Political Animal


December 19, 2014 5:12 PM Glastris on Obama’s Efforts to Create College Rating System

As we discussed earlier today, the Obama administration took a painful but necessary next step today towards a college rating system. Our Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris was on WGBH today explaining it all. It’s worth a listen, particularly if you need a good clear jargon-free explanation of the issues involved.

December 19, 2014 4:31 PM This Year in Social Media Outrage

I don’t often recommend an article unless I’ve read it all. But I’m going to make an exception with Slate’s vast “The Year of Outrage” feature that tracks outbursts of anger on social media throughout every day of 2014, and then offers some acute observations about what it all means. There are essays on conservative outrage, liberal outrage, identity outrage, cultural outrage, and several other perspectives. It’s a lot to take in, so I’m drinking it slowly.

This is especially interesting and painful for a news-cycle blogger like me, because I caught the beginning or middle or end of some of these “outrage” incidents, sometimes mocking them, sometimes agreeing with them, sometimes just noting them in passing. But I didn’t usually look at their alpha- or omega-points very closely, and being wary of “twitter wars” in the social medium I use most, I gave a wide berth to “outrage.”

In any event, you could not ask for a better quick immersion in the heat and smoke associated with the rise and fall of “memes” on social media, and how they interesect with other media. And as Choire Sicha observes in one of the essays, it can all start so innocently:

You are speaking, first, into the echo chamber of your friends. But not everyone is in your silo. And so then some stranger is mad at you; then some friend is noticeably silent. You are blocked or you are yelled at. Spiraling conversations come from realms unexpected and unwanted. You are embarrassed, or you are angrier, defensive or passive-aggressive, or laughing at them all. It is a rush of emotion that stretches long but is only an instant. Then, with a slithery zip, the moment is sealed shut.

This happens again and again. We can ignore it, but cannot pretend it does not matter.

December 19, 2014 3:31 PM The White Evangelical Model For GOTV

A fascinating Monkey Cage post today directs me back to an important piece from my friend Sarah Posner the day after the elections that I somehow missed.

Let’s start with Sarah’s November 5 piece at Religion Dispatches that contrasts the actual 2014 turnout among white evangelicals in southern states with the estimates made earlier by pollster Robert Jones, who predicted a Christian Right Waterloo thanks to declining numbers.

1. ARKANSAS. In his October 17 Atlantic piece, Jones wrote:
In Arkansas, where Republican and freshman Representative Tom Cotton is locked in a tight race with two-term Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, the white evangelical Protestant proportion of the population has dropped from 43 percent to 36 percent.
But preliminary exit polling shows that in Arkansas, 51% of of the electorate was made up of white evangelicals or born-again Christians; 25% of them went for Pryor (who is himself evangelical) while 73% voted for Cotton.
2. GEORGIA. Jones wrote:
In Georgia, where Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn is battling Republican candidate David Perdue for retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss’s seat, white evangelical Protestants made up 30 percent of the population in 2007 but that number is currently down to 24 percent.
Again, preliminary exit polling from Georgia shows that white evangelicals were an outsized share of the electorate, making up 39% of voters. Just 12% of them went for Nunn, 61% for Perdue.
3. KENTUCKY. Jones:
The proportion of white evangelicals in Kentucky has plunged 11 points, from 43 percent to 32 percent; here Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces the Democratic Alison Grimes, the secretary of state.
But according to last night’s preliminary exit polls, in Kentucky, 52% of electorate were white evangelical or born again Christians. Just 30% of them voted for Grimes, and 68% for McConnell.
4. LOUISIANA. Jones:
In Louisiana, where Republican Representative Bill Cassidy is up against three-term Democrat Mary Landrieu, white evangelicals have slipped from being 24 percent of the population to 19 percent.
In exit polling for Louisiana, where the Senate race is headed for a run-off, pollsters did not ask the “evangelical or not” question. Instead, they categorized all white Protestants into a “white Protestant/other Christian” category; that group comprised 32% of the electorate. Just 14% of them voted for Mary Landreiu, while 21% of them voted for Tea Party favorite Rob Maness and 59% for Republican Bill Cassidy.
Likewise, North Carolina has seen a dip in the white evangelical proportion of its population, from 37 percent to 30 percent; here incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan battles Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House Thom Tillis.
Looking, again, at the preliminary exit poll results for North Carolina, 40% of voters identified as white evangelical or born again; only 16% of them voted for Hagan, and 78% for Tillis, the Republican winner.

So whatever the population numbers, it seems white evangelicals continue to punch well above their weight when it comes to voting.

That’s where today’s Monkey Cage post from Lydia Bean comes in. After observing the grass-roots as well as the elite influences that reinforce Christian right voting behavior, she notes:

Campaigns only remind evangelicals what they have already learned from their religious community: that voting Republican is a natural extension of what it means to be a good Christian. This message is not just reinforced from the top-down during campaign season, by Christian Right interest groups and campaign ads. It is also reinforced from the bottom-up by trusted local leaders who are part of people’s everyday lives.
If we want to increase midterm voting among groups who stayed home, we need to ask who the local opinion leaders might be to reach low-propensity voters. What local settings could play the role of an evangelical small group or Bible study? Where do people learn that voting is expected of them, to be a good member of their network, in a context of personal accountability? And what is the organizational vehicle that will identify and develop these local leaders, who will engage a much larger set of low-propensity voters in year-round base-building? You’ve got to hand it to conservative evangelicals: they really have all of this down.

Instead of endlessly predicting the Christian Right’s imminent demise, progressives should go to school on what motivates conservative evangelicals to become and remain politically engaged. They aren’t just going to fade away.

December 19, 2014 2:51 PM Republicans To Play Blame Game on Obamacare Subsidies?

I’ve been saying for a while now that Republicans could be in a jam if the U.S. Supreme Court announces a decision in June invalidating the insurance premium subsidies for people living in the 36 states utilizing federally establishment exchanges under Obamacare, if only because the immediate impulse of rank-and-file conservatives will be to dance and sing even as millions are in danger of losing affordable health care coverage.

Perhaps behind the scenes conservatives are beginning to plan an education campaign to explain to The Troops via Fox News or other “trusted” sources why they can’t just let the subsidies die. Last week I noted that Ramesh Ponnuru had begun talking about Republicans agreeing to fix the subsidy problem while pivoting (presumably as part of some national “deal”) rapidly to an Obamacare “replacement.” But he didn’t sound terribly confident about selling this strategy to the GOP. Since we’re unlikely to find out where SCOTUS is going until June, there is time for sober reflection on the consequences of taking away the subsidies among a constituency that’s a lot more likely to include a lot of Republican voters than the subjects of a Medicaid expansion. The question is whether it can be effectively and quickly communicated to people who have been told since 2010 that the Affordable Care Act is the work of the devil.

Now one of Ramesh’s reformicon colleagues from National Review, Yuval Levin, has (with his collaborator on one of hte Obamacare “replacement” proposals, James Capretta) written a careful message to conservatives via the Wall Street Journal suggesting they get ahead of the curve:

In essence, if the court rules today’s subsidies illegal, those state officials could face a choice between creating a state exchange (and so reinforcing ObamaCare) or seeing some residents lose coverage they now have. ObamaCare’s opponents in Congress should give them a third option: a viable alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
The first step is to introduce legislation that would allow any state to opt out of all of ObamaCare’s mandates, regulations, taxes and requirements, and instead opt into a far simpler and more flexible alternative system. In that system, state residents not offered health coverage by their employers could receive a federally funded, age-based credit for the purchase of any state-approved health-insurance product—including those bought outside of any exchange and regardless of whether they meet ObamaCare’s coverage requirements.
Anyone who remains continuously insured in this system would be shielded from higher premiums or exclusions from coverage based on an existing condition. This would give consumers a strong incentive to buy coverage without a mandate to do so. All other insurance regulation, however, would happen at the state level.
States that opt for this approach would also be permitted to transform their Medicaid programs into premium-support systems for lower-income households. These would function as add-ons to the credit and allow eligible residents to buy the same kind of coverage everyone else can purchase.
The credit could be large enough to allow anyone to purchase at least catastrophic coverage—enabling the uninsured to be covered and everyone to be protected from the most extreme health expenses. Alternatively, it could be used to supplement the purchase of more comprehensive coverage. In essence, the credit would extend to everyone else the same benefit that many people have long received in the employer system. It would do so without disrupting the employer system, the coverage most Americans have.

What they are describing is pretty much the Burr-Coburn-Hatch “PCARE” proposal offered early this year as a suggested Obamacare “replacement,” with some transitional rules that would let Obamacare subsidies stay in place through the end of 2015. And they think Obama would be forced to accept something like this “solution” since otherwise he, not Republicans, will look like the one standing in the way of restored insurance for the people afflicted by the Court.

It’s all pretty clever, but a comment from Ponnuru shows its central flaw:

My only quibble is with the headline, “Time to Start Prepping ObamaCare Reforms.” What they’re talking about is better described as preparing an exit ramp from Obamacare.

Reforms, “exit ramp,” whatever. Such terms are meant to obscure the fact that such plans would keep Obamacare in place until such time as a new system could be implemented—again, before “the base” can make it all moot by forcing GOP policymakers to celebrate the carnage instead of repairing it. And if I know that and you know that, so too would the president, and I think it’s very predictable that well before congressional Republicans could be united behind such a proposal Obama would let them know the only non-disruptive course of action is to restore the intended subsidy system and then talk about what’s next. Pretending they’ve come to the rescue of people in danger of losing their health insurance by eliminating all the provisions that make it good coverage at an affordable price isn’t likely to work. But nice try.

December 19, 2014 1:10 PM Lunch Buffet

Realizing it was lunch time for most readers, I stopped working on a post—the 8th of the day—about the plan conservative health wonks are pushing on Republicans in anticipation of a possible toxic Supreme Court ruling in June killing off federal insurance purchasing subsidies in 36 states. It was pretty heavy going, even though I’ve written constantly about Obamacare since well before its inception and was pretty familiar with health care policy long before that.

But it was a reminder to me that here at WaMo, even in our news-cycle blog, we actually care about public policy, and while we spend a lot of time yelling about or mocking Republicans, and sometimes Democrats, we try not to forget that politics is about what it ultimately produces, not just the thrill of the game or victory for “our team.” If you feel that way, too, please make a donation in whatever amount you can afford, and we’ll try to keep our own perspective. Thanks so much!

Here are some midday news/views snacks:

* Rep. Keith Ellison the rare high Democratic elected official calling for Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

* Chris Christie in some hot water for sitting in Jerry Jones’ box at Cowboys-Eagles game and high-fiving Jones every time the Eagles—who have a lot more fans in New Jersey than any Texas team—screwed up.

* IRS warns budget cuts could delay tax returns.

* Paul-Rubio war of words escalates as former calls latter “isolationist” for wanting to maintain “moat” between U.S. and Cuba. Good one, Rand.

* At the Atlantic, Adam Chandler explains Nebraska/Oklahoma lawsuits against Colorado for alleged collateral damage from legalized cannabis.

And in non-political news:

* Massive Christmas Eve storm predicted for East. Great.

As we break for lunch, here’s Phil Ochs with a song about apathy: “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.”

December 19, 2014 12:23 PM Clueless

Just to close loop here, I wondered yesterday if Rand Paul’s initial reaction to Obama’s Cuba policy change would set him up to be savaged by other candidates (notably Marco Rubio) in the same way that the 2012 field hammered his old man for his heretical comments on Iran.

Here’s at least part of the answer (from Politico’s Lucy McCalmont):

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t mincing words when it comes to his Republican colleague Sen. Rand Paul’s support for the U.S.’s new Cuba policy.
“Like many people who have been opining, he has no idea what he’s talking about,” Rubio said Thursday on Fox News’ “The Kelly Report.”

Ouchy ouchy. None of the usual “my esteemed colleague and I have a difference of opinion” stuff: more like “The man is a Dumb Ass.” Wonder what’s next?

December 19, 2014 10:55 AM The Long Hard Fight for College Accountability

When the president announced in August of 2013 that he had instructed the Department of Education to move ahead with a rankings system for U.S. colleges that would measure bang-for-the-buck and meaningful access for people most in need—as opposed to the wealth and selectivity criteria mainly used in the most prominent private ranking system, that of U.S. News and World Report—-WaMo quite naturally led some cheers for reaching a milepost in a long battle. Here’s how WaPo’s Nick Anderson put it at the time:

President Obama said last week he wants to rate colleges on value and performance. The Washington Monthly, an independent magazine for policy wonks [and political animals!], released annual rankings Monday that attempt to do just that.
The Monthly, which for years has argued that conventional measures of college prestige are far less important than what colleges do for the country, is pleased that the president appears to be singing from its song sheet.
“It doesn’t happen every day that an administration does exactly what you want,” Paul Glastris, the Monthly’s editor in chief, said….
Glastris said that he doubts there is a significant ideological divide over what the nation wants in return for the billions of dollars taxpayers invest in higher education. But he predicted that colleges will fight back against measures to hold them accountable. The Monthly has pushed for results-oriented accountability through its rankings since 2005.
“Our argument — that higher education was increasingly expensive, biased in favor of the affluent and against the working class, largely unaccountable, and maybe much less rigorous than anyone was willing to say — I can’t say it fell on deaf ears, but it certainly wasn’t conventional wisdom.”
Now, echoes of the Monthly’s views can be heard coming from the White House.

After two delays, today the Department of Education is releasing a preliminary “outline” of the college rating system to come. Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall University, who has been intimately involved in preparing the WaMo rankings, offered this evaluation at College Guide:

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a document containing draft metrics for the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS) today (link via Inside Higher Ed), with a request for comments from stakeholders and the general public by February. Although the release of the metrics was delayed several months (and we were initially expecting ratings this fall instead of just some potential metrics), the potential metrics and the explanations provided by ED provide insights about what the ratings will look like if (and when) they are finalized.
It appears that PIRS is very much in its infancy at this point, given the broadness of the suggested metrics and the difficulty in getting data on some of them in the next year or two. Putting college ratings together is methodologically quite easy to do, but politically very difficult. The delay in the timeline and the call for additional feedback by February highlight the political difficulty of PIRS. Given the GOP takeover of Congress, I think it’s safe to say that even if a full set of ratings comes out next week, the likelihood of ratings being tied to aid by 2018 (as the President has proposed) is basically nil….. But even getting draft ratings ready for the start of the 2015-16 academic year will be very difficult. ED has a lot of work to do before then.

On a separate front, Kelchen examined the tough politics of college rankings at Politico Magazine yesterday.

[I]t’s important to remember why the ratings were proposed in the first place. Since 1983, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees have increased by 153 percent at private nonprofit four-year colleges, 164 percent at community colleges and a whopping 231 percent at public four-year colleges. The federal government’s $170 billion in annual spending on grants, loans, work-study funds and tax credits has helped to alleviate the impact of these increases for students and their families, but federal funding has still not been able to keep up with ever-rising college costs and reduced per-student funding by most states.
It was in this climate that Obama announced his plan to create college ratings, aiming to have a final version written by fall of 2015.

As both Glastris and Kelchen anticipated, the pushback has only gotten more intense as the Department of Education has made its slow progress. Also at Politico yesterday, Stephanie Simon and Allie Grasgreen noted that the higher ed establishment has been joined by much of the congressional Republican Party in opposing the new metrics outline even before it was announced:

Congressional Republicans, outraged, are already going on the attack.
“They’re getting involved in something they have no business getting involved with,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), a former college administrator. “Absolutely, it’s overreach.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) plans to lead an effort to cut off funding for the ratings initiative. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said he’ll do the same in the Senate. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is among many prominent voices denouncing the concept as profoundly flawed. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he sees rating colleges as “a financial and moral obligation,” meant to help families make wise choices and to ensure taxpayers’ $150 billion annual investment in student aid isn’t squandered.
But GOP critics frame the rating plan — expected Friday — as yet another example of arrogance and imperialism from the White House. They argue that it’s not just presumptuous, but logistically impossible for the Education Department to assess the quality of so many institutions, ranging from Harvard to Honolulu Community College.
And they have some powerful allies in their corner, including several higher education trade associations and numerous college presidents, some of whom have been quietly lobbying their representatives for months — not that it took a lot of lobbying to rouse opposition to the ratings. Republicans on the Hill were already up in arms over the administration’s proposed crackdown on for-profit career-training colleges, calling it an unwarranted intrusion into the free market.

So GOPers, who have long been carrying water for the for-profit schools, are now linking arms with the collegiate status quo they normally attack for poisoning the minds of young Americans, and are describing a common-sense effort to stop fraud on students and taxpayers as “imperial,” and akin to Obama’s tyrannical efforts in immigration and Cuba policy.

So as we await these battles in Washington, and hope that at least the Obama initiative produces some new data on college affordability, access to low-income students, graduation rates and post-graduation outcomes, it’s more important than ever that WaMo continue to publish its rankings, so similar in spirit to what the administration is trying to accomplish, outside the congressional battleground. It could help convince those who aren’t “stakeholders” in the current system, or inveterate Obama-haters, that every parent, student and citizens should be able to expect the recipients of their dollars to come clean on what they are actually providing, and at what cost. Please help us keep up the fight.

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December 19, 2014 10:17 AM Running for Vice President

In the long annals of American electoral politics, there’s nothing all that unusual about a pol running for president hoping in the end to be selected for the number two spot (it worked out that way for John Edwards in 2004 and Joe Biden in 2008). But it’s rare to see someone overtly run for vice president, which is likely how Carly Fiorina’s otherwise inscrutable but apparently imminent “presidential” campaign will be interpreted.

I mean, really, whatever virtues she has, Fiorina is a former CEO with an iffy business record who in her only bid for public office lost by a landslide (not as bad a landslide as some thought likely, but a ten-point loss is a ten-point loss) in one of the most Republican years ever.

But Fiorina has an asset she thinks Republicans are going to want and need in 2016: Without her, the GOP field in 2016 is likely to be all-male, which given the high likelihood that the Democratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton (or barring that, Elizabeth Warren!), guarantees her a lot of attention and puts her right on the short list of women deemed suitable to be a running-mate for The Man.

It makes sense, on paper. According to Tim Alberta of National Journal, Carly’s got some big right-wing speaking opportunities in February. She managed to manuever herself into the chairmanship of the American Conservative Union’s Foundation. So she’ll be large and at least partially in charge at CPAC. And she’s set for a keynote address at the hazy, elite-wingnut Council for National Policy. We’ll see if influential folk come out of these events chanting “Carly for Veep! Carly for Veep!” Or if all she’s bought is a speaking role at the Convention and maybe a nice mid-level ambassadorship.

UPDATE: Talking about semi-overt campaigns for the vice-presidential nomination always reminds me of the one overt campaign for the vice-presidency, by former Massachusetts Gov. Endicott “Chub” Peabody in 1972, a Democrat whose slogan was “the number one man for the number two job.” As it turns out, George McGovern might have done well to tap ol’ Chub, given what happened to his own Veep selection process.

December 19, 2014 9:43 AM Rubio’s Strategy on Cuba

Some of the accounts of Sen. Marco Rubio’s snarling reaction to the president’s reevaluation of Cuba policy naturally stress the personal connection: the guy grew up in the hothouse of exile-dominated South Florida Cuban-American politics, so perhaps he’s being driven by sheer emotion to hitch his political wagon to the north end of a south-bound apatosaurus by championing this loser cause.

Or perhaps we are just seeing yet another case of the currently reigning maxim of Republican politics: there’s rarely much risk in being “too conservative.” The same Politico piece that discussed Rubio’s personal connection to the issue also suggested the timing of his outburst—a day after former mentor and now rival Jeb Bush took a move towards a presidential campaign—was not coincidental:

Rubio’s actions were also smart politics for a man who may run for president, especially after a news cycle dominated by speculation about how Bush’s announcement could shape the GOP primary field and affect donors’ calculations.
With his push on Cuba, Rubio is back on the radar and out of Bush’s shadow, at least for now. His aggressive stance also could boost him in Florida, a critical early primary state in presidential years that is home to a still-powerful Cuban-American community.

As you may recall, Rubio was riding very high at the beginning of 2013 before he became identified with the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill. After the bill was passed by the Senate, his support-levels among conservatives nationally and in early caucus and primary states collapsed, and he began what has been a relentless campaign to regain right-wing trust. So his wild rhetoric on Cuba is in the end no different from the crazy sounds his Senate and Gang colleague Lindsey Graham regularly makes about Benghazi! It’s all covering fire, and it gives Rubio a guaranteed crowd-pleasing theme for proto-campaign appearances. More subtly, his “leadership” role on Cuba could displace the immigration reform disaster as the first thing mentioned in profiles and other descriptions of the Floridian.

As Greg Sargent concludes this morning:

There may be no downside for Rubio here, particularly given what he needs to accomplish in the short term if he is running for president. After all, if Obama’s move does produce some successes in “accelerating change and democracy” in Cuba or in any other ways, it seems unlikely that they will be even acknowledged at all inside the Conservative Entertainment Complex or among the GOP primary voters Rubio is apparently trying to reach. So where’s the gamble in getting this wrong?

From the hammerheaded perspective of someone trying to get into the mind of a likely Iowa Caucus-goer, probably none at all.

December 19, 2014 9:07 AM Revolving Door Really Spinning

Among the not-so-frequently-discussed implications of the Republican takeover in the Senate was the return-from-exile of many former GOP staffers who left the Hill when Democrats reconquered the chamber in 2006, sending them off to K Street lobbying jobs where they languished with less official power but a hell of a lot more money. Now they are rushing back to Congress like—well, choose you own infestation metaphor, recognizing these are actual human beings with virtues as well as vices. But man, you gotta figure the net vice level is going to go up on Capitol Hill, given the rapid pace with which that door is revolving, per this report from Politico’s Anna Palmer.

As Republicans take control of Congress, they are bringing in veteran influence peddlers to help them run the show. Nearly a dozen veteran K Streeters have been named as top staffers to GOP leaders or on key committees as lawmakers prepare to take the gavel in January.
For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell named Hazen Marshall policy director earlier this week. Marshall, a former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee, has spent the last 10 years as a lobbyist at the Nickles Group representing dozens of clients like AT&T, Comcast and energy company Exelon….
And while former staffers-turned lobbyists often end up back in public service — the revolving door has been swinging for years — there is a notable increase in the pace of K Streeters making the move back to Congress this month.

Well, at least those giving up the seven-figure salaries to go back to tiny six-figure salaries (for a while, at least) have to be motivated by pure selfless patriotism, right?

Well, maybe not entirely.

Although lobbyists are sure to take a pay cut to return to the public sector — former long-time staffers can also use the time to increase their pensions and reach the next level of compensation.

It’s all part of the career-long climb up the slippery pole in the permanent ruling class, with its own rough justice: at any given moment, top-level staff types may be helping run Congress, or run the country in the executive branch, or failing any direct power, getting rich. It all works out in a satisfying manner. And such restrictions as exist (which were indeed increased in 2007, to some extent in reaction to the Abramoff scandal) mainly involve the “cooling off period” limiting direct lobbying of former employers and colleagues for a year (or in the case of actual senators, two years). As Bruce Reed pointed out back in 2005, less attention is paid to incoming lobbyists:

One of the biggest loopholes in our current ethics laws is what might be called the Cheney rule: Conflicts of interests are forbidden for one year after you leave government, but when you enter government service, you can bring in all the conflicts of interest you like. The law assumes that the revolving door goes one way — out. But Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the administration’s energy task force just months after stepping down as CEO of an energy company, showed how you can bring them in. He is the latest proof that conflicts can be the work of a lifetime.

And that’s the real problem.

December 19, 2014 8:08 AM Daylight Video

Phil Ochs was born on this day in 1940, beginning a turbulent but highly creative life that ended in 1976 in suicide. Here he is performing “I Ain’t Marching Any More.”

December 18, 2014 6:02 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

So a big moment arrived last night when I achieved my 6,000th follower on Twitter! Then this morning I lost one and stayed stuck at 5,999 all day.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but WaMo has been slowly but surely trying to expand its footprint on social media. But that does take some resources. Please donate what you can afford to WaMo in this season of joy and tax planning, and we’ll move fully into the twentieth century as fast as we can.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Poynter rolls out annual list of best “media errors and corrections” for 2014. Much hilarity ensues.

* Looks like making overtime pay available to middle-class workers in the running to be the next big progressive economic cause.

* Dana Milbank notes that Rubio’s statements on Obama’s Cuban policy shift salted with language informed by “the unwavering dogma of Cuban exiles.”

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman raps Robert Schmidt for trolling Elizabeth Warren on the stock windfall Larry Summers got after failing to become Fed Chairman.

* Robert Kelchen posts his “not top ten” list of bad developments in higher ed this year, and Kean University’s purchase of a conference table costing $219,000 was the “winner.”

And in non-political news:

* Church of England will finally consecrate first woman bishop, Libby Lane, on January 26.

That’s it for Thursday. Let’s close with another Animals song in which Chas Chandler’s bass and background vocals were pretty prominent, “It’s My Life,” as performed on Hullabaloo in 1965. George Maharis is there for really poor comic relief. Let’s hope the band didn’t have anything to do with the women’s-heads-as-hunting-trophies stage props (though at least they seem to be alive and rocking to the music).


December 18, 2014 5:11 PM Will Cuba Be Rand Paul’s Iran?

So political observers are probably still in semi-shock over the very conspicuous voice not being raised against Barack Obama’s “outrageous” partial restoration of normalized relations with Cuba. It’s Rand Paul:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican’s position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run.
Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo “just hasn’t worked” and normalizing relations with the island nation is “probably a good idea.”
“If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship,” he said.

Paul’s observations were entirely accurate, but it’s amazing to see him become the first Republican to admit this particular emperor has no clothes. He has worked so hard to overcome his old man’s reputation for “isolationism” by finding a way to join hard-core natioanal security freaks and even neocons in nearly every anti-Obama foreign policy fight. Now here he is, alone again, naturally, in the latest furor. I would have guessed he would have again found some excuse for attacking the scope of or the legal authority for Obama’s action, but not so far.

Perhaps Paul is calculating that no one will care about Cuba policy by the time the 2016 nominating contest gets serious, and that could be true. But if, say, Marco Rubio is in the field, I don’t think Paul will be able to avoid the issue. And I’ll betcha the other candidates will gang up on him just as they did on Ron about Iran, even as they largely refused to challenge his crazy monetary policy ideas or his long association with extremists. Conservative mistrust of the Paul family on national security issues hasn’t gone away by any means, and it’s surprising he’s giving it new life, even if he’s absolutely right on policy grounds. I’m quite sure Jennifer Rubin is writing a blog post on this fresh evidence of his “isolationism” as we speak.

December 18, 2014 4:36 PM Stupidest Part of American Foreign Policy

Before you get seduced into the kind of transactional analysis of the policy change towards Cuba that apparently led WaPo’s editors to denounce it (not enough quo for that quid!), step back with WaMo Contributing Editor James Fallows and look at how it relates to the rest of U.S. foreign policy:

For at least 35 years, the U.S. embargo on diplomatic or commercial dealings with Cuba has been the single stupidest aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
Not the most destructive: that title would go to the decision to invade Iraq, plus the ongoing ramifications of the age of torture, open-ended war, and the security/surveillance state.
But the Cuba policy has been the stupidest, because there have been absolutely zero rational arguments for its strategic wisdom or tactical effectiveness. Jeffrey Goldberg, who has traveled in Cuba and interviewed Castro, more tactfully calls it “ridiculous.” In my impetuous youth a few years ago, I called it not the stupidest part of U.S. policy but the “most idiotic.” Take your pick….
Thus even though people out of electoral office—Richard Nixon as an ex-president, William F. Buckley, even (bravely!) Paul Ryan before his vice-presidential run—have urged opening up to Cuba, for people in office, or considering a run, the ramifications in Florida have made such a move not worth the risk and bother. Every sane person knew the Cuba policy “would” and “should” change. But it didn’t.
Until now. It is unwholesome for U.S. democracy that so little now happens through normal “bill becomes a law” procedure, and so much depends on executive action. But in this case the executive is doing manifestly the right thing. Congratulations, thanks, and it’s about time. “Don’t do stupid s***” may have limits as a worldview, but it is an improvement over continuing a path of folly.

It was probably a sign that the old policy was dying when in 2000, not so long after every newspaper in the country was emblazoned with a front-page photo of Elian Gonzalez screaming as an armed federal agent pointed an assault weapon at him, Democrats still nearly carried Florida—or did carry Florida, depending on your POV. George W. Bush was the wrong president to do anything about the policy, but Barack Obama is the right one, and future presidents of both parties will certainly be happy not to have to deal with it.

December 18, 2014 3:55 PM “More Populism” Not As Simple As It Sounds

Harold Meyerson today addresses the increasingly popular false equivalency habit of treating Elizabeth Warren as the left-wing counterpart to Ted Cruz or Jim DeMint—an ideologue placing ideological pressure on a mainstream party.

[T]hese assessments miss one crucial difference between Warren and the right-wingers: She has crossover appeal. More importantly, so does Warrenism.
Cruz and DeMint can claim no allies within what remains of moderate Republican ranks. Warren’s war on Wall Street, by contrast, has enlisted colleagues on the right flank of the Democratic Party.

Meyerson then talks about Warren’s success (noted here as well) in bringing Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill on board with her votes against a cloture motion to move the Cromnibus with its Wall Street derivatives swap language intact. And he quotes polling data showing that the white working class voters who are so abundant in places like West Virginia think corporations have too much power, just as people like Warren say they do.

That’s all well and good, but it’s important to be precise on what kinds of “populist” pitches might work with white-working-class voters. On average these voters don’t much trust government any more than they do Wall Street. One good thing about Warren’s pitch is that she tends to focus on ways in which Big Government is working with Wall Street instead of making a broad case for regulation, because regulation—particularly environmental regulation in places like West Virginia—often strikes white-working-class voters as a job killer, precisely what Republicans keep telling them. But it’s important not to over-estimate how much government activism these folks will support, even if it’s not for what they consider to be “welfare” benefiting other people.

Until recently the argument for more “populism” in the Democratic Party usually had a second component: less progressivism, or at least less emphasis on progressivism, on cultural issues. Thus Tom Frank in What’s the Matter With Kansas accused Democrats of betraying the white working class’s economic interests and cultural views, deciding instead to chase upper-income professionals who were liberal on cultural issues and conservative on economic issues.

Well, that’s train’s left the station, as Ron Brownstein notes in commenting on Chuck Schumer’s case for appealing to while also not annoying white middle-class voters:

Today, social liberalism aimed at college-educated and single whites, especially women, on issues like abortion, gay rights, and contraception is the Democrats’ best asset in the white electorate. The tension (which Schumer skirted) is that those cultural commitments, now almost universally endorsed in the party, further antagonize many of the working-class whites the senator wants to court with “middle-class” economic programs like college aid.

For years now, I’ve been telling fellow-liberals that it’s a mistake to believe they can displace cultural issues by shutting up about them and just talking about economics, because frankly that’s insulting to people who do have strong cultural views, whether they are “progressive” or “reactionary” or based on personal identity, science or religion. Forget about your beliefs on the structure of the universe and your place in it and chow down on government benefits like everybody else, that approach seems to say, and there’s never really been much evidence it works.

What progressives need right now is less a debate between “populists” and “centrists” than a clarifying discussion on what “populism” actually involves beyond hostile rhetoric aimed at Wall Street, which is the easy and fun part. I’m personally not real interested in an economic agenda and message that deliberately ignores poor people on tactical grounds; that’s what offended me about Schumer’s prescriptions. But we do need to be realistic about the limits of altruism or social solidarity among white middle-class voters. So there’s plenty to discuss that goes beyond the current yes/no talk about “populism.”

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