…that Teh Free Marketz™ fail at keeping health insurance costs low? I mean…who knew?
(other than, y’know, everyone who was paying attention. Le sigh…)
…that Teh Free Marketz™ fail at keeping health insurance costs low? I mean…who knew?
(other than, y’know, everyone who was paying attention. Le sigh…)
It is certainly satisfying to see the almost-complete implosion of the tea party types in Congress today. Their most-harmful and most-lunatic demands have gone almost completely unmet: Obamacare is virtually unchanged, the government is reopened, and the threat of a default is off the table (for now). Best of all, their electoral prospects may have been badly damaged, especially in the Senate where the GOPers must compete statewide, instead of in heavily gerrymandered districts.
How did we come to this impasse, though? How did we arrive at a place where constant government-by-crisis seems increasingly to be the norm? On day one of the GOP shutdown, the definitive post was written by Charles P. Pierce of Esquire magazine. I knew it the moment I read it, and the post was featured prominently over the days that followed by commentators from Chris Hayes to virtually every blogger on the left side of the dial.
Today, as the very same GOP shutdown grinds to a depressing, predictable, pointless halt with damage aplenty done to ordinary Americans and likely to the economy and recovery, Pierce again has the definitive piece, this time summing it all up:
[The tea party extremists] have cast themselves in their own action adventure movie, and the rest of us serve pretty much the same function as New York City does in The Avengers. We’re the set decoration that gets demolished as Our Heroes fight evil. These are pathetic, worthless children, playing dress-up, and smashing things because they like the sound of things breaking.
Indeed. Yet, the passage that really struck me was this one, because it hit that point I’ve been making, obliquely and directly, for some time now:
The Republican party revelled in all the forces that are now tearing it apart. The Democratic party was criminally negligent and abdicated its profound responsibility to fight against those forces; indeed, it spent the better part of the 1980′s and 1990′s trying to surf the wave itself. The Democratic Leadership Council, and Blue Dog Democrats generally, bear a heavy burden of responsibility for failing to demonstrate to the American people in election after election how extreme the Republicans were becoming.
Yes. They do. In reality, that is. If someone were actually keeping the cosmic ledger adjusted properly, they would indeed bear such a burden. In the actual world we live in, unfortunately, the DLCers and Third Wayers and Blue Dogs and those who enabled them and told us we could do no better don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. Not then, and not today. The people who were dazzled by Bill Clinton’s rhetorical and political skills enough to overlook or actually cheer his “ending welfare as we know it” (until a genuine crisis showed how bankrupt those “reforms” had actually been) or his signing of the CFMA and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley bill, they still think they’re right. They got Democrats “winning” again, and have been part of the “greatest governing coalition in decades.”
In short: they’re not sorry. Larry Summers and Bob Rubin are not sorry for making common cause with bankers free-market ideologues and Alan Greenspan. DLCers and Third Wayers are not sorry for relentlessly caricaturing genuine liberals and then castigating those caricatures in public forums for decades. And the Obama fans who spent most of 2009-10 when Democrats had a supermajority (or the closest thing to one they’d ever have under Obama) cheering on the President’s relentless search for “bipartisanship” and his baffling pivot with unemployment still sky-high and Americans still hurting badly, from helping those folks to “debt reduction” and “entitlement reform” – well…they’re not sorry, either. They should be – in fact, they should be downright ashamed – but they’re not.
I have no idea whether this has anything to do with that fact, but it is indeed a fact that the single greatest failing of the left side of the political spectrum over the last thirty-plus years, when Republicans were getting not just tougher and more popular (and populist) but also markedly more nuts and damaging to the country, is not even acknowledged by the very people who led the charge toward embracing that mistake as brilliant policy and/or political strategy.
That’s a problem, and one we have yet to address, let alone solve.
On Twitter, economist Justin Wolfers links us to this article in the New York Times by a game theoretician, proposing new ways for us to think about and perhaps solve the problem of the constant debt ceiling standoffs and the attendant negative effects that occur as a result of them. The article’s author, David McAdams, is apparently also the author of a forthcoming book on how game theory can be used to transform strategic situations, so this is right in his wheelhouse.
I’m no game theoretician, so I won’t presume to cross rhetorical or intellectual swords with Mr. McAdams on that subject. Indeed, the methods McAdams proposes seem as if they might have a salutary effect upon the current logjam of progress in Washington around the debt ceiling, but for one large problem with them: they’re solutions for the wrong problem. The problem in the current debt ceiling crisis is not that there’s been a breakdown of trust between Democrats and Republicans. That is indeed a stumbling block which complicates things immensely; Democrats feel as if they can’t trust the Republicans (for good reason), and Republicans may well feel as if they can’t trust Democrats to make meaningful concessions on immediate debt/deficit reduction. But solving that isn’t simply a matter of gaming the dilemma out differently, because the lack of trust isn’t the foundational problem. A fundamental disagreement on where things ought to be headed is the foundational problem. McAdams writes:
Imagine that, in the negotiations over this problem, the Republicans were to suggest making the next debt ceiling automatically self-extending if an agreed-upon debt-reduction target were met. Such a self-extension provision would allow both parties to avoid the next debt-ceiling crisis.
This is a workable solution only if you accept as a premise the notion that both parties share the same goal: at least some degree of debt reduction, starting right now. It may well be that there are those in the Democratic party, especially on the corporate, “Third Way” end of it, who would be interested in (or at least not averse to) debt reduction now. I would imagine that most Democrats would be in favor of reducing our medium and long-term outlook on the debt – but only if it does not come at the cost of inhibiting the still-fragile recovery or slashing vitally needed safety net programs.
Five years out from a near-depression from which our economy – most notably employment – has still not recovered fully, debt or deficit reduction in the near term looks to the majority of us on the left like exactly the wrong prescription. That’s why setting up a clever, game theory-derived agreement that would technically work to make sure we achieved a debt reduction target is kind of beside the point. In fact, it is actually counter to the point, if immediate debt reduction is not one of your goals but instead something you think would be actively harmful at this juncture.
When Mr Obama stops speaking as a partisan advocate of ambitious liberal goals, adopts his mature school-principal voice, and demands simply that political players adhere to reasonable norms of democratic governance, Republicans are left with nothing to oppose except the reasonable norms of democratic governance.
[Obama is] making it harder for the Republicans to capitulate by insisting on being the grown-up in the room. They have to move even further right because the only thing these haters can do to feel like they’ve won anything is to oppose the already compromised position the president inhabits and move everything further right. It’s a problem.
You bet it is. I feel as if many of us here in the progressive sphere have been saying this for literally years: that these intransigent hardliners who have for some time controlled the legislative agenda and, aw hell, the very soul of the Republican party (to the extent it still has one), are not going to stop hating anything the Democrats propose. Even when Democrats have proposed policies that were literally thought up in Republican think-tanks (Obamacare) and/or were pushed until very recently by currently-serving Republican legislators, as soon as Democrats (and especially Obama) adopt the policies, Republicans fall all over themselves and each other to be the first to the podium to denounce those policies.
It’s pathological at this point, and it has been for some time. In such a landscape, there’s not only no penalty for appropriating language like the following, there’s actually substantial tangible benefit — not to mention that it’s the only truly sane reply left:
As many observers had predicted, Washington is quickly going from simply a GOP tantrum-generated shutdown (already serious and harmful enough) to a much more serious (though still GOP-driven) potential default on the full faith and credit of the United States.
The GOP, startled that the President and Democrats are not caving to their extortionist demands (at least somewhat understandably, given Democrats’ previous performance in 2011′s similar debt-ceiling fight), and worried that polls are increasingly showing them rightfully taking most of the blame for this unnecessary crisis, have fallen somewhat into disarray. Yet the entrenched rump of mostly southern, mostly white male tea party representatives hailing from districts which have been gerrymandered to be so heavily Republican that the only fear they feel (ever) is a challenge from someone to their right, push on with both the shutdown and continue to stand firm on the notion of an upcoming default.
Only, even the tea partiest of the current crop of GoOPers can’t ignore the fact that most sensible people and virtually every economist says that default will be a terrible, ruinous event. So even if they themselves, the tea partiers, do not believe a word of it (much like they don’t believe those shifty scientists when they speak of global warming or evolution), they know enough about politics to know they have to at least address such widespread concern over a default. And how have they done so? As today’s New York Times details for us, by offering up a novel (though perhaps not-unexpected) theory: that default really wouldn’t be so bad.
No, really. In tea party land, where Jesus rode a dinosaur and global warming is a hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists all acting in concert and complete secrecy, a first-in-history default on government debt is merely Obama attempting to irresponsibly scare the markets. That’s the view of Rand Paul, one of the two leading tea-weasel Senators heading up this “defund Obamacare through shutdown/default threats” attempt.
I thought perhaps Mr. Paul (and Mr. Cruz, or anyone on the GOP side who might still be reachable by reason and/or facts) might like to know what the rest of the world, who aren’t likely to be simply in thrall to Obama, think about the possibility of a US default. I won’t even excerpt it or comment; go read it all. Especially if your last name is Cruz or Lee or Paul. Then, get back to us.
A multi-state Salmonella outbreak is exactly the scenario food safety advocates and lawmakers warned about when the federal government was forced to shutdown last week.
Now that nightmare has come true, though the federal agencies charged with arresting foodborne illnesses are scrambling to make due.
It’s been said (mostly by beltway windbags) that “politics ain’t beanbag.” That’s a tough-sounding phrase meant to invoke the idea that hard choices and hard feelings sometimes go along with the decisions made by our political class.
But such macho bullshit ought to be laid permanently to rest in the face of stories like this one (though I’m under no illusion it will be). Hey, tea party? Speaker Boehner? Politics may not be beanbag, but policy is not some damn childish game. People’s actual lives are being toyed with by your extremely selfish, tin-eared and childish antics and spineless capitulation, respectively. Quit risking Americans’ lives, health and safety because you don’t like the outcome of the last two Presidential elections and a Supreme Court case, and start doing your jobs. You may not have them much longer.
(AKA: Scenes from the messaging war)
So today, one week into the GOP-orchestrated shutdown of the federal government (and fast approaching the debt ceiling fight), a conservative friend on Twitter links me to this bit of old video the Daily Caller dug up:
I haven’t checked, but given from whence this video came to my attention, I’ve no doubt it’s currently rocketing around the conservative blogo- and twitter-spheres with many exclamation points attached to it, offered up as Exhibit A of the fecklessness and hypocrisy of the Democrats, especially that worst-of-all specimen, Harry Reid.
It’s a nice story and, like much that makes for exclamation point-worthy news items in the conservative “news” sphere, at first blush, it even appears to have something to it. However (also like most such conservative-messaging factoids), that initial blush of apparent relevance drastically collapses upon even the most cursory glance.
In this case, you’ll notice that toward the end of the video above, the C-SPAN chyron says it was from the March 2006 debt-limit vote. Specifically, it was House Joint Resolution 47 of 2006 which Reid was discussing. A quick check of govtrack.us, a web site which publishes such data*, reveals that the Senate vote on that debt-limit increase was (much like today’s votes on the debt limit) an almost completely partisan affair. The interesting thing, though, is the alignment of the partisan votes. Listening to the Republican party of today – around half of whom were in the Senate at the time of this vote in 2006 – the worst thing that could possibly happen is more government borrowing and spending. You’ve heard this a million times. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it. So, how did that 2006 vote on the debt limit actually go? Like this:
If anyone’s curious on the details, the outliers are as follows: Arlen Specter (D-Recently Republican) voted for the debt limit increase, while Tom Coburn (R-OK), Conrad “Montgomery” Burns (R-MT), and John Ensign (R-SexyTimeHushMoney) voted against it. Everyone else voted along straight party lines…only it was the GOP who voted, en masse, FOR raising the debt limit.
That’s right: Senators like Mitch McConnell and Jim DeMint voted for raising the nation’s spending limit. That’s not a typo. Those colors in the above graphic haven’t been inadvertently flipped by the casual error of a low-level clerk at govtrack. The Senate GOP, only seven years ago, voted nearly unanimously to raise the debt limit.
Why? Well, it’d be irresponsible not to speculate, so allow me: because a Republican was President. Unfortunately for the GOP, by 2006, the wolves had closed in on the Bush administration and, in eight months, would close in on the Congressional GOP as well. Two wars (both ruinously expensive and at least one completely unnecessary), three rounds of tax cuts during wartime, and various other measures (like the huge, unfunded mandate of Medicare Part D) had combined to drive President Bush’s approval rating to new lows (between 36 and 39 percent the week of this vote, depending on which poll you checked). The memory of the budget surpluses Bill Clinton left to the GOP seemed like only a half-remembered fever-dream by the time of that big-deficit-spending era of 2006.
Now that the Franco-Kenyan neo-Marxist Obamunist dictator whose skin color totally does not matter is in the White House, though? Well, many of these same Republican Senators claim to have always – always, I tell you! – been opposed to the intolerable sin of deficit spending. I guess they must just assume we have no memory of these events – and also no access to google or the rest of the Internet. Much as the Daily Carlson apparently expects no one to check these things, either.
Oh, and as to why Harry Reid would speak against, and virtually all the Democrats would vote against, the debt ceiling hike? Simple: because they were a minority. At the time of that vote, there were 54 Republicans in the Senate and 45 Democrats (also one Independent, Jim Jeffords, who had formerly been a Republican). That means even if every single Democrat had voted against HJ Res 47, they could not have prevented the GOP from raising the debt limit. So that’s what they did (with the exception of Arlen Specter): they cast what amounted to a vote of protest against the misuse of the government by the Bush administration on so many fronts, knowing both that an election was coming in eight months AND that there was no chance the debt limit wouldn’t be raised. Had enough Republicans broken with their caucus to make the possibility of a default-vote in the Senate a real possibility, some very different floor speeches (and Democratic votes) would have taken place.
How do we know this? Because the actions of the Democrats then are not comparable to the actions of the Republicans today. Neither Reid nor any other Democrats were looking aggressively for ways they could actually force a larger majority to default on the full faith and credit of the United States (unless they got their way). Today, that is exactly what the GOP is threatening: do what we want with regard to Obamacare, or we’ll allow default. Not comparable in the slightest.
* ironically, govtrack.us had a top-banner today which read:
During the shutdown the Senate and the Library of Congress are no longer providing timely updates to legislative information. As a result, some information on GovTrack may fall out of date during this time.
The noose is tightening on the TeaOP and especially on the house GOP leadership. They can, of course, continue the theatrics for some time longer (though not indefinitely), but with every passing day and every editorial weigh-in, it’s looking worse and worse for the arsonists in the teahadist wing of the GOP.
To start with, many of the tea party-aligned arsonists currently dead-set on burning down governmental norms as well as the full faith and credit of the United States if they don’t get to alter a duly-passed law haven’t been involved in politics for long. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that they may lack the personal perspective that comes with lengthy familiarity with the forces at work here. Senator Ted Cruz, for instance, appears to have misunderestimated exactly how this shutdown nonsense would play out in the rest of the (non-political-junkie) country. There’s a reason they call the inside-the-beltway press and culture a bubble: because it really does differ from the way the news gets reported in the rest of the country, especially when sweeping issues which materially affect a lot of people are at stake.
There’s no way to tell for certain, of course, but it appears Ted Cruz and many of the freshman tea party Representatives have all been breathing exclusively the same air for so long that they genuinely thought the local media throughout the country would simply repeat beltway GOP spin when the rubber met the road on the shutdown. Instead, what they’re getting are stories like this and this in local press around the country, which more-or-less cover this as a straight story of how local citizens are affected, not as a grand ideological struggle against collectivist moochers blahblahblah… (here’s the two headlines):
Analysis after the jump… Continue reading
I missed this one yesterday amid all the stoopla, but Andrew Sullivan (of all people) had one of the definitive pieces yesterday on what Twitter (and everyone else except GOP legislators in DC) is calling the GOP Shutdown. His piece leads with the full-page headline of the NY Daily News from yesterday (“House of Turds”), but there was much more underneath:
How does one party that has lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court case – as well as two Senate elections - think it has the right to shut down the entire government and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury to get its way on universal healthcare now? I see no quid pro quo even. Just pure blackmail, resting on understandable and predictable public concern whenever a major reform is enacted.
Sullivan then points out what even a few of my usually more-levelheaded conservative friends on Twitter seem to either not see, or are willfully denying: that “this is government or politics as usual. It is an attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States.” Sullivan correctly observes that it is:
…a deliberate attempt to ensure that the American system of government as we have known it cannot work. It cannot, must not work, in the mindset of these radicals, because they simply do not accept the legitimacy of a President and Congress of the opposing party. The GOP does not regard the president as merely wrong – but as illegitimate. Not misguided – illegitimate. This is not about ending Obamacare as such (although that is a preliminary scalp); it is about nullifying this presidency, the way the GOP attempted to nullify the last Democratic presidency by impeachment.
Exactly. And when faced with that sort of arson being done intentionally to the system all of us claim to hold dear (and most of us, inside AND outside the GOP DO hold dear), what is the correct response? Sullivan, uncharacteristically, doesn’t hedge here, either:
The president must therefore hold absolutely firm. This time, there can be no compromise because the GOP isn’t offering any. They’re offering the kind of constitutional surrender that would effectively end any routine operation of the American government. If we cave to their madness, we may unravel our system of government, something one might have thought conservatives would have opposed. Except these people are not conservatives. They’re vandals.
This time, the elephant must go down. And if possible, it must be so wounded it does not get up for a long time to come.
Again, exactly. If Charles Pierce yesterday feared that “the country would have to make a nuanced judgment over who is to blame that, I believe, will be discouraged by the courtier press of the Beltway,” this column by Sullivan can only be an encouraging sign.
To be fair, even though Andrew Sullivan is very well-known and widely-read, he is still considered in most circles to be something of an outsider or iconoclast. He’s not a member of the traditional bedrock-beltway press whose opinion is so critical to framing things of this nature, the sort of press Pierce feared would do their usual lazy “both-sides-do-it” soft-shoe. For that, we have to turn to the most insider-y of all the beltway media, the Washington Post.
During the Fred Hiatt years, the Post has strayed far from its Woodward/Bernstein days, and become a mouthpiece for many conservative or “Third Way” ideas like cutting Social Security, etc. They’ve also become exactly the sort of reliable voice for “both-sides-do-it,” false-equivalency journalism that Pierce was afraid of. So what were the Post’s editorial pages looking like yesterday? This:
AMERICANS’ RESPECT for their Congress has, sad to say, diminished in recent years. But citizens still expect a minimal level of competence and responsibility: Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world.
By those minimal standards, this Congress is failing. More specifically, the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are failing. They should fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will.
We don’t come to that view as rabid partisans.
Ouch. That can’t have been well-received in Majority Leader Cantor’s or Speaker Boehner’s offices (to say nothing of the teahadists who’re the real power behind this harmful farce). Maybe – just maybe, as I said yesterday – Pierce will be wrong in his world-weary and very experienced prediction, and my hope (that the country will finally start to unanimously reject Republican extremism) – will actually come to pass. Keep your fingers crossed. I’ll end with the same call to duty the Post used in their last paragraph:
Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and their colleagues may be in a difficult political position. Honestly, we don’t much care. They need to reopen the government and let it pay its bills.