. Not colon cancer tests. Not mammograms. Not autism. Nothing."

The ad characterizes this as both "extreme" and "dangerous."

Greg added, "Many have noted already that the Angle-Reid race has posed voters with one of the starkest ideological choices you could possibly ask for in a political contest. Her answer on mandates makes this even clearer."

Agreed. It's not dishonesty or corruption or scandal; it's about competing values. Angle believes what really matters is the government leaving insurance companies alone, no matter what the effects are on the public; Reid believes what really matters is protecting Americans from insurers' excesses and guaranteeing a standard of care.

It's a microcosm of a larger philosophical dispute -- should the government look out for consumers and offer families a safety net, or should people fall prey to the whims of businesses that are compelled to put shareholders' interests above the public's?

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share

TIDES FOUNDATION REACHES OUT TO BECK ADVERTISERS.... Over the summer, a man named Byron Williams loaded up his mother's truck with firearms, put on body armor, and headed to San Francisco with the intention of starting a violent rampage. He had an arsenal that featured armor-piercing rounds fired from a .308-caliber rifle.

After being pulled over for driving erratically, Williams, a rabid Glenn Beck fan, opened fire on Oakland police officers. They, however, weren't his intended target -- his goal was to "start a revolution" with bloodshed at the Tides Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports "sustainability, better education, solutions to the AIDS epidemic and human rights," but which Beck considers a cog in some larger conspiracy to destroy capitalism.

As it turns out, the prospect of a madman plotting a murderous rampage has left the Tides Foundation feeling unsettled.

In an extraordinary move to nip the inflammatory commentary coming from Glenn Beck, the founder and CEO of the Tides Foundation (a frequent Beck target) has written advertisers asking them to remove their sponsorship of the Fox News program or risk having "blood on their hands."

Drummond Pike, who along with his organization was recently targeted by an assassin inspired by Beck's program, penned a letter on Friday to the Chairmen of the Boards of JP Morgan Chase, GEICO, Zurich Financial, Chrysler, Direct Holdings Americas, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Lilly Corporate Center, BP, and The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.

In it, he detailed the alarm he felt over having a "person carrying numerous guns and body armor" attempt to start a "revolution" by murdering "my colleagues and me."

Pike's correspondence added, "I respectfully request that you bring this matter of your company's sponsorship of hate speech leading to violence to the attention of your fellow directors as soon as possible. I believe no responsible company should advertise on Fox News due to its recent and on-going deplorable conduct."

Time will tell whether this has any effect, but the Tides Foundation going directly to these companies, pressing them on the advertising on the Republican network, is clearly a bold move.

It also ties into Fox News' ongoing problem in this area: as of last month, "296 advertisers have asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck's show (up from 26 in August 2009). Fox also has a difficult time selling ads on 'The O'Reilly Factor' and 'Fox and Friends' when Beck appears on those shows as a guest."

This from a host who's lost more than a fourth of his audience since the highs of 2009.

It's something to keep in mind as those sponsors receive the Tides Foundation's request, and consider their next ad buy.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share

SOFT BIGOTRY, LOW EXPECTATIONS.... I couldn't bring myself to watch last night's debate between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and extremist challenger Sharron Angle (R), but nearly all of the accounts I've read suggested it was dull, depressing, and interminable.

But several reports also note that Angle fared relatively well in the showdown. Kevin Drum, who also didn't watch, notes that the Republican nominee "may have benefited from galactically low expectations."

"Angle repeatedly found herself in verbal cul-de-sacs which she only escaped by returning to well-rehearsed talking points," said Politico's Jonathan Martin, "all the while blurring over some of her controversial statements or ignoring questions about them altogether." And the Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston more or less agreed: "Angle won because she looked relatively credible, appearing not to be the Wicked Witch of the West."

So I guess that's where we are. Freakish candidates are now held to such low standards that all they have to do is surprise us by not sounding like they belong in a locked mental ward. Welcome to 2010.

I feel like this has come up more and more lately. Chris Cillizza responded to the same debate agreeing that Angle was "far from impressive," but she nevertheless "almost certainly met the low bar of credibility she needed to clear to have a real chance at winning the race."

I understand the point. Observers tune in to see if a candidate can stand there and not run away crying. But in a modern democracy, that's not much of a standard for powerful statewide offices.

The political world seems to realize that some real nutjobs have won major-party nominations this year, which then apparently leads to surprise when clearly unqualified nominees manage to engage in a debate without drooling on themselves for an hour.

But, really, what do these debate watchers expect? Was there any real chance that Sharron Angle would take the stage last night, pull out a machine gun, and start threatening to kill gay immigrants who used to work for ACORN?

We seem to have developed a depressing checklist: (a) did the candidate show up; (b) did the candidate speak English; (c) did the candidate remember the talking points drilled into his/her head by handlers from Washington; (d) did the candidate repeat the poll-tested zinger; (e) did the candidate avoid some kind of mental breakdown.

If most of the list gets a check mark, then the candidate is necessarily deemed credible enough for service.

We're talking about entry into the United States Senate, which actually used to mean something. The hurdle for electoral victory and the acquisition of considerable power needs to be considerably higher.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share

THE MOST AMAZING LIBERTARIAN QUOTE OF ALL TIME.... There's apparently an ongoing controversy in New Hampshire about state officials removing a newborn from a home considered dangerous for the child. Reports indicate that the father in the home has a long history of domestic violence towards the mother and her two other children, and an affidavit from the state's Division for Children also noted the multiple weapons in the home, as well as the father's associations with radical political organizations.

But that last part sparked outrage from libertarians, who've argued the state is stealing the babies of Oath Keepers. Slate's Tom Scocca flagged a quote from one local activist that simply amazed me (thanks to reader D.D. for the heads-up):

"The family should be left to resolve it on their own," [Amanda] Biondolillo said. "Or private enterprise -- private companies can contact the family and say, 'We heard you were hitting your kids. Can you stop that?' "

Oh, those wacky libertarians. Sometimes, they just leave me speechless.

Scocca added in response:

[R]eally? Private enterprise! The solution to domestic violence is for there to be private companies that will go around telling people to please stop hitting their kids. Oh, the parents will say, we hadn't thought of that. We will stop hitting the children now.

OK, private enterprise is superior to government at every conceivable task. Extreme version of a very common belief. But it's pretty remarkable to see it coming from someone who has no idea how private enterprise works. Set aside the question of how effective this imaginary private company is going to be at ending child abuse. What's the business model here? Where does the revenue come from? Are the employees of Please Don't Hit Your Child, Inc. going to collect tips from their grateful customers? Are they going to sell ad space on the trucks they go visiting in?

I can't do any better than that.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

DANCING WITH THE CZARS.... Remember last year, when Republicans seemed awfully excited about "czars"? It was all the rage for a while, and Congress even held a couple of hearings for reasons I still don't understand.

Eventually, it occurred to the political world that the "debate," such as it was, had no value; "czars" weren't controversial; the Obama White House was utilizing officials just as other modern administrations had done; and the story faded away. Looking back, the whole hullabaloo seems to serve as a reminder of how silly our political discourse can be.

Alas, not everyone thinks so.

Republicans will have President Barack Obama's czars and his use of regulatory powers to circumvent congressional inaction on issues such as cap and trade in GOP crosshairs if the party takes control in January. [...]

"When the Republicans are in charge, you will see the oversight subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee active on a whole host of fronts," said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, who would chair the subcommittee if the Republicans take control of Congress. "How are these [czars] funded? So whether it be the authorizing committees and appropriations committees in terms of deleting the funds for those, I think you could go after it in one of two different ways.

Good lord, do we really have to do go through this again?

Jed Lewison, who characterized all of this as "insane," added:

What Beck (and now Republicans) call "czars" are really just presidential aides and advisers, many of whom have been confirmed by the Senate. There's nothing new about them and they've existed since the founding of the Republic. In fact, far from being a threat to our democracy, these are people who are working to preserve our Constitution and strengthen our nation. They are serving us and they are accountable to us -- not the other way around.

But Republicans know they need to scare the shit out of their base to win this election, so they've decided to sell Beck's conspiracy theory to the electorate. The problem with that cynical political strategy is that they can't just sell the conspiracy -- they've also go to promise to do something about it. And so they are now running up and down the country vowing to eliminate a threat which doesn't exist.

For the record, the Bush/Cheney administration had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during its two terms. Congressional Republicans never cared, and in some cases, applauded the expansion of the czar team.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share

FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* Are Americans really OK with this? "Spending by outside groups trying to influence the mid-term elections increased by a staggering $78 million in the last week, pushing the total spent by non-profits, labor unions and party committees to more than $200 million this cycle. That's an 80 percent increase from 2006, the last mid-term election."

* In other fundraising news, the Republican Governors Association raised a stunning $31 million in the third quarter, about triple the amount raised by the Democratic Governors Association. The DCCC, however, outraised the NRCC in September, $15.9 million to $11.2 million.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, Republicans are so confident in Marco Rubio's success that the NRSC has canceled $4 million in TV ads, and will instead spend the money in California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

* Speaking of Florida, a new Sunshine State News poll shows Alex Sink (D) leading Rick Scott (R) in this year's gubernatorial race, 48% to 45%. The same poll had shown Scott with a modest lead.

* In West Virginia's U.S. Senate race, a new Marshall University poll shows Gov. Joe Manchin (D) with a surprisingly large lead over John Raese (R), 48% to 38%.

* And speaking of West Virginia, remember when then the National Republican Senatorial Committee said it had nothing do with the "hicky" casting call? It turns out, the NRSC wasn't telling the truth.

* In Ohio's gubernatorial race, a new Ohio Poll shows John Kasich (R) leading Gov. Ted Strickland (D), 51% to 43%.

* In South Carolina's gubernatorial race, the Republican Governors Association is worried enough about Nikki Haley's (R) chances that it's running attack ads against Democratic nominee Vincent Sheheen.

* In Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, the latest Suffolk University poll shows Gov. Deval Patrick (D) out in front in his re-election bid with 46% support, followed by Charlie Baker (R) with 39% and Tim Cahill (I) third at 10%.

* Vermont's gubernatorial race continues to be very close, with a new Vermont Public Radio poll showing Brian Dubie (R) leading Peter Shumlin (D) by one, 44% to 43%.

* In Nevada's gubernatorial race, Brian Sandoval (R) leads Rory Reid (D), but the margin depends on which poll you rely on. PPP shows Sandoval up by nine, while Mason-Dixon has Sandoval's leading by 15.

* And in Connecticut's gubernatorial race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Dan Malloy (D) leading Tom Foley (R), 49% to 42%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

Bookmark and Share

RATIONALIZING HOSTILITY FOR THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION.... Senate candidate Rand Paul, like a lot of his GOP brethren this year, would like to eliminate the Department of Education. During a debate yesterday, he elaborated on why.

"I would rather the local schools decide things. I don't like the idea of somebody in Washington deciding that Susie has two mommies is an appropriate family situation and should be taught to my kindergardener at school. That's what happens when we let things get to a federal level."

And here I thought Paul wouldn't have a good reason. Clearly, he's given this a lot of thought.

Or not. It's certainly possible that Rand Paul knows better and is just making a shameless appeal for the bigot vote, but when he makes remarks like these, the motivation hardly matters.

Ugly intolerance notwithstanding, it's worth emphasizing that the Department of Education has been around for a while, and it's never dictated lessons to any school districts on telling kindergardeners about same-sex couples. Paul seems to have just made it up.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share

RON JOHNSON PLANS A 'RE-EDUCATION OF AMERICA'.... Wisconsin Senate hopeful Ron Johnson reminds me a bit of Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey -- both are very lucky they're being overshadowed by other extremist candidates.

In a typical year, Johnson's bizarre, misguided worldview would be a pretty major national story. The chattering class would marvel at questions like, "Would Wisconsin really elect a far-right radical to the U.S. Senate?" But this isn't a typical year, and unhinged candidates like Angle, Paul, O'Donnell, Miller, and Buck have garnered enough attention that Johnson can run in relative anonymity outside his home state.

This week, Politico's Jim VandeHei reported from Wisconsin on the significance of the Senate race pitting Johnson against Sen. Russ Feingold (D), and the GOP candidate reflected a bit on his future plans.

Guided by GOP insider Curt Anderson, Johnson has poured millions of dollars into what often seems like a rather cautious campaign. In the interview, it was clear the professional handlers have gotten to Johnson. He is very reluctant to engage in specifics on Social Security and Medicare, even though his admiration of and ideological connection to fellow Wisconsinite Rep. Paul Ryan make plain what direction he would head in if elected. [...]

[H]e watches his words, ignoring the fact that he's already making the trade-offs conventional politicians make to win office. It will be different once and if he wins, he promises. Then, his true feelings can take voice. [emphasis added]

Is that so. Vote for Johnson in November and then voters will get to see what he's all about. Call me old fashioned, but that sounds backwards.

Elsewhere in the Politico piece, VandeHei asked what kind of innovative ideas Johnson might pursue as a U.S. senator. Johnson skipped right past substantive issues, and committed himself to a "re-education of America."

Are you kidding me? Can you even imagine what the response would be if a liberal Democrat vowed to pursue a "re-education of America" if elected to the U.S. Senate?

Maybe Wisconsin voters just don't know what they're getting themselves into; maybe they do and they're angry enough not to care. Regardless, Johnson may not get the exposure some of his extremist allies get in Nevada, Delaware, and Kentucky, but the differences between his right-wing worldview and theirs are practically non-existent.

We are, after all, talking about the far-right candidate who rails against government intervention in private industry, but has sought and received federal aid for his business enterprises. He thinks "sunspots" cause global warming, which doesn't make any sense. He's argued that China is better for businesses than the United States. He thinks Greenland has snow because of global cooling. At the height of the BP oil spill disaster, he said he'd sell his BP stock, just as soon as it was more profitable for him.

More recently, Johnson has boasted in ads about his disdain for Social Security. Worse, he's said he hates the stimulus, then got caught seeking stimulus funds, and then said asking for stimulus money isn't proof that he wanted the money. He's had a scandalous role in trying to protect child molesters from abuse lawsuits, and his story about being a self-made success in business isn't quite what it appears to be.

And now he intends to launch a "re-education of America."

Given all of this, it's awfully difficult to take Ron Johnson seriously. At least, it would be, if he weren't leading in every poll.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share

ANOTHER DEM BUCKS THE TREND ON HEALTH CARE POLITICS.... Following up on an item from yesterday, it's actually pretty encouraging to see the recent shift in strategy for many congressional Democrats who aren't afraid of health care reform. All of a sudden, we're seeing a number of congressional Democrats run on, instead of away from, the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

The latest example is Rep. Allyson Schwartz's (D-Pa.) new ad, unveiled this week, touting her work on protecting children with pre-existing conditions from insurance discrimination -- a key and popular provision in the Affordable Care Act.

And while this is a good ad with merit, the larger significance is the fact that a growing number of Dems have decided to stop hiding from one of their landmark achievements.

Just in the last few weeks, we've seen ads with a pro-ACA message from Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and among House incumbents, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), Dan Malloy (D-Conn.), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), and Dina Titus (D-Nev.).

What's more, Brian Beutler noted this week that some candidates, including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), have touted at least parts of the Affordable Care Act during debate performances, and Reps. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.) have published op-eds in their districts defending the law.

The conventional wisdom -- the law is unpopular, so Dems don't want to talk about it -- certainly isn't true everywhere.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

Bookmark and Share

MILKING HANNITY FOR ALL HE'S WORTH.... Trailing in the polls, extremist Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (R) would love a boost from her party, which seems to have already written her off. Bur Howard Fineman reports that the radical Delaware candidate has an alternate approach to rally support.

[Top Republican strategists and officials] say the Delaware Republican is loudly complaining about how they won't support her -- and they are not -- as a way to generate angry, send-them-a-message donations from her Tea Party base.

Specifically, according to two top GOP insiders, she said at a strategy meeting with DC types last week: "I've got Sean Hannity in my back pocket, and I can go on his show and raise money by attacking you guys."

The strategy makes some sense. Hoping to pit the far-right party leadership against the further-right party base, O'Donnell figures she can remain competitive by telling activists that she's challenging an entrenched establishment. The hysterical base, which would love to see the Republican Party become even more unhinged, is then supposed to rally behind O'Donnell's cause.

And sure enough, just yesterday, O'Donnell appeared on Hannity's radio show to plead for the cash that the National Republican Senatorial Committee isn't sending her way.

But here's the question: shouldn't Hannity mind this kind of exploitation? Sure, he's a shameless hack, but hearing an extremist candidate boast, "I've got Sean Hannity in my back pocket," should cause at least a little discomfort, shouldn't it?

C'mon, Sean, have some self-respect. Stand up for yourself. Don't allow yourself to be used by nutjobs who only like you for your audience's gullibility.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... As you may have heard, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly appeared on "The View" yesterday, and the discussion didn't go well. As part of an argument over converting a closed clothing store into a community center -- oh good, we're still talking about that -- O'Reilly blasted Muslims, and two of the co-hosts were disgusted enough to walk off the set.

On "Fox & Friends" this morning, Brian Kilmeade, not surprisingly, criticized Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, saying they "couldn't handle" the debate.

Kilmeade added, "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims." He was, by all appearances, serious.

It's more than a little upsetting that this kind of nonsense is deemed acceptable. Ideally, "all terrorists are Muslims" would be a "Rick Sanchez moment" for Brian Kilmeade, but that's probably unlikely, since it's Fox News and this kind of talk is painfully common.

I hesitate to treat this kind of ugliness with a substantive response, but given what we've seen of late, it's hard to believe even someone of Brian Kilmeade's abilities could overlook all of the recent domestic terrorism committed by non-Muslims.

Byron Williams recently plotted a terrorist scheme in California, and he's not a Muslim. John Patrick Bedell opened fire at the Pentagon; Joe Stack flew an airplane into a building; Jerry Kane Jr. and his son killed two police officers in