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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Bill Maher Reconsidering Idea Of Voting For Rand Paul Due To His Denial Of Climate Change

Bill Maher has previously said he might consider voting for Rand Paul if he were to run against Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. It is certainly understandable why someone might give this a thought in light of Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy views but this idea breaks down with a closer look at Rand Paul. Maher found that Paul is not as anti-war as he would prefer, but another issue is a real deal-breaker:

Maher said he was most attracted to Paul because of the senator’s general views on foreign policy, though he’s not a fan of his recent support for bombing ISIS.

“He’s great on ending the empire, not getting into any more foreign entanglements — I’m even to the left of him on the bombing (of ISIS); he wants to keep bombing ISIS, I want us to stop bombing altogether,” he said.

While Maher donated $1 million to a super PAC backing President Barack Obama in 2012, he has been less than enthusiastic about a potential Clinton presidency, especially when it comes to her foreign policy.

But Maher told Salon there’s stark daylight between him and Paul on a different issue.

“I had drinks with him about two weeks ago. He’s a nice guy, he’s a smart guy. My big problem is I asked him about the environment, which is my big issue,” Maher said. “He had made a comment that was very similar to what Dick Cheney said about a month or two ago, which was basically, ‘Why are we talking the environment when ISIS is out there?’ I said, ‘Senator, y’know, you sounded just like Dick Cheney.’ “

Last month, Paul blasted Clinton for saying climate change marked the “most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”

“I don’t think we really want a commander in chief who’s battling climate change instead of terrorism,” Paul said on Fox News.

Maher said that Paul’s answer on the environment was “wholly unsatisfactory” and that the senator would lose his vote based entirely on that issue unless Paul comes up with a better answer.

“This is the deal-breaker issue with me. You’ve got to be good on this or, I’m sorry, not going to happen,” Maher said.

In an ideal world, we would be able to exclude someone such as Hillary Clinton who backed the Iraq war with claims of a connection between Sadaam and al Qaeda. However in such an ideal world, we would also not have a major political party which denies science, including the scientific consensus on climate change. In addition to drumming up fear about terrorism, it makes no sense to say we cannot deal with climate change due to the presence of another problem. It is as if Paul and Cheney are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Salon has more on Rand Paul’s anti-scientific views, related to both climate change and Ebola:

In a breathless “exclusive,” Breitbart News revealed that Paul thinks the Obama administration is misleading the public about the nature of the threat and how the disease is spread. “They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul claimed. “They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats—the whole works?”

You might think an ophthalmologist (though he’s not board certified) would be more responsible about spreading health panic. But you’d be wrong. “Could we have a worldwide pandemic? The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think we should have travel restrictions at this point in time coming from Africa,” Paul added.

Health experts shot Paul down almost immediately. “I don’t think that there’s data to tell us that that’s a correct statement, with all due respect,” NIH veteran Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have had experience since 1976 with how Ebola is transmitted. And it is clear that it’s transmitted by direct contact with body fluids, blood, diarrhea, vomit, or what have you.

“And there’s no indication that there is another insidious way that it’s transmitted that we’re missing because of the experience that we’ve had. So, we’ve really gotta go with the evidence base. There’s always hypothesis and surmising about that, but there’s no scientific evidence,” Fauci added.

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Republicans Running Seinfeld and Wizard of Oz Campaigns

Land Empty Chair

Brian  Buetler is unfair to Seinfeld, but on target with regards to the Republican Party. He attacked them on two fronts. First he looked at the contradictions in Reince Preibus’ policy speech:

As if to signal his awareness that there’s a gaping void in the GOP’s midterm election strategy, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus did something a little unusual for a party chairman, and gave a speech about policy.

Republicans have made little secret of the fact that they hope to recapture the Senate in November by exploiting President Obama’s unpopularity rather than pitting their substantive agendas against their opponents. When Priebus says, “People know what we’re against. I want to talk about the things we’re for,” what he means is that his candidates’ conspicuous silence on substantive matters has become a little too conspicuous.

To combat that, he has laid out a list of eleven “Principles for American Renewal.” Most of these will be familiar to students of Republican politics. Some contradict each other, or previous iterations of the Republican agenda. The first principle holds that “Our Constitution should be preserved, valued and honored,” while the third proposes a Constitutional amendment that would force Congress to shred government spending. The eleventh calls for a secure border, whereas the GOP’s 2012 post-mortem called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Of course whenever Republicans talk about the Constitution there are bound to be contradictions as Republicans tend to back a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads. The type of country they are trying to turn the United States into is hardly what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

From there, Buetler pointed out that Preibus isn’t on the ballot, and the actual Republican Senate candidates are running campaigns based upon, sort of like Seinfeld, nothing. Buetler looked at the races in Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina. In each state the Republican candidate is avoiding actual issues and are running campaigns based upon nonsense.

If avoiding issues is the goal of Republican Senatorial candidates, the best of all might be in Michigan. Buetler most likely ignored Terry Lynn Land as she is trailing Democratic candidate Gary Peters by double digits. Land differs from conventional candidates who are trialing by refusing invitations to debate, while Peters would love to debate her, knowing that would probably eliminate any possibility of a last minute recovery should there otherwise be a strong Republican wave in November.  Last month Peters debated an empty chair, Clint Eastwood style, in order to mock Land.

Frank Luntz criticized an ad from Land as “the worst ad of the political process” saying it lacks any message or substance. Video above. In contrast, Peters has successfully campaigned on issues such as climate change along with how Land’s support from the Koch Brothers affects her views. Of course the Koch Brothers aren’t going to waste their money on a futile cause, and have abandoned her. Liberal PACs have found Land to be an easy target.

Land has also been trying to avoid talking to the media. Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry says that she is running a Wizard of Oz style campaign. Lessenberry first showed how Land’s campaign messed up the facts on the auto company bail out, with Land avoiding any direct contact with the media. Instead responses were limited to factually incorrect claims from her spokesperson, Heather Swift:

What’s oddest about all this is that we essentially have a campaign where Gary Peters is running against not the GOP nominee, but Heather Swift. However, I don’t think Swift is either a registered Michigan voter or legally old enough to be in the Senate.

Consider this: Whoever does win this race is going to replace Carl Levin, one of the most powerful figures in Washington. The last time I had questions about Levin’s position on something, his spokesperson asked if I could meet the senator for breakfast that weekend, and we talked for an hour.

Now the question is: Do we really want a U.S. senator who is unwilling or unable to explain her views to the press or in person?

Land did show up for call in show in Michigan Public Radio on Friday, but didn’t really answer the questions. She repeatedly responded to  questions by informing the audience that she is a Mom. You know, a Mom, the type of Mom who has kids. If you feel like listening to the full audio at the link, you might make a drinking game out of how often she repeats this line. Beyond that, she will support policies which put Michigan first, and insists that President Obama must submit a plan before she will say more. Land also said we should do nothing to reduce carbon emissions and the United States should ban travel “from countries that have Ebola” to keep it from spreading here.

Fortunately Michigan looks like it will soundly reject this Sarah Palin imitation.

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With Climate Changes, Alaska, The Northwest, And Detroit Might Be Among The Best Places To Live

Cities Climate Change

Climate change raises questions of where would be the best place to live in the future. Some areas might wind up under water, suffer from droughts, or just be too hot to be comfortable. Canada and Alaska might be much more desirable places to live in a warmer climate. Some portions of the continental United States are likely to have less adverse impact, such as the Northwest and parts of the Midwest. The New York Times looked at which cities might be the safest.

One geography professor recommended Alaska:

“If you do not like it hot and do not want to be hit by a hurricane, the options of where to go are very limited,” said Camilo Mora, a geography professor at the University of Hawaii and lead author of a paper published in Nature last year predicting that unprecedented high temperatures will become the norm worldwide by 2047.

“The best place really is Alaska,” he added. “Alaska is going to be the next Florida by the end of the century.”

The Pacific Northwest might be a good alternative if you don’t want to go as far as Florida, especially if you like wine:

“The answer is the Pacific Northwest, and probably especially west of the Cascades,” said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. “Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best,” he added. “You see a lot less extreme heat; it’s the one place in the West where there’s no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it’s a relatively small factor.”

Clifford E. Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, writes a popular weather blog in which he predicts that the Pacific Northwest will be “a potential climate refuge” as global warming progresses. A Seattle resident, he foresees that “climate change migrants” will start heading to his city and to Portland, Ore., and surrounding areas.

“The Pacific Ocean is like our natural air conditioning,” Professor Mass said in a telephone interview. “We don’t get humidity like the East Coast does.”

As for the water supply? “Water is important, and we will have it,” Professor Mass declared. “All in all, it’s a pretty benign situation for us — in fact, warming up just a little bit might be a little bit welcome around here.”

Already, he said, Washington State is gearing up to become the next Napa Valley as California’s wine country heats up and dries out.

There are also some places which you might have been less likely to guess would become desirable, such as Detroit:

There may be other refuges to the east. Don’t count out the elevated inland cities in the country’s midsection, like Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee and Detroit, said Matthew E. Kahn, a professor of environmental economics at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I predict we’re going to have millions of people moving to those areas,” he said in a telephone interview.

In his 2010 book “Climatopolis,” Professor Kahn predicts that when things get bad enough in any given location — not just the temperatures and extreme weather, but also the cost of insurance and so forth — people will become “environmental refugees,” fleeing cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. By 2100, he writes, Detroit will be one of the nation’s most desirable cities.

In that case, maybe businesses should look to the future and come rebuild Detroit, which could really use the help well before 2100.

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August Was Hottest August Ever Recorded Per NASA Data

Living through 2014 has given many of us the sensation that after years of record warm years this could be an exception. Of course even if this was the case, one year would not change the overall trend, and certainly add no credence to the phony conservative claim of a hiatus in global warming. We can be mislead because having a generally cooler year in some areas does not mean the same is true globally. I was a bit surprised to find that the past August was the hottest on record and 2014 is still turning out to be one of the warmer years on record according to NASA’s data. The Hill reports:

The globe just experienced its hottest recorded August, according to new data released by NASA on Monday.

While last month is ranked the No. 1 August by temperature, the difference among the top five is fewer than .03 degrees Celsius, NASA said in an email to The Hill.

All together, summer 2014 ranked fourth out of the warmest summers on record.

The small difference between the top five Augusts, however, reveals that long-term trends are more significant when it comes to tracking global warming, according to NASA.

“August 2014 was a very warm month globally, and the 2014 is shaping up to be a very warm year,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“In the broader context, these continuing high ranked months and seasons confirm and add to the long-term trend in temperatures that have been seen in recent decades,” Schmidt said.

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Tea Party Has Republicans Afraid To Discuss Scientific Consensus On Climate Change

ocean temperature increase

Republicans must say idiotic things to get elected, often denying science, but that does not mean that all elected Republicans are idiots. Bloomberg has discussed the scientific consensus on climate change with many Republicans. While well ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree on how human action has caused global warming, rank and file Republican remains in denial, often seeing this as stemming from a left wing conspiracy. Republicans must play to this attitude even if they know better:

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem…

In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out.

Most say the reluctance to publicly support efforts to address climate change has grown discernibly since the 2010 congressional elections, when Tea Party-backed candidates helped the Republican Party win control of the House, in part by targeting vulnerable Democrats for their support of legislation establishing a national emissions cap-and-trade system…

While environmental groups continue to search for Republican candidates to back, Goldston said the Tea Party movement has swept many more deniers of climate change into Congress than ever before, and it has pushed Republicans away from basic environmental principles. He disagreed with others who said many Republicans privately acknowledge the risks of climate change, even if they don’t say so publicly.

“It’s very comforting for people to think that these people are pretending,” Goldston said. “It’s not true. The problem would be in many ways easier to solve if it was true.”

Chris Miller, who served as a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed with Goldston’s assessment that the Tea Party has made it “impossible” for Republicans to speak on the issue.

“I have had no or very few private and honest interactions with Republicans on the topic,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA. “They’re all too scared of speaking the truth.”

It is ironic that Republicans are now afraid to express support for cap and trade considering that this was largely a Republican idea in the past, similar how Republicans now oppose aspects of the Affordable Care Act which were initially advocated by Republicans such as the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

In order to oppose the scientific consensus on climate change, conservatives frequently spread false claims and distort statements from scientists. For example, Rebecca Leber recently described how conservatives misquoted climate scientists to promote their claims that global warming is on hiatus:

Norman Loeb, an atmospheric scientist with NASA, gave a crash course in climate change science for the public at Virginia Air and Space Center on Tuesday. He talked about all the evidence that the planet is warminglike the fact that temperatures right now are the hottest they’ve been since record-keeping began in 1850. He also noted that the rise in surface temperatures has slowed considerably since 2000. This doesn’t contradict the theory of global warming, he explained. Land temperature regularly varies, and much of the warming in the last decade is happening unseen in the ocean.

The same day, the frequently conservative-leaning Washington Times ran a short story on the talk. It said that a prominent NASA scientist had admitted global warming is on “hiatus.” As the writer explained, “The nation’s space agency [has] noticed an inconvenient cooling on the planet lately.”

It was pretty much the opposite of what Loeb was trying to say. But it’s not an isolated incident. Conservatives love to cite the relative stability of global surface temperatures for the last 15 years as proof that climate change is a hoax. And they frequently twist the words of scientists to do it. I read or hear versions of this argument all the timefrom outlets like Forbes, National Review, and Fox News. Sometimes the conservatives even talk about “global cooling,” joking that maybe we should be more worried about that, instead. This sort of commentary probably helps explain why still find that just 67 percent of Americans accept that humans cause climate change, even though there is nearly unanimous scientific consensus.

Needless to say, the conservatives have it all wrong. And the science really isn’t that hard to understand…

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

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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Doctors No Longer Strong Republicans

JAMA Internal Medicine has some data which I would have predicted–doctors are less likely to support Republicans now than in the past. The data is based upon campaign contributions and therefore has no data regarding reasons for the change. This data would not include contributions under $200 and it is not known if those making smaller donations differ from the larger, reportable contributions.

The study found that since 1996 contributions to Republicans by physicians have decreased, dropping to under 50 percent leading up to the 2008 election. Many of the results suggest that doctors are contributing based upon factors comparable to the general population. This includes a significant gender gap with 57 percent of men and 31 percent of women contributing to Republicans over the entire study period. Leading up to the 2012 election, 52.3 percent of male physicians contributed to Republicans and 23.6 percent of female physicians contributed to Republicans.

I am apparently an exception to the trend that male physicians and physicians in solo or small practices are more likely to contribute to Republicans. Another trend mirrors the general population with those earning more being more likely to contribute to Republicans.

Overall the trend against support for Republicans is similar to the overall trend for more highly educated people to be less likely to support Republicans. The education in science might make many physicians more likely to reject Republicans in recent years as scientists have tended to oppose Republicans. Many people trained in science would have a difficult time supporting a party in which many believe in creationism, and most reject the view of 97 percent of climate scientists on global warming.

The study is unable to determine whether medically related issues have any bearing on the results. Democrats have been far more supportive of health care in recent years, but I also find that many of my colleagues get their news from Fox and have the same misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act and other issues as Republicans in general have. On the other hand, many physicians, along with many physician organizations, have been highly supportive of Obamacare after having seen the serious problems in health care delivery in this country. Republican policies would also be terrible for the future of Medicare, but I’m not sure how widespread this realization is among physicians.

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Obama Responds To Myth That Both Parties Are Responsible For Current Gridlock

Obama Green Lantern

There has been a lot of back and forth on line recently regarding whether Obama deserves blame for the gridlock in Washington. Ezra Klein explained the fallacies once again in the Green Lantern view of the presidency as a character with near infinite powers.  Ron Fournier continues to play the false equivalency game in trying to blame both the left and right, ignoring the considerable differences between the two and the unprecedented levels of obstructionism since Obama was elected.  He seems to think that being a typical politician and promising more than he can deliver is somehow equivalent to the Republicans deciding to oppose anything proposed by Obama from day one.

Jason Linkins suggested a more realistic view of Obama. If he isn’t Green Lantern, he might be more like Agent Coulson: “team-assembler, favorable environment provider, manager of discrete tasks and outsized personalities, quick to adapt to changing circumstances, eminently mortal, and yet (spoiler alert) at times resurrectable.” Last year Linkins wondered if Fournier could read when he made the same mistakes.

I was happy to see Obama directly respond to this at a fund raiser:

“You’ll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there’s gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible.  And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses.  But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific.  We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don’t think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you’re not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.

“They, so far, at least, have refused to budge on bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system, despite the fact that every economist who’s looked at it says it’s going to improve our economy, cut our deficits, help spawn entrepreneurship, and alleviate great pain from millions of families all across the country.

“So the problem…is not that the Democrats are overly ideological — because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side.  There are no radical proposals coming out from the left.  When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy.  When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism.  We say we’re going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together…

“When we talk about taxes we don’t say we’re going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago.  We say let’s just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they’re getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education…Health care — we didn’t suddenly impose some wild, crazy system.  All we said was let’s make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts — the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.

“So when you hear a false equivalence that somehow, well, Congress is just broken, it’s not true.  What’s broken right now is a Republican Party that repeatedly says no to proven, time-tested strategies to grow the economy, create more jobs, ensure fairness, open up opportunity to all people.”

Ron Fournier has been one of the more prominent journalists attacking Obama from the center with arguments based upon drawing a false equivalency. This has led to some criticism of centrists, but not all centrists have fallen for this idea that both sides are mirror images of each other. Centrists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein made it clear that Republicans are the problem in 2012:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post…

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade

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