Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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Jeb Bush Was A Romney-Type Bully In School–Why It Might Still Matter

The Boston Globe looked at Jeb Bush’s school days, finding he abused drugs like his brother and was a bully like the last Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Resolutely apolitical despite his lineage, he refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club and often declined even to participate in informal bull sessions with classmates. In a tumultuous season in American life, he seemed to his peers strangely detached and indifferent.

“He was just in a bit of a different world,” said Phil Sylvester, who said he was a Bush roommate. While other students “were constantly arguing about politics and particularly Vietnam, he just wasn’t interested, he didn’t participate, he didn’t care.”

Meanwhile, his grades were so poor that he was in danger of being expelled, which would have been a huge embarrassment to his father, a member of Congress and of the school’s board of trustees.

Bush, in an interview for this story, recalled it as one of the most difficult times of his life, while acknowledging that he made it harder by initially breaking a series of rules.

“I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said, both of which could have led to expulsion. “It was pretty common.” He said he had no recollection of bullying and said he was surprised to be perceived that way by some…

One of those who did get to know Bush in these early days was Peter Tibbetts. The connection, he said, was pot. The first time Tibbetts smoked marijuana, he said, was with Bush and a few other classmates in the woods near Pemberton Cottage. Then, a few weeks later, Tibbetts said he smoked hashish — a cannabis product typically stronger than pot — in Jeb’s dormitory room…

Tibbetts, who was eventually forced to leave Andover in the spring of 1970 after school officials accused him of using drugs, said his one regret about his relationship with Bush is that he agreed to participate with him in the bullying of a student in the dormitory. Their target was a short classmate whom they taunted, and then sewed his pajama bottoms so that they were impossible to put on. The act was particularly embarrassing, said Tibbetts, who said he felt remorse for joining in with “kids being cruel.”

James Joyner has a point in questioning the meaning of such stories from long ago:

 …Bush turns 62 in a few days. He’s spent almost the entirety of his adult life in the public eye, including eight years as governor of one of our largest states. Surely, that’s a better frame of reference on his character and suitability for the presidency than whatever he did or didn’t do as a young teenager away from home for the first time?

However character does matter, and behavior at an early age might be relevant to predicting later behavior. Mitt Romney did turn out to be a dishonest, unethical adult who was morally unfit to be president. Perhaps the early stories of his bullying were predictive of his character.

Jeb Bush’s career in public life also does raise some questions about character. While not the same situation as the bullying described by The Boston Globe, Politico also has a story this weekend which includes questions regarding Bush’s character:

Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

 For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

 Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”

“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”

The last line describes Bush as being the opposite of Mitt Romney, but equally wrong. Mitt Romney showed in public life that he had no principles, willing to say or do anything which would help him politically. He changed positions whenever expedient, and lied so frequently in his presidential campaign that he made Richard Nixon look almost like a saint in comparison. Examples of Mitt’s legendary mendacity can be found here and here. Perhaps Romney thought that being a man of religion precluded him from being an unethical person, regardless of his actual conduct. 

In contrast to Romney’s lack of principles, the Terri Schiavo case suggests that Bush has principles and is willing to abuse the power of the state to impose his warped and immoral values upon others. Political power turns a bully like Jeb Bush into a far more dangerous bully.

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Evolution In Jeb Bush’s Views Or Romney Style Mendacity?

Jeb Bush’s  history of altering his posture on issues, as opposed to actual positions, has become the topic of several newspaper articles on Bush since he entered the 2016 race. AP describes Bush positioning this way:

Jeb Bush called himself a “head-banging conservative” back in 1994 when he ran for governor of Florida on a promise to “club this government into submission.”

He lost.

Four years later, the Republican returned as a compassionate voice for education reform and society’s have-nots.

He won.

It’s a lesson that still shapes Bush’s approach to politics and was evident this past week when he took the latest step toward the 2016 presidential race.

Known for his frequent admonishments that the GOP soften its rhetoric, build consensus and offer an “optimistic” vision, Bush dismisses the critiques of activists who say such warnings are proof that he is too moderate for today’s Republican Party.

Advisers and former aides say Bush, in many ways, is just as conservative now as he was as a 41-year-old first-time candidate who referred to his young staffers as “gladiators.” What has changed is his ability to sell what he believes to voters outside the party’s base.

“He didn’t change his core principles,” said Sally Bradshaw, a Republican strategist who ran Bush’s campaigns and is one of his closest advisers. “He saw a way to bring people along.”

Democrats question any claims of moderation on Bush’s part:

Democrats accused him of political sleight of hand, a charge they resurrected recently when Bush, a longtime opponent of gay marriage, said a court ruling allowing gay marriages in Florida should be respected as “the rule of law.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who served in the Legislature while Bush was governor, said he “pretends to be someone he’s not.”

“There is not a single moderate bone in his body,” said Wasserman-Schultz, who now leads the Democratic National Committee.

Huffington Post argues that Bush is no moderate while The New York Times has a more sympathetic look at what it sees as Bush’s evolving views.

Many will see this as a return to the flip-flopping of Mitt Romney. Those who miss that might be happy to hear that Romney is telling donors he wants to be president. Of course Romney’s mendacity is legendary, and he is probably second to only Richard Nixon in being the most dishonest person to every head a major party ticket, making it difficult to believe anything to come out of Romney’s mouth. Even many of his aides don’t believe the latest statements to come from Romney about being interested in running. However, should Romney deny interest, then Bush better watch out.

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Clinton v. Bush, Again?

Clinton Bush

A lot can change between now and when the two major political parties pick their nominees, but it is looking increasingly like we might face another Clinton v. Bush campaign. Larry Sabato, while acknowledging that there are factors which could cause him to lose, has placed Jeb Bush alone in his top tier of Republican nominees:

So for the first time in a while, we elevate a candidate to the First Tier of the Crystal Ball’s GOP rankings for president. Jeb Bush fills a long-established vacuum. Our decision is tentative; his poll ratings are still underwhelming, and Bush is a shaky frontrunner. Yet Bush is No. 1 on a giant roster as we begin the long roller-coaster process of picking the party nominees over the next year and a half.

We are amazed that Republicans could nominate their third Bush for a fifth run at the White House since 1988. Such family dominance of either major party is unprecedented in American history, unless you want to link Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s one nomination (1904) with Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s four nominations (1932-1944). The Roosevelt presidencies were separated by party labels and 24 years. The Bush presidencies, should Jeb win it all, will have been separated by just eight-year intervals.

By no means is Bush a sure thing — far from it. The path to the nomination will likely be tougher for this Bush than it was for his father in 1988 and brother in 2000. The party establishment is still a force to be reckoned with, but nowhere near as dominant in the GOP of 2015 as it was in those earlier times.

Currently, more than three-quarters of Republicans want someone other than Bush. The frontrunner depends on a split in conservative ranks — which appears to be happening — as well as a concerted push by the party’s establishment leaders and donors to freeze out Bush alternatives (including Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich). We’ve always doubted Romney would run unless the pragmatists in the leadership and donor class deemed a rescue mission essential; right now, they do not. The remaining Bush alternatives are still in the game, though.

After Bush, Sabato has Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie in the second tier, with other candidates ranked down to a seventh tier. Mike Huckabee, who has also taken recent action towards a possible campaign, is in the third tier along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. My Governor, Rick Snyder of Michigan is in the fourth tier. He is likely the least bat-shit crazy of the bunch, but I fear that even if he was president he would acquiesce to far too much from a Republican Congress, as he sometimes does with the bat-shit crazy Michigan legislature. Snyder originally won the Republican nomination for Governor because of support from Democrats in 2010 when he looked like the lesser evil when it was apparent that a Republican was going to win.

With three-quarters of Republicans wanting someone other than Bush, it certainly seems possible that another candidate could emerge. While there is some sentiment among Democrats for someone other than Clinton, there do not appear to be any serious challengers at this point.

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Another Unforced Error On Selling Obamacare

The Obama administration has done an excellent job policy-wise with the Affordable Care Act, but politically has made a few major mistakes along the way. The most recent was discovered today when Bloomberg reported that the administration had made mistakes in reporting the number of people who obtained health coverage through the exchanges in its first year. The error came from adding sales of dental plans available under the Affordable Care Act to the total number who actually purchased plans.

HHS Secretary  Secretary Sylvia Burwell responded on Twitter that, “The mistake we made is unacceptable. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the dept.”

From a practical point of view, the mistake does not really change anything. The important factor is the benefits provided, not the number of people who signed up the first year, especially when the number was depressed by a dishonest right wing smear campaign. The actual number still exceeded the predictions of the Congressional Budget Office. Nearly seven million did obtain coverage on the exchanges in the first year, with about seventy percent happy with their coverage–a number comparable to those receiving employer-paid coverage and Medicare.

Unfortunately an error such as this plays into the false right wing narrative that the Obama administration was not transparent in promoting the Affordable Care Act. They ignore the degree to which every aspect was publicly debated for months, and every version of the law was posted on line. Of course many conservatives were probably unaware of the discussion which was occurring as the right wing media was too busy spreading lies than to actually report on what was being openly discussed.

Man on the right are cherry picking and distorting the words of Jonathan Gruber, as I recently discussed here and here. They falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect” of the Affordable Care Act and falsely attribute his views to the Obama administration. Gruber was an outside academic consultant who had worked on Mitt Romney’s health care plan. He was paid to make economic projections based upon this to predict the economic effects of Obamacare. He had no role in the legislative strategy to pass Obamacare, and does not speak for the Obama administration in making statements which Obama disagrees with.

Being an academic outside of Washington, it is very likely that the somewhat convoluted legislative actions used by both parties to achieve the best scores from the Congressional Budget Office might seem to lack transparency. This does not mean that those promoting Obamacare were in any way dishonest. They honestly presented the facts about the law. In contrast, when George Bush pushed through his Medicare drug plan, he not only lied about the cost, but threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary if he testified before Congress about the true cost.

Gruber’s claims of a lack of transparency would be more meaningful if he actually demonstrated any areas in which the proponents of the ACA were not open about the plans. He spoke about the mandate, but this penalty for not purchasing insurance was widely discussed before passage. He also concentrated on how the ACA is a transfer of wealth, but this was both openly discussed, and a common feature of all insurance. All insurance plans transfer wealth from those who pay premiums and do not wind up needing the coverage to those who receive benefits. While conservatives are quoting Gruber because his statements seem to reinforce their biases, once you look at the details there is no evidence of dishonesty present.

On the other hand. , the real dishonesty came from Republicans who lied about death panels, the number not paying their premiums, the effects of the ACA on jobs and the economy, the cost of coverage, and falsely claiming that Obamacare is a government take over of health care.  Even the corrected numbers show that far more people purchased coverage than many Republicans have claimed. Republican politicians continue to repeat the same lies even when disproven.

Prior Political Errors

Unfortunately the error in reporting the number who purchased coverage is not the first unnecessary error which wound up hurting politically. The most prominent error was in failing to properly test the computer programs behind the exchange before they went live in 2013. The problems were quickly fixed and the exchanges opened successfully this week, but the Obama administration never fully recovered from the poor first impression.

The second error was in over simplifying the issues when making statements that people can keep their own plans and/or their own doctors. Obama was being honest in the context in which he was speaking, but in over simplifying the matter in this way he was incorrect. Obama was responding to far more inaccurate right wing claim that the Affordable Care Act amounts to a government take over of health care. They spread horror stories of people being forced to lose their current health plans (and doctor) and instead being placed on some imaginary government-run Obamacare plan. I had patients call me in horror, asking if they would be lose me as a doctor because of having to change to Obamacare.

Obama was right in answering that people would not be forced into a new government plan and would not arbitrarily be forced to change doctors.

He was incorrect  in how he worded it because other factors were involved. Insurance companies elected to cancel plans, often when they could be grandfathered in. Doctors go in and out of health plans every year, regardless of Obamacare, but Obamacare does not assign people to new doctors. With or without Obamacare, some people would have to change health plans and doctors every year.

Most people had the option to get insurance, from the same company as before if they desired, with better coverage at a lower cost. It is also a bit ambiguous as to what keeping the same plan means considering that in the individual market it has been common for insurance companies to substitute similar but different plans quite frequently. Most people would feel like they had the same plan as it was from the same company with only minor differences (or with better coverage).

When Obama realized his statement was technically wrong, he not only apologized but acted to make it right by making it even easier to grandfather in old plans. Many of the old plans which were discontinued provided extremely limited coverage for the price, and people were better off replacing them with a better plan. I have often seen patients with plans purchased on the individual market in the past who were shocked to find that their plan paid nothing or only a tiny fraction of their bills. The Affordable Care Act guarantees both that health plans will provide reasonable coverage and that nobody can be dropped because of developing health problems, as frequently happened in the past.

By guaranteeing that people cannot be dropped from their health plan, by making insurance more affordable,  and by providing a greater choice of health plans, it is far less likely that people will have to change their health plan or doctor against their will as happened in the past. For the most part, Obama was right, but he worded this in a poor way as there were exceptions. Needless to say, Republicans concentrate on the rare cases where Obama was wrong, even though their health plans would ultimately lead to far more people being unable to keep their insurance or their doctor. By making these political mistakes, the Democrats have made it easier for Republicans to mislead.

Now yet another mistake has been uncovered which means little but which Republicans will be able to use to mislead the public.

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Republican Minority Blocks Bill To Curtail NSA; Democrats To Take Over Role Of Blocking What They Oppose

Not very long ago it was common for bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things in Congress. That was largely before the current realignment in which Democratic southern conservatives have either joined the Republicans or been voted out of office, and Republican moderates and liberals have been driven away. Theoretically even a totally conservative Republican Party might have members finding common ground with some Democrats at times.  Traditionally there have been some conservative Republicans who have been strong advocates of civil liberties.

Curtailing NSA surveillance would seem to be an area where liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans might work together. In our bizarre system where a majority does not rule and sixty votes are needed in the Senate,Patrick Leahy’s bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection died due to only receiving a 58 to 42 majority. This died due to solid Republican opposition, led by Mitch McConnell who felt the bill went to far, and Rand Paul who rationalized voting with the rest of the Republicans by saying the bill did not go far enough.

Libertarians at Reason’s Hit & Run blog were disappointed in Paul, writing that, “Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” Regardless of his justifications, Rand Paul has shown that he cannot be counted upon in promoting civil liberties issues. I fear that as Rand Paul tries to position himself as a serious contender for the presidential nomination, he will increasingly align himself with McConnell and become indistinguishable from other Republicans from the authoritarian right. I have often pointed out how his father, Ron Paul, was also hardly the defender of liberty which his fans made him out to be.

There is some small consolation that the Republican minority which has concentrated on blocking Democratic legislation will now replaced by a Democratic minority which can also act to block the disastrous Republican agenda. In describing the Democrats who blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Politco reported on what they are calling the “hell no” caucus:

..red-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years…

Asked if he could ever envision himself performing a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster in the Republican Senate, Whitehouse of Rhode Island replied: “Oh, of course. We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

Progressives are girding for battle with Republicans over campaign finance law, consumer protections and women’s health care. But the early battle lines appear increasingly drawn around environmental policy, where Democratic centrists may defect from leadership in next year’s Senate and help Republicans pass legislation strongly opposed by liberal senators…

Even as they vow to fight Republicans at every turn on issues that fundamentally divide liberals and conservatives, left-leaning Democrats insist that they will not do so seeking retaliation against a Republican minority that stymied their economic, environmental and social priorities for so long with filibusters and delay. Those days, they insist, are gone — leaving liberals to somehow find a balance between fighting for their convictions and not drawing the same charges of obstruction that have dominated Democratic messaging for years.

“The best news about a Republican majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone,” Whitehouse said. “They were just a god-awful minority.”

Maybe this will free up liberal Democrats to more strongly articulate their views on the issues, while allowing more people to see what the Republican agenda really is.

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The Big Losers From Grubergate

Conservatives love to repeat quotes which reinforce their biases, even if the facts don’t really support them. We continue to hear conservative opponents of Obamacare quote Jonathan Gruber and search for even more videos of him saying the same thing. I’ve already pointed out how these quoted mean little here and here, but conservatives never let facts get in their way. The fact that most people who purchased plans through the exchanges are happy with their plans also will not keep opponents from finding irrelevant objections.

We can safely assume that we will continue to hear quotes from Jonathan Gruber. It is doubtful this will affect actual support for the Affordable Care Act. Those who are repeating his quotes are those who were already opposed. There are two actual losers now that his quotes have received such publicity.

The first big loser is Mitt Romney, who appears to be flirting with the idea of running yet again. Romney already had trouble with the fact that he had established his health plan in Massachusetts. Should Romney attempt to run again in the Republican primaries he will face endless clips of Gruber comparing Obamacare and Romneycare and saying “Basically, they’re the same f—ing bill.” Ironically some conservatives who falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect of Obamacare” and all his currently discovered quotes about Obamacare should be taken as gospel, are also twisting the facts to say that Gruber was wrong on this point. Some conservatives will have no problem believing that Gruber was right on things which reinforce their biases but incorrect when he spoke about Romneycare, but others will not fall for such fallacious attempts to make these distinctions.

The other big loser is Jonathan Gruber. Consulting is a great way to make money when you can get it. Gruber made $400,000 for the economic projections he made during the development of the Affordable Care Act. (That is what he worked on–not the legislative strategy to pass the law). It is hard to see Democrats hiring him again, and any others thinking of hiring him will also think twice about what he might say. His name is toxic to Republicans, who will always think of him as someone who passed off lies to sell Obamacare (even if he revealed no actual lies and everything in his quotes was openly discussed during the debate over passage).

This leaves some questions. How long until this is becomes called the Grubergate Scandal?

When does Gruber become a verb? There are actually more than one possible meanings. To Gruber might mean someone with expertise in one area (in this case economics) making bold but incorrect public statements in an area outside of his area of expertise (in this case passing legislation). To Gurber might come mean to betray those who hired you by making incorrect statements, or even to accuse others of being dishonest when you are the one who is saying things which are misleading.

Update: Obama states he did not mislead on health care

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Obamacare A Huge Success Despite Easily Debunked Conservative Claims

The exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act open tomorrow. While there were initially problems when the exchanges opened last year, these were quickly fixed, allowing millions to obtain health care coverage, including those who previously could not obtain coverage due to preexisting conditions or cost. A Gallup poll found that most people who obtained coverage through the exchanges last year were satisfied:

Over seven in 10 Americans who bought new health insurance policies through the government exchanges earlier this year rate the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as “excellent” or “good.” These positive evaluations are generally similar to the reviews that all insured Americans give to their health insurance.

These findings are consistent with previous polls showing how people benefited from Obamacare.

Insurance coverage has been made more affordable by the exchanges, with eighty-three percent of enrollees qualifying for subsidies last year. Those who qualified payed an average of $82 per month in premiums. Those obtaining Silver plans paid an average of $69 per month.

Three was some sticker shock on the part of many who did not realize that they qualify for subsidies along with those of us who do not qualify for subsidies. While we pay the full premiums, the coverage is far better than was available on the individual market in the past, including guarantees that we cannot lose our coverage if we get sick and caps on maximum annual out of pocket expenses. Some people, especially those who were not familiar with the individual insurance market were expecting lower premiums. Despite conservative claims that Obamacare is a right wing take over of health care, the insurance is sold through private companies and their rates have always been high, and frequently increased by double digit amounts annually.

Conservatives also complain about the deductibles, especially on the plans with lower premiums. These plans have higher deductibles and a lower premium, with Medical Savings Accounts available to help with these out of pocket expenses. Plans on the individual market have typically had higher deductibles than employer plans. The attacks from conservatives regarding this are also rather hypocritical as conservatives have long been advocating high deductible plans paired with MSA’s as a way to reduce costs. Now that they have what they advocated, they are suddenly complaining. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised as many other components of Obamacare have long been advocated by conservatives, including the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

While there may be higher deductibles, there are also total caps on out of pocket costs which we did not have before. The Affordable Care Act has eliminated the old maximums on coverage. Republicans never mention this, but these factors could result in lower out of pocket costs for many, along with eliminating the risk of bankruptcy for those with expensive diseases who outspend their coverage. All plans cover preventative services with no deductible. Some plans now being sold will provide some other forms of coverage before the deductible is met, including office calls and prescriptions.

While premiums in 2014 were consistent with previous premiums, instead of seeing double digit increases in 2015 most people are seeing comparable rates due to the increased number of insurance companies offering coverage and the larger risk pool as more people have coverage. Many people will even see lower insurance rates:

In preliminary but encouraging news for consumers and taxpayers, insurance filings show that average premiums will decline slightly next year in 16 major cities for a benchmark Obamacare plan.

Prices for a benchmark “silver” or mid-priced plan sold through the health law’s online marketplaces aren’t all moving in the same direction, however, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) In Nashville, the premium will rise 8.7 percent, the largest increase in the study, while in Denver it will fall 15.6 percent, the largest decrease.

But overall the results, based on available filings, don’t show the double-digit percentage increases that some have anticipated for the second year of marketplace operation. On average, rates will drop 0.8 percent in the areas studied.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have spread a wide variety of lies about the plan. Although these lies have repeatedly been debunked, Republicans continue to repeat them.

The latest attack from dishonest opponents of the plan has been to repeat irrelevant quotes from Jonathan Gruber, an economist who worked on Mitt Romney’s plan and also made economic projections on the impact of the Affordable Care Act. He is not a part of the Obama administration, and is not the “architect” of the plan as conservatives claim. Nor did he have a role in the writing or the promotion of the legislation. His comments that the American people were stupid do not reflect the views of anyone other than himself. His claims of a lack of transparency are incorrect, with the law having been written in open hearings and with the various versions having been posted on line.  The two items he brought up, the penalties for not obtaining coverage, and the transfer of wealth from the healthy to the sick, were both openly discussed prior to the passage of the law. Besides, all insurance has always represented a transfer of wealth from those who purchase insurance and do not require the benefits to those who do require insurance benefits. Apparently many conservatives fail to understand how insurance works.

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Bruce Bartlett Argues That Obama Is A Republican

Obama is a Republican

There’s nothing really new here, but it will be interesting to see conservative response to Bruce Bartlett’s article in The American Conservative entitled, Obama Is A Republican. The article is a rehash of how Obama’s record is actually quite conservative, clashing with the conservative myth that he is a socialist. He started with mentioning other Republicans who supported Obama’s election, and next discussed foreign policy:

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

After further discission of foreign policy, he went on to discuss economic policy and the deficit. The most important point is how the deficit has fallen under Obama and how fiscally conservative Obama has been:

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.

Screenshot 2014-10-20 12.59.16

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

There is certainly nothing new. Forbes pointed out a couple of years ago how Obama has been the most fiscally conservative president since Eisenhower.It is worth repeating considering how many people have been fooled by the Republican line that Obama and other Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, are responsible for the size of the deficit.

Bartlett next discussed how Obamacare is based upon old Republican policies proposed by the Heritage Foundation and later Mitt Romney. He discussed at length how the individual mandate was originally an idea which was strongly promoted by Republicans. While Bartlett concentrated on Romney, many other Republicans shared this view.

Bartlett then had briefer discussions of several other issues–drugs, national-security leaks, race, gay marriage, and corporate profits. His argument for Obama being a Republican is weaker on social issues. While Obama took “two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so,” there remains a big difference between Obama keeping quiet on the issue and Republicans who actively promoted bans on same-sex marriage and Obama.

Bartlett concluded with:

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades—perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

There is considerable truth to what Bartlett wrote, especially if social issues are ignored. However to be less progressive than Cornell West desires is not sufficient to prove someone is a Republican. Anyone who saw Obama as a candidate of the far left, as opposed to being more centrist, just wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying. Of course there is room for disappointment in some of these areas from the left, especially on drug policy and aspects of his foreign policy.

If Obama is said to be governing like a Republican, the key point which would need to be stressed is he is governing as a moderate Republican from the past–something which no longer exists. Obama certainly would not fit in with the Republican Party of today, which has moved to the extreme right. Bartlett is viewing Republicans from the perspective of his days as an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The reality is that today neither Reagan nor Bush would be sufficiently conservative to survive in the Republican Party. Therefore, while it is ludicrous to consider Obama to be a socialist, or even from the far left, those who share the extreme views of current Republicans are correct in not seeing Obama as one of their own.

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