TAPPED

Addressing Our Troubling Lack of Reagan

This morning, Mitt Romney published an op-ed in USA Today laying out his economic plan, which will no doubt be read eagerly by people staying in hotels all across America. It's full of all the expected claptrap and flim-flammery, but there's one part I wanted to point out: Where President Obama left America's trade interests untended, I recognize the job-creating potential of international commerce. I will create the "Reagan Economic Zone," a partnership among countries committed to free enterprise and free trade. It will serve as a powerful engine for opening markets to our goods and services, and also a mechanism for confronting nations like China that violate trade rules while free-riding on the international system. This helps fill a yawning gap in the area of comical Reagan fetishism from which the Republican primaries have suffered. What America obviously needs in these dire times is more invocations of Reagan. So here are some suggestions for initiatives the next Republican...

Scenes From the Campaign Trail

Imagine it's the 2008 primary season. Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , John Edwards , Bill Richardson , and the other candidates troop up to Vermont for a candidate forum. The questioners, who ask a series of questions demanding fealty to a variety of liberal principles, are Bernie Sanders , Maxine Waters , and Noam Chomsky . OK, you couldn't imagine that. Because it would never happen, not in a million years. Not only would the candidates never agree to it, even Sanders, Waters, and Chomsky would probably think it's a bad idea. But that's pretty much what happened yesterday . Most of the Republican candidates went to South Carolina and appeared one at a time before a kind of ultra-right inquisition, with Jim DeMint (probably the most conservative member of the Senate), Steve King (one of the most conservative members of the House), and conservative philosopher Robert George acting as the inquisitors. And that's the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It'...

Local News Is Awesome

Even in the age of the Internet, local television news remains the top source of information for Americans. And it's almost undoubtedly the worst, a festering stew of fearmongering and triviality, with the occasional waterskiing squirrel thrown in. So for your Friday amusement, via The Hairpin , here is a local news crew in Indianapolis, but most particularly the weather guy, freaking the heck out over a spider. Watch as his fear turns to panic, and then to sheer terror: Many people have irrational phobias, and I suppose it's unfortunate for this guy that his just happened to be demonstrated on television. But hey, if you want to be a media star, that's the kind of risk you have to take. But here's my idea: President Obama should bring a tarantula to that jobs speech next Thursday, and see who runs screaming. I'm thinking Eric Cantor might be the one.

Some Context on the Coming GOP Immigration Debate

Could immigration be Rick Perry 's Achilles' heel? Folks are beginning to ask. Republican primary voters, The Washington Post tells us , are pestering Republican presidential candidates about it. Ed Kilgore suggests it could be a problem for Perry in South Carolina. So we might be headed for a repeat of the 2008 primaries, where the contest between the candidates to prove themselves the most anti-immigrant grew so frenzied that it led John McCain to come out forcefully against the comprehensive immigration bill sponsored by some guy named John McCain. I think Tom Tancredo may have pledged to personally pistol-whip an immigrant, but my memory on that may be faulty. As it happens, Perry's history on immigration is rather -- cover the children's ears -- moderate. As Kilgore explains: He has, after all, consistently supported a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, both positions contemptuously dismissed as code for "amnesty" by many conservative...

What a Bad Politician Looks Like

Hapless presidential candidate Rick Santorum is not a happy man. Watch how he talks about same-sex marriage, even before being challenged, in this video taken at an event at Penn State (via Andrew Sullivan ): "Does anybody go out there and make the argument as to why this a good thing, because it will happen? Make the argument why this is right! I don't hear those arguments." Really? I'm sure he's not reading a lot of liberal magazines or anything, but it's not as though those arguments, elaborated in hundreds of articles and books over the last few years, are hard to find. And this is a topic Rick Santorum is really, really interested in. You'd think he'd at least pick up a book like this one to see what the other side is saying, if only so he could argue against it more effectively. What I find really interesting, though, is how unlike other politicians Santorum is. He's frustrated, put upon, and generally pissed off pretty much all the time, and he isn't afraid to show it. No "...

Seriously, Jon Huntsman Is Not a Moderate

If there’s anything impressive about Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign, it’s the extent to which he’s convinced the world of his moderation. For example, here’s the first sentence of The New York Times’ write-up on his recently released economic plan: “Jon M. Huntsman Jr. again showed himself on Wednesday to be an ideological outlier in the Republican presidential field, calling for the tax code to be stripped of all loopholes and deductions.” The emphasis is mine; to the Times and other political observers, the mere willingness to pursue revenue-neutral tax reform is evidence of moderation or, at least, ideological heterodoxy. But as I pointed out yesterday, you need only to take a quick look at the basics of Huntsman’s proposal to see that he is no less right-wing than his counterparts in the GOP primary contest. That said, since I was working with an outline of the plan, there was a chance – however small – that the full plan would dial down somewhat on the austerity...

The Party of Ideas

Washington is full of people who try to get politicians to adopt their ideas. That's one of the reasons the Prospect was founded, in fact -- to create a forum for progressives to have serious discussions about government and politics, in the hopes that the ideas generated might eventually be translated into policies that solve problems. But it's hard to get politicians' attention -- they're seldom deep thinkers, and they always have more immediate concerns. I thought about that when I saw Jon Chait note that Rick Perry is now embracing New Deal revisionism, the notion that the start of our problems today wasn't in the 1960s, when government started caring about black people, but rather goes back even further to the 1930s, when government started caring about poor and unemployed people. This is a recent phenomenon, one that can be attributed largely to one person, conservative columnist Amity Shlaes. When Shlaes wrote a book in 2009 arguing that the New Deal made the Depression worse (...

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Between his defense of the scientific consensus and his willingness to denounce the GOP’s brinksmanship on the debt ceiling, it seemed safe to describe former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman as a conservative representative of the reality-based community. If Huntsman’s jobs plan is any indication, that assessment was off-base. Here are the basics of Huntsman’s plan for lowering unemployment: Streamline the tax code with three bracket at 8 percent, 14 percent and 23 percent Eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends Eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which was created to keep the rich from avoiding taxes, but increasingly falls on the middle-class Reducing the corporate tax rate to 25 percent In addition, Huntsman wants to close tax loopholes and subsidies, which would make the changes revenue neutral under the current budget regime. None of this is particularly good. A streamlined tax code with fewer loopholes sounds good, but given the distribution of...

Conservative Victimology, Thomas Edition

Last week's New Yorker had an article by Jeffrey Toobin about Clarence and Virginia Thomas , which discusses how Mrs. Thomas has developed a career as a conservative activist advocating on many of the issues that come before the court on which her husband sits: Still, the controversy over Ginni's work has already taken a toll on Justice Thomas, as he made clear in an emotional appearance at a Federalist Society event at the University of Virginia School of Law, in February. "This is about our country, and one of the things I want to do is I want to go to my grave knowing that I gave everything I have to trying to get it right. And all I ask of you all, especially those of you who are still in school, is you give it your best," Thomas said, in remarks first reported by Politico. "I watch my bride who, in doing the same things, when she started her organization, she gives it 24/7 every day, in defense of liberty. You know, and maybe that's why we're equally young and we love being with...

Some Sunshine for Presidential Nominations

Rick Perry has already been declared the front-runner to gain the GOP nomination less than a month after launching his campaign. He's posted a significant lead in recent polls over previous front-runner Mitt Romney. The only problem is that national polls mean nothing at this point in the election cycle -- it's all about how the candidates will perform in the early primary states. The current crowded field will get narrowed down to a handful of candidates by the time most of the states hold their primaries. Exceeding or failing expectations in the first few states determines which Republican gets the positive media coverage that boosts fundraising and polling across the country. It isn't possible to game out any of those sceneries yet since, as Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard reports , the nomination calendar is still in flux: GOP officials have yet to issue a final decision on which states will be first in 2012, and it's not clear when they will. While the RNC dawdles, several states are...

Nobody Really Cares About Federalism, Rick Perry Edition

A good article by Manny Fernandez and Emily Ramshaw details some ways in which Rick Perry 's federalist views have yielded to other priorities: In one of his more well-publicized shifts, Mr. Perry proclaimed that gay marriage was an issue for individual states to decide, but backtracked in recent weeks and now says he supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage. He has also signaled support for various federal actions to restrict abortion rather than leaving the issue to states. And he used $17 billion in federal stimulus money to balance the state’s last two budgets. It should be noted that in all of this Perry is a completely mainstream Republican. The idea that Republicans want Roe v. Wade overruled so that the issue can be "returned to the states" is a massive fraud . Not a single anti-choice Republican voted against the federal ban on "partial birth" abortions. The Republican platform contains a plank urging a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first-degree...

Your iTable Is Coming

Two years ago, I wrote a column talking about some of the things that still bring value to newspapers, even in the Internet age, particularly its size: It isn't that there's anything inherent in the process of ones and zeros passing through the ether that precludes an experience that duplicates what we get with newspapers. The problem, actually, lies with our screens. The screen on your computer is probably somewhere between 100 and 200 square inches, and Web sites are designed to fit in this rectangle. In contrast, when it's opened, a copy of The New York Times measures 546 square inches, five times as much area as the 15-inch screen on your laptop. All too often, news sites respond to the dearth of space by cramming in hundreds of links in tiny type, making it even less likely that any one will catch your eye. I hope I don't sound like a grumpy old man lamenting the passing of the telegraph—I'd have a much harder time giving up the Web than I would giving up the newspaper. But I'm...

Your Tax Dollars at Work

War has offered the opportunity for profiteering pretty much since the most sophisticated weapons technology at man's disposal was a spear. But the level of that profiteering these days is truly spectacular. This new report from the Center for Public Integrity explains just how your tax dollars are shoveled into the coffers of KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary that provides things like food to troops overseas. You see, when you start a war, you don't really know everything you're going to need. So the military retained KBR on what's called a Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, or LOGCAP: Even beyond single-source contracts, the Pentagon has other types of contracts it can use to quickly award work without having to compete specific jobs. They include umbrella-type contracts, like LOGCAP, that allow the government to buy unspecified goods and services over long periods of time. "It's the government's way of saying 'We don’t know what we want, and we don’t know how much it costs...

Reining in Out-of-Control Democracy

The L.A. Times reports today that Democrats in the California Legislature are pushing a bill to have ballot initiatives appear only in general elections. Their argument is that having important laws passed via initiative in primaries -- when turnout is low, and so a tiny portion of the electorate can determine the state's fate -- doesn't serve anyone's interests. Republicans, predictably, are outraged: Republican critics of the proposal call it a political move driven by organized labor, aimed at thwarting a pair of ballot measures targeted for June 2012 — one that would place limits on state spending and another that seeks to curb political donations by unions. The spending measure already is on the June ballot, and backers of the union-dues measure are gathering signatures in hopes of qualifying for the spring election. "This is an egregious, self-interested move by Democrats and the unions who support them to try to alter the Constitution to give themselves a political advantage,"...

No Good News On Opinions of the Affordable Care Act

The latest Kaiser Family Foundation health reform tracking poll is out, and it's pretty seriously depressing. Essentially, as time passes, people understand less and less about the Affordable Care Act. This is the opposite of what the Obama administration and congressional Democrats want, of course, but it springs directly from the way the bill was designed and its implementation scheduled. Basically, we had this big contentious debate, Democrats won, then ... nothing. Because most of the bill's provisions don't take effect until 2014, most people haven't benefited from it (or aren't aware that they have, in the case of the provisions that have taken effect), and practically the only time they ever hear about it is when Republican politicians say it's destroying America and pledge to repeal it. In their quest for a good CBO score, Democrats sowed the seeds of their own public-opinion problem. Some highlights from the poll: Barely half of uninsured Americans know that the ACA will...

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