Political Animal


January 23, 2015 11:39 AM Scott Walker Lands a Big Fish

The “invisible primary” in each early presidential cycle is composed of quite a few separate dimensions, including money, activist group backing, elite support, public opinion standing, and early-state infrastructure. In this last venue, proto-candidate Scott Walker just landed a big fish, per this report from the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs:

The team that is building Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s political organization for a possible presidential campaign has brought on a GOP strategist with Iowa ties: David Polyansky.
Polyansky, a Texan who played senior roles in two Iowa presidential campaigns and was the top strategist in Republican Joni Ernst’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate this past fall, will be Team Walker’s senior adviser in Iowa, sources told The Des Moines Register Thursday….
Seven years ago, Polyansky helped orchestrate former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee’s victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, but for the 2016 cycle, he’s jumping on board with Walker, a pastor’s son known for winning three campaigns in four years in a blue state, and for confrontational government reforms….
Iowa has been a home-away-from-home for Polyansky for years. He was deputy campaign manager for Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann when she climbed to a surprise victory in the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll. And he was senior consultant to Ernst, who won a five-way GOP primary in June then defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley by 8.3 points in November to claim the U.S. Senate seat held for 30 years by a staunch liberal, Tom Harkin.

Jacobs’ account omits a few nuances. Polyansky was effectively Ed Rollins’ guy on the ground in both the Huckabee campaign and then in Bachmann’s. They were both pretty much pushed out of the latter after the Straw Poll win, though everybody half-pretended it was about Rollins’ health, at least until he went after Bachmann with hammer and tongs in mid-2012 for her attacks on Huma Abedin.

As for Ernst, Polyansky was reportedly present at the creation of the hog-castration theme that served as her signature in the Senate race, which is being regarded as a devilishly effective if self-consciously stupid model for future campaigns. So Walker’s now got someone who is very familiar with the mechanics of the Straw Poll (the first real contest of the 2016 cycle), knows all the players in the state’s peculiarly powerful Christian Right faction, and is close to the hottest political property in Iowa right now. We’ll soon see, beginning with his appearance tomorrow at Steve King’s “summit” in Des Moines, if Walker can catch fire with the very demanding wingnuts of Iowa.

January 23, 2015 11:03 AM Teaching the Pope About Christianity and Capitalism

So Glenn Beck, religious instructor, is at it again.

You may recall that back in 2010 the right-wing revisionist voice on most everything got himself into a bit of trouble for suggesting that Christians leave any denomination that preached the communistic doctrine of “social justice,” which he called a “perversion of the gospels.” Conservative Catholics in particular took exception, as I noted at the time at HuffPost:

Beck’s original remarks were treated by some as a thinly veiled attack on the Catholic Church, since, as the conservative religious journal First Things quickly pointed out, the very term “social justice” was invented by a nineteenth-century Jesuit theologian interpreting St. Thomas Aquinas. “Social justice” isn’t just a trendy contemporary slogan, and it certainly wasn’t pioneered by communists or Nazis: it was the central theme of the great Social Encyclicals of various Popes, most notably Leo XIII, whose 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, is considered especially normative.
More basically, the idea that Christianity is opposed to state action in pursuit of the common welfare is highly alien to both Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Now that we have a Pope who has revived Leo XIII’s teachings with a very modern emphasis, Beck’s decided to take the patronizing approach to the Pontiff, according to this report from TPM’s Tracy Walsh:

Conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck said Thursday that he wants to give Pope Francis a lesson in free-market economics.
Speaking on “The Glenn Beck Program” on his own network The Blaze, Beck said the pope’s experiences in Argentina left Francis skeptical of “cronyism.” As a result, the pope “has not seen ‘let-me-serve-you capitalism,’” Beck said.
Beck said he wants to rectify that.
“I’ve asked the Pope’s people if I could put together a team of people who could actually teach the Pope, and find examples, left and right, and go visit the Pope and say ‘This is what capitalism is.”

I guess if Francis refuses the “lesson” it will be time for Beck to once again urge Catholics to leave their church altogether, and perhaps all the refugees from Social Justice teachings in all the churches can form a new mega-denomination, the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, where people can rightly be taught that patriarchal family forms and limited-government capitalism represent the Divine Will now and forever. Their Vatican can be a mock-up of Monticello where the ghost of an imaginary Thomas Jefferson can be conjured up to demand a theocratic realm of private property and zygote rights, just like America’s Founders intended.

But I digress.

Without question, holy scriptures and Christian tradition will always provide discomfort for believers who also tend to bend the knee to the golden calf of laissez-faire capitalism. They’re just going to have to live with that discomfort, or perhaps repent. But suggesting that a particular Pope who insists on a teaching tradition that actually pre-dates capitalism is just the product of a peculiar economic system in his home country is laughably ignorant, and offering to set him straight is laughably arrogant. I personally doubt that if Jesus Christ were on earth today he’d be hanging out at Davos or handling private equity accounts on Wall Street or speaking to Tea Party rallies. I have, however, a holy fear of making too many assumptions about WJWD. But I’d guess Glenn Beck would be happy to offer the Prince of Peace some capitalism lessons as well.

January 23, 2015 10:01 AM Syriza on the Brink

Get ready for a potential “shot heard round the world”—or at least round Europe—on Sunday, when the Greek elections are held. As the Guardian’s Helena Smith reports, the odds of a victory by the party austerians everywhere fear, Syriza, have actually grown since the beginning of the short campaign:

Greece’s anti-austerity party of the left, Syriza, has stretched its election lead to six points, putting it on course for a historic victory in Sunday’s crucial elections.
With the incumbent prime minister, Antonis Samaras, warning of economic catastrophe if Syriza prevails, and Europe looking on nervously, the shortest election campaign in Greek postwar history concludes on Friday.
Barely four weeks after the failure of parliament to elect a president, triggering the ballot, Greece’s fate now lies in the hands of 9.8 million voters. All the polls show, with growing conviction, that victory will go to Syriza. A poll released by GPO for Mega TV late on Thursday gave the far leftists a six-percentage-point lead over Samaras’s centre-right New Democracy, the dominant force in a coalition government that has held power since June 2012. A week earlier, GPO had the lead at four percentage points.
Buoyed by such figures, Alexis Tsipras, the young firebrand who has overseen Syriza’s meteoric rise from the margins of Greek political life, pledged “historic change” as he gave a triumphant speech to thousands of supporters in central Athens on Thursday night.
“History is knocking at our door,” he said, appealing to Greeks, young and old, to participate in the “overthrow” of an establishment widely blamed for bringing the bailed-out nation to the point of economic and social collapse. “Hope isn’t coming. It has arrived. Nothing can stop it now,” he said, attacking Samaras as “a merchant of fear”.

Now would be a real good time to read or re-read Paul Glastris’ interview with Tsipras, published by the Washington Monthly in 2013. Here’s what Tsipras told Glastris he wanted to convey to Americans about his party’s purpose:

What I want to explain to U.S. citizens is that Greece and citizens of Greece have become in the last few years a kind of guinea pig on which violent and ineffective political choices were used. These policies have borne no fruit and after a certain point they have wrecked Greece and are now threatening to destabilize Europe and pose a danger to the global economy. There is a common interest to both sides to put an end to this madness. Otherwise a recession will be unavoidable in the U.S. in spite of very good handling of the situation financially here on this side.

Remember this when Tsipras is described as some sort of Marxist devil-figure in the international conservative media next week.

UPDATE: I initially overlooked this final graph in Smith’s account, which mentions what has become the international anthem for the anti-austerian movement:

If there was any question about whether the anti-establishment rebels had ambitions of plotting a similar course elsewhere in Europe, it was firmly dispelled when Tsipras was joined on the podium by Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos movement. To the strains of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin, the duo punched the air and Tsipras, putting his arm around Iglesias, announced that the anti-austerians were poised to challenge the old order across the continent.

January 23, 2015 9:31 AM A Post-Abdullah Saudi Arabia

The death of Saudi King Abdullah, ruler of his country for nearly ten years and de facto boss for nearly twenty, is for Americans an uncomfortable reminder that one of our chief allies in the most dangerous part of the world is a theocratic petro-state that practices savage repression at home and spends a considerable portion of its wealth promoting a Salafist brand of Islam abroad.

And now the whole world will watch to see if this atavistic regime can, as expected, negotiate a transition of power to Abdullah’s brother, Crown Prince Salman, with ultimate power still grounded in a vast royal family and alliances with tribesmen and Wahhabi clerics.

At the Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib and Jay Soloman, pretty clearly channeling mideast policy warhorse Dennis Ross, predict an initial period of deliberate stability and caution for the new/old regime in the months just ahead. That probably means no immediate change in Saudi Arabia’s current strategy of forcing down world oil prices to protect its market share, which has been a great boon to the economy of the U.S. and a deadly blow to Putin’s Russia. And it may also mean a renewed focus on dealing with potential internal dissent in the Kingdom and Shia gains on its borders (e.g., in Yemen).

But it will also be difficult for Americans to grasp the internal workings of a regime that so regularly mixed modern and medieval approaches to statecraft. A brief passage at the end of the New York Timesobituary for Abdullah was illustrative:

Abdullah may have resembled his warrior father, but he had a modern sensibility. A diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks in 2010 said that he had suggested to an American counterterrorism official that electronic chips be implanted in detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
He said it had worked with horses and falcons, to which the American replied, “Horses don’t have good lawyers.”
January 23, 2015 8:39 AM Daylight Video

I was all set to do a Sparks feature today when I read commenter pjcamp’s note that this is Django Reinhardt’s birthday (the listing I typically use did not, unaccountably, mention it). Here’s a nifty brief French documentary on Django, with subtitles and some rare footage.

January 22, 2015 6:02 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

There are no musical birthdays I wish to celebrate tomorrow, so the theme is up for grabs. Should I continue with early-to-mid-70s icons? Let me know in the comment thread if you have ideas.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Ron Fournier outdoes himself in divining an anti-Obama HRC positioning from a tweet and blind quotes from people who once advised her or her husband. Ugh.

* Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer announces he will not be a Senate candidate in California next year. This is extremely good news for the rest of the field, which could now get crowded.

* Speaking of climate change: breakdown on Senators who did and didn’t vote for amendment affirming belief that human activities are contributing to climate change. Kudos to the five Rs—Alexander, Ayotte, Collins, Graham and Kirk—who made a gesture towards reality.

* At Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Ladd questions whether the constant carping about Obama’s poor relations with Congress, often alluding to LBJ as a model, ignores every precedent since the 60s.

* At College Guide, Andre Perry defends quality public schools as the best long-term defense against domestic terrorism and the best guarantor of tolerance for dissent.

And in non-political news:

* Sorry to be redundant, but this afternoon the news was all about Deflategate and Tom Brady’s press conference.

That’s it for Thursday. We’ll close with a pre-Hunter Mick Ronson clip, because it’s so good. Here’s “Ziggy Stardust,” with Bowie, who often dedicated performances of this song to Ronson.


January 22, 2015 5:06 PM Benchmarks For Candidates at Steve King’s Vet-a-Thon on Saturday

I’ve been talking more than most Political Animals about the Steve King/Citizens United Iowa Freedom Summit this weekend in Des Moines. It’s the first real cattle call of the 2016 cycle and Steve King’s ex post facto evaluation of their performance could matter a lot while putting implied pressure on the field to get wild and crazy for what will be a highly carnivorous audience.

So I was very interested to read the assessment by The Iowa Republican’s Kevin Hall of what the various proto-candidates need to accomplish at this event. Here are the key excerpts:

John Bolton:
The former ambassador will need to show he can appeal to caucusgoers on issues beyond foreign policy if he hopes to gain any traction.
Ben Carson:
[D]elivering fiery speeches is not Carson’s forte.
The two prominent speeches he delivered in Iowa last year ran between 45 minutes and an hour. Although they were well received, Carson does not electrify a crowd the way some of the other speakers are able to do.
Since there is a 20-minute time limit Saturday, Dr. Carson will need to find a way to deliver a concise, yet inspirational speech in order to continue his positive momentum in Iowa.
Chris Christie:
The national media on hand will likely focus on Christie’s speech more than anyone else’s. Yet, he might be the least popular candidate on the stage Saturday….
Governor Christie can significantly help his presidential aspirations on Saturday if he finds common ground with a crowd that leans more conservative than he does. He could also severely damage those aspirations.
Ted Cruz:
Cruz has spent extensive time in Iowa and many of Saturday’s attendees have heard his speeches before. Cruz will need to offer some fresh material and another fiery speech to emerge from this event still considered among the upper echelon of Iowa Caucus contenders.
Carly Fiorina:
Fiorina’s one major speech in Iowa, delivered last September, was well received by the 125 members in attendance. However, the former Hewlett Packard CEO needs to show she can appeal to an audience that will likely be more conservative than that one.
Fiorina will also likely be judged against a more prominent female speaker on hand Saturday: former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Mike Huckabee:
[T]he field of conservative candidates is stronger and more crowded now than it was in 2008. Huckabee needs to come across as a full spectrum conservative. That will not be easy. The former Arkansas governor’s support of issues like Common Core will turn off many of his former supporters.
Mike Huckabee needs to show that he can maintain his affable personality while also being a conservative warrior who will fight for the issues Iowa Caucusgoers hold dear. That is a difficult balance to maintain, especially in a short speech.
Rick Perry:
He is a completely different candidate than he was last cycle. The passionless, scripted speeches are gone. Perry stole the show at The Family Summit last August with a fiery, red meat-laden dialogue. That came as a shock to many who watched him flounder in 2011-12.
Saturday, Rick Perry needs another performance like that one last August.
Rick Santorum:
Iowa conservatives like Santorum, but he is not beloved the same way as Mike Huckabee. Santorum is also largely absent from the national spotlight.
The former Pennsylvania senator is adamantly pushing Republicans to expand their reach to blue-collar workers. His recent Iowa speeches push that mantra.
However, that group will not make up the core of the attendees on Saturday. Santorum needs to convince Iowans he remains the best full-spectrum conservative in the hunt. Fiery speeches are not Santorum’s forte, but he could definitely use one on Saturday.
Scott Walker:
Walker can make a big splash Saturday with a strong, substantive speech. He is not the most electric speaker, but Walker is right on most of the issues Iowa conservatives champion.
Scott Walker needs to show he has the ability to ignite the passion of a large crowd. Many are ready to embrace his bid, but a speech that does not stand out could find Walker quickly eclipsed by others in the field.

You will notice no one is being encouraged to project a statesmanlike image or reach out to the general electorate. It’s all about igniting passion and feeding the audience red meat and outdoing the competition in those respects.

I figure the “winner” could be the first speaker who quotes Steve King’s famous remark about most DREAMers having “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling bales of pot across the border. All the stuff about “igniting passion” is simple code for making it clear that the project of running for president makes the candidate in question more, not less, inclined to pander to Iowa’s ravenous conservative activists.

January 22, 2015 4:27 PM Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

If you want to understand how damaging the brouhaha over the 20-week abortion ban is to the GOP’s strategy on reproductive rights, and how they might try to recover, you should actually read a column written just before that bill blew up, by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. Comparing the SOTU response by Joni Ernst to last year’s by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Marcotte noted that stealth anti-choice zealotry was becoming the GOP’s SOP:

Last year, Republicans, up in arms over the “war on women” meme, were trying to justify their attacks on Americans’ bodily autonomy. Subsequently, Rodgers really dwelled on the issue in her speech, talking about how she personally had three children, one with Down syndrome, while serving as a member of Congress. The implication was easy enough to grasp: Rodgers has had no need for reproductive choice in order to work, so why should you?
Ernst, however, mentioned abortion in the most perfunctory manner, saying, “And we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.” There were no other nods to the issue of restricting reproductive rights, despite Ernst’s long history of being obsessive and radical about the topic—including her support of “personhood” amendments, which could criminalize some miscarriages and potentially be used to attack legal contraception. Yet she seemed nearly indifferent to the issue in her rebuttal.
Based on this difference, it seems as if Republican tactics have shifted from trying to justify their extreme anti-choice views to trying to minimize them. That’s understandable in a country where support for legal abortion remains stable, despite a four-decade campaign draping the procedure in shame. This also appears to have been the strategy during the campaign season, where some Republicans like Scott Walker and, yes, Joni Ernst tried to imply that their “pro-life” views would not have any actual impact on your ability to get an abortion.

That last point is almost an understatement, given that Ernst argued in a Senate debate that her advocacy of a state constitutional amendment to invalidate any laws contradicting the “personhood” rights of zygotes was just a symbolic statement of her generally warm feelings towards “life.”

The general idea is to keep the discussion about abortion as a semi-private matter between Republicans and the antichoice folk who are so important to the GOP until such time as Republicans are in a position to degrade reproductive rights in a big way. That’s why yesterday’s developments were a fiasco for the GOP—but Republicans won’t hesitate to use it to add to their protective coloration on the subject. Keep in mind that these are people who perpetually try to justify reducing or eliminating reproductive rights as a matter of protecting women’s health, despite the total lack of evidence that safe, legal abortions carry any particular health risk.

So prochoice folk who relax their vigilance after the (temporary) withdrawal of the federal abortion ban legislation are making a mistake. The minute Republicans are in a position to do so, the very large balloon payment they owe on a very large mortgage to the antichoice movement will come due, and there’s no reason to assume they’ll screw it up.

January 22, 2015 2:47 PM Typecasting the ‘16 Field

It’s natural, and even rational, to deal with a messy presidential candidate field like the one Republicans are threatening to carry into the 2016 cycle by relating the candidates to those we know from the past. Sometimes candidates even do that themselves; apart from the constant self-comparisons of GOPers to St. Ronald Reagan, they may well compare their rivals to a RINO or even a Democrat. (I distinctly remember a 1970 gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who so wanted to make it clear he was a George Wallace Man that his stump speech began with typecasting of the whole field: “Carl Sanders is yo’ LBJ candidate; Jimmy Carter is yo’ John Kennedy candidate; Hal Suit is yo’ Richard Nixon candidate… and I, McKee Hargett, am yo’ George Wallace candidate!”).

But today at The Upshot, Brendan Nyhan tries to compare today’s candidates to yesterday’s by two measurements: one subjective, and the other via an algorithm that compares candidates “based on census region of origin and highest office attained, and also on similarities in age, favorability ratings, name recognition, estimated ideology and party presidential vote in their state.”

Nyhan gives these dual assessments to a mere six of the dozens of GOPers more or less running for the presidency. But interestingly, the only comparison that yields a predeccessor who made it to the White House is the subjective assessment of Scott Walker, a guy who Nyhan thinks could wind up being a Bill Clinton figure if he could just beg, borrow or steal himself some charisma (if he had some ham he could make a ham sandwich, if he had some bread). Tellingly, the algorithm suggests Walker’s doppelganger is actually Tim Pawlenty, who similarly looked great on paper if you discounted, you know, the actual campaign.

I think my favorite comparison is the algorithm’s matching of Jeb Bush with John Connally—a candidate who set new records in 1980 for scary-high dollars-to-votes ratios which stood until they were demolished by fellow Texan Phil Gramm in 1996. Since Jebbie was born in Midland and lived (with the exception, of course, of his boarding school days in Massachusetts) in the Lone Star State until his late 20s, he could well have the same affliction of thinking money votes as well as talks, which is only partly true.

January 22, 2015 1:39 PM Lunch Buffet

Did a radio appearance on a Portland station this morning. Wonder if Carrie Brownstein was listening? Nah, probably not.

Here are some midday news/views treats:

* Digby reports and comments on Lindsey Graham’s frank acknowledgement that antichoicers have a problem with rape definitions.

* Sarah Posner discusses antichoice activists’ reaction to the House leadership’s decision to pull plug on “their” abortion ban bill.

* Long-time New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver taken into custody to face wide-ranging federal corruption charges.

* Alec MacGillis argues Obama’s tax proposals have set a trap for Republicans, who will reflexively defend privileges for the very wealthy.

* HRC proto-campaign apparently planning “shock and awe” financial commitments to accompany her formal announcement of candidacy.

And in non-political news:

* “Deflategate” (hey, I was using that yesterday!) roiling entire NFL as Belichick denies he knew anything about use of under-inflated footballs by his team.

As we break for lunch, here’s Hunter and Ronson performing “F.B.I.” in 1980.

January 22, 2015 1:01 PM Alter’s “Tilting At Windmills”

Following our recent practice of rotating responsibility for continuing Charlie Peters’ “Tilting At Windmills” column among distinguished Washington Monthly alums, the current issue features Jonathan Alter, author (most recently) of a fine 2012 campaign book, The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (reviewed here in conjunction with two other books by yours truly near the end of 2013). Alter covers a lot of ground, including a couple of items about Obama’s strengths and weaknesses as a president and party leader. You should read it all. But I was captivated by his application of lessons learned as an impoverished WaMo writer in his new Hollywood gig:

Going Hollywood has its privileges. Among mine as an executive producer of Alpha House, the Amazon Prime comedy about four Republican senators living in a man cave on Capitol Hill, is to see some of the experiences and lessons of my Washington Monthly years up on the little computer screen (or big TV screen, if you have Roku or another gadget). For instance, when I lived on the Hill as a poor young WM writer in the early 1980s, I sometimes ate dinner by trolling uninvited through receptions, stuffing shrimp and other buffet food into my pockets. One of our characters does the same in the first episode of season two, with messy consequences.
More substantively, Garry Trudeau, the creator and show runner, wrote a great scene in season one that reflects a long-standing WM theme. Senator Gil John Biggs, played by John Goodman, is having his hair cut in his hometown barbershop in North Carolina. The locals bitch about big government and freeloaders while also complaining that their farm price supports have been cut and the coast isn’t being protected from hurricanes. When the barber finishes, he offers the haircut for free. Biggs, annoyed by the hypocrisy, says quietly, “No, I think I’ll pay.”

Alter doesn’t get into what it’s like to hang out with John Goodman and Garry Trudeau, but maybe he’s saving that for a future “Windmills.”

January 22, 2015 11:53 AM The Big Favor To Bibi

Up until now most U.S. commentators have viewed John Boehner’s invitation to Bibi Netanyahu to speak to Congress in the next few weeks as an effort to polarize sentiment on Iran sanctions legislation opposed by the president, and more specifically to put pressure on outspokenly pro-Israel Democrats to support a potential veto override.

But as reports from Israel indicate, the focus there is on Netanyahu using the speech to boost his own political standing in the runup to the March 17 elections. At Bloomberg Politics, Calev Ben-David notes the Israeli opposition views the whole thing as Bibi’s project, not Boehner’s:

Israeli opposition lawmakers criticized plans for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3, calling it a blatant political move at the height of Israel’s general election campaign…
Netanyahu “is attempting to infiltrate enemy territory” in Washington by using Congress to bypass the White House, Israeli lawmaker Nachman Shai of the opposition Labor Party said today on Israel Radio. Shai said that Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer led the process that produced the invitation, and that Netanyahu was “trampling on the framework of our relations with the U.S.” for domestic political gain ahead of a general election scheduled for March 17.
The opposition Meretz Party said it would file a complaint with the Central Elections Committee demanding that it prohibit Israeli television and radio stations from broadcasting Netanyahu’s congressional address. “This is a blatant violation of campaign laws,” Meretz spokeswoman Aya Mizrachi said by phone.

But the best evidence this is mostly about Bibi’s needs came from Boehner himself:

Boehner said today on his Twitter feed that the speech was moved from Feb. 11 to March 3 so that Netanyahu could attend the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that week in Washington. Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no comment on the invite.

It also moved the speech to just two weeks before the elections. Nothing like Bibi getting to strut his stuff at AIPAC and before Congress to create that “indispensable leader” aura, eh?

January 22, 2015 11:06 AM Thanx & Your Welcome & Dont Forgit to Vote For Me!

On a morning when I could use a good laugh, Daniel Luzer obliged at College Guide. Republishing a Bobby Jindal pre-SOTU tweet that snarkily anticipated Obama’s message and then snarkily said “Your welcome,” Daniel circled the error and wrote in “somebody could use free community college.”

Or maybe Big Brain Bobby’s just continuing his practice of talking down to The Folks. No-go zones, bad grammar, what can he do next to act like the yahoos he seems to think of as his base?

January 22, 2015 10:25 AM High Noon For Mitt & Jeb?

This headline from Reuters really tickled my imagination: “Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush to meet privately in Utah on Thursday.”

I immediately envisioned a heavily negotiated showdown in some abandoned shack at the edge of the Great Salt Desert, with the two would-be-presidents being frisked for sidearms before entering the dimly lit room for an unrecorded tete-a-tete.

The underlying story from Steve Holland doesn’t tell us exactly where the two Establishment titans will get together. But he does note that the meet is happening when many other prominent 2016 candidates are beginning to make their way to Des Moines for Steve King’s vet-a-thon. Bush and Romney bowed out, citing a scheduling conflict. This could be it. “Sorry, Steve, I’d love to be there—Des Moines is lovely this time of year. But I gotta go play rock-paper-scissors with (Jeb/Mitt) and maybe get some elbow room. Later.”

How will they deal with the fact that they are tripping over each other in pursuit of the same donors? I dunno, unless they have resolved that only one of them will emerge from the meeting as a presidential candidate. Or maybe they really do need a mutual reason to skip King’s nasty little trap of a “summit.”

UPDATE: Jonathan Martin of the New York Times reports the meeting was set up by Jeb Bush as a “respect” gesture towards Romney long before Mitt lurched back into the picture for 2016. I think it’s safe to say the agenda has changed.

January 22, 2015 9:52 AM Missing the Slow and Shallow Recovery

If Barack Obama seemed a bit reinvigorated during Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, one obvious reason is that he was able to do some unprecedented boasting about the performance of the economy after nearly six years of agonizingly delayed recovery from the recession of 2008-09. Now you can blame the Obama administration for not doing enough to goose the recovery (though obviously a Republican-controlled Congress was an obstacle to that after 2010), or wonder why it never seemed to grasp the depth and persistence of the slump in unemployment. But as Donald Kettl of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland explains in a web exclusive at Ten Miles Square today, a lot of the problem is that those doing the economic forecasting grossly underestimate the speed of the recovery:

As Obama took office in January 2009, there was a clear strategy: With the economy in free-fall, take his lumps early, and then move out briskly as the economy recovered. The plan was to pump money out fast, through the stimulus program, and then follow quickly with the administration’s policy agenda, especially health-care reform. Obama’s policy advisers believed they needed to get the stimulus spent fast, both to stop the economic contraction and to avoid fueling inflation if the money was flowing as the economy started to recover.
It was a classic strategy designed to produce unstoppable momentum going into the 2012 presidential campaign, and the economic forecasts gave policy advisers confidence it would work. As Obama was sworn in, economic forecasters expected a nasty but short recession. The 2009 report of his Council of Economic Advisers concluded, “The contraction will likely last into early- or mid-2009.” After that, the report saw “a recovery beginning in the second half of 2009 that will gain momentum in 2010 and beyond.” The National Bureau of Economic Research, which keeps score on recessions, declared the CEA right about the first part of the forecast when it announced that the recession ended in mid-2009. But the CEA got the second part badly wrong. The “jobless recovery,” as analysts christened it, plagued the Obama administration well into its second term.
The CEA certainly wasn’t alone, however. In fact, just about everyone got the end of the recession right and the jobless recovery wrong. In early 2009, the Office of Management and Budget projected an unemployment rate for the year at 8.1 percent. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s forecast was a bit stronger, at 8.3 percent.. They weren’t alone, though. The top 55 forecasters surveyed by the Wall Street Journal were even more optimistic—they thought unemployment would be 8.5 percent. In fact, unemployment for the year was 9.9 percent.
The longer-term forecasts also missed the mark. In early 2009, OMB estimated that unemployment would drop to 5.6 percent by 2012. CBO was more bearish, with an estimate of 6.8 percent. In fact, unemployment rate was 7.9 percent

The 2012 election might have been a less perilous exercise for Obama had unemployment been at 5.6%. And if the kind of numbers we are seeing now had rolled in, say, towards the end of 2013, the 2014 elections might have turned out a bit differently as well.

As Kettl notes, not every economist got the speed of job creation wrong: distinguished liberal economist James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas predicted an unusually slow and “jobless” recovery here at WaMo in the March/April 2009 issue, and talked about steps needed to address a recession that was worse than most people seemed to understand.

As it happened, Obama’s opportunity for taking some pride in his economic stewardship had to be put on hold for a long time.

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