Darrell Issa smiles uncomfortably upon realizing he's posing with Judy Collins, whom he's pretty sure is some kind of hippie. (Flickr/Music First Coalition)
When Darrell Issa took the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after Republicans took back the House in the 2010 election, he promised that he was going to be a dogged pursuer of the Obama administration. But at this point, I'm genuinely curious about how Republicans feel about Issa. Conservatives sincerely believe that the Obama administration is riddled with corruption, starting with the villainous president and going all the way down to the intern who makes copies in the basement of the Commerce Department. Yet Issa has turned out to be a strikingly incompetent clown, screwing things up spectacularly every time he tries to embarrass the administration and being so transparently sleazy in the way he goes about his work that he never succeeds in pinning anything on Obama.
Think about all the times Republicans thought they had Obama dead to rights and Issa couldn't deliver the goods. There was Solyndra, "Fast and Furious," the IRS scandal, and of course the one that keeps on giving, Benghazi. Obviously, the fact that they haven't mounted a successful impeachment based on any of these is mostly because there just hasn't been any criminal behavior. But every time it looks like Issa is about to whip something into a lasting scandal, he does something like what he did yesterday. First, Issa (or presumably his staff) leaks to CBS News a "partial transcript" of a closed hearing revealing that, in the words of their report, "the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security. Those failures could lead to identity theft among buying insurance." Sounds awful! But you'll be shocked to learn that neither of those things is true. Steve Benen has the details:
Few things excite a political reporter more than polls. They're the sports statistics of the electoral grind, giving any argument that little extra oomph. For people not necessarily known for their numerical prowess, a cleverly placed percentage point is the perfect condiment for any story. Heck, polls can even be the story.
Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for those alluring little numbers can end badly. In election off-season it's not so noticeable, with polls slowing to a relative trickle and our attentions focused elsewhere—or so far in the future that the ambitious dreams of Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton dancing in our heads outweigh any margins of error. But the polls are still there. Exhibit A: presidential approval ratings.
The Republicans badly damaged themselves with their contrived government shutdown and debt crisis, but it remains for the Democrats to drive home their advantage. Will they?
Based on the cost to the Republican brand and the pressure from corporate elites not to harm the economy, the days of shutdowns and games with the debt are probably over for the foreseeable future. If the Tea Party faction tries to repeat these maneuvers, House Speaker John Boehner would likely permit a free vote again, and enough Republicans would vote with Democrats to keep the government open.
Let’s face it, unless Democrats win back the House in 2014, Obama will soon become a lame duck president. To some degree or another, it is a universal truth that second term presidents turn to foreign policy to burnish their historical legacy. Yet the continuous drip of revelations about the NSA’s vast array of surveillance programs is not only shaping up to be the biggest headache for the Obama administration but potentially, part of its defining legacy. And that is sad. Super sad.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act website rollout has been a fiasco. And, as always happens when political catastrophe strikes, the wave of bad analogies has rushed in its wake. One in particular that’s gaining ground: Healthcare.gov is for Barack Obama’s presidency what the invasion of Iraq was to George W. Bush’s administration, complete with outraged liberal reactions to it.
Here’s the funny thing: it’s a bad analogy, which could turn out to be accurate … but probably won’t.
Even before the shutdown crisis was over, President Obama was already making it clear that his next priority was going to be immigration reform. So can it actually happen? Right after the 2012 election, one Republican after another was saying that if reform didn't pass, their party was all but doomed, since they'd be blamed for stopping it, and the country's largest minority group would be driven even further away from them. You might think that after the political disaster of the shutdown, Republicans would be even more eager to find something, anything that would improve their party's image.
But maybe not. Over the weekend, Marco Rubio said that Republicans wouldn't allow immigration reform to pass because Obama was super-mean during the shutdown. "The president has undermined this effort, absolutely, because of the way he has behaved over the last three weeks." Rubio's not the only one with hurt feelings. "It's not going to happen this year," said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). "After the way the president acted over the last two or three weeks where he would refuse to talk to the Speaker of the House ... they're not going to get immigration reform. That's done."
OK then. The thing is, even if Obama were sure there was next to no chance of succeeding in passing reform, there are few things he could spend time talking about over the next few months that would do more damage to his opponents.
How much damage have the Republicans done to themselves going into the elections of 2014 and 2016? And has President Obama resolved to hang tough, not just in this round, but in the one that follows and the one after that?
Remember the proposals that were current back in 2011 to have President Obama invoke his authority under the 14th Amendment to keep funding America’s public debt, even without approval from Congress? Well, that proposal has suddenly become highly relevant again, even urgent.
Starting today, Americans are going to learn three things when they watch media coverage about the government shutdown. First, they'll see Republicans say that Obamacare totally sucks and everybody hates it, and also that President Obama is being super-mean by not giving them what they want. Second, they'll learn that their fellow citizens have a pox-on-both-their-houses view on this whole thing, because nothing says "journalism" like going out on the Mall or to the local diner and getting a few quotes from average folk saying, "They're all acting like children!"
And third, they'll hear Barack Obama say that with their intransigence, Republicans are hurting regular Americans. And not just regular Americans generally, but actual, specific regular Americans. Many of these Americans will be seen standing patiently behind the President as he tells their stories. That's what he did today in his first post-shutdown statement, which combined a celebration of the opening of the health care exchanges with a critique of the shutdown.
I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair. It isn't that this shutdown won't be resolved, because it will. It will be resolved in the only way it can: when John Boehner allows a vote on a "clean CR," a continuing resolution that funds the government without attacking the Affordable Care Act. It could happen in a week or two, whenever the political cost of the shutdown becomes high enough for Boehner to finally find the courage to say no to the Tea Partiers in his caucus. That CR will pass with mostly Democratic votes, and maybe the result will be a revolt against Boehner that leads to him losing the speakership (or maybe not; as some have argued, Boehner's job could be safe simply because no one else could possibly want it).
But the reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the period of lurching from absurd crisis to absurd crisis, with no possibility of passing a budget let alone legislation to address any serious problems we face, with a cowardly Republican leadership held hostage by a group of insane political terrorists who think it's a tragedy if a poor person gets health insurance and it's a great day when you kick a kid off food stamps, a period where this collection of extremists and fools, these people who think the likes of Michele Bachmann and Steve King are noble and wise leaders—this awful, horrific period in our history, when these are the people who control the country's fate, looks like it will never end.
Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted, in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn't a conservative after all, wrote, "Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets." We've seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren't conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs.
There's already a tactical division within the Republican party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won't dismantle his greatest domestic policy accomplishment, and he won't delay it for a year. He just won't. The members who are newer, particularly Tea Partiers who got elected in 2010 and 2012, think that if they just hold fast, eventually Obama will buckle.
And there's another difference between the two groups.
This week sees two big articles about the Clintons, one on Hillary in New York magazine, and one on the Clinton Global Initiative (but also about Hillary) in the New Republic. So it isn't too surprising to see Salon's Joan Walsh pen an article titled, "I have Clinton fatigue—and it's not even 2014 yet." I don't have much of a problem with any of the particulars Walsh cites, but since this is likely to be the first of about twelve zillion articles on the phenomenon of "Clinton fatigue" over the next couple of years, it's as good a time as any to point out that there's something problematic about the whole notion.
There are, without doubt, legitimate gripes you can have about the Clintons, whether it's their Third Way ideology or their accompanying comfort with corporate America (and of course, one can argue that in both these things, Barack Obama isn't much different). You can have legitimate concerns that Bill Clinton could find a way to "distract" (wink wink) from his wife's campaign. But I can't help but suspect that the real problem here is an emotional one, and it's about how Democrats felt in 2008.
Republicans are likely incur serious political damage in their effort to hold hostage continued funding of the government in exchange for deep spending cuts. This routine has become an annual ritual, and in the past President Obama has been the first one to cave. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which includes the automatic sequester, is one bitter fruit of the president’s past failure to hang tough in the face of Republican extremist demands.