Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Drum’

Must-Reads of the Week: Obama’s Accomplishments and Diplomatic Brand, Facebook, Epistemic Closure, Financial Reform, Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis and Problem-Solving Capacity, and Mike Allen

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

1. Obama’s Accomplishments. Jonathan Bernstein explains how Obama has gotten so many of his legislative goals accomplished despite the GOP’s constant obstructionism: By loading up the major bills with many other smaller items. In fact, according to PolitiFact, Obama has accomplished almost a third of his campaign promises if compromises count (and a fifth if they don’t).

2. Facebook v. Google. Ian Schafer in the Advertising Age has a smart take on Facebook’s recent challenge to Google and how Facebook is trying to reorganize the web.

3. Epistemic Closure. Julian Sanchez follows up on his starting post on the epistemic closure of the right wing. Every single link he provides in the article is worth following as the conversation he started extended across many people and was full of insights all around.

4. Obama’s Diplomatic Brand. Marc Ambinder has an excellent post on “the essence of Obama’s diplomatic brand.” While Ambinder acknowledges it’s too early to assess how effective Obama’s diplomacy will be and has been, he does a good job of describing it — and little wonder it bears little resemblance to the weak, anti-American apologizing that the right sees as Obama’s trademark. Ambinder lists a few qualities, but let me focus on one:

Bush assumed a position of direct strength, not deference, when he met with leaders. Obama has been decidedly deferential, which, in the traditional binary way the media covers foreign policy, allegedly suggests weakness. From Obama’s perspective, deference is both strategic and is demanded by the goals he sets out. Treating countries as equals foists certain obligations upon them. It helps leaders deal with internal politics. Year one, Obama was the star, and wasn’t seen as a heavyweight, even by some allies. Year two is different: he’s charted a course on legacy problems (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace), so the world knows where he stands.

5. How Financial Reform is Playing. There was some disagreement around the opinionosphere about how financial reform is “playing.” Initially, there was concern that the Republicans would once again follow their tried and true strategy of: Make up stuff that’s really awful — and pretend the bill is about that. There was concern that the Obama administration didn’t have a plan for this contingency, presuming that Republicans would crack under public pressure. And then, the SEC filed suit against Goldman and Blanche Lincoln (who was expected to water down the bill) adopted the strongest language we’ve seen and the Republicans seem to be breaking ranks over this with Bob Corker critizing McConnell’s lies and Chuck Grassley voting for the bill in committee. Kevin Drum suggests McConnell crossed some line of absurdity:

[I]t turns out there really is a limit to just how baldly you can lie and get away with it…[W]e seem to have reached a limit of some kind, and McConnell crossed it. Maybe we should name this the McConnell Line or something so that we know when future politicians have crossed it.

I tend to think Matt Yglesias is more right when he observed:

This time around, though, it doesn’t seem to be working nearly as well, perhaps because people realize we’ve seen this movie before.

6. Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis. Jonathan Chait observes what may prove to be a fatal flaw in the political strategy of the GOP on fiscal matters if they authentically do support a smaller government:

Distrust of government makes Americans distrust everything people in governemnt say or do, including cut spending, which — with the exception of a few programs seen to help “others,” like welfare and foreign aid — tends to be wildly unpopular.

Their current strategy has been to provoke a fiscal catastrophe and cut government spending in the aftermath. But Chait suggests that this strategy of starve-the-beast governance may not work. On a related note, William Galston has an astutely even-handed piece describing the fiscal problems we are facing and what the solution must realistically be. He quotes Donald B. Marron in National Affairs who explains an idea that is antithetical to ideological right wingers:

Policymakers should not always assume that a larger government will necessarily translate into weaker economic performance. As few years ago, Peter Lindert—an economist at the University of California, Davis—looked across countries and across time in an effort to answer the question, “Is the welfare state a free lunch?” He found that countries with high levels of government spending did not perform any worse, economically speaking, than countries with low levels of government spending. The result was surprising, given the usual intuition that a larger government would levy higher taxes and engage in more income redistribution—both of which would undermine economic growth.

Lindert found that the reason for this apparent paradox is that countries with large welfare states try to minimize the extent to which government actions undermine the economy. Thus, high-budget nations tend to adopt more efficient tax system—with flatter rates and a greater reliance on consumption taxes—than do countries with lower budget. High-budget countries also adopt more efficient benefits systems—taking care, for example, to minimize the degree to which subsidy programs discourage beneficiaries from working.”

Right wingers rarely acknowledge this even as they oppose measures that would improve the efficiency of government (like the VAT). They simply call it “European-style socialism” and move on with addressing why on the substance more efficient government measures shouldn’t be adopted.

7. Our Problem-Solving Capacity. Stephen Walt has a very long and very, very good post that attempts to balance optimism (global violence is at historic lows!) with some pessimism:

One way to think about the current state of world politics is as a ratio of the number of important problems to be solved and our overall “problem-solving capacity.” When the ratio of “emerging problems” to “problem-solving capacity” rises, challenges pile up faster than we can deal with them and we end up neglecting some important issues and mishandling others.  Something of this sort happened during the 1930s, for example, when a fatal combination of global economic depression, aggressive dictatorships, inadequate institutions, declining empires, and incomplete knowledge overwhelmed leaders around the world and led to a devastating world war…

[Today] Washington D.C. has become synonymous with the term “gridlock,” leading the Economist magazine to describe the U.S.  political system as “a study in paralysis.” Obama did get a health care reform package through, but it still took an enormous effort to pass a watered-down bill that pandered to insurance companies and other well-funded special interests. Meanwhile, decisive action to address climate change, the persistent U.S. budget deficit, or financial sector reform remain elusive, and it’s going to get a lot tougher if the GOP makes big gains in the 2010 midterms. Nor is it reassuring to realize that the Republican Party seems to be taking its marching orders from two entertainers — Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — the latter of whom has made it clear that he’s interested in making money and doesn’t really care about public affairs at all…

Nor is this problem confined to the United States. Japan’s ossified political order remains incapable of either decisive action or meaningful reform; the Berlusconi-government in Italy is an exercise inopera bouffe rather than responsible leadership, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s early flurry of reform efforts have stalled and Mexico remains beset by drug-fueled violence and endemic corruption. Britan’s ruling Labor Party is a spent force, but the rival Conservatives do not present a very appealing alternative and may even lose an election that once seemed in the bag. And so on.

There are some countries where decision leadership is not lacking, of course, such as China (at one end of the size scale) and Dubai (at the other). Yet in both these cases, a lack of genuine democratic accountability creates the opposite problem. These government can act quickly and launch (overly?) ambitious long-term plans, but they are also more likely to make big mistakes that are difficult to correct them in time…

In short, what I am suggesting is that our inability to cope with a rising number of global challenges is not due to a lack of knowledge or insufficient resources, but rather to the inability of existingpolitical institutions to address these problems in a timely and appropriate way.

8. Mike Allen. Mark Leibovitch in the New York Times Magazine has an excellent profile of Mike Allen of Politico and how that organization is changing the news business by covering it like some combination of ESPN and Facebook’s feed of data on the activity of your friends. As a character study, it succeeds given Mike Allen’s unique personality — and as a look at the changing media landscape in politics, it succeeds in raising many questions about where we’re headed. Marc Ambinder responds.

[Image by me.]

Hillary Mis-Speaks Again!!!

Monday, October 19th, 2009

You have to wonder who’s pushing this story. It reads like a political attack by some opponent trying to undermine Clinton – as the facts are stretched so much to get the necessary spin – but she has positioned herself so masterfully over these past months that it’s hard to figure out who might stand to benefit from taking her down a peg.

In this case, Clinton mentioned during a speech to the Stormont parliament that when she stayed at Belfast’s famous (and famously bombed many times) Europa Hotel, “there were sections boarded up because of damage from bombs.” According to research by David Sharrok of the Times of London, this couldn’t have been true as the last reconstruction after a bomb blast at the Europa occurred almost two years before the Clintons arrived. The Clintons first visit to Belfast came just over a year after the ceasefire by the IRA. But while the Bosnia sniper incident could be seen as boosting her own political clout and experience, this seems far more innocent. I would presume she could have easily seen other buildings around Belfast boarded up from bomb blasts, and almost 15 years after the trip confused this detail. For a similar reason, I also never made a big deal of the sniper incident, though I think the controversy over that, while legitimate was exaggerated beyond reason. For this story to get any play at all – let alone to be featured as a major story by the Drudge Report – demonstrates how stupid our media culture can be.

It’s also interesting to see this story pop up shortly after the White House seemed to have fully embraced her, as Jon Heileman reported:

[A]lthough the president himself and Emanuel never had much doubt that she could be a team player, many others in the Obamasphere were supremely skeptical. But no longer. “In terms of loyalty, discretion, and collegiality,” says a senior White House official, “she’s been everything we could have asked or hoped for.”

H/t Kevin Drum who adds his own interesting take – which I wholeheartedly agree with.

[Image by Juska Wendland licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Lessons of 1993/1994 (cont.)

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Usually I try to contextualize a writer – for example by saying what publication they write for. Other times, I presume the name conveys enough. But I don’t know Sean Trende from Adam. However, he has an interesting column published in Real Clear Politics about what he calls the “myth circulating in the blogosphere and the punditry.” (He gives Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, and Senator Jim DeMint as examples; I also made this point.) He says this myth is “threatening the Democrats’ majorities.” He describes it:

It goes like this: In 1994, Democrats failed to pass a healthcare bill, and they lost their majorities. Ergo, if Democrats fail to pass a healthcare bill in 2009, they will be at serious risk of losing their majorities in 2010, so to save their majorities, they should make certain above all else to get something passed.

He parses through the data – read his column for the figures – and concludes:

In other words, the problem for Democrats in 1994 was not that they didn’t support Clinton’s agenda enough. It was that they got too far out in front of their conservative-leaning districts and supported the President too much.

Overall, I found his piece rather persuasive – as Trende styles himself a poor man’s Nate Silver – at least on the narrow question of whether or not a Democrat in a right-leaning district would be hurt by rejecting any controversial measure pushed by Obama. But what he doesn’t deal with is the counterfactual – as there isn’t the data available in the set he is looking for to take this on. (Reading a bit more of Trende, it also seems he isn’t that sympathetic to health care reform or the Democrats – making his adopted pose of concern that a “myth” is “threatening” the Democrats’ power in Washington a bit grating.)  While it’s true that Democrats in right-leaning districts might save their seats by opposing cap-and-trade legislation, the stimulus, and health care reform, the party as a whole will undoubtedly suffer from their failure to advance the issues they were most passionate campaigning on.

Kevin Drum – in a post which is overall worth reading about why he is optimistic about reform – makes this persuasive counterpoint:

[I]f they [the Democrats] cave in to the loons and demonstrate that their convictions were weak all along — they’re probably doomed next year.  Their only hope is to pass a bill and look like winners who get things done.

This is exactly the counterfactual that Trende doesn’t address – and it was the fear of Bill Kristol and many other Republicans in 1994 that this is exactly what would happen if the Democrats passed a successful health care reform. It clearly seems to be the fear many Republican leaders are feeling now – as they seem determined to resist any pressure to work towards a bill they can accept in favor of simply continuing with the unsustainable status quo.

Bringing Back the Fairness Doctrine

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Marin Cogan in an investigative piece in The New Republic has trouble finding any media-reform liberals or Democrats who are actually want to bring the Fairness Doctrine back or are trying to do so.

As Kevin Drum points out at The Washington Monthly:

Given the collapse of the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes, folks like Limbaugh and Michael Gerson have to create a rallying cry, and there’s no better way to whip up the Republican base than to make far-right activists feel like victims. “Liberals are coming to take away your talk radio!” is, obviously, pretty effective.

At the same time, a conservative effort is underway to label legislation protecting net neutrality (which prevents the internet from being structured to favor certain sites over others and was one of the founding principles of the internet) a “Fairness Doctrine for the Internet,” which may be the only chance the big corporations who oppose net neutrality have to stop it – as Adam Reilly of The Boston Phoenix pointed out, citing me.

It seems the Fairness Doctrine is one of the key components conservatives will be using to keep their partisan backs up in the coming lean years – as well as being a potential fundraising tool.