Monday, September 30, 2013

Short Attention Span Theater

Some time ago I actually cited Talking Points Memo as a potential successor to I.F. Stone's Weekly, in a bloggospheric formula.  The reason was that JMM had just had his little mini coup crowd sourcing information that led to a better national understanding of a huge national scandal: the firing of the US Attorneys under Bush.  But since then he's proved me wrong--he has no interest in putting in the time, energy, or thought to actually reporting anything novel. The entire format of the front page and of his editor's viewpoint is clickbait.  I don't have any quarrel with that. A man's got to make a living and who am I to break his rice bowl?  If he is content to run an endless stream of one sentence clips from speeches, or to repurpose this morning's post with a new picture and a slightly sexier headline in the afternoon, who am I to criticize?  But, at the same time, there is something truly destructive about this approach.  For years we've all criticized the NYT and CNN and other major media players for failing to give their readers enough historic background and context to understand the significance of the events they are covering.  This is even more the case with TPM. The short, clippy, format they have chosen to cover, for example, the shutdown or the debt ceiling fight is trivializing and highly deceptive.

Take this:

With a government shutdown appearing imminent Monday, a Republican congressman expressed frustration with the conservative wing of his party.
"We're pretty much out of options at this point," Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal."They're all giddy about it," he said in reference to Republicans most unwilling to compromise. "You know who benefits the most here from a shutdown? The Democrats benefit and they know that."
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) also admitted that Republicans will be damaged politically in the event of a government shutdown. Meanwhile, a poll released Monday showed that Americans will be more inclined to blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown than President Barack Obama.

What are we supposed to conclude from this little tidbit? It is actually the current headline piece on the site labeled "GOP Rep Exasperated..."  Think Progress has a similar roundup of startlingly unsympathetic things various Republicans have said about the showdown leading  Jed Lewison at Kos  to moan  "If these guys want to be seen as anything less than complete hypocrites, they need to reverse course and agree to approve a clean funding bill."

We seem to be having some trouble grasping the central fact of our political system: people say one thing and do another.  What is the point of quoting people saying things for public consumption when we know for a fact that what governs their actual votes in the legislative crucible are entirely different considerations? JMM is just giving his readers what he thinks they want, or will click on at any rate, which is a constantly updated stream of information-like-quotes that are utterly context free.  Is there a cost to this style of reportage? I think there is--when you read down into the comment thread at a place like Kos, where to do them credit people at least care about politics and have their hearts in the right place, you see almost as much confusion and misinformation as at a Fox site.  Because people assume that statements stand for actual thought, or that public positions can give you a clue as to private negotiations.  They can't. All 11 of the GOP reps who are quoted over at Think Progress as thinking that the shut down is bad politics and bad theater voted to send Boehner's amended, dirty CR back to the Senate. Why? Because voting is a team sport and none of these guys has the slightest intention of standing out in a crowd and taking the heat for an individual decision.  You can't understand politics unless you grasp this central fact: none of these guys are willing to stick their head out of the crowd unless, like Ted Cruz, they've made a conscious decision that they may reap more benefit by being an outlier than by following the other lemmings off the cliff.


Just Kidding: NMM*NB Lives. Open thread.

Just kidding.  The blog continues and we will have an open thread for people to discuss their favorite form of national self immolation. Do you prefer to be slaughtered in your beds by corporatist hacks or smothered by rising tides as a result of climate change?

*Edited to fix major error in headline. Thanks guys!


While the world waits with bated breath to see what happens to Obamacare on October 1st a devoted corner of the blogosphere holds a mountaintop vigil awaiting the return of its Prophet, known only as "SteveM."  Prayers, thoughts, and execrations are welcomed during this period.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

And on that last gloomy note, I'm going to take a bit of time off. I'll be back on October 10. I'd say I'm going to miss the government shutdown, but I think it'll still be going on when I get back to blogging. (I think very soon we're going to start hearing Republicans talking about extending it to the end of Barack Obama's term, in all seriousness.)

There'll be guest bloggers while I'm gone, so please stop by. I'm sure they'll have some appropriately nasty things to say.

The conventional wisdom is that the Republican Party is going to pay a significant penalty for shutting down the government and/or driving America to the brink of default (or beyond).

I'd love to think that's true, but I don't believe it.

The reason is that the mainstream political world is heavily invested in the notion that the GOP is a sane, rational, responsible party. We know this because every time the GOP has utterly failed as a party in the past few decades, it's gotten a do-over almost immediately. Everyone in the political mainstream agrees that the GOP should get a mulligan every time it fails.

This goes back to Nixon -- two years after he resigned in disgrace, and his successor horrified many Americans by pardoning him, that successor nearly won the presidency. Two years after that, a disgraced right wing came roaring back in California by getting Proposition 13 passed; two years after that, Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide.

In 1992, a sitting Republican president was so unpopular that he failed to win even 40% of the popular vote in his reelection bid. Two years later, the GOP was rebranded as the party of Newt Gingrich and swept the midterm elections. A failed effort to drive Bill Clinton from office sent Gingrich to an early retirement, but not to worry: despite peace and prosperity, the Democratic candidate for president in 2000 was subjected to endless mockery and couldn't secure enough votes to win the White House. The GOP was successfully rebranded again.

George W. Bush disgraced himself in office; his party lost Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008. Again, not to worry: almost instantly, the GOP was rebranded, first as the party of "pizza summit" moderation (led by the digraced ex-president's brother), then as the home of the tea party, which swept congressional, state, and local elections in 2010.

And after Barack Obama won reelection in 2012, new GOPs were spotted on a regular basis. Marco Rubio is going to lead Republicans to an embrace of immigration reform! Rob Portman will lead them to an embrace of gay marriage! Rand Paul will lead them to a new skepticism about military adventurism! Peter King will lead them away from a dangerous Rand Paul-style isolationism!

So even if Republicans get all the blame for what's about to happen, and plummet in the polls, it doesn't matter: the political establishment will desperately cast about for some "new" GOP, at least until the stench of the shutdown/default moment has lifted. Mainstream journalists will develop a fascination with Chris Christie (he's not a Washington Republican!) or Jeb Bush (he's so reasonable!) or Peter King (he doesn't like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, and he didn't vote for Bill Clinton's impeachment!) They'll do anything not to admit that that the Republican Party is rotten to the core.

Ezra Klein thinks it's good that House Republicans are throwing a fit now, when the almost certain consequence is a government shutdown, rather than waiting until we're on the verge of a debt default. As evidence that this is good news, Klein brings in ... a guy from Goldman Sachs?
Moving the one-year delay of Obamacare ... maximizes the chances of a shutdown but makes a default at least somewhat less likely. If a shutdown begins Monday night, Republicans and Democrats will have more than two weeks to resolve it before hitting the debt ceiling.

As Alec Phillips put it in a research note for Goldman Sachs, "If a shutdown is avoided, it is likely to be because congressional Republicans have opted to wait and push for policy concessions on the debt limit instead. By contrast, if a shutdown occurs, we would be surprised if congressional Republicans would want to risk another difficult situation only a couple of weeks later. The upshot is that while a shutdown would be unnecessarily disruptive, it might actually ease passage of a debt limit increase."
Yes, Phillips actually wrote that:
if a shutdown occurs, we would be surprised if congressional Republicans would want to risk another difficult situation only a couple of weeks later.
What shred of evidence is there that crazy-caucus Republicans are ever motivated by an aversion to bad publicity and plummeting polls and other manifesttions of a "difficult situation"? As Ryan Lizza noted a few days ago, the craziest House Republicans live in overwhelmingly Republican districts, which means, given the nature of modern Fox-crazed Republican voters, that there's no chance whatsoever that the crazy caucusers be punished for any level of extremism. The craziest senators -- led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee -- are also from overwhelmingly Republican states. What's to prevent them from just holding a gun to America's head all over again when we reach the debt limit? If anything, their crazy voters would be inclined to punish them for shying away from a second hostage crisis in a month.

Sorry, Ezra -- you're giving us pearls of wisdom from a Goldman analyst as if he's supposed to seem like an unimpeachable authority. I see the source of that prediction and think, This is a guy who's going to make gobs of money for the rest of his life no matter whether he's right or wrong. His company will make gobs of money forever whether it's right or wrong. So, no, this doesn't impress me.


Klein goes on to write:
One way a shutdown makes the passage of a debt limit increase easier is that it can persuade outside actors to come off the sidelines and begin pressuring the Republican Party to cut a deal. One problem in the politics of the fiscal fight so far is that business leaders, Wall Street, voters and even many pundits have been assuming that Republicans and Democrats will argue and carp and complain but work all this out before the government closes down or defaults. A shutdown will prove that comforting notion wrong, and those groups will begin exerting real political pressure to force a resolution before a default happens.
That makes no sense. Klein's "comforting" scenario is a situation in which Republicans would be saying they were avoiding a shutdown so they could concentrate on a debt limit hostage crisis. They would be shouting from the housetops, We didn't blow up the government now because we've planted explosives under the global economy, set to go off a couple of weeks from now. Why would corporate CEOs find that comforting, or lulling? And even if they thought it was just a bluff, as the debt deadline approached, wouldn't they rally and apply plenty of pressure even if they had been lulled? They're corporate CEOs, for crissake. They're used to getting what they want from government.

The business community will step in no matter what, whether or not there's a shutdown crisis first. This intervention will be forceful. The question is whether it will work -- crazy caucus Republicans are so crazy they may not respond even to our Galtian overlords. But that won't depend on whether there's a warning shot in the form of a shutdown crisis.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Yes, this is appalling:
During a meeting of the House Republican Caucus, Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) compared the relentless Republican effort to defund Obamacare to the heroic efforts of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who overpowered terrorists who had gained control of the plane.

Obviously, it's outrageous that he's comparing supporters of Obamacare -- or supporters of enforcing enacted laws, or of keeping the government funded -- to suicide terrorists.

But the analogy isn't entirely off base.

Remember what happened on the "Let's roll" flight, United Flight 93? A lot of ordinary people died, and a target in D.C. was spared. The target was apparently the U.S Capitol, where Congress works.

As a result of what the Republican are doing now, a lot of innocent ordinary citizens will be harmed. You know who probably won't be harmed? Members of Congress. They'll still be paid. And most of them probably won't lose their seats -- only three House Republicans lost seats in 1996, after the last shutdown.

Ordinary citizens suffering while members of Congress are spared? Yes, there are some similarities between then and now, even if they're not the ones the congressman had in mind.

Jonathan Chait writes about Ted Cruz's campaign urging the House Republican caucus to force a government shutdown if the Senate and president won't agree to an Obamacare delay. Crazy House Republicans are on board, and are making Boehner's life miserable -- but, of course, there's this:
Now, the Cruz House bloc can't exactly force Boehner's hand here. They can simply force him to pass a bill to keep the government open with Democratic votes. That, of course, would be another win for Cruz -- conservatives would be furious at Boehner’s betrayal and looking to potentially depose him:

You know what? I'm sick of hearing that this is such a painful process for Boehner. I'm sick of being told that I should feel some sympathy for the guy because he's just trying to keep his job.

I'm 54 years old. If I lose my job, I lose my job. I have no income. (Yes, I can do freelance work in my field, but that pays much less and comes with no benefits.) Because I'm in my fifties, and nobody in America is hiring people in their fifties, if I lose my job I'll probably never have a good job again. And that's true of pretty much every American my age.

John Boehner? Why does his desire to cling to his speakership supersede the needs of the country? If he genuinely thinks the crazy caucus is leading the country to a cataclysm, why shouldn't he sacrifice his damn speakership and do what's patriotic, suspending the Hastert "rule" (which is just self-imposed and isn't a rule at all) and getting a continuing resolution and debt ceiling increase passed with Democratic and sane Republican votes? What does he lose if he's deposed, besides power -- which, as is obvious by now, is not something he has much of?

If I'm let go in a wave of "belt-tightening" or "restructuring," I'm unemployed. If Boehner's deposed, he can keep his seat in Congress. And if he retires in disgrace, so what? The world of corporate boards and lobbying and fees per speech that would be a nice annual salary for a normal person will open up to him. Plus, as a congressman with a 22-year career, he'll have a lovely pension and health insurance and retirement account. Hell, he's 63 -- he can start collecting Social Security.

Sorry, but there's something pathological about the craven, desperate way that members of Congress -- people with so many options -- cling to their seats. The rest of us are regularly told that we simply can't expect to hold the same job for life -- the real world just doesn't work that way anymore. Our elected officials just don't live in our world.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Wow, this (from National Review's Robert Costa) is amazing:
Cruz to House Conservatives: Oppose Boehner

On a Thursday conference call, a group of House conservatives consulted with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas about how to respond to the leadership's fiscal strategy. Sources who were on the call say Cruz strongly advised them to oppose it, and hours later, Speaker John Boehner’s plan fizzled.

It’s the latest example of Cruz leading the House's right flank.
First Cruz told House Republicans to focus on the continuing resolution intended to the government open, rather than waiting for the debt ceiling fight. Boehner and the leadership have wanted to shift the focus to the debt ceiling, but Cruz said "Jump!" and the House crazy caucus said "How high?" -- so Boehner and the leadership failed to win over the caucus.

Then Cruz issued another order:
Later Thursday, Cruz met again with House conservatives at a venue near the Capitol. According to one House member, the bicameral bloc talked deep into the night about the CR and pressuring Boehner. At the top of the agenda: making a one-year delay of Obamacare a requirement for government funding, and to accept nothing less, should the defunding effort unravel. They fear Boehner is resistant to making that an ultimatum, and they discussed ways to force his hand.

Leadership sources, for their part, are startled by Cruz's attempt to shape House strategy and work against the speaker. They knew he'd oppose Boehner's playbook, but they didn’t expect him to huddle with conservatives and ask them to ignore it. So, Cruz’s meetings have made him a key House player, but they’ve worsened his already-fraught relationship with the leadership.
We know Boehner's hold on the Speaker's job is tenuous -- if we didn't know that before, it's pretty obvious now -- so why not make this leadership change official? After all, right-wingers are enthralled by the notion that the Speaker of the House doesn't actually have to be a member of the House -- here, for instance, is Mark Levin in 2012 arguing that Scott Walker should be Speaker, and here's a RedState blogger, also in 2012, urging the election of Newt Gingrich. (A few days after that was posted, Louis Gohmert actually nominated Gingrich. In the January Speaker election, Colin Powell and outgoing congressman Allen West received votes.)

So, House Republicans, if it's true (though many people have their doubts) that a Speaker doesn't have to be a member of the House, why not pick a member of the Senate?

Go for it, kids!

Make Senator Ted Cruz the next Speaker of the House!

(Story via Memeorandum.)


UPDATE: I'm not the only person who's considered this possibility.

Really? This is a problem?
In the latest escalation in the Obama administration's war of words with congressional Republicans, White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer compared the GOP to terrorists in an interview on CNN Thursday. "We are for cutting spending. We are for reforming out tax codes, reforming out entitlements," Pfeiffer told Jake Tapper. "What we're not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest. We’re not going to do that."
Hugh Hewitt is appalled, as is Mediaite house wingnut Noah Rothman:
Mediaite's Noah Rothman joined radio host Hugh Hewitt to react to that rather out-there comparison, observing that whereas a few years ago, this would have been shocking, now it’s just yet another outlandish piece of hyperbole that’s just "par for the course now."

Hewitt asked, "What's next? Boehner is Assad and Ted Cruz is the Nairboi Westgate mall shooters?"
Hewitt got Congressman Tom Cotton, a former Army Ranger, to tell us he was shocked, shocked, at Pfeiffer's statement.
HH: ... Now my question is, have any of your colleagues on the Hill said anything about this, yet? Or is it just not widely known, the level to which they’ve stooped?

TC: I think this is a new low to which they've stooped, Hugh, referring to some of their opponents in a legislative debate as suicide bombers. It was bad enough when they were calling us terrorists or anarchists or arsonists. Right now, most of my colleagues, I don't think, know, because as you say, it just happened a few hours ago. And we just finished up legislative business for the day, and I was actually at dinner with a few colleagues, and shared the remarks that Mr. Pfeiffer made with them. I think they were all, it’s fair to say, astonished....
That's from the transcript at Hewitt's site, where Hewitt (or his Web crew) also lapsed into incoherence:

Conservatives, of course, would never make a comparison like this.

Oh, wait:

That was from Pulitzer-winning wingnut cartoonist Michael Ramirez, shortly before Obamacare got through Congress. During the fight to pass the Affordable Care Act, a lot of right-wingers thought that was an apt comparison:
Rush: "Mullah Nancy Bin Pelosi ... is no different" than those who "convince all these people to put bombs on their kids." On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said: "Here's the way we have to start looking at Nancy Pelosi: Mullah Nancy Bin Pelosi. She's no different than these mullahs and these imams who convince all these people to put bombs on their kids and send them out there to blow up. ... That's exactly what she's doing to the Democrat Party. The only thing she can't do is promise them 73 virgins or whatever it is." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 3/1/10]...

Breitbart's Big Journalism calls Obama is the "suicide-bomber-in-chief." In a post on Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism website, Frank Ross wrote: "Mark Steyn is always right, whether he's writing about Andrew Lloyd Webber or, in this case, the suicide-bomber-in-chief, Barack Obama, who doesn't much care how many Democrats get sent to the electoral Elysian Fields -- or even whether he gets a second term -- as long as he can blow up the capitalist system from within." [Big Journalism, 3/6/10]

Wash. Times' Pruden compares Democrats to suicide bombers. In his Washington Times column, editor emeritus Wesley Pruden wrote: "You have to be a true believer in Barack Obama's radical agenda to be a Democrat in Congress, and believe with the intensity of a suicide bomber. Mr. Obama can't even promise a harem of virgins in paradise." [The Washington Times, 1/19/10]....
And, of course, this never gets old on the right (or at least it didn't until, um, May 1, 2011):

I don't recall any harrumphing about this from the likes of Hugh Hewitt. Do you?


I spotted this on Twitter:

This is on the Drudge homepage now:

The link goes to a story about a delay in small businesses' ability to enroll in Obamacare's insurance markets online. The story (also available here) says:
Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services department official overseeing the rollout, said small business owners in states with federally-run markets will still be able to go online Oct. 1 and compare their health insurance options.

They can get the process going by filling out a form that will have to be transmitted separately by mail, fax, or as an email attachment. HHS will upload the information into the government's computer systems. The businesses will have to wait until sometime in November to finalize their applications.
Yeah, isn't that typical of the pathetic government -- expecting people in 2013 to use ... fax machines!

Well, I don't know how many doctors Matt Drudge has dealt with recently, but I've been dealing with a few, and, here in New York at least, a lot of doctors' offices still operate by fax. Remember, these aren't British doctors enslaved by evil socialism -- this is in the good old USA, where medicine is a capitalist enterprise, dammit. Some of these are literally Park Avenue doctors. You want test results from one doctor to give to another? You have to send the request by fax. The results -- often the handwritten results -- go by fax. Even doctors' offices that have discovered this new gizmo called e-mail (I've encountered one such office here in the city so far) have to keep a working fax machine for this purpose.

Look, there's some validity to the right's criticism of how government agencies run things. But private enterprise has just as many problems. Capitalism is only a magic cure for all ills in Ayn Rand novels.


And, of course, Obamacare offers incentives for medical offices to switch to electronic records -- and right-wingers don't like that, either.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Most liberals hate the fact that President Obama allowed the sequester to happen. Matt Yglesias:
The absolute worst mistake Obama has made as president came back in 2011.... At that time, Obama desperately wanted a bargain over long-term fiscal policy. So he tried a bit of too-clever-by-half political jujitsu in which GOP debt ceiling hostage taking became a pretext to start negotiations over long-term budgeting. All manner of evils have fallen forth from that fateful decisions, including an economic weak patch in 2011[,] the ongoing mess of sequestration, and worst of all the setting of a precedent for future crises.
Fortunately, says Yglesias, the president has grown a spine:
The good news is that the White House recognizes they made a mistake, and the last time Republicans tried to pull this they didn't give in. And they can't give in now. Not even a little bit. A terrible monster was let out of the box in 2011 and the best thing Obama can possibly do for the country at this point is to stuff it back in and hopefully kill it.
Noam Scheiber also admires Obama's intestinal fortitude, and tells us not to worry:
... Obama has absolutely refused to negotiate over the debt limit in any way. He's been remarkably consistent on this point, going so far as to call Boehner on Friday night for no other reason than to inform him he still wasn't negotiating. (It was about as close as you get as president to calling up a high office-holder and telling him to go f*** himself. I admired it greatly.) Unlike in the past, Obama has shown no indication of folding on this point.
But here's the thing. Obama caved in 2011 -- and won reelection in 2012, after we managed to avoid a debt default. Now he's determined not to cave. He's telling the public he won't negotiate. And what does the public think?
Americans by a 2-to-1 ratio disagree with President Barack Obama's contention that Congress should raise the U.S. debt limit without conditions.

Instead, 61 percent say that it's "right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised even if it risks default," because Congress lacks spending discipline, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 20-23.

That sentiment is shared by almost three-quarters of Republicans, two-thirds of independents, and a plurality of Democrats. Just 28 percent of respondents backed Obama's call for a clean bill that has no add-on provisions....
This is the result of decades and decades of propaganda that tells us that all government spending is waste, while elves and fairies actually do all the things we expect government to do, for free. It's also a manifestation of the rage gap in American politics: many Republican voters want Republican politicians to be extreme and intransigent, while the vast majority of Democratic voters (and swing voters) want all politicians to compromise and play nice. The result is that Republicans can dig in their heels and increase base turnout, especially before a midterm election (when it's all about turning out your base), while Democrats will alienate their base by standing up for principle.

I hate the fact that our politics works this way, but, alas, our politics does work this way.

Republicans seem to understand what's going on. National Journal says House Republicans now seem inclined to avoid the imminent government shutdown, and intend instead to focus on hostage-taking over the debt ceiling (which is much more dangerous to the economy). What will the House GOP demand in return for a debt ceiling increase? The National Journal story mentions only "a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare in exchange for extending the nation's borrowing limit." But elsewhere, I'm reading about much more onerous demands. Matt Yglesias again:
From Jonathan Strong's report at NRO, what Republicans want in exchange for agreeing to not default on the national debt is a one year delay of Obamacare, Paul Ryan's tax reform, the Keystone XL pipeline, partial repeal of the Clean Air Act, partial repeal of bank regulation legislation, Medicare cuts, cuts in several anti-poverty programs, making it harder to launch medical malpractice lawsuits, more drilling on federal land, blocking net neutrality, and a suite of changes designed to make it harder for regulatory agencies to crack the whip.
Oh, is that all?

Yglesias is right about what the GOP is proposing here by tying this sort of blackmail to the debt ceiling:
... Republicans are essentially asking for an end to constitutional government in the United States and its replacement by a wholly novel system.

... The president should become an elected figurehead (not dissimilar to the elected presidents of Germany, Israel, or Italy) whose role is simply to assent to the policy preferences of the legislative majority.
That's appalling -- but I'm afraid poorly informed Democratic voters are going to punish Democrats if the president doesn't pay some of this ransom, while Republican voters will just be energized by the fight.

That's why I'll understand if this ends in an unpalatable compromise. It's not Obama's fault. It's Yeats again: the GOP crazy base is full of passionate intensity. And the people who should be enraged by the GOP agenda lack all conviction.

This headline from Gallup seems like good news, but I don't think it's particularly meaningful:
Tea Party Support Dwindles to Near-Record Low

As Washington braces for another budget showdown, this time with the threat of defunding the new healthcare law in the mix, the key political force pushing for conservative policies sees diminished popular support. Fewer Americans now describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement than did at the height of the movement in 2010, or even at the start of 2012. Today's 22% support nearly matches the record low found two years ago....

Opponents of the Tea Party now outnumber supporters 27% to 22%, which is similar to their edge in 2012....

Fully half of Americans, 51%, currently say they are neither a supporter nor an opponent of the Tea Party, or they have no opinion about it....
Here's the graph:

Here's why I'm not sure this is meaningful: the tea party is not particularly visible to most people anymore. There aren't a lot of big (or even moderately sized) tea party demonstrations these days. Tea party types aren't shutting down congressional town halls. People identified as tea party members aren't all over Fox News. The mainstream press is no longer running its "what is this goshdarn tea party thing anyway?" stories, with tales of plucky grassroots-y types turned seasoned operators.

To those of us who regularly follow political news, "tea party" is still the shorthand term for a certain type of conservative, mainly because "tea party" rolls off the tongue more smoothly that "barking-mad extremist who'd rather shut down the government and let the country go into default than compromise with other democratically elected government officials." Thus, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are seen as "tea party" guys, even though you rarely see them surrounded by actually tea party crowds.

If you're politicized on the left -- an MSNBC watcher, someone who's heard the tea party called the new Klan and thinks that sounds about right -- you probably have a very bad opinion of the tea party. If you're a casual follower of the news, the tea party isn't really on your radar anymore.

And if you're right-wing, "tea party" simply isn't the shorthand term these days for the barking-mad etc. crowd (whom you probably admire): the folks on Fox are more likely to call these folks "constitutional conservatives" or something like that. So it's entirely possible that many of Ted Cruz's biggest fans don't have particularly strong opinions anymore about the "tea party."

I wish we had a common term for the barking-mad crowd. Then we could run a meaningful poll. In the meantime, I don't think this means much.

You can talk about liberal media bias all you want, but right now, one of the top stories on the New York Times front page is an analysis of the battle between the establishment GOP and "an emerging, younger class of social-media-savvy leaders like Mr. Cruz of Texas, who claim the mantle of a resurgent grass roots," including Rand Paul -- while the front page of looks like this:

Here's the story:
The number of U.S. drone strikes appears to have dropped significantly over the past several months while terrorists have staged dozens of attacks, a trend raising concerns for the top House Republican on national intelligence.

New statistics from the West Point Counterterroism Center show more than 60 terror attacks across the world since July 1 -- most recently, the attack at a Kenya mall last weekend in which more than 60 people were killed.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen – the hotbed for Al Qaeda and other terror groups -- appears to have decreased significantly over roughly the same period.

The publication The Long War Journal reports a total of 22 strikes since May in those countries.

The apparent trend of fewer strikes amid perceptions of a weakened Al Qaeda and diminished terror threats is drawing concern from Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"It's not diminishing," the Michigan Republican told Fox News on Tuesday. "There have been counterterrorism changes made by the administration that have concerned us all, things that we've been working on for a period of months that we're trying to work through that are very, very concerning. This is no time to retreat." ...
Seriously? Your audience is cheering on a faux-filibuster by Ted Cruz, and you're pushing for more use of drones? Drone, the subject of the last base-cheering filibuster by Senate crazies?

Maybe I shouldn't read too much into this, but it suggests to me that Fox is rebuffing the Cruz/Paul wing of the party and throwing in its lot with the McCain/Graham/defense contractor wing.

(Fox Nation, after a day of cheering on Cruz, now has "Big ObamaCare Fight Still Looms" at the top of its front page, under a big picture of ... the Capitol Dome in the sun. Cruz is at the bottom of the front page, pictured with Rush Limbaugh.)

I think there's a business opportunity here for a crazy right-wing billionaire: bankroll a cable channel that sells itself as the true conservative alternative to RINO Fox. C'mon, crazy billionaires! Do it! Seize the moment!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


DougJ thinks the teabaggers aren't as anti-elitist as they pretend to be:
One thing that strikes me about the current crop of GOP bad men is that they sure are an unlikely group of tough guys. Ted Cruz, a former law student so effete he wouldn't deign to study with graduates of the "minor ivies", and Rand Paul, a mild-mannered Duke-educated ophthalmolog[ist], aren't likely to spill the blood of any tyrants outside of role-playing games.

They aren't plain-spoken heartland alternatives to elite librul east coasters, they're just the even douchier former classmates of elite librul east coasters.

It goes to show that all the love for Joe the Plumber was a sham. Teahadists may decry book-learnin' but in the end they revere it.
I think they've come to the conclusion that East Coast elitism is some sort of secret weapon we use unfairly against them -- it's not that our pols actually learn stuff at elite colleges, they just get told the secret handshake and as a result go on to enslave the citizenry. Oddly, this seems to be an Obama-era obsession of the right -- the Clintons had hoity-toity degrees, but Bill was mocked mostly for being no-'count trash (i.e., right-wingers mocked him just the way they say we elitist bigots mock them).

Dave Weigel wrote about Republican elitism envy back when Newt Gingrich was leading in Republican presidential polls:
When he talks to Republicans, especially to Republican voters who may not be inclined to back him, Newt Gingrich wins them over with a promise. He will outsmart Barack Obama. He will challenge him to "seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates," as he said last week at the Republican Jewish Coalition's confab. The president can even "use a teleprompter," jokes Gingrich. It's one of the tightest punchlines in conservative politics.

... They've started to imagine him facing off against Barack Obama, the president they consider a pure media creation who can't put two words together unless they're in blue type on a screen in front of him.
Right -- they desperately want to believe that any brainy Democrats are just putting on a stupidity-concealing act. They fear they may be wrong, however, or at least they fear that any battle of wits is going to go our way because it takes place under our rules, which rig the game. They're desperate for one of theirs to beat one of us at this game. Hence the love for Cruz, and the awe with which they talk about his degrees, his appearances before the Supreme Court, and so on. He survived by his wits in enemy territory.

Of course, there are many sources of Republican envy. Sarah Palin was supposed to trump our Hillary Clinton and close the gender gap. And they really envy our racial diversity, which is why they desperately want to find a marketable black Republican -- Elbert Guillory, Ben Carson, whoever. (Carson was actually supposed to be a two-fer, a black conservative who was an acclaimed neurosurgeon. Controversial anti-gay and pro-creationist views seem to have put the kibosh on that.)

Basically, Republicans think every vote that doesn't go to them was obtained through deceit and subterfuge.

I keep hearing that Ted Cruz's own party despises him, but Brian Beutler is right -- on Cruz's behalf, right-wingers in good standing worked the refs, whined "Liberal media bias!," and got Dylan Byers of Politico to write this:
Ted Cruz, Wendy Davis and media bias

... you can forgive conservatives for being upset with the mainstream media's coverage of the Cruz affair. When a Democrat like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters against abortion restrictions, she is elevated to hero status, her tennis shoes become totems. When Cruz grandstands against Obamacare, he is a laughingstock in the eyes of many journalists on Twitter, an "embarrassment" in the eyes of The New York Times editorial board.

"Gee I wonder why NYT and WaPo and everyone else gave ecstatic coverage to Wendy Davis but not to Ted Cruz. I just can't make sense of it!" John Podhoretz, the conservative columnist, tweeted on Wednesday morning.

... the coverage of Cruz has been critical, and in some cases unforgiving, from the outset. At least initially, Davis wasn't viewed through a critical lens at all. Her willingness to stand for 11 hours was evidence of the American dream in action. Period.

After Davis's filibuster in June, she got a glowing Vogue profile and was interviewed by nearly every major network and show that deemed her the new superstar from the Lone Star....
Um, Ted Cruz has already spent his entire extremely brief Senate career getting that kind of attention, especially from the right-wing press -- and it hasn't just been from the right-wing press, or just during his mere nine and a half months in office. ("Ted Cruz Speech Stokes 2016 Speculation" was a headline in, um, Politico more than a month before he was sworn in as senator. A year earlier, in 2011 -- well before he'd even won his Senate primary -- Cruz had already made the cover of National Review, where he was deemed "the next great conservative hope.")

But I'm getting away from my main point, which is that however much hate there is for Cruz on the right, that isn't preventing the right from scoring a political point by declaring him a victim on behalf of right-wingers everywhere. Can you imagine something comparable on the left? If, say, Alan Grayson (or, in the past, Cynthia McKinney) embarrassed Democrats with a high-profile procedural stunt that more-established Dems knew from polls would alienate the public, can you imagine those Dems ultimately rallying around the perpetrator of the stunt if it turned out to be exactly as embarrassing as expected?

Speaking of rallying around the perpetrator, I see that Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is defending Ted Cruz at RedState, where (as I noted in my last post) Erick Erickson is unswervingly pro-Cruz. Here's what Priebus writes:
In a battle between Ted Cruz and Harry Reid, we must stand with Senator Cruz.

... Senator Ted Cruz refuses to be bullied by Harry Reid and the Democrat-led Senate. Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove of the manner in which ObamaCare is being implemented, yet Harry Reid and Senate Democrats continue to defend it, even at the expense of keeping the government running.

Republicans run the House and they've done their part: funding the government, defunding ObamaCare. Senator Cruz is continuing the fight in Senate....
Republicans may grumble about Cruz, but there's fear as well: if you're in the GOP, you really, really don't want to have too many enemies on the right. There's nothing comparable to this in the Democratic Party -- Democratic officeholders and officials often relish the opportunity to make enemies on the left, and Democratic voters don't flee unless a rebuff attains Lieberman-like levels.

Sorry, I don't buy this at all, and if there's any reduction in the rage, it's going to be about as meaningful as the reduction in wind speed that took Katrina down to a Category 3 before it made landfall.

Are you watching what's going in D.C. right now? The anger of the crazy base is so extreme that its next likely victims will be any Republican who votes the wrong way -- as defined Ted Cruz -- on the upcoming Obamacare procedural votes. The anger has just taken on a life of its own. This is like a nonviolent riot. Here's Erick Erickson in high dudgeon:
... Meanwhile, John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander and other Republican Senators are leaking attacks against Cruz on background. They complained to reporters about Cruz suggesting they were cowards. They did so off the record and in the shadows.

Mitch McConnell, instead of standing with Cruz on the floor of the Senate, participated in a teletownhall in which he told listeners the only way to stop Obamacare was for him to be Senate Majority Leader. [update: this information came after the initial post]

Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will not get the forty-one votes they need to sustain their filibuster. They will be betrayed by Republican senators who are willing to fund Obamacare while claiming to vote against it. But in this filibuster and in their brilliant strategy, they have exposed Republicans who will not fight. They have exposed Republicans who are so desperate for their own reelection they will say or do anything when they could not bother in off years. They have shown Republicans that there are Republicans who are willing to stand up to Barack Obama and to the cowards within their own party.

... Because Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and their House counterparts have shown just how far conservatives are willing to go now, House and Senate Republicans know they cannot cave for table scraps....
Cornyn, McConnell, and Alexander are not black, needless to say. Erickson also attacks "Beltway Republican pundits bellyaching over Cruz and Lee fighting the fight others promised to fight." Those pundits aren't black. Karl Rove, now loathed by the crazy base, isn't black.

Don't get me wrong. When I say that it doesn't matter who's on the ballot for the Democrats in 2016, I'm not denying that Republican rage has a significant racial component. But you have to remember that racists in the base will always be racially angry at Democrats because so many non-whites are Democratic voters. (The GOP base hates that about Democrats, while also envying the party's ability to win over non-whites. Members of the base usually resolve that contradiction by concluding that non-whites are too stupid to vote GOP. Odd, isn't it, that non-white voters reject a party that treats them with such contempt.)

Republican voters associate non-whites with Democrat-driven dependency on government (which they rail against, sometimes from Medicare scooters). That won't change, even if Democrats run a low-melatonin low-melanin Clinton-O'Malley ticket in 2016.

Now, I happen to believe that Republicans hate all "others," regardless of race -- not just non-whites but gay people and the long-term unemployed and women with unplanned pregnancies and anyone who doesn't profess a Judeo-Christian faith -- but racism is the template for that contempt. But unless America suddenly runs out of "others" sometime in 2016, the GOP and its voters will be just as crazy then as they are now.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that this is outrageous:
AIG's CEO Robert Benmosche -- who came in to rescue the company after the 2008 financial crisis -- told the Wall Street Journal that the outrage over the bonuses promised to AIG's members was just as bad as when white supremacists in the American South used to lynch African Americans:
The uproar over bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that -- sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."
Yeah, what happened to financial wheeler-dealers sure was "sort of like" what happened to Claude Neal of Greenwood, Florida, in October of 1934, after he was accused of murdering a white woman, wasn't it? From a contemporary account:
Neal was taken from the Brewton jail between one and two o'clock Friday morning, October 26. he was in the hands of the smaller lynching group composed of approximately 100 men from then until he was left in the road in front of the Cannidy home late that same night.

Neal was tortured for ten or twelve hours. The original mob that took Neal from jail directed "all of the niceties of a twentieth century lynching ... inflicted upon Neal." The word was passed all over Northeastern Florida and southeastern Alabama that there was to be a "lynching party to which all white people are invited."

A member of the lynching party described the lynching in all of its ghastliness, down tot he minutest detail:
After taking the nigger to the woods about four miles from Greenwood, they cut off his penis. He was made to eat it. They cut off his testicles and made him eat them and say he liked it....

Then they sliced his sides and stomach with knives and every now and then somebody would cut off a finger or toe. Red hot irons were used on the nigger to burn him from top to bottom.

From time to time during the torture a rope was tied around Neal's neck and he was pulled up over a limb and held there until he almost choked to death. Then he was let down and the torture began all over again. After several hours of this unspeakable torture, they decided just to kill him.
Neal's body was tied to a rope on the rear of an automobile and dragged over the highway to the Cannidy home. Here a mob estimated to number somewhere between 3000 and 7000 people from eleven southern states was excitedly waiting his arrival. When the car which was dragging Neal's body came in front of the Cannidy home, a man who was riding the rear bumper cut the rope.

A woman came out of the Cannidy house and drove a butcher knife into his heart. Then the crowd came by and some kicked him and some drove their cars over him.

Men, women, and children were numbered in the vast throng that came to witness the lynching. It is reported from reliable sources that the little children, some of them mere tots, who lived in the Greenwood neighborhood, waited with sharpened sticks for the return of Neal's body and that when it rolled in the dust on the road that awful night these little children drove their weapons deep into the flesh of the dead man.

The body, which by this time was horribly mutilated, was taken to Marianna, a distance of ten or eleven miles, where it was hung to a tree on the northeast corner of the courthouse square. Pictures were taken of the mutilated form and hundreds of photographs were sold for fifty cents each. Scores of citizens viewed the body as it hung in the square. The body was perfectly nude until the early morning when someone had the decency to hang a burlap sack over the middle of the body. The body was cut down about eight-thirty Saturday morning, October 27, 1934.

Fingers and toes from Neal's body have been exhibited as souvenirs in Marianna where one man offered to divide the finger which he had with a friend as "a special favor." Another man has one of the fingers preserved in alcohol.
That's just like what happened to your pals, isn't it, Mr. Benmosche?

(Benmosche quote via Memeorandum.)

Both and Fox Nation have chosen to reproduce a ridiculous NewsBusters post by Katie Yoder accusing "90 percent of the top ten ... daily newspapers" in America of insufficient Islamophobia because yesterday their front-page headlines -- not their front-page stories, mind you, just the headlines -- failed to scream "MUSLIM! MUSLIM! MUSLIM!" in response to the Nairobi mall attack.

What's strange is that this story appeared on two Fox sites despite the fact that The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post are among the papers deemed to be lacking in Muslim-hate. (Or maybe that's not so strange. Maybe Roger Ailes, or whoever is his surrogate at the Fox sites, thinks the corporate cousins have gone wobbly on the belief that Islam is implacably evil.)

From the story:
... on Monday, September 23, 90 percent of the top ten (via circulation numbers) daily newspapers' headlines in the United States censored the words "Islam" and Muslim" from Nairobi and Pakistan reports....

The Wall Street Journal's (WSJ) headline by Heidi Vogt announced that "Assault on Mall Stuns Kenya" and called the act a "terrorist attack" by "armed militants." In a small reference to the Pakistan Christian fatalities, the newspaper credited a group linked with the "Pakistan Taliban."
Um, the story also includes this:
A French man eating at a tapas bar said a gunman yelled "Allahu akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is Great!" -- as he opened fire on the diners.
And this:
"Their mission was to kill, not to steal," said Edwin Omoding, a 26-year-old stocker for the Nakumatt supermarket inside the mall....

"They were questioning people, and they said, 'If you are Muslim you are on the safer side, but if you are Hindu or Christian you will be killed,'" Mr. Omoding said.
I'd say that constituted an acknowledgment of the Islamist nature of the attack, but I guess NewsBusters has higher standards. Go on, Ms. Yoder:
The New York Post's front page read "BLOODY RAID" and "Kenyan soldiers storm mall, save most hostages. Its Sunday cover showed a woman running with a baby above the words "Terror massacre in Kenya." ... Only inside the piece were the assailants described as "Islamist attackers” related to "Somalia's al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents."
Oh. So -- in a newspaper known for not putting a lot of words on its front page -- it doesn't count if the reference to al-Qaeda appears on an inside page. Right. Got it.

I probably shouldn't make too much of Fox using its sites to go after other Murdoch media properties -- the M.O. at Fox often seems to be that whatever makes the audience's blood boil is worth publishing, and a headline or lede that accomplishes this is good even if the story veers off in an inappropriate direction a few paragraphs in. The rest of the story does go after such papers as The New York Times and the Chicago Sun-Times, so that fits the dominant Murdoch narrative -- evil liberal press and all that. But still, Fox reproducing an attack on the Journal and the Post seems like the media equivalent of Ted Cruz-ism.

I've been arguing for the past few days that Ted Cruz is not embarrassing himself in the eyes of the GOP crazy base. The conventional wisdom is that he's alienated everybody in D.C., and therefore it doesn't matter how popular he is among the rabble. Left and center pundits are lining up to join the Cruz pile-on -- why, look, there's Frank Bruni with a column full of the "Cruz is an unloved boor" conventional wisdom.

Look, it's fun to watch a Republican being mocked. It's fun to see Republicans fighting among themselves. But I want Republicans to continue fighting among themselves. I don't want to join the center, the left, and the Establishment right in their attempts to marginalize Cruz. I want him to live to fight another day.

I notice that the anti-Cruz editorial in The Wall Street Journal today suggests that Cruz's strategy is largely about "fund-raising lists." That's a key issue. Anti-Cruz establishment Republicans don't want right-wing cash to go to Cruz, Cruz clones, and Cruz allies like Heritage Action -- they want that cash for their extremists, who are only marginally less extreme than Cruz (cash presumably channeled, in part, through groups like the Conservative Victory Project, which was formed earlier this year by Cruz foe Karl Rove to keep Cruz-style teabagger crazies from winning primaries). They want the money to go to establishmentarian extremists like Scott Walker and Chris Christie, who, they believe, could reach the White House and cold-bloodedly push through the Murdoch-Koch agenda (with the help of a Senate turned Republican) without engaging in quixotic, hopeless, off-putting Cruz-style crusades. They want Cruz and his allies out of the picture, so that they no longer make the right look bad in centrist voters' eyes.

I don't want any of that to happen. I want the GOP always to fear what the outcome the Journal editorial wants to avoid after the Obamacare shutdown battle ends:
...if things don't go well, let's not hear any excuses about "the surrender caucus" or claims that it would all have worked out if only everyone were as brave and principled as the generals up at HQ.
I want Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to say just that. And I want his amen chorus to remain strong. I'm glad it includes so many voices the crazy base trusts -- Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, Erick Erickson. I'm glad Sean Hannity feels he has to avoid saying bad things about Cruz. I want Cruz and his allies to keep pushing the GOP further right. I want this war to escalate.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Jonathan Chait thinks Hillary Clinton is vulnerable in 2016 because economic populism is suddenly going to flower all over the country, or at least in Democratic precincts. In general, I'd love to believe Americans are headed in that direction (though I'm not so crazy about the idea that the Democrats' one truly viable 2016 presidential candidate will be its first victim). But I just don't buy Chait's premise:
... The coming liberal backlash against Clinton has two broad sources.... The first is financial regulation. Too big to fail is the great sleeper issue of American politics....

What could give the financial regulation issue true destructive power is a narrative about money and corruption....

And here is where Clinton has exposed herself to a potentially glaring weakness. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post linked Clinton to Jeffrey Thompson, who financed secretive get-out-the-vote operations for D.C. mayor Vincent Gray and apparently played the same role for Clinton’s 2008 campaign. The New Republic's Alec MacGillis has an explosive profile of Doug Band, the Bill Clinton body man and consummate political sleazoid who insinuated himself in Clinton's inner circle and learned to monetize his own role.

There is no "Clinton scandal" arising from these revelations. But there is certainly an atmosphere conducive to one. Bill Clinton has surrounded himself with wealthy people and paid barely any attention to the money flowing all around him....

Wall Street will be to 2016 what Iraq was to 2008: both a policy liability and a lever for her opponent to wedge open broader doubts about her character, to paint her as a corrupt and feckless insider....
I don't buy it. By 2008, one entire political party was ready to say "Enough!" with regard to the Iraq War; Americans could realistically hope that their votes really would end the war. By contrast, no front-rank major-party politician seems above the financial squalor. As Americans, we've just given up on the notion that any of our politicians will have clean hands. We assume everyone in politics is at least somewhat corrupt, and somewhat pro-plutocrat. Our expectations are so low that the more liberal voters are grateful just not to be insulted for failing to achieve millionaire status. (That's why we don't vote Republican.)

Chait writes:
Democratic primaries always feature a liberal insurgent. But the liberal insurgency doesn't always rely on more liberal policy ideas. Liberal insurgent candidates instead appeal to an ideal of purity and good government. George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Gary Hart in 1984, Jerry Brown in 1992, Bill Bradley in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008 all presented themselves as cleaner and less compromised than the Establishment candidates.
Yup -- and Hart, Brown and Bradley lost (as did Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, and Paul Tsongas in 1992). Obama won in 2008, but financial purity had little or nothing to do with that win. (And please recall that he beat Hillary by an eyelash.) I question how many of the candidates listed by Chait ran on financial purity -- Carter ran as a candidate unsullied by the Washington that had given us Vietnam and Watergate; Hart sold himself as the "new ideas" guy; et cetera.

Voters don't get angry about cronyism because they expect no less; they don't get angry about financiers' shady doings because no ambitious politician dares to talk about them, for fear of drying up the revenue stream for life. Yes, maybe there's one exception to that rule: Elizabeth Warren. But she's become all but invisible to the average American since she won her election.

Look, I'd love to think these issues would catch fire, and either Hillary Clinton would seize on them or a rival with formidable, heretofore unrecognized political skills would ride them to the White House. But I've lived for thirty-plus years in Reagan and post-Reagan America. I'm not getting my hopes up.

I got pushback from some of you after posting "Ted Cruz Will Be Just Fine" yesterday -- but I apparently have company: today GQ posts a long Jason Zengerle profile of Cruz, which, despite its title ("Ted Cruz: The Distinguished Wacko Bird from Texas"), is really a puff piece about how good Cruz is at navigating the current insane political landscape:
... Is this any way to get ahead in Washington? Well, Cruz is no dummy -- just ask him -- and his swift rise might prove that it's the only way....

Already his fans are nudging him to think about a presidential run in 2016, and he's nudging right back, making trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina....

Cruz is a dazzling orator, speaking not merely in precise sentences but complete paragraphs -- no teleprompter, sometimes not even a podium....

About that family story: American voters have a hard time resisting politicians with a good one. Ted Cruz's is great, and he's even better at telling it....

"We're in a moment when the combination of being hard-core and intelligent is really at a premium," says National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru, who's been friends with Cruz since they went to Princeton together. "Because the two things that conservatives are tired of are politicians who sell out and politicians who embarrass them by not being able to make an account of themselves." In this arithmetic, Mitt Romney is the sellout and Sarah Palin is the embarrassment -- and Cruz is the great new hope who brings the virtues of both without the liabilities of either....

Should he run for president, in 2016 or beyond, Cruz's strategy will be to superglue himself to the conservative base and hope it carries him to the GOP nomination. It's been tried over and over since Reagan -- and it has failed every time. Just not enough wacko birds out there. Then again, the men who have tried it -- from Pat Robertson in 1988 to Rick Santorum in 2012 -- possessed nowhere near Cruz's political acumen, not to mention his life story....
Yeah, I've cherry-picked the positive stuff. But the ultimate conclusion here is that Ted Cruz may be breaking all the rules and pissing all kinds of people off, but he's succeeding -- and this is all said with a sort of bemused awe. No surprise, really -- the Beltway is a place where "strong and wrong" is preferred to "weak and right," as Bill Clinton has put it -- or perhaps the appropriate quote is "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." (That's from Osama bin Laden.)

And all this despite the fact that the piece is full of embarrassing information about Cruz: that he alienated colleagues on George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign with endless self-serving e-mails, for instance, or that he was a snob at Harvard Law who "refused to study with anyone who hadn't been an undergrad at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale ("He said he didn't want anybody from 'minor Ivies' like Penn or Brown," says one of his law school roommates). These bits of information may have come from some of the same Republicans who, according to Chris Wallace of Fox News, are trying to sandbag Cruz:
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said Sunday morning that he'd received opposition research from other Republicans about Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in advance of Cruz's appearance this morning, a serious indication of how upset the GOP is with the Senator leading the risky charge to defund ObamaCare.

"This has been one of the strangest weeks I've ever had in Washington," Wallace said. "As soon as we listed Ted Cruz as our featured guest this week, I got unsolicited research and questions, not from Democrats but from top Republicans, to hammer Cruz."
At GQ, it looks as if Jason Zengerle got the same packet of material -- and wrote it up into a story about how dauntingly talented Ted Cruz is, however off-putting and egomaniacal he may be.

So, yeah, at least for now, Cruz is winning.

I want to like Robert Reich. His heart is clearly in the right place. I'm sure Inequalty for All, a documentary featuring Reich that hits theaters on Friday, will make many important points.

But this passage in Reich's recent New York Times Opinionator column has the stale smell of conventional wisdom:
I'm 67 and have lived through some angry times: Joseph R. McCarthy's witch hunts of the 1950s, the struggle for civil rights and the Vietnam protests in the 1960s, Watergate and its aftermath in the 1970s. But I don't recall the degree of generalized bile that seems to have gripped the nation in recent years.

... what, exactly, explains the national distemper?

For one, we increasingly live in hermetically sealed ideological zones that are almost immune to compromise or nuance. Internet algorithms and the proliferation of media have let us surround ourselves with opinions that confirm our biases. We're also segregating geographically into red or blue territories: chances are that our neighbors share our views, and magnify them. So when we come across someone outside these zones, whose views have been summarily dismissed or vilified, our minds are closed.
The problem with this is that it tells us that Both Sides Do It. It blames "the proliferation of media," as if MSNBC contributes exactly as much to America's polarization as Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Needless to say, Fox's audience is much larger than MSNBC's, and there's no popular left-wing analogue to right-wing radio talk. And yet, to Reich, there's apparently no difference.

And then there's this, which is meant to have all good liberals nodding in agreement, but misses the mark:
[Various societal] changes help explain why Americans are so divided, but not why they're so angry. To understand that, we need to look at the economy.

Put simply, most people are on a downward escalator. Although jobs are slowly returning, pay is not. Most jobs created since the start of the recovery, in 2009, pay less than the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. This means many people are working harder than ever, but still getting nowhere. They're increasingly pessimistic about their chances of ever doing better.

As their wages and benefits shrink, though, they see corporate executives and Wall Street bankers doing far better than ever before. And they are keenly aware of bailouts and special subsidies for agribusinesses, pharma, oil and gas, military contractors, finance and every other well-connected industry.

Political scientists have noted a high correlation between inequality and polarization. But economic class isn't the only dividing line in America. Many working-class voters are heartland Republicans, while many of America's superrich are coastal Democrats. The real division is between those who believe the game is rigged against them and those who believe they have a decent shot.
Well, no, not really. Fox News and other parts of the right-wing propaganda machine have made a lot of people for whom the game isn't rigged -- right-wing billionaires, gainfully employed red-state whites in outer-ring suburbs, comfortably retired Medicare scooter-riders -- believe that the game is rigged against them. The noise machine has done an excellent job in persuading people who aren't at risk that they are at risk -- from "death panels," "socialism," "government hands" coming for their Medicare, "gun-grabbing" that will lead to total civilian disarmament, "voter fraud," "the war on Christmas" (or Christianity), "creeping sharia," etc., etc.

But to Reich, the anger stems largely from economics:
Losers of rigged games can become very angry, as history has revealed repeatedly. In America, the populist wings of both parties have become more vocal in recent years -- the difference being that the populist right blames government more than it does big corporations while the populist left blames big corporations more than government.
Except that the populist wing of the left has been barely visible or audible in the past five years, apart from sporadic outbursts (the brief Occupy moment, the Scott Walker protests). Some on the populist right really are slipping, but plenty aren't -- it was noted a couple of years ago that tea party members are wealthier and more educated than the genral public.
Widening inequality thereby ignites what the historian Richard Hofstadter called the "paranoid style in American politics." It animated the Know-Nothing and Anti-Masonic movements before the Civil War, the populist agitators of the Progressive Era and the John Birch Society -- whose founder accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a "dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy" -- in the 1950s.
And now we're back to Reich seeing all populism as tending inevitably to paranoia -- again, Both Sides Do It. Is he really saying that anger at sufficient levels inevitably leads to paranoia? If he's blaming paranoia on inequality -- and if, as I'm arguing, angry lefties are more likely to be fighting against real inequality, while angry righties are fighting Fox-generated chimeras -- then he's suggesting that besieged union teachers in Wisconsin or debt-burdened recent graduates with no job prospects in Zuccotti Park are exhibiting "the paranoid style." Really, Robert?

The squeeze on the non-rich has created a lot of societal anxiety. Some of what makes the audience for Fox and talk radio jumpy is real. But right-wing propaganda diverts economic anger and anxiety, and gins up more anger and anxiety out of nothing. I want to see inequality reduced as much as Reich does, but inequality is not why there's rage or gridlock.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I keep hearing that the Republican Party increasingly favors isolationism, although I continue to think that what it really favors is whatever Barack Obama opposes. But if you sincerely believe that Republicans are turning away from militarism, do you really think that trend can survive incidents like this?
Masked gunmen stormed into a fancy, crowded mall in Nairobi on Saturday and shot dead at least 39 people and wounded more than 150 in one of the most chilling terrorist attacks in East Africa since Al Qaeda blew up two American embassies in 1998....

The mall, called Westgate, is a symbol of Kenya's rising prosperity.... American officials have long warned that Nairobi's malls were ripe targets for terrorists, especially Westgate, because a cafe on the ground floor, right off the street, is owned by Israelis.
Yes, and Haaretz is reporting that Israeli security forces are at least advising the Kenyans on the response to the attack:
An Israeli security source said earlier Sunday that Israeli advisers were helping Kenya formulate a strategy to end the siege at the upscale Westgate shopping center.

"There are Israeli advisers helping with the negotiating strategy, but no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation," said the source, who declined to be identified.

The source said only a "handful" of Israelis, "purely in an advisory role," were on scene at the mall, which has several Israeli-owned outlets and is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans....

There were conflicting reports from other security sources in Nairobi about the part Israel was playing. One Kenyan security source, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that the Israeli military was involved in the operation, while a private security official also said they were helping comb the mall. But the Kenyan Interior Minister insisted it was a national operation, despite offers of foreign support
Now, to be sure, there's a distinct strain of anti-Semitism among the Paulites and Buchananite paleoconservatives. But there's also a serious strain of philo-Semitism among more-Jewish-than-the-Jews Christian evangelical rightists.

And, of course, there's this:
Several witnesses said the attackers had shouted for Muslims to run away while they picked off other shoppers, executing them one by one.
There may be a lot of war skepticism on the right, but nearly all right-wingers continue to loathe and despise Muslims, believing that they're all violent jihadists until proven otherwise.

I'm not saying that there are going to be GOP calls for a U.S. attack on Al Shabab anytime soon. I'm just saying that the actions of extremist groups will rouse the usual tendencies on the right sooner or later. Now, maybe the rank-and-file will keep this in check -- but I wouldn't count on it if the targets of these groups include Americans, Jews, and Christians. The saber-rattling right we're all familiar with will rise again.

For the last few days, we've been told that Ted Cruz exposed himself as a charlatan by appearing to go wobbly on Obamacare defunding, that the GOP leadership is now going to show him who's boss, that no one in the GOP likes him. The Cruz moment we're told, is over.

Well, Cruz may have alienated every Beltway insider -- but remember that nobody in the real world likes Beltway insiders. He's being criticized by the likes of Karl Rove and David Brooks and fellow members of Congress, but nobody likes those people. Certainly nobody in the GOP crazy base likes those people, or will side with them against someone who seems more extremely right-wing.

Now, Cruz may have seemed to falter for a moment, but notice who's defending him now: the crazy woman the crazy base still loves, Sarah Palin. She's with him 100%, as we learn from this post carrying her byline at Breitbart:
... Following the will of the people is apparently a novel idea in D.C. these days. Just ask Senator Ted Cruz and his liberty-loving posse on Capitol Hill who have led the charge to defund Obama's train wreck.

Those of us who hang in there supporting a major political party with our energy, time, and contributions would like to believe that that party would praise principled conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee for following through on campaign promises. We'd like to believe that the GOP establishment would applaud the way these bold leaders have rallied the grassroots to their cause. But, no, such praise would require a commensurate level of guts and leadership, and the permanent political class in D.C. is nothing if not gutless and rudderless.

We're now, once again, subjected to the "anonymous sources" backstabbing game. The Capitol Hill cowards are rushing to anonymously denounce Senator Cruz to any reporter with a pad and pen.

Welcome to our world, Ted. The same people have been denouncing conservatives like me for years (right after they ask for help fundraising for themselves or endorsing the latest candidate they've suckered into paying their exorbitant consulting fees). We can compare shiv marks next time we meet, my friend....
The insiders don't know, but the crazy base understands. To the crazy baseheads, Cruz is still a hero.

Oh, and the Palin post is gleefully quoted at Twitchy. In the GOP civil war, if you've got Palin, the Breitbarniks, and Michelle Malkin on your side, that's a pretty solid rebel stronghold.

Even if -- perhaps especially if -- Cruz fails to round up 41 votes to prevent the continuing resolution from going forward in the Senate, he'll be seen as a hero to the base, while those who failed to join him will be regarded as traitors. I know that Fox is throwing in its lot with the Rovians and is not giving Cruz's efforts prominent play -- here's a Fox story titled "Capitol Hill Report Warns Shutdown Could Pose Risks to National Security" -- but I think Fox is going to have to get on board with Cruz or risk alienating its audience.

Cruz's poor standing with party bigwigs probably means he'll never be the GOP presidential nominee, but I think he's still doing a bang-up job of being a hero to the base. He'll be just fine.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


What's going on in the GOP reminds me of the way a lot of people talk about gang violence. It's often said that in recent years it's been more common for kids in gangs to shoot other kids in gangs (and shoot innocent bystanders) because they just can't walk away from a dispute; if they've been disrespected, the fight inevitably escalates, until somebody gets shot.

That's how the GOP seems right now. Look at the Obamacare fight. John Boehner was disrespected when he was accused of offering a fake vote on defunding of the health care law, and so he gave in to Senator Ted Cruz's demand for a House vote on a provision that would really defund Obamacare, after which Boehner and other House Republicans attacked Cruz for saying that he and his allies couldn't really block Obamacare in the Senate.

People who looked at the likely course of the Obamacare-defunding proposal in the Senate agreed that, for complicated reasons, Cruz was correct and there was no real opportunity to stage a true filibuster of a bill with full funding of Obamacare. The only filibuster opportunity requires Cruz and his allies to block a bill that includes the defunding proposal they favor. Smart people like Kevin Drum said that was absurd, and therefore unlikely:
Here's the process:

1. Harry Reid offers a motion to proceed and then files cloture. Will Cruz filibuster? How can he? At this point, the bill under consideration is the one the House sent over, which includes the defunding language. He can hardly filibuster that.

2. Reid then offers an amendment to strike defunding from the bill.

3. Now Reid files cloture on the bill itself. Will Cruz filibuster? Again, how can he? At this point, this is still the original House bill, complete with the provision to defund Obamacare.
But, of course, Cruz can demand a filibuster of the defund-Obamacare bill, just to try to stop the process in its tracks -- and, in fact, if that's the only way for him to respond to being disrespected, he has to, to save face.

So, of course, that's precisely what he's going to do:
Sen. Ted Cruz said Friday that Republican senators should, in effect, filibuster the House-passed continuing resolution in the Senate.

The Texas Republican is calling on his colleagues to oppose limiting debate on it....
Establishment Republicans have made it clear that they don't want to filibuster that bill -- but if Cruz fails to round up enough Repulicans for a filibuster, he and his pals at Heritage Action and the Sente Conservatives Fund and other like-minded members of the anti-Obamacare-absolutist gang will just attack them in their next reelection bids, or in the 2016 presidential campaign. (I guarantee you that Mitch McConnell, determined to have no enemies on the right going into his 2014 reelection fight, will join Cruz's filibuster, as will Marco "Me, Too" Rubio. I guarantee you that the teabagger primary opponents of Lindsay Graham and Lamar Alexander will express unswerving support for what Cruz is doing.)

And so the gang fight in the GOP continues to escalate.

And, of course, as Ezra Klein noted yesterday, John Boehner's decision to go along with the Cruz crusade has been escalating the tension in a way that really could lead to violence for a lot of innocent bystanders. You see, Cruz is highly unlikely to get enough votes for his Senate filibuster, which means that a bill that includes Obamacare funding will almost certainly go back to the House. And then...
Boehner isn't going to simply shrug, say he tried, and bring the Senate bill to the floor. He'll shrug, say he tried, and tell his members that they should let him bring the Senate bill to the floor. He'll say it's because they need to save their fire for the debt ceiling fight, where they can force the White House to delay Obamacare for a year by threatening to trigger a global financial crisis. In fact, this is already the message he's delivering to his members.

There's been a lot of talk -- much of it among Republicans -- about how irresponsible Ted Cruz is being in his fight to defund Obamacare or shut the government down trying. But Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership is being much more irresponsible in their promises to delay Obamacare or cause a global financial crisis while trying. And the way they're going to get past Cruz's irresponsible threats is to double down on their own, even more irresponsible, threats.
Is there just something innately pathological about Republicans that prevents them from stepping away from a fight like this when their manhood is challenged? Are they just sociopathic superpredators by birth?