Political Animal


August 21, 2014 5:57 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

One week until beginning of the College Football season. Just sayin.’

Here are some remains of the day:

* Rick Perry says it’s just “common sense” that ISIS terrorists are coming across Mexican border. In other words, he has zero evidence.

* James Fallows makes the case for third-party gubernatorial candidate in Maine, Eliot Cutler (just endorsed by Angus King). Persuasive, but if wrong price could be another four years of Paul LePage.

* Steve King rants some more about disobedient black folks in Ferguson and strange phenomenon of Congressional Black Caucus (“There’s no Congressional White Caucus”). It’s going to be fun to watch entire 2016 GOP presidential field suck up to this dude.

* At Vox Ezra Klein riffs on one of my favorite themes: how winning Senate this year could screw up 2016 royally for Republicans.

* At Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Bernstein addresses extent to which foreign policy commitments by presidential candidates actually determine their behavior in office.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Russia threatening mass shutdown of McDonald’s outlets, allegedly because of sanitation issues.

That’s it for Thursday. Let’s close with some early Clash: “Career Opportunities.”


August 21, 2014 4:59 PM Are Issue Positions Irrelevant to Character?

Running for major—and sometimes minor—offices in a competitive environment generally involves a combination of messages about one’s values and policy commitments on the one hand, and about one’s “character” and resume on the other. It’s interesting that in a year when Republicans are so insistent that voters are preparing to smite Democrats and Barack Obama for very specific misdeeds, there are at least two GOP candidates in close races that are shying away from their own records on specific issues.

I’ve talked a good bit here over time about Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, he of the gold-plated resume and ramrod-straight posture and finely honed intellect. He actually has two problems in a what should be an easily manageable race in his rapidly reddening state. First, Mark Pryor has his own “brand” of character and personality that’s arguably more in touch with the average persuadable Arkansan than the Harvard-and-McKenzie war volunteer. And second, Cotton has a relatively large assortment of extremist issue positions for a guy who never ran for office until 2012.

A more extreme case of let’s-don’t-talk-about-issues campaigning is presented by Joni Ernst of Iowa, whose own supporters become alarmed whenever she’s driven to talking about anything other than her farm and military backgrounds (as opposed to opponent Bruce Braley’s tenure as as a—gasp!—trial lawyer). National Journal’s Emily Schultheis goes so far as to argue that the deciding factor in the race may be whether Democrats can ever penetrate Ernst’s folky facade to talk about much of anything else:

“Their campaign knows that if the race is focused on the issue contrasts, they’re at a disadvantage,” said Braley communications director Jeff Giertz. “Ernst and her campaign have embraced some real out-there, tea party ideas in order to win the primary, and those ideas just do not resonate with middle-of-the-road Iowa voters.”
In an interview at the Iowa State Fair, Ernst said it’s “a lot of camouflage” to talk about her as extreme, and said her top issues will be “the issues that are important for Iowa voters”: namely jobs and the economy, education, and government spending.
“It really is very much a distraction because I’ve been a successful state senator. I work very well with all types of people. I don’t see where they’re coming up with the extreme,” she said. “I am a person with Iowa values, I work very hard, I connect with people, I care about people, I think that’s what our voters want to see.”

Well, if it’s up to Ernst, that is indeed all that voters will see.

What anyone contending with one of these “ignore what I’ve said or how I’ve voted; look at who I am” campaigns really needs to do is to make flip-flopping and pandering, and refusal to embrace one’s own past statements, character issues. The best way to do that is by tenaciously challenging candidates to fish or cut bait on fairly quoted statements and positions, and then draw the obvious conclusions if they bob and weave.

Personally, I’d like to hear Tom Cotton explain why a espousing a North-Korean-style practice of holding family members responsible for violation of sanctions against Iran represents good old fashioned Arkansas values. And I’ve love to see Joni Ernst explain to Iowans why her abundant record of buying into the insane John Birch Society “Agenda 21” conspiracy theory—not years ago, but in the current election cycle—isn’t “important to Iowa voters.” These biography-driven candidates shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.

August 21, 2014 3:26 PM Middle East “Status Quo” Is Dead

More depressing Middle East truth from Gershom Gorenberg at the Prospect today:

Netanyahu’s conflict management style had a good run, at least for the domestic audience. It also had a spectacular flaw: While the status quo was tolerable for Israelis, it wasn’t for Palestinians. In Gaza, the claustrophobia and poverty imposed by the siege worsened as the latest Egyptian regime clamped down on smuggling to and from the Sinai.
In the West Bank, the daily indignities of occupation were accompanied by perpetual growth of settlements. Even if most Palestinians avoided expecting too much of the Kerry talks, the negotiations created a hope and then removed it.
The formation of a Palestinian unity government at the beginning of June offered a different kind of hope—for ending the rift between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza. An Israeli leader awake to opportunities would have seen the unity government as an opening to an agreement with a demilitarized Palestinian state that included Gaza. Instead, Netanyahu treated the unity government as proof of Abbas’s nefarious intentions.
By mid-June, the status quo was a rotted, rickety building waiting only for a spark to set it alight. There always pyromaniacs waiting for such chances, people whose strategy is indiscriminate violence, and who have far less faith in a negotiated resolution than Netanyahu does. The spark was provided by the kidnappers of three Israeli teens.

And the ensuing events were inevitable, as Israel and Hamas, neither interested in a two-state solution, have lethally grappled with each other, mutually undermining any momentum towards peace in Israel or in Palestine. (If that sounds like “moral equivalency,” I don’t intend it to be in the broader sense, but in the narrower sense of blowing up negotiations, it’s accurate).

The bottom line is that this cycle of events isn’t sustainable much longer.

[I]f there is anyone—in Brussels, say, or at U.N. headquarters in New York, or even in Washington, little as I can imagine that—who is interested in facilitating such talks, I have this advice: Please ignore the experts who tell you to aim only for managing the conflict rather than resolving it. The only way to manage this conflict is to lay down a framework for a two-state resolution and push toward achieving it. Either you move forward toward peace or you allow the next war.
August 21, 2014 3:00 PM Why Schmooze?

I suppose it’s a sign of progress that instead of expecting Barack Obama to personally solve all the world’s problems, the punditocracy is now more prone to complain that he’s “detached” or “aloof.” Ezra Klein has tried to rebut the strange assumption that things would all change if Obama’s attitude would just improve; he’s usefully paraphrased by Paul Waldman:

Klein goes on to note that because of increasing polarization in Congress, Barack Obama actually enjoys more unified support from Democrats in Congress than any president since anyone has been keeping track of these things. And it goes without saying that no amount of friendliness would ever get today’s Republicans to vote with him on anything. So why are we hearing the complaints now?

Waldman thinks it’s a combination of Obama’s lame-duck status and congressional ego. That makes a lot of sense; in the land of 535 preening Sun Kings demanding attention and inflating their importance, the symbolism of presidential schmoozing is valued far beyond its actual worth. And yes, the fact that the president’s power over congressional Democrats is ebbing matters, too; as Waldman notes, Obama spends a lot of time raising money for the party committees, but it’s not like he is in much of a position to hold Members accountable individually.

But I’d add another factor: the current bitching is bipartisan. Democrats are upset Obama can’t do more for them, and Republicans seem to alternate between treating the president as a tyrant exceeding his authority and as a deadbeat not doing his job. Either argument, of course, is a landmark on the road to calling him impeachable, if not actually impeaching him.

August 21, 2014 2:12 PM Lunch Buffet

As I’ve been hinting all week, I’ve been struggling with a non-serious but occasionally debilitating health condition, and was until this morning scheduled to have an unrelated but blogging-incompatible non-emergency medical procedure tomorrow. Long story short, the doc thinks I’m too sick to undergo the procedure, so I should still be chained to the blogging post tomorrow. Hope you’ll appreciate, though, a bit of abbreviation in both individual posts and the total count. Lest you think my colleagues aren’t providing enough support, I should mention they are totally heads-down on the release of the next issue of the magazine, and are probably sleeping a lot less than I am. So we’re all doing what we can to keep readers well-fed and happy.

Here are some midday news/views snacks:

* At TNR, Yishai Schwartz notes Missouri law makes claims of self-defense by Darren Wilson especially hard to overcome.

* Grand jury deliberations on killing of Michael Brown could take weeks. So much for swift justice, or injustice.

* House staffers messing with Wikipedia entry on Orange Is the New Black to insult transgender folk. They seem to have a lot of spare time for culture war.

* Paul Ryan allows as how he hates getting Boehner’s “cigarette smell” in his clothes, so he gives Speaker wide berth in meetings. Guess stench of fear and futility don’t bother him so much.

* Live tweets (here and here) indicating that David Perdue getting medieval on immigration policy in Chamber debate with Michelle Nunn. Looking more Romneyesque every day.

And in non-political news:

* New MLB commissioner means another plea for rescinding of lifetime ban by Pete Rose.

As we break for lunch, here’s one of my very favorite Clash songs, “Guns on the Roof,” from Give ‘Em Enough Rope.

August 21, 2014 1:32 PM Paul Ryan Sends a Big, Big Message

At a time when the closest thing to an argument between Republicans is between traditional Wall Street conservatives still obsessed with reducing top rates on the wealth-engorged very rich, and “reformicons” who think, say, a boost in the child tax credit benefiting middle-class folk might be a better idea at this particular moment, Paul Ryan has sent a big, unmistakable message, via the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack: screw “reform,” he’s with the moneybags. Totally aside from Ryan’s own possible presidential ambitions and general influence within the GOP, that matters a great deal because he’s about to take over the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee:

“If you know anything about me, I’m a person who likes to put out plans and be specific and run on those ideas,” Ryan told THE WEEKLY STANDARD during a phone interview. Ryan said he didn’t want to get ahead of himself about what he may or may not do next session, but he made it clear that he disagrees with some conservatives who are willing to accept a high top tax rate in order to increase the child tax credit….
Some conservatives have argued that reducing the top rate is less urgent now than it was during the Reagan administration, when the top rate was cut from 70 percent to 50 percent and then cut again from 50 percent to 28 percent. But Ryan says that cutting the top rate is “even more pressing now” than it was back then “because the American economy was so dominant in the global economy and capital was not nearly as mobile as it is today.”

In other words, there’s a global “race to the bottom” going on, and the U.S. has nothing to offer corporations if we don’t keep up with the craven competition. Sorry kids and parents; Daddy Warbucks comes first.

Aside from the impact of Ryan’s statement on the debate within the GOP, it’s possible to view this as an argument between the supposed twin poles of Ryan’s own philosophy: the Catholic Church and Ayn Rand. Catholics are famously interested in encouraging families. Ayn Rand struggled to depict children in her novels, grubby little irrational deadbeats that they were (can’t remember for sure if John Galt had any kids; but I don’t seem to recall their welfare being discussed much in his million-word radio address). So Paul Ryan is showing his true colors in all sorts of ways.

August 21, 2014 12:04 PM Job Security For Pollsters & Consultants

So have you been wondering whether the pounding Republican pollster John McLaughlin has received this year for really, really inaccurate polling affected his ability to land clients? Wonder no more: WaPo’s Ben Terris has a reasonably long piece on the Beltway culture that provides all sorts of job security for highly-paid political consultants.

There’s really not much of a defense offered for this situation other than “personal relationships,” a nice euphemism for “cronyism.” And it’s obviously not limited to pollsters:

It may not be shocking to hear that behind-the-scenes D.C. isn’t a pure meritocracy. It’s the land of second opportunity. So what if Vice President Dick Cheney miscalculated the situation in Iraq last time? It didn’t stop him from co-writing a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the situation there this summer. Karl Rove will appear on television until the end of time despite his election-night kerfuffle with his own network about whether President Obama had won Ohio. Get into the upper echelon of official Washington, and it’s hard to completely fall out of favor.

This is particularly insufferable within a Republican Party committed to presenting itself as a meritocratic organization championing the values of this, the most meritocratic society in human history. I suppose the way some of these birds look at it is that when an individual—or maybe a generation, a gender or a race—has “proven” its competence, that certification just lasts a long, long time.

UPDATE: Consultant cronyism is not, of course, exclusively a Republican problem. Its existence among Democrats at a time when they were not winning much was memorably documented by Amy Sullivan for the Washington Monthly back in early 2005. It’s definitely still worth a read.

August 21, 2014 11:15 AM Reformicon Progress Report

Anyone interested in the whole “reform conservative” conversation needs to read Byron York’s update on the “reformicons” in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Despite giving controversial topics like foreign policy, immigration and climate change a wide berth in their book A Room to Grow, the reformicons, reports York, are experiencing a combination of pushback and indifference.

The reformers face resistance not just from the corners of the conservative world that disagree with them on taxes, immigration, and other, perhaps lesser issues. They are also under attack from those in the Republican establishment who see no need to reevaluate GOP policies. According to this faction, the party doesn’t have a policy problem; it has a messaging problem.
Whether or not that’s true — whether what’s hurting the GOP more is bad policies or poor communication — the cure is the same: a good Republican presidential nominee. A smart, talented, and appealing candidate could convince reluctant politicians to embrace new ideas, pull big donors and grass-roots activists onto the same track, and focus the energy of the party on defeating Democrats rather than fighting among itself. It can be done; in 1992, Bill Clinton dragged a reluctant Democratic Party toward a repositioning that allowed it to win national elections again. It would take a politician of Clinton’s talents to do the same for the Republicans. Whether there is such a person in the GOP at this moment is not clear. We’ll know more in 2016.

Well, actually, we’ll know a lot sooner than that, since presidential campaigns don’t suddenly appear on the horizon fifteen minutes before the Iowa Caucuses.

York allows as how Marco Rubio might be the best bet for a reformicon Revolution From Above strategy. But that’s mostly because he’s interested while others are not, and he remains a long shot in 2016 thanks to his fatal apostasy (from which he is struggling to reverse himself) on immigration policy.

One other item in York’s piece caught my attention, involving the finances of the reformicon vehicle the YG Network:

The publisher of Room to Grow, the YG Network, is a nonprofit policy center, plus a super PAC, devoted to electing Republican candidates. Like many of its peers, it spends more on fundraising, salaries, and television ads than it does on developing new ideas. In 2012, it collected over $12.7 million in contributions (it is not required to disclose its donors) and paid its top strategist, the former Cantor aide John Murray, $630,000. The group’s super PAC, the YG Action Fund, raised about $5.9 million in the 2012 election cycle, $5 million of it from the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. With that kind of money available, organizations tend to focus on perpetuating themselves, even if their original goals fall by the wayside. As the old adage goes, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket” — a fate that could await the reformers.

The YG Network clearly has a lot more money at its disposal than the Democratic Leadership Council—credited or blamed with having a big impact on Democratic politics of a dimension the reformicons can only dream of—ever did. Also unlike the DLC, most of its leading wonks and analysts are on somebody else’s payroll. I like a number of reformicons individually, and think their work is potentially important. But I’m less impressed every day with their actual impact on the GOP.

August 21, 2014 10:30 AM The New Credential for 2016

We’ve heard the argument before with respect to Chris Christie and Scott Walker that the abuse-of-power investigations they’ve faced could actually help them as presidential candidates, so long as they stay out of the slammer and can blame their persecution on the godless liberals. But now that Rick Perry has joined the Shadow-of-the-Hoosegow club, RealClearPolitics’ Scott Conroy offers a general theory that they’ll all benefit from a presumption that legal problems mean The Left is afraid of them and wants them hauled off in chains before they can roar through the primaries like avenging angels.

It’s a strategy that may pay dividends in a 2016 primary fight, as all three would be courting conservative voters who will likely see the investigations as badges of honor.
Bob Haus, who helmed Perry’s 2012 campaign in Iowa and is poised to reprise that role in 2016, said the “overwhelming response” from activists in the nation’s first voting state has been strongly supportive.
“They see the actions against Governor Perry for what they are: raw politics,” Haus said. “I would also say that Governor Perry has shown great strength and resolve in this matter. He and his team have managed this issue exceptionally well, and have shown they will fight this aggressively.”

In other words, “come and get me, coppers!” is a more politically effective response that anything expressing contrition or an openness to a slap on the wrist.

Now this has to be deeply frustrating to other candidates seeking 2016 traction who don’t have the credential of being threatened with imprisonment. Consider Bobby Jindal, who’s tried every stunt imaginable to get whipped-up Con-Con activists interested in his presidential availability. As it happens, Bobby was just handed a judicial setback by a state judge who issued an injunction to block Jindal from killing implementation of Common Core education standards in Louisiana—he was the state’s premier Common Core supporter until he became its premier opponent, of course—pending a trial. You have to wonder if Bobby’s brain trust has discussed ways to secure a contempt of court charge to spice things up—you know, the governor entering the courtroom brandishing a Bible and shrieking “Get thee behind me, Satan!” at the judge or something. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.

August 21, 2014 9:49 AM The Effort To Drag SCOTUS Back Into Obamacare

If you were wondering about the status of the lawsuits challenging the availability of premium tax credits to those securing health insurance on Obamacare’s federal purchasing exchanges, there’s a fine summary available from the New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse.

To make a long story short, conservative sponsors of the suits are frantic to head off a full D.C. Circuit review of the three-judge panel decision in their favor that is their chief victory in this long battle. They figure they’d lose the review, and worse yet, lose the different-circuits-saying-different-things rationale for a SCOTUS review:

[T]he opponents’ effort is trained on persuading the D.C. Circuit not to grant rehearing or — if that effort fails — to delegitimize a grant of rehearing in the eyes of friendly Supreme Court justices. The conservative blogosphere has been buzzing with messages to the appeals court, bank shots intended to be read by the justices, or at least their law clerks. Carrie Severino, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas who blogs for National Review, wrote earlier this month that “clearly this type of case is exactly what the President had in mind when he made his court-packing blitz last year.” Would the new judges be “willing to take the fall for the president in this case,” she wondered: “Now those judges will have to decide whether they want their first high-profile act on the court to be one that is baldly political: overturning a meticulously reasoned decision that overturned the IRS’s attempt to rewrite the Affordable Care Act. It would make the new judges look like presidential pawns who are attempting to save his bacon, lowering them to the level of the disgraced and politicized IRS itself.”

If that doesn’t work, then there’s the problem the Supremes might insist on a full Circuit Court review before intervening. And in that respect, if the rapidly increasing certainty that SCOTUS will take on the constitutionality of state same-sex marriage bans this very year is potential good news from some conservatives, others may have reason to deplore it. Unless you project revolutionary intentions onto the Court’s narrow conservative majority, it’s not real likely they’d welcome the opportunity to kill Obamacare and marriage equality in the same term—with a potential review of Roe v. Wade right around the corner. If that’s how things turn out, you’d best believe that for the first time the composition of the Supreme Court will become a serious issue in the next presidential campaign.

August 21, 2014 8:30 AM Daylight Video

Today would have been Joe Strummer’s 62d birthday. Hard to believe he’s been gone for twelve years.

I’m going to feature some of The Clash’s less famous but noteworthy performances. Here they are covering Toots & the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop.”

August 20, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Back on central coast of California, where high temperatures will range from 68 to 71 in next five days. Ah.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Paul Ryan says top-end tax cuts more important than expanded child tax credit. Take that, reformicons.

* National Journal’s Alex Roarty finds Alaska Republicans admitting Mark Begich has advantage over their new Senate nominee Dan Sullivan.

* Microsoft eliminates all donations to ALEC due to organization’s hostility to renewable energy. Glad they finally noticed.

* At Ten Miles Square, Mark Kleiman argues Rick Perry’s behavior should disqualify him from presidency even if he is acquitted on Texas charges.

* At College Guide, Sarah Butrymowicz reports on California kids who never make it to high school.

And in non-political news:

* NFL expecting potential Superbowl halftime acts to pay for the privilege, then and later.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with Sneaky Pete Kleinow and the Burrito Brothers (no longer “Flying”) performing “Spittin’ Image” in Germany in 1985.


August 20, 2014 5:29 PM Rand Paul Not So Hip

The undermining of the suggestions made (less by the author than by those he interviews) in Robert Draper’s “Libertarian Moment” piece for the New York Times Magazine struck new earth yesterday with Harry Enten’s questioning of the rather central assumption that the supposed avatar of the “moment,” Rand Paul, has a special appeal to young people.

Turns out once you look at generational breakouts Paul does no better among voters 18-29 or 18-34 than does Chris Christie in trial heats against Hillary Clinton—and both perform pretty dreadfully. Jonathan Chait piles on by reminding us from 2010 exit polls that under-30 voters were the only age demographic Paul lost in his winning Senate race against Democrat Jack Conway.

It’s a reminder the whole “libertarian moment” thing is a house of cards. Paul is a sorta-libertarian; young folks are sorta-“libertarian” on some issues (not always the same ones as Paul); Republicans could sorta look more libertarian with someone like Paul as a presidential nominee; leading to the possibility of a sorta kinda breakout by Republicans from what Chait in another column calls the GOP’s “geriatric trap.” It’s all sorta persuasive unless you think about it for an hour or so.

August 20, 2014 4:26 PM Here Comes SCOTUS on Same-Sex Marriage!

Well, any doubt that the Supreme Court is ready to bigfoot its way into the very successful legal battle for marriage equality went away today (per Alan Rappeport of the New York Times):

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a last-minute order putting a hold on same-sex marriages in Virginia less than a day before officials there were to begin providing marriage licenses to gay couples.
The move comes a month after the federal appeals court that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage refused to delay the effects of its ruling.
Legal experts have predicted that the Supreme Court will take up the issue of same-sex marriage in its next term, which begins in October.
In July, the court said that Utah was not required to recognize the marriages of about 1,000 same-sex couples there while state officials pursued appeals.

In the meantime, Virginia is still not for all lovers.

August 20, 2014 4:13 PM Exceptional American Conservatives

At the end of a long and interesting diagnosis of the problems facing his Republican Party, David Frum writes this excellent summation:

The United States desperately needs a party of business enterprise, of American leadership, and of work and family that can win elections and govern effectively. Instead, the country’s center-right has detoured into an ideological dead end. It must speak for a coalition broader than retirees and the rich. Above all, it must accept — and even welcome — that in the United States, as in every other developed country, universal health insurance is here to stay.

Plenty of Republican readers—if Frum still has plenty of Republican readers, I should add—might well have nodded along until that last sentence, and then went back to perusing less challenging material. Frum is unusual in identifying the “tipping point theory”—the idea that America is on the edge of lurching into irreversible socialism if one more entitlement program, likely Obamacare, becomes as entrenched as Social Security and Medicare (which Republicans lurch back and forth between demagogically protecting and seeking to subvert)—as ludicrous and politically suicidal:

Every other advanced country has some kind of universal health-care program — and also a center-right party that wins much (and even most) of the time. Right-of-center governments currently hold power in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and many other places. These parties haven’t run out of issues on which they can disagree with their social democratic opponents, and they’ve found plenty of voters willing to cast a ballot for private initiative and business enterprise.

It makes you wonder if one of the chief functions of “American exceptionalism” is to protect U.S. conservatives from even thinking about such questions. And it also serves as a reminder that the conquest of the GOP by a conservative movement that is not temperamentally conservative at all has made the idea of compromising to win elections ipso facto seem gutless and treasonable.

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