Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On The Issues, Revisited

Paul Krugman discussed how the Republicans won in the midterm elections despite being wrong about pretty much everything. Kurt Eichenwald has more in Vanity Fair looking at many of the things conservatives were wrong about over  the past thirty years. Although the list is far from complete, I’d suggest checking out the full article for the specifics. Topics covered include:

  • Tax cuts pay for themselves
  • Deregulating the Thrift Industry Will Save It
  • Iraq I: The Tilt
  • Giving Iranian Moderates Weapons Will Help America
  • Raising Taxes Will Cause a Recession
  • Abolishing Some Bank Regulations Will Help the Economy
  • The U.S.–led Bombing of Yugoslavia Would Be a Disaster
  • Bin Laden Was a Front for Iraq
  • Iraq 2: W.M.D.s and a Short, Inexpensive War
  • Obamacare

Many people have given different ideas regarding the other part of the question as to how the Republicans won. Fivethirtyeight.com looked at one issue  from polling data in Iowa. They found that, “White voters in Iowa without a college degree have shifted away from the Democratic Party.”

Loss of white working class votes has been a problem for Democrats for several election cycles, and was most pronounced in the 2012 elections. It will be interesting to see if there is any reduction in this trend when Barack Obama is no longer on the ticket. This is certainly not exclusively an issue based upon a black president. The Republicans have depended upon the southern strategy since the 1960’s, using this in the south along with provoking racial fears to gain the votes of less educated white voters in the north.

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Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On All The Issues

Paul Krugman points out that the Republicans, despite winning the midterm elections on Tuesday, were wrong on everything:

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

He then went on to look at why they won, expressing views similar to what I had written about the election earlier in the week:

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

This was their strategy, literally beginning on Day 1, if not earlier. A Frontline documentary described what the Republicans planned:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

Of course we cannot just criticize the Republicans. The Democrats were at fault when six years later they still had no effective response to this Republican strategy, and were afraid to stand up for their accomplishments. Being right doesn’t do any good politically if they were afraid to explain this to the voters. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t come out to vote for them. As Peter Beinhart wrote, the Democrats cannot keep playing not to lose:

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

…We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

By positioning himself as a moderate, he may have missed a chance to gin up more enthusiasm within the state’s expanding Democratic base, earning fewer votes in such deep-blue communities as Arlington County and Alexandria than left-of-Warner Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) did a year ago.

All of it has left some to wonder whether Warner would have won bigger if he had eschewed the middle and embraced the left, and whether the winning path for moderates that Warner forged during his own bid for governor 13 years ago is becoming extinct.

“I think if you look at the returns around the country . . . it raises questions about just how successful the bipartisanship brand really is,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Tuesday after easily winning a fourth term in Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District by talking about women’s rights, immigration reform and climate change — and less about working with Republicans.

Here’s a similar take on what the Democrats did wrong: “They were so focused on independents that they forgot they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.”

That opinion came from Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also said Democrats “sidelined their best messenger” by running away from Obama, and for not talking about the economy. Republicans might be wrong virtually all the time lately when it comes to governing, but quite often they are smarter than Democrats with regards to politics.

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The Highly Successful Presidency Of Barack Obama

Paul Krugman has been defending Barack Obama much more recently, such as in a recent article in Rolling Stone and on ABC’s This Week. Krugman’s views on Obama have evolved over the years. I think that early on he was critical of Obama based upon disagreements on policy matters. Two things have altered how he discusses Obama. First there are all the off the wall attacks on Obama from both the right and many mainstream commentators. Secondly, he is doing a better job of separating differences of opinion with a more centrist president from outright condemnation where he disagrees. This includes both recognition of Obama’s actual accomplishments and realization that wherever he disagrees with Obama, the Republicans would be far, far worse.

In Rolling Stone, Krugman looked at the various types of attacks on Obama:

All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

From there, Krugman looked at Obama’s achievements on health care, financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security, and social change. As Obama has so many favorable accomplishments, I would suggest seeing the original article rather than trying to list them all here. He then concluded:

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

Andrew Sullivan cited Krugman’s article and added:

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

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Fox Shocked That Obama Would Point Out Their Misinformation On Affordable Care Act

Obama is pushing back against the misinformation spread by Fox about the Affordable Care Act in a speech at Northwestern:

There’s a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on deficits — because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace, and they’re now manageable. There’s a reason fewer Republicans are running against Obamacare – because while good, affordable health care might seem like a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on Fox News, it’s working pretty well in the real world.

He repeated the criticism of Fox on Twitter:

Fox was stunned, with Gretchen Carlson asking reported Ed Henry, “My question to you, Mr. Henry, is why would he do this?”

Most likely they will continue to report the same misinformation about both the deficit and Obamacare, with their viewers remaining out of touch with reality. While a futile gesture, it is good to see Obama respond to all the misinformation spread by Fox.  Fox is certainly not going to admit that it was George Bush and the Republicans who were to blame for running up the deficit, or how much it has fallen under Obama’s far more conservative spending. Nor are they going to talk about how many more people are now covered under Obamacare, and how all the right wing predictions of doom have failed to come true.

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Republicans Losing The Culture War, Helping Democratic Candidates

In past elections, Republicans have turned to social issues to get their supporters out to vote. This year some Democratic candidates are doing the reverse–using social issues in the hopes of getting more women to turn out to vote. The New York Times discussed this in an editorial:

The decision to go on the offensive is in part designed to incite the anger of women and draw support in the November elections, particularly that of single women, who tend to vote in small numbers in midterms. But it is also a reflection of the growing obsolescence of traditional Republican wedge issues in state after state. For a younger generation of voters, the old right-wing nostrums about the “sanctity of life” and the “sanctity of marriage” have lost their power, revealed as intrusions on human freedom. Democrats “did win the culture war,” Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, admitted to The New York Times recently.

That’s not necessarily true in the most conservative states. In Louisiana and Arkansas this year, two endangered Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, have not been as outspoken in attacking their opponents’ anti-abortion positions. But even there, Republicans have not campaigned against same-sex marriage.

One of the most telling signs of the cultural change is the number of Republicans who are bucking conservative activists and trying to soft-pedal or even retreat from their ideology. Mr. Gardner now says he opposes a similar bill on the ballot this year in Colorado. It apparently came as a surprise to him that the bill would effectively ban certain kinds of birth control, which he says is the reason for his switch. Several other Republican candidates are trumpeting their support for over-the-counter birth control pills, though they remain opposed to the insurance coverage of contraception required by the Affordable Care Act.

Of course it must be kept in mind that the Republicans who support making birth control pills available over-the-counter might not be doing this out of an increased sense of tolerance. As I recently discussed, making them over-the-counter could mean that they wouldn’t be covered by insurance, and wind up reducing access.

The editorial concludes, “The shift in public opinion might not be enough for Democrats to keep the Senate this year. But over time, it may help spell an end to the politics of cultural division.”

Yes, due to fundamentals involving this year’s election, the Republicans should do better than the Democrats. Polling does show that the Republicans have an excellent chance for taking control of the Senate this year unless Democrats manage to win in some of the races which are currently leaning Republican, but it could be a dead cat bounce for the Republicans. Voters are now far more likely to oppose Republican attempts to increase government intrusion in the private lives of individuals, and less likely to fall for phoney Republican claims of supporting smaller government and greater freedom. This should result in either the Republicans making major changes in their agenda or, more likely, significant Republican loses in 2016 when the fundamentals will again favor the Democrats.

In addition, as more voters support liberal attitudes on social issues, they are more likely to have a favorable view of other liberal ideas. If they already realize that the Republicans are selling a false line about limited government when it comes to social issues, they are more likely to be open to facts about how Republicans, rather than supporting economic freedom as they claim, are actually pursuing an agenda of using government to transfer wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. Once voters figure this out, there might be little support left for the authoritarian right.

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Why The Economy Does Better Under Democratic Than Under Republican Presidents

Economy Democrats v Republicans

We’ve known for a long time that if you want to live like a Republican you should vote  Democratic. The economy has consistently been stronger under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. Even under Obama, despite all the Republican efforts to block recovery, we have seen record increases in corporate profits and the stock market, which should make Republican love him if they ever turn off Fox and look at the real world. While Republicans talk about Democrats supporting big government (despite the biggest increases in the size of government in recent years coming under Republicans), private sector employment also grows more under Democratic presidents.

Jared Bernstein looked at a “new paper by the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson that rigorously examines how the economy has performed under presidents since the 1940s.” The answer was clear that the economy grows faster under Democratic presidents than Republicans:

The American economy has grown faster — and scored higher on many other macroeconomic metrics — when the president of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican.

The two looked at key macroeconomic variables averaged over 64 years (16 four-year terms), from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Mr. Blinder and Mr. Watson focus mostly on the 1.8 percent annual difference in real G.D.P. growth. That is, over the full study, real G.D.P. growth averaged 3.33 percent per year. But under Democratic presidents the economy grew 4.35 percent and under Republicans 2.54 percent.

Under Democratic presidents, the economy also spent fewer quarters in recession; added more jobs and more hours worked; and posted larger declines in unemployment and higher corporate profits than under their Republican counterparts. Stock market returns were a lot higher under Democrats as well, but because equity markets are so volatile, that difference is not statistically significant. (By the way, since March 2009, the S.&P. stock index is up 160 percent).

They considered possible reasons.  The difference could not be explained by Democrats inheriting better economies or by deficit spending:

Democrat presidents don’t inherit better economies — to the contrary, they inherit worse ones, at least by the measure of G.D.P. growth. Control of Congress or the Federal Reserve fails to explain the gap. Same for budget and tax policy. That is, it’s not that Democrats juice the economy with deficit spending; the cyclically adjusted budget deficit is actually smaller under the Democrats.

Some of the differences may be due to factors which cannot be explained, possibly even better luck. However Bernstein did point out a couple factors which do contribute to these differences:

The fact that bad fiscal policy — sharp deficit reduction when the economy was still weak — has hurt the current recovery is knowable and important. Though here, too, there’s ambiguity: The recent austerity is mostly the work of Republicans, but the president has also at times bought into it.

Finally it is glaringly obvious that complex, advanced economies need well-functioning federal governments that can accurately diagnose and prescribe; they need governments that can absorb factual information and respond to threats and opportunities. These requirements hold regardless of the president’s party, and the fact that we do not currently have such a federal government is without doubt what’s most important and most scary.

There is another aspect of Republican economic policy which is also harming the economy long term, but the effects don’t vary with the party in office as shorter term indicators do–the increased concentration of wealth by the top one percent. Monica Potts refers to trickle-down economics as The Big, Long, 30-Year Conservative Lie. She has support in this argument from sources which are hardly left wing:

Conservatives have dominated discussions of poverty for a generation with arguments like this one. It’s completely wrong. It’s more than that—it’s just a lie, concocted as cover for policies that overwhelmingly favored the rich. But it took the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression for many economists, liberal or not, to finally say publicly what many had long argued: Inequality is bad for the economy.

The latest to say so is the rating agency Standard and Poor’s, not exactly a bastion of lefty propaganda. An S&P report released August 5 says that rising inequality—gaps in both income and wealth—between the very rich and the rest of us is hurting economic growth. The agency downgraded its forecast for the economy in the coming years because of the record level of inequality and the lack of policy changes to correct for it. The report’s authors argue against the notion that caring about equality necessarily involves a trade-off with “efficiency”—that is, a well-functioning economy.

To be sure, they’re not making a case for a massive government intervention to help low-income Americans. They discuss the benefits of current policy proposals—like raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour—with the caveats that such changes could have potential negative consequences—like dampening job growth. (Most economists agree that such a small hike wouldn’t have that impact.)

At its core, though, the S&P report does argue that pulling people out of poverty and closing the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent will increase economic growth. The authors argue for some redistributive policies, like increased financial aid for post-secondary education. “The challenge now is to find a path toward more sustainable growth, an essential part of which, in our view, is pulling more Americans out of poverty and bolstering the purchasing power of the middle class,” the authors write. “A rising tide lifts all boats…but a lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing.”

Despite their rhetoric, Republicans are no more the party of a strong market economy than they are the party of small government or individual liberty.

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Obama Runs Against The Haters In The Do-Nothing Congress

Republicans have the edge going into the midterm elections considering the traditional disadvantages of a president’s party in the sixth year, but considering the negatives faced by the Republicans there is still a question of whether campaigning against them will improve the outcome for Democrats. Obama spoke out against them today (video above). He criticized Congressional Republicans for their inaction in solving current problems, pointing out the economic gains despite their obstructionism:

“They have not been that helpful,” Obama told a crowd in a local theater. “They have not been as constructive as I would have hoped and these actions come with a cost.”

The House is set to vote later on Wednesday on legislation authorizing a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions, particularly to delay ObamaCare’s employer health insurance mandate.

Obama highlighted the administration’s successes in boosting the economy, saying that his administration caused the bounce-back reflected in statistics released Wednesday that showed 4 percent growth in the second quarter.

He noted that the 6.1 percent unemployment rate is the lowest since September of 2008. But he blamed Republicans for preventing him for doing more for every day Americans.

“We could do so much more if Congress would come on and help out a little bit,” he added. “Stop being mad all the time. Stop. Stop just hating all the time. C’mon … I know they’re not happy that I’m president but that’s okay. I got a couple of years left. C’mon … then you can be mad at the next president.”

The president slapped the GOP for the lawsuit. “Instead of suing me for doing my job, I want Congress to do its job.”

Obama criticized the Republican lawsuit as a stunt and did not mention impeachment. John Boehner has been using the lawsuit as a means to appease many Republicans who have called for impeachment, with impeachment talk backfiring against Republicans and helping Democratic fund raising

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the party had raised $7.6 million online since Boehner announced the suit in June, including $1 million collected Monday alone after incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), during a network television interview, repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of impeachment.

I heard that interview with Steve Scalise on Fox News Sunday and found him to be very evasive on what should have been home turf for him. Republicans like Scalise like to have it both ways. They claim that the impeachment talk is coming from Democrats for fund raising purposes but many refuse to rule out the possibility in order to keep the Republican base happy. One Republican was honest enough to say that the lawsuit was just for show, but then went on to show what many Republicans really have in mind

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told The Hill that the lawsuit, spearheaded by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), is “theater, is a show.”

Jones, who will vote no on the legislation that is scheduled to hit the House floor on Thursday, said he prefers impeaching Obama.“Why not impeach instead of wasting $1 million to $2 million of the taxpayers’ money? … If you’re serious about this, use what the founders of the Constitution gave us,” Jones said.

Democrats have been raising campaign donations on the prospects of impeachment. GOP leaders have stressed repeatedly they are not going to impeach Obama.

Boehner on Tuesday said that the notion that Republicans would impeach Obama is a “scam” drummed up by Democrats to boost their campaign coffers.

Other Republicans who have expressed support for impeachment include Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Steve Stockman (Texas) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.).

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Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

While the country has become more liberal in some ways, the Republican Party has moved to the extreme right, and the Democratic Party has filled in the vacuum in the middle by also moving to the right on many issues. As a consequence, many people who previously considered themselves in the middle are finding that the current views of the left are closer to their views. Thomas Ricks, who wrote Fiasco, and excellent look at the Iraq War, described why he moved to the left at Politico:

Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century. In fact, until our recent wars, the American military had a proud heritage of handling its prisoners better than most. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington reminded his men of the need to “Treat [captives] with humanity, and Let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army.”

How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. In September 2007, I remember, American officers, who by then understood the need to treat Iraqi civilians well, were outraged when Blackwater employees shot 37 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square—the rough equivalent of opening up on the lunch crowd in Dupont Circle. Yet to my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.

Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting. I remain wary of Edward Snowden’s motivations and connections, yet still am worried by the intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency he has unveiled. At the very least, in a democracy, we should be able to be informed about the actions that have eroded our privacy but supposedly were taken in our name.

Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.

This led to a lengthy discussion at The Moderate Voice, where I also blog. Many of the bloggers and regular commentators there are in a similar position, thinking of themselves as moderates but finding their views are now more in line with the left, especially on social issues. While Ricks didn’t mention social issues, the desire to keep government out of the private lives of individuals has led many people to abandon the Republicans and the conservative movement.

Opposition to the Iraq War and related issues has generally been the defining issue for the formation of the liberal “netroots” and this dominates Ricks’ reasons. Republicans typically use fear and distort Democratic views, such as with the misquotation of Obama as the theme of the last Republican convention, to falsely paint liberals as being for socialism. There are no such economic views listed by Ricks, and the same is typical of many liberals. There is a far greater variation in views on the left than on the right, but the center of gravity has moved rightwards on economic issues. Liberals tend to be  more pragmatists and closer to Eisenhower Republicans than anything close to socialist (by its classic meaning).

If the word conservative really meant anything, in many ways today’s liberals are the conservatives who want to preserve our market economy, while eliminating its abuses, while Republicans are the radicals who want to destroy the system and make our economy more like a banana republic. It is the Republicans who are irresponsible fiscally, financing their policies on credit (while Democrats are more likely to include financing for their policies), caring more about tax cuts for the rich as opposed to cutting the deficit, and rigging the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich. Besides the ethical problems with this, destroying the middle class is horrible for the economy, and in the long run doesn’t even benefit the rich either, unless you want to live in a banana republic. On top of this we have the Republicans engaging in irresponsible action such as shutting down the government and making an issue out of increasing the debt ceiling, resulting in a lowering of the country’s credit rating.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of how both parties have moved to the right on health care. Obamacare is quite close to Richard Nixon’s health care plan, the GOP counter-proposal to HillaryCare in the 90′s, and Mitt Romney’s plan. Republicans used to push for mandates, exchanges, and recommended high deductible plans tied to medical savings accounts. Once Obama pushed for all of this, as opposed to previous more liberal health care proposals, the Republicans suddenly claimed that everything they supported in the past is socialism and amounts to a government takeover of health care. (Of course part of the Republican opposition is because Obamacare does differ from the old Republican proposals in including regulations to keep insurance companies from ripping off consumers while pushing to increase use of private insurance companies.)

Conservatives are likely to misinterpret the inclusion of concerns about income inequality by Ricks, as well as myself  in this post, as indicating support for socialism. Concern about the deleterious effects of  the concentration of wealth to our economy is not an exclusively liberal viewpoint–see the works of Kevin Phillips on this. Nor does this mean that socialism is being advocated as the solution.

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed on income inequality which is worth reviewing:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.

Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.

Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.

Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”

Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.

Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”

For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.

Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That

Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.

The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.

Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.

We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Update: Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

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What’s The Matter With Thomas Frank?

Obama Green Lantern

Thomas Frank has fallen for the Green Lantern view of the presidency, thinking that the president has the power to do anything he wishes. His criticism of Obama:

Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?

Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn’t do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn’t reason with them—their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls—they’d gerrymandered so many states that they couldn’t be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

But bipartisanship as an ideal must also be kept sacred, of course. And so, after visitors to the Obama Library have passed through the Gallery of Drones and the Big Data Command Center, they will be ushered into a maze-like exhibit designed to represent the president’s long, lonely, and ultimately fruitless search for consensus. The Labyrinth of the Grand Bargain, it might be called, and it will teach how the president bravely put the fundamental achievements of his party—Social Security and Medicare—on the bargaining table in exchange for higher taxes and a smaller deficit. This will be described not as a sellout of liberal principle but as a sacred quest for the Holy Grail of Washington: a bipartisan coming-together on “entitlement reform,” which every responsible D.C. professional knows to be the correct way forward.

Frank both ignores the real obstacles which Obama faced and is not very accurate in describing Obama’s record. He forgets that the there was a very good reason that Obama never had a chance to reason with the Republicans–they decided right off the bat that they would oppose anything Obama supported for political reasons. Frank might check out the work of  centrists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann on how Republicans are responsible for the current gridlock along with  this Frontline documentary:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

There were clear institutional limits on Obama in a system where forty Senators could block the majority on anything. The Democrats had sixty votes for a very brief time due to the delays in swearing in Al Franken and later Ted Kennedy’s death.  Even when Obama technically had sixty Senators voting with the Democrats, this included Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who would never go for the type of leftist agenda Frank favored.

Obama chose to use his limited political political capital to concentrate on health care reform, passing a comprehensive health reform package after previous presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton were unsuccessful. Ted Kennedy once expressed regret at working with Richard Nixon and instead insisting upon a single-payer system at the time. Similarly Hillary Clinton convinced Bill to threaten to veto anything other than her plan, rejecting a Republican proposal which was very similar to the Affordable Care Act. It would be far better to accept what can be passed and then work to improve it over time.

Sure the Affordable Care Act is a confusing jumble, but that is because it built upon our current system. It would have been better if the system was even more complex and perhaps confusing, including either the public option or Medicare buy-in. Neither could pass because both Lieberman and Nelson opposed them. Obama certainly could have never received sixty votes for a single-payer plan, breaking up the banks, or a bigger stimulus.

Beyond Congress, Obama was limited by conservative media bias on economic matters. Obviously Fox was out there spreading lies and attacking anything Obama wanted to do, but the problems weren’t limited to Fox and its viewers. Most of the media is owned by the wealthy, and much of the news, especially on television, is reported by wealthy television stars. They might not share the Republican views on social issues or their opposition to science and reason (leading to the conservative view of  a liberal media) but many of them are quite conservative on economic issues. They were biased towards tax cuts and cutting spending. Media reports on the economy typically stressed the size of the deficit and included the assumption that a reduction in government spending was necessary. Few pointed out the degree to which Republican spending and tax cuts in the Bush years contributed far more to the deficit than Obama’s stimulus spending. The atmosphere was hardly conducive to pushing an even bigger stimulus, regardless of how much more this would have helped the economy recover. He also ignores the degree to which Obama’s stimulus did help bring about economic recovery.

Just as Frank ignores the benefits of Obama’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus, he exaggerates what Obama did not do. No, Obama did not destroy Social Security and Medicare. It is the other party which has been seeking to do that. Offering  Chained CPI in exchange for a grand bargain on the deficit might never have been a good idea, but we can’t blame Obama for making a bad deal when such a deal was never made and we don’t know what he would have held out for before making such an agreement.

Obama’s record has much in it to displease the far left. It is doubtful that any other president would have achieved more than he actually did.

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Sarah Palin Adds New Litmus Test To Far Right Wing GOP Agenda: Impeaching Obama

sarah palin

There were times when Republicans were divided by real ideological differences, such as the Goldwater versus Rockefeller wings of the party. Since then nearly the entire Republican Party has moved so far to the extreme right that not only would Rockefeller be too liberal but so would Barry Goldwater with his strong opposition to the religious right. In the 1960’s conservative leaders such as William F. Buckley, Jr. worked to keep extremists such as the Birchers out of the GOP. Now their modern day equivalents in the Tea Party set the agenda for the party, with internal party debates limited to matters of how far to go in their tactics.

Dana Milbank described the current position of the Republican Party:

Imperial Japan taught its soldiers that death was preferable to surrender. The tea party’s code is similar: Stand firm, regardless of the odds of success or the consequences of failure. I’ve argued before that the struggle between the Republican establishment and the tea party is no longer about ideology — establishment figures have mostly co-opted tea party views — but about temperament.

It has become the amiable vs. the angry, the civil vs. the uncivil, a conservatism of the head vs. a conservatism of the spleen. The division now is between those who would govern and those who would sooner burn the whole place to the ground…

In past years Ronald Reagan would not hesitate to raise the debt ceiling to cover the nation’s debts. Now the Republican establishment fights with the Tea Party over whether to shut down the government over this.

Sarah Palin has now established a new litmus test for the establishment versus bat-shit crazy Republicans–impeachment of Barack Obama over immigration:

Without borders, there is no nation. Obama knows this. Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate. This is his fundamental transformation of America. It’s the only promise he has kept. Discrediting the price paid for America’s exceptionalism over our history, he’s given false hope and taxpayer’s change to millions of foreign nationals who want to sneak into our country illegally. Because of Obama’s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in, competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services. There is no end in sight as our president prioritizes parties over doing the job he was hired by voters to do. Securing our borders is obviously fundamental here; it goes without saying that it is his job

President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution’s role in protecting our rights.

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

This could cause new dilemmas for Republicans who fear primary challenges from the right but hope to avoid looking too extreme in a general election. Aaron Blake outlined the choices Republicans now have:

If a significant pro-impeachment portion of the conservative base does materialize — and that’s a big “if” — it will put Republican lawmakers in the unenviable position of responding to questions about whether they, too, agree with the idea of impeachment.

From there, there are three options:

1) Oppose impeachment and risk making yourself a target in the 2016 primary
2) Try to offer a non-response that doesn’t really support or oppose impeachment
3) Support impeachment and, while likely saving your own hide from becoming a target, exacerbate the problem with the larger Republican Party.

So just why is the whole impeachment talk bad for the GOP?

Well, as we’ve said before, it throws a sizable and unpredictable variable into what was already shaping up to be a good election year for Republicans. That same could be said for the Benghazi investigation (though that effort appears to have the support of the American people). The name of the game for the GOP right now is maintaining their edge and trying to win back the Senate. Everything else is noise.

Secondly, it lends credence to Democrats’ argument that Republicans are controlled by the extreme wing of their party. And to the extent that Democrats can make the 2014 election a referendum on the GOP’s conduct in Congress (see: government shutdown), it’s to their benefit.

Lastly, impeachment is a very difficult issue to press. Even in the late 1990s, when an American president had an affair in the White House and then lied about it, support for impeachment was still well shy of a majority — as low as 30 percent.

John Boehner has been caught in the middle of the disputes between the establishment and the Tea Party. If he was really in control he seems like the type who might be willing to compromise with Obama, as Tip O’Neil compromised with Ronald Reagan, and then get back out on the golf course. He has come out against impeachment, realizing what a disaster proceeding with impeachment would be for the Republicans. Once again, this is purely a difference in opinion regarding tactics, with Boehner preferring his frivolous lawsuit against Obama. Paul Begala had this to say about the lawsuit:

As political stunts go, Boehner’s is too transparent for my tastes. And I say this as a guy who has perpetrated some serious stunt work in my political career.
Boehner’s not a bad guy. One gets the sense he’d rather be sharing Marlboros and merlot with Obama than taking him to court. But he is a SINO: Speaker in Name Only. The tea party is driving the GOP train these days, which explains the frequent train wrecks. So, perhaps to appease the tea party bosses, Boehner has decided to sue the President.

But appeasement never works. Highly influential conservative blogger and pundit Erick Erickson calls the Boehner lawsuit “taxpayer-funded political theater” and notes that some of Boehner’s complaints about Obama are political, not legal or constitutional.

Then there’s the small problem of hypocrisy. As the progressive group Americans United for Change notes in this clever ad, Boehner has long opposed citizens’ rights to sue corporations over, say, defective products or gender discrimination in the workplace. He rails against “frivolous lawsuits” — until he decides to file one.

A second way Boehner is being hypocritical is his support for robust executive authority when George W. Bush was exercising it. Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama, going so far as to use his executive authority to authorize waterboarding, which Sen. John McCain flatly describes as torture and a “violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

So, to be clear: Dubya uses his executive authority more often — including to turn Americans into torturers — and Boehner goes along. But Obama uses his executive authority to give businesses more flexibility in complying with Obamacare or to extend family leave to gay couples, and Boehner literally wants to make a federal case of it.

There is no longer any principle behind the actions of Republicans. They supported Bush and Cheney while they  lied the country into a disastrous war, crashed the economy in order to transfer more wealth from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy, and ignored the Constitution with theories such as the Unitary Executive which would give virtually unlimited power to the President and/or Vice President. Now Republicans are united on an extremist, far right wing platform while they fight over matters such as whether to shut down the government or to impeach versus sue the president with no real justification for either.

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