What’s The Matter With Thomas Frank?

Obama Green Lantern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bill Maher On Republican Zombie Lies About Obamacare

Bill Maher had a rant against all those Republican lies about Obamacare which, despite being repeatedly debunked, are still out there–neither dead or alive, like Dick Cheney. The same is true about all those other lies which Republicans tell, since facts do not matter to them. Video above and transcript (via Daily Kos) follows:

And finally, New Rule: Now that there’s been an uproar over all the neocons who lied about the Iraq War with no consequences, someone must tell me why there isn’t a similar uproar over all the Republicans who lied about Obamacare with no consequences.  (audience applause)  It’s been four years since the bill passed.  Has anybody come across even one death panel?  The next liberal to tell a Republican, “you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts”, should really just admit they’ve never seen Fox News.  (audience cheering and applause)Now, look, I get it that neither party has a monopoly on lying, and in fact they all do it so often, they’ve invented their own word for it — “I misspoke”.  But how come the rule for one party — the Republican Party — is that when they get caught in a lie, they don’t have to stop telling it?

They said Obamacare would use death panels.  It doesn’t.

They said it was a government takeover, and the insurance industry is making record profits.

They said it covered illegals.  It doesn’t.

They said it was a job killer.  It hasn’t been.

They said there were elves who bake cookies in trees.  Well, almost.  (audience laughter and applause)

Now for sure, Obama also told a lie when he said everybody who likes their health care plan can keep it.  And for about 2% of the population, that did turn out to be false.  The difference is, he stopped saying it!  He stepped up and said, you’re right, my bad, because he understands there’s this thing called observable reality.  (audience applause)

But on the Republican side, observable reality needs more study.  (audience laughter) Which is why their talking points that have been disproven, remain!  Like a guest who’s been asked to leave a party, but does not.

It reminds me of a horror movie where you think you’ve killed the lie, but it won’t stay dead.  Which is why I call them zombie lies.  (thunder crackles and camera shakes)

Ooh, what an effect!  (audience laughter)  Excuse me, I have a weak heart.

Yes, zombie lies.  Remember “fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes”?  Zombie lie!  So stop saying it!

Voter fraud?  We studied it, it’s not an actual problem.  Stop zombie lying about it.

Their entire economic philosophy — cut taxes for the rich, and it trickles down — is a zombie lie!  (audience cheering and applause)

And all these zombie lies are still out there, roaming the countryside, neither alive nor dead.  Like Dick Cheney.  (audience laughter and applause)

Hungry for brains.  Like Dick Cheney.  (audience laughter)

I mean, we think we’ve eradicated one, but it turns out it’s just lying dormant in a cave full of bat blood, like the ebola virus.  Or Dick Cheney.  (audience laughter)

Dick Cheney, who did not even bother in his recent return from the dead to update the lies he told about Iraq the first time.  He’s still out there saying, “Well, Saddam was building a bomb, and he was working with al-Qaeda.”

What??  It’s like when Chuck Berry sings “Sweet Little Sixteen”.  You’re 90, man!

There is no shame in their game.  One week they’re out there saying, “No one will sign up for Obamacare.”

And the next week, “Oh, OK, they signed up?  Sure, OK, but they aren’t paying the premiums.”

“Oh they are?  OK, uh, well, they’re paying, but it’s not the young people.”

“Oh, it is?  It’s the young people?  OK.  Uh, OK, but it only covers you if you’re gay.”  (audience laughter)

You know, you just wanna go, wait, when did we switch over?  What happened to yesterday’s lie?  It’s still out there forever, like a plastic bag in a tree.  But now we’re just using the new one?

Yes, because what they do is they pass a zombie lie down to dumber and dumber people, who believe it more and more.

Hank Paulson may be over the one about climate change being a hoax, but it’s still good enough for Sean Hannity.  Who then gets quoted by Michele Bachmann.  Who forms the intellectual core of the thinking of Victoria Jackson.  And when you think the zombie lie has finally gone to die at the idea hospice of the absolutely stupidest people on Earth, there it is being retweeted by Donald Trump.

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Boehner Throws Small Business Owners Under The Bus In Order To Find Suit To File Against Obama

The weakness of Republican efforts to paint Barack Obama as a dictator who has been abusing his presidential powers have been shown to be a sham with John Boehner’s attempt to find grounds for a law suit against Obama. Boehner, in a desperate attempt to ward off the Tea Party fanatics who are pushing for impeachment, decided on filing a frivolous law suit against Obama instead. For years Republicans have made all sort of claims of executive overreach under Obama, after ignoring real cases of abuse of executive power under Bush and Cheney. With all their screaming of a dictatorial president out of control, all Boehner could come up with was a complaint that Obama postponed enforcing the penalties in the employer mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act by two years.

The biggest irony here is that Republicans opposed the Affordable Care Act and the employer mandate (despite previous Republican support for mandates before Obama called for them). Republicans are suing Obama for failing to enforce a law which they opposed. Obama granted the two year extension in order to make it easier for small business to comply with the Affordable Care Act. With this suit, Boehner and the House Republicans are taking a stand in opposition to the interests of small business owners.

Of course Republicans had no objection when George Bush made a similar delay durinig implementation of the Medicare D program. Clearly if there was any validity to any of the other Republican complaints against Obama’s use of power they would use a different case for the lawsuit. As Brian Buetler posted, John Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Obama Proves the President Isn’t Lawless.

Obama is correct in calling this a political stunt and had these comments on the do-nothing Congress:

As long as Congress will not increase wages for workers, I will go and talk to every business in America if I have to. There’s no denying a simple truth: America deserves a raise, and if you work full-time in this country, you shouldn’t live in poverty. That’s something that we all believe.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. There are a number of Republicans, including a number in the Texas delegation, who are mad at me for taking these actions. They actually plan to sue me. Now, I don’t know which things they find most offensive — me helping to create jobs, or me raising wages, or me easing the student loan burdens, or me making sure women can find out whether they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. I don’t know which of these actions really bug them.

The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did. Maybe it’s just me they don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some principle out there that I haven’t discerned, that I haven’t figure out. You hear some of them — ‘sue him,’ ‘impeach him.’ Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay.

I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job — while you don’t do your job.

There’s a great movie called ‘The Departed’ — a little violent for kids. But there’s a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg — they’re on a stakeout and somehow the guy loses the guy that they’re tracking. And Wahlberg is all upset and yelling at the guy. And the guy looks up and he says, ‘Well, who are you?’ And Wahlberg says, ‘I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy.’ Sometimes, I feel like saying to these guys, ‘I’m the guy doing my job, you must be the other guy.’

So rather than wage another political stunt that wastes time, wastes taxpayers’ money, I’ve got a better idea: Do something. If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, let’s team up. Let’s pass some bills. Let’s help America together.

It is not clear what will become of this suit. The first question is whether the House has legal standing to file the suit. If it does proceed it is certainly possible that both Bush and Obama technically broke the law in extending deadlines independent of Congress. Even should there ever be a  ruling against Obama, it will not make much of a difference. By the time it works through the courts the issue will no longer matter as the temporary extension will be coming towards an end, if not already ended. It is over a pretty minor issue in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and will have no bearing on the overall law. It is a pretty empty gesture by Boehner, but he has no real grounds to support right wing rhetoric that Obama has abused executive power.

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Commonwealth Fund Study Demonstrates Success Of Affordable Care Act

Commonwealth ACA Survey

Republicans have made multiple predictions of ways in which the Affordable Care Act would fail, and have been wrong on every one of them. They have claimed that no more people are insured now than before, that prices would skyrocket, that doctors would not accept people with Obamacare, and that so many people would seek medical care that there would be long waits due to shortages. (They don’t seem to realize that this totally contradicts their claim that Obama caused people to lose insurance and no new people are insured). A survey from the Commonwealth Fund adds to the other data debunking these claims.

The survey found that 9.5 million Americans obtained health insurance during the open enrollment period, with the uninsured falling 20 percent to 15 percent. This is similar to a new Gallup poll finding the uninsured at a new low at 13.4 percent.

The Commonwealth Survey also found that sixty percent of newly insured adults had used their new coverage to either see a doctor or fill a prescription. Among these, 62 percent said they could not have done so if not for the new coverage. While many insurance plans use restricted networks of physicians to control costs, which was also the case before the Affordable Care Act, 54 percent said that their plan included some of the doctors they wanted to see. Only 21 percent said they tried to find a primary  care doctor. Of these 75 percent stated this was somewhat easy or very easy and 60 percent were able to get an appointment within two weeks.

Surveys such as these are not able to measure one important change. There are no longer any people being dropped from their medical plans due to developing medical problems, or people being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

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Conservative Activist Court Rules That Employers Can Impose Their Religious Views On Employees In Hobby Lobby Case

Republicans have long claimed that Roe v. Wade was an act of an activist court to impose liberal views upon them, energizing many religious conservatives to turn out to vote for them. Today’s Supreme Court decision allowing come companies to avoid the requirements in the Affordable Care Act to include contraception on religious grounds might do the opposite. This decision will undoubtedly anger many women who will see this as meaning that their access to contraception coverage is dependent upon their employer, while the Affordable Care Act was intended to free them of this limitation and provide access to affordable contraception. It also highlights what has been clear for years that the agenda of the religious right is to block not only abortion but contraception.

Mother Jones has gathered eight of the best lines in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in the Hobby Lobby case:

  • Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, “in a decision of startling breadth,” would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”
  • “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”
  • “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”
  • “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
  • “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
  • “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”
  • “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Think Progress pointed out how this is not a victory for religious freedom and hurts people of faith:

But while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith. In fact, a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey conducted in early June found that a substantial majority of almost every major U.S. Christian group support the idea that publicly-held corporations and privately-owned corporations should be required to provide employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. This is likely why so many progressive Christian leaders have vocally opposed Hobby Lobby in the press, why Americans United for the Separation of Church and State submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Hobby Lobby on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations, and why both the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the American Jewish Committee submitted their own amicus briefs decrying the corporation’s position.

And while white evangelicals were an outlier in the PRRI poll — only 40 percent of evangelical respondents supported the ACA’s contraception mandate for privately-owned corporations — a sizable cadre of conservative Christians have publicly articulated nuanced, faith-based opposition to the case in recent months, drawing attention to the fact that Hobby Lobby only speaks for a small minority of people of faith in America. David Gushee, an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, offered an extensive treatment of the case in the Associated Baptist Press in April. He examined the issue from the perspective of a Christian theologian, noting that any attempt to broaden the legal status of businesses to include religious exemptions — however well-intentioned — is inconsistent, dangerous, and unfair to other religious Americans.

“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability,” he writes. “Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.“

In addition to fearing the social implications of a pro-Hobby Lobby ruling, other evangelical Christians take umbrage with the theological premise undergirding their case — namely, that opposing the ACA mandate is somehow an extension of a pro-life position. Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of evangelicals, wrote in the Huffington Post this weekend that evangelicals who support Hobby Lobby “are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life.” Similarly, Julia K. Stronks, evangelical Christian and political science professor at Whitworth University, teamed up with Jeffrey F. Peipert, a Jewish family-planning physician, to pen an op-ed for Roll Call earlier this month in which they argue that granting Hobby Lobby religious exemption will actually lead to more abortions. They write:

Although the owners of these for-profit corporations oppose the contraceptive requirement because of their pro-life religious beliefs, the requirement they oppose will dramatically reduce abortions. … Imagine a million fewer unintended pregnancies. Imagine healthier babies, moms and families. Imagine up to 800,000 fewer abortions. No matter your faith or political beliefs, our hunch is that we can all agree that fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions would be a blessing.

Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical Christian writer and blogger for the Religion News Service, went even further in his theological challenge to the case, arguing that conservative evangelicals shouldn’t call businesses “Christian” in the first place.

“The New Testament never—not one time—applies the ‘Christian’ label to a business or even a government,” he writes. “The tag is applied only to individuals. If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term ‘Christian’ is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”

These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.

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Why Conservatives Hate Obamacare

Jonathan Chait writes that the Republicans have finally admitted why they oppose Obamacare. The bulk of his article is a useful recap of many of the Republican claims which have turned out to be untrue.

Republicans claimed that Obamacare is mainly signing up people who already had insurance, but actually 57 percent of those who enrolled on the exchanges previously lacked insurance. He went on to debunk conservative claims that the Affordable Care Act isn’t reducing the number of uninsured, along with false claims about insurance premiums first for this year and then projections for next year.

Finally he got to the current conservative argument:

And so conservative objections to Obamacare are finally turning from the practical to the philosophical. In response to reports that Obamacare insurance turns out to be affordable, Roy, who has spent months warning of rate shock, mocks that “other people’s money will pay for it.” Conservative columnist Byron York likewise argues “Obamacare’s ‘good news’ applies only to the poor.”

It is true that Obamacare is far more helpful to people lower down the income scale. The poorest people get Medicaid, which is free. Those higher up the income ladder get tax credits, which phase out at $45,000 a year for an individual, and $94,000 a year for a family of four. (I wouldn’t call people earning under those levels “poor.”) Of course, people who get employer-sponsored insurance also get their coverage paid for with “other peoples’ money.” The difference is that employer-sponsored insurance uses a tax deduction, which gives the largest benefits to those who earn the most money, as opposed to Obamacare’s sliding scale tax credit, which gives the most to those who earn the least.

But at least conservatives are now representing their true bedrock position on Obamacare. It is largely a transfer program benefitting people who either don’t have enough money, or pose too high a health risk, to bear the cost of their own medical care. Conservatives don’t like transfer programs because they require helping the less fortunate with other peoples’ money.

Of course even those of us who do not receive any tax credits and pay the full cost still benefit from Obamacare. While I am paying a higher premium than last year, the insurance plan I purchased is far more comprehensive and cannot be cancelled regardless of changes in medical condition. It covers preventative care with no out of pocket costs, and allows me to keep my daughter on my plan while she is in college. Obamacare does help the less fortunate. That is what we do in a civilized nation. It also helps the rest of us.

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Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Bush Clinton

Peter Beinart has an article on A Unified Theory of Hillary in today’s issue of National Journal.The entire article is worth reading but one line really sums up the article and my overall opinion of Hillary Clinton: “Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.” He also pointed out how her tunnel vision “might produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush.”

Beinart does have also have some praise for Hillary Clinton as being tough-minded, and does feel she might have a better chance of dealing with Congress than other recent Democratic presidents. Looking back to the  years when Bill was in the White House, and even earlier, he had this to say:

From their days in Arkansas, Hillary took the lead in combating the scandalmongers who threatened Bill’s career. Her default position was single-minded and relentless. She repeatedly urged her husband’s advisers to meet attacks on Bill’s character by going after the character of his opponents. (According to Bernstein, in 1992 she urged the campaign to fan rumors about George H.W. Bush’s infidelity.) It was Hillary who called in Dick Morris when Bill was losing his bid for reelection as governor in 1980, and who became Morris’s point of contact when the Clintons entered the White House. According to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.’s biography Her Way, when a liberal Arkansas staffer objected to Morris’s presence, Hillary responded, “If you want to be in this kind of business, this is the kind of person you have to deal with.”

Tough-minded, but also showing the lack of principle she is known for.

Clinton has a history of making big mistakes on the big issues, such as her handling of health care reform:

Hillary’s failure to see that her model, which she had developed in Arkansas, was not working and needed to be altered midstream. As in Arkansas, Hillary—now aided by Magaziner—kept tight control of the process. At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force’s secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president’s wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access.

Her biggest mistake was in getting her husband to agree to promise to veto anything other than what Hillary wanted, despite the fact that the Republican counter-proposal was extremely similar to the Affordable Care Act passed under Barack Obama, and would have served as a point to negotiate from at the time rather than having to wait until just recently to achieve health care reform. Some Clinton staffers recommended considering more modest proposals from moderate Democrats when it became clear that her entire package could not pass in Congress.

But Hillary resisted switching course, and she and Magaziner won the day. In his State of the Union address the following January—at Hillary’s urging and over Gergen’s opposition—Bill pledged to veto any health care bill that did not provide universal health coverage, even though key figures in his own party already believed that was the only kind of health care bill Congress would pass.

Hillary proceeded to move to the right to counter the false impression spread by the right that she was a left-wing radical.

IF HILLARY’S FAILURE to improvise contributed to the demise of health care reform, it also contributed to her greatest foreign policy blunder—her support for the Iraq War—and her subsequent loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

As with health care reform, Hillary’s transition from first lady to elected official relied on a clear plan, a key component of which was: Disprove the caricature of herself as a left-wing radical (an effort made easier by the fact that the caricature had never been remotely true). In her New York Senate race, Tomasky notes, Hillary ran to Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion: She supported parental-notification laws; he did not. In the Senate, she cosponsored legislation with former impeachment champion Sam Brownback to study the effects of mass media on children and hired a staffer to reach out to abortion foes.

Clinton has also come under criticism recently for not supporting marriage equality until 2013, long after this became the politically safe position to take. She has most recently received unfavorable criticism for her handling of an interview with Terry Gross on this subject, although after listening to the interview I did not feel she did as badly as many others have written.

For the right to call Hillary Clinton a left-wing radical is even more absurd than their current claims that Barack Obama is a socialist. How would they respond if an actual leftist were to become president?

Beinart went on to describe how, after 9/11, Clinton joined Joe Lieberman on the far right of the Democratic Party, going as far as to claim 9/11 as justification for the war in Iraq and failing to recognize her mistake until virtually everyone else had abandoned her original view:

Almost as soon as the twin towers fell, Hillary began staking out positions on the right edge of her party. On Sept. 12, from the floor of the Senate, she warned—in language similar to George W. Bush’s—that regimes that “in any way aid or comfort [terrorists] whatsoever will now face the wrath of our country.” As Gerth and Van Natta detailed, Hillary did not just vote to authorize war with Iraq—something most other nationally ambitious Democrats did as well—she justified her vote by citing Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaida, a claim echoed by only one other Senate Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

Even once it became clear that governing postwar Iraq would be far harder than the Bush administration had predicted, Hillary gave little ground. In a December 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she called her Iraq decision “the right vote” and insisted that “failure is not an option.” As late as February 2005, when Iraq was already in civil war, she drew attention to the “many parts of Iraq that are functioning quite well” and warned that it “would be a mistake” to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

In bucking her party’s liberal base, Hillary almost certainly believed she was doing the right thing. She was “cursed,” she declared, when explaining her refusal to join John Edwards’s 2007 call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, “with the responsibility gene.” Hillary’s intellectual failure lay in her inability to recognize that the definition of “responsibility” she had developed during the 1990s, with its emphasis on American freedom of action and the utility of military force, was being abused and misapplied in Iraq. Her political failure lay in her inability to see how dramatically the center of gravity in her party was shifting away from her point of view.

As the situation in Iraq went south, liberal activists—enraged at the Democratic Party’s ideologically hawkish, politically submissive leaders—launched an intraparty rebellion. The first sign came in 2003, when blogs like Daily Kos and activist groups like MoveOn.org powered Howard Dean’s stunning insurgency against a field of Washington Democrats who had backed the war. Yet during that period, Hillary and her top advisers were remarkably slow to recognize that the ground was shifting underneath their feet, and that the centrist strategy they had laid out at the beginning of her Senate career was now dangerously outdated.

Clinton’s failure to recognize how the Democratic party was changing could be seen in her choice of Mark Penn to be chief strategist for her campaign: “Hillary put her fate in the hands of a consultant who not only discounted their influence but loathed them.” Her presidential campaign only reinforced suspicion of her among many liberals:

But while she may have had no good way to discuss her Iraq vote, Hillary could have at least signaled to angry liberals that she would act differently on Iran. Instead, she picked a fight over Obama’s willingness to meet Tehran’s leaders without preconditions, a fight that to many liberals confirmed that Obama would change Bush foreign policy while Hillary represented more of the same.

More broadly, Hillary’s campaign failed to adequately recognize that her Iraq vote had convinced many liberals that she lacked the courage of her convictions. As an actress playing Hillary quipped on Saturday Night Live in January 2007, “I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere.” In that environment, Hillary’s unwillingness to embrace controversial liberal causes for fear that they’d be used against her in the general election became a character issue. Arguably, the key moment in Hillary’s demise came at a Drexel University debate on Oct. 30, when she refused to forthrightly endorse New York state’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and was slammed by her opponents and the press for trying to have it both ways. Eleven days later, in perhaps his most important speech of the primary campaign, Obama wowed a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, declaring that “not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do.” At a time when Democratic primary voters were hungry for authenticity and backbone, Penn’s efforts to inoculate Hillary against right-wing attack convinced many liberals that she lacked both.

Beinart concluded (emphasis mine):

NONE OF THIS is to suggest that Hillary would be an ineffective president—only that her successes and failures would look different from Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s. Bill’s failures often owed to indiscipline. Obama’s have stemmed in part from aloofness. If past is prologue, Hillary’s would stem in significant measure from unwillingness to change course. Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Her successes as president, on the other hand, would likely result from the kind of hands-on, methodical, unyielding drive that both Bill Clinton and Obama struggled to sustain. In her wonkishness and her moderate liberalism, Hillary has much in common with Obama and her husband. But her “tunnel vision”—in the words of a close friend quoted in Sally Bedell Smith’s For Love of Politicsmight produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush. For years now, Democrats have yearned for a leader who champions their causes with the same single-minded, supremely confident, unwavering intensity that they believe Republican leaders bring to theirs. For better and worse, they may soon get their wish.

For better and worse. While undoubtedly far better than a presidency in the hands of any imaginable Republican opponent at present, I also feel that Democrats who are now so willing to hand her the nomination will also see the worse aspects.

Other controversies also surround Clinton at present. Matthew Contenetti has raised criticism this week of Clinton’s early defense of child rapist. See Doug Mataconis and Steve M for responses.

Even a simple question from The New York Times Book Review has created controversy as it reinforced views of Clinton as being calculating and dishonest:

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

Gawker’s reaction was that, “Some people like Hillary Clinton. Other people dislike Hillary Clinton. However you feel about Hillary Clinton, it is difficult to deny that she is one of the most cold and calculating political figures in all the land.” This led to a link to a 2013 article on Clinton’s Cowardice As a Political Philosophy, which looked at her views on Iraq and gay marriage.

The Daily Banter responded:

But does Clinton calling the Bible her most influential book tantamount to a political calculation?

Yes it does.

It would be one thing if Clinton meant that the Bible has been the most influential on her because it’s had a profound impact on the course of human history for more than 2,000 years. However, she wasn’t talking about the book’s cultural and political impact, but rather the influence it’s had on her personally as a reader of it.

Because if the book with the biggest influence on Hillary Clinton were truly the Bible, she would never have gotten to where she is. The Bible, however beloved it may be, is not a book conducive to thinking. Rather, the Bible deals in revealed wisdom written by men of antiquity who probably knew less about the natural world than a contemporary American fifth grader. Without question there are passages in the Bible that may very well have given her a modicum of wisdom, comfort, and encouragement, but for every such excerpt there is one or more that couldn’t be more disturbing and anathema to what we today call common decency.

There is no time to air all the dirty laundry of the Bible here. Besides, most Americans are familiar with its horrors, yet many seem to accept it as a sort of general guide on how to live by focusing on passages they find agreeable while discarding the rest.

The “rest” would include the multiple instances of mass killing in the Old Testament, including the great flood started by god that wiped out nearly all of humanity. Homosexuals, witches, and Sabbath-breakers are ordered killed. The Ten Commandments say that one must only worship Yahweh, who judges people merely for what they think. Interestingly enough, rape is not mentioned in the commandments.

In the New Testament, we come to learn that those who do not accept that Jesus was brutally tortured and killed for their sins will suffer in hell in anguish for all eternity simply for not believing. This is founding principle of Christianity.

And yet this is the text that Hillary Clinton — a Yale Law School-educated former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State — says is the book that’s had the biggest impact on her life.

You can believe it if you like. And if you do, there’s a bridge near me I’d like to sell you.

While hardly the biggest campaign issue, this also underscores Hillary Clinton’s lack of self-awareness, failing to understand how a dishonest and calculating answer such as this does nothing to appease the right while reinforcing reservations about her from the left.

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Survey: Most Buying On Insurance Exchanges Weren’t Previously Covered

Reprinted with permission from Kaiser Health News

Nearly six in 10 Americans who bought insurance for this year through the health law’s online marketplaces were previously uninsured—most for at least two years, according to a new survey that looks at the experiences of those most affected by the law.

That finding is higher than some earlier estimates, and counters arguments made by critics of the law that most of those who purchased the new policies were previously insured.

The survey also found that consumers who purchase their own coverage because they can’t get it at work are more likely to have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act than the general public. Still, they are nearly evenly divided, with 47 percent holding a favorable view of the law and 43 percent an unfavorable one, according to the survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

That compares with 46 percent of adults nationally who are sour on the law, and 38 percent who hold favorable views.

Consumers who received a government subsidy to help them purchase a plan were most likely to say they benefited from the law, according to the Kaiser survey. Those most likely to say they were negatively affected were those who had prior coverage but had to switch because their plans were discontinued for not meeting the law’s standards or for other reasons.

The report is likely to provide fodder for all sides in the debate about the law’s effect on health care costs and reducing the number of uninsured, which remains sharply partisan.

The findings suggest the new market for those who buy their own insurance “is working far better than critics say it is, but probably not as well as advocates hoped it would be,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of the nonpartisan foundation.

Aside from data about premium costs, there has been little information so far about the experiences and perceptions of those who buy their own coverage. Are they healthier or sicker than those who get coverage through their jobs? Did people who lose their former coverage end up paying more or less for new plans? Do they like their coverage?

The Kaiser survey provides additional details based on a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 742 adults who purchased their own coverage. Many of the health law’s provisions were aimed at them, from the subsidies to help low- and middle-income residents buy coverage, to rules barring insurers from rejecting people with medical conditions, or charging women more than men.

The report shows sharp contrasts between those who say the law benefited them and their families and those who felt it hurt them:

– 34 percent of enrollees say they have benefited from the law, often citing lower costs or better access to care, while 29 percent said they were negatively affected, generally as a result of increased costs.

– 71 percent of those who enrolled in a plan that took effect after Jan. 1 rate their coverage as excellent or good, with 55 percent saying it is an excellent or good value for what they pay, but 39 percent rate it as an “only fair” or “poor” value.

– 43 percent say it is difficult to afford their monthly premiums and nearly half, 46 percent, are not confident they would be able to afford their share of the cost of a major illness or injury. About one third of those with new plans say they are dissatisfied with their deductibles.

Overall, about half of those who purchased a plan that met the health law’s rules said they got help in enrolling, from family members, assisters, brokers or others.

The survey was taken in April and early May, which means some respondents had held their policies since January, while others didn’t finish enrolling until mid-April, so had little or no experience using the new plans.

“It’s still fairly early so I’m not sure how much weight to give these responses,” said Sabrina Corlette, project director at the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University. “How many are satisfied but haven’t used their plan yet?”

Altman acknowledged that it will be several years before the full picture is known, but said the survey offers insights into several important policy questions, from the percent of enrollees who were previously uninsured to their health status when they signed up.

The relative health of new enrollees is important because insurers base their premiums partly on estimates of how much they may have to pay out in claims. Under new rules, they can no longer bar the sick or charge them more.

The survey found that people enrolling in new coverage were more likely to report being in “fair” or “poor” health (17 percent) than those who hung onto older plans purchased before the law went into effect (6 percent), suggesting they may be sicker and costlier to cover. Insurers built such projections into their rates for this year and as people start to use their coverage, are only starting to find out if they projected correctly.

One section of the survey examines the experiences of those whose policies were canceled, or who switched from previous coverage to something new for other reasons.

While the law’s critics have argued those consumers ended up paying more and getting less, the report found that 46 percent of those who switched plans paid less for their coverage, often because of subsidies, while 39 percent paid more. Annual deductibles – the amount enrollees pay before insurance picks up most of the tab – are similar to what they paid before. More than half described their choice of medical providers as “about the same.”

Even so, the survey found that those who switched are less satisfied with the cost of their plans than those who were previously uninsured and less likely to believe their coverage is a good value.

Those reactions should not be seen as “a call to arms to beef up this coverage” since such efforts could boost premiums and government spending on subsidies, said Joe Antos of the American Enterprise Institute.

The federal government is expected to spend about $12 billion on insurance subsidies this fiscal year, which ends in September, according to the latest report from the Congressional Budget Office. People earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level – about $11,500 to $46,000 a year — can qualify for subsidies on a sliding scale.

“There are resource limits,” Antos said. “Going back to taxpayers and saying we want you to cough up more money probably won’t be a big seller.”

The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the full sample, 5 percentage points for those who bought plans on or after Jan. 1 and 6 percentage points for those in plans purchased through the marketplace.

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Insurance Exchanges Providing Coverage At Reasonable Price With Choices Expanding

Now that health care coverage through the exchanges has been up and running for a several months we are getting more data on the favorable results. A major benefit has been to not only replace policies on the individual market which often had limited coverage with comprehensive coverage that cannot be canceled for development of medical problems, but to also make such care more affordable. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services found wide variation from state to state but found that on average those who receive subsidies are paying $82 a month in premiums, about one-fourth of what they would have paid without the subsidies.

The government has previously reported that 87 percent of the 5.4 million Americans who chose a health plan through the federal health exchange qualified for some financial help.

The health officials said they have not yet analyzed the incomes of people who qualified for the subsidies. But overall, the report shows, the average monthly tax credit this year is $264. Without the federal help, the average premium chosen by people eligible for a tax credit would have been $346 per month, and the subsidy lowered the consumers’ premiums, on average, by 76 percent. The result is that four out of five people with subsidies are paying premiums of no more than $100 a month — although that does not include money they might need to spend for insurance deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.

An erroneous report in The Los Angels Times claimed that the cost of subsidies was running above current projections received a lot of coverage in conservative blogs this morning but the article has since been corrected to indicate that the cost of subsidies is consistent with projections from the Congressional Budget office.

McClatchy added additional information from the HSS report on choices available on the exchanges:

On average, federal marketplace users can choose from 5 insurers and 47 marketplace plans across all the metal tiers; bronze, which cover 60 percent of health care costs, silver plans, gold plans that cover 80 percent of costs and platinum plans that cover 90 percent.

The report found competition between plan providers lowers premiums. That bodes well for plan prices in 2015 when more plans are expected to enter the marketplace.

McKinsey & Company also looked at choices available in their own study, finding that consumers typically had a choice of both more expensive plans with larger provider networks and less expensive plans with more restrictive networks. They also note that, “There is no meaningful performance difference between broad and narrowed exchange networks based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) hospital metrics…” Of course there are reasons beyond quality metrics which might cause people to be willing to pay more for a plan which offers more choice. They also report that 46 percent of those responding to their survey indicated they knew what type of plan they had enrolled in and 26 percent were unaware of the network type they had selected.

The Hill reported on a growing number of insurance companies desiring to offer policies through the exchanges, which will both help lower costs and provide increased choice. As Jonathan Chait points out, this is evidence that Obamacare has been a success, doing what the program was designed to do. The actual news is also quite different from what is being posted at many conservative sites.

While insurance prices through the exchanges are expensive before subsidies are included (and remain expensive for those of us who do not qualify for subsidies), the premiums look much more reasonable when compared to insurance prices prior to the Affordable Care Act, and when the frequent double digit increases in rates were considered. The Commonwealth Club has looked at insurance prices on the individual market prior to Obamacare.

USA Today, in reporting on the HHS report and the increased number of insurance companies planning to offer coverage, points out that “new state filings for the 2015 plan year show more insurance companies are moving onto health care exchanges in some competition-deprived states and requesting rate increases that are largely in line with pre-Obamacare years.”

Choice in physicians is increasing in plans in the exchanges, but United Health Care continues to reduce choice by dropping still more physicians from their Medicare Advantage networks (which is unrelated to Obamacare).

The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe are among newspapers reporting on a study from The Journal Of The American Medical Association showing that the Affordable Care Act has resulted in better health care and lower costs for young adults.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/06/18/230648/new-hhs-report-touts-federal-marketplace.html?utm_campaign=KHN%3A+Daily+Health+Policy+Report&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=13220140&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9LEiMRY8tbEZ1g2JFk4Z-JO7Rf4BCeYZyOvcOmYTGlzNq5IKvCPlgMTZIg2Py07w_QMVoT4v6g8-NzQZYh0u7h_Lue2Q&_hsmi=13220140#storylink=cpy
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Republican Extremism And The Weakness Of Republican Leadership

The victory of David Brat over Eric Cantor was momentarily a cause for celebration, but the long term results might not be so favorable. Norm Ornstein warns that this will lead to further radicalization of the Republican Party:

First, it is clear that this moves the Republican Party even further to the right, in approach, attitude and rhetoric. Even if the overwhelming majority of incumbents, including establishment ones, have won renomination, even if broader Republican public opinion is more establishment conservative than Tea Party radical, all it takes is an example or two of the opposite to get all politicians jumping at their shadows and muttering to themselves, “That could happen to me.”

…American political parties always face a tension between their establishment and ideological wings. On the Republican side, going back more than a hundred years to the Teddy Roosevelt era, that was a struggle between moderate progressives and conservatives.

Now it is different. There are no moderates or progressives in today’s GOP; the fight is between hard-line conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing, who have as much disdain for Republican traditional conservatives as they do for liberals.

In our 2012 book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Tom Mann and I described the Republican Party as an “insurgent outlier.” That is even more true today. The energy and driving force in the party, in its House membership, media dominance, caucus and primary electorates and financial backers, is not its conservative wing but its radical side.

Ornstein is probably right that this will pull the Republicans even further to the right, but how far right can they go before even safe Republican districts are at risk? Will Republicans in these districts support any lunatic with an R after his name, or is there a limit? At the moment it appears that Brat should win, but the narrative would certainly change if the victory by such an extremists were to cause the Republicans to lose a safe Republican district.

Yesterday I noted Brat’s views on slashing spending on Medicare, Social Security, and education.  His plan to replace Obmamacare is just as absurd: “We need to also scrap employer-based health insurance, and give those incentives to individuals to carry their own portable health insurance. If we did that, the issue of pre-existing conditions largely goes away.” This makes absolutely no sense as the individual market has been dominated by insurance plans which have been the most abusive at denying coverage to the sick.

Brat’s campaign manager, Zachery Werrell, scrubbed his Facebook page after the victory but Yahoo News took screen shots while the page was still available:

From comparing George Zimmerman’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin to abortion to calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration and encouraging the adoption of the silver monetary standard, Zachary Werrell – one of just two paid staffers for the upstart campaign of Randolph-Macon College economics professor David Brat – sought in 2012 and 2013 to build a public profile as a socially conservative libertarian voice…

“Can someone who was outraged that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of ‘SOMETHING ANYTHING’ and who is simultaneously pro-choice explain the logical dissonance there? Ie. Why its not ok to kill someone who is banging your head into concrete but its ok to kill someone for simply existing who, through your conscious actions, you brought into the world?” Werrell had written in an Oct. 24, 2013, posting.

The month before, the campaign manager for the likely next congressman for Virginia’s 7th District – since no Democrat has represented that district since 1971 – questioned whether existing state lines were defensible. “Should sections of States be allowed to secede from a State if they feel they are un/underrepresented in the State Government?” Werrell asked. “I say yes. I derive that opinion from our first foundational document – the Declaration of Independence. What say you?”

On Oct. 25, 2013, he called for an end to the regulation of prescription drugs, citing a story from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. “Abolish the FDA!” he wrote.

On Oct. 29 of that year, it was a piece by Fred Reed from Lew Rockwell’s website on the wussification of boys that set him off. “There is a war on boys!” Werrell wrote. “Rough housing, playing soldier, etc, are all punished or medicated away. And we wonder why there is gender inequality in the classroom and in college/attendance/graduation rates.”

The Reed piece called for the end of women teachers in coed or boys’ schools. “It is time to get women out of the schooling of boys,” wrote Fred Reed. “It is way past time. Women in our feminized classrooms are consigning generations of our sons to years of misery and diminished futures.” The piece further argued that “women should not be allowed within fifty feet of a school where boys are taught” and that “Women are totalitarian. Men are happy to let boys be boys and girls be girls. Women want all children to be girls.”

Brat is far more likely than Cantor to make a major gaffe. It will be interesting to see his take on the views of his campaign manager.

If we can fantasize about a Democratic upset in this Congressional district, we might also fantasize about another upset in the general election. Peter Beinart looked at the weakness of the Republican leadership:

Cantor’s boss, John Boehner is, according to Nancy Pelosi, “the weakest speaker in history.” Less than 50 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. Over the last two years, he has repeatedly retreated in the face of opposition from rank-and-file conservatives who treat him with barely disguised disdain. Until the defeat of Cantor, his most likely heir apparent, it was widely assumed that he would soon either step—or be pushed—aside soon.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell only avoided Cantor’s fate by attaching himself to his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul, whose upstart Senate candidacy McConnell had opposed. Like Boehner, McConnell is treated with striking disrespect in his own caucus.

David Frum wonders whether the Republican leadership will ever fight back:

At some point, Republican leaders must recognize that they have a fight on their hands whether they like it or not. If they refuse to join that fight, they will be devoured anyway. If they surrender, they condemn the whole conservative project in America to the destructive leadership of fanatics (and the cynics who make their living by duping fanatics).

I never thought there was much of a chance of Grimes to beat Mitch McConnell despite being close in the polls but today Political Wire reported that “A new Magellan Strategies (R) poll in Kentucky finds Allison Lundergran Grimes (D) leading Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) by three points in the U.S. Senate race, 49% to 46%.” Perhaps a major reason that Cantor was defeated is general bipartisan disgust with the Republican leadership, and if so this just might extend to knocking out McConnell.

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