Historical Analogies, From Wrong to Awful

It's the shoes that make this outfit. (Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)

Here's a little tip for those commenting on public affairs, whether politician, writer, or just someone who finds yourself with a microphone before you. You'll be tempted from time to time to use a historical analogy, comparing present events and controversies to more momentous ones from the past. But there are a few you definitely want to avoid, including the following: I am like Jesus. The people I disagree with are like Nazis. The people I disagree with are like slave owners or segregationists. I or people I like am as oppressed as slaves were, or as Jews in Nazi Germany were. Those comparisons will pop into your head, but do yourself a favor and try to come up with something better. That shouldn't be too hard, should it?

Apparently, it is. Today we saw one of these analogies, and another one that isn't quite so bad but still has some issues. The first was from Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, the company that, you'll recall, kind of destroyed the world economy a few years ago, then was bailed out by the taxpayers. Benmosche complained to the Wall Street Journal that the controversy over whether AIG executives should get bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

Oh dear.

Me, Myself, and Netanyahu

AP Photo/Ammar Awad, Pool

When Barack Obama looks at the White House appointment book and sees that Benjamin Netanyahu will come calling next Monday, I doubt he'll smile. Past meetings between the president and the Israeli prime minister have come in two types: ones in which they publicly displayed the mutual distaste of brothers-in-law who wish they weren't in business together and ones in which they pretended for the cameras that they get along.

Netanyahu's political soul is a hybrid of an early 21st-century Republican and a mid-20th-century Central European. In a certain place inside him, every day is September 30, 1938, when Britain sold out Czechoslovakia, and great-power perfidy is inevitable. A year ago, in his more contemporary mode, Netanyahu was publicly supporting Obama's electoral opponent, a detail neither man will mention on Monday.

Can Republicans Buck the Tea Party?

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Since the Tea Party emerged following President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Republican governors have frequently been the faces of some of the most extreme policies in recent political memory. Even before her infamous “finger point” at the president, Arizona’s Jan Brewer was signing and defending her state’s racial-profiling bill, SB 1070. In Ohio, John Kasich championed a law—later repealed by voters—to strip public employees of bargaining rights. In Florida, Rick Scott has pushed a plethora of hard-right policies, from drug screening of welfare recipients and government employees to reductions in early voting. Michigan’s Rick Snyder, who has a moderate streak, went to the extreme last December when he approved “right to work” legislation in a state built largely by union labor.

Yet Brewer, Kasich, Snyder, and Scott are among the nine GOP governors who have staked considerable political capital on Medicaid expansion, a key piece of the Affordable Care Act.

Ted Cruz Is Not Well-Liked

He doesn't like you, either. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

"Be liked and you will never want," said Willy Loman, the protagonist of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. "That's the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!" Of course, the great tragic figure of the American theater was terribly wrong about that. But in politics, personal relationships still matter, even if the days when Lyndon Johnson would call up a senator and sweet-talk him into changing his vote on a bill are long gone.

I'm thinking about this because Ted Cruz—Tea Party hero, up-and-comer, future presidential candidate—is suddenly finding himself on the receiving end of a whole lot of hostility from House Republicans. By way of context, there's a broad consensus that Cruz is, as George W. Bush would put it, a major-league asshole. He's not someone who wastes time and energy being nice to people or cultivating relationships that could be useful down the road. He's pretty sure he's smarter than everyone, and doesn't mind making it clear that's how he feels. People consider him rude and condescending. This was apparent from the moment he got to Washington, and it was true back in Texas as well. But if you agree with his politics, then does that matter?

It sure seems to matter today.

My Shutdown Lament

Truly this is a place of darkness. (Flickr/K.P.Tripathi)

I have a problem. My job is to keep up with the world of politics and then write commentary, explanations, and analysis that readers will find interesting, entertaining, or informative. Sometimes that involves big-picture looks at policy issues, sometimes it involves making pretty pictures (look here—I made maps!), but much of the time, it's about giving some kind of novel perspective on the things that are happening today, this week, or this month. I try very hard to always add something, to not just repeat what everybody else is saying but to offer something different, so that people who read this blog will come away feeling they understand the world just a little bit better. Perhaps I don't always succeed, and you may or may not get value out of any particular thing I've written. But what do you do when the news turns into some kind of hellish version of Groundhog Day, repeating the same abysmal scenario over and over, in which even the happy ending doesn't involve finding true love and better understanding of yourself and your role in the world like Bill Murray did, but at best a return to the status quo ante of mindless political squabbles and unsolved problems?

What, then, can I add about the latest twist in the pending government shutdown? How many different ways are there to say that the Tea Party Republicans are both crazy and stupid? How often can you point out that John Boehner is pathetically weak, quite possibly the most ineffectual Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives? How many times can you remind people of all the awful things that would happen if the government shuts down and/or we don't raise the debt ceiling? How many times can you scream at Republicans that they are never, ever, ever going to repeal the Affordable Care Act so they should just give it the hell up already? How many times can you cry that this would be an insane way to run a junior-high student council, much less the government of the mightiest nation on earth?

We Shall Overwhelm

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

Four years ago, the modern Tea Party seemed to emerge from nowhere, leaving journalists bewildered and the public with few reference points to understand seemingly spontaneous rallies by middle-class people seeking lower tax rates. A search for the phrase “tea party” in connection with “politics” in major newspapers yielded fewer than 100 mentions in 2008—and when the words did appear linked together, they suggested studied formality and decorum. The next year, they appeared more than 1,500 times, often connected to “protest demonstration.”

Could Conservatives Help Obamacare Implementation Work?

She only wants to help, really. (Flickr/American Life League)

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, up to and including President Obama, have been at pains to point out to anyone who'd listen that as with any large and complex piece of legislation, implementation is going to be imperfect. There are going to be hiccups. Hurdles. Stumbles. Stops and starts, ups and downs, potholes and roadblocks and detours. They've been saying it because it's true, because they want to prepare the media and the public, and because they know that conservatives will be squawking loudly every time it becomes apparent that some feature of the law needs to be adjusted, trying to convince everyone that even the most minor of difficulties is proof the law should never have been enacted in the first place.

But let me make a counter-intuitive suggestion: Perhaps all the inevitable overblown carping from the right will prove to be a good thing, actually making the law work better in the long run

Blinded by the Gun-Control Fight

Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

The Republican Party hasn't been known for its sterling record on disability rights lately. Last December, 38 GOP senators memorably tanked the UN Convention on Persons With Disabilities over the pleading of former Senator Bob Dole, walking past his wheelchair to cast "no" votes and sparking widespread outrage among disability groups. In the past week, however, many disability groups have applauded an Iowa law allowing blind residents to carry concealed handguns, a rule change that has raised eyebrows from Iowa sheriffs to The Colbert Report.

The permits have been issued as an effect of 2011 conceal-and-carry legislation that made Iowa a "shall grant" state—"shall grant" being the legal equivalent of Heston's infamous "from my cold dead hands" in terms of who can be denied a permit by a state sheriff—a law that’s now getting national attention thanks to a report in the Des Moines Register. There are exactly six restrictions on who can and cannot get these permits. You can even complete the state certification online, leading some sheriffs to suggest that people could become licensed to carry concealed handguns even if they couldn’t see well enough to sign the application form without assistance. Excluding the blind from the "shall grant" legislation's broad language would violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, says Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa. As a result, Iowans whose visual impairment legally rules out getting behind the wheel of a car are now being licensed to wield deadly weapons with fewer restrictions than ever before.

If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

Among the lessons of Syria for Barack Obama, there is one that stands out: the destruction of the Republican foreign policy establishment makes his job harder, and the president is now suffering the consequences of his choice to avoid, as much as possible, dealing with the fallout from torture during the George W. Bush administration.

Government-Shutdown Crisis Proceeding on Schedule

Eric Cantor, liberal stooge. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

What with all the attention being paid to Syria, most people have forgotten that we're just three weeks away from a government shutdown unless Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR), which is the (relatively) quick-and-easy way of keeping the government operating at current funding levels without writing a whole new budget. As you may remember, Tea Party Republicans in the House would like to use the threat of a government shutdown to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, while the Republican leadership, conservatives to a person, realizes that this is spectacularly stupid. If they actually hold up the CR with a defunding demand, Barack Obama will say no, the government will shut down, Republicans will get every ounce of the blame, and it'll be a complete disaster for the GOP. Eventually they'll give in and pass a CR, but only after having caused a crisis and eroding their brand even further, and by the way not actually defunding Obamacare.

So House Majority Leader Eric Cantor came up with something resembling a solution. The way it would work is that the House would pass two versions of the CR, one that defunds Obamacare and one that doesn't. They would then send them to the Senate, which would presumably pass only the one that doesn't defund Obamacare, which Obama would then sign. As Politico describes it, "The arrangement allows all sides to express themselves, but it surrenders the shutdown leverage that some conservatives hunger for." And not surprisingly, Tea Partiers both inside and outside Congress don't like it.

Coming Out Guns Blazing in Colorado's Recall Elections

AP Images/Michael Ciaglo

This Tuesday, in a low-turnout election, voters in two Colorado districts will decide whether they want to recall their state senators. Based on the outcome of those two elections, media around the country will determine whether gun control legislation is a safe political bet for elected officials who want to keep their seats; pro- and anti-gun control groups will see if flexing their muscles with large donations has all been for naught.

Impeachment, Inc.

Get your copy now. Better yet, buy two!

Earlier this week, I mentioned that World Net Daily, home of anti-Obama fulminations, bizarre conspiracy theories, and miracle-drug come-ons, has an "Impeachment Store" that is your one-stop shop for all your impeachment needs. TPM evidently noticed too, because they did a whole story on it the next day. And today, the Washington Examiner has a story explaining how impeachment has become an effective sales—excuse me, organizing—tool for the right. This kind of thing goes back decades to when clever political direct mail entrepreneurs figured out that once you got the name and address of an angry old conservative couple willing to donate a few bucks to a candidate or a right-wing organization, you could keep milking that cow for years, selling their information again and again and hitting them up for a variety of candidates and causes. It turned out they'd also be susceptible to pitches for all manner of snake oil, and when you put them together on a list with a couple million people just like them, it was like printing money.

As in so many other areas, the rise of the internet made it more efficient and easier to scale up. Now you can reach your marks with web ads and emails, too, to make sure they buy all the quickie books Regnery can churn out and keep making those donations. Last year, Dick Morris was caught running a scam with the help of, whereby people would donate to his super PAC thinking they were helping to defeat Barack Obama, but the money actually ended up going to the bombastic news site and the oleagenous pundit. But without an election coming up for a few years, the ridiculous pipe dream of impeachment has become the vehicle to keep those dollars flowing:

It's Alive!

This is not exactly what a vital political movement looks like. (Flickr/Jeffrey Scism)

Back in what if memory serves was early 2011, I ran into a former Prospect writer and now semi-famous person in the lobby of a building near the Capitol where a bunch of TV stations have studios. We began chatting about the Tea Party, and I suggested that once the Republican presidential primary campaign got underway in earnest in a few months time, all those tricorner hats would be put away as the Republican activists who made up the movement turned their attention to the race to pick their party's standard-bearer, and the Tea Party would peter out. He agreed, and we parted ways, satisfied with our sage prediction that all that unpleasantness would soon be over and the country would return to its prior, more manageable level of political silliness.

OK, so it didn't exactly work out that way. What happened to the Tea Party was more a slow dissipation than a rapid fizzling out, and it still persists. Sure, they aren't organizing any well-attended protests, and the hundreds of Tea Party groups out there aren't able to act together in any meaningful way, but it still exists, after a fashion. There's still a Tea Party Caucus in Congress, run by Michele Bachmann, who remains a member of the House of Representatives, believe it or not. In fact, not long ago some other House Republicans decided to launch a new Tea Party Caucus, and were surprised to learn that the old one still nominally exists.

And today, the Wall Street Journal tells us that the Tea Party is back, baby!

Rights, Obligations, and Ignorant Libertarians

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Oh, Rand Paul. What are we going to do with you?

I'll tell you in a moment what I'm referring to. But first: One of the principal functions parties serve is that they act as a heuristic, or cognitive shortcut, for voters. If you have to vote for someone to serve on your city council and you know nothing about the candidates, you can use party as a proxy and you'll be right almost all the time. You can also look to your party to see where you should come down on issues. It doesn't necessarily make you lazy; sometimes it's just efficient to look to others with values similar to yours for cues about what policies are worthwhile. We can't all be experts on everything. In a similar way, parties give people who run for office a set of policy positions they can adopt without having to know everything about anything a lawmaker might have to address.

But if you call yourself a libertarian, you're saying that parties aren't enough for you, even if you're a Republican. Instead, you're motivated by a philosophical perspective to which you've given some serious thought. Every libertarian in politics, including Rand Paul, presents themselves this way. They're concerned with ideas. So if you're going to define yourself by a philosophy, isn't it incumbent upon you to at least have an idea of what that philosophy implies, and a grasp of some basic philosophical concepts—for instance, like what a right is—so that you can talk about them with some modicum of sense when they come up, as they inevitably will?

Apparently not.

The Impeachniks Roar

Coming soon to an overpass near you. (photo from Facebook)

There have been only two presidential impeachments in the 224 years since George Washington became America's first president. Both—of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and of Bill Clinton in 1998—failed to get the required two-thirds majority in the Senate. And Richard Nixon, of course, was about to be impeached in 1974 when he chose to resign instead; unlike the other two, there would have been nothing partisan about Nixon's impeachment and he almost certainly would have been convicted. There are always some partisans of the party out of power who would like to impeach the president, simply because it's the only way to get rid of him if you can't beat him at the polls. But a presidency without too much actual criminality shouldn't produce too many such armchair prosecutors. Or so you'd think.

But these are no ordinary times, and the Republican thirst for impeaching Barack Obama (or "Barack Hussein Obama," as impeachniks inevitably call him) has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the fact that the New York Times featured a story about it over the weekend. The pattern is becoming familiar: at a town hall meeting, a member of the House or Senate is confronted by a constituent practically quivering with anger and hatred at the President. The constituent demands to know why impeachment hasn't happened yet. The Republican politician nods sympathetically, then explains that though he'd like nothing more than to see Obama driven from office, it would require a vote of the House and then a trial and conviction vote in the Senate, and that just isn't going to happen.