Saturday, July 16, 2011

This day in history - July 16, 1941: Joe DiMaggio hits safely for the 56th consecutive game

Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak still stands and it's hard to imagine that it will ever be broken, though I guess one should never say anything like that.

The streak began on May 15th and ended on July 17th, but on July 16th he got that 56th hit. He had a .408 batting average during the streak, going 91 for 223, with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs.

Here we are just after the All-Star break, moving into the middle of July, the dog days of summer. It's a perfect time to remember the Yankee Clipper's phenomenal feat and how truly incredible it was.

(Yes, yes, let's do that, it was truly, utterly amazing what he did, even if he had a bit of help along the way, but that shouldn't detract from our loathing of the damn Yankees generally. I was at the game last night, a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays, and it was, as always, a genuine pleasure to see them go down. -- MJWS)

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Is the Tea Party over?

Last week, Roll Call reported that organizers of a major Tea Party convention that had been planned for the fall was being cancelled due to low registration.

Organizers had hoped that the event, called the Freedom Jamboree, would provide an opportunity for Republican presidential candidates to court the conservative movement, and, apparently, both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum had confirmed they would attend.

It seems that the twenty-one local Tea Party groups which began organizing the event did it in order to "reclaim the movement from national umbrella groups and offer an alternative to the annual fall Tea Party rally on the National Mall."

As one of the organizer's told Roll Call, "We were doing it because we were fed up with the infighting that these umbrella groups had done in 2010."

Interesting to note that this is the second Tea Party event cancelled because of lack of interest. Last year, a Tennessee-based group, Tea Party Nation, cancelled an event that was to have taken place in Las Vegas. They had their excuses, but, really, nobody wanted to come.

At a time when Republican politicians are being pushed around by the so-called Tea Party movement, it does beg the question as to who is doing the pushing. If these people can't generate enough interest to pull together a national event or two at the grass roots level, does it mean that we were all correct in our assessment of this thing as an astroturf movement?

The truth is that these things are never that simple. The Koch Brothers / Fox News / Sarah Palin type catalysts have been essential, but movements come into being because a subset of the population is ready for the message. I know some will howl, but the mass psychology of fascism is instructive here.

My point is that I don't deny that the Tea Party has been a mass movement, only that it will have to start organizing itself like a political party, or actually join one already in existence, if it hopes to continue to have any influence.

Yes, there is a reason that political parties exist and that is because it takes so damn much effort to aggregate interest across the country and give it direction. The Tea Party may have claimed pride in the fact that it has no leader, but after a while that just doesn't work anymore.

In the short term, if you throw enough money at any movement, no matter how diffuse, it's going to have an impact, hence the astroturfism of the Tea Party movement. The hard work starts when the "movement" begins to mature and requires centralization and leadership. Eventually that will mean that the Tea Party either folds into the Republican Party or goes away.

Not surprising that one of the organizers of the Freedom Jamboree wrote to fellow activists saying that "[i]t appears the Tea Party horse is riderless, and riding off in all directions at once."

In fact, a basic truth, whether from the left or right, is that social movements can influence politics, but they are not the same as a political organization. They are a blunt instrument without the ability or structure to make the kinds of decisions required by politics -- without the ability to bring it all together.

We are seeing this in Washington now with the debt ceiling negotiations. The Tea Party Caucus can't compromise, can't negotiate because its base is not an organization but rather an idea.

Again, in the short term you can get a bunch of people motivated to show up to mass events for the sake of idea. Many wonderful gatherings have taken place on the premise. But, after a while, you need the organization, you need the party or people will just stop showing up.

Too bad, though, because what this country really needs right now is another convention of colorfully-dressed people doing their best Founding Father impersonations.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Wouldn't it be great if politics was more about truth and less about spin? Not going to happen, I know.

A few days ago, I drew on a post by Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly to make a point about how disinterested many in the media can be about challenging demonstrably incorrect "facts" when offered up by a politician. As I wrote, it's almost as if the interviewers simply consider any statement of fact, no matter how erroneous, to be a matter of opinion with one opinion as good as any other. Apparently anyone really is entitled to their own facts.

Worse yet, it seems that real and important facts, not the "Michele Bachmann on Fox News type facts," but facts supported by research and good faith attempts to get at the truth, are too often ignored.

More recently, Benen wrote that Douglas Elmendorf, director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), explored in detail the effects of a deficit reduction package. Elmendorf made the case that while, in the medium and long term, small deficits could improve economic output, in the short term a different strategy would be prudent.

From the report:

In the short term, while the economy is relatively weak and economic growth is restrained primarily by a shortfall in demand for goods and services, the policy (i.e., small deficits) would decrease the demand for goods and services even further and thus reduce economic output and income.

As Benen wrote, the CBO director's comments were made in the same afternoon that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reminded Congress that in the midst of our fragile recovery "sharp and excessive cuts in the very short term would be potentially damaging to the recovery."

I understand that economics has for long been called the dismal science for a reason and that it can be hard to grasp the arguments being made, but what is clear is that Republicans are demanding steep cuts that would take effect immediately while the Federal Reserve and the CBO are arguing that the GOP plan would throw sand into the gears of an economy already struggling.

Benen's point is that it is incomprehensible that such an important perspectives, from two very significant sources, is virtually ignored by the media.

Maybe it's true that neither of these guys would make scintillating television, but perhaps we should be given the option of paying attention to what they have to say, just in case it is essential information that could help us save the economy.

Just a thought.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Friday, July 15, 2011

This day in history - July 15, 1979: Jimmy Carter does not use the word "malaise" in a speech

In one of the more interesting examples of an important political speech that did not contain the word most associated with it, President Jimmy Carter, on this day in 1979, gave his so-called "Crisis of Confidence" speech, which is more commonly known as the "malaise" speech, though that word is never used.

In the speech, Carter spoke of "this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation," which apparently suggested malaise to a lot of people.

A year and a half later Ronald Reagan was president. The moral of the story would appear to be: don't ever get all philosophical with the American people, and for god's sake don't try to tell them the truth about themselves. That's never a good idea.

Better to tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, if your goal is to win elections.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Rick Perry, neo-Confederate nationalist?

We've known for some time that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, "social conservative" darling and possible addition to the 2012 GOP presidential race, is something of a Texan nationalist who has suggested that Texas could, and perhaps should, try to secede.

But it seems that he has also maintained extremely close relations with neo-Confederate nationalist groups generally. Check out this report at Salon's War Room. It's not just an isolated incident here and there, it's a sustained effort to maintain that relationship, and these groups have responded by showing their unflinching support throughout his political career.

Read the piece for all the sordid details.

As Steve M. asks, "This is the GOP's great, er, white hope?" It would seem he might very well be. Which says a lot about the Republican Party and what it's really all about these days.

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Republicans who make things up and the media who let them do it

I know there is almost nothing that should surprise us about the extent to which Republicans will lie about President Obama, but the boldness of it still amazes me. What amazes me more, though, is that there appear to be no consequences to making shit up. They just do it, nobody says a word, and it becomes a part of the public record.

It's one thing when it happens on Fox News, because Fox's mandate is to present an alternate universe in which lies and truth are fully interchangeable. We get that. But so many other media outlets simply accepts demonstrably untrue statements as just another point of view.

Well, no!!! Some statements can be supported or refuted by evidence. When a statement can be refuted by evidence apparent to any reasonable person, that's what logicians like to call "bullshit."

And, yes, on the other hand, some statements are not of the kind that can be proven true or false, but that's what first year university logic courses are supposed to teach us - or failing that, common sense. It's a pretty simply distinction.

Here's an example of Michele Bachmann making things up on a recent appearance on Fox News as described by Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly:

Here's the issue. The president doesn't want to have to be confronted with priorities in spending because he has a lot of chutzpah. He spent a trillion dollars on the stimulus. It failed. He spent a trillion-and-a-half every year on deficits. They're his. And, also, Obamacare -- trillions of dollars. This is his spending. He's got to own it and deal with it.

We wouldn't be in this crisis right now if he wouldn't have spent that trillion on stimulus and a trillion-and-a-half more than he should have on the budget and now trillions more on Obamacare. But for those trillions in spending, Greta, we wouldn't be in this mess we're in. We'd still be in a bad spot, but nowhere near the hole. That's why -- take the shovel out of the president's hand so we don't dig any deeper. That's what will happen if we raise the debt ceiling and why I am adamant against raising the debt ceiling.

As Benen notes, "every claim Bachmann made is demonstrably false":

She was wrong about the size of the stimulus. She was wrong about the size of the deficit. She was wrong about the cost of the Affordable Care Act (it actually reduces the deficit, by a lot). She was wrong about the efficacy of the Recovery Act.

And perhaps most importantly, even if the Recovery Act and the ACA never existed, we'd still need to raise the debt ceiling. If President Bachmann were in the Oval Office right now, the need for a higher limit would be unchanged. Blaming Obama may make strange right-wing activists and their misguided leaders happy, but it doesn't make it true.

The only way we wouldn't have to raise the debt ceiling in 2011 is if George W. Bush and his Republican allies hadn't added $5 trillion to the debt and left Obama with a $1.3 trillion deficit to clean up. But it's obviously too late for that.

I guess my point is that, in this case, the facts are about numbers, the kinds of numbers for which pretty good records are kept. It doesn't matter though, because Bachmann just says shit and the shit becomes a part of the narrative.

And I really don't care about Fox, because they never have been a news organization, but I would like the news outlets that still might have some pride in their craft to stop the next Republican in his or her tracks who says something about the president's policies that is demonstrably, refutably untrue and maybe asked them to source their statement.

I know it's a radical thought, but could you do that for me? I'd consider it a personal favor.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Ron Paul

He's not running for re-election, focusing instead on what will inevitably be his losing campaign for president.

But whatever his personal political priorities at this time, Ron Paul, hyper-libertarian extraordinaire, is still certifiably insane.

The United States's top credit rating is "probably not" worth saving, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said Thursday, less than a day after a major rating agency indicated it was considering a downgrade as the country hurtles toward the August 2 deadline without a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Yes, certainly, something (and something drastic) needs to be done to address America's massive debt. Tax increases to reasonable levels, particularly for the rich, and cuts to defence spending, I would argue, not the unravelling of essential entitlement programs that are part of the social fabric. While there needs to be shared sacrifice, the burden shouldn't, as it so often is, be imposed on the poor and others who are already struggling just to make ends meet, if they can even do that.

But it would be disastrous, if not apocalyptic, to let America go into default. Paul may not think it matters, but how about the tens upon tens of millions of Americans who need their Social Security cheques just to put food on the table? Interest rates would shoot up, effecting not just the federal government but everyone, including business.

Is American "bankrupt"? Well, not in the usual way, but obviously it can't continue like this. But what's clear is that failing to raise the debt ceiling wouldn't help at all -- and wouldn't just have a "short-term effect."
For Paul to suggest that it may all just be fear-inducing "political theater" shows just how little he actually knows about the economy, about anything. He is an extremist ideologue for whom, as is so often the case with such ideologues, the facts don't much matter.

And at a time like this, with the country teetering precariously on the brink of collapse, that sort of willful aversion to reality is not just irresponsible but dangerous. And it's not just Paul. This view, pushed by the Tea Party, is orthodoxy throughout the Republican Party, including notably in the House. Yes, the Republican Party, it would appear, is more than content to let the country fall into the abyss. Remember that the next time they talk about how patriotic they are. 

When it comes to Paul, the only good thing is that he's not in a position to do anything about it. He has a vote in the House, but that's it. What's far more worrying is that the GOP's view is more or less his view, at least in the House and for many Republican senators. And with that craziness infecting pretty much the entire party, America faces an enormous threat from within, a threat that could very well take the country down.

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Will Fox News pay a price for Murdoch's fall?

not surprisingly, Media Matters is paying close attention to how much or, we should say, how little coverage Fox News is giving to the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal in England.

Media Matters has for some time been doing a splendid job of monitoring the pathetically biased news coverage over at Fox, so they must have been salivating at the opportunity to track how obvious Fox would be in low-keying the scandal enveloping its parent company, News Corp., and owner, Rupert Murdoch.

According to Media Matters:

Over a nine-day period from July 4 through July 13, Fox produced 30 segments on the crisis, as opposed to 71 for MSNBC and 109 for CNN.

Okay, that's sort of interesting, but clear evidence that Fox News under-reports facts that are inconsistent with its wacky hyper-right wing world view is hardly earth-shattering. Just more of the same.

Hate to say it, but Americans, especially the right-wing variety, are just not going to pay all that much attention to what goes on on the other side of the pond. If the matter remained in England, that might have been the end of it, as least regarding Murdoch's fortunes here.

But, as they say, this story might have legs. According to CNN:

The FBI has launched an investigation into Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. after a report that employees or associates may have attempted to hack into phone conversations and voice mail of September 11 survivors, victims and their families, a federal law enforcement source told CNN Thursday.

Just to be clear, it appears that the investigation of possible hacking of 9/11 victims' and their families' phones is an extension of the Murdoch owned British newspaper scandal having to do with accusations that its reporters illegally eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terrorist victims, politicians and celebrities.

The accusations would appear not to involve Murdoch owned entities in the U.S.

Nonetheless, that does beg a very interesting question. What would the repercussions be, if any, for News Corp. properties like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal if it is found out that 9/11 victims had their phones tapped by employees of the Rupert Murdoch media empire?

Clearly, News of the World, which bore the brunt of the scandal in England, decided to shut down rather than die a slow death at the hands of mortified advertisers who decided that the newspaper was just too toxic.

9/11 has for so long been such an important part of the way that Fox News in particular has draped itself in the American flag, that evidence that the parent company was violating the privacy of the victims and their families in such a dramatic way might just be too difficult a fact to spin away, or ignore away (see above).

Might people start to tune out or, better yet, advertisers start to walk away?

We can only hope, but it will be interesting to see.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peter King joins others on Capitol Hill in calling for investigation of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. over hacking scandal

To say the least, I've been awfully critical of New York Rep. Peter King (not that Peter King, of course, that Peter King, otherwise known as "Pete").

But -- credit where credit is due:

New York Republican Pete King is calling on the FBI to investigate whether Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation hacked into the voicemail accounts of Sept. 11 victims, calling the allegations of the scandal "disgraceful."

"As I see it, I would expect more things to be coming out over the next several weeks," King told POLITICO. "And as we approach 9/11, the tenth anniversary, it’s even going to get worse."

King said in the letter, addressed to FBI Director Robert Mueller, that the journalists should face felony charges if the allegations are proven true.

"It is revolting to imagine that members of the media would seek to compromise the integrity of a public official for financial gain in the pursuit of yellow journalism," wrote King, who is also chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

A number of Democratic senators are also calling for inquiries into the scandal. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, asked for an investigation on Tuesday into whether American phones were hacked by News Corp. reporters. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says she supports Rockefeller. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J) wants authorities to look into allegations that News of the World reporters bribed London police for information about the British royal family.

The Daily Mirror in London reported that News of the World journalists tried to get phone data involving the victims of the terror attacks.

For King, of course, this is all about 9/11. Like Giuliani, he tends to fetishize the tragedy. If this were just about hacking in the U.K., he likely wouldn't care. But perhaps that doesn't matter. As a New York Congressman, his responsibility is to look out for his constituents, not to worry about matters across the pond (except when he's supporting the IRA, of course). And that's just what he's doing. In this case, his typically self-interested and partisan political agenda just happens to coincide with the common good, as rare as that is.

So let there be a rigorous and vigorous investigation. Peter King, and every other American, has every reason to demand one.

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Obama 2012: Just do it!

Watching President Obama's press conference, you got the feeling he wouldn't care if Congress put a bill on his desk ordering the immediate demolition of Capitol Hill, so long as it included a measure to increase the debt ceiling.

"Let's step up," he told a packed house of reporters. "Let's do it. I'm prepared to do it... Let's consider it... Let's go... Let's act now... Let's get this problem off the table... Let's deal with it... Now is the time for us to go ahead and take it on... Do it now... I'm ready to do it."

If nothing else, he's got a new slogan for his 2012 re-election campaign, assuming Phil Knight doesn't mind the trademark infringement.

As further evidence of the complete incompetence of the United States Congress, the president has once again been called in to play the moderator in a partisan battle over a routine budgetary matter that in the last 40 years hasn't been any more controversial than a declaration to rename the Inverness, Calif., post office.

Congress didn't balk when it voted to triple the national debt with 18 increases to the debt ceiling during Ronald Reagan's two terms. No Republican majority leaders stormed out of the room before Congress voted a half-dozen times to increase the debt ceiling during George H.W. Bush's one-term presidency. There were never any threats of defaulting on the nation's credit card when Congress voted seven more times to raise the debt ceiling and nearly double national debt during Junior's two terms in the White House.

But Obama isn't a Republican president, and Republicans today have no other choice in the matter. If you sow beets, you will not reap olives.

They thumped Democrats in the midterm elections by campaigning against big government, against government spending, and against the national debt. To break that promise would be to sever the support from one of the most vocal and active factions in politics today, the Tea Party. Reneging on their vows would carry the consequence of early retirement, as Tea Party organizations across the country have threatened to oust "Republicans in Name Only" (RINOs) in 2012 primaries if they fail to seriously tackle the debt. It would also carry the risk of making Republican members of Congress look like H.W. Bush after he uttered the now infamous campaign promise, "Read my lips: No new taxes."

On top of that, Republicans know that a poor economy (made worse by their efforts to enact massive federal spending cuts) is their only hope for a repeat performance in 2012.

Barack Obama Swoosh

What GOP leaders fail to realize is that their stall tactics and obstructionist strategies only make the president stronger. They've fought "big government" by demanding massive spending cuts as part of a deal to increase the debt ceiling, but they've vehemently opposed every option put on the table. Their House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), walked out on negotiations because Democrats wouldn't agree to 100 percent of his demands. And then they had to call in the president to help heal the wounds and iron out a deal.

Just like in April when Obama took over the 2011 budget negotiations, he's re-framing the debate, and it doesn't look good for Republicans.

He agreed to $2 trillion in spending cuts. Republicans said no. He then offered more than $3 trillion in spending cuts. Republicans again said no. As the icing on the cake, he proposed significant reforms to Social Security and Medicare, the Democratic Party's sacred cows, and the GOP still said no.

He's taken to the podium twice in as many weeks to lay out the general scope of the negotiations, to ask for some modicum of urgency and fairness in the talks, and to send the message to the American public, to the electorate, that he's willing to go to any length to avoid an economically catastrophic default. The only caveat: reciprocity.

"I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done," Obama said, "and I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing – if they mean what they say, that this is important."

"Now is the time to do it,” he said in a warning to Congress about the added pressure of continuing this debate any further into the 2012 campaign season. "It's not going to get easier. It's going to get harder. So we might as well do it now – pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas."

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Obama is showing the American people that there actually is an adult in this fight, and that that adult doesn't care about the political differences. He wants results.

"[I]f each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants 100 percent of what its ideological predispositions are," he said, "then we can't get anything done."

He's direct and pragmatic where other politicians are demagogic. He's confident about the potential for compromise where other politicians are frantically, stubbornly obstinate. And he's reassuring where other politicians are apocalyptic.

The more time he gets in front of a room full of reporters and cameras, the more he gets to demonstrate to the American public that sanity has a seat at the head of the table in the daily operations of an otherwise insanely politicized federal government.

"[I]s the package that we're talking about exactly what I would want? No. I might want more revenues and fewer cuts to programs that benefit middle-class families that are trying to send their kids to college, or benefit all of us because we're investing more in medical research," he said. "I make no claims that somehow the position that Speaker [John] Boehner and I discussed reflects 100 percent of what I want. But that's the point. My point is, is that I'm willing to move in their direction in order to get something done. And that's what compromise entails. We have a system of government in which everybody has got to give a little bit."

It's the reason political analyst Mark Halperin described the president not as an "ignoramus" or an "economic bonehead," but as a "dick" following his last debt ceiling press conference.

Obama wasn't wrong. He wasn't misinformed about the necessity of increasing the debt limit. Rather, Halperin knew no other way to vent the frustration of seeing a Democratic president take the upper hand in a debate that Republicans not only started but started with the self-assurance that its outcome would wreak havoc on Obama's approval rating and credibility. 

Understandably, it must be quite embarrassing to pick a fight only to bow out every time the opponent steps into the ring. 

It was Republicans, remember, who spent a year campaigning against excessive government spending.

It was Republicans who demanded "historic" federal budget cuts.

And it's Republicans who are holding the debt ceiling hostage in order to secure even more "historic" cuts.

The debt wasn't only contributing to the economic "uncertainty" that Republicans claimed was hampering job growth. It was also going to destroy the American Dream for all future generations.

Then the president said, "Okay, let's do it... I'm prepared to do it... Let's go," and the GOP panicked.

The big-government loving socialist suddenly endorsed one of the most un-socialist, small-government policy positions ever.

Obama 2012: Just Do It! 

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Minnesota running out of booze, chaos expected

Things are getting worse in Minnesota:

Hundreds of bars, restaurants and stores across Minnesota are running out of beer and alcohol and others may soon run out of cigarettes -- a subtle and largely unforeseen consequence of a state government shutdown.

In the days leading up to the shutdown, thousands of outlets scrambled to renew their state-issued liquor purchasing cards. Many of them did not make it.

Now, with no end in sight to the shutdown, they face a summer of fast-dwindling alcohol supplies and a bottom line that looks increasingly bleak.

"It's going to cripple our industry," said Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents thousands of liquor retailers in the state.

The Ugly Mug, a popular bar near Target Field, doesn't have enough beer to get through the baseball season.

And how will Minnesotans possibly get through the upcoming Vikings season without beer?

This is the sort of thing that could lead to riots in the streets. One suspects that the first party to bring home the booze will be heralded like Caesar returning from one of his victorious campaigns and handed power for eternity by a rapturous populace.

As Homer Simpson once said, "alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." We don't quite know what to do without it.

And, in Minnesota, it, or rather its absence, may just bring the entire state to its knees.

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On the debt ceiling, Obama turns tables on Republicans

Photo from The New York Times

Something has to get done. Whatever sort of deal, or whether or not a deal at all, the debt ceiling must be raised. It's as simple as that, even if the process of getting there is mired in complication.

The Democrats know this, and they're pretty much all on board. But Republicans... oh, they're not quite as unified. John Boehner has lost control (and so is lashing out at the White House, because there's nothing left for him to do), to the extent that he ever had any, over the House, where Eric Cantor is angling for the top spot and most Republicans, Tea Party or otherwise, don't think there's any problem with not raising the debt ceiling. More than that, they object to raising it unless they can get something out of it, like a balanced budget amendment. Even a deal that would give Republicans so much of what they want, major spending cuts, including to hated entitlement programs like Social Security, offset by only a mild revenue increase, isn't enough, as Boehner has learned. House Republicans are right-wing extremists. They loathe compromise, refuse to agree to anything short of the absolute implementation of their extremist agenda, and aren't about to give in even to the corporate interests who fund the party.

Mitch McConnell has floated the idea -- his contingency plan -- of allowing for a debt ceiling raise in return for nothing, as Democrats are the ones who vote for it and hence the ones whom voters will blame for it. Conservatives reject this as well, as it would allow Obama to get what he wants, and what the country desperately needs. And I'm not sure McConnell is right that voters would blame Democrats for it. Ultimately, Obama would be able to make the case that it simply had to be done, and I'm really not sure this issue has political legs. What McConnell's idea reflects is the enormity of the pressure on the Republican leadership, at least in the Senate (there is pressure on Boehner in the House, to be sure, but, again, he is pretty much on his own now), to get something done, pressure coming from the GOP's corporate, Wall Street constituency. TNR's Jonathan Cohn explains:

Is Mitch McConnell panicking? It sure looks that way. The debt ceiling proposal he released yesterday afternoon confused pretty much everybody, including yours truly. But stripped to its bare essence it’s actually quite simple: Congress would give President Obama the authority to make good on the country’s debts, without imposing any binding policy constraints. This is, more or less, what Obama wanted originally and what Republicans have been saying they wouldn’t give him.

Perhaps McConnell is listening to business leaders nervous that Congress will leave the current debt ceiling in place, causing the U.S. to delay some government payments and potentially causing a financial crisis that could quickly spread around the world. Perhaps McConnell is watching the polls and noticing that voters don’t share his party’s aversion to taxes on the wealthy. Or perhaps it’s some combination of those and other factors. Whatever the reason, he’s clearly very worried. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made such an offer in the first place.

Of course, McConnell has designed his proposal so that it will inflict maximum political pain, or what he thinks will be maximum political pain, on the Democrats – by, among other things, forcing those who serve in Congress to vote to raise the debt ceiling. And who knows, it might work: Gaming out the possibilities is too complicated for me. But first McConnell must convince the rest of his party, particularly those who serve in the House of Representatives, to go along. And as of this writing that seems like it will be awfully difficult.

Yes, it might work, but I doubt it. And I also doubt that he'll be able to get the House on board. Boehner yes, the rest of the Republican caucus not so much, particularly with Cantor looming.

But the panic is understandable. Business is terrified. No one quite knows for sure what would happen were America to begin go into default and be unable to pay its bills, but it wouldn't be good and could potentially be apocalyptic. And, make no mistake, there's no way around it. Moody's has already put the country on notice. And that's far more worrisome (and far less funny) than when, say, Stephen Colbert puts someone or something on notice.

Republicans -- or at least the McConnells and Boehners of the party -- are in a tough spot, pretty much a no-win situation. Basically, Obama has skillfully, and amazingly, backed them into a corner. As TNR's Jonathan Chait explains:

If you told me last week that we might get a debt ceiling hike without Obama making policy concessions to Republicans, I wouldn't have believed you. What happened since then? Well, Obama called the Republicans' bluff. He turned the debate from a generalized question of cutting spending, where the public sides with Republicans, into a debate over specific policy priorities, where the public overwhelmingly supports the Democrats. Most people want a balanced package of revenue increases and spending cuts, in contradiction to the GOP's all-cuts-or-die stance. The public strongly favors higher taxes on the rich and strongly opposes entitlement cuts. Obama smoked out the GOP's actual policy choices. And he smoked out the Republicans' refusal to compromise on its unpopular priorities, establishing himself as the one party who was willing to make the kind of compromise that was the only plausible avenue to deficit reduction.

More recently, Obama said that if the debt ceiling is not lifted, he won't be able to send out Social Security checks. Imagine how that one would play out for Republicans. In general, he demonstrated yet again that it's very hard for Congress to win a public relations fight against the president. Meanwhile, the business lobby was no doubt pushing hard behind the scenes, and the business lobby usually wins.


I've been lambasting Obama's strategy pretty much on a daily basis. It appeared that Obama blundered into a hostage crisis he didn't need, and then wound up offering Republicans an absurdly generous deal, trading away major entitlement cuts in return for a pittance of revenue -- no higher than what will be raised if the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule.

So those were the options as of last week: A massive policy giveaway that won Obama some centrist credibility at immense substantive cost, or else let the economy get killed. Instead, Obama has reestablished credibility on the deficit at zero substantive cost. (He can always cut a deal without a gun to the economy's head.) Either the administration is run by pure political geniuses, or they're the luckiest sons of guns who ever lived.

Yes, the "worm" has indeed turned. I admire and respect the president's political skills enough to know that this was always a possibility, and I have thought it was throughout this whole process, but I didn't actually think it would turn out this way. Just a couple of days ago I was wondering why Obama was willing to give up so much to get a deal done, and I objected strenuously to his putting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the table -- again, pretty much willing to give Republicans what they wanted in exchange for a debt ceiling raise and possibly a relatively small revenue increase. I wondered why Obama wasn't calling the Republicans' bluff, why he continued to allow them to determine the narrative and set the parameters for a deal.

But then... we knew this was all politics, right? Here's what I wrote, sending that things, it seemed, were changing:

I do see what Obama's doing here. It's what he's done all along, from issue to issue. He's agreeing to concessions in the name of compromise and then taking the high road while Republicans dither over whether to make any concessions of their own. If they do, Obama can present himself as the guy who got it done, as a non-partisan leader who brought both sides to the table and put country before partisanship or ideology. Voters, and especially independents, seem to like that. If they don't, he can present them as extremist and obstructionist. This is what happened on health-care reform and it's what's happening now on the debt ceiling.


Obama has handled this whole issue badly and is now in a position of having to give up a lot just to get anything done. It didn't have to be this way. I call bullshit on much of what he's saying, but I really do hope he knows what he's doing.

Does he? Or has it just worked out that way? Well, nothing is worked out yet, and I still object to giving away so much, or to being willing to give away so much, but it looks like Obama may just triumph yet again over an opposition that, while generally extremist and obstructionist, is divided so deeply internally that it's almost about to cave in on itself.

No, no, I'm not getting ahead of myself. It's still possible that nothing gets done. Obama walked out of talks with Cantor et al. yesterday, perhaps more theater than anything else (he's the adult here, after all, and was probably just making a statement), and Alan Simpson is saying there's "no hope" of getting a deal done. But, politically, Obama now appears to have the upper hand -- he's winning, in other words, and you can tell that just from the way Republicans are acting, a mixture of resignation, frustration, and exaggerated outrage. They know they're losing, you see, and they don't quite know what to do.

Quite the turn of events.

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The adult in the room

By Carl 

When dealing with petulant children, it's perhaps best to discipline them by giving them a time out in the corner: 

With Democratic and Republican congressional leaders divided over how to cut the deficit, the president "got very agitated" and left the room after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested a vote on a smaller deal, Cantor said. The president met with the eight top congressional leaders for close to two hours.

"Don't call my bluff; I am going to the American people," Obama said, according to Cantor, a Virginia Republican. The president "shoved back from the table" and left, Cantor said after the meeting.

A Democratic official disputed Cantor's description of Obama's departure from the room as abrupt and said the president had emphasized he believed people were engaging in too much political posturing.

Whether Cantor or the "Democratic official" (Geithner, probably) is more accurate is irrelevant: Obama walked out in the face of the lead Congressbagger's childish and immature attempts to kick the can down the road.

And why is Cantor so eager to do this?

It's really very simple: There is a steady, bipartisan drumbeat to raise taxes, probably by closing massive loopholes in the tax code that both sides admit are unnecessary and elitist.

How eager is Obama to negotiate this deal? 

President Barack Obama is considering summoning congressional leaders to Camp David this weekend to find a way to cut the deficit and avoid a financial default, two people familiar with the matter said after a tense White House meeting. 

Camp David: a place where summits are held. A place with a history of compromise and negotiation. A place where you go when you need to put the deal down on paper. 

Not a place Republicans would like to go, at least not right now.

Smart move.

The backdrop to all this, of course, and the overriding reason for getting a deal done quickly is the bond markets are getting antsy. Moody's, in particular, is getting gunshy:

Moody's Investors Service said today it would consider downgrading the U.S. credit rating, adding to concern that political gridlock will lead to a default. 

Now, I'm sure that Cantor will profit personally from a default. I would not put it past the Corporatocracy (the Dems are corporatists-lite) to strangle the nation for the sake of a few extra bucks in their own pockets. What astounds me is that intelligent people support these asshats. 

But I digress.

Obama is taking an appropriate tone here: he's being the dad in the relationship, but not the patriarchal "spare the rod, spoil the child" kind that Republicans know how to manipulate (so many of them are just that type of dad). He's the avuncular dad, the kind who's indulgent of childish behavior and posturing to a point. So long as work is being done towards a deal, he's OK with the whining and grandstanding, but the time has come, the clock is ticking and the deal will get done.

With or without Cantor. It's interesting that Boehner has ceded this authority to his major domo. It's indicative of either his concurrence or capitulation. 

Want a hint which? 

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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