Politics

Saving More Than We Could Get.

Sometime in the next 24 hours, BP officials hope, the busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico can be permanently sealed. That would mean an end to the disaster caused by a rig explosion that has left as much as 5 million barrels of oil gushing into the gulf for more than 100 days. On Friday, the House approved new legislation to regulate offshore drilling that would also help coordinate Gulf restoration. It also removed the much- talked -about $75 million liability cap, though BP's ultimate liability in this spill probably won't be hammered out for years. As everyone knows, the explosion came right after President Obama announced plans to expand offshore drilling to new areas, a plan that is likely on pause. The bill also modified a six-month offshore drilling moratorium the administration sought , a move challenged in court (a hearing is scheduled later this month, but the government lost the first round). But, as Jeff Spross wrote two weeks ago, a skeletal legislative package...

The Economy Only Affects Elections When Conservatives Lose.

Looking at some historical revisionism on the right about John McCain's truly epic presidential fail in 2008, Jon Chait notes a common -- and false -- idea: That McCain's campaign died after the financial crisis shocked the American electorate into voting for Obama. In reality, though, "what killed McCain is that the economy in general was terrible." Chait is right, although the financial crisis and McCain's absurd reaction to it -- "suspending" his campaign to grandstand in Washington as the Bush administration organized a response to the crash -- drove home to many voters how dismal the economy was and sapped support from the incumbent party. But the conservative political analysis that blames the economy for their loss, and not McCain's campaign and policies, apparently only applies to conservatives. Today, pundits on the right ignore the argument that economic fundamentals are the key factor in the 2010 election, instead proposing that voters are rejecting the Obama administration...

Barack and Me (and Abe and Karl).

Thanks to Paul Waldman 's post earlier today, I have now read Stanley Kurtz 's attack on President Obama 's socialist agenda from The Corner , the blog of National Review . Kurtz's thesis begins with the indisputable fact that I have commended portions of Obama's program -- he cites my column in Wednesday's Post , in which I praised the administration's proposal to increase the tax credit for domestic manufacturing of green technology and advocated increased public investment in roads, rail, and broadband -- and that I am a publicly avowed democratic socialist, albeit one who promotes reformist ideas. He concludes by saying that Obama is just like me -- a sophisticated socialist working "to bring about a socialist transformation in the long term." Jeesh -- where to begin? I could point out how often I -- and other liberals who don't come out of any socialist or social democratic tradition -- have criticized Obama for hewing too close to the Rubinomics Wall Street camp within the...

The Little Picture: Afghanistan Drags On.

Sixty-six American troops died in Afghanistan this July, making it the deadliest month of the entire nine-year occupation. Approximately 265 American troops have died so far this year. For the Afghanis themselves, the situation has also gotten worse -- last year saw at least 2,200 civilian deaths due to the conflict. ( U.S. Army Photo /Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini)

Exposing the Secret Socialist in the Oval Office

It's hard to be rational about a politician when you disagree with nearly everything he or she does. That's a problem that plagues all of us who comment on politics. But those of us who want to be honest try to keep the danger of losing our grip on reality in mind as we evaluate what happens day to day. One of the ways that danger manifests itself is in the way we deal with new evidence -- particularly that which might contradict the conclusions we've already come to. For instance, there was ample reason to conclude that Dick Cheney was a dark-hearted, sinister character with no trace of human feeling, based, among other things, on his apparent lust for war and torture. On the other hand, Cheney was (and remains) one of the only people in his party to favor marriage equality for gay people. Having a gay daughter -- a human relationship -- convinced him to extrapolate his personal affection into a belief in just public policy. How do you deal with that when making a general evaluation...

Keeping Federal Courts as Republican-Dominated as Possible.

Doug Kendall notes that, for all the Republican whining about the obstruction of federal court nominees under the Bush administration, things have gotten even slower during Obama 's first term: By this point in his first term (July 2002), President George W. Bush had had 61 nominees confirmed to the federal bench, to President Obama's 36, and the Senate took less time to confirm Bush's nominees on average than they have taken to confirm Obama's. ... From the date they were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bush's nominees waited an average of 16 days to receive a vote on the Senate floor. By contrast, the average time from Committee vote to floor vote for Obama's nominees is 82 days (so far). Not all of the blame for the paltry number of confirmations rests with Senate Republicans, though. Obama has also been notably and inexplicably slow to put nominees forward, and getting nominees confirmed is about to get a lot harder after the midterms. Of course the larger story here...

Sympathy for the Oil Industry.

Yesterday, as reported by The Washington Independent 's Andrew Restuccia , Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski came out swinging against Democrats who attack the Republican energy bill as a "bailout" for the oil industry: The Republican bill holds oil companies accountable and makes sure taxpayers are never on the hook for spill clean up costs. But, and this is a big difference, it ensures that smaller, independent oil companies can still get insurance to explore in the Gulf of Mexico – saving tens of thousands of Americans from being forced unnecessarily onto the unemployment line simply because Democrats want to punish Big Oil. Of course, Murkowski's protesting notwithstanding, the Republican energy bill is pretty much a giveaway to the oil industry. The " American Energy Act " aims to achieve energy independence by hugely expanding the scale of domestic drilling and massively subsidizing nuclear energy. It would lift the ban on oil exploration in the "outer continental shelf," expedite...

Gridlock Caused by Unidentifiable Forces.

The image at right is a screenshot of Yahoo News from this morning, with stories about the fact that a package of programs to boost small business was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate. You'll notice that while some of the stories make clear who actually killed this bill, many do not. The facts are clear: Democrats want to pass the package, and Republicans don't. Republicans filibustered. Democrats have been unable to overcome the Republican filibuster. But to read many of these articles, you'd barely be able to figure out that there's a difference between the parties on this question. Instead, what we get is a lot of passive-voice construction about procedural matters and a hamstrung institution. The clearest case may be this ABC News article , which says the bill "failed to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate" and that "the bill has languished in the Senate because of partisan gridlock." Needless to say, this is precisely the storyline Republicans want. They obstruct...

Organizing the Unemployed.

Yesterday, Annie Lowrey had a great piece about the political activism of the unemployed. Many unemployed Americans have turned to political activism, particularly online, as their job searches have come up empty and benefits run dry: Among the biggest sites in the unemployment netroots is LayoffList, managed by Michael Thornton , a native of Rochester, N.Y. Thornton started LayoffList in 2008; five months ago, he began writing articles and posting legislators’ information on the Rochester Unemployment Examiner. He now receives hundreds of emails and has logged more than a million hits at the Examiner. Thornton is finding that, rather than losing interest in politics since the end of the fight for extended benefits, the unemployed are “energized and motivated” and have started looking forward to the fall. They key here is to turn frustration over the economy into turnout on Election Day and to portray Republicans as interfering with the economic recovery -- namely, by obstructing...

The Filibuster and Staus Quo Bias.

Discussing an excellent piece by Hendrik Hertzberg about the indefensibility of the electoral college, Jon Chait makes an important point: Whatever mental process Ross was employing, it's pretty clear she did not set out by defining the important goals of an electoral system and then, through careful side-by-side comparison, arrive at the conclusion that the electoral college best achieves these ends. ... I suspect that two factors are at work here. The first is an attachment to the status quo and a reverence for American political institutions of all stripes, which is certainly commendable up to a point (the point being a recognition of when the institution has failed.) This tendency to develop ad hoc arguments to defend institutional arrangements nobody would defend if they were creating a constitution from scratch is particularly glaring with respect to the filibuster. I have a hard time believing that, say, Russ Feingold would support a super-majority vote rule 1) rarely seen in...

What Ever Happened to the Maverick of South Carolina?

Not too long ago, The New York Times labeled Lindsay Graham "this year's maverick." Thanks to his occasional willingness to work with Democrats on legislation -- including major items like climate change and immigration -- the senior senator from South Carolina had earned something of a reputation for independence, replacing his friend John McCain as the go-to Republican on important legislation. Of course, we should be careful not to confuse independence with moderation. Yes, Graham has been willing to work with Democrats, but he's consistently brought a conservative approach to the issues. And when working on his own, he doesn't hesitate to champion conservative causes. For instance, Graham isn't too fond of children born to illegal immigrants in the United States -- "anchor babies," as the right-wing describes them. Indeed, Graham is so incensed by this that he wants to amend the Constitution to end it: “I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have...

There's No Talking To Some People.

Jonathan Chait , in a post that proves his wisdom by linking to a prior post of mine, points us to this rather remarkable column by conservative radio host and columnist Dennis Prager , which is worth discussing. Prager argues that conservatives just don't have the same kind of dislike for their opponents that liberals do: Granting the exceptions that all generalizations allow for, conservatives believe that those on the left are wrong, while those on the left believe that those on the right are bad. Examples are innumerable. Howard Dean , the former head of theDemocratic party, said, “In contradistinction to the Republicans, Democrats don’t believe kids ought to go to bed hungry at night.” Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), among many similar comments, said, “I want to say a few words about what it means to be a Democrat. It’s very simple: We have a conscience.” Has any spokesman of the Republican party ever said anything analogous about Democrats’ not caring about the suffering of...

California's "Green" Economy.

This November, California voters will be voting on Proposition 19, which would legalize recreational marijuana use and tax it at $50 per ounce. Nate Silver homes in on the polling, noting that automated polls show greater support than person-to-person polling. Among black voters, for example, the automated call polls show a 28 to 38 point lead. But traditional polls show Prop. 19 trailing by 12 points among blacks. Silver's hypothesizes that voters may be loath to admit they're OK with legalizing marijuana to a live pollster, which could be a reversed Bradley Effect -- or as he dubs it, the Broadus Effect, named after rapper Snoop Dogg , who frequently discusses the pleasures of marijuana use. The Bradley Effect is a political phenomenon where a voters tells pollsters that they will support a black candidate but do not once they enter the voting booth. I think Silver's analysis is plausible but not likely. Marijuana use in California doesn't have much of a stigma attached to it and is...

The Little Picture: Children in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, the House approved a war-funding bill, but Democrats are torn after the site WikiLeaks exposed several new documents and raised new questions about President Obama's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Above, a lieutenant colonel shakes a child's hand outside Bagram Air Force Base in Janquadam, Afghanistan. (Flickr/ isafmedia's photostream .)

McConnell Calls Transparency's Bias.

Nothing conveys a legislator's deep commitment to being a constructive part of the democratic process like accusing your colleagues of being complicit in stealing elections. The DISCLOSE Act, you've probably heard, failed to get past filibuster yesterday, coming in short with 57 votes. DISCLOSE was a Democratic-sponsored response to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that aimed to fight big money with transparency. Certain big donors behind ads and other campaign activities would have to be made public. It's a fairly modest response to a troubling situation. But not in the eyes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell . McConnell was on NPR explaining that anyone considering supporting the bill was complicit in a bid to thwart elections themselves. "You talk about transparency," said McConnell. "This is a transparent effort to rig the fall election." First up, it's an interesting admission from McConnell: in his eyes, disclosing certain big donors tilts the political playing...

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