TAPPED

Everybody's Happy Nowadays

I’m not surprised to learn that most Democrats are uninterested in challenging President Obama for the Democratic nomination: Dissatisfaction from some Democratic activists notwithstanding, 78 percent of Democrats approve of Obama, according to the latest Gallup survey . In particular, liberal Democrats and African Americans show strong support for the president, at 78 percent and 85 percent, respectively. Even with the president's concessions to conservative policies, he can still count on solid support from his base. This makes for an interesting contrast to Bill Clinton. As Pew points out, by the end of his second year in office, 66 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters wanted to see Clinton challenged for the presidential nomination. To be fair, this poll was taken in December 1994, right after Republicans took the House, and not summer 1995. It’s possible that Democrats would have been far less eager to challenge Clinton after a half-year of Republican radicalism...

From Losing to Winning

The always astute Tom Schaller has an article over at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball discussing the unusually large contingent of current and former House members in this year's Republican presidential primaries, in which he makes this observation: In fact, recent history actually suggests that losing an early-career bid to win a seat in the House of Representatives may be the best way to clear a path to the Oval Office. Though they didn’t realize it at the time, the three most recent presidents probably saved their political careers from dead-ending in the House by losing: Bill Clinton (AR-3) in 1974; George W. Bush (TX-19) in 1978; and Barack Obama (IL-1) in 2000. This is something I've found interesting for a while: many of the most successful politicians experienced an electoral loss early in their careers, one often described as personally devastating. When they recovered from it, they were better politicians, and went on never (or almost never) to lose again. This is true of...

Wisconsin Was a Win

The conventional wisdom on the recall elections in Wisconsin is that they were a failure. Democrats only won two of the six seats up for recall, and failed to capture a majority in the state senate. At The Prospect , Harold Meyerson saw the results as a “sobering” reminder of union weakness in an age of reactionary power. Likewise, in a comparison to the 2010 special election in Massachusetts – where Republican Scott Brown triumphed over Democrat Martha Coakley for the state’s vacant Senate seat – Slate’s Dave Weigel concluded that “Voters then and there were angrier about the health care law than voters now and here were angry about Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.” It’s certainly disappointing that Democrats and pro-union activists weren’t able to flip the Wisconsin state senate in their direction, but as Freddie DeBoer reminds us at Balloon Juice, it’s worth keeping a little perspective. Since the advent of recall laws in the early 20th century, voters have only made twenty...

Opinions of Congress Crater

The Washington Post has a new poll out today that shows the widespread disgust with Washington you'd expect to see. The number of people who have confidence in Washington's ability to handle the economy has plunged, and nobody comes out looking good. To Republicans, this might seem like mission accomplished. As the anti-government opposition party, they can use obstructionism and blackmail to destroy government's ability to function, then turn to the voters and say, "See? We told you government doesn't work! Now vote for us!" Nevertheless, opinions of Republicans couldn't sink much further. Only 18 percent of respondents have confidence in Congressional Republicans' ability to make the right decisions on the economy, meaning that even most Republican voters don't trust their own party's representatives (the number for the president was 33 percent, not good, but not as bad as his opponents). The result that really jumped out at me was a question about the next election. We should...

If You Throw an Inane and Meaningless Political Event, They Will Come

I've written a lot about presidential politics, and I once drove through Iowa. (Blew a timing belt outside West Branch , whose motto these days is "A heritage for success," but whose motto back then was "Sorry, we don't take credit cards.") But I haven't had the misfortune of having to cover the Iowa caucus live in person, which is why I have some sympathy for those reporters currently attempting to write something insightful about the abomination that is the Ames Straw Poll, the event with the lowest meaningfulness-to-coverage ratio in the entire presidential campaign. As Erika Fry at the Columbia Journalism Review tells us in a piece providing some of the horrifying history of the event, around 700 reporters have been credentialed for this weekend's democracypalooza, in which a few thousand people who may or may not be Iowa voters will be serenaded by musicians, plied with free food, and do something that looks kind of like voting, which they won't actually be doing for many months...

Our Prosthetic Future

This afternoon, Terry Gross had an interesting interview with Hugh Herr, who runs a lab at MIT that designs artificial limbs. Herr is also a user of his designs; both his lower legs were amputated due to frostbite from a mountain climbing incident when he was a teenager. Herr argues that his artificial legs are superior to natural legs in many ways, particularly since he has multiple pairs tailored to different uses. But here's what's really provocative: "My biological body will degrade in time due to normal, age-related degeneration. But the artificial part of my body improves in time because I can upgrade. ... So I predict that when I'm 80 years old, I'll be able to walk with less energy than is required of a person who has biological legs, I'll be more stable, and I'll probably be able to run faster. ... The artificial part of my body is, in some sense, immortal." It's undoubtedly true that the technology will get better and better. And we can presume that the cost for...

The Public Really Doesn't Like the Republican Party

Given liberal despair over President Obama’s political fortunes, you might think that we live in a world where the Republican Party is popular with voters. But you’d be wrong. Despite their recent legislative success, Republicans have never been more unpopular than they are now. According to the latest CNN survey of American voters, 59 percent have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, a record high in CNN’s polling. This is an eleven point jump from March, when CNN released its first poll of the new Republican House majority. Right now, the GOP is more unpopular than it was during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. At the moment, this doesn’t mean much for President Obama reelection chances. The next presidential election is more than a year away, and the unpopularity of a political party means less than how voters’ feel about a given candidate. Indeed, given the poor economy, whoever Republicans nominate for the presidency will likely outperform the party’s overrall popularity...

Cover Your Eyes, Gentle Voters

In an old episode of The Simpsons , Homer discovers that he'll have to pay an extra $5 in taxes to support a bear patrol. "It's the biggest tax increase in history!" he shouts. "Actually, Dad," says Lisa, "it's the smallest tax increase in history." That's what I was reminded of when I saw a tweet from New York magazine's John Heilmann that read: "Truth: 2012 will be most negative pres campaign of our lifetimes." Heilmann was reacting to a Politico article titled "Obama plan: Destroy Romney." The article exposed the shocking news that should Mitt Romney become the Republican presidential nominee, the Obama campaign will -- you might want to sit down -- criticize him strongly! Many comparisons are made to 2004, in which a president with mediocre approval ratings launched character attacks against his opponent. This won't be the last we hear of the venomous, personal campaign that 2012 is destined to be. But here's the thing: that's true of every presidential campaign. Every incumbent...

Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Highly Ethical Robots of War

(Flickr/ U.S. Army ) As you might know, American service members in Iraq and Afghanistan have been using a variety of robotic assistants, from bomb defusing robots to small hand-launched drone aircraft to surveillance robots. What none of these robots do, however, is carry weapons. There's a lot of understandable resistance within the military to this -- not as much to the current generation of remote-controlled bots but to the idea of future generations of autonomous robots making independent decisions on when to use deadly force is something few people are comfortable with. But as the robots get more and more sophisticated, it's a question we're going to have to confront. As concerned as we are about our robots turning against their meat-based overlords, is it possible they'd actually be an improvement on human soldiers not just in physical ways but ethically as well? That's what's suggested in this piece at National Geographic (h/t Andrew Sullivan ): In the tumult of battle, robots...

The Happy Warrior

This week's Newsweek magazine features the cover on the right, which has not too surprisingly stirred outrage from conservatives (see here and here for some reactions) saying that the liberal media are out to get Michele Bachmann . Are they right? Yes and no. The charge some are making that the photo and headline represent sexism is hard to justify. Even if one granted that Bachmann was being treated unfairly, the fact that Newsweek selected an uncomplimentary photo of her doesn't mean that she's being treated differently specifically because of her gender. You'd have to produce some specifically gender-based evidence to sustain that charge, and as of yet, I haven't seen it. On the other hand, they did pick a photo where she looks crazed. Bachmann does sometimes look that way, but presumably they had lots of shots from which to choose. I wouldn't be surprised if Newsweek chief Tina Brown , who knows a thing or two about buzz, picked that photo because she knew it would generate...

Debating the Good Book

There's a Republican presidential debate coming up this Thursday, and watching all the discussion of Michele Bachmann 's and Rick Perry 's religiosity, it made me wonder whether we're likely to see a repeat of this: It was somewhat heartening to see even Mike Huckabee say that everything in the Bible shouldn't be taken literally, even if he did seem to say that it's easy to figure out which commands we should just follow because God told us, and which we can ignore because they are obviously crazy. If a candidate actually claimed that the Bible is to be taken literally, that ought to immediately disqualify him or her from being elected dog catcher, much less president, since it would mean he or she is in favor of things like slavery, genocide, rape, executing children for sassing their parents, executing people for working on the Sabbath, and whole lot of other things. These days, nearly a third of Americans tell pollsters that the Bible should be taken literally, word for word. I'm...

Obama Stays Tame on Republicans

If his press conference this afternoon was any indication, President Obama wants the world to know that American debt is still safe. “The markets continue to believe that our status is AAA. … Warren Buffet said that if there were a quadruple-A rating, he’d give us that.” While Obama disputes the downgrade, he doesn’t actually take issue with Standard and Poor’s assessment of our political system. As he put it, the United States doesn’t need S&P to tell us that “using the debt ceiling as a threat” would be disastrous to our economy, or that Washington gridlock hasn’t been “constructive.” Insofar that there’s any difference between S&P’s explanation of our debt downgrade and Obama’s endorsement of its reasoning, it’s S&P’s willingness to attack Republicans for turning the debt ceiling into an occasion for brinksmanship, and the president’s refusal to follow suit. Instead, Obama doubled-down on his usual formulation: Both sides need to set aside their shibboleths for the sake...

Michele Bachmann Is Ready for Her Close-Up

(Flickr/ Gage Skidmore ) Michele Bachmann has officially arrived. She's on the cover of Newsweek , and the article of the day is Ryan Lizza's long profile of her in The New Yorker . If you're a close student of all things Bachmann there won't be all that much surprising there, but Lizza offers an especially good detailing of the stew of extremist thought in which Bachmann has marinated over the years, covering both theocratic and anti-government conspiratorialist thinking. Near the end, Lizza makes an important point about the bond between the religious right and economic conservatives: The two wings are now united by the simplest and most enduring strain of conservative ideology: a dislike and distrust of government. Religious and fiscal conservatives have been moving toward this kind of unity for decades, and Bachmann, in her crusades against abortion, education standards, gay marriage—as well as in her passionate opposition to raising the debt ceiling—has always cast government as...

Student-Loan Support Cut in the Debt-Ceiling Deal

The debt-ceiling debacle had Democrats and Republicans arguing over tax breaks and spending cuts on social programs like Medicare and Social Security. But, under the radar, both parties put higher education on the chopping block once again. As part of the budget deal, starting June 1 next year, the government will stop paying interest on subsidized loans for graduate or professional students while they're in school. Typically, the government pays the interest on undergraduate school loan debt up to $8,500 per year as long as students remain enrolled. With the new rules in place, graduate students will no longer be able to defer payment without accruing interest. As a result, the unpaid interest rate will increase loan balances by nearly 16 percent, and the average debt at the start of repayment by about 6 percent. It will save the government $18.1 billion over 10 years. The plan did, however, pump $17 billion into the Pell Grant program, which benefits undergraduates. With Sallie Mae...

Are All the Presidential Campaigns Dysfunctional?

If you wanted to start, say, a software company, you could do it with a little bit of money borrowed from your uncle, and then spend a lot of time working on your product; if things go well, you can hire a second employee, then a third, and slowly build your way up. Starting a nonprofit isn't all that different -- there are lots of nonprofits that start with a person or two, and then gradually grow (or not), but take in enough money to sustain themselves. In either case, there won't be reporters poking around your office saying, "So, how does everyone feel about the CEO? Any tension there?"-- with the results splashed on the pages of Politico . A presidential campaign, on the other hand, has to start quickly and move in a highly competitive environment, where rapid growth is vital to maintaining its viability. It's like a business that has to show smashing sales within its first few months, or everyone will start saying it's doomed. Imagine if there were stories on the business page...

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