Friday, November 30, 2012

The Monkey Trap

Remember the monkey who got his hand stuck in a cage because he wouldn't drop the banana he was holding onto?  Pretty stupid, wouldn't you say?  I mean, all he had to do was let go of the fruit and freedom would be his.  Well, since the election an awful lot of Republicans seem to be having the same problem as that monkey.  Freedom is oh so close, but they refuse to let go of their precious fruit.

Of course the fruit in question isn't a banana; it's the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of the country. The GOP refuses to give in to Democrats' demands and public opinion and allow them to expire, even if it means the whole country's taxes go up next year.

House Republicans have drawn a line in the sand and John Boehner, their "fearless" leader, has now become their loudest advocate.  He even went so far as to call out a fellow colleague, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, for having the good sense to suggest Republicans should take the President's offer and extend the middle-class tax cuts. It's sad that, at a time when his party needs him the most, Boehner has opted to go Tea Party.

Actually, it boils down to this: At the stroke of midnight, January 1, all the Bush tax cuts go bye, bye. Republicans are powerless to stop it from happening and they know it, even old braveheart Boehner himself. What they are counting on is that Obama will cave again just like he did two years ago.  The problem for them is that this isn't 2010, it's 2012.  Two years ago, the Democrats and Obama got bitch-slapped, courtesy of the midterms.  This time around, the bitch-slapping was on the other side of the aisle. Whatever else you might say about Republicans, they know how to read polls. They are not winning this war, no matter how hard they hold their breath and count to a zillion.

But still they remain obstinate, to a fault. Despite the fact that the Senate, earlier in the year, passed a bill to extend all the tax cuts below $250 thousand, John Boehner will not allow it to come to a vote in the House. He and his caucus continue to insist that the only revenue they will put on the table are elimination of deductions and the closing of loopholes. While that might get a few billion more into the treasury's coffers, it falls far short of the revenue needed to effectively deal with the debt.

And so, here we sit.  With barely a month to go before the country falls off the fiscal cliff, the GOP is stubbornly clinging to a banana they know they cannot have.  And while they persist in their futile attempts to have their cake and eat it too, the rest of us are forced to watch the ridiculous spectacle.


Friday, November 23, 2012

The GOP's Real Problem

Mike Murphy says that if Republicans ever want to win again they're going to have to "get kind of a party view of America that’s not right out of Rush Limbaugh’s dream journal."  Steve Schmidt elaborated that it's time for his party's leaders to stand up to the "extreme statements" coming from the Right.  And David Frum was simply beside himself pronouncing that the GOP had been "fleeced, exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex."

All true enough.  The collective efforts of Limbaugh, et al have ostensibly consigned the Republican Party to virtual fringe status nationally, resulting in losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.  It doesn't get much bleaker than that.

But, while it may be tempting to pin all this on the hate-filled ramblings of a few mindless wind bags on Fox News and the AM radio dial, the root cause I fear is far more sinister. Indeed, it may be impossible to rectify.

You know that old saying be careful what you wish for?  Well, four years of non-stop rhetoric and stoking of fear and loathing has so ginned up the base of the Republican Party that, even if El Rushbo himself were to do an about face and call for a cease fire, his listeners would, in all likelihood, tune him out, believing he had taken leave of his senses. The same would be true of Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and everyone else on the Right.  The monster these ideologues created has now become so self aware, it is no longer reliant on its masters' voices to get its marching orders. In fact, I'm not all that sure who's driving this bus anymore: the hosts or the listeners.

I'm quite serious.  I make it a point to listen to these programs on a daily basis - what can I say, I'm into self abuse - and I can definitely tell you that the listeners are frothing at the mouth far more than the hosts, which is quite a feat on Levin's show.  They are convinced that Obama will destroy the country and are committed to anyone and anything that can defeat his agenda.  The word compromise is nowhere to be found in their dictionary; nor are they likely to tolerate someone among their lot breaking ranks and engaging with the "enemy."  In their view Grover Norquist is too moderate.

So, with all due respect to the above Republican operatives, all of whom mean well, I remain pessimistic as to the long-term prospects for the GOP. Not only have the inmates taken over the asylum, they're committed to burning it down rather than share it with their opponents.

If I were a moderate Republican right now, I'd be concerned for my party. Very concerned.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tip of the Hat

Two Tip of the Hat segments in one month?  Why not?  It's my blog.

It seems a fissure is developing within the GOP of late.  On one side are the paranoid, conspiracy-minded wingnuts who are, if you can believe it, doubling down in their insane march towards political oblivion; on the other, stands the more rational crowd who can clearly see the writing on the wall and know this dog isn't hunting anymore.

David Frum's latest piece in The Daily Beast on Mitt Romney's recent bout with verbal diarrhea might be the best take on where the Republican Party is right now.  He continues to be one of the fiercest and most outspoken critics of the Tea Party's influence over the party.

Mitt Still Doesn't Get It

Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives a foreign policy address to cadets at the Citadel on October 7, 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina. (Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

All voters want "stuff," Republicans as well as Democrats. If anything, Republican voters have been more successful at obtaining "stuff" than Democrats: Medicare is more generous than Medicaid, farm programs deliver better returns than means-tested programs.

The Romney-Ryan ticket did not stint on the stuff-offering itself: it promised Republican voters that all the cost of deficit reduction would be dumped on Democratic voters - voters under 55 - with Republicans gaining the additional benefit of a 20% cut in tax rates.

But Mitt Romney was very wrong to see 2012 as a referendum on "stuff." It was a referendum on the question, which candidate would do a better job promoting prosperity and creating jobs. That was the referendum that Romney and the Republican Party lost. We lost both because voters did not believe in the job-creating magic of upper-income tax cuts - and because voters were unpersuaded that the GOP even cared that much about job creation, as opposed to wealth preservation.

That's the lesson defeated Republicans should be drawing. Governor Bobby Jindal gets it. Who else?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reality Check for Democrats

Ever since Barack Obama dispensed with Mitt Romney in last week's presidential election, progressives have been falling all over themselves, boldly predicting the demise of the Republican Party. Two years removed from the worst political shellacking in more than a decade, Democrats are now feeling their oats. Payback is a bitch, ain't it?

Well, to paraphrase Marc Twain, reports of the GOP's demise are greatly exaggerated.  In fact, far from dead, the Republican Party is alive and well and, if the Democrats aren't careful, they could be in for a rude awakening by 2014.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but as I pointed out last week, the election results were as much about Republican incompetence as Democratic prowess. Seems Matt Taibbi agrees.  According to him, Mitt Romney might've won the presidency had Republicans not spent so much time alienating a good chunk of the electorate.

The fact that so many Republicans this week think that all Hispanics care about is amnesty, all women want is abortions (and lots of them) and all teenagers want is to sit on their couches and smoke tons of weed legally, that tells you everything you need to know about the hopeless, anachronistic cluelessness of the modern Republican Party. A lot of these people, believe it or not, would respond positively, or at least with genuine curiosity, to the traditional conservative message of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility.

But modern Republicans will never be able to spread that message effectively, because they have so much of their own collective identity wrapped up in the belief that they're surrounded by free-loading, job-averse parasites who not only want to smoke weed and have recreational abortions all day long, but want hardworking white Christians like them to pay the tab. Their whole belief system, which is really an endless effort at congratulating themselves for how hard they work compared to everyone else, is inherently insulting to everyone outside the tent – and you can't win votes when you're calling people lazy, stoned moochers.

Whether you think it's the message or the messenger or perhaps a combination of the two, the point is that the Republican Party, if it really wants to, can recover from this self-inflicted wound.  Lest we forget eight years ago, George Bush, of all people, got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.  By no means is this demographic locked up.

If you look closely at Democratic gains in the Senate, almost all of them were by moderates.  The only truly progressive candidate who won was Elizabeth Warren and she ran in, arguably, the most liberal state in the country. 

Democrats would do well to avoid making the same mistake that Republicans made after the 2010 midterms by viewing this election as a mandate.  It was, if anything, a repudiation of ignorance.  Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock became the poster boys for intolerance and, whether fairly or not, crystallized for many voters what the core issues were.  But that's a far cry from saying that those same voters have suddenly been converted.

If we have learned anything from the last four election cycles, it is that the electorate remains extremely volatile and, thus, highly unpredictable.  It is frustrated by what it sees as a broken and corrupt government that is unable to find solutions to the nation's problems.  Last week they sent a number of Republicans packing.  Democrats should seize this opportunity, not to gloat at the misfortunes of their misbegotten opponents, but to honestly reflect on what the true needs and desires are of a nation that is still bitterly divided and more polarized now than it was four years ago.

For the party that can best meet those needs and desires will ultimately dominate the political landscape for the foreseeable future. And counting on the other side to continually fall on its sword isn't a very good way to get there.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Grand Bargain or Royal Scam

Two years ago, after a historic mid-term election loss, President Obama agreed to extend all the Bush tax cuts.  Suffice to say, that move was met with some degree of skepticism.  Actually, that's a polite way of putting it.  House Democrats were livid, believing they had been sold out by the President. In fact there were quite a few pundits who felt Obama needlessly blinked.  I was not one of them.  

To recap, the GOP was threatening to shut down the government unless Obama agreed to their demands.  Faced with the real possibility of a shut down, Obama decided to get the best deal he could. Yes, he extended the cuts, but he managed to get a host of badly needed legislation passed, including START and a payroll tax cut.

Now, two years later, an eery sense of deja vu is sweeping through Washington.  The Bush tax cuts are, once more, on the verge of sun setting.  And the President, fresh off a rather convincing thumping of Mitt Romney, faces a tough decision on what to do with them.  Obama wants a permanent extension of the middle-class cuts only; Republicans want all of them extended, if not permanently, than at least through 2013.

As if that wasn't a full enough plate, there are the automatic sequesters, set to kick in at the end of the year, that must be dealt with.  If no agreement is reached, huge cuts to vital social programs and the Pentagon will go into effect immediately.  Most economists agree that the combination of such drastic cuts in spending and tax increases will likely plunge the economy back into a recession.

The President, mindful of those facts and equally aware that he was this close to a grand bargain with Speaker John Boehner in the summer of 2011, will undoubtedly feel the pressure to once more cave. After all, who wants to go down as the President who permitted his country to slide back into a recession? Just ask Mr. Double Dip himself, David Cameron, how things are going in merry old England.

But, though the pressure will be great, Obama must resist, and here's why.  Republicans have no choice but to acquiesce this time around and they know it.  Why?  Because this isn't 2010, it's 2012.  John Boehner may talk bravely, but the polls are NOT on his side.  Without exception, the majority of Americans favor the rich paying a bit more in taxes as part of a deficit reduction plan.  Grover Norquist may scream all he wants, but in the end, he won't get his way on this one.  That's because Obama is holding all the cards.  There is no pending government shut down.  If Obama doesn't get the deal HE wants, ALL of the Bush tax cuts sunset.  That's right, ALL of them, and there isn't anything on God's green earth that can prevent it.

That's called leverage and, even in the alternate universe of the Tea Party where reality often takes a permanent vacation, that's a pretty effective weapon. That weapon certainly came in handy during the debt-ceiling negotiations.  But the GOP's antics almost led to a default last summer.  No one wants a repeat of that nightmarish episode.

That's why Obama must use his leverage wisely. While he must remain resolute and clearly draw a line in the sand, he also has to provide a path for Boehner and House Republicans to accept a deal that they will be able to sell to their constituents, who will, no doubt, feel betrayed.  Just think 2010, only in reverse.

There are a host of enticements that Obama can offer as sweeteners.  Entitlement reform, for starters.  While social security is still on firm ground, Medicare and Medicaid need some fixing if they are to survive.  Also, there's the issue of spending cuts.  While cutting too much, too quickly will kill the recovery, a plan for true deficit reduction can be set in place with real triggers that lead to responsible cuts spread out over a ten-year span. Then there's tax reform.  The closing of loopholes and certain deductions will net significant revenue to the treasury. But Obama must make sure that middle-class deductions like mortgage interest are protected.

But the biggest and tastiest sweetener that Obama can offer Boehner will be a drastic reduction in the corporate tax rate.  Obama can dangle an effective rate as low as, say, 15 percent, as an incentive for the upper tier Bush tax cuts going bye, bye.  That should be his last resort, his trump card, if you will.  Properly packaged, Boehner can come out looking like a hero to his caucus, while Obama gets to go down as the President who negotiated the agreement to save entitlements and put America back on the path of fiscal responsibility.

One more thing. Under no circumstances should Obama agree to a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts or a deferment of the sequesters while both sides continue negotiations on a deal.  Why?  Because in March the debt ceiling will, once more, have to be raised.  If you thought Republicans were intransigent in 2011, just wait until next year.  The President cannot allow himself to be boxed in like that again.  He must make it crystal clear to both sides that a deal must be made by the end of the year. Period.  And that deal must include addressing the looming debt ceiling.  The country simply can't afford these types of displays anymore.

Like I said a few months ago, leverage only counts if you use it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Brain Freeze: The Right's Denial Over What Happened Election Night

There were many memorable moments that occurred election night, but none more satisfying than watching Karl Rove's meltdown on Fox News when that network made the announcement that Barack Obama had won Ohio and, along with it, reelection to the presidency.  It was, in a word, priceless.

Rove could not bring himself to accept that, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars he, Dick Armey, the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson had poured into this campaign, Obama was still going to prevail.  All that money for naught.  Maddening!

Rove wasn't the only one who was having a hard time coming to terms with reality.  For the last few days, the Right has been simply beside itself attempting to reconcile the "unthinkable." They had all but assured not only themselves, but their minions, that "the anointed one" would soon join the ranks of other, failed one term presidents like Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.  Mitt Romney would win in a landslide. They had no doubts about it.

So, naturally, when the expected landslide did not happen, there had to be a logical reason.  As you would expect, it didn't take long for the "logical" reason to materialize.  And you'll never guess what it was.  Their base stayed home.

Yep, the old "he wasn't conservative enough" line.  I was wondering how long it would take for it to grace us with its appearance. For the record, less than 24 hours, about the same amount of time it took to throw John McCain under the bus in '08.

In a nutshell (pun intended) Mitt Romney, after running as far to the right as any presidential nominee since Barry Goldwater, lost to Barack Obama because his base didn't think he was conservative enough to suit their tastes. So, to punish him and the Republican gods, they stayed home; well, at least three million of them did.  Which, as it turns out, happens to be almost the exact margin of Obama's victory.

Of course, other, more plausible, explanations were quickly dismissed.  Such as, Romney lost the moderate vote, or maybe his party's views with respect to women and minorities alienated a good portion of the electorate, many of whom ended up voting for Obama.  Nah, that couldn't be it.  Why spoil a perfectly good rationalization with something as sobering as facts?  Especially when those facts contradict the narrative that they have carefully woven into the fabric of their own private Idaho.

Yes, it's quite possible that three million conservative voters did indeed stay home out of spite. Maybe they knew deep down what everyone else with half a brain knew all along, that Mitt Romney was as two dimensional as a cardboard cut out.  That's hardly the point.

What the Right and the Republican Party fail to realize and need to come to grips with is that they have become a white man's only club.  Their policies have done little to broaden their base; indeed just the opposite.  By taking such extreme positions they have dug themselves a huge hole that is becoming increasingly harder to climb out of.  In short, their message isn't resonating with the right kind of voters.

Consider this: In 2004, George Bush captured 44 percent of the Latino vote.  By comparison, Mitt Romney got only 27 percent. Of the almost 120 million people who cast their votes this past Tuesday, 10 percent were Hispanics.  That's 12 million potential votes.  Had Romney just equaled Bush's numbers within this demographic he would've netted an extra 2 million votes in his column, thus snatching 2 million votes from Obama's, and more than likely the presidency. 

It gets worse.  When you factor in the steady increase within both the African American and Hispanic communities, you start to get at the real problem that besets the Republican Party.  Their base, as a percentage of the population, is shrinking; conversely, the Democratic base is increasing.  To quote Bill Clinton, it's basic arithmetic.  If this trend keeps up, the GOP will become a minority party within a few presidential cycles.

But, rather than wake up and smell the caffeine, conservatives are doubling down on their denial. The battle hymn of the wingnuts was at full volume. "We need more real conservatives." "To hell with the moderates." "Compromise is not in our vocabulary." And that was just from Mark Levin.

The bile and venom that is coming out of this lot is both sad and frightening.  Not only have they convinced themselves that a lie is the truth - Mitt Romney lost because white people didn't show up for him - but they have completely written off any hope for survival by demonizing the very groups that could actually prevent them from becoming extinct. Without quite realizing it, by insisting that brown and black people voted for Obama simply because they want free stuff, the likelihood is they will continue to decline as a political force in this country.

And that prospect isn't sitting too well with a number of more reasonable (i.e., sane) conservatives.  David Frum hasn't been shy about his sentiments. This is what he wrote in The Daily Beast:

Those who would urge the GOP to double down on ideology post-2012 should ask themselves: would Republicans have done better if we had promised a bigger tax cut for the rich and proposed to push more people off food stamps and Medi­caid? Would we have done better if we had promised to do more to ban abortion and stop same-sex marriage? If we had committed ourselves to fight more wars? To put the country on the gold standard? Almost half of those surveyed on voting day said they wanted to see taxes raised on Americans earning more than $250,000. Exit polls do tend to oversample Democrats, but the tax result is consistent with other polling that has found that even Republicans would prefer to raise taxes on the rich than see cuts in Medicare.

He wasn't done there.  On MSNBC's Morning Joe he expounded a bit further: 

“Republicans have been fleeced, exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex...there are too many to name.  Because the followers, the donors and the activists are so mistaken about the nature of the problems the country faces...just a simple question, and I went to Tea Party rallies and asked this question, have taxes gone up or down in recent years? They can't answer this question. The people who put the cement shoes on Romney's feet are now blaming him for sinking.”

Any successful business knows that if it doesn't expand its market share, it will inevitably go out of business. It is an established axiom. At this moment in time, the Republican Party is planning its own fire sale.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

Assuming the results hold up in Florida, President Barack Obama will have won 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney's 206.  This wasn't a firewall; it was a bulkhead.  On any level you care to explore, what happened last night was significant.  Obama won a close popular vote, but a significant majority in the electoral college.  Even if Florida ends up going into the Romney column, it was still an incredible night for him.  And for three reasons.

First off, the economy.  Obama clearly won the macro argument here.  No matter how hard Republicans tried to paint a picture of doom and gloom, the simple truth was that, overall, the country is in much better shape now than it was four years ago.  The financial sector is stable, the stock market on the rise and the auto industry is once more thriving.  The only argument Mitt Romney had was the micro argument, which went like this: Okay so the economy isn't on the brink, but how are you doing personally? For some, things aren't better; but for others, that argument didn't pay off either.  In the end, the President was tied with Romney among voters as best able to handle the economy.  When you're chief reason for hope of victory is no better than a horse race, you know it's going to be a long night.

Secondly, the Obama campaign's ground game was second to none.  You have to give credit where credit's due.  They dictated the electoral map and, in so doing, boxed Romney into a corner.  The trip to Pennsylvania by Romney in the last few days of the race was an act of sheer desperation from a campaign that knew it was in trouble.  Voter turnout among minorities surpassed that of '08, with a larger percentage voting for Obama - no doubt an unintended consequence of the vitriol on the far Right - and that almost always spells trouble for the GOP. The fact is that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans and when both groups turn out to the polls to their full potential, that is simply too much of an edge to overcome, even with independents, which Romney won.

But last, and hardly least, we come to the real culprit in this election.  You clearly saw it in the Senate races last night, where Democrats not only held their majority but increased it.  The Tea Party has badly wounded the Republican brand to such a degree that its long-term hopes of prevailing nationally are in dire straights.  For the better part of four years, the Right has done everything imaginable to alienate the three fastest growing voting blocs in the country: women, African Americans and Hispanics. It literally was the difference last night.  Obama, as expected, lost with white men and seniors, but won with every other demographic.

A look at states like Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado reveal a disturbing trend for Republicans.  All three have large populations of Latinos and that population is growing faster than its white counterpart.  The same is true in Virginia and Florida.  With all the talk about Obama's Rust Belt firewall, it is the southwest and Mid-Atlantic states that are the wellspring of growth for Democrats.  A party that cannot attract at least a substantial portion of those blocs is doomed to failure.  If Romney had managed to pull, say, 10 percent more of the Latino and African American vote, he might well have snatched Colorado, Virginia and Florida.  Of course, had he not shot himself in the foot by being against the auto bailout, he might've also gotten Ohio.  Add up those four states and that was where the election was lost.

I say lost because, while it may rub a few of my progressive friends the wrong way, this election was as much lost by the GOP as it was won by Obama and the Democrats.  Think about it. Before Todd Akin went and shot his mouth off, he was leading Claire McCaskill by four points.  The same was true of Richard Mourdock in his race against Joe Donnelly.  No matter how tempting it may be for Democrats to pound their chest, the reason for their success has more to do with the self-inflicted wounds Republicans sustained at the hands of the Tea Party than anything else. To use a baseball analogy, it's hard to get a hit when you keep coming to the plate with two strikes already against you.

If you look at it realistically, Obama and the Democrats dodged one helluva bullet last night.  A weak recovery and a restless electorate historically doesn't bode well for incumbents.  No president since FDR had been reelected with unemployment so high.  And yet, Obama accomplished two amazing feats: he won decisively and he attracted at least 50 percent of the undecided vote.

Over the next few months, the Republican Party will have to do a lot of soul searching.  On every social issue out there - birth control, immigration, gay rights - they are severely behind the curve.  As the economy improves, these issues will likely dominate the political landscape in future elections.  The GOP will have to decide whether it wants to continue to pander to the extremist elements that currently dominate it, or whether it wants to expand its horizons and join the United States of the 21st century.  There will be hell to pay for the latter, but the former means eventual extinction.

When Walter Mondale got his clock cleaned by Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Democrats received their first wake-up call.  They ignored it, and four years later Michael Dukakis got his butt kicked by George H.W. Bush.  Reality eventually seeped in and the result was Bill Clinton, a center/left president who restored the Democratic Party to national prominence.  To this day, he is still revered as the most successful Democrat to hold the office since FDR.  But it took tremendous soul searching before progressives finally embraced him.

The Republicans must find their Clinton.  Their future depends on it.  Maybe Chris Christie will fill that void.  Who knows?  After Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, the governor showed true leadership by forgoing politics as usual.  His "pandering" to Obama, as the Right called it, was simply an attempt to enlist badly-needed help for his state.  That he was able to transcend politics when he had to, might be the ray of light the GOP desperately needs.  So far, he's been the only prominent Republican to call out the Tea Party over the nonsensical Sharia law insanity. I'll give him this, he's got balls. 

And that's not a bad start.  It's something at least.  Certainly, if you're a Republican, anything is preferable to what happened last night.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Predictions

Okay it's time I put my money where my mouth is. With T-minus one day and counting until the voters have their final say, I thought I would lay all my cards on the table.  I'll start at the top and work my way down.

The Presidency: It should come as no shock to anyone that I had a horse in this race from the beginning and, to be honest, I was quite worried there for a while. Actually, I'm still cautiously optimistic. Anything can still happen, especially since the road to victory is going through Ohio. Seems that state's Secretary of State, Jon Husted, is determined to do whatever he can to get Mitt Romney elected, regardless of which law he ends up violating to do it.  With that being said, here's how I think it will go down:

It will be a very close election and I suspect that we will be up late Tuesday night, perhaps well into Wednesday morning, before the networks make the call, but in the end, Obama's firewall through the Rust Belt states will be too much for Romney to overcome.  In fact, 2012 looks very much like 2004, insofar as the national polls go.  That year, Bush led Kerry 48-47 going into election day.  This year the numbers are almost exactly the same, with Obama having the slight lead over Romney.

So who gets what?  Remember, it's the swing states, stupid.  Obama will hold Pennsylvania and get Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado (barely) and New Hampshire; Romney will take Florida, North Carolina and Virginia (barely).  As far as the popular vote goes, owing to a slightly lower than expected turnout in the northeast due to Hurricane Sandy, Romney may well end up winning it, if only by a small amount, say, 100,000.  It'll be the only silver lining in what was, with the exception of the Denver debate, a dreadfully run campaign.

The bottom line, though, will be turnout and, let's be honest, the Obama campaign had a huge advantage over the Romney campaign in that they were able to establish their ground game during the Republican primaries.  While Romney was still fending off the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, team Obama was setting up base in all the swing states.  The early voting will, no doubt, prove to be the difference in this election.

P.S. Since everyone knew this would all come down to Ohio, wouldn't it have made sense for Mitt Romney to have picked a running mate who hailed from that state?  Ron Portman might well have brought it home for him and thus won him the election.

Obama 290, Romney 248

The Senate: This is where the Tea Party will cause the GOP the greatest harm.  Out of a possible 23 seats, Democrats were defending, I predict they will successfully defend 21 of them.  Conversely, out of the 10 seats, Republicans were defending, they will lose 3. The breakdown of losses for each party will be as follows: Democrats: Nebraska and North Dakota; Republicans: Indiana, Maine and Massachusetts.

The Indiana loss will be particularly troubling for the GOP.  This should've been a slam dunk and would've been had Dick Lugar not been defeated in his primary.  Equally disturbing is the Missouri seat which, prior to Todd Akin's incendiary comments - also concerning rape - was shaping up as a Republican gain.  Claire McCaskill didn't so much win it as Akin lost it.

There's no other way of putting it.  This will be viewed, and correctly so, as an unmitigated disaster for the GOP.  They had high hopes of retaking the Senate this year and now, not only haven't they gained control, they will have lost ground.  Even if they manage to flip Montana -which I don't think will happen - it's still a bitter pill to swallow.  Until and or unless the Republican Party deals with the Tea Party faction that now controls most of its apparatus, long-term gains on a national level, at least with respect to the Senate, will be hard to come by.

Democrats 54, Republicans 46

The House: Getting an exact breakdown here is quite difficult, owing to a lack of polling data on each of the races.  However, I am prepared to predict that the Democrats will make some gains here, including knocking off Steve King of Iowa and Joe Walsh of Illinois. Unfortunately, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota will survive, if only by the splinters on her broomstick. In the end, though, Democrats will fall far short of retaking control of this chamber, netting a mere 10 seats. Enough to send a message? Yes, but, since the House needs no super majority to pass legislation, it's hardly a game changer.  If anything, expect House Republicans to be even more intransigent, as John Boehner's remaining authority continues to be whittled away.

Republicans 232, Democrats 203

As always, I invoke the old, "Don't quote me" line with respect to the above predictions. Take them with a grain of salt. And please, no betting the ranch on anything you read here. Remember, I'm a Mets' fan. I'm used to being disappointed!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tip of the Hat

This month's Tip of the Hat segment will be a two-fer with a common theme.  See if you can guess what it is.

First up, Andrew Sullivan's critique of David Frum's endorsement of Mitt Romney in The Daily Beast might be the best retort I've seen yet on this wild notion sported by moderate conservatives like Frum and David Brooks that somehow Romney is nothing more than a sheep in wolf's clothing.

While Sullivan is hardly a conservative in the traditional sense of the word, he is hardly a liberal either, despite the fact that he endorsed Barack Obama (read "The Moral Case for Obama").  You might recall it was Sullivan who had to be walked back from the edge of the cliff after the President's dreadful performance in his first debate. I'm sure he's feeling a lot better these days. He sure wasn't pulling any punches in this piece.

Not to be outdone, David Frum has an equally insightful piece - also in The Daily Beast - on what ails the Republican Party.  I'll give you a hint, it's not a lack of conservatism.

by Andrew Sullivan

Frum tries to make it:

The country's most pressing economic problem IS the break-down of the old middle-class economy. Wages are stagnating at the middle, class lines are hardening, and more and more of the benefits of growth are claimed by the very wealthiest. President Obama delivered his answer to this problem in his important speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, a year ago: more direct government employment (at higher wages), more government contracting (to enforce higher wages), and more government aid to college students (in hope that expanding the number of degree holders will raise their average wage).

Obama is following a path explored by the British Labor governments of 1997-2010, when the majority of the net new jobs created in northern and western England, Scotland, and Wales were created in the public sector. That approach pushed Britain into fiscal crisis, when the recession abruptly cut the flow of funds from south-eastern England to pay everybody else's government salary. 

So far, under Obama, private sector job growth has vastly outpaced the public sector. And the big public unions, like the teachers', have been directly challenged. They're losing in the states. And in so far as inequality is driven by globalization, public investment in education has to be a key part of the answer. I agree with David on the benefits of a carbon tax, but which party is likelier to enforce that? I agree with him on the need for a balanced Grand Bargain - but I don't believe Obama wants to end the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 because he wants more government. He's proposing that to help balance the budget over time.

But my real objections to David's endorsement are the following. The premise of his argument is that Romney is a liar of massive proportions whose campaign David accurately describes as "one long appeasement of the most selfish and stupid elements of the Republican coalition," but who actually, in private, doesn't believe a word of it. So not to worry. The "real" Romney will emerge - compassionate, moderate, practical and data-driven, as in Massachusetts - the day after he is elected.

Some questions. First off, he worked in Massachusetts with an 85 percent Democratic legislature. That's a guide to how he'd run the entire country with a Republican Congress? Not buying it. But secondly, if Frum is right, then Romney does not have the character to be president of the US. Someone who lies his way to the top will have no credibility with the American people and no mandate from his party. I do not believe we should elect a fathomless cynic to the White House. David's argument for Romney is even worse than David Brooks': Brooks predicts that circumstances will force Romney into pragmatism. Frum simply says that nary a jot of what Romney said in the primaries is what he actually believes.

To wit:

I don't want to see Obamacare repealed. I don't believe it will be, not even if the Republicans retake the Senate, which I don't expect either.

And yet Romney has said it will be his first priority on Day One to end the program despised by every element of his far right party. He says this almost every day. David thinks Romney is cynical enough to make that clear, binding pledge day after day, ad after ad, and then instantly renege on it, even with a Republican majority in both Houses. Again, if David's right, Romney lacks the character to be president. If he's wrong, he's voting for the wrong presidential candidate.

The question of what would better help get the GOP back to sanity and concern with solving the actual problems we face is a real one. David thinks that Romney would help. Given that he has surrendered at every single point in this campaign to the furthest right in his party - all the way from firing Ric Grenell to endorsing Richard Mourdock - I fail to see the logic. He Etch-A-Sketched as late as October because of this, which reveals his weakness with respect to his own party. (Compare his father's courage and candor to Mitt's cravenness and salesmanship.)

My own view is that the only way to rehinge an unhinged party is for it to lose badly. And because Romney put Ryan on the ticket, and endorsed the entire Tea Party shebang, it will be hard for the wingnuts to blame defeat on running a moderate. I think the likeliest combination for a Grand Bargain is Obama, a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. That won't happen. But the second likeliest is Obama, a Democratic Senate and a GOP House with a smaller majority. I cannot see Romney compromising on revenues at all if he is president, with a GOP House, which kills the chance for a deal. When Jim DeMint says that an Obama victory would force a GOP retreat on their no-revenue-increase-ever theology, I believe him.And when the left starts fretting that Obama really will cut a Grand Bargain that tackles entitlements, I think they have every reason to.

As for war, there is a clear difference between a candidate advocating pre-emptive war on a country for merely having the technological capability of having a nuclear bomb, and one advocating war as a last resort if a nuclear bomb is actually made and able to reach outside the borders of the country. One is a violation of just war theory and would make the West the aggressor in a global religious conflict. The other is the least worst option, given the power of the Greater Israel Lobby and US public opinion. The other difference is that Romney would launch a trade war with China at a very precarious moment in the global economy, and whose election would be greeted with dismay by every ally, except Israel's. Why? Because Romney will put the settlement policy on steroids and permanently end the chance for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. Romney will also bring back torture as an instrument of government policy in America. That's a huge moral difference.

There are many common areas between my views of where we are, and David's. And I too want a more vibrant and sane conservatism that can indeed reform Obamacare, scour government for waste, tackle Medicare's costs, radically reform taxes, and focus on inequality as a scourge of democracy. But that conservatism no longer exists in the GOP. And, in my view, only a thorough thumping of the extremists at the polls can bring it back. 

The Tea Party: the GOP's Own Worst Enemy

My National Post column describes why the Tea Party has caused Republicans to lose elections that seemed well within their grasp.

The Obama-Romney contest will get the eyeballs, but the more important battle Tuesday night will be the battle for control of Congress.

Today, Republicans control the House of Representatives 242-193. Democrats hold the Senate, 53-47 (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont).

Most House-watchers expect the Republicans to lose seats, but not enough to forfeit control. The mid-range scenario projects losses of between seven and 11 for the GOP. Losses on that scale would not jeopardize Republican control. They would, however, imply the defeat of almost all the more moderate conservatives in the Republican caucus. If Barack Obama wins reelection, he’ll meet a House even more hostile and intransigent than the House that nearly pushed the United States into default on its obligations in the summer of 2011.

The Senate outlook is even grimmer for Republicans. Earlier in the year, Republicans hoped they might win both the presidency and the Senate, restoring their post-9/11 united control of all three elected branches of government. Now it seems more probable that the Democrats will expand their Senate majority, most likely by picking up Republican-held Senate seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, and holding once seemingly vulnerable Democratic seats in Virginia and Missouri.

How? Why?

The short answer is: The Tea Party struck again.

Indiana, for example, should have been an easy Republican hold. One of the most Republican states outside the South, Indiana has elected only three Democrats to the U.S. Senate since World War II, two of them the father-and-son succession of Birch Bayh and Evan Bayh. The seat open in 2012 had been held by Richard Lugar, a senator best known for his work to secure loose Soviet-era nuclear materials. Lugar won his last race, in 2006, with 87% of the vote.

But Lugar was growing old and—worse—had cooperated too much with President Obama. A Tea Party Republican named Richard Mourdock launched a primary challenge against Lugar and won. Mourdock then proceeded to share his ideas with the broader Indiana electorate, including this one: “I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Those words were pronounced in the heat of a televised debate. Mourdock later clarified that he did not mean to say that rape is intended by God; only that rape-caused pregnancies are intended by God. The clarification did not help, to say the least, and Mourdock now badly trails his conservative Democratic opponent.

Mourdock was not the only Republican candidate to expatiate on the subject of rape.

Read the entire column at the National Post.

Idiot's Delight

Okay, this month's winner was easy; way too easy, as you will see.  It never ceases to amaze me how some people just have a knack for saying the stupidest thing at just the right moment.  You really have to hand it to this moron.  He truly went out of his way to wear the dunce cap.

Without further ado:

Michael Brown, former director of FEMA under George Bush.  I did a double take when I heard his comments concerning President Obama's visit to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy devastated that state.

"One thing President Obama's gonna be asked is, why did he jump on Hurricane Sandy so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas? Why was this so quick?  At some point, somebody's going to ask that question."

Let me see if I get this straight.  The guy who screwed the pooch during Katrina and whose boss - that would be Bush - did a fly-over New Orleans while millions of people were without power or shelter is criticizing Obama's motives during Sandy?  That's rich.  But, as they say in those ads, wait, there's more.

Seems Captain Marvel wasn't done just criticizing Obama.  He directed his ire at the people of New Jersey and New York, many of whom lost everything they had.

“People are going to get frustrated.  I’d just encourage people to just kind of chill out over this whole situation.”

So "Heckuva Job Brownie" thinks that people should just chill out.  This from the man who, on the morning Katrina hit New Orleans, wrote, "Can I quit, now?" And then later sent an email to his deputy, "I'm trapped, please rescue me."

Calling this idiot clueless does a disservice to millions of people who are clueless.  At least a clueless person has a chance of some day seeing the light.  In whatever alternate universe Michael Brown resides in, I'm afraid the light has gone completely out.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Four More Years: The Case for Barack Obama

It’s funny how four years can come and go so quickly. Four years ago, a brash, young senator from Illinois won a landslide election over John McCain. Change was in the air. Things would be different in Washington. You could feel it in your bones.

The night Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s 44th president my eyes were misty. It was a historic moment for the country. The first African American president. Centuries of prejudice now seemed reconciled overnight. Maybe we had managed to finally come to terms with our past after all.

But appearances were deceiving. The moment – historic though it might’ve been – was fleeting. Within days of being sworn in, President Obama was faced with the grim realities of governing a country that was deeply divided and headed toward a fiscal cliff.

All throughout the closing months of 2008, the outgoing administration grappled with preventing an economic meltdown of epic proportions. TARP, begun under George Bush, stabilized a badly shaken banking industry, but, nevertheless, the first couple of months of 2009 saw an economy that was in free fall and losing 800,000 jobs per month.

To his credit, Obama took the steps that prevented another Great Depression. His stimulus, though not nearly sufficient to actually stimulate the economy – as Paul Krugman correctly predicted – did allow for some badly needed relief at the state and local levels. Millions of jobs were saved through it. He required the banks to undergo stress tests to determine whether they were financially sound as a condition of the second part of TARP. His bailout of General Motors and Chrysler prevented both from going into receivership, thus saving over a million jobs. His healthcare law, far from the socialist takeover of the insurance industry it has been portrayed as by its opponents on the Right, is actually nothing more than a carbon copy of the same law that Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts. If anything it is a boon for that industry.

Among the President’s glowing accomplishments was finally putting an end to George Bush’s illegal war in Iraq. Though his surge in Afghanistan was ill-timed and ill-fated, one can hardly paint him as a dove on foreign policy. If anything, his actions, from the killing of Osama bin Laden to the drone attacks, reveal a president that is, if anything, far more to the right of any past Democrat who occupied the Oval office since Lyndon Johnson. His refusal to abandon the domestic surveillance program and his inability to shut Gitmo has stuck in the craw of progressives ever since he was sworn in. That any Republican can find fault with this president in this arena is comical.

You’d think with such a list of accomplishments that Obama’s reelection would be a cinch. Sadly it isn’t. And that’s because, for all his grand accomplishments and his seeming intelligence, the one glaring fault this president has had from day one has been an inability to draw out a clear and concise narrative that the public can follow. In short, the man can’t connect on a visceral level worth a damn. That weakness, more than any policy, has been his greatest adversary. It has allowed his critics to define who he is and what he stands for. To say they’ve had a field day over the last four years would be an understatement.

From day one they have been relentless with their assaults and rants. The White House, whether by design or accident, decided to ignore the shouts and slings until it was too late. The midterm losses suffered by House Democrats could’ve been mitigated had Obama been out front and lead, rather than assuming the voters would be able to parse the issues by themselves. Na├»ve would be a word in a half.

The one thing Bill Clinton had in common with Ronald Reagan was an innate ability to galvanize the electorate to their advantage. It gave them the political capital they both needed to win the battles with their opponents. Once Obama lost the House, he was basically on the run. Playing defense in politics is a recipe for disaster, and for the better part of the last two years, Obama has been running from an iceberg with his name on it.  His caving on extending the Bush tax cuts came about because he allowed himself to be boxed in by House Republicans who called his bluff.

And yet, even with an intransigent Congress, the United States is one of a handful of countries not mired in a double-dip recession. Indeed, over the last 32 months, the country has netted over 5 million new jobs. Unemployment has shrunk from a high of 10 percent to just under 8 percent. What that proves is that this president’s policies have worked. By forgoing the path of austerity that Europe embarked on, Obama ensured positive, if admittedly anemic, growth. A close look at Europe and, more importantly, England, which is not tied to the Euro, is all you need to know that the President was right and his critics were wrong. On that basis alone he should be reelected.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, has been running a very interesting, if contradictory, campaign. All throughout the Republican primaries, Romney ran as far to the right as he could, farther even than Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. And then, with a stalled campaign and little hope of winning, he switched gears in his first debate with Obama. Moderate Mitt was reborn and suddenly the GOP had hope they could win the White House.

But a closer look at Romney reveals a man who, throughout his political life, has pretty much said and done anything he had to to get elected. He has been little more than a chameleon. Few in his own party believe he is a die-hard conservative. I’ve referred to him as the used-car salesman from hell. What he really is is a con artist extraordinaire. He has no moral compass or real stances that he can defend. The idea that, if elected, he can somehow subdue the more extreme elements within his party is laughable. More than likely, a President Romney will be little more than a rubber stamp for that group. I know there is a real thirst in the country for a moderate candidate that can unite the country. I share it. Mitt Romney will not satisfy that thirst; if anything he will exacerbate the current toxicity in Washington further.

Ironically, the one lone moderate and reasonable voice within the Republican Party - Jon Huntsman - was soundly defeated during the primaries.  Of all the candidates in the field, he was the one who offered the best hope of a workable framework that might've brought conservatives and liberals together, not Romney.  So much for center/right politics in the Tea Party-led GOP.

Sadly, unlike 2008, this will not be election based on grand principles and/or visions. To be honest, neither candidate seems to have much of a way of punching himself out of the bag that is currently enveloping the country. But one candidate at least has a track record and, based on that alone, he has earned the chance to finish the job he started. The recovery may have been weaker than most of us would’ve liked, but it is at least a recovery. And that is more than they can say in Europe or the rest of the world for that matter. Paul Krugman may have summed it up best:

It’s disappointing, to be sure. But a slow job is better than a snow job. Mr. Obama may not be as bold as we’d like, but he isn’t actively misleading voters the way Mr. Romney is.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Seeing Red: More Pipe Dreams of a Desperate Romney Campaign

So the Romney campaign believes it is going to flip Pennsylvania, Michigan AND Minnesota. They truly believe all three states are in play and that by hitting them hard with ads they are “expanding the electoral map” thus giving them “more options to get to 270 electoral votes.”

Interesting. The Romney campaign is looking to “expand” its “options.” Yeah, right, and I’m still looking for that old man in the red suit and whiskers to bring me a pony. It’s been 40 years and still no pony. Damn you, Kringle!

Read between the lines and what you have is a staggering reality: Ohio and Wisconsin are slipping away and they know it. Were it not for Scott Rasmussen, the lead in both states would be over 3 percent easily - Wisonsin would be 4 percent. With Nevada now all but certain to go blue, Obama is already at 271 electoral votes, even without Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.

Counting on states that have been perennially blue for several election cycles isn’t just wishful thinking; it’s utter desperation. Think about it, even with Florida now likely to go red and with North Carolina now a clear lean red state, the path to 270 for Romney is about as steep as a mountain. The fact is that the best Mitt Romney has been able to achieve are slight leads in Colorado and Virginia. The Rust Belt has remained beyond his grasp. Even during the surge after the Denver debate, Barack Obama never lost his lead. Astonishing!

There’s no question about it; Romney is paying dearly for his auto bailout stance and his latest attack ad about Chrysler shipping jobs to China to build the Jeep is so deplorable, Chrysler’s GM publicly came out to denounce it.

I wouldn’t call the election over just yet, but things are sure looking bleak over in Gordon Gekko land.