Political Animal


July 22, 2014 11:30 AM Con-Con Trifecta in GA House Runoffs?

If you wanted a pretty good laboratory experiment of the “Year of the Republican Establishment” narrative, it might be in today’s three Georgia U.S. House GOP runoffs, all occurring in districts easily carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. There’s a clear-cut “constitutional conservative” in all three. And while their opponents aren’t exactly anybody’s idea of a “moderate,” they do tend to howl at the moon a bit less and also treat conservative ideology more in transactional terms (10th district “Establishment” candidate Mike Collins, for example, seems to think he only needs to represent his fellow business owners) than as an eternal edict of Jesus Christ and Thomas Jefferson.

The easiest call, and perhaps the most revealing contest, is in Phil Gingrey’s GA-11, where con-con state senator Barry Loudermilk ran comfortably ahead of former congressman Bob Barr in the primary, and should win today. I’ve written about Loudermilk for a good while; he’s in many respects a calmer version of Paul Broun. It tells you a lot that in his desperation Barr, the 2008 presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, has staked his runoff campaign on arguing Loudermilk can’t be trusted to bring home the military-industrial complex bacon for Dobbins Air Force Base and Lockheed-Martin.

Speaking of Paul Broun, the runoff to choose his successor features the aforementioned Mike Collins, a trucking company exec, and the fiery Baptist minister and radio talk show host Jody Hice. Hice narrowly ran first in the primary, and more importantly, was recently endorsed by Broun. His whole act is very much a freak-show in the Broun tradition, and I’d be a bit surprised if he didn’t win.

The hardest runoff to call is in Kingston’s GA-01, where turnout will likely be higher than elsewhere thanks to Kingston’s own GOTV effort. The top primary finisher and presumed “Establishment” favorite is state senator Buddy Carter. But con-con Bob Johnson (who styles himself “Dr. Bob—Christian conservative”) has gotten generous help from the Club for Growth (which has run attack ads on Carter with the tag-line “Hey Buddy—You’re Liberal!”) and an endorsement from Sarah Palin. I’d pick him to win if turnout in the 1st was a low as it’s likely to be elsewhere.

As I noted after the primary, the general assumption that Georgia’s visibly nutty GOP congressional delegation would lose some of its lurid character with the unsuccessful Senate candidacies of Broun and Gingrey might have been premature.

July 22, 2014 10:28 AM Rick Perry Gets His Swagger Back

No doubt about it: there’s something almost biblical about Rick Perry’s sudden return to the national limelight in GOP politics (though it’s not clear which angelic or demonic role he’s playing). Less than three years ago he announced a presidential campaign that briefly blotted out the sky. In the early states he’d trot out his signature walk-the-stage swagger (sort of an Aggie version of a Mick Jagger performance) and the conservative faithful would swoon at all the testosterone in the air. Then he took the wrong position on how to deal with the DREAMers, and got the humma-hummas, and fell off the national stage with a sickening thud.

Via the very same issue that wrong-footed him in 2011, Perry’s back, as conservative audiences want to hear him bellow about defending the border and the American Identity from all those brown children. WaPo’s Phillip Rucker catches his return-to-Iowa act:

He came here for redemption. At the Clear Lake Evangelical Free Church, Rick Perry held his arms across his torso and swayed as the choir sang during last Sunday’s morning service. He bowed his head while the pastor preached about “God’s perfect plan of salvation….”
After church on Sunday, Perry spoke about the influx of young immigrants in front of about 100 conservative activists, who sat rapt inside a hot and steamy airplane hangar here. When the governor said the words “securing the border,” he clenched his left fist, flexed his bicep and leaned his body forward. He paced side to side with a wireless microphone and no notes, bending his knees for emphasis. He looked like a Texas A&M football coach giving the Aggies a pep talk.
“I’ve walked into the facility where these young kids are being held, and the look in their eyes — the lack of hope, they’re scared,” Perry said. “They’ve been lured here by policies put into place that basically said, ‘If you will come here and you cross that river, you can stay here in America.’ That’s a siren song that has to stop.”

Perry’s found the rhetorical sweet spot on the refugee crisis, all right: wrapping a raw and ugly nativist sentiment in soft Christian solicitude. It’s necessary for the National Guard to force “these young kids” back across the border at gunpoint, you see, because the Evil Stranger With Candy, Barack Obama, has “lured” them here, presumably to put them on welfare and then harvest their votes.

What makes this approach especially effective for Perry is that it echoes the tough-love approach of his signature economic message: anyone needing a job who is willing to be humble and take whatever meager wage the Almighty Investor offers and forswear sissy-pants priorities like safe working conditions and clean air and water and public education and reproductive rights can by come to Texas and prosper. Rick Perry will even slip the Boss Man some subsidies to make sure he doesn’t take his hard-inherited capital to some other public-policy brothel where labor and those who supply it are respected even less. It’s all of a piece of Rick Perry’s persona of Christian Stewardship, which just happens to coincide with the needs of the most powerful and reactionary interests in the country.

I don’t know if Perry’s redemption will last beyond the current crisis, or if he’ll again fall off the stage. But he’s sure got his swagger back.

July 22, 2014 9:39 AM Where’s the Wave?

I’ve been saying this for a while, but The Upshot’s Nate Cohn says it better: if there’s going to be some sort of Republican “wave” election this year, it’s going to have to start showing up pretty soon in the polling of major races. And so far it really hasn’t:

The race for the Senate, at least right now, is stable. There aren’t many polls asking whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans to control Congress, but the Democrats appear to maintain a slight edge among registered voters. Democratic incumbents in red Republican states, who would be all but doomed in a Republican wave, appear doggedly competitive in places where Mitt Romney won by as much as 24 points in 2012.
The same could not be said for Rick Santorum or Blanche Lincoln in 2006 or 2010. The light-blue Democratic states and purple presidential battleground states, like Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire, all seem to be heading toward tight races or Democratic wins, as one would expect in a fairly neutral year.

Cohn concedes things could still change. But waves don’t just appear out of nowhere on Election Day:

[A]s July turns to August, the G.O.P. is now on the clock. If there is to be a wave this November, the signs of a shift toward the G.O.P. ought to start to show up, somewhere, soon. Every day that goes by without a shift toward the G.O.P. increases the odds that there will not be a wave at all.

Lest Democrats get too excited while watching that clock, Cohn also reminds us that Republicans could most definitely retake control of the Senate without a wave lifting its candidates. That’s how bad the landscape for Democrats is this cycle: a “normal” election with no real national push or pull could still produce the six net GOP wins it needs to create the nauseating spectacle of Mitch McConnell in charge of the Upper Chamber (assuming Mitch himself survives).

July 22, 2014 9:01 AM Runoff Day in Georgia

It’s a rainy, humid runoff election day in Georgia, being held an unusual nine weeks after the primary, which has confused some voters. The mid-summer Vacation timing, the weather, the nasty tone of the marquee Senate contest, and the absence of much happening on the Democratic side, have combined to encourage projections of a very low turnout—perhaps in the single digits percentage-wise (which means percentage of total registered voters, since there’s no party registration here).

Low turnout in a Republican primary, especially in the Deep South, usually means Wingnut Paradise. If so, the table is set for a bad night for the Republican Establishment, with there being a reasonably clear Movement Conservative favorite in the Senate and three House runoffs. But local factors and the simple reality that pretty much every Republican candidate here would have been considered wild and crazy twenty years ago make predictions difficult.

In this post I’ll focus on the Senate runoff and deal with the House races later today.

The Senate runoff offers an interesting microcosm of the superficiality of the national narrative of a “pragmatic” and even “moderate” Republican Establishment seeking to crush the Tea Party once and for all. In the original field, U.S. Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, two of the zanier hard-core conservative Republican House members, were thought to be struggling for the all-important mantle of Most Conservative candidate. Both led some early polls. A third candidate who decided to go all out for the ideological vote was former Secretary of State Karen Handel, whose campaign was handicapped by the fact that her major patron, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, was backing his own cousin, David, a career corporate manager and first-time candidate.

Perdue ran a classic Romney-esque “outsider businessman” campaign, which he largely funded from his own resources. He took conventionally conservative issue positions but mostly talked about his business resume. A fifth candidate, ten-term House incumbent and appropriator Jack Kingston, enjoyed a rare regional base (he represents the coastal 1st District, whose citizens often feel left out of Atlanta-centric Georgia politics) and the ability to raise big money from lobbyists, but seemed almost a parody of the kind of pol the Tea Party had arisen to smite.

In the end, Broun and Handel were crippled by money shortages; Gingrey campaigned like a wino (never did figure out how he spent his large budget; seemed to be on very slick mailers); and Perdue and Kingston cruised to the two runoff spots, with 31% and 26% of the vote respectively. But Kingston had managed an unlikely ideological makeover during the primary. He used a stupid National Journal rating to proclaim himself “the most conservative House member” in the field; ran ads attacking The Welfare and describing himself as a good-old-boy skinflint. Most interestingly, Kingston also attacked Common Core (calling it “Obamacare for education”), supposedly a huge priority for his major financial backer the U.S, Chamber of Commerce (this tells you something about the Chamber’s actual priorities).

In any event, when Kingston edged Handel for a runoff spot, she instantly endorsed him, as did Gingrey, and his campaign has had something of the “Viva! Ole!” atmosphere of a real wingnut crusade. He immediately surged into a lead in the polls, and until the last week or two, seemed a lock.

Perdue, however, has dipped back into his own wallet, and made his own effort to outflank Kingston on the right, mainly via an ad tying his opponent to the Chamber’s support for “amnesty” (i.e., the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill), a very dirty word in GA Republican circles. Coincidentally or not, the last couple of polls have shown a tightening race, and Kingston himself seems to be running a bit scared.

Geography is the big imponderable. On primary night Kingston Country didn’t much extend beyond his First District, where he got 75% of the vote with elevated turnout. Perdue, on the other hand, has no real base, unless it’s low-information voters who watch a lot of television—not the most likely runoff participants. Tonight if Kingston starts winning metro Atlanta counties (and that’s where he spent most of his runoff ad money), he’s likely going to win.

But no matter who wins, the real winner is True Conservatism, the golden calf all five GOP candidates in the original field have worshiped with the fervor of a religious order, filling the air with supplications to its power and glory each and every day. And that’s why even though the “Establishment” supposedly vanquished the “Tea Party” in this race, you’d never know it from how the remaining candidates sound, and that’s why Democrat Michelle Nunn has a fighting chance in November.

July 22, 2014 7:30 AM Daylight Video

On this day in 1977, Elvis Costello’s first album, My Aim Is True, was released. I first heard it at a party in Athens, GA, soon thereafter, and from the first few notes I knew it was something I’d be listening to for years.

Here’s one of the cuts from that album, “Waiting For the End of the World,” performed in New Jersey in 1978.

July 21, 2014 5:24 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Spent the whole day being startled by every glance at the clock. Adjusting to EDT not as easy as getting to sleep in.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Kevin Drum weighs in with his own critique of Tom Frank’s latest attack on Obama.

* Hospitals are struggling in states that rejected Medicaid expansion.

* And speaking of Obamacare, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine has prepared and published a report suggesting an even higher level of insurance coverage via ACA than previous estimates: 20 million.

* At Ten Miles Square, Mark Kleiman dissects and explodes study concluding “socialism” causes dishonest government.

* At College Guide, Jill Barshay discusses research showing traditional, teacher-directed math instruction still works best with first-grade students, especially those struggling with math.

And in non-political news:

* Shakira voted most likable celebrity on Facebook.

That’s it for Monday. We’ll close with a tune from Yusuf Islam’s relatively recent return to musical performance: the highly didactic devotional, “I Look, I See:”


July 21, 2014 4:49 PM Less Imprisonment Does Not Mean More Crime

There’s a very important post from Wonkblog’s Emily Badger today about a Sentencing Project report on crime trends in New York and New Jersey, states that have significantly reduced their prison populations:

[T]he Sentencing Project points out that declining violent crime rates in New York and New Jersey have actually outpaced the national trend, even as these states have reduced their prison populations through changing law enforcement and sentencing policies.
We certainly can’t…conclude that reducing prison populations reduces crime. But these trends do make it harder to argue the opposite — particularly in the most heavily incarcerated country in the world.

What this means is that the most intuitively plausible rationale for heavy incarceration—the “sequestration” argument that, in the long-ago words of William F. Buckley, “it’s better to have criminals strolling the corridors of Sing Sing than the sidewalks of New York”—is springing leaks. At some point, you’re just locking people up with no regard for the actual impact on public safety. We’ve long since reached that point, and need to adjust sentencing policies accordingly.

July 21, 2014 4:20 PM Anachronism on Deficits and Debt

Today Paul Krugman offers a brief refresher course for the distracted on rapidly declining estimates of U.S. federal government deficits and debt:

The budget office predicts that this year’s federal deficit will be just 2.8 percent of G.D.P., down from 9.8 percent in 2009. It’s true that the fact that we’re still running a deficit means federal debt in dollar terms continues to grow — but the economy is growing too, so the budget office expects the crucial ratio of debt to G.D.P. to remain more or less flat for the next decade.
Things are expected to deteriorate after that, mainly because of the impact of an aging population on Medicare and Social Security. But there has been a dramatic slowdown in the growth of health care costs, which used to play a big role in frightening budget scenarios. As a result, despite aging, debt in 2039 — a quarter-century from now! — is projected to be no higher, as a percentage of G.D.P., than the debt America had at the end of World War II, or that Britain had for much of the 20th century. Oh, and the budget office now expects interest rates to remain fairly low, not much higher than the economy’s rate of growth. This in turn weakens, indeed almost eliminates, the risk of a debt spiral, in which the cost of servicing debt drives debt even higher.

So there’s really no reason for debt hysteria in the immediate future. But as you may have noticed, the atmosphere hasn’t much changed at all in the competitive Republican primaries this year, where if anything debt-o-mania has gotten worse. In the current GOP SEN runoff here in GA, for example, both Jack Kingston and David Perdue—who began the primary as the two “Establishment” candidates—have both attacked the very idea of debt limit increases not offset by massive budget cuts, while attacking each other for past heresies from the Gospel of Debt-Free Government.

In general, it often seems that what separates Republican Establishment types from Tea Party types on fiscal issues is that the former believe we’re in a debt crisis that requires a radically smaller government and an assault on the safety net while the latter believe God Almighty and the Founders eternally decreed a smaller government with no safety net, and a debt crisis represents the wrath incurred by defiance of those tenets of divine and natural law. It’s a distinction without much of a difference in the final analysis, but it will be interesting to see if objective reality has any impact on conservative debt rhetoric going forward.

July 21, 2014 3:37 PM Pursuing the Francophobic Vote

As runoff day draws night in GA, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway has one more example of the atmosphere of more-conservative-than-thou hysteria that has infected the GOP Senate contest like the whooping cough. Examining a Jack Kingston mailer’s indictment of David Perdue, Galloway notes one especially lurid charge:

The accusatory line is: “Investor in a French bank that did business with terrorists.” Take your pick as to which half of that sentence should scare you.

A hint is in the accompanying illustration, which over the legend “French Investments” exhibits a drawing of the Eiffel Tower.

Zut alors!

July 21, 2014 3:17 PM We Want More of Everything!

A Gallup survey out today is getting some buzz for suggesting that Americans overwhelmingly want more bidness people in public office:

Four in five Americans (81%) say the U.S. would be better governed if more people with business and management experience were in political office.

Now for starters I’d note “management experience” isn’t necessarily limited to the private sector. But even conceding that, is this a retroactive vote for Mitt Romney since he was both a private- and public-sector manager? Not necessarily, since the missing but planted axiom in this question is “Everything else being equal….” which it never ever is. Would most Americans favor business or management experience over, say, U.S. Senate experience in the limited universe of people who belong to their political party, and agree with their issue positions, and are likable, and are electable? Probably so, but who cares? If I had some ham, I’d make a ham sandwich, if I had some bread.

Even this limited relevance, however, is undermined by other findings in the survey. Gallup finds that by a margin of 63% to 30%, Americans believe the country would be better (as opposed to worse) governed if in political office there were more “people who think it is more important to compromise to get things done than to hold firm to their principles.” Okay. But by a margin of 56% to 38%, they believe life would be better if there were in political office more “people who think it is more important to hold firm to their principles than to compromise to get things done.” These would appear to be diametrically opposed and exclusive propositions, unless “Americans” are saying they want more highly conflicted people in office, or just want more of everything.

July 21, 2014 1:57 PM Lunch Buffet

For the record, I’ve never been a big Cat Stevens fan. But he was a pretty big deal in the 70s, and his personal story is fascinating. So there.

Here are some midday news/views snacks from my temporary perch in humid, rainy Georgia:

* Obama calls on Putin personally to force separatist cooperation with MH17 investigation.

* Rick Perry reported to be on brink of ordering a thousand National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border. But it’s not “militarization” of course.

* Rand Paul spent weekend in Silicon Valley in search of money and other forms of support.

* TNR’s Julia Ioffe explains very different way MH17 disaster being presented on Russian TV.

* President signs non-sexual-orientation-discrimination order binding on federal contractors without broad exemption for religious employers. More about that later.

And in non-political news:

* Much-awaited New Yorker relaunch occurs today.

As we break for lunch, here’s one of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam’s most enduring hits: “Peace Train,” as performed in 1976.

July 21, 2014 1:27 PM Agony and Ecstasy of Georgia Democrats

At the American Prospect, Bob Moser publishes an overview of the promising general election candidacies of Georgia Democrats Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter from the perspective of the progressive faithful and the state’s strong demographic trends. Having talked to Bob earlier, I wasn’t surprised that he focused on the dilemma of victory-starved Democrats who see a true blue promised land not far ahead, and are frustrated that their current champions seem to be following the old Blue Dog path to southern victory (Nunn via what Moser calls a “Republican Lite” position mix, Carter by proclaiming himself a “NRA Democrat” and voting for the state’s new “Guns Everywhere” law).

While Moser’s take is insightful, he does make the standard ideological error in assuming that Nunn and Carter could only be taking these heterodox positions out of pure political calculation; the possibility that they actually believe in what they are saying is more or less ruled out a priori. Having said that, he does accurately capture the mixed feelings of hard-core progressives about their candidates.

To add some additional background to Bob’s account, it’s helpful to understand that Georgia was the very last ex-Confederate state to fall to a GOP state-level uprising (Arkansas is usually thought of as the last redoubt of white Democratic voting, but it elected a Republican governor in the 60s and again in 1980). Until 2002, the only statewide Republican winner in GA at the subpresidential level was Mack Mattingly, who very narrowly won a Senate seat against former Dixiecrat Herman Talmadge in 1980 after the old man was hospitalized for alcoholism and then had to survive a tough primary and runoff (beating, ironically, then-“populist” but future apostate Zell Miller). Mattingly was dispatched after one term.

Then in 2002, the roof caved in, with Max Cleland losing to Saxby Chambliss (an outcome that in truth owed more to demographic change than to the smearing of Cleland as unpatriotic, which Democrats everywhere still talk about), and more shockingly, Gov. Roy Barnes losing to an ex-Democrat named Sonny Perdue despite a massive financial advantage and a big lead in the polls. Though not noted much nationally, another Democratic victim of the wave was Tom Murphy, who had been Speaker of the State House for nearly thirty years. Party-switchers gave Republicans control of the State Senate in 2003 and of the House in 2005. At the moment, Republicans have close to a two-to-one majority in the legislature and control all 13 statewide constitutional offices.

The suddenness and depth of the Republican takeover of Georgia (which basically compressed decades of recent southern political history into a few brief years) devastated Democratic morale. Yes, bolstered by the Obama-generated rise in nonwhite turnout, Democrat Jim Martin knocked Chambliss into a rare general election runoff (Georgia has an atavistic majority requirement for general elections, which could be a problem for Nunn or Carter this year), but he predictably lost by a sizeable margin once Obama was no longer on the ballot. And once indomitable statewide Democrats Mark Taylor and Roy Barnes lost the gubernatorial elections in 2006 and 2010 by wide margins.

So you can understand why (as I noted on Friday about Georgia attendees of the 2013 Netroots Nation conference) Democrats entered this cycle optimistic about future demographic trends but very pessimistic about 2014, with Republicans entitled to expect the same turnout advantage they recently obtained in midterms nationwide, and Democrats having no real “bench.” Then the “legacy candidates” Nunn and subsequently Carter declared, with their high name ID and access to serious money, and that brings us to where we are today.

At this point, I’d say ideological concerns about these Democratic candidates are taking a back seat to the earlier-than-expected comeback they represent, particularly in Nunn’s case, where an upset win could well derail GOP prospects for a Senate takeover. I’ll have more to say about the general election landscape here in the Empire State of the South after tomorrow’s runoffs.

July 21, 2014 12:07 PM Netroots Nation at the Breaking Point?

I didn’t seriously consider attending this year’s Netroots Nation gathering in Detroit, for the simple reason that WaMo is too lean an operation to pay airline and hotel (plus registration) expenses for me or anyone else to get up-close-and-personal with a heavily reported event (last year’s NN, in San Jose, was a relatively short commute from home, so I showed up). Now I realize I might have been able to harvest some hang-out time with the great Charles Pierce, but Charlie’s account of NN hardly made me otherwise regret missing it:

I do not know what to make of the Netroots Nation hootenanny that just passed. I met some nice people, heard some interesting discussions (the great Nina Taylor of Ohio presided over a barnburner about voter suppression), watched Joe be Biden, watched Senator Professor Warren get treated like the pope on parade, and heard Reverend William Barber bring the thunder. But the edge and the urgency simply were not there. It seemed more like a jobs fair for the professional left than anything else. The interesting panels on actual issues were passing rare; there was an appalling lack of attention paid to environmental concerns. There was more apparent interest in Building Your Brand than there was even in our old pal, the Keystone XL pipeline, which is coming down to the wire on its possible approval, and which has served — symbolically and every way else — to energize the environmental movement like nothing has since the first Earth Day. And then, at the end, Markos Moulitsas, who helped build the event in the first place, announced that neither he nor his Daily Kos community would participate next year, because the event is being held in Arizona, and Moulitsas is boycotting the state until the odious Arizona SB 1070 — the “Papers, Please” statute — is off the books entirely. On Sunday, a representative of the Netroots board explained that having the convention in Arizona was “taking the fight” right into the belly of the beast. Me? I feel strongly both ways, but I would like to say that holding a convention in Arizona in the middle of fking July is not my idea of fun. Or of proper hydration, for that matter.

Pierce goes on to contrast the minimal influence that NN has with Democratic pols to that of CPAC, which no GOP presidential wannabee dares to avoid. He and I probably differ a bit on the pros and cons of political parties being wholly owned subsidiaries of ideological movements, but some of this has to do with timing: in 2007, virtually the entire Democratic presidential field showed up at the Yearly Kos (the predecessor to NN) event in Chicago. If such a field exists in 2015, it could theoretically be lured to the next NN—but then there’s this problem with its location.

Like Charlie, I “feel strongly both ways” about boycotting an event in Arizona. My support for boycotts as a tactic tends to vary with their likelihood of success. But it’s not as though Markos sprang his stance on refusing to attend events in Arizona on NN organizers, and he’s not the sort of guy who abandons positions wantonly. It’s hard to imagine a successful Netroots Nation held against the express opposition of the Great Orange Satan, but Pierce’s description of the Detroit gathering as feeling more like a “trade show” than a political event is probably prophetic.

July 21, 2014 11:21 AM GOP on Immigration: Chess or Checkers?

Greg Sargent, that intrepid reporter and analyst of the politics and policy of immigration, has a theory about the lurch of the GOP into the dangerous territory of becoming the Party of Deportation: it’s mainly aimed at heading off executive action by the president that could indeed make him the long-term winner in the struggle over immigration policy:

I strongly suspect much GOP rhetoric over the [border] crisis is designed to achieve maximum constraint on Obama’s sense of what’s politically possible on unilaterally easing deportations. Case in point: Ted Cruz’s declaration that any GOP response to the crisis must defund Obama’s deferred-deportation program. Cruz has a history of revealing underlying political calculations with unvarnished clarity. He justified the government shutdown to stop Obamacare by arguing that once the law kicked in, people would like it and it would never be repealed.
Something similar may be happening on deportations. As Frank Sharry argues, Obama action on deportations could “permanently cement the reputation of the Democrats as for immigrants and for the changing American electorate and Republicans as against it.” It’s unclear how ambitious Obama will be. But given Cruz’s fevered view of #ObummerTyranny, he probably expects Obama to go big, and he may agree so doing would lock in Latinos for Dems. Hence the move to preclude it….
If they punt on their current response, it could persuade Obama he can position himself as the only problem solver in the room on immigration, giving him more space to act unilaterally. Of course, to reap these benefits, Obama will have to be seen as managing the current crisis effectively. And he has not accomplished this — politically or substantively.

So according to Greg’s theory, Republicans are playing a game of chess with Obama in which the ultimate stakes are the long-term positioning of the two parties vis-a-vis the rising Latino electorate.

An alternative take might be that Republicans are actually playing checkers, not chess. There have always been two political arguments for the GOP resisting its nativists impulses. One is the simple fact that the current electorate—even rank-and-file Republicans—favor comprehensive reform. (Add in support from the Chamber and important individual donors, and supporting reform might make sense even if Latinos didn’t vote). The second is the well-known demographic argument that permanently alienating Latinos could spell long-term disaster for a party dangerously dependent on older white folks. The border crisis has undermined the first argument, as evidenced by polls showing a significant reduction in support for a “path” to either legalization or citizenship, especially among Republicans. And that could be what GOP politicians are reacting to with their eyes focused strictly on this November, leaving the long-term consequences among Latino voters to future consideration.

I’m not sure which theory is the most accurate; most likely, each is valid for different Republicans who are straying into deport-em-all rhetoric. Either way, Greg’s right: how it all turns out may depend mostly on what Obama does next.

July 21, 2014 10:40 AM The Left Path Not Taken

I suppose it’s a symptom of a moment when people on the Left are resisting (without a lot of hope) the inevitability of HRC ‘16, or maybe just one of those psychologically necessary cries of conscience before tying on the party yoke. But there seems to be an upsurge of fury at Barack Obama from progressive voices at the moment, most notably by the great Poet of Populist Discontent, Tom Frank, who rages at the 44th president in a piece currently up at Salon.

Underlying Frank’s attacks on Obama is an implicit conspiracy theory nearly as lurid as the Kenyan Muslim Marxist Alinskyite fantasies of the right: that Obama was deployed as a judas goat by the threatened Neoliberal Order to preempt and then prevent the righteous beatdown capitalism had earned for itself by 2008, when “every thinking person could see that the reigning ideology had failed.” Keeping to the appointed script, the phony agent of change then propped up the evil system that was teetering on the edge of catastrophe and subsequently blamed his betrayal of The People on the crazy people of the Right.

Sustaining this rather counterintuitive indictment requires, of course, an alternative scenario that Obama might have followed had he not been a traitor and/or “gutless:”

Why didn’t [Obama] propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?
[T[here were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

Put side, for the moment, the bizarre and ahistorical assertion that it’s possible to “put the right out of business once and for all.” Let’s look at the claim Obama and his defenders had to inflate the power of the opposition to “twice life-size” to excuse the failure to vanquish it and advance a far more progressive agenda than was actually offered.

There is this institution called the U.S. Senate. Even after two big Democratic cycles in 2006 and 2008, Republicans held 40 seats, enough given absolute unity and a single Democratic defection to thwart anything the majority party attempted, under rules ripe for abuse that neither Barack Obama nor Harry Reid invented or imagined. Just a year after Obama took office, Republicans won a special Senate election and obtained the power to block absolutely any Democratic measure.

Had Obama done Frank’s bidding and advanced a more progressive agenda from the get-go, would that have magically produced more Democratic Senate seats? Would a Republican or two have flipped to vote for, say, a single-payer health care proposal or an assault on Wall Street? Would Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have quaked and surrendered to the aroused masses? And going into the 2010 elections, when Republicans enjoyed an increasingly strong built-in turnout advantage, an overextension of Democratic strength in both Houses, and the strong historical precedent of the party controlling the White House suffering damage from bad economic conditions, would a loud-and-proud lefty message aimed at the ghosts and demons of the Clinton administration have made the Tea Party irrelevant?

This seems to be the underlying logic of Frank’s position, and it’s too far—way too far—from being self-evident to justify his righteous indignation.

Readers of Frank’s classic 1996 book What’s the Matter With Kansas? will recall that it combined a hilariously effective critique of latter-day conservatism with an earlier version of his Stab-in-the-Back theory of perfidious Clintonians preferring Wall Street to Main Street. Now his pursuit of the latter theme seems to be obliterating the former, reducing the Right in his eyes to a paper-tiger excuse for centrist cowardice and treachery.

There exists, and will always exist, an honorable case for greater ideological rigor among progressives, and a long-range strategy for the Democratic Party that relies on “populist” appeals and greater partisan differentiation. But these alternative paths should not rely on revisionist histories of the very recent past that ignore or vaporize very real structural and ideological barriers to progressive governance, and assign magical properties to correct rhetoric. That way lies Naderism circa 2000.

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