Some delicious nouveau lounge for you:

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Another year, another death wish ridiculous stunt annual budget from Paul Ryan. But this time, the Very Serious People don’t seem all that excited about it. Why not? I think there are three basic reasons. First, there’s a presidential race on, and even a long, dull presidential race beats a budget fight that goes nowhere. Second, this budget doesn’t even try to give the fig leaf of cover to VSPs to say that they really care about cutting spending–this is the sort of budget that a pre-glasnost Soviet Union might produce, no help for the poor because it’s all being spent on warheads! Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well for them, and while this plan is obviously not serious, it doesn’t even meet the much, much lower standard of being “serious.” And thirdly, Paul Ryan’s image as a young, bold reformer has been almost completely destroyed. It was a complete fantasy to begin with, naturally, so Ryan couldn’t help but reveal himself. And while self-pity, whining and playing the victim are extremely useful in the Republican media sphere, to the rest of the world it just makes you look like a loser, and if there’s anything Washington society can’t stand, it’s a loser. Just see how much respect they have for failed presidential candidates, even ones (like John Kerry or Jimmy Carter) who have done admirable work after losing.

Anyway, because the House of Representatives’ equivalent to Mitt Romney has to give the zealots a good enough reason not to can him, we have to suffer once again through the charade of this thing working its way through the House as though it means anything. Jonathan Bernstein is, as usual, right on the money:

That’s the real story of the Paul Ryan budget battle. Last night it barely squeaked through his own committee by one vote, after defections by two conservatives who said it didn’t cut spending enough. And that’s just conservatives. Moderates, too, may find it very difficult to vote for a budget which threatens to zero out large sections of the United States government (something which even Republican voters don’t want).

And yet…this isn’t a vote that has to happen. This isn’t comparable to TARP, where the Bush administration surely knew that a vote was unpopular but were willing to press ahead anyway because they believed that the economy depended on it. Nor is it comparable to the Affordable Care Act: Even if Nancy Pelosi knew she was risking her majority over it, Dems were enacting a law they’d been fighting for her entire lifetime.

Both of those, of course, became law — but if the Ryan budget passes the House, what happens next is…nothing. No Senate vote. No Congressionally-passed budget resolution. Nothing. And Ryan, and Speaker John Boehner, surely know it.

I remember David Frum wrote last year that Ryan’s Budget is primarily a document for Republicans to rally around, to find a new identity to adopt going forward after the big-spending Bush years. I think that’s true. Of course, one can easily think of another major party in the English-speaking world that had been completely decimated in an election four years earlier to a charismatic new leader. The economy was looking bad, and they figured they had a chance to return to power by seeking out a new, bolder, more radical political identity, hoping to make the public forget the failures and miscalculations of their prior spell in office. I am speaking, of course, of the early-80s UK Labour Party, and specifically their election manifesto, and the eternal epithet applied there could just as easily apply here.


Anne Laurie found this hilarious little gem. The editing is top-notch.

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Some crusty old codgers in Congress are still trying to score points by crusading against reefer madness violent video games – again without any substantive evidence behind them to suggest that violent games cause much if any harm.

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Jon Chait is killing it on the Romney front today. First, he tackles the not-all-that-mysterious question of why Americans really hate Mitt Romney, and comes up with a pretty convincing explanation:

The main reason, I suspect, is that the Republican Party is extremely unpopular. The Bush years deeply discredited the GOP, and while Republicans were able to make gains in 2010 by default, as the out party during an economic crisis, they did nothing to rehabilitate their image. Indeed, they have embraced even more unpopular positions than the ones that George W. Bush advocated. Romney has taken up the banner of cutting Medicare in order to make room for lower taxes for the rich, and that’s an incredibly unpopular trade-off.

What else? Romney has come to be defined by his wealth to some degree. This is not a problem if you’re able to pass yourself off as a rich guy looking out for the little guy, and Romney has tried to pass himself off this way. But it’s very hard to pull off given his actual policies. Romney has made his shorthand identification “I’m a conservative businessman.” That’s not a great sell for a Republican, except among hard-core Republicans (and, really, affluent Republicans, which is Romney’s base.)

George W. Bush presented himself as a compassionate conservative. Bill Clinton was a New (i.e., tough on crime and welfare) Democrat. Their personas were inherently crafted, at the most basic level, to disarm voters’ gut-level suspicion of their party. Romney has not done this at all.

Indeed he hasn’t. Yet. As his closest advisor told us today, he’s going to reset himself for the general election, about which Chait has this to say:

There are two problems here. First, he’s giving the game away way too early. Of course Romney is going to try to reposition himself toward the center. But he’s in the process of convincing conservatives he’s really with them. Fred Barnes, in a column praising Romney, writes today, “His plan was to run as a moderate but govern (I think) as a conservative. He’s abandoned the moderate mask and positioned himself firmly in the conservative camp.” That was the plan – persuade conservatives that they’re in on the con. Now Romney will give them grounds to wonder if they’re the suckers. It’s okay to do that after you’ve sewn up the nomination, but not while conservatives can still make your life difficult.

Second, Romney’s campaign suffers from a general problem of failing to hide its cynicism. The campaign’s grasp of the underlying dynamics is totally sound. It sees President Obama’s political vulnerability as stemming entirely from the 2007-2008 economic disaster, and it views conservative ideology as ballast upon Romney. If Romney can avoid positioning himself too far from the center, and the economy fails to recover swiftly enough, he should win. Presto!

The problem here is that, for the process to play itself out the way political scientists would forecast, you need to conceal the calculations a bit. For instance, you obviously can believe that your need to win elected office would make you more reluctant to hire illegal aliens, but you shouldn’t just say that. And obviously you’re going to reposition yourself for a different audience, but that works a lot better if you pretend you’re advancing actual core beliefs.

It’s actually pretty shocking that they’d be so direct about this, to the point of blurting it out this way. It’s very reminiscent of Bob Dole, actually. But ultimately let’s remember that Mitt Romney isn’t all that good of a politician. He does what he thinks he needs to do to win elections, but as we’ve heard a million times, he’s a datahead who is more turned on by the challenges of data analysis and public policy than delivering red meat or making penetrating critiques. He’s a poor speaker who comes off as stiff in public. And he’s more than willing to sell out his base if it helps him politically. Wait, something just occurred to me: are we sure he’s not actually a moderate Democrat who is just confused about which party he belongs to?


You might think that, being as a brand-new book, a high-profile debt deal collapse and a Washington Post article have come out with fairly withering assessments of President Obama’s handling of the debt ceiling crisis, that I’d pick now to chime in on my occasional hobbyhorse with yet another rant on the subject. But no, I won’t. I do have a few thoughts, though. It is nice to see the rest of the world catch up to where I’ve been for months, the obsession that I’ve never entirely been able to shake or get over: that the president who completed the liberal project with universal health care was eager to turn around and devastate it by kicking people off of Medicare and cutting Social Security bennies. Why? It still beats the hell out of me. I think, in retrospect, it was all due to human error, of the human tendency to ignore inconvenient details (e.g. many Republicans screaming they wouldn’t countenance any hike at all, and many more insisting taxes wouldn’t be raised) that contradict a person’s assumptions (i.e. that most Republicans would accept a deal like they did in the nineties, that Boehner had any authority, etc.). Not a good thing by any means, and at the very least we’re talking about a breakdown in leadership at or very near the top. But that might explain it.

But the more I think about it, the more the incident needs to be put in perspective. It shouldn’t define the whole of Obama’s presidency in my opinion, which despite this has had some overall great accomplishments. It should be considered a significant failure, perhaps along the lines of FDR’s turn away from Keynesianism in 1937. Roosevelt made an enormous mistake there, but he was still overall a great president. And still, compared to the alternatives that were available to us at the time, I still don’t regret my choices in the 2008 primary and general elections. Nobody is perfect, and even the greatest presidents have made astonishingly bad errors in judgment over the course of their tenure–FDR instituted Japanese-American internment over the objections of that noted civil libertarian J. Edgar Hoover, lest we forget. Obama has not had that ignoble a failure, not even close.

But there’s just no doubting at this point that the debt ceiling crisis was revealing of several flaws in Obama’s modus operandi, which is why something like this is so misguided to me. Saying we should just focus on what’s going on now is no different from Peggy Noonan saying that we should just keep on walking past all that torture stuff. My thing is, what can we learn from this, and how can it help improve progressivism in the future. Knowing that Obama’s team ignored what Republicans were shouting from the rafters and paid close attention to signs and symbols–how they reacted to the backlash over the Ryan Plan, how they reacted to Simpson-Bowles–says something about how they process information, namely that they’re a little too clever in how they process information, and that they are susceptible to groupthink. Additionally, seeing that Obama became just as ambitious about deficit reduction as he had been about health care says something about his priorities and aims–namely, that his world-leader ambition will fill whatever space is available to him, even if that gets him in trouble (he very much resembles Tony Blair in this regard). Knowing this helps progressives in figuring out how to influence Obama in the future. The jury is obviously still out, but I have hopes that Obama took the right lessons from this episode. However, there are lessons for progressives to take from this as well. That this occurred in the first place was a failure of liberalism. Progressives should have mobilized demanding a clean hike, I continue to believe, and not just trusted the leaders to hash it out. We lucked out this time, but ultimately politicians will always take the path of least resistance, and the president is no different. Also, it’s important to realize how alluring deficit cutting is to Democrats, even though it’s been politically devastating to them every time it’s been tried (and more often than not it’s been undone by the GOP when they returned to power). It destroyed Clinton’s majorities, helped destroy Obama’s, and then nearly wrecked his presidency. Democratic elites care deeply about the subject, but their base doesn’t. Republican elites care about it only as a political club, even though some portion of their base really does care about it. If Obama’s team had internalized this truth, I think they would have approached the fight much differently and better. Democrats need to realize that deficit cutting is a political loser for them, something only to be done when absolutely necessary. It was necessary in 1993. It was not necessary in 2011.

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It’s hard to believe Battlestar Galactica has been off the air for three years exactly, excluding the various spinoffs and side projects that have surfaced since then (I haven’t watched them, and neither have you, just admit it). Being as the program has almost completely dropped out of the conversation due to its, ahem, controversial final installments, I figured I’d offer some thoughts on this occasion. BSG was both brilliant and frustrating, though I sense is ultimately considered a failure due to some creative sidesteps during its later days. I’d argue, in contrast to that, that the show was a success by the criteria that it laid out initially, that it well fulfilled its mission, but that after succeeding it made a series of mistakes that sapped the cohesion of the series and brought down its reputation. So here’s my attempt to make sense of things.

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TPM has an interesting story out of Illinois, in which an intraparty dispute between a solid progressive and an obvious Blue Dog is playing out…and playing out in favor of the progressive:

The contentious race pits Ilya Sheyman — a 25-year-old former community organizer who’s won the support of MoveOn, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Howard Dean — against Brad Schneider, a long-time management consultant backed by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and a host of others within the Illinois and national party establishment. Both are competing for the right to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Dold in the fall. […]

Backous insisted that his candidate is also a progressive, adding that “there isn’t much daylight” between Schneider and Sheyman ideologically. Sheyman’s side disagrees, pointing to Schneider’s history of associations with Republican leaders. A website launched by MoveOn details Schneider’s contributions to GOP candidates and his participation in Republican primaries.

Adam Ruben, political director for MoveOn, denies that his group has ever described Schneider as a Blue Dog, saying they have simply drawn attention to his connections with the Republican party. “What we’ve been very careful to do is just urge voters to look at his record,” Ruben told TPM. “We’re saying that Brad Schneider’s record shows that he’s acted like a Republican and that we should look at what he’s done.”

Backous is quick to highlight that over 95 percent of Schneider’s political contributions have gone to Democrats and the donations to Republican candidates were motivated by a concern for the United States’ ties with Israel, a significant issue for the suburban Chicago district’s many Jewish voters. “Brad doesn’t see a strong U.S./Israel relationship as a partisan issue,” Backous said.

Just to put it out there, I’m not against moderation in either the abstract or political sense. But the Blue Dogs are and have been the wrong kind of moderates. Their issue positions are indistinguishable from those of the political establishment on every issue you can think of, and I continue to believe that was the primary reason why they were virtually wiped out last year.

Let’s take a closer look at this group for a moment. A quick glance at the Blue Dogs’ site includes exactly four issue positions. The first is that they are pro-economic growth. What a shocker! The second is that they believe in energy independence. Again, this is a vague and uncontroversial platitude. The third is that they support ripping up the safety net fiscal responsibility. And the fourth is that they want to eliminate regulations that businesses find inconvenient. It’s not put that way, but read it yourself and tell me my reading is wrong. And that’s all. Nothing about income inequality, a fairer tax system or public education. Nothing about the environment or voting rights or women’s rights. Nothing about, I don’t know, strengthening the safeguards against another financial collapse. The Blue Dogs’ list is not a list of things Democrats value, it’s a list of things that are either so completely banal and commonplace (i.e. the first two) that it would be shocking if they didn’t support them, and the latter two are diametrically opposed to what Democrats actually want. It’s an alien influence, really, subsidized by corporate cash and protected by elite influence and respect, which is why they’re uniquely despised by mainstream Democrats in ways that other centrist groups (e.g. Third Way) simply aren’t.

The most common excuse for the Blue Dogs is that they have to believe what they believe to win districts that Democrats would otherwise not win. This is, so far as I can tell, almost entirely false. Many Blue Dogs represent mainstream Democratic districts, as I noted before, and the idea that persuadable red staters are clamoring for a combination of muted social liberalism, deficit-slashing and military adventurism is utterly false. The proof is in the pudding: in 2010, scores of McCain district Blue Dogs went down to defeat. Most of the remaining ones represent Democratic districts, and some of the few remaining “names” among the authentic Blue Dogs–Heath Shuler, Mike Ross, Dan Boren–are all headed out the door. And returning to the TPM story, here’s the state of things in the Illinois race:

That both candidates have jockeyed for the progressive mantle might serve as an indication that the liberal message is resonating. A poll commissioned by MoveOn and PCCC that was released last week could be even more telling: it showed Sheyman holding an 18-point lead over Schneider.

The article mentions how some Democratic fixers are worried that Sheyman will be less competitive than Schneider, but I really doubt it’s true. The Democratic Party has spent the past two decades nominating Schneiders, and in particular was hell-bent on nominating them in 2006 and 2008, presumably to build as big a majority as possible. And it worked–until 2010, when nearly all of those folks was ushered out of office unceremoniously. Picking solid liberals couldn’t really have turned out any worse, could it? If anything, they would have believed in the product they were selling the electorate in 2010. The philosophy the Blue Dogs represent has become completely unappealing to voters fed up with establishmentarian koans, and that’s why they’re falling apart. Populism is, now more than ever, the only viable choice for Democrats looking to expand the electoral map.

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