Harold Meyerson

Bill Clinton, Book Critic

In 1991, in the early days of his presidential run, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton would occasionally cite and paraphrase from what was clearly his favorite new book: E.J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics. The book excoriated any number of politicos, but chiefly Republicans, for posing “false choices” to the American people—as in, you’re either pro-family or pro-government (as if there weren’t a raft of government programs to help families). Clinton wove these ideas into his stump speech, now and then taking care to attribute some of them to E.J.’s book. (E.J. is a close friend, so in this blog, he gets first-name treatment).

Why Is San Bernardino Bankrupt?

The prize for the most abjectly wrong headline in American journalism this week goes, I grieve to say, to the Los Angeles Times. Atop an article analyzing how California cities are coping with horrific budget crunches—which ran one day after the working-class exurb of San Bernardino followed its fellow working-class exurb Stockton into municipal bankruptcy—the headline writer plunked the following line: “Rising costs push California cities to fiscal brink.”

Clueless Kinsley

Back in the days when Michael Kinsley was the designated liberal on CNN’s “Crossfire” show, paired off against Pat Buchanan or Robert Novak, he would answer the complaints of actual liberals that he really wasn’t a liberal himself by agreeing with them. Kinsley was and still is a man of the cautious, corporate center, which means liberal on social and cultural issues and an Aspen/Jackson Hole corporate elitist on economics. Which is to say, while he’s a trenchant social critic, he hasn’t even noticed the bankruptcy of mainstream economics. 

Fishing for Boos

(Flickr / jim.greenfield)

In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson).

Union Maid

Over the past several decades, at any number of public events I’ve attended, I never had trouble knowing when Joyce Miller was in the house. “Harold!” she would boom, her voice a friendly foghorn across a crowded room.

Over the decades, she’d needed that voice to make herself—and the cause of women workers—heard. A founder and, later, the president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Joyce was a longtime official of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a heavily female union headed by invariably male leaders who eventually made room for very talented secondary-level women leaders such as Joyce. In 1980, even the AFL-CIO executive council made room for Joyce, when she was elected to become its first female member.

Bury Those Lines!

(Flickr / (adam) THEO)

When more than a million metro-area Washingtonians lost their power in last Friday’s superheated near-hurricane, and hundreds of thousands of them went three, four, or five sweltering days before it came back on, was Pepco—the local power company—to blame? How about Dominion Virginia Power? Would a municipally owned company have done a better job?

I’m all for having publicly owned utilities, but in this case, I don’t think ownership mattered. When a storm like last Friday’s sweeps through, all that counts is whether the power lines are buried underground or strung from poles. Neighborhoods that had their power lines underground (like mine, in Dupont Circle) didn’t lose power. Neighborhoods that didn’t went dark—unless they were spared by a shift in the winds.

Not the Issue?

If you don't think Republicans are monomaniacs, may I suggest watching Mitch McConnell's performance on Fox News Sunday. Three times host Chris Wallace asked McConnell what would become of the 30 million Americans who'd be able to obtain health coverage under the Obama administration's newly upheld health-care law if the Republicans repealed the law, and three times McConnell said that such temporal concerns were beside the point. The third time Wallace asked about the 30 million Americans, McConnell responded, "That is not the issue.

The Anti-Scalia Uprising

(Flickr/U.S. Mission Geneva)


I’m not the only one who has noticed that Antonin Scalia has become the Supreme Court’s crazy uncle.

As I wrote here yesterday, Scalia’s dissent in the Court’s Monday ruling striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law was bizarre beyond belief—arrogating to Arizona a degree of sovereignty in border (and foreign, and military) policy that law and custom restrict to nations. His willingness to let Arizona make its own foreign policy was also in sharp contrast to his refusal to grant Montana the right to put controls on campaign spending in its state elections—a decision he joined on the same day he issued his Arizona dissent. 

Who’s Sovereign Now?

(AP Photo/Chris Greenberg, File)

Hard to say what’s more bizarre about Antonin Scalia’s furious dissent against the Supreme Court’s decision striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law: his railing at President Barack Obama’s executive order stopping the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (which wasn’t remotely the subject of the case at hand) or his basis for upholding Arizona’s law—that Arizona is a sovereign state with the rights generally claimed by nation-states.

Romney’s Worsening Latino Headache

Mitt Romney’s Latino problem just got a lot worse.

President Obama’s executive order to the immigration service to cease deportations of immigrants who came here without documentation before they turned 16 has gone as far as a president can go without bringing Congress along with him. A president can’t change the legal status of the undocumented by himself, but he can issue orders to Homeland Security, which is precisely what Obama did.

This means that should Romney win the fall election, it’s entirely a matter of his discretion whether to continue, amend or revoke Obama’s order. It also means he has to take a position on the order while campaigning—and given the importance of the order, he has to take a position damn quick.

California Tries Something New

(Flickr/Loco Steve)

California ventured onto unknown terrain last week, holding its first primary election with districts carved by a non-partisan commission, and under a new law that stipulates the top two finishers in the primary, regardless of party, are the candidates who advance to the November run-off.

A Wisconsin Domino Effect?

(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)

While hardly surprising to anyone who read the polls, yesterday’s victory by Republican Governor Scott Walker was a body blow to Wisconsin unions and to American workers. Within Wisconsin, Walker’s victory ensures that his law repealing collective-bargaining rights for public employees will stay on the books, and if Republicans maintain their hold on the state senate—four of their senators faced recall elections, and as I write this at least three have survived—they will, at least in theory, be able to go forward on other parts of their Social Darwinist agenda. Whether they will—and whether they opt to go after private-sector unions, too, with right-to-work legislation—remains unclear. Such a move on Walker’s part, coming on the heels of the most divisive 18 months in the state’s history, would only escalate what is already a political civil war. Even Walker may think it the better part of valor to pass on that for now.

Tomorrow’s Electoral Wildcard

It’s not in Wisconsin, where the recall of Governor Scott Walker can have only two possible outcomes. It’s in California, where Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein—long the most popular pol in the state—is facing a large field of non-entities as she campaigns for re-election, and where the challenger who may well emerge from the pack to take her on is California’s leading birther: Republican dentist Orly Taitz.

Twenty-three candidates are vying to take on Feinstein in November, and not one is remotely serious, even if we define seriousness down to having the capacity to raise just a million dollars in America’s most costly state, and to being known as at least a modestly reputable person to 10 percent of the electorate.

No Slam Dunk in Wisconsin

We don’t know the outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Wisconsin, of course, but we do know this: Even if labor somehow manages to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker, the result will be nothing like the resounding repudiation that Ohio voters delivered last year in repealing that state’s anti-collective bargaining law pushed by an equally controversial GOP governor, John Kasich.