Evan Bayh’s retirement announcement makes it more likely that Republican gains in the Senate could grow to as many as seven seats, but what I find interesting about the move is its total irrationality as a political decision. Any national ambitions Bayh might have once entertained are now absolutely finished. As acts of partisan disloyalty go, Bayh’s last-minute, surprise move is second only to those of Lieberman and actual party-switchers such as Specter, so he can forget about winning over Democratic primary voters in any future presidential elections. Unlike Dorgan’s retirement, Bayh’s departure is really entirely voluntary. Coats was potentially a serious challenger, but hardly an overwhelming favorite to win. If an incumbent with $13 million cash on hand isn’t safe in this environment when faced with opposition from a lobbyist for Bank of America, none of them is safe. What this does do is re-confirm that national Democrats are very easily rattled, quickly intimidated and prone to pre-emptive political surrender.In Bayh’s case, I’m guessing the megabucks didn’t hurt the decision.
I suppose we should chalk this one up to the highly successful, decades-long Republican campaign to demonize taxes and “Government Spending” (scare quotes):
The new Times/CBS News poll highlights the problem, by asking more specific questions about taxes and spending than many previous polls have. (See questions 33 through 45 here.) Not surprisingly, when given a straight-up choice between broad spending cuts and tax increases, Americans say they would prefer to reduce the deficit mostly through less spending. It’s not even close: 62 percent for spending cuts, 29 percent for tax increases.
A few questions later, though, our pollsters offered a different choice. Would people rather eliminate Medicare’s shortfall through reduced Medicare benefits or higher taxes?
The percentages then switch, becoming nearly a mirror image of what they had been. Some 64 percent of respondents preferred tax increases, while 24 percent chose Medicare cuts. The same is true of Social Security: 63 percent for higher taxes, 25 percent for reduced benefits.
Yeah, yeah, I get it. Nobody likes paying taxes… Blah blah blah.
But when you really get down to it, most folks really don’t seem to know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to expending even a teensy bit of mental energy on the question of whether we should cut spending or raise taxes in order to deal with our long-term deficit situation.
Have Republicans successfully brainwashed 65% of the country into believing that we can slash our $12+ trillion national debt by doing away with funny-sounding things like funds for volcano monitoring and tax breaks for bull semen?
If so, a big shout out to Fox News.
Update: In the same vein, a recent poll on Security Security found that even 65% of teabaggers would rather raise taxes than cut benefits and/or raise the retirement age:
Currently, workers pay social security payroll taxes on up to $106,800 of their salary. To ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, would you rather have people pay social security taxes on salaries above $106,800, or would you rather see benefits cut and the retirement age increased to age 69?
Raise payroll cap Cut benefits
All 77 10
Dem 84 4
GOP 69 17
Ind 77 11
Tea Party 67 20
The notion that economic growth depends crucially on the subjective feelings of the business executive class is one of the most pernicious ideas to take hold over the past 12 months. One should distinguish this hypothesis from the accurate point that rational expectations matter in the economy. Expectations do matter. But this is often confused with the idea that if the waiters at Davos are rude this year the economy will go into a recession, but if Obama gives a CEO a really sensual back rub growth will return.
Postmortem here. I have to confess that I just don’t get any of this:
Some large members of the AFL-CIO have been noticeably silent, while some abortion rights groups have publicly declared their opposition to changing filibuster rules. That, some Democratic aides said, is because in the 1990s and in the early days of the George W. Bush White House – when Republicans controlled both ends of the Capitol – these groups relied on their Senate Democratic allies and the 60-vote threshold to protect key rights such as Davis-Bacon wages for federal works projects and the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.
It occurs to me that the pro-choice movement is one of the least effective political movements in America, while the pro-life movement is one of the most effective. Obviously, in terms of implementing their goals, that might not be true. Sure, pro-lifers get a parental consent law in some state now and again, but they haven’t come close to recriminalizing abortion. Then again, when polls show support for Roe at 70% and the pro-choice affiliation is stuck around the 45-50%, there’s about 25% of the country that basically shares our goals but is basically convinced that being pro-choice means supporting abortion on demand or some such. Meanwhile, reversing Roe is terribly unpopular but the pro-life movement is not all that unpopular, even though virtually every pro-life group states that reversing Roe is their key goal. Ross Douthat’s writing on the subject (here‘s a typical example) argues that we can’t even really have a debate on abortion until Roe is reversed. I get that abortion politics is more than just Roe, but really, someone who wants to keep Roe around is someone who is at the very least uncomfortable with abortion being banned, and a pro-choice movement that can’t suck up support from those folks is simply not playing the game right.
Of course, a reversal of Roe wouldn’t matter so much were the Congress to pass a bill establishing a legal framework for abortion rights. The Freedom of Choice Act has been discussed but wasn’t proposed in the 111th Congress and doesn’t stand much of a chance with a Republican House in the 112th. But in the 113th, 114th Congresses, who knows? The thing is, it certainly won’t happen with a 60-vote supermajority requirement in the Senate. There are a handful of Republican pro-choicers in the Senate, but there are also a few Democratic pro-lifers too. It would be tight just getting 51 votes to pass, though the only other alternative is hoping that Anthony Kennedy retires while Obama is making judicial appointments instead of when the next Republican president is making them. I wouldn’t call that much of a strategy.
To me, this just seems like typical interest group behavior. If prevalent public opinion on abortion were to prevail–over 2/3 of the public are in favor of Roe, with parental notification for minors and a ban on partial birth abortions–the end result would be largely the same as our current policy (though it is critical to secure judicial bypasses for those restrictions). And it would be a bit more liberal than, say, most European countries’ regimes. (The exception is spousal consent, which the public supports but that I find sexist.) It wouldn’t be a perfect endpoint, but it would be pretty good in my opinion. But if that came to pass, if it just became default public opinion and only the wildest fringes dared to touch it, then the pro-choice movement would no longer have a reason to exist. The survival instinct of these institutions is as strong as any human’s. Welcome to Washington, I guess.
(P.S. Also, by the way, the amount of energy spent on defending Davis-Bacon in Democratic circles just astounds me. It was practically the only fight the Democrats picked during the ’01-’03 era of Bush 43, ignoring such tempting targets as the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War, and so far as I can tell it only helps government employees make more money. This frankly doesn’t say much good about Democratic priorities of the time, or now, apparently. I’d trade Davis-Bacon for the Employee Free Choice Act, even the compromised non-card check version, in a heartbeat.)
Matt Yglesias ponders the changing politics of West Virginia:
Which is just to say that in the very recent past, West Virginia was a considerably more-Democratic-than-average state. We’re not talking about the distant past or Harry Truman Democrats or whatever. Even post-civil rights, post-Roe, post-Reagan, post-”wedge issues,” post everything Michael Dukakis Democrats were more popular in West Virginia than they were in the country at large. By contrast, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama have all been less popular in WV than they are nationwide. And increasingly so.
And while I’m sure on some level this is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, on another level it’s not. In recent electoral cycles the Republican Party has been willing to pretend that there are no important negative externalities associated with mining and burning coal, whereas on a national level the Democratic Party has been inclined to acknowledge reality. And in West Virginia coal is seen as a key pillar of the economy.
I think this argument can explain things to some extent. But I have one that fits the facts better, one that I’ve elaborated before. For a long time in the South and elsewhere, you had older voters who still loved the Democratic Party and still had great memories of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, but who had also drifted to the right. The DLC/New Democrat/Blue Dog movement was helpful in keeping them in the party for a time, an attempt really to let these folks have their cake and eat it too. And it did, for a while. But, eventually, the Dem-friendly Greatest Generationers were replaced by younger generations whose formative memories were of the Eisenhower Era or later, and who simply did not have the same allegiance the Democratic Party.
What backs up my (admittedly speculative but fact-fitting) theory is that the inflection point in Democratic support in West Virginia looks to be around 1994. Someone who came of age right during the middle of our involvement in WWII–lets say someone who was 18 in 1943–would have been 69 in 1994. Pushing very close to typical life expectancy, basically. That Dem support started dropping rapidly right afterward, under my theory, would merely have been an actuarial certainty. The coal explanation is undoubtedly part of it, and has probably led to the Democrats’ even worse drop in the past few years (Obama’s current rating in the 30s, namely), but I don’t recall the Democrats calling for an end to coal in 1996.
Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on [funds from the federal stimulus bill] to plug nearly 97% of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas, which crafts a budget every two years, was facing a $6.6 billion shortfall for its 2010-2011 fiscal years. It plugged nearly all of that deficit with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, allowing it to leave its $9.1 billion rainy day fund untouched.Yep, you read that correctly. God-fearing, gun-loving Texas used eeee-vil stimulus funds to plug 97% of its 2010-2011 budget shortfall. All this after possible secessionist Governor Rick Perry when on a big whinefest in the national media about how Texas could take of itself, thank you very much:
When he made a show of rejecting some Recovery Act money, Perry said “this was pretty simple for us…We can take care of ourselves.” As The Wonk Room explained, in addition to filling nearly his entire budget gap with Recovery Act funds, Perry also used the Build America Bonds program — created as part of the Recovery Act — to fund billions of dollars in infrastructure projects. He also grandstanded against — and then promptly accepted — federal funding meant to prevent teacher layoffs.
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