Much liked this Mark Schmitt’s eulogy for the grand bargain talks. A taste:
For Washington, though, “deficit” represents something very different: It’s not a metaphor for the economy, but for the political process. The budget has become a universal, almost value-neutral language to talk about the crisis of governance. Why the budget, and not the many other staggering examples of government’s inability to address priorities—climate change, gun violence, job-creation, immigration? All of them seem to have a partisan or ideological angle—to define climate change or gun violence as a problem implies a specific, controversial solution. Deficits can be presented as a neutral problem—whatever you think about the appropriate size of government or level of spending and taxes, we should all agree that we can’t spend more than we take in. (We can, of course, but that’s another story.)
Much of this is a misguided sense that, if we can just come together on a deal that screws seniors and raises taxes on middle-class people fix that darn deficit, that would foster greater cooperation and problem solving between the parties. You don’t have to go far to see this in Obama’s attitude from 2011 onward. In reality this seems to get it entirely backward: something like the Sherrod Brown-David Vitter attempt to eliminate “too big to fail” banks was really bipartisan, the left-right coalitions on NSA reform and opposing Syria war seem to point to small issues and strategic attempts to challenge special interests as more likely to bring about bipartisan change than in persuading virtually everyone in America to reorder their political priorities. If anything, if there is more bipartisanship in the U.S. over the next couple years, it’s going to be this kind of smaller stuff, pursued by politicians of both parties who feel left out of the mainstream. Which is not the kind of bipartisanship that the current Administration has liked much.
The Senate, once the chamber of deliberation and reason, is getting its own extreme makeover. Moderates such as Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Democrat Ben Nelson are bolting an institution that barely resembles the one they entered as idealistic deal makers.Ben Nelson? Idealistic dealmaker? These are words that should not be in the same sentence, unless “not” or “in no way in hell is” or “could only ironically be referred to as” is separating them. Do I really need to elaborate here? (Also, Nelson didn’t voluntarily leave, he had no chance to win again due to his own corruption. It’s not like he did what Snowe did.) Come on, Politico. Don’t Friedman this. If you’re going to do this centrism-nostalgia thing, put your whole heart into it. That’s all I ask.
Maine’s former independent governor has jumped into the Maine Senate race, immediately turning the race into something anyone can win. This is something of a nightmare for Democrats who wanted an easy pickup. But what about King’s own beliefs? This makes it seem that his bipartisanship is clearly of the worst-of-all-worlds variety that Washington loves, mixing the most noxious elements of all mainstream strains of political thought:
One of the more controversial initiatives of Governor King was a law requiring all school employees, including volunteers, and contractors working in schools to be fingerprinted by the Maine State Police, and have background checks conducted on them. The program purported to protect children from abuse by potential predators working within the schools, but met with strong resistance from teachers’ unions, who considered it a breach of civil liberties. Supporters of the law claimed the fingerprinting requirement would stop previous offenders from coming to Maine to work in the schools, and if Maine did not have this requirement, it would send a message to previous offenders that they could work in Maine without fear of being identified as a child abuser. Critics of the law maintained that there was no evidence of a problem with child abuse by school employees, and the fingerprinting represented a violation of constitutional guarantees (a claim which was not backed up by Supreme Court rulings on the issue). 57 teachers from across the state resigned in protest of the fingerprinting bill. The Maine Legislature voted to exempt current school employees, but this was vetoed by Gov. King in April 1997. The cost of the requirement was initially to be paid for by the school employees themselves, but the Legislature voted to have the state fund the costs of the measure. [emphasis mine]
Expanding government power to address a problem that isn’t shown to exist, ignoring the actual facts of the situation, and all at the expense of civil liberties. Brilliant. I can already see him cheering on more TSA restrictions and indefinite detention and all the rest from the Senate floor, and getting on the cover of TIME as a heroic superpolitician. Just kill me now.
Also, I question the wisdom of voting for a 67 year old to enter a body where all power is determined by seniority. Dude would only manage a few terms in the best case. Admittedly, I’m always suspicious of ostentatious bipartisanship, but this guy seems like a straight-up dud even by those standards. Maine probably will have an actual candidate whose progressivism extends beyond social issues, and they’d be foolish not to support her (or to let an indy candidacy elect another dreary Tea Partier, as in 2010). We’ll see if they learned the lesson.
Another week, another Tom Friedman piece trying to create the Democratic Party as though it didn’t exist:
As for America, we’ve thrived in recent decades with a credit-consumption-led economy, whereby we maintained a middle class by using more steroids (easy credit, subprime mortgages and construction work) and less muscle-building (education, skill-building and innovation). It’s put us in a deep hole, and the only way to dig out now is a new, hybrid politics that mixes spending cuts, tax increases, tax reform and investments in infrastructure, education, research and production. But that mix is not the agenda of either party. Either our two parties find a way to collaborate in the center around this new hybrid politics, or a third party is going to emerge — or we’re stuck and the pain will just get worse.
When the world is experiencing so many wrenching changes at once — with already high unemployment and weak economies — the need for America, the most important pillar of all, to be rock solid is greater than ever. If we don’t get our act together — which will require collective action normally reserved for wartime — we are not going to just be prolonging an American crisis, but feeding a global one. [Emphasis added by myself]
Steve Benen rightly points out: “Let’s see, a combination of long-term cuts, combined with additional revenue, with an emphasis on boosting investments in infrastructure, education, research, and production. Why does this sound familiar? Because it’s President Obama’s agenda.” Which is true, of course. One almost wonders if there’s an official NY Times rule never to single out one party for criticism, which would explain quite a bit actually. Only I know there isn’t because they haven’t fired Paul Krugman yet.
But it’s worth noting that the premise here isn’t even correct. It’s true that, during WWII, a lot of Republicans set aside their differences and joined with FDR to beat Germany and Japan. I am not well-versed enough on American History to declare this for certain on every war, but from what I’ve read, that’s far more the exception than the rule. Civil War Democrats were absolutely horrible to Abraham Lincoln, opportunistic and double-dealing from the start. According to McPherson’s book, virtually all war- and slavery-related legislation passed on strict party lines, and Democrats frequently resorted to outright racist attacks on Lincoln and his policies to some effect. In addition, Lincoln had to suffer through the indignity of the Congressional Joint Committee On The Conduct Of The War, led by hardcore antislavery Republicans who pushed for a far more aggressive warfare strategy. This occurred in 1861, by the way, which was only the first year of Lincoln’s term. Just imagine if the Democrats had created a special Congressional Committee in 2009 merely to chew out Barack Obama and the people executing his strategy, and you sort of get the idea. Ultimately, the Civil War was not especially a time of unity, even in the North. There’s a reason Lincoln always gets that #1 rating out of all the presidents, after all.
Friedman’s argument also omits Vietnam, the most obvious example of partisan disunity during wartime. The conflict was integral, in fact, in destroying the system so cherished by Friedman and his forbears, in which both parties had liberal, moderate and conservative wings. The Democratic Party’s messy, public turn against the war–and the Republican Party’s harsh turn against those who opposed it–led to a reordering of the political system in which the Northeast and the West Coast went from being generally Republican to being generally Democratic, and the South, Interior West and Southwest all went the other way. Of the actual debates of the time enough has been said already, Rick Perlstein’s books document it all well enough. Additionally, it’s widely known that Richard Nixon went so far as to play partisan games with the war’s outcome by sabotaging Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to get a peace deal in advance of the 1968 election. So much for patriotism and standing behind the president. The Vietnam era is well known as a low point in national unity, and rightly so.
There are other examples as well–one could cite Dwight Eisenhower’s promise to go to Korea in 1952 as a partisan ploy (though one with an ultimately positive outcome), there were the bad faith negotiations of Henry Cabot Lodge with Woodrow Wilson over the League of Nations (and Wilson’s civil liberties-demolishing actions during the War, mainly directed at his left-wing critics), or the near-treasonous antics of several pre-Civil War Democratic Presidents (Pierce, mostly, though also Buchanan) that hurt the country deeply to advance slavery and their own party’s fortunes. Put simply, WWII is an outlier in American History. Far more often, wars are declared in a bipartisan fashion, and then after some time are deployed by the out party to attack the party in power. And here’s the kicker: that in and of itself is not wrong. There’s no particular reason why the out-of-power party ought not to mount criticisms on the handling of a war. I’ve never found the “not supporting the troops” argument persuasive. Much of the time, politicians blunder into wars without much of a plan to win them, and if not pressured they more often than not will devolve into quagmires where we can’t leave because that would mean that lives were wasted. (No, I’m not thinking of any one in particular, why do you ask?) But the notion that wars breed unity is oversimplified. Sure, maybe for a little while at first. Maybe if it looks like we’re winning. But the simple fact is that wars encourage exclusionary, nationalistic sentiments that don’t stop at the battlefield, usually the dynamic fractures the relations between countries that go to war, then it fractures the countries themselves. I can’t even think of a single exception to this dynamic–the only times it’s avoided is with really quick wars, like the Mexican-American or Spanish-American Wars for example. I really, really think the war at home is closely related to the wars we fight elsewhere, and there is certainly a correlation between the times when we fight wars and the times when we can’t act together as a people. If Barack Obama really wants to let the country heal, he’d ignore the generals and get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday. And if history is any guide, that would be about fifty times more effective than rhetorical gestures (and infinitely more so than bipartisan trade deals). Finally, as always, Tom Friedman is an ill-reasoned pompous ass who ought to be writing nothing bigger than a PTA newsletter.
Also, there’s no way I am not posting this:
With all due respect, what the hell are you idiots in the White House smoking? You incompetent boobs. The Republicans will not work with you in good faith on anything. Get it through your god damned heads. And they will screw you dim bulbs on tax cuts next, and then you all will throw up your hands and tell us no one could have predicted. The Republicans aren’t the only one living in their own reality, as this White House clearly has constructed a new reality in which Republicans act in good faith. It’s about as real as Narnia.
So, after health care reform passed last night, media types rushed to big-time celebrity (and leader of the free world) Senator John McCain to bask in his sage wisdom. McCain basically said the Democrats had hurt the GOP’s feelings and that Republicans wouldn’t be coming out to play with them on the jungle gym anymore.
As John Cole noted, the House’s action last night appears to have grown Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid some stones, who slapped out at Grandpa Pouty McCainerson thusly:
“For someone who campaigned on ‘Country First’ and claims to take great pride in bipartisanship, it’s absolutely bizarre for Senator McCain to tell the American people he is going to take his ball and go home until the next election. He must be living in some parallel universe because the fact is, with very few exceptions, we’ve gotten very little cooperation from Senate Republicans in recent years.
“At a time when our economy is suffering and we’re fighting two wars, the American people need Senator McCain and his fellow Republicans to start working with us to confront the challenges facing our country—not reiterating their constant opposition to helping working families when they need it most.”
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