Sunday, July 13, 2014

Idiots' Delight (the Semi-Annual Edition)

Due to unforeseen circumstances - the New York Rangers actually made it all the way to the finals for the first time in twenty years - last two months' Idiots' Delight features got, shall we say, waylaid. Fear not, kids. The nice thing about idiots is that there are always plenty of them around from which to choose. It's kind of like watching a soap opera. You can miss a month's worth of episodes and when you finally resume watching, Brad is still proposing to Laura, over the objections of her father.

Rather than combine May and June, I thought I would just cut to the chase and proceed to the semi-annual edition. That way, I figure, I can maximize the idiot to feature ratio. Who says progressives can't be efficient? 

Okay, buckle up, here we go. Envelope please.

The "experts" who got everything wrong about Iraq. You've got to have balls of steal to go on the air and criticize this president for his mistakes in Iraq, when just about every prediction you made about that country was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Let's start with the "brains" of the operation, Dick Cheney, AKA, Darth Vader. Cheney penned an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal in which he said of Obama's alleged failures, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

This coming from the man who said we would be greeted as liberators and that the insurgency was in its last throes. How embarrassing was Cheney? Fox News's own Megyn Kelly called him on the carpet in an interview saying, "But time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir...Now with almost a trillion dollars spent there with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say, you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?"

Wow, I guess it's true that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Next up on the poison food chain is Paul Bremer. This was the genius who thought de-Ba'athification of Iraq would be a good idea. Rather than strengthen Iraqi democracy, the policy exacerbated the growing unrest throughout the country that led to the proliferation of the types of insurgency groups that Cheney assumed were in their last throes. Thanks to Bremer, these groups now had the support of thousands of Ba'ath Party members who were all too eager to avenge their purge from the Iraqi government.

To this day, Bremer defends his decision and pins the blame on - guess who? - the U.S. military. If only they had listened to him, Iraq would be a democratic paradise today. Dogs have more shame when they shit on your rug.

Of course, no operation of this magnitude could've gotten off the ground without an inspirational leader. Which brings us to Paul Wolfowitz. The chief architect of the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq, it was Wolfowitz who first brought up the idea to invade the country shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He also predicted that the reconstruction costs would be paid for by the revenue from Iraqi oil. Wolfowitz, you might remember, served as Under Secretary of Defense to George H.W. Bush, who, like his son, also invaded Iraq. Though in that case, the elder Bush at least had the brains to stop before toppling the government.

Naturally, no team would be complete without its cheerleader. Enter Bill (I never met a war I didn't drool over) Kristol. Calling Kristol a neocon would be like calling the Atlantic ocean wet. It goes without saying. The editor of The Weekly Standard was famous for insisting that the war would last at most two months and that there was "almost no evidence ... at all that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni." If by two months he meant 104 months and if by no evidence he meant that there was plenty of evidence, then yes, I guess Kristol was right.

Once more, Kristol is beating the war drums. I guess spending $2 trillion on one unwarranted war that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and thousands of our troops wasn't enough for Captain Killroy. Now he's setting his sites on Syria, calling for - surprise, surprise - military intervention.

Some people never know when to quit.

The media for allowing the aforementioned clowns back on stage.   It's one thing to be brazenly arrogant, not to mention profoundly wrong. It's quite another for that arrogance to be enabled by the alleged guardians of truth.

If you need any more evidence that the main-stream media in this country is lame, you need look no further than the shameless performances of the Sunday talk-show hosts. Not only did they allow these buffoons admission to their sets, they didn't even have the decency to challenge them on their own complicity in what has now become the most disgraceful chapter in American foreign policy.

Talking Head, and hopefully soon to be ex-Meet the Press moderator, David Gregory, actually asked Wolfowitz what he would do about the growing terror threat from ISIS.  Nothing like asking a pyromaniac what he would do with a couple of gallons of gasoline. Knowing Gregory's propensity for lapping up anything he's told, I'm surprised he didn't hump Wolfowitz' leg during the interview.

George Will for his rape column.  Over the last few years of his career, George Will has managed to stay clear of the insanity that has gripped the bulk of the conservative movement. Though frequently wrong on just about every topic imaginable, he was nonetheless respected by even his staunchest critics.

Well you can now kiss that baby goodbye. On June 6th, Will wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, in which he said that, thanks to the recent trend of political correctness, being a victim of rape is now a "coveted status that confers privileges."

Not being satisfied with digging himself halfway to China, Will went on to expound further by calling the incidents of sexual assault a "supposed campus epidemic."

The main thrust of Will's argument rests on two points: the first being what he considers a discrepancy between the number of rapes that are actually committed on college campuses, which is 20 percent and the number that are actually reported, which is 12 percent. "Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous." Apparently, it has never dawned on Will that the difference may have something to do with the fact that there is still a great deal of shame associated with reporting a rape. Women not only have to contend with the actual trauma of the event but the stigma that somehow they must've done something to deserve it. Idiots like Will don't make it any easier.

Which brings us to Will's second point, a report in a Philadelphia magazine about a girl who had befriended a young man, who she assumed was not interested in a romantic relationship. When the man decided otherwise and proceeded to undress her, she initially said "no." But the man persisted and he eventually raped her. The woman "just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything." Six weeks later, she reported the incident.

It's the six weeks that's bugging Will out. Somehow the delay in reporting the assault means that it couldn't have been that traumatic. Again, Will fails to understand the huge shame and guilt that many women carry in these circumstances. This man was supposed to be a friend, she thought. He didn't just violate her body, he violated her trust.

Neanderthals like Will see the male as the true victim here. Thanks to what he calls "progressivism," these young men, who have had their reputations smeared, must now contend with "costly litigation" against these institutions that have denied them their "due process" to clear their names.

Apparently Will must've missed the lesson in English class where the teacher said "no" was a complete sentence. Thankfully, his ignorance did not go unpunished. Within a couple of days of the piece appearing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which was carrying Will's syndicated column, dropped him, calling the piece "offensive and inaccurate."

The only question remaining is what is The Washington Post waiting for?

John Boehner suing President Obama. The day that John Boehner decides to hang up his gavel, give up politics and become a private citizen, he should immediately pursue a career in comedy. In a stunt that would make Lewis Black's day, the Speaker of the House is actually going to sue a sitting president.  You know, it's one thing to be delusional (as many in his party are) it's quite another to be flat out stupid.

And what is the basis for the suit? It seems the Speaker and the GOP are all up in arms over Obama's decision - last year, mind you - to delay the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Yep, you heard right. Republicans are pissed that Obama delayed implementation of part of a law they've tried to repeal more than 50 times. See what I mean about comedy?

Politics aside, this stunt is doomed to failure. As Bloomberg's Jonathan Bernstein correctly points out, "For the courts to consider a lawsuit, the person or group bringing the suit has to show they were harmed in some direct way. So, for example, in the recent recess appointment case, Noel Canning Corp. was able to show that it had directly been harmed by an action taken by members of the National Labor Relations Board who had been recess-appointed. Generally, the courts have ruled (Vox has a good explainer on this) that Congress isn’t eligible to sue the president just because it doesn't like what he’s done."

So why is Boehner proceeding with a suit? Two words: Tea Party. Nobody with any credibility thinks this will go anywhere. In fact, there are a number of pundits who've warned that Boehner's suit could potentially backfire on the GOP. But try telling that to the bubble people who are obsessed with this president and his use of executive orders. Never mind that past presidents have relied on executive orders far more than Obama; never mind that it is well within the purview of a president to take executive actions when he or she sees fit. The fact that this president has done it has driven them completely over the edge.

Here's the irony. If Boehner's suit were to be successful, the employer mandate that the GOP had demanded be stripped from the ACA during last year's government shutdown, would actually be reinstated. How's that for shooting yourself in the foot?

Spoiler alert. If this stunt actually ends up costing the GOP the Senate this year, look for Boehner to top the annual Idiots' Delight awards. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon!"

President Obama for his handling of the border crisis. I have said this on more than one occasion. This president's greatest problem has been not his policies, but his perception. Simply put, the man doesn't know - or apparently isn't interested in - how to, as they say in show business, play to an audience. And that one glaring weakness has caused him a mountain of grief during his five plus years in the Oval Office.

The border crisis is yet another case in point. Yes, this problem has been growing steadily for well over two decades and, yes, the main obstacle, ironically enough, appears to be a law that George Bush signed in '08. That law prohibits the quick return of children from countries other than Mexico or Canada and affords them an immigration hearing with legal counsel. The Administration, to its credit, is asking for some "flexibility" regarding the law's implementation so it can take action. Again, good policy.

But, with all due respect, Mr. President, you can't say that the reason you didn't go down to visit the border was because you weren't interested in a photo op and then show up at a bar and shoot pool with voters in Denver. You can't have it both ways. Yes, we get it you are well briefed and on top of the situation. No one is doubting that (well at least no one who's sane). But for Christ's sake, would it have killed you to spend a couple of hours down there? You went all the way to New Jersey to shake Chris Christie's hand after Sandy. It's not like you don't have Air Force One at your disposal.

How bad was your faux pas? Rick Perry actually ended up looking good. Yes, Rick Perry! The guy who couldn't remember the third department he'd shut down if he got elected president. Mr. Oops, himself! There are only four things in the universe dumber than Rick Perry: Michele Bachman, Sarah Palin, Louie Gohmert and an amoeba.

Shame on you, sir, for ceding the stage to him and letting him look even remotely intelligent, not to mention giving the wing nuts a talking point on, of all things, immigration reform.

Ron Reagan, Jr's tasteless atheist commercial on Cosmos.  As someone who grew up with both an appreciation of science and faith, it annoyed me to no end when, on the season finale of Cosmos, this ad by Ron Reagan appeared.




Well, first off, Ron, it's NOT freedom from religion, it's freedom of religion. Let's get our prepositions straight. Secondly, and most importantly, your commercial, while I'm sure it was important to you personally, could not have been more ill timed or ill advised.

Okay, you're an atheist who doesn't believe in heaven or hell. Good for you. I'm sure you're a credit to atheists everywhere. I'll even bet Bill Maher got a woody when he saw your ad.

Here's the problem. While it's true that an overwhelming majority of Cosmos' viewers would probably agree with your stance, some don't. Like me, they don't think that believing in God means that the universe has to be six thousand years old. They see science not as an impediment to their faith in God, but as proof of his wonder and glory. They don't believe in fairytales, but they also don't believe in a random universe.

Without quite realizing it, you took a giant shit on those people and, in so doing, aided and abetted the Christian Right, which has been looking for every opportunity to exploit this situation to their advantage.

This is one of the reasons why I detest the Left almost as much as I do the Right. While the Right is myopic and backward thinking, the Left is often arrogant. There is a smugness that tends to rub people the wrong way. And it's that smugness that often costs them votes in close elections. Voters who might otherwise be sympathetic to their positions are often dissed and made to feel unwelcome, hence they vote for the other candidate, often against their own interests.

Ron Reagan may not want to admit it, but the majority of the country believes in God. The goal of the Left shouldn't be pissing off that majority, but, rather, finding a way to lure many of them over from the dark side.

Votes are hard enough to come by even in good years. No one should flippantly toss any aside.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Supply-Side Economics: The Great Political Shell Game


There's an old saying. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Well, when it comes to the "theory" of supply-side or trickle-down economics, it appears there are no limits on how many times people allow themselves to be fooled. It's like watching a shell game, only at least in a typical shell game - you know, the one where someone hides a ball under one of three cups and you're supposed to guess where it is - the cost is a few lousy dollars. With supply-side economics the cost has been considerably higher; to the tune of trillions of dollars.

The shell game goes something like this. First you promise to lower everyone's taxes. That's an important first step, because who doesn't want their taxes lowered. Next you claim that the tax breaks will pay for themselves because everyone will have more money to spend, including the "job creators," who, you know, create jobs. With more people working, there will be more money coming into the treasury and, with all that extra capital out there, the economy will grow by leaps and bounds and the deficit and debt will shrink as the great engine of capitalism purrs along in 5th gear.

It sounds great doesn't it? And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that those of you who played that other shell game swore that the ball was under that third cup. But it wasn't, was it? It always ended up being under the cup you didn't choose. That's why it's called a shell game. The house rigged the contest; the player never stood a chance.

Over the last 34 years, the United States has had two front-row seats to view the ultimate shell game: supply-side economics. The results have been as consistent as they've been predictable. The economy did not grow by leaps and bounds; in fact, growth was no more than average at best. The job creators didn't create those extra jobs; for the most part they lined their corporate pockets. And while the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and the middle class got squeezed. But, worst of all, the debt exploded.

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the debt stood at $930 billion; when he left in 1989, the debt stood at $2.7 trillion. In short, Reagan almost tripled the debt in his eight years as president. George W. Bush's eight years in office proved no better. When he took office, the debt was $5.7 trillion; when he left in 2009, the debt was $10.7 trillion. That's almost double if you're keeping track. Worse for Bush is the fact that he inherited a $300 billion surplus from Bill Clinton, which he quickly squandered by starting two huge land wars, passing two huge tax cuts and expanding Medicare.

You'd think that the American people, after getting burned twice, would've figured out the con and come to the realization that supply-side economics simply doesn't work. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. And the reason is quite simple. No matter how many times they get burned, Americans love it when you tell them something they want to hear. And everyone loves hearing they're getting something for nothing. Think about it. Who doesn't want a few extra bucks in their pockets to spend?

Of course those few extra bucks come with a huge price tag. For every dollar the typical middle-class taxpayer receives, the ultra rich get hundreds, if not thousands. And that extra money floating around hardly ever ends up back in the treasury. That's because people who were barely getting by in the first place are not likely to spend that extra cash. What they're far more likely to do is hold onto it for a rainy day. Ironically, Bush found that out when he did his own little stimulus in early '08 when the economy began to tank. Bush thought he could prevent a recession by naively believing that American consumers would go on a spending binge. It backfired. Instead of spending the extra money, they horded it.

Corporate America pretty much did the same thing. One of the cruelest hoaxes perpetrated on the public is that the reason the job creators haven't created enough jobs is because they are over regulated and over taxed.

Balderdash.

In 2011, as the economy was beginning its long, slow recovery, America's largest corporations were sitting on roughly $2 trillion. That's right. At a time when unemployment was over 9%, our vaunted job creators were sitting on the sidelines propping up their balance sheets and making their investors rich and happy. The idea that giving these blood suckers another trillion dollars more in tax "incentives," is obscene.

Obscene or not, the proponents are persistent in their claims. More tax cuts and less government regulation equal more jobs and greater prosperity for all. The fact that Clinton grew the economy more with higher marginal tax rates and the same regulations, all while balancing the budget, or that Eisenhower presided over the longest stretch of prosperity the nation had seen in a century - with even higher marginal tax rates and more regulations - is irrelevant. Tell a lie often enough and gullible people will swallow it.

Once more the gullible are lining up to play the shell game. The deficit is shrinking and the economy is growing at its highest rate in six years. But that hasn't deterred the supply-siders. They're determined to rewrite history once more.  Trust us, they say. This time the ball really will be under the third cup.

Don't believe them, Amercia. The ball isn't going to be under the third cup this time. In fact there IS no ball. There never was one. And no matter how many times you play the game, you'll never win. The house will see to it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Civil Rights, LBJ and the Truth About Democrats, Republicans and Racism

Over the last few days a number of conservatives have been doing an awful lot of chest-thumping over their part in passing the Civil Rights Act, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 2nd. To hear them tell it, it was Republicans who were responsible for the bill's passage in Congress. Racist Democrats tried to filibuster and kill it.

You hear this mantra quite often from conservatives. Republicans were the party that ended slavery; Democrats resisted them. Republicans fought to end segregation; Democrats supported the Ku Klux Klan. They even managed to dig up a clip where Lyndon Johnson is heard saying the "N" word, proof positive that Democrats were the party of racism.

Of course what many of these people are sadly missing are contextual and historical perspective. When they say that racist Democrats wanted to kill the bill and Republicans supported it, they are only telling part of the story. In order to get at the truth, it is important to go back and look at the makeup of both parties in the 1960s.

Harry Enten wrote an excellent piece for the Guardian which explains this very "complicated picture."

Yes, it is true that, if you look simply at the across the board voting, a greater percentage of Republicans supported the bill than Democrats. But when one breaks down the vote geographically, the results are quite startling.

First let's start with the raw numbers. In 1964, Democrats held 244 seats in the House and 67 seats in the Senate, by all accounts an extraordinary majority. Conversely, Republicans held just 171 seats in the House and only 33 seats in the Senate. But what is not generally known or discussed much is that in the South, Democrats controlled 91 of the 102 total House seats and 21 of the 22 total Senate seats, an even greater majority percentage.

In those states not in the South, Democrats voted 95 percent in favor of the bill in the House and 98 percent in favor in the Senate, compared with 9 percent and 5 percent respectively among Southern Democrats. The Republican breakdown was even worse. While roughly 85 percent of non-southern House and Senate Republicans voted in favor of the bill, not one Republican in the South joined them. All 12 voted no.

The reason for the disparity between Republican and Democratic support for the Civil Rights Act is owed directly to the fact that Democrats held far more House and Senate seats in the South than Republicans. Had the two parties been similar in strength, the percentages would've been considerably closer; it's entirely possible that they might even have been reversed.

It was the racism that existed in the South that proved to be the primary culprit.  Party affiliation seems to have been superfluous. What happens next, however, is crucial to get a full understanding of the issue before us.

Almost immediately after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and later the Voting Rights Act, many southern Democrats - commonly referred to as Dixiecrats - began bolting the party to join the GOP. They were led by the likes of Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and, later in the '70s, Jesse Helms. Conservative arguments that Robert Byrd stayed with the Democratic Party are amusing at best. Byrd was the only "northern" Democrat to vote against the Civil Rights Act and, as The Daily Kos adroitly observed, calling West Virginia a northern state is "a stretch." At any rate, Byrd later changed his views and became a supporter of civil rights, while Thurmond and Helms remained fervent  segregationists until their deaths.

In the years since the passage of both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the South has become increasingly Republican, while the North has become increasingly Democratic. Richard Nixon capitalized on the fears of many segregationists by employing the Southern Strategy. It helped propel him to victory in the 1968 presidential election. In fact, Barry Goldwater, the '64 Republican nominee for president, managed to win five southern states that had, heretofore, always voted Democrat. 

A comparison between the 1964 and current Congress reveals the depths of the transformation that has taken place in both parties. Below are maps depicting the composition of both Houses in the 88th Congress. Right below them are maps depicting the composition of those very same Houses in the current Congress. Read it and weep.

Senate, 88th Congress:


 

 House of Representatives, 88th Congress:


Senate, current Congress:




House of Representatives, current Congress:



Over the last fifty years the GOP has virtually taken over the South. It is now the majority party in that region of the country. Furthermore, Republicans who would've supported the Civil Rights Act are now completely gone from the party, purged by a radical element that is obsessed with purifying its ranks.

Yes, it is true that once upon a time the Republican Party was a progressive, freedom-loving party. Men like Abraham Lincoln defined it and men like Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower carried on that grand old tradition. It is also true that Great Britain was once a great sea-faring nation. But, as they say in the Navy, that ship sailed a long, long time ago.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Obamacare's Pending Moment of Truth

As bad as the Hobby Lobby decision was to the ACA, there is a far greater threat to it lurking down the road; one which could completely destroy the whole statute. Over at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, three judges - two of them appointed by Republican presidents - are about to rule on whether the law allows the federal exchanges to provide subsidies to consumers.

The plaintiffs in the case, Halbig v. Sebelius, are arguing that the language of the statute is precise and clear when it says "through an Exchange established by the State under 1311." If they are successful in their challenge, then the subsidies in the 36 states - Republican states - that decided not to set up their own exchanges would be ruled invalid. That would mean millions of people who signed up for Obamacare thinking they would be entitled to subsidies would have to pay more for their healthcare plans. In plain language, such a ruling, if upheld, would be a sweeping victory for the law's opponents who have tried for more than three years to have it repealed.

If the oral arguments are any indication, then we are headed for another Supreme Court showdown. It was only two years ago that the law barely survived when Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the individual mandate as a tax. That decision infuriated conservatives and left even the law's supporters bewildered. The sixty-four thousand dollar question that begs to be answered is will Roberts, if he is once again the deciding vote, uphold the law or will he see it as a chance to atone for his "sin" to the far Right.

If I were a betting man, I wouldn't put too much stock in the former. Most scholars who looked at both the Roberts' and dissenting opinions have concluded, and I believe rightly so, that Roberts was this close to striking down the mandate, but abruptly changed his mind. It is speculated that the reason for his about face was that he refused to go along with Antonin Scalia and the other conservatives on the bench, who were in favor of chucking the entire statute. He felt that was excessive; that even though Congress did not include a severability clause in the law, it was still possible to strike the mandate and keep the rest of the law intact. This time, with no such burden to bear, I fully expect Roberts to side with his fellow brethren.

The only encouraging news is that the Court will not get the chance to hear oral arguments for quite some time. Assuming the three-judge panel rules against the law, the next stop would be for the Administration to petition the full D.C. Circuit to hear the case. And since four of those judges were appointed by President Obama, the likelihood of a favorable ruling is quite good. That means we may well have to wait until next summer to find out whether the Affordable Care Act will either survive intact or go down as the largest legislative footnote in history.

Remember when all those progressives were stubbornly insisting on passing a single-payer healthcare system? Well don't look now but they're shouting, "We told you so."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

So Much for Pushing Up Daisies

Apparently a 96% approval rating from the American Conservative Union wasn't good enough. Eric Cantor, House Majority leader, was defeated Tuesday by his Tea Party challenger, David Brat. That's right, the number two man in the House of Representatives, and the man many suspected would be the likely successor to John Boehner as the next Speaker, is out of a job. And here's the real shocker, it wasn't even close. Despite having a war chest of $5.4 million, Cantor just didn't lose, he got his ass kicked.

Make no mistake about it, this is a huge victory for the far Right. It's also a huge headache for the entire Republican Party. Don't get me wrong, I shed no tears for Cantor. Let's face it, he was a backstabbing weasel and a major irritant to both Boehner and his own House conference.  But even I didn't see this coming. Cantor, who rode the Tea Party wave in 2010 and became one of the movement's favorite sons, was ironically done in by his own kind. Talk about eating your young. 

This isn't just a Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock moment, this is a major sea change for the GOP and, yes, for Democrats too. By taking Eric Cantor down, the Tea Party threw down the gauntlet and served notice to any and all within earshot. We're alive and well and we're not going anywhere.

This, hopefully, should put to bed all the "establishment Republicans take back their party" drivel I've been hearing from the supposedly in-the-know pundits out there. With a few notable exceptions, the prevailing logic was that the Tea Party was on the outs. So much for being out.

So what was it that did Cantor in? Well, two things. One, he had the audacity to embrace some form of immigration reform. Among the Tea Party that has become a four-letter word, right up there with Obamacare and Benghazi. You might as well give a vampire sunblock as to even hint at "amnesty," which is what the natives call it in the land of Oz.

But the second thing was probably just as big. Cantor had become identified by the base as an establishment Republican, which is hysterical when you think about it. Of all the Republican leaders in the House, none was more of a dick than Cantor. He wasn't just your run-of-the-mill obstructionist, he was the self-proclaimed chairman of the obstructionist wing of the Party. It was Cantor, you may recall, who "urged" Boehner to walk away from the grand bargain deal he was trying to strike with President Obama back in 2011. That stunt almost brought about a debt-ceiling default.

But then Cantor did something unconscionable. He started behaving like a leader. He voted to end the government shutdown, which bitterly angered the base. Then there was all this talk about education reform. Cantor supported weighted student averaging, which a good many Democrats also support, and you just can't have that sort of thing in the land of Oz. Cantor forgot the golden rule: if a Democrat is for it, you have to be against it.

Adding fuel to the growing backlash against him was that fact that he rarely, if ever, spent any time in his own district, which, I might add, thanks to gerrymandering, was made even more conservative. How's that for poetic justice? Oh, death, where is thy sting? So confident was he of being reelected, he didn't even bother to show up in his own district the night of the election. Now that's ballsy, even for Cantor.

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, you can kiss goodbye any hope of bipartisanship in both Houses of Congress for the foreseeable future, not that there was much hope of that to begin with. Not only is immigration reform out the window, but just about any major legislative initiative, as well. The GOP, which has now been reduced to a shell of a party, won't dare pass anything out of fear of what the consequences could be to them. In the short term - 2014, that is - the Party might benefit from Cantor's ousting, especially if the base turns out in record numbers; in the long run, however, this will only move the Party even more to the right, thus setting up a nightmarish scenario for it in 2016. This is what happens when you create your own Frankenstein monster; it ends up turning on you and burning down the whole village.

In the meantime, Washington politics, which has been gridlocked for the last three and half years, will now come to a virtual standstill. Michael Tomasky is right. This is an earthquake.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why Republicans Keep Drawing the Wrong Conclusions About 2008 and 2012

You keep hearing it all the time from the far Right. The reason Republicans lost the last two presidential elections was that they didn't nominate candidates who were strong conservatives. If only they had nominated someone like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, the Party would control the White House.

You sometimes hear similar sentiments from the far Left. To this day, progressives still believe Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis were excellent nominees who were the victims of vicious mudslinging by their GOP opponents.  Right, and I'm sure there are some folkies left who still haven't forgiven Dylan for going electric. Fortunately, after getting shellacked in both the '84 and '88 elections, Democrats got smart and veered towards the center. Since then, they have won the popular vote in every presidential election, save for 2004. And it should be noted that the '04 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, was a throwback to those "glorious" days.

It is a political axiom that you run to your party's base to secure the nomination, but then you pivot to the center to win the general. Virtually every successful presidential bid from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama got this formula right. Conversely, those nominees who didn't successfully pivot lost. You could make the argument that George H. W. Bush in 1992 and Al Gore in 2000 were probably affected more by third-party challengers than by a failure to pivot to the center, but that would be splitting hairs. Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, John McCain and Mitt Romney all belong to a list of candidates who successfully wooed their respective party's bases only to be handed their lunch in the general election. Indeed, all but Kerry lost by huge margins.

McCain and Romney are textbook cases of how not to run a presidential campaign. For all intents and purposes, neither man was a hard-right conservative. McCain, for his part, successfully worked with Democrats in the Senate to pass legislation. The most notable and famous of these collaborations was the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, which dealt with the plethora of soft money that was being funneled into campaigns and corrupting the political process throughout the country. 

Romney had been elected governor of Massachusetts, one of the bluest states in the country. He developed a reputation for being a pragmatic businessman who sought to govern by consensus rather than ideology. His landmark healthcare law, later dubbed Romneycare, would become the boiler plate for President Obama's signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010. In fact, Romney, in an interview on CNN, proudly boasted of his law and urged the then new president to adopt it to the reform bill that was taking shape in the Democratically-controlled Congress.

So what happened to both men? Ostensibly what happened was that the base of the Republican Party forced them so far to the right, they were never able to make that all-essential pivot back to the center. After securing the '08 nomination, McCain, who managed to pull within a couple points of Obama, decided to tab Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. While conservatives were delighted by the pick, moderates grew wary of both her stances and her lack of experience. Obama's lead widened and he ended up routing McCain in the general.

Romney's story is eerily similar. Throughout the entire 2012 primary, the former Massachusetts governor did his best to disown practically every accomplishment he had as governor, including his own healthcare law. Like McCain, he picked a running mate in Paul Ryan who mollified the far Right, but provided ammunition for the Obama campaign to use in the general election. With the exception of his Denver debate performance, Romney was never able to build his case as a practical alternative. He was a prisoner of his party's fanatical base. Like in '08, Obama cruised to an easy victory.

But, to hear the far Right tell it, that's not what happened. Yes, they'll concede that McCain and Romney weren't true conservatives who adhered to conservative principles. But that is where they part company with the conventional wisdom. For them, it was their lack of conviction rather than their lack of pragmatism that did them in. In other words, they didn't drink enough of the Kool-Aid.

The problem for the Republican Party is twofold. First, the GOP, like the Democratic Party of the '70s and '80s, is a divided party. There is the national party and the congressional party. The former is at odds with the latter. Spurred on by the success of the 2010 midterms, congressional Republicans have convinced themselves that their message is truly resonating with the voters. What they forget is that midterm elections are poor barometers for assessing overall public sentiment. It is the presidential elections that often determine the real mood of the electorate. And that dichotomy is at the heart of the GOP dilemma. Like their counterparts on the other side of the political aisle decades ago, Republicans of today tend to do well in their congressional races, while getting clobbered in presidential elections.  The fact that most of the GOP's strength comes from its legislative ranks doesn't help matters.

But the second problem is far worse. Extremist elements have ostensibly taken over the Republican Party. The Tea Party movement now dictates virtually all Party policy. Pundits who predicted that Tea Party losses to establishment Republicans in this year's primaries would somehow trigger a new wave of pragmatism and moderation, have completely missed the boat. Tea Party candidates didn't need to win those primaries. The GOP is now so far over to the right, it hardly matters anymore who wins. They all hold identical positions. There is scarcely a moderate left within the Party's ranks. They have been effectively purged. The only thing that the GOP gained in those primaries was a few less unhinged candidates muddying up the waters.

And now the Republican Party is licking its chops over their prospects of resting Senate control from Democrats in November. If that does indeed happen - and it's 50/50 at present - the GOP will have reached yet another flawed conclusion: that they were right all along. Such a belief will, no doubt, cause them to drift still further to the right (assuming that's even possible) and nominate a candidate who is a true believer; someone like Ted Cruz, who has become a rock star among the base. Assuming Hillary Clinton decides to run, the 2016 election would likely be another landslide victory for Democrats. Republicans would not only lose their third presidential election in a row, but probably both chambers of Congress, as well. And that could very well be the death knell for the GOP.

In 1992, Democrats made a courageous decision. They went against their base and took a chance by nominating Bill Clinton.  The rest, as they say, is history. I see nothing within the Republican Party which indicates it is willing or even able to do the same. Chris Christie, assuming he survives this bridge-gate scandal - and it's looking more and more like he will - would be the GOP's best hope of winning in 2016. Let me just come out and say it: I have a better shot at winning the Republican nomination than Christie does.

Republicans simply can't bring themselves to accept a staggering reality: that the reason for their continued electoral failures are because of their positions, not in spite of them. It's not that they aren't getting their message across; it's that a majority of Americans simply aren't buying it.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Clearing the Air

To paraphrase Richard Milhous Nixon, let me make a few things perfectly clear:

1. Global warming isn't a hoax; it's real. Just like 2 + 2 = 4.
2. Benghazi isn't Watergate; Watergate is Watergate.
3. Creationism isn't an alternative to evolution; it's an alternative to reality.
4. The I.R.S. wasn't conspiring against conservatives; it was trying to determine whether 401c groups were what they said they were.
5. The deficit is shrinking, not growing.
6. If Obama came out against rainy days, the GOP would accuse him of being pro drought.
7. Obamacare isn't going to be repealed; it's here to stay.
8. Believing everyone in the main-stream media is against you, doesn't makes you fair and balanced; it makes you paranoid.
9. Pandering to an ever-decreasing voter demographic isn't a very good long-term strategy for electoral success.
10. Making racist comments about minorities and passing strict voter suppression laws that restrict their right to vote, is a pretty good way to ensure they will vote for the other party.
11. Both Reagan and Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama has.
12. Vladimir Putin could care less who the president is; he's just a thug who thinks it's okay to invade other countries, just like he did when Bush was in the White House.
13. Any fool can start a land war, or two; the real challenge is to NOT start one.
14. Criticizing Obama for doing something two Republican presidents before him did - swapping prisoners - is pretty lame, even for conservatives.
15. The Second Amendment doesn't give you the right to turn the country into the OK Corral.
16. Hillary Clinton's health is just fine, Karl Rove. And in 2016 you'll get a chance to see just how healthy she really is.
17. And, for the last time, there's no voter fraud. Romney got beat fair and square. Deal with it.


There, I hope that settles that.