Political Animal


November 23, 2014 1:54 PM Odds & Ends

Here are some stories that caught my eye today.

One of the most frustrating things about Republicans over the last few years is their adoption of “post-policy” positioning.” That’s why Kimberly Strassel’s op-ed is revealing. She’s having some fun positing that if President Obama can claim the kinds of powers she identifies, why not the next Republican president too? And then she unleashes what the agenda would be. Holy cow!!!! Suffice it to say, “Social Security? What Social Security?”

All I can say is…please Bibi, don’t do it!

The good news of the day is that the incoming Nevada House Speaker Ira Hansen has decided to step down after his racist/sexist remarks were made public.

While everyone is distracted, slowly but surely the Obama administration is transferring detainees out of Gitmo.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, their 2016 field of hopefuls is not as popular with the general public as they are with their base.

And finally, we can now replace all the other things we’ve been told to freak out about lately. The truly terrifying news of the day is that the earth is running out of chocolate.

November 23, 2014 12:31 PM Are Americans “Stupid” or Uninformed?

Republicans are making hay out of Jonathan Gruber’s suggestion that those who crafted Obamacare thought the American public was stupid. While that was a politically incorrect (and stupid) thing to say, we’ve all seen enough “man on the street” interviews where too many people don’t know which party controls Congress or who the current Vice President is to simply dismiss it as untrue.

But a more relevant question would be to ask whether or not the American public is “stupid” (inferring a lack of intelligence) or uninformed. That is the question sparked by this recent Gallup poll. They found that - while the violent crime rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990’s (from 80 incidents of violent crime/1000 people to 23/1000), 63% of Americans think that violent crime is increasing.

Back in the 1990’s I attended a workshop on the effects of television on young people. The presenter asked the audience, “What is the purpose of television?” After a lot of responses that focused on entertainment, the presenter said that the purpose was to produce eyeballs…for advertisers. I would suggest that the same thing is now true of our news media. The perception of an increase in violent crime is likely a direct result of the old adage: “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Media Matters recently produced a report showing that both cable and network news reporting on Ebola spiked in the days leading up to the 2014 midterms and then simply went to almost nothing afterwards. I don’t buy the idea that this was some collusion between the media and Republicans. I suspect it had more to do with the way that fear of the disease spreading grabbed everyone’s attention, and then a total elimination of coverage once it was clear that wasn’t going to happen (at least not in this country). In other words, success at containing the spread of Ebola doesn’t produce eyeballs.

Circling back to the subject of Obamacare, its interesting to note the effect all this has on the perceptions of the public.

Jon Krosnick, Wendy Gross, and colleagues at Stanford and Kaiser ran large surveys to measure public understanding of the ACA and how it was associated with approval of the law. They found that accurate knowledge about what’s in the bill varied with party identification: Democrats understood the most and liked the law the most, independents less, and Republicans understood still less and liked the law the least. However, attitudes were not just tribal. Within each party, the more accurate your knowledge of the law, the more you liked it.

These researchers found that in the unlikely event that the public had a perfect understanding of the law, approval of it would go from 32% to 70%. That’s the price we pay for an uninformed public.

Its true that technology has allowed partisans and ideologues to choose media sources that confirm their beliefs. But those who simply want “the news” are pretty regularly fed a diet that inflames more than it informs. If you doubt that, take a look at one retired anchorman’s reaction to the movie “Anchorman.”

If we want this to change, we’ll need everyone to think twice about what they do with their eyeballs.

November 23, 2014 10:48 AM The Electoral College Is Not Set in Amber

Everyone knows, or should know, that the electorate that turns out in federal midterm elections is distinct enough from the electorate that turns out in presidential elections that it is hard to draw lessons from one that reliably apply to the other. It’s treacherous enough to try to apply lessons from the last presidential election to the next one.

So, it’s important to remember that just because Scott Walker won reelection in Wisconsin, for example, this does not necessarily mean that Wisconsin in going to be in play for the Republicans in the 2016 election. It should be remembered that the last time Wisconsin voters opted for a Republican presidential candidate was in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, a campaign that carried every state but Minnesota.

On the other hand, the 2000 (48%-48%) and 2004 (50%-49%) results in Wisconsin were very close. It’s one of the reliably blue states that could conceivably flip in a competitive election. That’s why I am not comfortable putting Wisconsin behind a Blue Wall, as moderate conservative columnist Chris Ladd did in his post-midterm analysis.

For Mr. Ladd, the midterms were mostly bad news for Republicans, mainly because they did nothing to improve the party’s prospects in the Electoral College:

Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory. Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.
What emerges from the numbers is the continuation of a trend that has been in place for almost two decades. Once again, Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it. As a result, it became apparent from the numbers last week that no Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero.

The basis for this argument is that the Democrats have locked down 257 Electoral College votes. And Mr. Ladd takes a perhaps counterintuitively dim view of the midterm results in Virginia where he sees the Republicans losing the Senate seat even in the most optimal circumstances for winning it, proving to him that Virginia should now also be included behind the Blue Wall. If you include Virginia, the Democrats have locked down the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the presidency before the candidates have raised the first dime for their campaigns.

I have made similar arguments in the past, but I think we ought to go ahead and hold presidential elections anyway because things do not remain as static as Mr. Ladd would like us to believe. It is not easy for a party to win three straight presidential elections. Since Eisenhower defeated Truman Adlai Stevenson, it has happened only once (1980-1984-1988) and it ended in grief for George Herbert Walker Bush, who was trounced in his reelection bid in 1992. Since that 1988 election, the GOP has won the popular vote only once, in 2004, and it won the presidency that year with no margin to spare. Had they lost either Ohio or Florida, Democrat John Kerry would have been elected president despite losing the popular vote.

Parties change, circumstances change, demographics change, and people get tired of the same old thing and look to make changes. The Blue Wall is not as impenetrable as it may seem.

Our politics still have the potential to surprise us. Who predicted that the Republicans would win the governor’s race in Maryland or that Mark Warner would struggle to win reelection in Virginia.

Still, there can be no doubt that in any election with anything near normal presidential-level turnout, the Republicans are behind the eight-ball. Unless a strong third-party or independent candidate emerges to upset the apple cart, the Democrats really do have an Electoral College advantage. It’s just not as rock-solid as Mr. Ladd thinks it is.

November 23, 2014 8:58 AM Saying Goodbye to Marion Barry

Former DC Mayor, Marion Barry, passed away last night at the age of seventy-eight. It might seem strange to some, but he always reminded me a lot of James Brown. They both came from dirt-poor broken families in the Deep South. They both had remarkable talents, ambition, work ethics, and insecurities. They both tended to opulence and ostentation, obsessed with their image, and they both were brought low repeatedly as they struggled with substance abuse. They both had troubled relationships with women. They were both extremely important to the Civil Rights and Black Pride movements. They both suffered from often deserved ridicule for their foibles and run-ins with the law. And they both had legions of devoted and admiring fans.

When I think about either James Brown or Marion Berry, I begin with where they started from.

Marion Barry Jr. was born March 6, 1936, into a family of sharecroppers in the rural hamlet of Itta Bena, Miss. His mother, Mattie Carr, was just shy of her 17th birthday when she married Marion Barry Sr., a strapping sharecropper about 25 years her senior. The marriage disintegrated in conflicts over money and her ambition to flee a life of chopping cotton.
After leaving her husband, she settled in Memphis, where she worked in a slaughterhouse and as a housemaid.
Growing up, the future mayor worked hard at a variety of jobs. He had two newspaper routes and sold a third newspaper on street corners. He waited tables, bagged groceries and inspected soda bottles. He also went to choir practice.

I didn’t live in Washington DC during any part of Marion Barry’s time as mayor, so I don’t have the kind of intense personal feelings about him that long-time residents do. His record is always going to be controversial because he mixed so much needed progressive change with so much distasteful patronage and basic incompetence.

I know he deserves much of the criticism and even mockery that he receives, but I can’t help but compare how he is treated to a certain white mayor of Toronto who was even more outrageous in his excesses.

As people contemplate his legacy, they should seek out the good (because there was a lot of it) to help counterbalance the countless “Bitch set me up” references.

Most of all, people should have learned by now to treat those who successfully recover from substance abuse problems with respect. That could have been his greatest personal triumph. I wish the same for Rob Ford.

November 23, 2014 6:36 AM Daylight Video

On November 23, 1899, the Palais Royal Hotel in San Francisco introduced the world to the jukebox. Little did they know that this would happen:

I apologize for that.

I really do.

November 22, 2014 7:52 PM We Don’t Learn From Our Mistakes

I am sure that people will make more political hay than is warranted out of the administration’s decision to extend authorization for carrying out combat operations in Afghanistan. The new orders really do little more than clarify what requirements need to be met before U.S. forces engage in combat, and the rules are pretty much what you would expect. They can still go after terrorist organizations; they can protect themselves, and they can come to the assistance of Afghan forces in need. Only the last condition has the real potential to keep our troops bogged down indefinitely, and the troop levels are still coming down to a low level.

So, even though I have been calling on us to take our troops out of Afghanistan for years and years now, I am not particularly troubled by the new rules of engagement.

What continues to bother me is something else. I keep comparing the cavalier attitude we had about making the commitment to go into Afghanistan with the agonizingly hard time we are having extracting ourselves from that country. I know that 9/11 was a hell of a provocation and that it made us scared and crazy, but we did not rise to the occasion. We made a momentous decision without any thought and we just keep paying and paying and paying for it.

What I’d really like is for us to all to internalize this mismatch between the ease of the decision and the difficulty of the consequences. Then, the next time we’re similarly provoked, maybe we’ll have a tool to keep us from repeating the same mistake.

Yeah, I know. It will never happen.

November 22, 2014 1:32 PM Odds & Ends

As the country awaits the grand jury announcement in Ferguson and the world awaits the results of the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons, here are some things I’ve been reading:

For years, immigration activists have been protesting against the federal government’s Secure Communities Program. President Obama’s executive action does away with it. The question remains whether or not the new Priority Enforcement Program will be an improvement.

Speaking of Ferguson, do you think maybe Attorney General Eric Holder’s new guidelines for law enforcement are directed at any place in particular? You bettcha!

You’re going to have to read Robert Costa’s rundown of the problems faced by Republicans after President Obama’s announcement about immigration to find out who said this: “That’s the trouble with having some of these new, young punks around here. They ought to listen to us old geezers.”

CNN has done a fascinating mash-up of what President Obama said in his address to the country on immigration and what former President George W. Bush said during his. This is one time when the Obama = Bush meme works.

Can someone please tell me where I go to nominate Peggy Noonan for the “Pearl-Clutcher of the Year” award?

Al Giordano reminds us that this week, there is big stuff happening on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border.

And finally, one thing that’s come out of all this hysteria about President Obama’s action on immigration is that we found out that Speaker Boehner doesn’t have a dog.

November 22, 2014 12:15 PM Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency

Rev. William Barber captured the moment we are living in by talking about a Third Reconstruction.

Doug Muder expanded on that idea with an article titled: Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party. Muder’s point is that in order to understand the Tea Party today, we have to realize that  - unlike what our school history books told us - the south didn’t really lose the Civil War. Much like George W. Bush preemptively declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, the Civil War didn’t end when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877. Before and after 1877, the insurgents used lynchings and occasional pitched battles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place.
By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control, and the three constitutional amendments that supposedly had codified the U.S.A’s victory over the C.S.A.- the 13th, 14th, and 15th — had been effectively nullified in every Confederate state. The Civil Rights Acts had been gutted by the Supreme Court, and were all but forgotten by the time similar proposals resurfaced in the 1960s. Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws. Tens of thousands of them were still physically shackled and subject to being whipped, a story historian Douglas Blackmon told in his Pulitzer-winning Slavery By Another Name.
So Lincoln and Grant may have had their mission-accomplished moment, but ultimately the Confederates won. The real Civil War — the one that stretched from 1861 to 1877 — was the first war the United States lost.

Let that one sink in for a moment. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it all. That’s what happens when it turns out that a story you’ve been told all your life doesn’t really capture what happened. All the links to meaning that have been created by believing the story have to be re-examined as well.

Muder goes on the make the connection between the mindset of the insurgent confederates and today’s tea party.

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…
The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

That is the sentiment we hear when both citizens and political leaders talk about “second amendment remedies” and rally round things like this:

I believe that - due to this country’s changing demographics - this confederate insurgency would have eventually surfaced even if we hadn’t elected our first African American president. But having done so, it has been released with a vengeance.

The basic right wing message we’ve heard for the last six years has been to challenge this President’s legitimacy. We’ve seen that in everything from the birther movement and charges that he’s somehow “un-American” to criticisms of Barack Obama that have never been leveled against a United States President (i.e., how much golf he plays, the fact that he takes vacations and that he signs executive orders).

Call me naive, but I don’t believe that all white Republicans buy into this insurgency. But their leadership has used this message of illegitimacy to undermine President Obama and convinced too many people that he is somehow a threat to the country. To the extent that they (and the media) have bought into the lies, they have given credence to a movement that is dangerous to our democracy.

I am reminded once again of something Derrick Jensen wrote in his book The Culture of Make Believe.

From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement…
Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, “normal,” chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.
Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.

Change to our “social order” is coming, whether we like it or not. The traditions, economics, religion that mask our entitlement are being stripped away and the hate is becoming more perceptible. As a result, the confederate insurgency is threatening to explode.

Black people are noticing. But too many white people are in denial about what’s really going on (including a lot of Democrats/liberals). We need to wake up! I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to support President Obama’s policies. But what I am saying is that we all need to recognize the threat posed by this confederate insurgency…and take on the task of working together to usher in a third reconstruction.

November 22, 2014 11:06 AM This Man Wants Us To Take Him Seriously

On the good side, unlike Michelle Malkin, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky doesn’t think the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two was sound policy. On the bad side, Sen. Paul wants us to take him seriously as a presidential candidate:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) likened President Barack Obama’s decision to take executive action on immigration to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order authorizing putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.

Paul made the comments on Friday, a day after Obama formally announced the executive actions, at the Kentucky Association of Counties conference in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I care that too much power gets in one place. Why? Because there are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious,” Paul said. “Think of what happened in World War II where they made the decision. The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people ‘we’re going to put you in a camp. We’re going to take away all your rights and liberties and we’re going to intern you in a camp.’”

“We shouldn’t allow that much power to gravitate to one individual. We need to separate the power.”

As is his custom, Rand Paul doesn’t even have his history correct, since Congress passed Public Law 503 to help enforce FDR’s executive order that authorized the internment camps.

November 22, 2014 8:56 AM What Fair & Balanced Would Look Like

I am but a lowly blogger, bereft of my parents’ basement since they traded suburban bliss for the retirement home. My jammies are torn and frayed and I’m running dangerously low on Cheetos. Who am I, then, to take on the laborious task of countering the six trillion hours of media coverage that aired on the “Benghazi Scandal” with an equal and countervailing amount of coverage on the now established fact that it was ALL bullshit from the start? This is clearly not my job.

It won’t be anyone’s job, of course. But it should be. Any media outlet that lent credence to this “debate” ought to spend the next three-plus years publishing articles and airing pieces on the extent to which this was all a cynical and spiteful lie from the beginning. They should keep doing these pieces no matter how much it outrages and annoys their audiences. They should do it long after it has any potential to edify the public. They should beat it like a dead horse until people do parodies of the media for beating dead horses, and then should keep doing it for several years after that.

Every day should be Susan Rice Vindication Day. We should wake every morning to mockery of Darrell Issa and go to sleep each night to ridicule of Mitt Romney. This should go on until all decent people have long ago given up and stopped begging for it to stop.

And, sometime in late 2017, we will have reached Fair & Balanced coverage of the tragedy in Benghazi.

There is some irony in letting the Republicans’ House Select Committee on Intelligence settle this matter, since they have all the sincerity of a seasick crocodile. But there really is a case of “if even they admit that this was all a crock of crap” at play here.

And, given how seriously these charges were taken and the sheer volume of credulous coverage that was dedicated to them, the public will not internalize the actual truth unless and until they are subjected to a similarly ridiculous and seemingly superfluous amount of corrected media coverage and attention.

The media better get started, because I have better things to do.

November 22, 2014 7:34 AM Daylight Video

In honor of the death of the Benghazi conspiracy theories, I give you The Marines’ Hymn.

I do think that Charles Pierce is a bit optimistic. This parrot may be tired and shagged out after a long squawk, but it is probably a zombie parrot.

There is some sense in which the Benghazi conspiracy theories will and can never actually die.

November 21, 2014 6:02 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

I mentioned briefly a while back that I was working on a book (about the midterms, actually). Well, the deadline is screaming up, and I’ll probably take vacation days much of next week to deal with it, assuming we can line up some blogging help. More about that over the weekend or Monday.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Greg Sargent looks at possibility GOP hysteria over immigration action will deter eligible people for signing up. It’s a legitimate fear.

* Peter Beinart sees Obama in immigration action redeeming some of the faith progressives placed in him in 2008.

* Michael Kazin really, really wants Sherrod Brown to run for president.

* At Ten Miles Square, James Wimberly goes deep on design of data presentations.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer discusses the persistence of W.E.B. DuBois’ “talented tenth” theory of lifting minority communities by creating elite-educated leaders.

And in non-political news:

* Jon Voight to play Bear Bryant in upcoming movie.

That’s it for Friday. Martin Longman—and perhaps some new blogging talent!—will be in for the weekend.

Let’s close with the classic “Pa’al Norte” by Calle 13, with an English translation.


November 21, 2014 5:24 PM The Siege of Ferguson Continues

So at the beginning of the week the governor declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard. 100 FBI agents are arriving in the area today. One local school district has already canceled classes for next week. That’s all in anticipation of the high likelihood that a St. Louis County grand jury is going to refuse to indict Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown to death.

I appreciate the responsibility federal and state authorities have for protecting public safety, and for local school board officials to keep kids out of harm’s immediate way. And I know some of the fears about what will happen in Ferguson are about “outside agitators.” But still: can’t we hear a little more about the circumstances under which so many people are so sure the “fix” is in, and that white folks in Missouri are closing ranks in solidarity with an admitted killer?

If there is definitive evidence Wilson did no wrong it should be immediately released and reasonable suspicions about its authenticity allayed as soon as is possible. But the whole “siege” mentality exhibited by police immediately after (and apparently preceding) Brown’s death clearly hasn’t gone away. And that’s a big problem, whether or not justice is being done in this particular case.

November 21, 2014 4:27 PM Jeb Bush Better Get Hip to the Outrage

I was looking at CNN’s roundup of Republican reactions to the president’s executive action on immigration and saw this one from Jeb Bush:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called Obama’s action “ill-advised” and said it “undermines all efforts to forge a permanent solution to this crisis” that should come from Congress.
“President Obama has once again put divisive and manipulative politics before the sober leadership and sound laws required of an exceptional nation,” Bush said in a statement. “It is time for Republican leaders in Congress to act. We must demonstrate to Americans we are the party that will tackle serious challenges and build broad-based consensus to achieve meaningful reforms for our citizens and our future.”

Hmmm. Unless I’m missing something, Jeb’s saying to his fellow-Republicans: “Pass a bill.” Where did I last hear that line….

November 21, 2014 3:50 PM Nevada’s Mouth-Runnin’ Rebel

When Nevada’s newly ascendent House Republicans decided to lift Ira Hansen to the speakership of their chamber, they clearly hadn’t gotten the memo on how Republicans are trying real hard not to project an image as troglodytes. Hansen, it seems, has said a lot of really crazy and offensive things right out loud via 13 years of op-eds in his local paper (running at least up until 2007, which isn’t a long time ago).

You can follow the link and sample some of Hansen’s sexist, racist and homophobic ravings over the years, but here’s the thing that grabbed me:

Hansen has said he keeps a Confederate battle flag on the wall where he writes his columns. “I fly it proudly in honor and in memory of a great cause and my brave ancestors who fought for that cause,” he wrote.

That helps explain his resentment of African-Americans:

He wrote that African-Americans are insufficiently grateful for being given their freedom: “The lack of gratitude and the deliberate ignoring of white history in relation to eliminating slavery is a disgrace that Negro leaders should own up to.”

Now regular readers know that nothing gets me going quite like neo-Confederate sentiments, particularly when (as with this bird and with former Sen. George Allen) it involves enthusiasts for the Lost Cause who did not grow up in its stomping grounds (Hansen was born in Reno; Allen used to tool around Los Angeles with confederate flag plates on his sports car).

But as Matt Ford points out at the Atlantic today, Hansen’s really lucky his rebel yells weren’t emitted a little closer to the event:

In 1864, a Nevadan man went on trial for murdering a Confederate sympathizer in public. “I want him convicted, and before I resign … I mean to pardon him,” proclaimed James Nye, the outgoing territorial governor, who would soon become the new state’s second U.S. senator. “If it be meritorious to shoot a traitor in South Carolina, it cannot be unpardonable to shoot one in Nevada.”

Hansen should probably find himself another line of work.

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