Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category
Ian Millhiser reports at ThinkProgress:
Debo Adegbile, who previously served as the acting head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is one of the nation’s top civil rights attorneys. He’s also a leading expert on voting rights who twice defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court — the first time successfully. He was, in other words, an ideal candidate to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — the division which, among other things, oversees the federal government’s voting rights work in an era where conservative state lawmakers are currently waging a widespread campaign to prevent demographic groups that tend to vote for Democrats from casting a ballot.And yet, the Senate just voted his nomination down, thanks to seven Democrats. TheDemocrats who opposed Adegbile’s confirmation are Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and John Walsh (D-MT).
Although most of these senators have yet to offer an explanation for their votes — and the Senate offices ThinkProgress contacted shortly after the vote were not especially forthcoming — it is likely that their votes were motivated by a campaign to disqualify Adegbile because of a high profile case the NAACP LDF participated in during his time with that organization.
In 2008, a federal appeals court unanimously held — with two Reagan appointees on the panel — that procedures used during a convicted cop killer named Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death penalty hearing violated the Constitution. Specifically, the panel of predominantly Republican judges concluded that the trial judge gave the jury a confusing form that could have been read to require a death sentence unless every single juror agreed to a life sentence. The NAACP LDF filed an amicus brief on Abu-Jamal’s behalf.
At least one of the Democrats who opposed Adegbile, Sen. Casey, cited his work to overturn this unconstitutional death sentence as the reason for his opposition.
As MSNBC’s Adam Serwer points out, the Senate was not always so critical of lawyers who help bad people fight potentially unconstitutional death sentences. Indeed, as an attorney in private practice, Chief Justice John Roberts “devoted 25 pro bono hours” to representing a mass murderer recently executed in Florida.
Ian Millhiser also reports on how one of the Senators immediately proclaimed her support for voting rights:
A fundraising email sent by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) this afternoon claims that “[i]f there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on, it’s that every American deserves the right to vote. It’s one of our most basic rights – but right now it’s under attack.”
Heitkamp is correct. Indeed, one of the ways that voting rights are currently under attack is that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voted on Wednesday to block Debo Adegbile, the attorney who twice defended the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court, from being confirmed to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The vote wrapped up shortly after noon today. A copy of Heitkamp’s email obtained by ThinkProgress is timestamped “Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 1:11 PM,” which means that Heitkamp waited about one hour after she opposed one of the nation’s leading voting rights advocates to send out an email trying to fundraise off of her support for legislation seeking to “restore voting rights for all Americans.” Ironically, the reason why this legislation is necessary is because five conservative justices rejected Mr. Adegbile’s arguments seeking to preserve a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
A screenshot of Heitkamp’s email is [at the link - LG].
Although the email does not contain an explicit fundraising ask, people who sign the “petition” touted in Heitkamp’s email are directed to an ActBlue page fundraising for Heitkamp, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). Coons, like Heitkamp, also opposed Adegbile’s nomination.
It should be noted that Heitkamp’s likely did not oppose Adegbile because of his advocacy on behalf of voting rights. Rather, the primary reason offered by senators who opposed this nomination is that Adegbile played a role in convincing a unanimous panel of federal appeals court judges to strike down an unconstitutional death sentence.
Well worth reading. It makes me feel hope.
Because slapping on additional sanctions at this juncture of the negotiations is an unconcealed effort to kill the negotiations (which allow UN inspections, offer trade with the country, and so on). Indeed, the outcome seems, so far as I can tell, better than we had hoped for. It’s a real, major breakthrough agreement—with verification.
So why would the 16 Senate Democrats try to kill it? Because they prefer to have a war with Iran. Never mind our most recent unprovoked war of aggression, Iraq: hundreds of thousands kill, the professional military almost broken by repeated tours of duty, no planning for the occupation and withdrawal—none, zero, bupkis, zip, nada. We got there, said, “Now what do we do?” and presiding over the collapse of a nation and an increase in the number of willing volunteers for terrorism: those with family or friends killed, whether by us or by others: we broke it, we own it. Exactly the words with which Colin Powell warned George W. Bush.
So the Senate Democrats want more of that? And not to mention the horrendous pure cost of the war: around $2 trillion, all told, which makes it strange that Republicans would want it—except, of course, that it’s something President Obama wants, so the Republicans have no choice but to oppose: it’s a complete bind for them. If they don’t oppose, they face likely defeat at the hands of an even crazier candidate in the primary. (Take a look at some who came to Congress via exactly this route.) So the GOP no longer has choices. The choices are Obama’s to make, and that forces opposition—to the degree if he speaks out in favor of a proposal from the Republicans, the Republicans will immediately disown and oppose their own measure. This actually happens.
So with all that in mind, 16 Senate Democrats are trying to kill a diplomatic solution in favor of waging war. Because we have such a great track record at that sort of war, they must think.
I don’t get it.
UPDATE: By the way, an interesting column on Iran.
UPDATE 2: James Fallows has a must-read call to action.
UPDATE 3: Wow. Israel certainly seems to want the US to go to war with Iran.
I will be so glad when Dianne Feinstein reaches the end of this term. Although every now and then she takes a good position, in general she has done an increasingly shoddy job as Senator. Brendan Sasso and Bob Cusack report in The Hill:
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. doesn’t mince his words.
The Wisconsin Republican says the House and Senate Intelligence committees have become “cheerleaders” for the National Security Agency.
“Instead of putting the brakes on overreaches, they’ve been stepping on the gas,” he said of the committees, which are led by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
In an interview with The Hill, Sensenbrenner — who has offered legislation to rein in the NSA — called rival legislation “a joke.”
He said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for “lying” to Congress on the nation’s surveillance programs.
Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act, wants to limit the NSA’s surveillance powers in the wake of leaks by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.
“There is no limit — apparently, according to the NSA — on what they can collect. And that has got to be stopped,” he said.
The 18-term lawmaker claims Congress fell down on the job of overseeing the NSA.
He said the failure in oversight occurred after Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2006, just as he was stepping down as Judiciary Committee chairman.
The NSA then won secret approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to use a provision of the Patriot Act to collect records on all U.S. phone calls.
The court authorized the sweeping data collection even though the provision, Section 215, only allows the NSA to collect records that are “relevant” to terrorism.
“I don’t think the oversight was vigorously done by the Judiciary Committee,” Sensenbrenner said. “When I was running the Judiciary Committee, it was being vigorously done.”
Sensenbrenner, along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), has introduced the USA Freedom Act to end the bulk collection of phone records, limit the NSA’s power and tighten oversight.
But Rogers and Feinstein are fighting to protect the NSA’s authority, especially its sweeping phone record collection program. Feinstein has introduced a bill that would make certain reforms to promote transparency but would endorse the phone data collection.
“The Feinstein bill is a joke,” Sensenbrenner said.
He said that her view is essentially “if you like your NSA, you can keep it.”
Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein, declined to respond to Sensenbrenner’s salvo…
I am so glad that we have Elizabeth Warren for a Senator. David Dayen shows why:
If asked, Americans of all political persuasions will say overwhelmingly that they prefer “tougher rules” for Wall Street. But what does that actually mean?
You can frame this conventionally: supporting regulators, punishing rules violators, mopping up 2008-style disasters to limit the damage and attempting to prevent such chaos from happening again. But by “tougher rules,” maybe Americans are really signaling a vague but persistent dissatisfaction with an economy that has become dominated by the financial sector. And you can see within that how transforming banking back to its traditional purpose — as a conduit for putting capital in the hands of worthwhile business ventures and driving shared prosperity — would be one antidote to an unequal society full of financial titan gatekeepers, who confiscate a giant share of the money flowing through the system.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren — in many ways the avatar of a new populist insurgency within the Democratic Party that seeks to combine financial reform and economic restoration — will speak later today in Washington at the launch of a new report that marks a key new phase in this movement. Released by Americans for Financial Reform and the Roosevelt Institute – and called “An Unfinished Mission: Making Wall Street Work for Us” — the report is a revelation, because it finally invites fundamental discussions about these issues. Its 11 chapters from some of the leading thinkers on financial reform do look back at the successes and failures of the signal financial reform law of this generation, the Dodd-Frank Act. But the report also weaves in a story about how we can reorient finance as a complement to the real economy, rather than its overriding force. Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the co-editor of the report, tells Salon, “The financial sector is still eating up a lot of GDP [gross domestic product], and it’s not clear what we’re getting out of it. We want to get the conversation at that level.”
This report fills in the details, creating definable action items and goals that could serve as a marker for legislative and regulatory action, as well as primaries in the next several election cycles.
The roots of this conversation go back decades, if not hundreds of years. One of the report’s authors, John Parsons of MIT, notes that the debate over whether to force derivative trades — the bets on top of bets that helped accelerate and magnify the financial crisis — into central and transparent clearinghouses dates back to the Minneapolis Grain Exchange of 1896. The concept of a fiduciary standard, which states that anyone offering advice on investment strategies should act in the interests of their individual clients rather than trying to enrich themselves, was initially settled in the Investment Advisors Act of 1940. Even Ben Bernanke last week drew parallels between the 2008 crisis and the Panic of 1907, which led to the creation of the Federal Reserve.
In the past few decades, Wall Street has devised financial “innovations” with the primary purpose of outpacing regulatory reach, surmounting decades-old reforms. This frees non-bank financial firms from oversight by the watchdogs, and allows them to accumulate risk in search of greater profits. For example, Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform looks at shadow banking, the lending markets that “convert illiquid, risky, long-term assets into ‘safe,’ liquid short-term securities.” This creates an illusion of safety and puts massive amounts of money outside the New Deal-era regulatory apparatus, where the firms involved don’t have requirements to carry capital to guard against inevitable losses, for example. In 2008, the breakdown of parts of the shadow banking system made it impossible for large financial actors to access short-term funding, turning a downturn into a crisis.
While shadow banking does not have access to the public safety net (things like bank deposit insurance, or access to Federal Reserve liquidity programs), in reality it is hooked into mega-banks inside the safety net. AIG was bailed out because its counterparties were corporations like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, determined to be too big to fail. So you have the worst of all possible worlds; a giant alternative banking system not subject to any of the rules that limit risk, vulnerable to old-style bank runs, but able to get government relief if their gambles turn sour. You get privatized profits and socialized losses. You also create more fragility in the system, because shadow banking involves multiple links from borrower to lender, and as Stanley told Salon, “Each link in the chain is another opportunity to lie about what’s inside the loan.”
There are two ways to look at this problem. One is seen in the way Dodd-Frank tried, with varying success, to bring New Deal-era structures to the broader financial sector, pulling systemically important activities like insurance and hedge funds under a regulatory regime. Unfortunately, the maddening complexity of financial innovations generates uncertainty over what really falls under the rules, giving Wall Street and compliant regulators the opportunity to take advantage of loopholes. Orderly liquidation authority, the new measures for regulators to wind down large financial institutions, is so full of holes, argues Stephen Lubben of Seton Hall University, that it could quickly devolve into “a bailout in all but name.” Regulators have not even begun to reckon with large elements of the system, like money market funds or the overnight “repo” markets, which made significant contributions to the financial crisis. “Many of the conditions that helped cause the 2008 crisis persist,” writes Jennifer Taub of Vermont Law School in one of the report’s chapters.
The other way to deal with financial innovations is . . .
I’ve always wondered about the phrase “to twist the truth.” How do you do that? What does a twisted truth look like?
Conor Friedersdorf writes for the Atlantic Wire:
The Obama Administration says the FISA court adequately safeguards Americans’ civil liberties. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who holds the second-highest Democratic leadership position in the Senate, disagrees.
“These FISA courts — there should be a real court proceeding,” he said on Sunday. “In this case, it’s fixed in a way. It’s loaded. There’s only one case coming before the FISA court: the government’s case. Let’s have an advocate, or someone, standing up for civil liberties, to speak up for the privacy of Americans when they make each of these decisions, and let’s release some of the transcripts, redacted, carefully redacted, so that people understand the debate that’s going on in these FISA courts.” When you’ve got a senior lawmaker calling a secret court “fixed in a way,” implying that it doesn’t conduct “real” proceedings, and affirming that its judges aren’t hearing information that would be relevant to their decisions, that’s alarming.
Unless, of course, what you want is a rubber stamp for the surveillance state.
Durbin said in the same interview that Congress should rein in the NSA’s data hoovering. “I really believe that . . .”
Barry Eisler points out some oddities in reports about Glenn Greenwald:
I just read an article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazinethat was so silly and self-indulgent I wasn’t going to comment on it. What’s the point of comparing Greenwald to Ralph Nader (or to anyone else, really)? What’s the point of discussing Greenwald at all, compared to the importance of his reporting? Can you really try to castigate Greenwald for arguing that in various ways Obama is worse than Bush, when so many Constitutional law experts are arguing that indeed, Obama is worse than Nixon? Is Chait ignorant of the mountain of evidence behind this argument, or of the other people making it? Why does he refer to but fail to address the actual evidence in the supporting piece he links to, instead treating the argument itself as ipso facto evidence of sanctimony? What does it mean that liberals might break with Greenwald because he believes “even if Obama is the lesser of two evils, he’s the more effective of two evils” (oh no, the cool kids will stop inviting him to play dates… and is this more a reflection on Greenwald, or on liberals)? And most glaring of all, did Chait really complain that “For Greenwald… the evils of liberals loom far larger than the evils of conservatives,” when he’s talking about a guy who’s written no fewer than three books (and God knows how many blog posts) on the failings of conservatives — with titles like How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President [Bush] Run Amok; and A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency; and Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics?
My initial reaction was just to shake my head at how someone could put his name on something so sloppily argued, and to briefly wonder why anyone would publish it. But then, as sometimes happens when I’ve rolled my eyes and am about to click on a (hopefully) better link, something struck me that I thought was worth calling out.
That something is a remarkable case of psychological projection – the ”defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world.” In an odd cri de coeur, Chait declares:
I won’t pretend to be neutral here — I’ve tangled with Greenwald numerous times. So, for instance, he called me a “McCain worshiper,” and it is true that I have written some highly favorable things about John McCain. I’ve also written some highly critical things. I pointed out to Greenwald that, when I have called McCain, among other things, a “dangerous sociopath,” it would at least complicate the picture in such a way as to preclude me from being called a “worshiper.” But no, Greenwald dug in deeper, assembling all the evidence he could muster for his side and ignoring all the evidence pointing in the opposite direction.
I’m glad Chait thought to include that paragraph. If he hadn’t, I would have wondered what had caused him to write such a bizarre and illogical piece. Now I get it — at some point, Greenwald hurt his feelings. But what most fascinates me about the paragraph in question is that Chait included it in the very piece in which he accused Greenwald of focusing more on the evils of liberals than of conservatives — without even pausing to explain, or even acknowledge, all those books (and posts) of Greenwald’s that would seem pretty clearly not just to mitigate the claim, but to outright belie it.
This is pretty weird behavior. How could it happen? I don’t know Chait, but I doubt he could be that unintelligent. Or that uninformed. So I think what happened instead is that he’s so blinded by personal animus he wasn’t able to see the evidence completely neutering what he was trying to argue. Even more interesting is that the blindness is profound enough to prevent him from seeing that he is doing the very same thing — cherry-picking to make an argument — that he accuses Greenwald of doing to him, and that he apparently found so hurtful when it happened.
I want to add in Chait’s defense that in my experience, one of the animating themes of all Greenwald’s writing is a loathing of hypocrisy. So it stands to reason that Greenwald might find a little extra ire for “liberals” who opposed Bush’s authoritarian programs but are now excusing and justifying the same or worse as perpetrated by Obama. As in, when Dick Cheney argues that unaccountable surveillance is good, at least he’s being consistent. When liberals who were against such things before make Chenyesque arguments now that Obama is in the White House, something else seems to be going on, and deeply held principle isn’t it. So yes, Greenwald does have a tendency to point out — correctly and usefully — liberal hypocrisy on these issues. But is this really what Chait means with his notion that “the evils of liberals loom far larger” for Greenwald? Pointing out glaring hypocrisy seems a pretty slim reed on which to hang such a charge (and again, look at the title of one of those books — Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics! Greenwald seems evenhanded even with his charges of hypocrisy).
That’s about as charitable an explanation as I can come up with for the shortcomings in Chait’s article. Maybe he can offer something better.
The reason the projection, and the sloppiness and cherry-picking to which the projection blinds Chait, is significant is because of what’s behind it. Look, arguments on the Internet can get pretty rough sometimes, and people’s feelings can get hurt. But it’s important for everyone, and especially for journalists, to try to set those feelings aside and be as dispassionate and principled as possible. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone reasonably dispassionate about Greenwald would be more focused on him than on the massive, illegal NSA spying operation he’s recently been breaking so much news on. How could a journalist worth a damn care more about the former than about the latter? Only if he were unhealthily personally engaged, I would imagine. Chait seems to sense as much, opening his article by saying, “The debate over domestic surveillance is not a debate about what we think about Glenn Greenwald. But…” Yes, but! Because then Chait goes on to write an entire article that consists of nothing but his feelings about Greenwald. If only that tiny voice of reason he was hearing could have spoken up a little louder. Or if Chait’s ears weren’t too stopped up to hear it.
I have to add, I loved that . . .
David Morris writes at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, with this article carried by AlterNet:
The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses. But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite. In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship: Republicans 20, Democrats 13.
In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded. An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.
Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government. Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack. Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically.
Democrats believe that governments should not only secure our borders but also advance our personal security. As reflected in recently enacted state laws, that belief translates into policies extending health care access to as many as possible, raising the minimum wage and expanding unemployment insurance. Republicans vigorously oppose this use of government. They insist we should not be compelled to be our brothers’ keeper. Of the 13 states that so far have refused the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding health care coverage to millions of their residents, for example, Republicans dominate 12. All six of the states that are leaning that way are Republican controlled.
What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict liberty. They assert that government-created health exchanges interfere with the right of insurance companies to manage their own affairs while the requirement that everyone have health insurance constitutes an act of tyranny. Minimum wage laws interfere with the economic liberty of business and the freedom of the marketplace.
Republicans argue that taxes, especially those that tax the rich at higher rates than the poor, interfere with our liberty to pursue happiness by amassing unrestrained wealth. In the last legislative session Democrat-controlled California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota raised the income tax rate on millionaires while in the last two legislative sessions, Republican-controlled Kansas reduced such rates by 75 percent and legislators in Kansas as well as in North Carolina and Nebraska are openly pushing for the complete elimination of the income tax.
It is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily.
When it comes to personal liberty, however, Republicans believe in big government. As former Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum observed, “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.” Even if their wants or passions do not harm others.
This legislative session Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota joined 9 other states and the District of Columbia in extending the freedom to marry to include those of the same sex. Meanwhile, of the 25 states with constitutional prohibitions on same sex marriage, 22 are completely controlled by Republicans. None are Democrat dominant.
Of the 17 states that have enacted medical marijuana laws, 10 are Democratic and only two are Republican. (The rest are not controlled by a single party.) As if to put an exclamation point on this difference, the same day last November that voters in Washington and Colorado approved the legalization of marijuana, voters in Arkansas handily defeated a proposal to allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes with a doctor’s prescription.
Gun control is an issue that for Republicans and Democrats affects both liberty and security. . .
A very interesting article by Cass Sunstein reporting on the differences in responses to survey questions when you pay people to give answers they consider correct: the Democrats and Republicans become much closer than when survey responders are simply asked the questions with no payments involved.
Somehow Sunstein overlooks what seems to me a staggeringly obvious question: Were the improvements in accuracy upon being promised payment the same for both Democrats and Republicans? or was there a significant difference in the amount of improvement when you compare Democrats and Republicans?
I sort of get a headache and the blind staggers when someone who is reputedly intelligent overlooks such an obvious question, especially since the data are right at hand. One explanation—the simplest—is that Sunstein is not nearly so smart as he’s presumed to be: the evidence here is clear.
An interesting approach: the US military has a very serious problem with rapists being tacitly encouraged by a culture that ensures punishment of rapists, if any punished is meted out, is generally mild, and punishment of those raped is often severe. So Carl Levin decides that the current system is working fine?
Elspeth Reeve writes at the Atlantic Wire:
Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin has killed a proposal that would have taken away military commanders’ control in decidint whether to prosecute sexual assault cases and given it to an independent prosecutor. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand championed the reform as a way to increase reporting and prosecution of sexual assault in the military — noting that reporting of sexual assaults went up by 80 percent in Israel when its military adopted a similar rule. But in a Senate hearing earlier this month, several military commanders insisted that no major changes were necessary. Levin apparently agreed, eliminating the bipartisan proposal, which had 27 co-sponsors, from the Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday night, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and Alastair Jamieson report. Levin will likely opt for a weaker proposal, from Sen. Claire McCaskill, that prevents commanders from overturning a court martial conviction.
In the Senate hearing, Air Force Col. Jeannie Leavitt testified that senators should “allow a commander to command by allowing them to enforce the standards they set.” Marine Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary said, “Whether it’s an enemy on the battlefield or sexual assault in the barracks, good order and discipline is just as important.” While they wanted the responsibility to set those standards, they would not take responsibility for a military culture that failed to meet those standards an estimated 26,000 times last year. Levin sided with military commanders’ argument that if they just keep doing the same thing, something will change.
Interesting post by Robert Reich:
Who needs Republicans when Wall Street has the Democrats? With the help of congressional Democrats, the Street is rolling back financial reforms enacted after its near meltdown.
According to the New York Times, a bill that’s already moved through the House Financial Services Committee, allowing more of the very kind of derivatives trading (bets on bets) that got the Street into trouble, was drafted by Citigroup — whose recommended language was copied nearly word for word in 70 lines of the 85-line bill.
Where were House Democrats? Right behind it. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, a major recipient of the Street’s political largesse, co-sponsored it. Most of the Democrats on the Committee, also receiving generous donations from the big banks, voted for it. Rep. Jim Himes, another proponent of the bill and a former banker at Goldman Sachs, now leads the Democrat’s fund-raising effort in the House.
Bob Rubin – co-chair of Goldman before he joined the Clinton White House, and chair of Citigroup’s management committee after he left it – is still influential in the Party, and his protégés are all over the Obama administration. I like Bob personally but I battled his Street-centric views the whole time I served, and soon after I left the administration he persuaded Clinton to support a repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.
Jack Lew, Obama’s current Treasury Secretary, was . . .
I think it’s quite obvious that Obama turned the Executive Branch over to financial industry to use as they will. And of course a comfortable majority of Congress is bought and paid for.
Kevin Drum has an extremely interesting post in which explores possible explanations for the differences in how conservatives and liberals approach things.
Michael O’Malley is an ambitious politician who is generally liberal in his policies. He went from mayor of Baltimore to governor of Maryland, and in Washington Monthly Haley Edwards takes a look at his movement toward the presidential race:
Jay Baker/Office of Governor Martin O’Malley)
The governor is hungry.
Brown paper bag in hand, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley strides into a conference room on the fourth floor of an old government building in downtown Annapolis. “I brought lunch,” he whispers to no one in particular and, stooping slightly in the way that people do when they enter a meeting late, takes a seat. For a moment, he is quiet.
He’d spent the morning in discussion with various members of the state legislature, which is in session just a few steps away at the statehouse on the hill. Up there, laws are being shaped and votes cast, mostly in the governor’s favor, but it’s down here, in this windowless room, packed with staff from three of Maryland’s state agencies and his own executive team, that O’Malley’s political impact is deepest. In 2000, as a young mayor of Baltimore, he pioneered this type of meeting—biweekly, multi-agency, data-driven performance reviews—and thirteen years later they’re still the cornerstone of his legacy as a politician.
“So that’s the carrot at the end of the stick that you hope the community colleges are going to close in after?” O’Malley asks, breaking his short silence. He leans forward in his chair, his elbows on the table and the contents of his lunch—a dry deli sandwich, a bag of potato chips—lined up in front of him like a control panel.
“That’s right, sir,” a man in the back of the room says. They’re referring to an incentive to get students to use Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s online Workforce Dashboard. It was designed to help colleges, businesses, and job seekers get a snapshot of employment opportunities in the state, but also to allow the state to gather better data on who’s looking for jobs, where, and with what skills, to improve both monitoring and outreach efforts. As of now, not enough people are using the Dashboard to make it a valuable tool.
“I know everyone’s got budget constraints, but why don’t we all talk about how to market this more?” the governor asks, and as is typical in these meetings, the attention turns to an array of charts, maps, and digital reams of Excel spreadsheets, each illustrating the nuts and bolts of the program, the population it’s serving, and the various outputs and inputs and outcomes over the past few months. The idea is to use data like a scalpel to dissect how a government program works, to pinpoint where, exactly, it’s breaking down, and then to use these collaborative meetings to solve the problem at hand.
“We gotta get those numbers up,” O’Malley says, gesturing to one graph in particular and taking a bite of the sandwich. In addition to the Department of Labor, the Departments of Business and Economic Development (DBEV) and Veterans Affairs are also present. “What about DBEV? Can you guys help with this?” he asks, still chewing.
And with that, the governor launches a spirited question-and-answer session—he compares it to a cross-examination—that lasts for the better part of forty-five minutes, his voice sometimes muffled by mouthfuls of bread. As the meeting unspools, the topics shift, from the jobs Web site to foreclosure rates to reducing recidivism among recently released convicts.
Nearly an hour later, the governor stops for some air. He attends meetings like this only about once every couple months, usually delegating the day-to-day management to his executive staff, but it’s clear he enjoys the role. He leans back in his chair and wipes the smudges of his lunch off his iPad with his green-striped tie. “Sorry, Sam,” he says, chuckling and turning to one of his staffers, who usually heads up these meetings. “The witness is yours!”
O’Malley is not the kind of person who’s afraid to take over a meeting. “I’m an operations guy,” he tells me afterward, partly by way of explanation. “I’ve always liked digging into the numbers, figuring out what’s going on and doing the kind of analysis that the other guys won’t do.” In the hallway after the meeting, two staffers corroborate the point. He seems so much more relaxed in meetings like that, they say, when he’s not “doing all the politician stuff.”
In truth, O’Malley, who is fifty and handsome in a Kennedy sort of way, has made a career out of all the politician stuff, chomping his way up the political food chain like a man hungry for more than a deli sandwich. After serving as a Baltimore city councilman in the 1990s, he was elected mayor of Baltimore in 1999 and then governor of Maryland seven years later, where he’ll remain until 2015. Because of term limits, he can’t run again. Every pundit in America has predicted he’s going to run for president in 2016, and O’Malley has done everything he can to encourage that speculation, short of outright admitting it’s true.
As governor, he’s pushed a series of bills that are all but guaranteed to impress Democratic primary and caucus voters three years from now, on topics ranging from guns (against), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against), medical marijuana (for), and implementing Dream Act-like policies at Maryland’s colleges and universities. Just as Bill Clinton did in the 1980s, when he too was a relative unknown, O’Malley has also sought positions in recent years that have allowed him to sidle into the national limelight. In both 2011 and 2012, he served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and he’s since stayed on as the finance chairman, which will allow him to continue to meet top donors. During the election last year, he was a regular fixture on the talk show circuit, often playing the role of President Barack Obama’s personal attack dog. In one interview with ABC’s This Week last summer, O’Malley managed to mention former Governor Mitt Romney’s “Swiss bank accounts” and “offshore” tax havens seventeen times in three minutes flat.
With that iron message discipline, plus his standing as one of the Democrats’ most successful governors (with thirty statehouses in GOP hands, the Dems’ roster is slim), O’Malley won a coveted primetime speaking slot for the second time (he spoke in 2004, too) at the Democratic National Convention last September. He whiffed it—again, just as Clinton did in 1988—but spent the remaining time juggling a packed schedule of schmooze, addressing swing state delegates by day and jamming with his Irish rock band, O’Malley’s March, by night. In recent years, the governor has also made public forays into Iowa and New Hampshire and launched a political action committee, the O’Say Can You See PAC, to raise money that he will be at liberty to distribute, one of his critics groused, “like favor-doing fairy dust,” to fellow Democrats before the midterm races in 2014. . .
Power leads to the due exercise of the power which seems inevitably to lead to overreach and the turning of power to inglorious ends. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a report of a vivid example by Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
The last few weeks have seen an amazing move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In response to a prominent set of arrests of high-ranking Democrats and Republicans, the governor has proposed a series of proposals to strengthen the power of district attorneys to investigate corruption. Okay, that seems like a reasonable enough response.
But the governor has also proposed another response to the corruption scandal. He has proposed banning the Working Families Party. I know, he can’t ban a political party. But he has proposed to eliminate “fusion” voting. He calls it “cross-endorsement,” but fusion is the historical term. More on fusion below, but let’s stay in the news cycle for another moment.
The governor’s stated reason for banning fusion is silly. But his real, unstated reason is not. Let’s take them in turn.
Three weeks ago, State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe his way into the Republican Primary for mayor, despite being a registered Democrat. The governor seized on this and said to the New York Post, “In an ideal world, there would be no cross-endorsements.” In other words, because Smith attempted to bribe his way to a “cross-endorsement,” we ought to ban cross-endorsements. By this logic, as one Working Families Party leader said on television recently, if Malcolm Smith had tried to bribe someone to get his kid a job, would we then pass a law to ban jobs?
The more likely (if unvoiced) reason for this proposal is plain. For reasons both similar and different, the governor and the real estate/Wall Street/low-wage employer wings of the Democratic Party in New York would like to see the Working Families Party disappear. The WFP is the most persistent threat to the power of business interests in the Empire State, and the governor doesn’t want anyone to point out that he governs as a centrist on economic issues and a liberal only on social issues. The business lobby is serious about crushing “the little party that could” (a Newsday headline of a few years ago), spending millions of dollars on television and mail against WFP candidates, and even trying to hire well-known progressive public relations firms to wage a PR battle against them. So far, they have failed.
Now, the governor’s aides are pushing a line to the press that the “third parties” in New York have “too much” influence. It’s true that the Conservatives have power and influence with the Republicans, and that the Working Families Party has the same with the Democrats. But that’s because they have support among the voting public, they have ideas, and they have verve. The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts—each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.
So it’s not a surprise that the business class and its allies want to see them weakened or, better yet, destroyed. One can’t help but point out that this is not the first time that establishment power has decided that one potent way to weaken the progressive left is to eliminate fusion voting. It happened more than a hundred years ago, and it’s a vital if little-known part of our political history. It’s unlikely that the legislators and press corps in Albany are aware of this, but it’s a history worth reciting as they consider the current proposals from the governor and Senator Jeff Klein, the renegade/independent Democrat who has aligned with the Republican State Senate majority.
In a fusion system, a candidate can . . .
Obama has done some good things, but on the whole he’s not been a strong president, caving in to readily in areas in which he should have stood firm. One is in his attack on Social Security. Digby of Hullabaloo comments:
Mark this day. For the first time in history, a Democratic president has officially proposed to cut the Democratic Party’s signature New Deal program, Social Security:
President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget in an effort to demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans and revive prospects for a long-term deficit-reduction deal, administration officials say.
In a significant shift in fiscal strategy, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that departs from the usual presidential wish list that Republicans typically declare dead on arrival. Instead it will embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year, before Mr. Boehner abandoned negotiations in opposition to the president’s demand for higher taxes from wealthy individuals and some corporations.
The way this was explained to me is that the liberal Democrats in the House put out a leftward proposal and the Democrats in the Senate put out a moderate proposal, which the president tacitly endorsed. The Crazy Republicans then came back with a rightward proposal so now the president has simply set forth a compromise between the Senate Dems and the Crazy Republicans. And it’s his final, final offer this time.
God help us if the Republicans wise up and take this deal. After all, it’s a more conservative budget than even their hero Ronald Reagan ever submitted.
This is what he proposes: . . .
Also in Hullabaloo is a must-read article by David Atkins with some startling graphs:
Since cutting Social Security, a retirement program directly tied to wage earnings, appears to be a bipartisan thing now (sigh), it’s worth noting that wages are stagnant even for college graduates. Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute explains:
The wages of young college graduates have fared poorly during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Between 2007 and 2012, the wages of young college graduates dropped 7.6 percent (9.4 percent for men and 6.6 percent for women). As the figure shows, however, the wages of young graduates fared poorly even before the Great Recession began; they saw no growth over the entire period of general wage stagnation that began during the business cycle of 2000–2007. Between 2000 and 2012, the wages of young college graduates decreased 8.5 percent (6.1 percent for men and 10.9 percent for women). These drops translate into substantial amounts of money; for full-time, full-year workers, the hourly wage declines from 2000 to 2012 represent a roughly $3,200 decline.
The wage declines since 2000 stand in sharp contrast to the strong wage growth for these groups from 1995 to 2000. During that period of low unemployment and overall strong wage growth, wages rose 19.1 percent for young college graduates. The stark difference between these two economic periods illustrates how the outcomes of young graduates vary considerably depending on whether the overall economy is experiencing low unemployment and strong wage growth or high unemployment and wage stagnation. Young graduates who enter the labor market during periods of strength (e.g., 1995–2000) face much stronger wage prospects than young graduates who enter the labor market during periods of weakness (e.g., 2001 to the present).
There’s even a handy chart: . .
Extremely interesting article in Salon by David Sirota:
As Colorado goes, so goes the nation. With the culture and demographics of the Intermountain West so rapidly changing, this motto about my home state has become conventional wisdom in national electoral politics, and for good reason. After all, the square state is the capital of the so-called Rocky Mountain Empire, a region that is fast becoming the political equivalent of a test market for the whole country. And if it is true that the way Colorado goes is the way the nation as a whole goes, then America better get ready for some extremely large changes.
Part of Colorado’s story of change comes from the statehouse where Democrats control both the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. But as much of the story comes from outside the Capitol, where organic grass-roots uprisings are obliterating old political assumptions.
For decades, this was a state whose electoral topography was reliable Republican and whose politics was dominated by an unholy coalition of cultural conservatives and oil and gas interests. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became the national conservative movement in a microcosmic petri dish, passing socially conservative constitutional amendments and a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights aimed at pulverizing the public sector.
Now, though, everything is shifting. In just a few years, Colorado is pioneering a Western version of pragmatic progressivism, one built on a much different political coalition than the one that made Colorado the conservative movement’s grand experiment.
Here are the nine ways the state has so quickly changed, and what this Colorado Miracle portends for America.
1. The first state in the Intermountain West to embrace serious gun control
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected today to sign the Intermountain West’s first set of serious gun regulations in contemporary history. Those include an expansion of background checks and limits on the size of bullet magazines.
After the Columbine and Aurora massacres, Colorado polls showed solid public support for sensible gun control, and public opinion eventually compelled Hickenlooper to reverse his earlier positions on the issue. Indeed, in just a few months, the conservative Democratic governor went from saying Colorado shouldn’t discuss gun control, to noncommittally acknowledging the need for a debate, to promising to support the measures if they passed the Legislature, to reassuring fellow Colorado Democrats that supporting gun control will not harm their political prospects.
If Colorado’s status as home to Columbine and Aurora and its status as a critical electoral swing state don’t convince you that its gun control moves will have a national ripple effect, then declarations from the state’s Republican leaders should suffice. As state Sen. Greg Brophy (R) told the Wall Street Journal: “This is ground zero on this issue … If these bills pass — and the Democrats survive the next election cycle — we’ll see gun-control groups spreading to other parts of the country, saying, ‘We did it in Colorado, we can do it here.’”
2. The home of Focus on the Family legalizes civil unions
With Focus on the Family headquartered in archconservative Colorado Springs, Colorado has long been one of the headquarters of the Christian right. Not surprisingly, those cultural conservative forces in the state have spent the last two decades waging a scorched earth fight against equality for gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, ultimately passing not one but two constitutional ballot measures outlawing same-sex marriage. At the same time, the Christian right helped pass a 2006 ballot measure tooutlaw recognition of same-sex domestic partnerships.
Last year, though, Democratic state lawmakers backed a civil unions bill. Simple, straightforward and long overdue as the bill was, it threw the legislative session into chaos after Republicans used their fleeting one-vote majority to prevent it from even getting an up-or-down vote. The impasse eventually forced Gov. Hickenlooper to call a special session, where the bill was rejected. However, in the process, conservatives’ anti-gay politics became so extreme and off-putting that it helped lay the groundwork for Democrats to take back the House and ultimately pass the bill.
Underscoring the speed of Colorado’s turnaround, the House bill on civil unions this time around initially passed on a voice vote, signaling that Republicans had all but given up defending the fringe elements of the Christian right. Next up? Quite likely a 2014ballot measure to repeal Colorado’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
3. Rejecting Tancredo-style politics and allowing . . .
Continue reading. The list is longer than you probably expect.
Heavens to Betsy. Sen. Elizabeth Warren leapt from the gate of her first term pummeling Ben Bernanke on too-big-to-fail financial institutions. Then she demanded to know why American banks were never brought to trial. Finally, last Thursday, looking for all the world like a school principal called to sort out teenage hooligans, she queried regulators  as to why HSBC bankers who launder money for drug lords and terrorists should go free. Quoth the senator:
“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”
Game on! Naturally, the left is swooning. Elizabeth Warren says what we all wish we could say to the besuited jerks who defend a crooked industry. Except, instead of snatching them by the lapels and screaming obscenities as we might do, Warren sits calmly and repeats her inimitably direct questions like a blond Terminator. The big banks and their lackeys can’t stand her, and it looks as if the feeling is mutual.
Americans love her because we have serious unfinished business with the banking industry. We remember how the White House chose to protect the bankers from the pitchforks in the wake of the financial crisis. We’ve gritted our teeth as bankers have charted a course to record-breaking profits as the rest of us slogged through a shitty economy.
Now it feels like the day we hoped for. The one the banking industry feared as it tried to thwart Warren’s victory in 2013. There’s a new sheriff in town, a real champion for the 99 percent who will not accept a two-tiered justice system and who dares look the criminal and the complicit in the eye. That Warren’s showdown in the Senate Banking Committee corral came just a day after Attorney General Eric Holder fessed up to the fact that some banks are so big and powerful they are really above the law felt like balm on a freshly salted wound.
Economist Robert Johnson, executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, who served as chief economist to the Senate Banking Committee under the leadership of William Proxmire, praised Warren’s resolve in an email to me: “Elizabeth Warren has chosen to do something novel as a US senator: represent the people. In our money-drenched political system that is akin to defying gravity. God bless Elizabeth Warren.”
Warren is certainly making welcome noises in these early days of her tenure. She is breaking a taboo in speaking up so forcefully this early in the game, as newbie senators are generally expected to keep their heads down. Cynics cannot deny the fact that it actually matters tremendously that someone knowledgeable is at the table. If regulators know they’ll be cross-examined by a person who knows what they’re up to, they may think twice about what they’re (not) doing. They can’t completely ignore congressional pressure, particularly as Warren is a majority member of the Senate. On HSBC, unfortunately, the case is probably closed. But banks certainly hate the negative light Warren shined on them with her latest confrontation. And that’s welcome news. This is not small potatoes.
However, Warren . . .
David Sirota has a good column in Salon:
Despite its success in recent elections, and despite the image of unity it projects, the Democratic Party is in the throes of an epic identity crisis pitting its corporate money against its stated principles. The recent actions of two of the party’s rising stars — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — tell the deeper tale of that crisis. It is a microcosmic story, suggesting that the 2016 election may be a decisive turning point in the party’s history.
The money side of the schism is embodied by Hickenlooper. As the new vice-chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, the former petroleum geologist and beer mogul represents a cabal of Democratic politicians whose brand couples moderate positions on social issues with hard-edged corporatism on economic ones.
Corporatism, of course, is a vague label, but in Democratic politics it typically refers to helping campaign contributors bust unions and dismantle environmental regulations, with the expectation that servile labor and environmental leaders will sit by as their movements are decimated.
Hickenlooper’s actions this month show how the formula works.
On labor issues, after a summer of staging media events to thank firefighters for combating wildfires, the Colorado governor publicly threatened to veto legislation that would enshrine the right of those firefighters to choose to form a union. Of such basic legal protections, Hickenlooper flippantly declared that he does “not believe it is a matter of state interest.”
On environmental issues, it is the same story. Hickenlooper this week testified against federal legislation that would compel energy companies to disclose what toxic chemicals they use when fracking for natural gas. His testimony made headlines after he insinuated that fracking fluid is so harmless that Americans can safely drink it.
While Hickenlooper’s claim was later debunked, few observers were surprised he would utter such a pernicious lie. After all, with Hickenlooper’s electoral career bankrolled by fossil fuel firms, he has not just ignored the scientific evidence that shows fracking is dangerous; he has also denied that climate change is happening, offered to back corporate lawsuits to overturn municipal drilling regulations and appeared as a spokesman for the oil and gas industry in its political advertisements. Additionally, the Denver Post reports that Hickenlooper’s regulators “rarely penalize companies responsible for (drilling-related) spills.”
If you find this repulsive, then you are probably on the other side of the Democratic Party divide, the one personified by Warren.
Though a freshman legislator, she is already a celebrity thanks to her longtime advocacy on behalf of the poor, her fiery tenure running the panel that audited the 2008 bank bailout and her 2012 election victory over a Wall Street-financed opponent. This week, as if deliberately underscoring her commitment to live up to the Democratic Party’s populist billing, Warren rejected the unspoken Washington rule requiring junior lawmakers to keep quiet. Instead, she used her first committee hearing to slam Obama administration regulators for being weak on financial crime.
In assuming such a posture, Warren, along with Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Al Franken, D-Minn., represents what the late liberal Sen. Paul Wellstone called “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” In other words, unlike Hickenlooper’s cadre, she doesn’t represent the business elites who buy politicians like shares of stock. She represents the millions of voters who win the party elections.
For his part, Hickenlooper has . . .
In Salon today there’s a long excerpt from Tom Allen’s Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong With the U.S. Congress:
Twelve years in Congress. Daily conversations with Republican members of Congress. Bipartisan trips abroad with time to talk at length. Work on legislation of mutual interest with members across the aisle that I respected and admired. But those dozen years left me alarmed and frustrated by the inability of Republicans and Democrats to comprehend each other well enough to work together on our country’s major challenges. We share the same titles and vote on the same legislation, but we see the world through dramatically different lenses.
It’s those lenses that interest me most. To be sure, multiple other factors feed polarization and congressional gridlock. Cable TV 24-7 news has broadened coverage, but the scramble for ratings favors short segments with guests representing both ends of the political spectrum, not the middle. These days, political campaigns never end; there is little breathing space for governing without looking toward the next election. Vast sums of money and highly organized groups create pressure on elected officials not to stray from the party line. House and Senate rules can be used for partisan purposes. Redistricting every decade creates chances for parties to draw lines that favor them for years. But in my experience, our greatest challenge is first to understand and then to bridge the gap between the dominant but incompatible worldviews of the two parties.
Nothing I had learned about politics before my election prepared me for the intense polarization of contemporary congressional politics. When I first went to Washington to work for Sen. Ed Muskie in 1970, Republicans and Democrats debated public issues vigorously, but there was more genuine give-and-take and mutual respect, and the players did not treat politics as a blood sport. Six years on the Portland City Council taught me that most local issues could be resolved without petty or partisan combat.
Dwight Eisenhower accepted the major legislation of the New Deal. John Kennedy started the legislative push for a substantial tax cut. Lyndon Johnson came from a Senate known for working across the aisle. Richard Nixon signed clean water and clean air legislation. Ronald Reagan raised taxes many times to deal with mounting deficits created by his 1981 tax cut; George H. W. Bush did the same, to resounding criticism from the Right. Bill Clinton antagonized elements of his Democratic base by supporting a balanced federal budget, free trade and welfare reform.
George W. Bush was different. His election in 2000 was, in hindsight, stage two of the Newt Gingrich revolution. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.) recalled, shortly after Bush’s election, that Dick Cheney quickly laid out to a small group of moderate Senate Republicans, “a shockingly divisive political agenda for the new Bush administration, glossing over nearly every pledge the Republican ticket had made to the American voter.” In his first term, President Bush abandoned international treaties, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and drove through two massive tax cuts that primarily benefitted wealthy Americans.
Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign employed “microtargeting” as a part of their successful strategy of mobilizing the Republican base instead of reaching out to the middle. That political strategy was consistent with the Bush administration’s style of governing and the way Gingrich and Tom DeLay controlled Congress: Drive through the most right-wing policy that the Republican caucus could support; only move legislation that has the support of a substantial majority of the majority party; take no prisoners.
As I listened over the years to baffling arguments in committee, on the House floor or in private conversations, I lost hope in our capacity for bipartisan agreement on our major public policy challenges. On budgets, taxes, health care and climate change, the evidence that mattered to us made no difference to our Republican colleagues. What Democrats took as well-established fact, Republicans understood as easily dismissed opinions. When we wondered, “Do these guys believe what they say?” our answer was usually no. But if the Republicans didn’t believe the things they were saying, they were extraordinarily gifted performers on the House floor.
Our debates over particular budget and tax policies, health care, global warming or Iraq were not driven by the details of the legislation. Differences over health care reform became more about the role of government than the critical health care trifecta of cost, coverage and quality. To some, President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq seemed grounded in family history — the failure of his father to “take out” Saddam Hussein. In addition, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stripped the military leadership of much of its desired invasion force and pushed for a rapid turnover of responsibility to Iraqis because he didn’t want to create a “culture of dependency” among that population.
Taxes evoke intense emotions unrelated to their economic consequences. The Republican tax cuts were less connected to an established theory of economic growth than to convictions that tax cuts “pay for themselves” and the government is “too big.” Moreover, the proponents believed that individuals know best how to spend “their own money” — even though individuals don’t generally buy fighter jets or bridges, or spend their money on pensions or health care for people they don’t know.
On economic issues, most Democrats accept mainstream Keynesian analysis about the federal government’s capacity to reduce the adverse effects of recessions by stimulating aggregate demand (private and public) through a combination of spending increases and tax cuts. Republicans, on the other hand, are drifting with no coherent economic theory. The scientific consensus on global warming has been denied by the Right primarily because it is “an inconvenient truth” that would require Republicans to rethink the role and responsibility of the federal government.
Again, it’s not the difference of opinions across party lines that matters but the inability to understand and value what the other side is saying. The ideological gridlock that plagues our government and politics now has multiple sources and is beyond the scope of this book. However, I believe that such an inquiry should start with the changes in the nature and reliability of work, particularly for American men, over the past four decades. Those changes are undermining the ability of individuals to control their own destiny. Yet economic dislocation and fear of change seem to be reinforcing attachment to the core American value of individualism and breeding hostility to collective action.
Whatever the socio-economic factors that feed our discontent, our system of government was designed by James Madison and the founders to foster sustained deliberation by representatives of the people who would be committed to acting in the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Too often, the Congress in which I served responded to the short-term interests of particular industries and groups. The Senate, once recognized as the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” hardly warrants that title today.
In short, although other explanations for our dysfunctional polarization abound, ideas do matter, especially when bundled into disparate worldviews. They have a power of their own that profoundly affects what politicians and the public say and how we act. Despite much of the press commentary, heated political rhetoric on major issues isn’t all for show or about pandering to voters, gaining or retaining political power, or soliciting campaign contributions. Members of Congress are, in general, not that detached or disinterested in policy issues. They care, most of them passionately, about the outcome of a debate, although less about the details than the direction the legislation represents. . .