The detonation of the "nuclear option" against the filibuster for executive branch and most judicial-branch appointments was an obvious win for progressives. If, as seems likely, the use of the nuclear option puts the filibuster on the road to complete oblivion, this is an even bigger win for progressives, as the filibuster is a reactionary device both in theory and in practice. And yet, many people on all parts of the ideological spectrum have resisted this conclusion. Here are some of the major arguments being made against the deal from a Democratic perspective—and why they're wrong.
Peter B. Lewis died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 80. A billionaire chief executive of the Progressive Insurance Company, Peter was a true progressive in his values and his deeds. After his father’s death, Peter and his mother took charge of the company. He became chief executive in his early 1930s and built Progressive from a small 100-employee company into America’s fourth-largest auto insurer, with $17 billion in premiums and 26,000 employees. He expanded his market by insuring high-risk customers, deliberately offering price comparisons with competitors, and setting claims promptly. He led Progressive with exemplary transparency.
A few weeks ago, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann released the follow-up to their 2009 best-seller Game Change, given the best title their publisher's Department of Inane Clichés could devise (though I'll grant that Double Down: Game Change 2012 was a bit better than Game Change 2: Game Changier would have been). The revelations weren't particularly revelatory, sales have been less than overwhelming, and an HBO film version seems unlikely. The behind-the-scenes campaign account as a journalistic genre is now half a century old, having been initiated by Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960, and it's showing its age. Is it interesting to know what Mitt Romney thought of the ads that were produced for his campaign, or whether one Obama strategist was feuding with another? Sure, if that's your thing. But it's hard to argue that learning the inside dope means you understand what happened in a truly meaningful way.
To explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard boxes under my wife's desk.
Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack. They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles.
"To prevent Democrats from blocking President Bush's judicial nominees, Senate Republicans are considering a parliamentary maneuver with potentially explosive consequences called ''the nuclear option.'"
The Republican Governors Association is meeting in Arizona, and naturally the talk has turned to how the only way Republicans can win the next presidential election is if they nominate a governor. One after another, the assembled are taking to the microphones to say things like, "While D.C. talks, governors act" (South Carolina's Nikki Haley), "The cure for what ails this nation will come more from our nation's state capitals than it ever will from our nation's capital" (Indiana's Mike Pence), and "What I have seen here is the incredible contrast between what is being discussed here and accomplished by these people ... as opposed to what is going on in Washington D.C." (New Jersey's Chris Christie). While there were four former governors who ran in the 2012 primaries—the remarkably lifelike Mitt Romney, the foolishly moderate John Huntsman, the man who brought new meaning to the expression "all hat and no cattle" (Rick Perry), and the incandescent fireball of charisma that was Tim Pawlenty—in 2016 there could be even more, including Christie, Pence, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and maybe even Jeb Bush.
And barring the unexpected emergence of the John Thune Explosion (feel free to take that as a name for your garage band, Senator) or the kind of collective suicide pact that would produce a Rand Paul nomination, it seems strongly likely that one of those guys is going to end up topping their ticket in 2016. So what is it that makes governors appealing as candidates?
In 1965, there was already a glut of Kennedy books being published by the many assembled observers of JFK's death. The only qualification necessary to write a book on the presidential assassination on November 22, 1963, was a healthy ego; decades later, merely having a pulse when Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet struck warrants a healthy advance. Historian James MacGregor Burns reviewed two of the big ones, both by people who were truly qualified to comment on Camelot—Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy's court historian, and Ted Sorenson, the slain president's speechwriter. His 1965 review of Schlesinger's A Thousand Days starts:
It has been said many times over the last few years that now that Democrats successfully passed a comprehensive overhaul of American health insurance, they own the health-care system, for good or ill. Every problem anyone has with health care will be blamed on Barack Obama, whether his reform had anything to do with it or not. Your kid got strep throat? It's Obama's fault! Doctor left a sponge in your chest cavity? Stupid Obama! Grandma died after a long illness at the age of 97? Damn you, Obama!
OK, so maybe it won't be quite as bad as that, but pretty close. Here's an instructive case in exactly how this plays out
This has been a week in the crosshairs of history past and present. A century and a half ago the most besieged president ever, under whom half the country went to war against the other half, made the most compelling case since the Declaration of Independence not only for union but for union’s noblest requisites. Now this week is haunted equally by that declaration spoken at the edge of the Gettysburg killing field and the cruel rejoinder to it almost exactly a hundred years later, by another assassin’s shot echoing the one that murdered Abraham Lincoln. Apparently gunfire is the common American answer to those who call upon a common destiny for the America of our dreams.
Like Napoleon forging into the Russian winter, anti-choice politicians are loath to give up on abortion restrictions, however minor, until the Supreme Court forces them to. On Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a law that would strip Medicaid funding from doctors and clinics who perform abortions. Poor women already can’t use federal dollars to cover abortion procedures—that’s been illegal since the late 1970s. The law, which was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August, instead would prevent the state’s abortion providers from being reimbursed by Medicaid for providing any kind of care to low-income women, whether it’s breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, or contraceptive services.
At least when it comes to executive branch and (most) judicial branch appointments, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the United States Senate. Senate Democrats responded to the Republican minority's blockade against any Obama appointments to the D.C. Circuit by eliminating the filibuster for most presidential nominations. This vote will likely be the most important congressional vote of President Obama's second term, and Senate Majority Harry Reid and most of the rest of the Democratic caucus deserve immense credit for pulling it off.
Life in the Senate plays out predictably in the 21st century. It serves as the older sibling to the House, coming off as more logical and responsible by comparison, but when the Senate carries out duties that are its sole purview, it proves that the two legislative bodies share the same DNA. Yes, we're talking about the confirmation process for executive appointments.
Behold my terrible rage! I will drink your blood and feast on your entrails! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
So now the Democrats have exercised the "nuclear option," which is really not particularly nuclear. They've changed existing Senate rules so that judicial nominations can not be filibustered, but can pass with a majority vote. Over the next couple of days you'll hear Republicans say that this is the most horrifying power grab since the February Revolution of 1917. They will weep and beat their breasts, lamenting the death of fairness and democracy, predicting all manner of horrors, perhaps culminating in a zombie apocalypse, now that a judge nominated by the president can be confirmed with a vote of a majority of senators. But then, their grief will turn to steely determination. "You shall rue this day!", they will cry. "Revenge shall be ours!"
And that might sound like a reasonable argument for why this rule change was ill-advised. After all, as Iowa senator Chuck Grassley recently threatened, "So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench." In other words, without the restraint of the filibuster, the next time Republicans have the White House and the Senate, which will happen eventually, they'll go hog-wild, appointing the most radical conservatives they can find. But there's one big reason that argument fails: They would have done it anyway.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has released their latest health indicators report, and while you may not find 200 pages of charts and graphs on cross-national health comparisons as fascinating as weirdos like me do, let me just point to a couple of interesting things. Most of the findings will be pretty familiar to people who have followed the health care issue in the last few years, but there's at least one thing that surprised me, which I'll get to in a minute. First though, I have to point to this graph, which shows just what an outlier the United States is in terms of what we spend on health care and what we get. It shows the relationship between spending and life expectancy: