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Ryan Cooper ponders the right’s decaying intellectual infrastructure. All jokes aside, it seems like what’s been going on at CATO is pretty emblematic, in which a relatively independent organization that does a fair amount of research and analysis is being taken over by the Kochs for the sole purpose of turning it into an electioneering outfit.

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My opinion, as expressed here a few times, was that I was mostly indifferent to whether Barack Obama switched from formal opposition to support of same-sex marriage. I didn’t think it would hurt him to announce, but I didn’t really think it would have much of an impact for him to do it, and I insisted that spending energy to persuade Obama on something like the drug war or civil liberties–areas where the president has quite a bit of discretion to determine policy on his own–would be better spent. I still stick to the latter, but the impact of Obama’s switch has been a bit more substantial than I thought. I see the following major effects of this switch:

  1. He’s brought a significant chunk of the black community with him. Polling has shown this repeatedly, with this being the most recent example. The realignment of black voters in a more marriage-friendly direction seems likely to make the vote in Maryland to legalize a blowout, which means Obama’s announcement will have the second-order effect of dealing the anti-equality crowd their first statewide ballot defeat, which takes away their biggest talking point. Which could lead to various third-order effects that we’ll just have to wait to see.
  2. The Democratic Party, since the announcement, has become a solidly pro-equality party at the leadership level. Nancy Pelosi has long supported equality, but now the #2 and #3 Dems support it too. Chuck Schumer has supported equality for a while, now so do Dick Durbin and Harry Reid. We’ve gone from a formally divided party to one where opposition is extinct at the top, and it seems highly unlikely that a non-supporter of equality will be in the top echelons of the leadership anytime soon. The conquest isn’t quite complete, as red-state Dems are likely going to resist the tide for a little while longer. But it’s significant.

These are some pretty significant and positive effects, so I’ll admit that I called this one a bit wrong.


One of PiL’s best, and thematically appropriate to boot:

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Flake was supposed to sail through the GOP primary without lifting a finger, after which he would go on to to crush Democrat Richard Carmona, a former Navy officer and former U.S. Surgeon General, in the still right-leaning state.

But a new PPP poll out yesterday may have some Republicans worried, as Flake’s Republican opponent Wil Cardon has hacked 27 points off of Flake’s lead in just three months. Flake is still comfortably ahead by 22 points, but it’s nothing compared to the nearly 50 point lead he had back in February.

In Cardon, Flake is facing a surprisingly tough challenge from not only a political neophyte who has never held public office before, but a birther. When the Arizona Republic asked Cardon whether he believes Obama has sufficiently proven his citizen, Cardon wouldn’t say, responding only, “I think people who run for office … ought to prove that they meet those qualifications.”

The poll shows Cardon’s rise has to do with his growing name recognition in the state and while an early round of advertising certainly helped, likely nothing did as much to raise Cardon’s profile as his birther-curious comments a month ago, which captured national headlines and introduced Cardon to many people for the first time.

Flake will be a tough one to beat from the right–he voted against the TARP and he’s got a lot of right-wing support locked up. Lugar had some significant opposition from Tea Party groups but Flake doesn’t appear to have any of that. He’s certainly much more electable than Cardon. Of course, the past few years have shown that anything can happen, so who the hell knows anymore.

I actually think that there’s a decent chance that Flake could be felled, though. Not 50-50, but perhaps 1-in-5. Think of it this way: you’re a Tea Party Republican who is just sputtering with rage about Barack Obama’s plans to fundamentally transform America. You hear about two Republican Senate candidates, one who is an Obama-hating, anti-bailout, Jim DeMint-endorsed conservative who admits that Obama was born in America, and another who is just as Obama-hating, just as anti-bailout, but thinks there might be a chance Obama was born elsewhere. The choice here is between a candidate who hates Obama but basically accepts Obama’s lies about his identity, and a candidate whose hatred goes beyond those phony facts. Keep in mind that candidate number one’s longtime experience is a negative to Tea Partiers, and you start to see how it can happen. Of course, Flake has money and he will use it to undermine Cardon. Amateurs tend often not to win elections because they don’t know how to campaign, and unless Cardon’s squeaky-clean and surprisingly savvy, the money will probably work.

What is interesting about this is how the issue of birtherism has proven completely beyond the ability of elite Republicans to solve. They know it makes the party look bad, and Karl Rove has consistently tried to tamp this stuff down (out of purely self-interested motives, of course). But it’s been impossible to eradicate, and like a bad case of herpes, it seems to just flare up at random intervals. Now is not a good time for it to flare up. It turned Donald Trump into the GOP frontrunner for a week or two, lest we forget. Among Republicans it’s a powerful, if somewhat untapped, political force. I actually am surprised that we’ve seen as little of it as we have–it appears to be a considerable shortcut to shooting up in Republican polls. Perhaps it’s because it bothers Republican moneymen, but I’m not entirely sure about that. I think it’s just another installment of the Republican Party slipping out of the hands of politicians and other political actors, and into the hands of Limbaugh, FOX News, and online conspiracy theorists, and elite Republicans’ ever-increasingly desperate struggle to keep that from happening.


It’s immensely satisfying to see Newt Gingrich’s business empire go down in flames. If you recall, the Republican field this year was divided into “serious” and “business plan” candidates, the former of which included Romney, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, etc., and the latter included Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, people who had no interest in being president, but rather just wanted to say some crazy things to get exposure and sell more conservative books. Which category was Newt in? I’m not sure even he knew. In the beginning it seemed as though he was a “business plan” kind of guy, taking weeks off in the middle of the campaign and such. But at some point the poor sap started to think he really could win the nomination, and he went from a silly pretend run to an even sillier real run. More like a crawl, really.

But the irony is that Newt’s businesses–which mostly peddle bad policy advice to gullible people–have fallen apart, whether due to his own neglect or Republicans tiring of him. And business was why he got in all those months ago. Perhaps everyone finally realized he’s a complete poseur? In any event, it’s good to see Dr. Gingrich, the premier flim-flam artist of our time, finally getting out of the public what he put into it for all those years: nothing.


Andrew Leonard has some specific advice for Barack Obama:

 Why on earth would the Obama administration want to “avoid an ugly public fight with powerful interests in an election year”? Shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t the Obama administration be going out of its way to pick a fight with Wall Street? Could there be any better opportunity to tap enduring popular anger at the financial sector and draw a clear line demarcating Obama from his challenger, Mitt Romney?

This is in response to the suggestion that the Administration wants to avoid an ugly fight with powerful interests in an election year. Leonard does invoke the now cliched FDR “I welcome their hatred” speech from Madison Square Garden in 1936, though he keeps it in fair territory because he’s not suggesting Obama can just use the bully pulpit to shame the banks and get Republicans to buckle, but rather merely to win the general election. This is appropriate, I think. FDR didn’t exactly precede that speech with slashing attacks on the wealthy, nor did he succeed it with such attacks. He used that rhetoric to win the election, and then spent most of that term attacking an overly activist Supreme Court, trying to purge racist reactionaries out of his party, and preparing the country to enter into war. On the last, at least, Roosevelt came to rely more and more on wealthy elites and Republicans, ultimately bringing Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, two of the very people whose hatred his 1936 self welcomed, into his cabinet in the top two military posts.

I agree with Leonard that a strong Volcker Rule (making banks gamble with their own money, basically) would boost Obama’s standing with the public. Certainly, a loud fight over it would. And Obama could do it! For all we’ve heard about how Obama hates to play hardball, he has done it before, most recently by recess appointing Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And that also shows he’s willing to play hardball against finance. But, as I’ve written before, Obama doesn’t seem to share my (or the progressive left’s) opinions when it comes to Wall Street. This is neither a surprise nor is it incomprehensible. Wall Street heavily supported Obama in 2008, and Obama treated them like part of the team from then on. And politicians in power tend to try to hold together their coalitions. In retrospect, Wall Street’s support of Obama in 2008 was a blip, they’d always backed Republicans before that, and they’ve backed them since. Obama would have been wise to be absolutely ruthless with them from the start, treating them as the fairweather friends they are, but he thought they were his friends, and treated them accordingly. He avoided any direct (and only rarely indulged in general) criticism toward them. He appointed one of their faves, Tim Geithner, to Treasury, and later one of their own as Chief of Staff. His team was endlessly conciliatory toward the bankers, to no effect. This is, basically, a dangerously shortsighted sector of the economy we’re dealing with here, one with no mission other than making lots of money, and the riskier the bets, the more money you get. There’s no perspective, no appreciation for how they can hurt people, as John Lanchester has argued many times. Even modest safeguards and criticism insult these folks, which is why they back Republicans, who offer none. But Obama’s team never saw it this way, and it’s still not clear that they do. At this point, changing their tack on Wall Street would require overcoming significant inertia, not to mention it complicates the narrative of the bailouts. I wouldn’t take out a derivative contract on it happening.

What I find odd is how passive Obama has become about the Volcker Rule. During the FinReg fight, Obama touted it more than any other provision of the bill. He trotted out Volcker for the cameras and sold it as the signature policy of the entire measure, the thing that would keep more bailouts from happening. Sure, other elements of the bill were mentioned, but the Volcker Rule was front and center. It was never really what bankers or conservatives wanted (that would have been no bill at all), or what progressives wanted (Glass-Stegall reinstatement, Canadian-style limits on leverage and capital requirements, and a financial transaction tax were the big ones that I recall), or what moderates wanted (?). The Volcker Rule, in other words, wasn’t a “hip” policy, but it made a good amount of sense, and one had to have figured that Obama mentioned it so often because his policy wonk side was passionate about the idea. Which is good. But then he allowed Tim Geithner to get it stripped out of the bill and to get written by Treasury regulators, which was certain to result in a weaker provision, and now he seems oddly impassive about the strength of what will probably be his last chance to make substantive policy this term. We go from signature issue to “not wanting to fight with powerful interests in an election year,” which neatly exemplifies the contradiction of Obama’s term: he wanted to simultaneously change the face of American government and society while healing America, avoiding bickering and bringing the people together, and (of course) winning another term too. You can have one of those things, maybe two, but all is an impossibility–the only president who pulled it off was Lyndon Johnson, and that was only because a president was murdered. If Obama wants to make good policy on the Volcker Rule–and help himself get another term–he’s going to have to intentionally piss off a lot of people when he has a choice not to (and it should be mentioned that the Cordray recess appointment was the result of having no other choice). While it would be good policy and a good campaign issue, there is some risk attached to the move. I don’t know that he can do it. I hope so.


I wasn’t going to comment on the story of Cory Booker stomping all over Barack Obama’s campaign strategy and practically throwing the election to the Republicans so let’s all just go home now (because everyone knows that Mayors of Newark have that kind of pull), but I feel I have to because practically everyone on the internet is getting it wrong. Let’s take a brief look at the statement in question (transcript here):

MAYOR BOOKER: But the last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It’s a distraction from the real issues. It’s either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it’s going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.

This is not seemingly a dig on Obama. It’s almost too vague for that. This is your boring-ass standard false equivalence. One can easily imagine a David Brooks or (especially) a Tom Friedman saying these exact words. Perhaps the most unremarkable statement ever uttered on a morning program that continually features such sentiments. There’s certainly a pro-Wall Street undertone to it, but in this quote it’s generic. At least, so it seems from a face value reading of the quote.

But there is a pretty serious problem here. See what it is? Barack Obama’s campaign has, in fact, attacked some of the job-closing antics of Bain Capital. Mitt Romney’s campaign hasn’t actually attacked Obama over Jeremiah Wright. That was a proposed SuperPAC campaign that was strangled in the crib. So, really, it’s a false false dichotomy. Booker is nauseated about something Obama did, and something that Romney didn’t do. So it’s a trojan horse way of complaining about attacks on Bain, which follows from what Booker says a bit earlier about how they’ve been great to businesses. Which means, yup, he’s a Wall Street shill. And an astonishingly dense one too. It takes a special kind of incompetence to make such an incredibly bad first impression, and it’ll be hard for him to escape being known as Wall Street’s man in Newark because that’s all most people know about him now.

And good on Obama for keeping this line of argument going. Romney’s argument that he created jobs at Bain is incredibly fatuous. If he ever did, it was because that coincided with making a profit. Private equity has its place, but Romney is being intentionally deceptive on what his goals were there.