Archive for March, 2010

Evaluating Mitt Romney’s 2012 Candidacy

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

The blogs discuss whether or not Mitt Romney’s 2012 prospects have been passed by the health care reform so similar to his own in Massachusetts:

Marc Ambinder makes the case that the conventional wisdom on the left that health care reform’s passage has killed Romney’s 2012 candidacy is a reflection of “anchor bias — the same type of bias that consigned the Democratic majority to history the day after Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts.” Ambinder continues:

Romney is a serious, sober guy. Just read his book. It’s half a cliche campaign book, and half a really learned and well-thought-out disquisition on the problems facing American today. If the fundamental divide in the party is between the lambs being led to slaughter wing — the bleating, noisy wing — and the wing that seeks a solutions-oriented leader, Romney has a case to make.

Jonathan Chait responds to Ambinder:

Actually, I think Ambinder has this backwards. Right now, Romney looks fine — he has money, name recognition, decent polling, and the like. What you have to do is project how the current dynamic is going to play in 2012. At the moment, Republican leaders are trying to demonize the Affordable Care Act, so they have little incentive to point out that it’s basically Romneycare plus cost controls. But in the context of the 2012 race, with the Affordable Care Act settled into law and a contested GOP primary going on, there will be lots of Republicans playing up the comparisons between Romneycare and Obamacare. Romney appears political viable right now because most Republican voters have not been exposed to the Romneycare-Obamacare comparison — or if they have, it’s been made by advocates of the latter, rather than by Republicans who they trust. When the attacks come, Romney just has no convincing reply…

[But] I’d like to see Romney win the nomination, because he’s intelligent, competent, and has some decent moral instincts buried somewhere beneath a thick coat of pandering demagoguery. I just don’t see it happening.

Ezra Klein:

The passage of Obamacare is going to make life harder for Mitt Romney in 2012. Which makes the White House pretty happy. Romney isn’t the world’s most skilled politician, but he’s one of the more credible challengers Republicans can muster. If the passage of health-care reform wounds his candidacy without killing it off entirely, that’s a big win for the Obama administration: It means Romney takes up some, but not enough, of the sensible Republican vote, making it even likelier that someone totally unelectable wins the nomination…

The White House thinks that 2012 is where they can deal a serious blow to the Fox Newsification of the Republican Party. But that only works if someone from the Fox News wings of the party wins the nomination (and, of course, if Obama really trounces that person)

Jonathan Chait responds to Klein:

From Obama’s perspective, the crazier the Republican nominee, the better. Better Tim Pawlenty than Mitt Romney, and better Sarah Palin than Tim Pawlenty.

The broader liberal calculation is different. It’s almost certainly true that liberals will want Obama to win reelection. But we have to balance that desire against minimizing the downside in case he doesn’t.

Andrew Sullivan:

I’m sorry but he says he’s running against an all-powerful central government, but he backed the indefinite, open-ended, unlimited, “Double Gitmo!” executive powers seized by Bush and Cheney? He set up a mini-version of Obamacare and now wants to lead a party that wants to repeal Obamacare? Worse for him, Obama is now shrewdly embracing Romney…

And how do you get past the problem that no one likes him and no one rightly trusts him? And that he’s a Mormon running for the nomination of a Southern evangelical organization?

Palin is the one to beat. She’s the real identity of the current GOP – and as fake as the rest of them (though nowhere near as fake as Romney, but, then, who is?).

Meanwhile, David Harsanyi chips in from the Denver Post in a piece being promoted by the National Review (which has been notably quiet on this issue):

“Overall, ours is a model that works,” Romney explained. “We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution. Why is it that President Obama is stepping in and saying ‘one size fits all’ “?

Federalism is a good argument that has nothing to do with health care reform models, as Romney knows well. Here’s what he should have said years ago:

“Everyone makes mistakes. Heck, I made a huge one. My plan, first hijacked by state liberals and now copied by Barack Obama, has created a fiscal nightmare in my state… I am here to extract my name from that botched experiment by repealing its ugly stepson Obamacare so Americans work together to pass genuine, common sense, market-based reform.”

Then again, it is entirely possible Romney genuinely believes his health care model works.

In which case, his position just doesn’t cut it.

My two cents: Projections are inherently flawed – and long-term political projections are akin to predicting the weather in a particular days several years away: Sometimes, rules of thumb work (“March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb” to “Opposition parties do well in the first mid-terms after a presidential election.”), but you can’t count on them. Looking at the fundamentals is more important than looking at current trends. (“November is usually cold,” does better than “It’s gotten hotter in 5 successive days this April!”) But even projections based on the fundamentals don’t always hold.

As I read the fundamentals: Whether the Obama administration embraces Romney or not, I don’t see how he can win the Republican nomination for the reasons that Chait raised (when his Republicans opponents tar him with supporting Obamacare, it will stick) – added to the complications that Sullivan harps on (a Mormon running to lead an evangelical party). If Romney wins the Republican nomination, his flip-flopping on health care would only solidify the image of him as a pandering demagogue with no real principles. Still, he’s the Republican I’d most like to see win the nomination on the off-chance the Republicans are able to win in 2012. The fundamentals there look very weak for any Republican though unless unemployment is rising in 2012.

[Image by Paul Chenowith licensed under Creative Commons.]

Senator Lindsey Graham: Fiscal Chickenhawk

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

As I wrote earlier, Republicans are clearly rooting for a fiscal catastrophe. How else would a plan like Rep. Paul Ryan’s which increases taxes on 90% of Americans, cuts services for most Americans (while excluding the elderly and military, who happen to be 2 of the main Republican interests groups and beneficiaries of the status quo), and cuts taxes on the richest (who happen to be the 3rd main Republican interest group) have a chance of getting through?

It’s not clear the Graham himself – or any particular Republican – buys into this plan. But it is the clear result of the Republican strategy.

What is clear is that Graham – for all his talk of fiscal responsibility – proposes amending Obama’s health care plan to take out every revenue-generator, leaving a massive hole in the deficit.

Brent Bozell Deliberately Misleads His Readers!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Brent Bozell:

I have said many times that the greatest opposition to the Left can be found in conservative talk radio and every major conservative talk show host should concern himself, or herself, with what inevitably will be ferocious personal attacks…

It was only a matter of time before Sean Hannity would find himself with a big, fat target on his forehead, too. Now that he is set to launch his new book, Conservative Victory, the left is going out of its way to smear him

It’s time for conservatives to rally around this man. He is being attacked personally not just because he’s trying to do something good for our military, but because he’s got a message to tell America in this book, and the Left wants him stopped — by any means necessary. We cannot allow them to succeed with this campaign of character assassination. [my emphases]

I was curious as to what Hannity had been accused of – and Bozell didn’t think that either explaining that or providing a link to that would be relevant. He did include a link to a refutation of the charges which did link to the source of these allegations – namely that Sean Hannity “improperly benefited from [the charity] Freedom Alliance by charging private jets, hotel stays and luxury cars” and that the charity provided few benefits to the groups it was supposed to be benefiting, apparently children of fallen soldiers and injured soldiers.

Damn leftists, hating on soldiers!

But lo and behold the accuser is one Debbie Schlussel, “Conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist, and attorney.” A few isolated blog posts on the left have discussed this issue. Following the links provided by Bozell and other conservatives blaming the left for this, I found a 2006 NewHounds story criticizing the charity but not alleging any illegality, a Daily Kos story from 2007, a user post in True Slant from last week reporting on and evaluating Schlussel’s claims, and a Huffington Post news story documenting Schlussel’s allegations, a veterans’ group’s allegations regarding marketing practices of the charity, and a liberal watchdog’s allegations regarding the charity.

The substance of the liberal complaints seems to be that the organization promoted concerts saying “100%” of donations made to a scholarship fund would go to scholarships – but that they ask the donations be made to the broader organization, leaving a much smaller amount of money going to the scholarship fund than the advertisements suggest. These allegations were made some years ago.

Then Schlussel found them on her own and added a few allegations about impropriety by Sean Hannity – prompting a few liberal groups to make complaints.

In other words: A conservative attacked Sean Hannity and accused him of specific malfeasance. Some liberal groups have complaints about the organization’s marketing brought to light by the conservative’s complaints. Bozell asks his readers to rally against the left in defense of Sean Hannity.

In Bozell’s defense, misleading his readers is probably easier (and more effective) than trying to explain the issues and evaluate what’s going on, as this is how our politics now works: building coalitions based on ressentiment.

N.B. I sent a message to Bozell asking him for a comment – but he gave none.

Which Party Is More Wingnutty?

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Michelle Cottle in The New Republic:

As the economy recovers, the level of public anger and panic will fall. That’s just the way things work. But even in fat economic times, there remain plenty of angry, scared, even paranoid people around, and these people need a place to come together and be heard. For a while now, the Republican Party has tended to be that place. [my emphasis]

Cottle makes the argument that Sarah Palin should become the leader of the Tea Party – and she makes more of it than I would guess could be made.

But the above point both struck me as true – and as something controversial that I couldn’t back up by citing to any sources or surveys.

Judging the truth or falsity of this statement would in the end have to come down to the precise meaning of “For a while now…” Certainly since Obama has become president this would be true – as it is always true that people who are “angry, scared, even paranoid” tend to gravitate towards the opponents of those in power. But my impression is that the “angry, scared, even paranoid” tended to be on the right even during the Bush years – though their leftist equivalents increased in number during that time.

I would guess that many of those to my right would see the opposite however. I think the argument can be made convincingly that the wingnuts of the right are wackier and more numerous than the wingnuts of the left. I don’t remember anywhere near the levels of support for such extreme statements as these about President Bush for example. But how can one measure which party attracts more wingnuts overall?

Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.

Israel: Your American Tax Dollars At Work

Monday, March 29th, 2010

In the midst of a rather anodyne episode, this one shot reminded me of what makes/made The Simpsons so brilliant.

For all the talk recently of a breach of America’s special relationship with Israel and of how the Obama administration is putting unprecedented pressure on Israel and other such things, it’s worth remembering that our tax dollars are going paying a significant chunk of Israel’s national budget. America provides approximately 4% of Israel’s total budget (Source: Divide this number, $2.5 billion, by this number, total expenditures of $58.6 billion) including approximately 15% of the cost of the Israeli Defense Forces (Source: Divide this number, $2.34 billion, by this number, $13.3 billion.)

Obama has never threatened to reduce the amount of aid we are giving to Israel – despite the fact that we have been facing an economic crisis and Netanyahu has, rather than acting as a loyal ally, been undermining Obama’s foreign policy. Obama has made no move to undermine the strategic alliance America has had with Israel (right wing hysterics notwithstanding.)

But there is a junior partner in this relationship. It is insanity for Israel for any country to commit to unilateral support no matter the actions of the beneficiary of its aid. But, Netanyahu’s government has demonstrated a pattern of undermining important alliances: with Turkey (the publicly announced intention to humiliate Turkey’s ambassador to Israel), with the United Arab Emirates (by the assassination), with the United States (by snubbing the Vice President of the United States), and with Brazil (as the foreign minister boycotted a speech by President Lula.)  Fareed Zakaria concludes from this that Netanyahu “is actually not serious about the Iranian threat.”

If tackling the rise of Iran were his paramount concern, would he have allowed a collapse in relations with the United States, the country whose military, political, and economic help is indispensable in confronting this challenge? If taking on Iran were his central preoccupation, wouldn’t he have subordinated petty domestic considerations and done everything to bolster ties with the United States? Bibi likes to think of himself as Winston Churchill, warning the world of a gathering storm. But he should bear in mind that Churchill’s single obsession during the late 1930s was to strengthen his alliance with the United States, whatever the costs, concessions, and compromises he had to make.

In a smart piece of analysis in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Anshel Pfeffer, no fan of the Obama administration, writes, “When senior ministers or generals list Israel’s defense priorities, there is always one point on which there exists total consensus: The alliance with the United States as the nation’s greatest strategic asset, way above anything else. It is more crucial than the professionalism of the Israel Defense Forces, than the peace treaty with Egypt and even than the secret doomsday weapons that we may or may not have squirreled away somewhere…But [Netanyahu] has succeeded in one short year in power to plunge Israel’s essential relationship with the United States to unheard of depths.”

The Obama administration has reiterated again and again that it remains committed to America’s special relationship with Israel. As it should. Israel has a thriving economy, is one of the regional superpowers (the other being Iran), has historic ties to America, and shares many of our values. Throwing around charges of anti-Semitism as the right wing does in America and as Netanyahu and his associates have been alleged to do, is shameful.  As Barack Obama (whose introduction of a presidential Seder was profiled in the New York Times over the weekend), Andrew Sullivan, and J Street have all demonstrated to be pro-Israel is not to be pro-Likudnik:

There is a very honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel…Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the US pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation. But all I’m saying though is that actually ultimately should be our goal, to have that same clear eyed view about how we approach these issues.

This is precisely what we are lacking: An honest and forthright dialogue about our strategic interests and alliance.

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-03-26

Friday, March 26th, 2010
  • Eric Cantor: Douchebag. (Sometimes name-calling is justified.) http://bit.ly/9MzG64 #
  • Must-Reads of the week. http://2parse.com/?p=4960 #
  • We have something to fear from fear-mongering itself. Really important piece on our current political climate. http://bit.ly/9HRmTx #
  • It is absolutely despicable that this man who is pretending to be a moral leader is incapable of taking responsibility. http://bit.ly/cVFZEF #
  • Counter Surveillance Camera detects binoculars, cameras and rifle scopes pointing at you and even people staring. http://bit.ly/bho5Mk #
  • "This is known as Fermi's Lack-of-a-Paradox." http://www.xkcd.com/718/ #
  • What a signature looks like if you use 22 pens to make it. http://bit.ly/bHQiDM #
  • Republicans attempt to ram repeal down American people's throat in the face of overwhelming majority support for bill. http://bit.ly/df7Xi1 #
  • @oliviawilde Thanks for the tweet. :) Big fan of you on House… #
  • Two t-shirts worth investing in: (1) http://bit.ly/dmBM2L and (2) http://bit.ly/9eHzZg #
  • Worth a Thousand Words. http://2parse.com/?p=4929 #
  • B. Clinton: My only regret in creating 23 million new jobs is that 2 million of those jobs were for right-wing pundits. http://bit.ly/dD2DTx #
  • Obama’s Self-Interest Lies With the American People’s; the Republican Party’s Self-Interest Does Not. http://2parse.com/?p=4926 #
  • @SenJohnMcCain says: "There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year." 1. What about country first? 2. Who was cooperating as it was? #
  • The Unhinged Anger on the Right Leads to An Ill-Advised and Unhedged Bet Against Reform. http://2parse.com/?p=4916 #
  • @jimmiebjr If lying through yr teeth weren't allowed, wld Republicans really tell people they opposed the bill b/c they want Obama to fail? #
  • Watching This Week…Karl Rove really needs to be housebroken. Or maybe to stop doing all that coke before going on talk shows.. #
  • Freedom means not getting health care? – RT @ddjango: RT Freedom means not being forced into buying healthcare. @XtyMiller #

Powered by Twitter Tools

Must-Reads of the Week: Google/China, Liberal American Exceptionalism, The Failed War on Drugs, Defending the Individual Mandate, Counter Counter-Insurgency, Idiocrats, and Men Did It!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

1. Google v. China. I’ve refrained from posting on the Google v. China battle going on until now. So much of the praise for Google’s decision seemed overblown and I wasn’t sure what insight I had to offer, even as I read everything on the matter I could. But now, the wave of criticism of the company is pissing me off. I get the source of the criticism – that Google is so quickly criticizing other companies for staying in China after it left, and that Google’s partial exit may have made business as well as moral sense.  But motives are new pure – we’re human. Those who the critics accuse the company of merely using as a pretext for a business decision see the matter in other terms – according to Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese twitterverse is alight with words like ‘justice’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘milestone’ “ and condolence flowers and cups being sent to Google’s offices in China.

What the Google/China conflict highlights though is the strategic incompatibility of a tech company like Google and an authoritarian state like China. One of James Fallows’ readers explains why Google and China could never get along:

Internet search and analytics companies today have more access to high quality, real-time information about people, places and events, and more ability to filter, aggregate, and analyze it than any government agency, anywhere ever.  Maybe the NSA can encrypt it better and process it faster but it lacks ability to collect the high value data – the stuff that satellites can’t see.  The things people think but don’t say.  The things people do but don’t say.  All documented in excruciating detail, each event tagged with location, precise time.  Every word you type, every click you make (how many sites do you visit have google ads, or analytics?), Google is watching you – and learning.  It’s their business to.  This fact has yet to sink in on the general public in the US, but it has not gone un-noticed by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government wants unfettered access to all of that information.  Google, defending its long-term brand equity, cannot give its data to the Chinese government.  Baidu, on the other hand, would and does…

The reader goes on to explain how China would slow down and otherwise disrupt Google services in China enough to ensure that Baidu would keep it’s dominant position. This, he explains is:

…just another example of the PRC’s brilliant take on authoritarian government: you don’t need total control, you just need effective control. [my emphasis]

Which is why it is so important that a country like China have constant access to search engine data. In a passage deleted at some point in the editing process from a New York Times story (which an internal Times search reveals to be this one), it was reported that:

One Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that China now speaks of Internet freedom in the context of one of its “core interests” — issues of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core issues are Taiwan and Tibet. The addition of Internet freedom is an indication that the issue has taken on nationalistic overtones.

2. Liberal American Exceptionalism. Damon Linker of The New Republic responds to critics:

[T]he most distinctive and admirable of all [America's] qualities is our liberalism. Now let me be clear: unlike Lowry and Ponnuru, who identify American exceptionalism with the laissez-faire capitalism favored by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I do not mean to equate the ideology that dominates one of our country’s political parties with the nation’s exemplary essence. On the contrary, the liberalism I have singled out is embraced by nearly every member of both of our political parties—and indeed by nearly every American citizen. Liberalism in this sense is a form of government—one in which political rule is mediated by a series of institutions that seek to limit the powers of the state and maximize individual freedom: constitutional government, an independent judiciary, multiparty elections, universal suffrage, a free press, civilian control of the military and police, a large middle class, a developed consumer economy, and rights to free assembly and worship. To be a liberal in this primary sense is to favor a political order with these institutions and to abide by the political rules they establish.

3. The War on Drugs Is Doomed. Mary Anastacia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal echoes me saying: The War on Drugs is Doomed. (My previous posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

4. Defending the Individual Mandate. Ezra Klein explains why the individual mandate is actually a really good deal for American citizens:

The irony of the mandate is that it’s been presented as a terribly onerous tax on decent, hardworking people who don’t want to purchase insurance. In reality, it’s the best deal in the bill: A cynical consumer would be smart to pay the modest penalty rather than pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance. In the current system, that’s a bad idea because insurers won’t let them buy insurance if they get sick later. In the reformed system, there’s no consequence for that behavior. You could pay the penalty for five years and then buy insurance the day you felt a lump.

Klein also had this near-perfect post on our unhinged debate on health care reform and added his take to the projections of Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen on how health care law will evolve in the aftermath of this legislation.

5. Counter-Counter-Insurgency. Marc Lynch describes a document he recently unearthed which he calls AQ-Iraq’s Counter Counter-insurgency plan. Lynch describes the document as “pragmatic and analytical rather than bombastic, surprisingly frank about what went wrong, and alarmingly creative about the Iraqi jihad’s way forward.”

6. Idiocrats Won’t Change. Brendan Nyhan counters a point I (along with many other supporters of the health care bill) have been making (here and here for example) – that once the bill passes, the misperceptions about it will be corrected by reality. I fear he may be right, but I believe it will change opinions on the margins soon and more so over time.

7. Theories of the Financial Crisis: Men Did It. Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at one theory of the financial crisis some experts have been pushing: testosterone and men.

Another study Dreber has in the works will look at the effects of the hormones in the birth-control pill on women, because women having their periods have been shown to act more like men in terms of risk-taking behavior. “When I present that in seminars, I say men are like women menstruating,” she says, laughing…

Positioning himself as a sort of endocrine whisperer of the financial system, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, “I don’t think you’d see the volatile swings that we’re seeing.” Bubbles, he believes, may be “a male phenomenon.”

His colleague, neuroscientist Joe Herbert, agrees. “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way,” he says. “Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

A very interesting thesis. And one that strikes me as broadly true. I previously explored other theories of what caused the financial crisis:

[Image by me.]

This Week With Christiane Amanpour

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Max Fisher in The Atlantic describes Christiane Amanpour as an ideal candidate to host This Week. He has me convinced:

Beltway pundits tend to emphasize Beltway concerns, like electoral campaigns and private scandals and colorful personalities.

Foreign reporters’ great strength, however, is their ability to see politics not as theater but as an extension of cultural, social, and economic forces. If Amanpour brings this approach to This Week, it would be more than just a breath of fresh air in the homogeneous Sunday line-up.

Some questioned her ability to be a tough interviewer for the seasoned Washington pols who would appear on her show. It seems a silly objection, especially considering this nugget Fisher pulled out of a recent New York Times article:

Reflecting on her interviews with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whose reign is considered one of the world’s most brutal since World War II, Amanpour recently quipped, “He would slap you on the back, offer you a drink. He tried to be charming. But many of them do. You have to be on your guard.” Surely she can handle John Boehner.

[Image by Witness.org licensed under Creative Commons.]

Our Unhinged Debate on Health Care Reform (cont.)

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Ezra Klein:

I don’t want to exaggerate the importance of the death threats being made against congressmen who voted for health-care reform. Nuts are nuts. But there is a danger to the sort of rhetoric the GOP has used over the past few months. When Rep. Devin Nunes begs his colleagues to say “no to socialism, no to totalitarianism and no to this bill”; when Glenn Beck says the bill “is the end of America as you know it”; when Sarah Palin says the bill has “death panels” — that stuff matters.

I remember listening to the debate the night the House passed the Senate bill and the reconciliation fixes. There are a lot of critiques I could imagine folks on the right making of the legislation. “Regulations to define a minimum insurance benefit will impede innovation in low-deductible plans.” “Congress doesn’t have the will to stick to the cost savings, and until they prove able to do so, we can’t pass a new health-care entitlement.” “The health-care system is broken, and adding a new benefit doesn’t make sense outside the context of radical reform, as it will just create a new set of stakeholders who will resist the necessary changes.”

But totalitarianism? Death panels? The end of America as we know it? These critiques aren’t just wrong in their description of a cautious, compromised reform that uses private insurers and spends only 4 percent of what we spend on health care in an average year. They’re shocking in terms of what the speakers believe their colleagues and representatives are willing to do to the American people.

Read the whole thing. This type of post is what makes Ezra Klein a great blogger and a must-read.

Liberalism and the Punishments of the Free Market

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Jonathan Chait riffing off of Representative Paul Ryan:

Liberals do not believe in equality of outcome in most spheres of life. There are myriad punishments for the losers of the free market that liberals can accept: less money, less vacation time, lower social status, more uncomfortable, dangerous, or physically draining work. But the denial of medical treatment should not be among those punishments.