Why poor nations aren’t prisoners of their history. By Charles Kenny
For months now we’ve been told that the Affordable Care Act would produce a cataclysm of skyrocketing health insurance premiums, particularly in the individual insurance markets that the law most affects. Earlier this week alarums were raised particularly in California with the news that three major insurance companies had decided against participating in the health care exchanges that would offer Obamacare coverage.
So it’s a bit of a shock—sort of a reverse sticker shock—today to learn that preliminary assessments of the cost of the new, improved (because subject to new minimum coverage requirements) policies in California once the exchanges are up and running will in most cases be lower than what citizens of this high-cost state are accustomed to paying. TNR’s Jonathan Cohn summarizes the news:
Based on the premiums that insurers have submitted for final regulatory approval, the majority of Californians buying coverage on the state’s new insurance exchange will be paying less—in many cases, far less—than they would pay for equivalent coverage today. And while a minority will still end up writing bigger premium checks than they do now, even they won’t be paying outrageous amounts. Meanwhile, all of these consumers will have access to the kind of comprehensive benefits that are frequently unavailable today, at any price, because of the way insurers try to avoid the old and the sick.
Sarah Kliff of Wonkblog has more details:
Health insurers will charge 25-year-olds between $142 and $190 per month for a bare-bones health plan in Los Angeles.
A 40-year-old in San Francisco who wants a top-of-the-line plan would receive a bill between $451 and $525. Downgrade to a less robust option, and premiums fall as low as $221.
These premium rates, released Thursday, help answer one of the biggest questions about Obamacare: How much health insurance will cost. They do so in California, the state with 7.1 million uninsured residents, more than any other place in the country.
Multiple projections expected premiums to be relatively high.
The Congressional Budget Office predicted back in November 2009 that a medium-cost plan on the health exchange - known as a “silver plan” - would have an annual premium of $5,200. A separate report from actuarial firm Milliman projected that, in California, the average silver plan would have a $450 monthly premium.
Now we have California’s rates, and they appear to be significantly less expensive than what forecasters expected.
On average, the most affordable “silver plan” - which covers 70 percent of the average subscriber’s medical costs - comes with a $276 monthly premium.
Such numbers, it is important to note, do not reflect the actual cost to the estimated 2.6 million Californians who will qualify for Obamacare tax subsidies (available to those with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty rate).
One of the “horror stories” we’ve been hearing from Obamacare opponents for years now is that the whole scheme will collapse once healthy, low-income young people realize they’ll face large news costs for the kind of minimum high-deductible catastrophic coverage they actually need. They’ll bail, it has been suggested, not only from Obamacare (screwing up the broad-based risk pools that make affordable coverage for older and sicker people possible), but from Obama’s political coalition as well. So this comment from Kliff about the California numbers is worth noting:
For a less robust “bronze” plan, which covers 60 percent of the average beneficiary’s costs, the tax credit could actually cover the entire premium for low-income twenty-somethings.
None of this should really be that surprising; the idea that a broader pool plus competition and guaranteed benefits would provide a better bargain (plus vastly greater security) for consumers in the individual market was central to the entire Affordable Care Act architecture. But it’s taken a while for facts to catch up with all the negative agitprop. It won’t keep House Republicans from voting to repeal the entire law a 38th or 39th or 40th time before the bulk of the Affordable Care Act becomes effective next year. Still, it’s nice to see some reality-based evidence amidst all the hysteria.
Let’s hope you weren’t planning to do any significant business with the Internal Revenue Service (those scheming secular-socialist SOBs!), the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, or (much less likely) the Office of Management and Budget today. They are going to be operating on sort of a hibernation level today, with (mainly) political appointees watching for emergencies, thanks to the furloughing of 115,000 federal employees, the fruits of this year’s appropriations sequester. Get used to it, says WaPo’s Lisa Rein:
The closures, the first of several around summer holiday weekends and other days this fiscal year, were conceived as a way for furloughs to do the least damage to employees and the public. The Friday before Memorial Day is a vacation day for many, and the volume of calls for tax help, housing assistance or to report an environmental problem is relatively low, officials said.
If you happen to be one of those employees, of course, the impact is a little more significant, since you won’t be paid for this day off. Your services, and compensation for them, has been implicitly deemed wasteful and unnecessary. But since Congress could not actually identify the waste or define what is unnecessary, you get to become the symbolic examples of Big Government excess, whether you are a good, bad or indifferent public servant.
As the year drags on, we will almost certainly see the impact of these furloughs on economic growth, which won’t be massive, but will have a baleful effect on everyone nonetheless. And why is this happening? Well, we had to do something about those budget deficits (you know, the ones shrinking so rapidly that even deficit hawks are embarrassed to yell about them any more), and what began as a unimaginable (because it was so egregiously stupid) forcing device for congressional action became the path of least resistance.
Now this is very old news if you are, say, a Meals on Wheels beneficiary denied services, a parent of a child in Head Start who didn’t make the cut, someone trying to survive on a smaller unemployment check, or an employee of a government contractor who has made anticipatory furloughs or layoffs. But today they are joined by 115,000 fellow-citizens who can proudly say they’ve contributed to a symbolic victory over a largely imaginary enemy. Enjoy!
49 years ago today, Barry Goldwater shook up the 1964 presidential contest by proposing that the United States use low-yield nuclear weapons in Vietnam. (The reaction led to a Ronald Reagan commercial defending Goldwater’s love of peace). In memory of that magic moment, here’s Randy Newman performing “Political Science” thirty years after that, in Berlin:
A day that started off painfully and scandalogically, then suddenly got substantive. But I’m not optimistic for tomorrow, unless nothing’s happening at all.
Here are some final items of the day:
* Sri Srinivasan confirmed for seat on the crucial D.C. Court of Appeals by unanimous Senate vote after long delay (he was originally nominated nearly a year ago for a position that’s been open since 2008). Some will view this action as an early victory for Harry Reid’s threat to “go nuclear” if necessary to stop filibusters of executive and judicial nominees in July.
* John McCain tears Mike Lee a new one on Senate floor over obstruction of budget conference committee appointments. I doubt it will make any difference at all.
* Even the lame ducks can’t control themselves: Saxby Chambliss assaults Obama speech as one that will “be viewed by terrorists as a victory.”
* Big drop in Japan’s Nikkei stock market could have been partially caused by Ben Bernanke’s speech to Congress yesterday.
* At Ten Miles Square, Raymond Smith cites Canadian Conservative Party’s sudden switch on marriage equality as potential template for GOP.
* At College Guide, Richard Vedder discusses embarrassing data on how long it’s taking students to complete bachelor’s degrees.
And in non-political news:
* NOAA warns 2013 Atlantic hurricane season could be “extremely active.” Ugh.
Let’s end the day with more Tull: a fine performance of the famous instrumental “Bourée” in 1969.
You may have heard this by now, but the hyper-secured venue of the president’s big counter-terrorism speech today at the National Defense University was penetrated by a very familiar character, per this report from Politico’s Jennifer Epstein:
President Obama’s major counterterrorism speech was going well, his delivery smooth and strong on Thursday afternoon.
Then, with a shout from Medea Benjamin, a member of Code Pink, the whole thing got a bit bumpier. As he spoke about wanting to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and mentioned being limited by Congress, Benjamin interrupted.
“Excuse me, President Obama, you are commander in chief … it’s you, sir,” she shouted. As she continued, shouting about the hunger strikers there, Obama tried to keep speaking.
He got through a few more lines of his speech before Benjamin interrupted again. He spoke over her, “This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak, but also me being able to speak and you listening,” he said.
Moments later, Obama added: “I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about.”
Finally, after Benjamin again shouted, this time about Americans killed by drone strikes, including the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, security officers started guiding her out of the hall.
“Abide by the rule of law, you’re a constitutional lawyer,” she said as she was guided up steps out of the auditorium….
Benjamin is a frequent presence at national security speeches and hearings, and the White House seemed caught unaware of her attendance. A photographer who waited in line near Benjamin saw her wearing a bright green press pass like those handed out to the rest of the media at the event, “Susan Benjamin” — her given name — written in ink.
I doubt she’d be interested in the gig, but sure looks like Benjamin would be a worthy applicant for a counter-intelligence gig of her own. She sure knows how to spot holes in a security system.
One of the best measurements for assessing any political junkie’s addiction is how intently he or she is focused on Early Nominating States like Iowa and New Hampshire, especially the former (thanks to its kickoff status and its byzantine procedures and traditions), and particularly early in presidential cycles when it’s objectively crazy to be making any real judgments.
So if you’re truly a political mainliner, you should follow me in reading the vast early backgrounder on Iowa ‘16 posted today by RCP’s Scott Conroy. But first I must warn you: the headline (“Under Fire Again, Will Iowa Caucuses Remain First?”) is a complete tease. As you probably know, and as Conroy eventually admits after about twenty graphs of misdirection, there’s really no threat to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in 2016. Indeed, we eventually learn that one likely GOP Caucus candidate, Marco Rubio, did Iowa the signal service of convincing his allies in Florida to remove its perennial threat to the “privileged” four front-end states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) and hold its 2016 primary in March.
To the extent that Conroy identifies Trouble in River City, it’s all on the GOP side, and it involves not the existence or the timing of the Caucuses, but the potential binding of Convention delegates to the Caucus results, the role of one highly controversial preliminary event, and the bad publicity being generated by a quickening, multi-pronged investigation of Michele Bachmann’s 2012 Iowa campaign.
To cut to the chase (you can get there by the scenic route in Conroy’s piece), what all the angst is really about is the post-Caucus 2012 takeover of the Iowa Republican Party apparatus by the Ron Paul Revolution. The Paulites, led by state GOP chair A.J. Spiker, has deeply annoyed both the “establishment” Republican circles around Gov. Terry Branstad and a lot of the conservative activists who make the Caucuses go.
A particular football has been the Ames Straw Poll, the bizarre event held the summer before the Caucuses where well-organized and well-financed campaigns can bus in supporters with a ticket and a boxed lunch to get the first “victory” headlines of the cycle. It was won in 2011 by Michele Bachmann, with Ron Paul finishing a very close second. And the event croaked the campaign of early “smart money” candidate and Bachmann’s Minnesota Twin, Tim Pawlenty.
The president’s speech today at the National Defense University on counter-terrorism policy (advance-billed as a “drone policy” speech or a “Gitmo” speech by many) was a much more wide-reaching and complex address than most observers, friendly or hostile, seem to have expected. And that is why a lot of the media coverage you’ll soon see will focus on one or another narrow “news” item while ignoring the bigger picture.
When I first read the piece, I thought: Wow, the president just officially called off the Global War On Terrorism. I tweeted that, and was immediately informed from several directions that No, that’s not news; it’s been a dead letter since at least 2009. But since Barack Obama isn’t the kind of president who throws celebrations on aircraft carriers, and probably also wanted to avoid a news hook Republicans would use to call him “weak on terrorism,” the implicit abandonment of the GWOT “frame” was never announced in the way 99% of the public would have noticed. So maybe it is a big deal. After a few minutes of feeling simple-minded, I noticed that’s exactly how TPM was headlining the speech (though the underlying article by Julie Pace and Lara Jakes followed most “experts” in writing almost exclusively about drones and Gitmo).
In other words, interpretation of the speech will be reminiscent of the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant, with many memes chasing the many angles the speech supports. Many Republicans will treat the whole thing as an effort to distract attention from “scandals,” and/or as an effort to trivialize the Benghazi! and AP/Fox “scandals” as part of a much larger struggle with complex problems the administration is facing. Many civil libertarians will denounce the speech as one that disingenuously rationalizes and insincerely half-apologizes for drone strikes, First Amendment violations, and detention policies that are simply a continuation of Bush policies with slightly different rhetoric. And the unusual tone of the speech—a more-in-sorrow-than-in-righteous-anger discussion of tough decisions and balancing acts—will be praised or panned depending on the observers’ politics, for the most part.
One thing is fairly clear: the speech poses a challenge to congressional Republicans that may not be that easy for them to meet, distracted as they are and as divided as they tend to be on national security policy these days. As Slate’s Dave Weigel quickly noted, Obama four times shifted responsibility for current dilemmas at least partially to Congress: on drones (where he insisted the appropriate congressional committees have known about every single strike); on embassy security; on the 9/11-era legal regime that still governs anti-terrorist efforts; and on Gitmo (where Republicans have repeatedly thwarted effort to transfer detainees to U.S. prisons). But like critical reporters, Republicans, other than neocons who want GWOT not only to be maintained but intensified, will probably tear off tasty chunks of the speech and masticate them noisily, or just dismiss it all and get back onto the crazy train of Scandalmania ‘13.
Jonathan Chait has a nice profile of Josh Barro in the newest Atlantic that fits in nicely with my recent piece on conservative reformists. I found that there is basically a spectrum of reformists, ranging from the cautious sort who are careful to preserve their party standing (eg David Brooks) to the the radical sort who toss rhetorical grenades with gleeful aplomb (eg Bruce Bartlett).
The arc of Chait’s piece is Barro’s transition from the first group to the second:
The surprising thing is that Barro, the son of the prominent orthodox-conservative economist Robert Barro, is the one who has done it. The elder Barro has called the stimulus “the worst bill that has been put forward since the 1930s,” or simply “garbage,” and he has appeared regularly on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, where he has denounced “the Obama Road to Serfdom.” Until very recently, nothing about his son’s career had suggested that the apple would fall far from the tree. Josh Barro volunteered for Romney during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, interned for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, landed a job as a Koch Associate at the Tax Foundation, and eventually migrated to the Manhattan Institute and started writing for [Reihan] Salam’s blog at National Review. In early 2010, after Paul Ryan unveiled his sweeping budget overhaul, Barro and Salam wrote a 3,000-word article for National Review laying out the standard conservative-reformist assessment. Ryan’s plan, in their telling, was bold and praiseworthy, and its flaws merely opportunities for future refinement and improvement. “Far from a reckless plot to ravage the welfare state,” they wrote, “Ryan’s roadmap is a sober, responsible preview of the hard choices we’ll have to make.” […]
Barro’s willingness to not only speak out plainly, but also speak out against those who won’t join him in doing so, is what has lent his apostasy such force. I met with Salam the morning after Barro and his erstwhile allies had had a particularly pointed exchange. “If conservative health wonks really cared about health reform, wouldn’t they be exasperated” with Republican elected officials “for never following through?,” Barro jeered on Twitter. “Yet they seem oddly content within the GOP coalition. It’s as if they don’t really care all that much” about actual reform. The debate had cut to the heart of what separates Barro from most of the other conservative reformers: Barro increasingly sees their refusal to confront the reality of the Republican stance as a kind of intellectual dishonesty.
Understandably, this doesn’t go over so well with the more genteel reformists:
The reformers take deep umbrage at the accusation. Salam explained that he considers himself basically in agreement with Barro on ends, but completely in disagreement on means. What Barro calls dishonesty, Salam sees, not unreasonably, as the compromises necessary to give the reform movement a hearing within the GOP and, over time, to nudge the party in a different direction. “The truly public-spirited person,” Salam told me, “is part of a team, and makes their team smarter and better to the extent they can.” Douthat likewise retorted on Twitter, “It’s also hard to change a political coalition if you make it clear that you basically despise its members.”
Barro, for his part, is perfectly aware of the political dynamic. “I don’t expect them to be more responsive to my sticks than to Reihan’s carrots,” he told me.
It will be an interesting milestone as to the progression of the reformist movement to see whether Barro is scourged from the conservative movement as Bruce Bartlett was. The tendency to purge RINO unbelievers has been devastating for the conservative movement, encouraging groupthink and Lysenkoist dogmatism, and has produced a cult of purity that churns out incredibly weak candidates for high office. Gadflies like Barro could serve an important check on these impulses—part of the party’s intellectual immune system, if you will, which is in notable disrepair.
This is not to excuse the left exactly—Lord knows there are gobs of Democratic hacks—just to observe that people like Glenn Greenwald are still (so far) tolerated on this side.
We’ll be watching this story carefully.
I guess we are in the runup to the Memorial Day weekend, and for all I know readers may soon start checking out to clean their BBQ grills and/or make travel plans. But we’ll be right here plugging along, with a lighter Holiday Schedule Monday.
Here are some mid-day skewers of news/views chunks. You can imagine them mixed with some pineapple and peppers.
* President to renew Gitmo closing plea in major speech today.
* As California’s giant health insurance exchange forms, Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross, and California Blue Shield are in; Aetna, UnitedHealth and Cigna out.
* Andrew Cuomo takes harsh shot at newly reminted mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.
* Fascinating article by National Journal’s Beth Reinhard on Ted Cruz’ journey from helping craft George W. Bush’s immigration stance in 2000, to his current position opposing comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate.
* CBO announces it will produce “dynamic scoring” estimate of costs and benefits of immigration reform, in order to rebut conservative cost claims.
And in sorta non-political (or at least non-US) news:
* Did you know a major Mexican drug cartel calls itself “Knights Templar?” I didn’t. This cartel is apparently in midst of extortion/arson campaign in the state of Michoacan that has spurred Mexican government to send in thousands of troops.
Back within the hour.
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Since 2000, the nation’s poverty rate has been creeping inexorably upward, from a near-historic low of11.3 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2011. But in the suburbs, poverty has been exploding.
According to a new book released this week by researchers Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution, suburban poverty has soared by 64 percent in the last decade. The roughly 16.4 million suburban poor now outnumber the urban poor, and the pace of growth in suburban poverty is outmatching that of inner cities. In suburban Chicago, for example, the poverty rate has increased by an alarming 99 percent in the last ten years, while in Houston, the share of suburbanites in poverty has climbed by 103 percent.
By all rights, Kneebone and Berube’s work should catalyze the same public response as another classic work on American poverty, Michael Harrington’s 1962 book, The Other America. The shock to the conscience generated by Harrington’s book galvanized public outrage, leading to President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the launch of the Great Society.
Alas, however, this is 2013.
And the modern advocates of a renewed war on poverty face a mountain of obstacles that Harrington’s allies did not confront 50 years ago and that could stymie all but incremental change.
For one thing, government - once the principal ally of anti-poverty advocates - has itself become part of the problem. Kneebone and Berube, for example, argue that current governmental programs - created when poverty was concentrated in inner-city slums - are ill-equipped to help a diffuse, suburban population. Public housing, for instance, is a classic example of a program aimed at the inner-city poor. Today’s suburban poor don’t live in the crowded, unsafe tenements that public housing replaced.
Moreover, the multiplicity of programs that have accreted in the past half-century have led to the creation of a creaky bureaucratic monolith that baffles all but the most determined advocates. Kneebone and Berube point to more than 80 different “place-based” anti-poverty programs spread across 10 agencies.
In fact, one of the hallmarks of the non-profit model programs they cite in their book are those that have managed to successfully cobble together a coherent social services program from dozens of siloed funding streams - in other words, non-profit efforts that are succeeding despite government, not because of it.
But the bigger obstacle to a new push against poverty is the radicalized subset of conservatives who both deny that poverty is a problem at all and who’ve successfully soured the public on the safety net. The Heritage Foundation’s website, for example, claims that “[t]he typical poor person in the United States has a far higher living standard than the public imagines.”
In a report titled “Air Conditioning, Cable TV and an Xbox,” Heritage argues that “the typical poor American had more living space than the average European.” and that while “[p]oor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table.”
It’s certainly true that poverty today does not look like the poverty Harrington chronicled in the 1960s. But neither does typical “middle-class” life. In 1960, nearly 1 in 5 American homes lacked complete plumbing, and 1 in 10 homes had no flush toilet. More than 1 in 5 homes also had no telephone - unthinkable today.
While the absurdity of the Heritage Foundation’s line of argument is easy for policy elitists to dismiss (poverty is relative, not absolute, hello?), this argument still gets traction with the American public in ways that are ultimately very damaging to modern efforts to restarting a war on poverty.
If May has been a rough month for Barack Obama, you could say the same for those intrepid voices calling for a “rebranding” of the Republican Party to make the GOP kinder and gentler and more appealing to the significant majority of Americans who look dimly upon that organization (59% of them in the latest CNN-ORC survey).
There’s the general problem that Scandalmania ‘13 is reinforcing the pre-existing impression that the GOP isn’t exactly focused on the issues most Americans care about, while amplifying the voices of conservatives who buy into all sorts of outlandish conspiracy theories about the president. And then there are more specific problems associated with high-profile GOP candidates for office who are undermining the claims that past controversial candidates like Todd Akin (and Richard Mourdock and Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle and just a few dozen others) are isolated cranks unrepresentative of the “adults” in the party.
The ticket just nominated by the Virginia Republican Party, in which gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, long a hero of the mad fringe, is probably the “moderate,” is a case in point; conservative analyst Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics writes this very morning that Commonwealth Republicans may be in the process of throwing away their advantages in this year’s state elections, which will receive vast national attention).
But there’s more fresh hell for Republican “rebranders” roaring out of the Rockies: the news that Tom Tancredo is running for governor of Colorado, and will almost certainly be the front-runner for the GOP nomination after winning 35% of the vote for that office in 2010 as a third-party candidate.
For the many Republicans who believe de-toxifying the party’s image among Latino voters is central to its short- and long-term political prospects, a Tancredo run for statewide office is very bad news. It’s not just that Tancredo, a nativist right out of the nineteenth century, is opposed to the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that even many serious conservatives consider so important that it must be made an exception to the general rule that the GOP need not “moderate” its policy positions to win. Tancredo has major issues with levels of legal immigration, and insists the GOP and the conservative movement must advocate deportation—not self-deportation, but forced deportation—of millions of undocumented workers.
Everything about Tom Tancredo’s act is designed to secure maximum national media attention. Yes, perhaps national Republicans can ostracize him like they did poor old Todd Akin, but at some point you have to wonder how many statewide candidates running on their own “brand” can be disclaimed without drawing still more attention to their ravings, not to mention engendering blowback from the majority of Republican primary voters in most parts of the country who actually agree with their most outrageous utterances. Yes, Tancredo’s “out there,” but in 2014 he may well be joined in the ranks of bizarre high-profile GOP candidates by Joe Miller of Alaska (again), Paul Broun of Georgia, and Lord only knows who else. The “rebranders” really have their work cut out for them.
Mitch McConnell’s whiny little op-ed on the alleged persecution of campaign donors by evil bureaucrats and “union thugs” is, believe it or not, only the second worst thing I’ve read on the WaPo site this morning. The worst is a piece by Republican “strategist” Ed Rogers under the headline: “A special prosecutor in the IRS matter is inevitable.”
Oh, God, please, anything but that.
Rogers, concern-trolling with great solemnity, suggests that appointing a special prosecutor would enable the White House to adopt a strategy of “slowing the congressional inquiries and giving Jay Carney some relief from his daily embarrassing routine by supplying him with the escape hatch of not being allowed to comment on matters associated with the special prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. Not to mention, the White House all the while could blast the appointed counsel as a partisan ideologue a la the hatchet job that was done on Ken Starr.”
Yeah, we all remember that poor victim Ken Starr, don’t we?
Personally, I’m all for letting the congressional “investigators” run wild, if the only alternative is dependence on one of the worst institutions of modern law and politics, the special prosecutor (and yes, I felt that way when the Bush administration was resisting calls for a special prosecutor to investigate its many scandals). At least congressional committees have to deal with the growing public realization that they really ought to have something better to do—you know, something connected with actual governing. Special prosecutors are encouraged, yea required, to engage in endless fishing expeditions, even if they lead the intrepid sleuths far from the original issues.
Mike Tomasky said it well in his Daily Beast column today:
The Republicans are looking for some way to tie this bureaucratic screw-up to last year’s campaign, or better still to Obama himself. They know very well the best way to do that: a special prosecutor. A special prosecutor, unlike all those apparently unspecial prosecutors across the United States trying to nab genuinely bad guys with limited resources, has no constraints on time or money. He can just keep turning over rocks until he finds something that smells suspicious. Of all the undemocratic institutions we suffer with in our democracy, it’s far and away the most undemocratic.
Bill Clinton learned that agreeing to a special prosecutor was the greatest mistake of his presidency (and by the way, conservatives howling for one now—imagine what Dick Cheney would have thought of a Plame special prosecutor, and at least have the self-awareness to acknowledge that you’d have been with him every step of the way). But part of the reason Clinton agreed was that he knew he and Hillary had done nothing wrong on Whitewater.
Fat lot of good that did them. Obama may know that he’s done nothing wrong here, but that is no reason to accede to these dishonest demands. There will be pressure from the right, and it will grow, but there’s only one person who has the power to name a special prosecutor. His name is Obama. He has been naive about the Republicans, but he better not be that naive.
You have to hand it to Mitch McConnell. While other scandal-mad Republicans are off on a wild goose chase that could well end in 1998, McConnell’s focused on exploiting scandals to promote his very favorite cause, and his special gift to the corruption of American politics: hiding the identity of big campaign donors. His op-ed in today’s Washington Post aims at convincing us that conservative donors obviously need anonymity because they will otherwise be persecuted by Obama-inspired bureaucrats and union thugs.
Not since Ted Olson’s Wall Street Journal op-ed last year throwing a pity party for his clients the Brothers Koch have we seen anything quite like McConnell’s inversion of reality. For one thing, the whole piece is based on the false premise that the selective scrutiny of Tea Party groups by the IRS in reviewing 501(c)(4) applications represents a “culture of intimidation” aimed at silencing conservatives. Even if you buy the “money equals speech” formulation that is at the center of Mitch McConnell’s world view—yea, it is perhaps his actual religion—that doesn’t mean “tax exemptions equal speech.” The idea that members of Tea Party groups whose (c)(4) applications were in limbo were hiding in their closets, weeping in fear and awaiting the sound of the first jackboot at their door, is a complete fabrication, even for the more paranoid of that breed.
But even if you buy the idea that incompetent fumbling over exemption applications actually represents persecution, the idea that efforts to force disclosure of large donors to organizations running political ads (the idea of the DISCLOSE Act that is the main target of McConnell’s ire) would unleash the liberal hordes on poor, defenseless little rich boys who just happen to sincerely believe they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support those people is ha-larious. Is anonymity really their only line of defense? Don’t we have laws against real acts of persecution, public and private? Do donors pouring tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns to nuke opponents and protect their economic interests really have a right to avoid the disdain that exposure would bring? In all the endless efforts to create Obama Scandals, has anyone yet come up with a tangible harm (and no, I’m sorry, the failure to get a quick answer on an application for tax-exempt status doesn’t qualify) suffered by the president’s identified enemy? With all this persecution going on, why aren’t the jails crammed with poor innocent conservatives and the streets running with blood as poor little rich boys flee union thugs?
McConnell’s argument really boils down to the claim that donors who hate on government or on Barack Obama have to be given anonymity because government and Barack Obama don’t like being hated on and therefore might retaliate, as evidenced by the IRS “scandal” and Obama’s “class warfare” speeches, which created a “culture of intimidation.” That’s just another way of saying that conservative political activity is a form of self-defense for the rich against the power of rapacious liberalism, and that the rules governing political activity should privilege that self-defense, since after all liberals can’t be expected to treat them fairly (i.e., leave them alone to spend their money and treat their employees as they please).
I don’t know how much sympathy a cold-eyed cynic like McConnell can engender for this line of defense outside the boardroom set and the Tea Party fever swamps, where the very existence of liberalism is often considered an outrageous defiance of the Will of God as expressed through the Founders. But as always, you have to admire his chutzpah.
A video by a wonderful old band with two songs that nicely reflects two aspects of the mood surrounding Scandalmania ‘13: “To Cry You a Song” and “A New Day Yesterday.” Sorry for the abrupt ending, but it’s concert footage: Jethro Tull in Tampa, 1976:
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