Quote of the Week by former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:
I don't normally read Maureen [Dowd]
because it's sort of largely the same column for the last eight years."
The Daily Strategist
If you have noticed a growing disconnect between the loudly trumpeted priorities of Republican political leaders and the reality-based community, you are in pretty good company. Charlie Cook's National Journal post, "Republicans' Hatred of Obama Blinds Them to Public Disinterest in Scandals" explains it well:
Red-faced Republicans, circling and preparing to pounce on a second-term Democratic president they loathe, do not respect, and certainly do not fear. Sound familiar? Perhaps reminiscent of Bill Clinton's second term, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke? During that time, Republicans became so consumed by their hatred of Clinton and their conviction that this event would bring him down that they convinced themselves the rest of the country was just as outraged by his behavior as they were. By the way, what was Clinton's lowest Gallup job-approval rating in his second term, throughout the travails of investigations and impeachment? It was 53 percent. The conservative echo machine had worked itself into such a frenzy, the GOP didn't realize that the outrage was largely confined to the ranks of those who never voted for Clinton anyway.
These days, the country is even more polarized, and the conservative echo chamber is louder than ever before....Although the Republican sharks are circling, at least so far, there isn't a trace of blood in the water. A new CNN/ORC survey of 923 Americans this past Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, pegged Obama's job-approval rating at 53 percent, up a statistically insignificant 2 points since their last poll, April 5-7, which was taken before the Benghazi, IRS, and AP-wiretap stories came to dominate the news and congressional hearing rooms...
In Gallup's tracking poll, Obama's average job-approval rating so far this year is 50 percent. For this past week, May 13-19, his average was 49 percent, the same as the week before. The most recent three-day moving average, through Sunday, May 19, was also 49 percent. Over the past two weeks, even as these three stories/scandals have dominated the news, they have had precisely zero effect on the president's job-approval numbers. His ratings are still bouncing around in the same narrow range they have been for weeks.
Cook acknowledges that "things could change" and the public might care more about the scandals later on. However, Cook notes that economists expect the economy to perk up at least a little in the second half of this year. Regarding the GOP's scandal-mongering, Cook observes:
One wonders how long Republicans are going to bark up this tree, perhaps the wrong tree, while they ignore their own party's problems, which were shown to be profound in the most recent elections. Clearly none of these recent issues has had a real impact on voters yet. Republicans seem to be betting everything on them, just as they did in 1998--about which even Newt Gingrich (who was House speaker that year) commented recently to NPR, "I think we overreached in '98."...Republicans and conservatives who are so consumed by these "scandals" should ask themselves why, despite wall-to-wall media attention and the constant focus inside the Beltway--some are even talking about grounds for impeachment--Obama's job-approval needle hasn't moved.
It's a good question. But don't expect a coherent answer from leaders of a political party that prefers pandering to hatred and wallowing in self-delusion to addressing the economic priorities of middle-class Americans with credible reforms.
In a new piece titled provocatively titled, "Obama the Uniter? Not Really", the Washington Post's resident dispensers of inside the beltway common wisdom have once again managed to concede the reality of Republican extremism as the source of political polarization in one sentence and then turn around and lay the responsibility for it on Obama in another.
Just watch how this world Olympic-class "it's not really his fault except it really is" gymnastic logical summersault is performed:
"Obama the Uniter? Not Really",
...there's little question that Republicans in Congress have been driven to the ideological right over the past few years due in large part to a series of primary victories by conservative insurgents over incumbents viewed as insufficiently loyal to party principles.
But, Obama is still the president who pledged -- loudly and repeatedly -- to change how Washington works. That has not happened. The economic stimulus bill and the healthcare law passed on party line votes in his first term. The gun bill failed on party lines in his second term. And, with a series of scandals and investigations now mounting, it seems more likely that partisanship will grow rather than shrink in the coming months...
None of that is Obama's fault and there is nothing -- or virtually nothing -- he can do to change it. But, add it all up and you are left with one inescapable conclusion: The president who pledged to change Washington is almost certain to come up short on that promise.
Wow. I sure am glad Cillizza and Sullivan weren't writing in the early 60's. They probably would have evaluated Martin Luther King something like this:
Martin Luther King, Man of Peace? Not Really
...there's little question that segregationists have been driven even further to the ideological right over the past few years due in large part to the growing demands for equality ...But Martin Luther King is still the leader who pledged -- loudly and repeatedly -- to seek civil rights without violence.
That has not happened....A church in Birmingham has been bombed, civil rights workers have been murdered and John Kennedy has been assassinated.
None of that is King's fault and there is nothing -- or virtually nothing -- he can do to change it. But, add it all up and you are left with one inescapable conclusion: The leader who pledged to seek civil rights without violence is almost certain to come up short on that promise.
Does anybody except me think that this is just world class crazy? I sure do hope so.
David Jarman has an insightful post, "The most vulnerable House members in 2014, in two charts" up at Daily Kos. Jarman has developed a "House Vulnerability Index," which "proved to be quite accurate" overall in 2010 and hinted at a couple of upsets that actually occurred. Jarman explains:
How the Index works is by combining the two elements that I discussed in the two prevoius weeks' diaries: The House districts occupied by Republicans that have the most Democratic-friendly presidential results (and vice versa), and the districts where the incumbent members won the narrowest victories the year before. That way, it downplays members who had a close call (probably because they were running in open seats, without the benefit of incumbency) but who are likely to be protected by the blueness or redness of their districts, and it downplays members who are in "crossover" districts but have gotten entrenched and rarely attract top-tier competition. Instead, it casts the spotlight on those House members who fall into "perfect storm" territory of future vulnerability, of being in both difficult districts and having had a difficult election themselves.
Jarman has quite a bit to say about particular House races, and his insights are well worth a read, especially by those who want to more closely monitor the 2014 mid terms. As for vulnerable Republicans, he observes:
You'll notice that, compared with the Democratic table, there aren't a lot of vulnerable freshmen near the top of the list. (With 2012 winds blowing in a fairly Dem-friendly direction, Democrats won most of the close races in swing districts). In fact, once you get outside the top 10 or so, there really isn't that much to see on the list in terms of inviting targets; you start getting into the territory of guys like Scott Rigell and John Kline, who are largely unremarkable and who just perform largely in line with their district's leans ... but who are in districts that are Republican-leaning enough to protect them, absent a wave.
As you make your way down the list, a few names do pop out as outliers, and these are races that will no doubt be competitive. That includes Dem-leaning CA-21, where David Valadao's large victory margin was aided [by] Democrats getting saddled with a poor candidate; with a better Dem candidate, he'll face a tougher race, although in this mostly-Hispanic district, he'll also be helped by extra-large falloff in a non-presidential year. That also includes MN-06, where Michele Bachmann just gives you so much material to work with, so much so that even an R+10 district might not be enough to get her over the top.
Jarman's model doesn't yet provide a metric for predictions, since it's still early in the cycle. "...We'll need more information about how much of a wave is building," he adds "in order to determine how far up the table the waves will splash and how many people get taken down." But in his conclusion, Jarman does venture sort of an 'all other things being equal' guestimate: "As it stands right now, it looks like a rather status quo election, and I'd be surprised to see more than five or ten seats changing hands in either direction."
The wild cards which could improve the 2014 outlook for Dems going forward would be if reports of much-improved Democratic GOTV, technological advantage and significantly better candidates are accurate. But it's not likely we will have a clear fix on that admittedly optimistic scenario until after the votes are counted.
Steve Chapman of Real Clear Politics has the best line yet said about the Republicans likening the current I.R.S. dust-up to the Nixon's Administration's abuse of the agency to harass political adversaries: "...Equating the two is like concluding that babies are like poisonous snakes because some of them have rattles."
For a president who "has just weathered one of the worst weeks of his time in office," in the words of The Fix's Chris Cillizza, Obama's approval ratings are looking pretty decent in this latest CNN poll.
Derek Thompson has it at The Atlantic: "A Simple Graph That Should Silence Austerians and Gold Bugs Forever."
Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight post "New Audit Allegations Show Flawed Statistical Thinking" crunches I.R.S. auditing by income data and shows why Peggy Noonan is wrong to imply that conservatives are more likely to experience I.R.S. abuse.
Sarah Jones's "ABC's Jonathan Karl is an Alumnus of a Conservative Media Training Program" at PoliticusUSA raises questions about the cred of ABC's sr. political correspondent's "now infamous Benghazi email lie."
Sarah Kliff has a must-read Wonkblog post, "When Medicare launched, nobody had any clue whether it would work," which puts all of the current criticism of Obamacare into much-needed perspective. Kliff's post includes images of newspaper articles showing how attitudes toward Medicare evolved.
Michael Lind has an informative primer on "How right-wingers use semantic tricks to kill government" at Salon.com.
"The increase in African American turnout, rather than simple byproducts of the changing demographics of the electorate or Obama's popularity among Black voters, should be attributed to election reform legislation and enforcement over the last twenty years and aggressive targeted outreach by organizations in communities of color. Federal election reforms like the National Voter Registration Act of 1993(NVRA) or so-called "Motor Voter" law and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) as well as similar efforts at the state level reforms like same day registration and early voting, expanded and eased voter registration." So says Michael Jackson in his post, "Increased Voter Turnout in Communities of Color & the Myth of 'The Obama Effect'" at Demos Policy Shop.
Robert Kuttner's HuffPo post, "Needed: A Mass Movement for College Debt Relief," illuminates a strategy that could give Dems added support from young voters.
It appears that we have a new frontrunner in the "most useless opinion survey ever conducted" competition.
Noting that interest in fighting voter suppression seems to have dropped off after the November elections, Abby Rapoport's "Five Voting Fights You'll Care About Come Election Time" at The American Prospect can help get you up to speed on voting reforms in the states, bad and good.
Rapoport's five "voting fights" include: voter i.d.; same-day registration; early voting; online registration and 'partisan wars.' Most readers of TDS probably have an idea about the first three of Rapoport's categories, which have been pretty well-covered here and elsewhere. But do read her post to get current. Regarding online registration, however, actual bipartisan cooperation (gasp) seems to have gained a foothold, Rapoport explains:
...Going into the year, 15 states had approved online registration and Virginia and West Virginia have since joined the ranks. (Not all of those states have implemented systems yet.) New Mexico also passed a law allowing voters to update their voter information online, a significant move towards full online registration. Both liberals and conservatives supported these measures.
Republicans like that the policy saves money and cuts down on errors in the voting rolls. Democrats like how the policy increases access for people who move or need to get signed up for the first time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state policy, there are currently 12 states still considering measures. In Pennsylvania, where the legislators warred over voter ID, the online registration passed unanimously through the Senate. ...
With respect to 'partisan wars,' Rapoport is somewhat encouraged by other efforts to bridge gaps in interstate cooperation regarding interstate data sharing and more cooperation between local and state authorities to help insure voter eligibility. She adds that the difference between Republican and Democratic reforms is largely the difference between measures to shrink or expand the electorate, respectively.
Rapoport does not get into felon disenfranchisement, which is one of the GOP's most powerful means of voter suppression, with an estimated 5+ million, mostly African American citizens rendered ineligible to cast ballots in 2012 (there is a good Sentencing Project fact sheet on state laws here). It's a problem that deserves more coverage in the blogosphere, as well as the MSM.
At Talking Points Memo, Hunter Walker reports on "Ohio Republicans Push Law To Penalize Colleges For Helping Students Vote," which is one of the more blatantly partisan 'reforms' being pushed by Republicans. According to Walker,
Republicans in the Ohio Legislature are pushing a plan that could cost the state's public universities millions of dollars if they provide students with documents to help them register to vote. Backers of the bill describe it as intended to resolve discrepancies between residency requirements for tuition and voter registration, while Democrats and other opponents argue it is a blatant attempt at voter suppression in a crucial swing state.
"What the bill would do is penalize public universities for providing their students with the documents they need to vote," Daniel Tokaji, a professor and election law expert at Ohio State University told TPM. "It's a transparent effort at vote suppression -- about the most blatant and shameful we've seen in this state, which is saying quite a lot."
..."The way that they've written this bill makes it clear that its only purpose is to suppress student voting," he said. "What I'd say to the Republican Party is this is not only a shameful strategy, but it's a stupid strategy because, you know, the Republican Party already has a signifcant problem with young voters. They're on the verge of losing a generation of voters. Their path to victory is not to suppress the student vote, but to win the student vote."
Looking ahead to 2014, midterm political apathy remains a serious problem for Democrats, and a major asset for the Republicans. In addition, Democratic GOTV mobilizers will have to bring their 'A game' to thread through the latest round of election law reforms in the states, good and bad.
It's quite possible, writes Ronald Brownstein at The National Journal, that the Benghazi and I.R.S. 'scandals,' along with the Administration's seizure of journalists' phone records may serve the GOP cause of tying up Washington in investigations. But it's equally likely that any advantage they gain will be overshadowed by the difficulties the Republicans will cause within their own party. Brownstein notes how this happened in the Clinton and other adminstrations and explains further:
...President Obama may not prove to be the only one hurt by the eruption of controversies around the Benghazi attack, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records.
...Examining such questions is a necessary congressional function. But in our polarized era, oversight often becomes a partisan cudgel. And that process, which is already infecting the Benghazi inquiry, could bruise not only Obama but the Republicans driving the investigations as well.
These confrontations' most predictable effect will be to enrage the GOP base, which will strengthen the party factions most dubious about any compromises with Obama. In that way, these storms will likely weaken not only the president but also Republicans who believe the party must reboot to restore its competitiveness for the White House. "The base of the party is going to go ballistic on this, particularly the IRS [issue]," says Tom Davis, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "It makes it harder for [GOP legislators] to go along with Obama on things in general."
...Even before these disclosures, congressional Republicans had dramatically escalated their resistance to Obama's second term. While the House is voting yet again this week to repeal the president's health care law, Senate Republicans have blocked consideration of Obama's nominees for Labor secretary and Environmental Protection Agency administrator. As in Clinton's era, the approaching cycle of investigation, media leak, and hearing-room confrontation over the IRS and Benghazi will deepen a sense of unstinting partisan conflict that will further narrow the space for serious legislative negotiations.
But the polarization is even worse now, owing to Obama derangement syndrome and tea party hubris. Brownstein adds:
Davis, now director of federal affairs at the Deloitte consulting firm, says one critical difference from the Clinton years is that many GOP leaders still consider deals with Obama on immigration and the debt ceiling to be in the party's self-interest. But to the extent Republicans believe scandal is bloodying Obama (and thus Democrats for 2014 and 2016), party leaders will face greater pressure not to buttress him with any policy agreements...
Prospects for any legislative reforms are seriously imperiled, Brownstein believes, and that hurts Obama's legacy prospects. However, concludes Brownstein, "Yet such a breakdown would also endanger the GOP's need to expand its unsustainably narrow electoral coalition. Republicans could find that stoking the flames of scandal may sear not only Obama's hopes but also their own."
The Washington Post has an editorial today that takes a clear stance on the deeply bogus nature of the current GOP attacks on Obama. The title - "Obama a new Nixon? Oh get serious" -- very accurately suggests the tone of the piece.
But, startlingly, directly below this title on the online Post's opinion page is a subtitle that profoundly alters and deeply undercuts its message
The subtitle says "But Obama's misdeeds aren't trivial"
Whoa, Hang on. Stop the clock. Wait a minute. That's a very nasty little allegation. It claims that Obama has actually committed "misdeeds." Misdeeds that "aren't trivial." That's a profoundly serious accusation and one that essentially says that there is indeed some degree of truth to the Republican attacks.
Now if that's what the editorial itself argues then there's nothing wrong with this subtitle. But, in fact, there is actually nothing in the editorial itself that supports this accusation.
Here's how the editorial frames the basic issue:
Nixon, in a series of crimes that collectively came to be known as Watergate, directed from the White House and Justice Department a concerted campaign against those he perceived as political enemies, in the process subverting the FBI, the IRS, other government agencies and the electoral process to his nefarious purposes. Mr. Obama has done nothing of the kind.
The Post editorial writers then review each issue in turn:
(1) "The Benghazi talking points scandal is no scandal whatsoever. ...there was no cover-up of the failure and no conspiracy to deceive the American people about what had happened."
(2) "The broad search of telephone records from the Associated Press in search of a government leaker seems, on all available evidence, to have been a dangerous and unjustified violation of normal Justice Department practice, ...[but] There's no reason to believe that Mr. Obama knew anything about it."
(3) "The IRS targeting conservative opponents of Mr. Obama for special scrutiny is horrifying and inexcusable....But there is so far no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of the practice."
So, OK Washington Post headline writers, please explain exactly where are the "misdeeds" Obama committed - misdeeds that "aren't trivial"
Well, the editorial does indeed say this:
...the president's unwillingness to condemn [the search of telephone records] is sadly consistent with his administration's record of damaging the First Amendment in its ill-advised pursuit of leakers.
O.K. But does that criticism actually merit a subhead that essentially contradicts the main thrust of the editorial and says "Let's be fair, there is indeed some merit to the Republican claims"?
Aside from this, there is only one other direct criticism of the president in the editorial:
For its part, the administration this week has seemed at times arrogant and at others defensive and flat-footed. When the second-term team took shape a few months ago, we worried about the preponderance of staff loyalists over people of independent stature. Mr. Obama's advisers are smart and hardworking, but when you think about his first-term circle -- including Robert M. Gates, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel and Timothy F. Geithner -- it's not clear this time around who might have the standing and the inclination to speak up when the president errs. Every second-term president needs that kind of help, even if he doesn't relish it.
Wow. Is this really all the Washington Post headline writers have to back up their nasty little smear of a subhead? Obama's frequently and openly stated hard-line policy on leaks? The fact that his second-term advisors might possibly not give good advice at some completely undetermined time in the future on some as yet completely undetermined issue? The absolutely damming fact that this week Obama "seemed at times arrogant and at others defensive and flat-footed?"
If the Washington Post's headline writers think that these things are "misdeeds," somebody better get these poor victims of a disastrously inadequate education a dictionary as quickly as possible; they clearly have absolutely no idea what the word "misdeeds" actually means and why it's an extremely vicious, dishonest and explosive accusation to level at Obama in the current highly charged situation.
In fact, as an alternative, I'll give you a real example of a damn "misdeed" - one that really "isn't trivial." It's when the headline writers at one of the most influential newspapers in the country are so appallingly and pathetically timid and unwilling to take a completely uncompromised position that they deliberately undermine the thrust of an major editorial because they are absolutely terrified of being accused of being insufficiently "evenhanded" and not automatically blaming Democrats or Obama equally with the GOP regardless of the actual facts.
Now that's a really serious "misdeed." One that really "isn't trivial." Maybe the Washington Post should start following Obama's example of how to deal with a scandal and start firing some people itself.
The labor movement could use a little good news -- and they get it from Alana Semuel's L.A. Times article "White-collar workers are turning to labor unions."
Greg Sargent argues persuasively that the I.R.S. does not quite "make the broader case against liberal governance that Republicans are trying to weave out of it."
This NYT editorial says GOP's scandal-mongering is all about distracting the public from their obstruction of needed economic reforms.
You're probably sick of the Republican's Benghazi nothing-burger. But if you can read just one mare article about on the topic, make it Chris Gentilviso's HuffPo post, "Republicans Altered Benghazi Emails, CBS News Report Claims."
Sen Ayotte doubles down against background checks, bets on "Blame Bloomberg" strategy to raise dough. 'American Future Fund,' reportedly a Koch Bros. political conduit, ponies up $550K to support her.
At Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball, Geoffrey Skelley probes "How migration does -- or doesn't -- change how a state votes."
Here's an interesting approach to fighting suppression of young voters ---lower the voting age to 17, like they are getting ready to do in Illinois.
Jonathan Bernstein explains "Why Obama's Popularity Still Matters," even though he is a lame duck.
Nate Silver debunks the "second-term curse," noting that "some recent presidents have overcome the supposed curse and actually become more popular on average during their second terms."
For those who long for a tell-it-like-it-really-is president, Ezra Klein's "If Obama went Bulworth, here's what he'd say" is just the tonic.
The following article, by Erica Seifert, is cross-posted from the Carville-Greenberg Memo:
Several months ago, the GOP announced that it would begin a concerted outreach program to groups of voters, including women, who consistently vote for Democrats by large margins. So last week, just in time for Mother's Day, House Republicans offered American mothers the "Working Families Flexibility Act." The more appropriately titled "More Work, Less Pay Act" would essentially eliminate overtime pay, putting working families on a collision course with rising prices at the grocery store and mounting costs of childcare, rent, and education.
That is not an agenda that works for working women. It is little wonder that 60 percent of women say Washington is not addressing the issues that are important to them. As one women in Denver told us a few months ago, "Oftentimes I worked 5 jobs, never saw the kids. They raised themselves. A majority of politicians don't understand."
While Washington politicians focus on solving crises of their own invention and dreaming up new ways to squeeze working people, our research has found that working women are intensely concerned about their own pocketbook economies--concerns that somehow eluded supporters of the "More Work, Less Pay Act."
Our most recent Democracy Corps survey found clear evidence that women want Washington to advance a serious working women's economic agenda. This agenda must address the cost of childcare, invest in education and job training, expand paid maternity and sick leave, and finally put resources toward enforcing pay equity.
If Republicans want to put forward policies that will actually work for working women, it should look more like this:
Jobs. Any working women's agenda must include a plan for good jobs that provide good incomes, employment security, family leave, and health and retirement benefits. Pay equity and raising the minimum wage are necessarily part of this agenda; the Economic Policy Institute estimates that women comprise 56 percent of those who would be directly affected by an increase in the minimum wage. The "good jobs" agenda must also include job training and education to afford women the opportunity to get and keep those good jobs.
Cost of living. The working women's agenda must address the cost of childcare. For middle-class families, the average cost of childcare is high--about 10 percent of monthly income. But for low-income families (a majority of which are headed by women), the average cost of childcare was 50 percent of monthly income in 2010. Addressing the cost of living also means expanding access to affordable healthcare, including preventive care for women.
Retirement security. Retirement security is critical for women because they live longer and because they are less likely to have jobs that provide pension and retirement benefits. Well over half (56 percent) of Medicare recipients are women. Older women are more likely than older men to pay for health care out of pocket and more likely to be low-income. For many of these women, Medicare is a necessity.
Alex Seitz-Wald's "When the IRS targeted liberals" at Salon.com makes a couple of points that help to put the latest dust-up about the IRS targeting political groups in clearer perspective:
While few are defending the Internal Revenue Service for targeting some 300 conservative groups, there are two critical pieces of context missing from the conventional wisdom on the "scandal." First, at least from what we know so far, the groups were not targeted in a political vendetta -- but rather were executing a makeshift enforcement test (an ugly one, mind you) for IRS employees tasked with separating political groups not allowed to claim tax-exempt status, from bona fide social welfare organizations. Employees are given almost zero official guidance on how to do that, so they went after Tea Party groups because those seemed like they might be political. Keep in mind, the commissioner of the IRS at the time was a Bush appointee.
The second is that while this is the first time this kind of thing has become a national scandal, it's not the first time such activity has occurred...."I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what look liked a very selective way," California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC Monday. "I found only one Republican, [North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones], that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush administration. I'm glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern."
The well-known church, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, became a bit of a cause célèbre on the left after the IRS threatened to revoke the church's tax-exempt status over an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. "Jesus [would say], 'Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine,'" rector George Regas said from the dais.
Shouldn't Democrats insist, make that demand, loud, clear and relentlessly, that any probe of I.R.S. political activity also include an investigation of abuses against progressive organizations?
Seitz-Wald adds "And while All Saints came under the gun, conservative churches across the country were helping to mobilize voters for Bush with little oversight." A couple of conservative churches in Ohio were said to have "essentially campaigned for a Republican gubernatorial candidate...and even flew him on one of their planes." And then there is the harassment of the NAACP during he Bush administration:
And it wasn't just churches. In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP, auditing the nation's oldest civil rights group after its chairman criticized President Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. "They are saying if you criticize the president we are going to take your tax exemption away from you," then-chairman Julian Bond said. "It's pretty obvious that the complainant was someone who doesn't believe George Bush should be criticized, and it's obvious of their response that the IRS believes this, too."
In a letter to the IRS, Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel, Pete Stark and John Conyers wrote: "It is obvious that the timing of this IRS examination is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the members of the NAACP, and the communities the organization represents, in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide."
Greenpeace was also targeted by he I.R.S. under Bush, reports Seitz-Wald, at the behest of an organization heavily subsidized by Exxon Mobil Oil Co., which Greenpeace had labeled the "No. 1 climate criminal."
None of this is to argue that there should be no accountability for the latest I.R.S. abuses -- only that any probe and punishments should be scrupulously nonpartisan. Otherwise it's a partisan farce masquerading as concern about ethics.
Below you will find recent items published at this site that we feel have significant continuing value.
This item by J.P. Green was originally published on April 30, 2013.
Tom Raum's AP article "Economic gains may not help Democrats much in 2014" really deserves a subtitle like, say, "Unless of Course They're Really Good." The nut of Raum's argument:
--Presidential claims of responsibility for economic gains rarely win plaudits from voters, yet presidents nearly always get blamed when things get worse.
--The historical odds for midterm gains in Congress by the in-power party are slim at best. Since World War II, the president's party has lost an average of 26 seats in midterm elections and gained seats only twice -- Democrats in 1998 under President Bill Clinton and Republicans in 2002 with George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
--Presidential elections are often referendums on the economy. That applies less often to midterms.
Raum adds that "there has been a feeling of incremental improvement after Obama's first term in office. That's the key word, incremental. Presidents have to make the people believe that things are getting better every month."
Raum concedes the good news Dems are trumpeting: "Right now, surveys and reports show that the recovery is continuing, although more slowly than most, despite continued high unemployment and an environment of modest economic growth and inflation. Home prices are on the rise, manufacturing is slowly improving." He cites an uptick in consumer spending and economic growth statistics. He says economists credit Obama's policies with creating about 3 million jobs, while the Administration claims 6 million jobs added.
But Raum believes sitting presidents have to be very cautious about how much they brag about their economic accomplishments:
Democratic strategists James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Erica Seifert concluded from focus-group sessions with both Democratic and Republican audiences that Obama fares far better in speeches when he highlights economic progress without taking credit.
People "are very much on edge financially ... because they live it every day. Every speech needs to start from a place that understands this is not theoretical or ideological," they wrote in a policy memo. Obama must "thread a very careful needle," they concluded.
Raum also quotes Rutgers political science professor: "Americans would say, 'Well, that's our judgment to make, whether you're doing a good job or not....Facts speak for themselves," Baker said. "If things are good, you don't really need to make any extraordinary claims."
President Obama is certainly smart enough to avoid crossing the line between skilfully defending his record with facts and bragging immodestly. He's got articulate surrogates who can amplify his accomplishments in a way that allows him to preserve his dignity. he also has a good sense of just how much he can get away with in terms of explaining his challenges without sounding like a whiner. We will never hear him echoing his predecessor's mantra in the 2004 debate with Sen Kerry "It's tough...It's hard work"
Most voters are smart enough to know that presidents can have undeserved good luck or bad luck. The 2012 vote suggests that a healthy majority apparently gets it that President Obama inherited an unholy mess from his predecessor, and increasingly, that he has done fairly well, especially considering that the Republican party has zero interest in doing anything that might help the country if it also means helping Obama.
Historical patterns suggest that the Republicans will take control of the Senate and hold their majority of the House. For that to happen, however, a majority of the voters who show up at the polls in 2014 will have to think continued gridlock is a good thing or believe, against all evidence, that their Republican incumbent is capable of bipartisan cooperation for economic recovery.
What Democrats have going for them in 2014 is the growing realization among most informed voters that President Obama needs a substantial congressional majority to get anything done. Most swing voters will figure out that electing more Republicans means even more gridlock. Getting rid of a few Republicans on the other hand, just might enable the President to kick-start the economy. If Democrats do indeed have a qualitative edge in ground game mechanics and candidate recruitment for 2014, an upset just may be in the making.
This staff post was originally published on April 17, 2013.
Ed Kilgore's "The Era of Big Accomplishments Is Over--For Now" at The Washington Monthly provides a much-needed reality check for critics of President Obama: As Kilgore explains:
Look, everybody knows the score: so long as congressional Republicans refuse to work with Democrats on legislation dealing with the major challenges facing the country, there will be no Era of Big Accomplishments for a Democratic president if the GOP has either control of the House or 41 firm votes in the Senate. Right now they have both, and they know it. As the gun issue has shown, big Democratic advantages in public opinion do not significantly inhibit Republican obstructionism. And even on the one big issue where many Republicans feel it is in their long-range interest to bend--immigration--it's (a) not at all clear comprehensive reform legislation can survive conservative opposition, and even if it does (b) it will likely be a less progressive reform than George W. Bush was proposing six years ago.
Since Democratic presidents have a habit of wanting to govern, of course Obama hasn't thrown up his hands or thrown in the towel in the face of this situation. He's laid down second-term markers that reflect what he campaigned for in 2012, and what his supporters expect from him, and has also risked that support by making an offer to congressional Republicans on entitlements that seems designed to further expose their incorrigible obstructionism. He'll also, I'm sure, try some executive gambits (e.g., on greenhouse gas emissions), though it's unclear how many he can actually execute without practical control of Congress.
But we've known for a good while now that the odds of Obama being able to do much of anything other than protect the accomplishments he achieved before 2011 (and even that will be difficult) were low, and probably won't improve a great deal after another midterm election cycle where Republicans have all sorts of advantages.
Inveterate Obama critics from the Right, and those on the Left who expect Obama to deploy magical powers to overcome the entrenched power of the GOP, will mock his record for its limited accomplishments. Lord knows he's made mistakes and isn't perfect. But at this stage, even if Obama combined the public charisma of FDR with the legislative skills of LBJ, it's difficult to see how the road gets any easier. An unlikely House takeover in 2014 combined with a continued Senate majority willing to undertake radical filibuster reform might change everything. But anything less won't change the basic dynamics.
Republicans are going to keep bashing away at the president regardless of what he does. Obama's Democratic critics will continue to fault him for his mistakes, doomed bipartisan overtures and perceived lack of gumption. That's OK. Democrats are supposed to press the president toward more progressive policies at every opportunity. But let's get real about the unprecedented wall of obstruction he faces --- and the only hope for breaking it, which is a major upset in the 2014 midterms.
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This item by James Vega was originally published on April 14, 2013.
Come on, progressives, let's be honest. Of course it's necessary and proper for progressives to criticize Obama's budget compromises as either bad economics or lousy electoral strategy -- or both. Heck, that's the progressive coalition's job and progressives would be derelict in their duty if they didn't firmly oppose the compromise of basic progressive positions and goals.
But there's no reason to resort to armchair psychiatry or to otherwise impugn Obama's motives - saying he's "timid" "gutless" "a DINO (Democrat in name only)" "gullible", "in wall street's pocket", "a corporate tool" "a phony progressive" and all the other personal accusations against him when deep down we all know perfectly well the real reasons why he's doing what he's doing.
Let's face it. Every Democratic president has to walk a very fine line in dealing with the business community and the economic elite of this country. That group is not entirely composed of extreme right wing ideologues like the Koch Brothers (although there is a very disturbingly large group who are). Many are relatively pragmatic individuals who are willing to accept a certain range of progressive policies when the political climate of the country overwhelmingly favors them. The majority of American businessmen are not going to go on a John Galt-style "producers strike" and shut down all their banks, offices and factories to protest a modest tax increase nor will they try to foment a military coup because they don't like Elizabeth Warren.
But on the other hand, any Democratic president absolutely has to maintain a certain working relationship with the business community or face huge obstacles to almost all of his domestic priorities. Had Obama seriously threatened to prosecute substantial sectors of the business and the financial community for their role in the financial crisis when he first took office in 2008, he would not have gotten the stimulus bill, the modest financial regulation bill that he did get or health care reform. There were only a few major business figures who went overboard with hysterical accusations that Obama was out to destroy the entire free enterprise system in 2009, but if he had really come down hard on business and Wall Street that attack would have been picked up and become so widespread in the business world that plenty of Democratic Congress and Senate members would have melted away from supporting Obama's first term agenda like snowflakes in forest fire.
Now, sure, its loads of fun to imagine an alternate reality in which a fiery populist president "takes his case to the people" and develops such titanic, fierce, ferocious and powerful grass roots support that American big business has no option except to meekly accept the president's firmly populist agenda. And yes, we can all cheerfully recite Roosevelt's stirring line "I welcome their hatred" as the great rhetorical model for how a really tough populist Democrat could deal with the business community.
But, come on, let's face it, if intense grass roots support for that kind of muscular populism had really existed in recent years, Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards would have won the Democratic primaries by a landslide in 2008, blowing away the far more centrist Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. In 2004 Howard Dean would have walked away with the Democratic nomination without raising a sweat and in 2000, Ralph Nader would have outpolled Al Gore. Right wing populists like George Wallace and Ross Perot pulled a major slice of the national vote in their campaigns in past decades while no left wing populist in the post-war era has ever even come close. You can't just go around simply assuming and asserting the existence of some huge, sleeping left-wing populist majority that is just waiting to be mobilized as if it were a given fact of American political life when somehow or other it never seems to be able to drag its butt out of bed and go out to vote for firmly populist candidates on election days.
So let's stop with the alternate reality stuff for a moment and try to visualize the strategic situation as Obama has to see it when he looks across the table during a meeting with a group like the Business Roundtable or similar organizations of the economic elite. He starts out knowing that a large segment of American business won't even sit down with him at all - that they are wildly, irrationally and passionately opposed to everything he stands for and are willing to invest huge sums of money to defeat him and every policy he advocates.
So the members of the business and financial elite who are indeed willing to sit across the table from him are the ones he really needs to keep at least reasonably neutral if he doesn't want an absolutely united front of business opposition to everything he does.
Now the business guys at the table are not completely unreasonable. A recent opinion study "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans," by Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright of Northwestern and Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt, indicates that the "1 percenters" -- those with $8 million in net worth - are at least somewhat open to some relatively liberal economic ideas. Most agreed, for example, with improving public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports; scientific research; and aid to education. They also agreed that the Social Security system should ensure a minimum standard of living to all contributors, even if some receive benefits exceeding the value of their contribution and they also agreed that people with high incomes actually should pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than those with low incomes. And they recognized the need for sensible regulations.
But on the other hand, the study also found the following:
When we asked respondents how important they considered each of eleven possible problems facing the United States, budget deficits headed the list. Fully 87 percent of our wealthy respondents said deficits are a "very important" problem facing the country. Only 10 percent said "somewhat important," and a bare 4 percent said "not very important at all." The high priority put on this issue was confirmed by responses to an open-ended question about "the most [emphasis added] important problem facing this country today." One third (32 percent) of all open-ended responses mentioned budget deficits or excessive government spending, far more than mentioned any other issue. Furthermore, at various points in their interviews many respondents spontaneously mentioned "government over-spending." Unmistakably, deficits were a major concern for most of our wealthy respondents.... [In contrast, unemployment and education] were mentioned as the most important problem by only 11 percent, indicating that they ranked a distant second and third to budget deficits.
So it's not just the professional deficit scolds like Pete Peterson or the PR shop called "Fix the Debt" who are pushing the deficit fixation. Nor is it just the columnists and editorial writers at the Washington Post. The belief that dealing with the deficit is the most important national issue is pretty much a consensus opinion of America's wealthy and business elite.
And now here's the funny thing. If you ask progressives, most of them would passionately agree that "the one-percent" -- the economic elite like those in the survey above -- really run the show in America and make the political system dance to their tune. Many progressives will be happy to recite in vast detail how the economic elites in countries like Chile organized the overthrow of democratically elected populist presidents when the latter got the plutocrats really ticked off.
Yet, at the same time, when it comes to evaluating the political strategy and political compromises a Democratic President has to employ in dealing with the economic elite and the business community, the pivotal role and power of the 1% suddenly does not have to be taken into account. It's like suddenly they don't have any power at all.
But in reality Obama is faced with a basic choice: he can tell the sector of the business community that is indeed willing to sit across the table from him that he thinks the whole deficit issue is completely overblown - just like Paul Krugman says it is -- and accept the fact that they will walk away from the table completely unsatisfied with his answer or he can say that he understands their concern and is willing to make compromises if the GOP will meet him halfway.
Continue reading "Come on progressives, Obama's not making budget concessions to the "serious people" because he's gutless or dumb. He's doing it because they're PR flacks for the economic elite that basically runs the country.....Oh, please, don't tell me you didn't know." »