It looks as though the Teahardists really are going to take down Dick Lugar. I have to say that I’m unclear as to what their grievances are with him. With Bob Bennett I had a pretty good sense of whey they were angry with him: he voted for the TARP Bill and supported the principle of health care reform (though not, of course, the ACA). Lugar voted yes on TARP as well, but other than that I have no clue (and not everyone who voted yes on TARP has been purged, by any means).

I suspect Lugar has been doomed just by having been around for a long time, and he’s on relatively friendly terms with Obama and worked with him on START and other arms control measures. Which doesn’t seem like much to me. To be honest, I don’t really understand the strategy of the Tea Party in these primary contests, if there even is one. Taking down Bennett made some amount of sense–election for a Republican in Utah is guaranteed, and if you can get in someone more right-wing, why not? But dumping Lugar turns a cakewalk Senate election into a dead heat, complicating Republicans’ Senate dreams even further, just like taking down Mike Castle ruined the GOP’s chances with that seat. Yeah, yeah, I know, better to have 30 pure Republicans than 70 fake ones or whatever Jim DeMint said, but these days the fake ones almost never abandon their party on big votes. Just like “pro-choice” Republican Senators all voted for the Blunt Amendment to limit contraception. The Tea Party doesn’t really have a firm grasp on the dynamics of their own party–dynamics they largely created by taking down even mild dissenters like Bennett, Bob Inglis, Castle, and so on–and thinks that they need to take down even more randomly-chosen Republicans to scare them into submisison. And that’s potentially a good thing for Democrats. Looks like Joe Donnelly made the smart call to run for the Senate, he appears to have a real chance to reclaim an Indiana seat for the Blue Team.

For Lugar I have some sympathy, as he’s one of those Republicans who are Good For Something (specifically arms control). But then again he limited his dissent during the Bush years to mild murmurings of disapproval. Much like Chuck Hagel, he was uncomfortable with how things went on Iraq and other things but never actually did anything about it. You don’t get points for attempted courage. So I’m not really that broken up.

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The Times has an interesting piece, which argues that elite Republicans strongly want Mitt Romney to stop attacking Obama so much, and spend at least some time outlining a positive vision:

“Mitt Romney has to come up with a plan and policy and principles that people can rally around,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a strong supporter of Mr. Romney who said it was “fair game” to point out differences with the president. “It can’t just be negativity.”

Calls for Mr. Romney to adjust his approach, which the campaign has so far resisted, carry special weight because they come from many of his best-known supporters, like Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana.

In interviews, Republican leaders said they agree with Mr. Romney’s attacks and understand that he is trying to harness the anger of the Republican base. But they said he has not yet struck the right balance between explaining what is wrong with his opponent’s record and what is admirable about his own.

Let’s set a few things down in advance. Mitt Romney is a smart guy. He has decent instincts for what he needs to do in order to win any given election, the problem is always that he’s less than graceful as a public figure. I find it easy to believe that these Republicans are entirely correct that nonstop bombthrowing from now until November is going to be a suboptimal strategy, after a point the attacks will be easy to tune out and dismiss. It would be better, strategically speaking, for Romney to offer a contrast with Obama, rather than just hammering away endlessly at differences that, in a lot of cases, most people don’t care about.

But there’s one problem with this advice, one which I would be seriously pissed off about if I were Romney: these elites want to have their cake and eat it too. After all, it was people like these who made the Ryan Budget a non-negotiable position for GOP candidates. Remember how Newt Gingrich was flayed after denouncing it? In politics, that sort of ritual slaughter sends a message: don’t mess with us on this. The message was duly received by Romney, who went from being on the fence to supporting the plan outright. Ryan’s Plan is electoral poison, and we’re only beginning to see just how bad it’s going to be for the party: it’s just beginning to become a factor in House races and Republicans are being dragged down by it. Romney wisely decided to downplay the Ryan Plan and has focused solely on saying that Barack Obama is the worst human being in history, and now these same geniuses insist that he be more positive? About what? That’s a bad joke, almost. But keep in mind that a lot of these folks live in a bubble where Paul Ryan would be an enormously helpful addition to a national ticket. I’m sure if you asked Mitch Daniels, he’d say that all he needs to do is to explain what the Ryan Budget does and they’ll win the argument. Problem is, as the Political Wire post shows, only 41% of swing state voters support the plan when presented to them in Ryan’s own language. And that’s not the only side they’re going to hear on the topic. Even if Romney were inclined to fight this fight, there’s just no way he can win it starting at those numbers. That’s not the path down which the presidency lies and Romney fucking knows it. If Republicans wanted someone who was going to fight their ideological crusades they should have nominated Rick Santorum, and not the most self-oriented politician in a generation. This is what “electability” looks like, folks. If they’re surprised, they’re fools.

Really, while Romney’s current strategy is far from the best imaginable, it’s probably the best he can do considering the constraints the right forced him to accept. Though I almost want to see him take this advice, mentioned later in the NYT piece:

Mr. Herbert, the Utah governor, said that he wanted to hear Mr. Romney discuss a topic he routinely skirts, for fear of reminding voters of his prodigious wealth: his successful career.

Mr. Romney, he said, should frame his financial success as a totem of the America he is fighting to restore — a free-market economy, unburdened by overregulation and big government, in which entrepreneurs thrive and, in turn, employment grows.

“He has been way too timid about talking about his successes in the private sector,” Mr. Herbert said. “It’s what’s great about America. I can be the next Bill Gates or Mitt Romney.”

This is…incredibly stupid advice. It would be one thing if Mitt Romney had a rags-to-riches story. But his story is accurately described as riches-to-more riches, which is quite a bit less inspiring. I don’t think reminding the public of the opportunity gap between them and the Romneys of the world is going to go over so well. And the Gates comparison is oh so flawed: Romney didn’t invent anything, he restructured companies to keep them from failing. I’ll readily admit that private equity firms like Bain Capital have their niche in the financial ecosystem. But the simple fact is that Mitt Romney is a lot closer to Gordon Gekko than to Bill Gates, and the difference between Romney and Gekko is a question of degree, not one of kind. And unless you’re a rich Wall Street trader, Gekko is not an inspiring figure.

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Yay!

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Yesterday’s Pennsylvania presidential primary drew virtually zero interest from the public, which is about correct. But it wasn’t entirely uneventful. Due to the Republican legislature’s gerrymandering of district lines, quite a few of the state’s Democratic Representatives had to compete for a relatively small number of Democratic seats, and two sitting Congressmen, Jason Altmire and Tim Holden, went down to defeat. They were the final two Blue Dogs in Pennsylvania’s delegation. Both lost to relatively more liberal challengers. And so continues the collapse of the Blue Dogs: a whimper rather than a bang.

The more I think about it, the more I think their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength. It’s easy, easy, easy to sell centrism as a general election quantity, and it tends to be very popular. But the Blue Dogs’ brand of centrism is utterly vapid, and can hard to sell even for very experienced officeholders and strong campaigners. Congress is unpopular largely because it fails to get things done in a reasonably fair manner, and it’s not as though the Blue Dogs can claim to have changed that. Their agenda, as has been pointed out before, isn’t really any different from that of Democrats on paper except for a willingness to shred entitlements, which is not exactly a popular position. Is it any wonder they’re being cleared out like a shoe store when fall fashions come in? I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that their demise has coincided with the rise of Paul Ryan’s Budget as the GOP’s organizing principle.

Going forward, I strongly suspect the Blue Dog Coalition will not stick around for much longer. Something will replace it, of course. The only question is what it will be. Of all the people who lost in 2010 I most wish that Tom Perriello had stuck around. He won a fluke 2008 victory in a district that was very conservative but actually tried to make a case for his principles. He was something of a minority among the Democrats of the time, Blue Dogs highly sought after by Emanuel (“We can’t let the liberals take control of the party.”) In 2010 they dropped like flies, but Perriello came a lot closer than expected in 2010 despite losing, but if he’d won, it could really have Made A Difference. Perriello was certainly no staunch progressive, and I disagreed with him on a number of social issues. But he was a true populist whose focus was solely on improving the lives of people in his district, and I admired his integrity. I highly doubt he’d be talking about raising the Medicare eligibility age, for example. Really, the basic concept here is that any concept of moderation needs to identify the obstacles that keep peoples’ needs from being met and find a way around them. Blue Dogs have failed to do that, repeatedly. They care only to buttress the existing power structure. But there’s no reason why some variety of moderation cannot be successful in bringing about positive change.

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

I really have no interest in dumping on Jimmy Carter. The man’s post-presidential work has often been extremely admirable, more than enough to excuse the occasional gaffe or poorly-advised action. Man’s earned a pass. Still, to see him reinforcing the notion that the “real Mitt Romney” is no ideologue, but a pragmatic, data-driven technocrat, and assuming that his presidency would largely proceed along those lines, forces me to ask the question: on what basis are we assuming that the “real Romney” is technocratic?

Sure, it jives with his career, which was all about engrossing himself in data and making practical decisions on what to do with companies. But can you really mount the argument that any element of Romney’s life shares continuity with his political persona, evolving as it does to win elections? This is the guy, after all, who used to love Planned Parenthood (and now wants to end it), who once boasted about how he’d be a more valuable ally to gay rights groups than Ted Kennedy, and so on. More to the point, he was known for telling the moving story of how his grandmother died procuring an illegal abortion as a reason for why he was pro-choice. Guess grandma lost out when Mitt wanted to be president. Still, if he can shrug off something as personally meaningful as that, why wouldn’t he be able to shrug off some old career practices and become a Randist? The notion that Romney is a data-crunching technocratic politician seems to have originated as spin by Romney’s top lieutenant, Eric Fehrnstrom, back in 2007, and it’s pretty bloody brilliant to introduce this notion into a news media that worships such concepts. On the surface, Romney’s campaign was really no more or less demagogic than Gingrich’s or Santorum’s, and was considerably less honest than at least the latter’s. But the media has not held his feet to the fire for this because, hey, he’s got an election to win for pete’s sake! When he’s president, surely he’ll be a moderate technocrat again. But considering the demagogy of Romney’s campaign, the regular deceit and hyperpartisanism on display, we have to ask ourselves, if Romney is a technocrat, what does the term even mean?

To me, the notion of the “technocrat” is self-serving spin, typically on behalf of moderate Republicans. The term essentially means someone who makes decisions based solely on their practical merits, ignoring personal benefits or ideology. This is, needless to say, an ideal, and not necessarily a great one. Ignoring prevalent ideologies is itself an ideology, and perhaps the worst of the lot, i.e. contrarianism. Ignoring one’s own party and the electorate occasionally might need to happen, but often it’s just hubris, as happened when Jimmy Carter didn’t listen to what his party wanted from him and almost lost renomination in 1980 (and never could reassemble his party for the fall), while George W. Bush ignored the electorate in 2006 and suffered a thumping. So generally, I think this concept of a technocrat is overblown. But it’s the absolute perfect concept for a Republican trying to govern in a state that overwhelmingly believes in government to utilize. In addition to Romney, the politician to whom the term is most frequently applied is Michael Bloomberg, and searching for “bloomberg technocrat” yields over two million hits. This fits. New York City is a very liberal place, just like Massachusetts, and running as an anti-government activist there would be entirely unsuccessful. So both men sold themselves as technocratic problem-solvers who were just interested in making things more efficient, and thus positioned themselves for optimum media coverage in areas that are not exactly Republican-friendly. (By way of comparison, even though Bobby Jindal has about as technocratic a profile as one can imagine, he doesn’t even have one sixth of the hits in a “technocrat” search that Bloomberg does, and is rarely described in such terms.) This all is, of course, the old Rockefeller Republican strategy. That fact isn’t lost on reporters.

I honestly have no idea what sort of governing strategy Mitt Romney would use as president. But the idea that he’s a default technocrat seems to me to be wishful thinking driven by biases in the media and in politics. Romney himself abandoned being a pragmatic technocrat as soon as he decided to run for president, essentially becoming a pro-life, culture warrior Republican starting in 2005. And the national electorate is, ahem, not as keen on government as the electorate of Massachusetts. So I don’t see why he would necessarily be a technocratic president when being a more traditional, “gov’mint is our problem” sort of Republican would probably work better for him.

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Reading this article led me to a Gallup poll from late last month that I somehow missed, which showed a modest increase in concern over climate change among the public:

Trend: How much do you personally worry about global warming?

The past few years have not exactly been very encouraging to me on this front, but I’ve tried to console myself by saying that, as the economy improves, concern will reassert itself. That appears to be exactly what is occurring–a modest improvement in the economy has been coupled with a modest increase in concern. As the Times notes:

“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” said Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

I don’t have too much to say on this. It’s good that it’s still on peoples’ minds.

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Jon Chait, contrary to other voices, insists that the president does in fact have a re-election theme:

The fact that high-information voters like Edward Luce and Paul Krugman seem unaware of it suggests that Obama might need to hit the theme a little harder. But the theme is “We Can’t Wait.” Charlie Savage reports that Obama actually came up with the slogan himself in a staff meeting. The idea is that Republicans are blocking any action to help bolster the economy, and so Obama is going ahead himself, either taking whatever unilateral actions are available, or demanding that Congress act (and thereby exposing them to blame when they inevitably refuse).

Obama has been rolling out pieces of the “We Can’t Wait” agenda for several months now. Today, he’s demanding Congress acts to keep student loans from rising. He met with success with his campaign to extend the payroll-tax holiday and some of the unilateral parts, like his recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The list of items on Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” agenda is pretty long. Many of the items amount to Keynesian stimulus spending, but defining these proposals in specific terms — infrastructure spending, hiring back laid-off teachers and cops — frees them from the general animus against spending.

This is true and well-taken. But if this is actually The Theme For 2012, I think there are a few issues. Mainly, while I think that this is a good way of distancing Obama from a do-nothing Congress, it’s actually not a very good argument for Obama, since Obama is one of the waitingest presidents we’ve ever had. This is not a criticism–indeed, this strategy has been indispensable to some of Obama’s greatest triumphs. It’s possible to imagine a much quicker Iraq withdrawal, but it’s hard to imagine one as graceful and final. And on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, Obama’s patience paid off brilliantly, cementing a signature political win in such a way that the issue is now completely dead, with only a shrinking handful of deadenders even inclined to bother with it. But there were also some issues where waiting was absolutely not a good idea. Health care comes immediately to mind, and the president’s patience on our Afghanistan mission turned out to be misguided. It now seems apparent that leaving rapidly would probably have been the better overall move, and that Obama shouldn’t have waited.

However, the biggest reason, and the one why it would be positively nuts for Obama to make “We Can’t Wait” into a slogan in a contest versus Romney, is the economy. On no other issue has the Obama Administration contented itself to simply wait and see how its policies played out, again and again, rather than continually pushing new arguments, ideas and bills. Admittedly, this isn’t why the economy has stayed poor for so long–part of it is simply the natural cycle of financial crisis recoveries, part of it is a situation vastly worse than decisionmakers anticipated in early 2009–but simply put, Obama has rarely given the appearance of someone singlemindedly focused on the economy (because he wasn’t), nor of someone who did everything he could to fix it. I generally give the Administration some slack on the economic decisions they made in early 2009 because, while an extra $100bn of stimulus or a stand against banker bonuses might have helped at the margins, it wouldn’t have dramatically altered the situation. The team got quite those questions broadly right and after a point it becomes about splitting hairs. But what is less excusable is how quickly the Administration stopped paying attention to the economy as its main legislative concern (this occurred some time before Scott Brown’s 2010 election), presuming it was improving rather than hammering at it until it was proven to be better. This is a complicated debate, for sure, but what isn’t complicated is that Romney could easily say something to the effect of, “President Obama says we can’t wait to implement all his new wasteful spending, but apparently when it came to the economy, he had all the time in the world to wait.” This would, unlike the vast majority of Romney’s attacks on Obama, have some element of truth to it. Which is why it’s not the best weapon to bring to this particular fight.

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Since France has its first round of polling today, I just wanted to share something about the bad things that elective office can do to people. I have no particular quarrel with Nicolas Sarkozy, he’s not been as destructive as Cameron or Merkel, and he seems to generally be a decent chap. But man, oh, man, this guy will say literally anything to keep his job. Including the typical dogwhistle sort of stuff about foreigners that every conservative everywhere apparently has to say:

France has too many foreigners and is not integrating them properly, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview on French television.

“Today we have a problem,” Sarkozy said Tuesday night on France 2 TV.

“Our system of integration is working worse and worse because we have too many foreigners on our territory, and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school,” he said.

France places a premium on national identity, pressing the population to put “Frenchness” before religion or national background.

Mr. Sarkozy, of course, was (and is) the son of two immigrants. It’s true. If President Sarkozy circa 2012 had his way, his parents would have had to stay in Hungary during the Communist era because he knows they wouldn’t be able to become French enough. If Mr. Sarkozy wants to find an example of Frenchness coexisting with another nation’s background, perhaps he ought to look in the mirror. I don’t know how he can say something like that sincerely with his own family background. Oh, wait.

Here’s the one part of it I don’t get, whether it’s Sarkozy dumping on his parents, Orrin Hatch threatening to knock someone’s block off, or John McCain going all Jim DeMint on us last cycle. What is to be gained by this? I mean, in 1948 Harry Truman was virulent in his attacks on Tom Dewey, but let’s not forget that was before the era of extensive lobbying, lavish pensions and post-presidential buckraking, and at least with Truman there was a genuine lack of financial security to explain why he did it. The election of Thomas Dewey simply would not have been dystopian, and Truman had to have known that. With these modern equivalents, one simply wonders what it is they feel they have to lose that’s worth dropping any sort of dignity. Sarkozy is already super-rich. Hatch and McCain are well-off too, and if they lose they can just become lobbyists and make more, while still having influence on the process. Hell, McCain hasn’t done anything since his work with Russ Feingold a decade ago, so it’s not as though he’d be losing much, and presumably he’d still get booked for the Sunday shows after being a senator as a matter of habit as much as anything else. So what gives? Is power really that addictive? Must be.

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