31 December 2010

Year in review

This will be our 87th and final post of 2010.

The story of the year is, without a doubt, the Republican takeover of the House and the near-takeover of the Senate. We warned against the Republicans reading the election results as a mandate and instead termed it a "revolt." We lamented the exit of Russ Feingold, the last great civil liberties crusader.

We officially discarded our John McCain Fan Club cards.

We applauded the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission.

In case there was any doubt that President Obama's policies are largely an extension of the Bush administration's, it was erased with this astonishing theory of executive power. While we slammed his abhorrent conception of the state secrets privilege, we gave a thumbs-up to START. We tried to crystallize our thoughts on Iraq -- still a work in progress.

It seems like ages ago, but healthcare reform -- if you want to call it that -- passed back in February. Our thoughts in opposition here. On Memorial Day, Israel killed 19 civilians aboard a tiny ship floating toward Gaza. A month earlier, we had begun to unpack our instincts as to why Israel isn't entitled to unbridled deference from the U.S. government.

We eviscerated Elana Kagan, Arlen Specter, Mitt Romney, Charlie Crist, Chris Dodd, Glenn Beck, and of course, Sarah Palin.

I've begun to long for the 1995-1998 period, when a Republican Congress teamed with a centrist Democratic president to comprehensively reform welfare, make markets freer, cut the size of the federal bureaucracy and balance the budget. Will Obama follow President Clinton's lead? Or will he and the GOP back into their respective corners and continue the food fight that consumed most of 2009 and virtually all of 2010?

Here's to finding out in 2011.

20 December 2010

Why Republicans are wrong on START

Virtually every high-profile congressional Republican has come out against the New START treaty, which will reduce the arms arsenals of both the U.S. and Russia and most critically, put into place a verification regime to track Russian nuclear material -- which has been completely unaccounted for since the end of the Cold War.

Led by Arizona's John Kyl, many conservatives have announced their opposition to the treaty. Never mind that if it was 2007 and President Bush had negotiated its terms, New START would have the support of virtually the entire Republican caucus.

Mitt Romney's position is particularly offensive. Daniel Larison pounds him here. But what I'm most interested in addressing is Romney's laughable comparison of our current missile defense system to President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.

Romney's position -- no doubt, culled from Kyl and others -- is that we cannot give up our missile defense shields throughout Europe, simply because President Reagan refused to budge on SDI in 1985. In 1985, SDI was merely a glimmer in Reagan's eye, but he instructed Defense officials to move forward on trying to create a defense shield that could shoot down Soviet missiles from outer space.

But it's important to realize why Reagan refused to give up SDI -- because it's something Romney, Kyl and the rest of the conservative national security apparatus appears to completely miss: Reagan didn't budge on SDI because missile defense is in and of itself inherently sacrosanct; rather, Reagan didn't budge because he knew that the Soviets didn't have the technology. The tone of Gorbachev's negotiating style at Reykjavik -- initially making enormous concessions, and closing with a sly caveat that all Reagan had to do in order to secure these obligations from the Soviet government was to promise to abandon SDI -- indicated to Reagan that the Soviets were stunned by the concept of a space shield. When Gorbachev demanded he scrap SDI, Reagan famously walked out.

Comparing START in 1985 to New START in 2010, it is obvious that the Russians have the exact same technology as the U.S. Reagan was unwilling to halt SDI because he knew that America had a critical technological advantage; 25 years later, SDI has been consigned to the ash heap, and what is at issue is a missile defense shield of the same type that the Russians already possess.

Ronald Reagan was abhorred by sophisticated weaponry and believed that the biblical prophecy of Armageddon would eventually come about as a result of a nuclear arms race. Once you actually take the time to read about Reagan, it's impossible to overstate how frightened he was of nuclear weapons. Deep into my third book on Reagan, I am convinced that the Gipper would have supported New START.

It seems that Reagan's longtime Secretary State agrees. In this Washington Post op-ed -- co-authored by Jim Baker (Reagan's chief of Staff and President George H.W. Bush's Secretary of State), Lawrence Eagleburger (a longtime Reagan and Bush State Department official, who briefly served as Bush's Secretary of State after Baker's resignation), and the incomparable Colin Powell (who also served under both Reagan and Bush) -- George Shultz sets out what he calls the Republican case for START.

Romney, et al. seem to only invoke Reagan when it's convenient for them.

Much like the tax cut debate and the deficit reduction commission's recommendations, the question is not whether New START is a perfect treaty, because by that lofty standard, virtually nothing is worth voting for. Rather, the proper question is whether New START will make us more secure and whether it is preferable to doing nothing.

The answer is an obvious yes.

15 December 2010

Does Gary Johnson know better?

The 2012 dark horse and libertarian favorite comes out against the bipartisan tax cut extension because -- wait for it -- the Bush tax cuts aren't made permanent.

Not because it would add to the short-term deficit. Not because the unemployment benefits aren't being paid for.

I really hope the former governor of New Mexico knows better.

Johnson said that Americans sent a message last month that the problem is government spending, not government revenues. Ostensibly, Johnson believes that Congress will be happy to find a trillion dollars to cut somewhere in the federal budget.

I'm sorry, but this is fundamentally stupid position as we've pointed out innumerable times before in this space. If the Bush tax cuts expire, taxes will go back to Clinton-era levels -- during which America enjoyed years of balanced budgets and the largest peacetime boom in history. I'm genuinely confused as to what is so objectionable about this.

I suppose I'm a realist in this regard. Even the greatest president of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan, wasn't able to engineer balanced budgets -- and in fact, doubled the size of the national debt in eight years -- by cutting taxes and crusading against wasteful spending. While Reagan certainly transformed the way most Americans view the regulatory apparatus of government -- and arguably set the table for the Clinton-era reforms that slashed the federal bureaucracy by 20 percent -- the cuts in spending (again, largely discretionary) weren't nearly enough to offset the massive cuts to federal revenues.

The "starve the beast" theory many conservatives hold -- which argues that Congress will necessarily cut spending if lower tax rates force it to tighten its belt -- has been proven false time and again. Anyone who argues to the contrary has spent the last 30 years with his head up his ass. This has never happened, period. Most legislators are focused on the near-term, and it's much more politically palatable to both cut taxes (or at least, prevent tax rates from going up) and not cutting anything of substance, or, more critically, adding new programs without paying for them.

Furthermore, as we've noted in this space, many conservatives' unyielding fight to protect the Pentagon's wasteful, bloated budgets -- which are now nearly triple 2003 levels -- gives them little to no credibility on fiscal issues.

Back to Gary Johnson: I get it. I don't want taxes to go up either, especially during the early stages of a fragile economic recovery. But anyone who argues that tax rates -- which have literally never been lower -- can't go up on anyone is fundamentally ignorant about the size and scope of our long-term fiscal issues and blind to the way Congress operates.

10 December 2010

Reflections on Rudy

Daniel Larison contemplates a Gary Johnson primary bid in 2012 and assesses whether an apt comparison is Rudy Guiliani in 2008. Larison notes that both men are pro-choice, which in any Republican primary, is a tough road to travel. More critically, here's what doomed Rudy:

First, Guiliani built his entire candidacy around the fact that he happened to be the Mayor of New York City during a catastrophic terrorist attack. While the country appreciates Rudy's leadership, that didn't automatically qualify him to be president. Second, he wasted his frontrunner status by ignoring the first three primaries and instead focusing all his energy in Florida. McCain's victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, plus Huckabee's victory in Iowa and near-miss in South Carolina, swung many millions of Republicans toward one of those two candidates. Each of McCain and Huckabee made a compelling case for his presidency to either one side of the party or the other. Third, McCain's voting record and quixotic blend of economic conservatism and -- at the time -- western libertarianism -- captured the vast majority of Republican moderates. Even when his campaign was nearly bankrupt, McCain hit the pavement and the town hall circuit making the case for his candidacy. Rudy stayed home, and those (like me) who wanted a more moderate Republican nominee ended up falling in line behind McCain. Fourth, it's tough to build one's candidacy around being tough on terror when, again, the primary opponent is John McCain.

So what can Johnson learn from Rudy's mistakes? First, start campaigning NOW. It's a fool's errand to pin one's hopes on a primary further down the line and allow opponents to gain press coverage, supporters and money. Johnson needs to shoot for a top-four finish in Iowa and then angle for a top-two finish in New Hampshire. Second, don't become a caricature. Joe Biden noted that every sentence Rudy utters includes "a noun, a verb and 9/11." Guiliani, the only real social liberal in the Republican field, apparently believed he had to tack hard to the right on everything else, and he came off as inauthentic. In 2012, I suspect a third way may be more popular than it was in 2008. Third, explain to GOP voters that while you might be personally pro-choice, your view of constitutional jurisprudence is the same, so there would be no difference in the judges you'd appoint. Fourth, and most critically, begin to line up endorsements from the likes of Ron and Rand Paul. Ron, in particular, has suggested he won't run if his friend Johnson does in 2012.

Will Gary Johnson be the Republican nominee in 2012? Probably not. But his candidacy would be a blast to watch, and I think he would make a terrific president.

07 December 2010

Compromise kudos

An "attaboy" to President Obama and congressional Republicans for agreeing on the framework of a deal that will both extend the Bush tax cuts for an additional 2 years, and extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months.

Liberals are -- somewhat understandably -- upset by what they believe to be Obama's capitulation to the GOP on the tax cut issue. To be fair to our liberal friends, Obama ran on the premise that he would support a middle class tax cut but that he would strongly oppose any extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Some Democrats -- namely, Chuck Schumer and Anthony Weiner -- wanted Obama to frame the debate in a different way. Instead of allowing Republicans to -- correctly -- argue that hundreds of thousands of small businesses who file as S-corporations would see a tax hike at the end of the calendar year, Weiner wanted to exempt all small businesses from the hike and instead target the tax increases at individuals. SImilarly, Schumer suggested that the debate be framed as a "millionaire's tax" -- that is, if you make less than a million dollars, you'll keep your rate under the Bush tax cuts. Both the Schumer and Weiner ideas would have, admittedly, been savvy political maneuvers that would probably have won both the left and the middle -- but it's not clear that Obama would have been able to extend unemployment benefits by January 1.

And, with Republicans threatening to hold up unemployment benefits unless tax cuts were extended across the board, I'm guessing the president felt his hand was forced.

He certainly looked defeated during his press conference yesterday afternoon.

(By the way, can these things even be called "press conferences"? It seems that Obama is even slipperier than George W. Bush when it comes to taking reporters' questions. When was the last Barack Obama press conference, anyway? 2005?)

By engineering this deal -- which is, I think, a straight-down-the-middle compromise -- the president avoided a major fight and secured the extension of unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months. With the unemployment rate sitting at 9.8%, this was no small feat. Unemployment benefits, as has been astutely noted, are almost always pumped dollar-for-dollar back into the local economy for necessaries such as food, clothing and housing, so there is at least a modest stimulative effect to such an extension.

On the other hand, it would have been an abysmally terrible idea to impose a tax increase as our country continues its slow climb out of a recession. I'm not sure what liberal Democrats who pushed for across-the-board tax increases think will happen if hundreds of thousands of small businesses see tens of thousands of additional dollars go out the door in taxes. THEY STOP HIRING! AND THEY FIRE PEOPLE!

One final word: Republicans cannot expect to be taken seriously as the party of fiscal responsibility if, in two years, they argue for a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts. I wanted to address this in a future post, but it bears mentioning now. There is an implicit argument made by conservatives that if taxes go up -- for anyone -- then the economy will immediately fall into a recession. But that certainly didn't happen during the Clinton presidency, when taxes on the top 5% of wage-earners rose from 36% to 39.5% -- instead of a recession, America enjoyed the longest peacetime economic boom in history. And yes, those tax increases set the table for a series of balanced budgets that were promptly obliterated by Bush and the Republican-controlled Congresses of 2001-2006.

01 December 2010

Scarborough annihilates Palin

My favorite conservative goes after my least-favorite. I love it.

The column is absolutely a must-read, and simply recapping or doing a large-scale copy-and-paste job won't do it justice. Just go read the thing.

We've slammed Palin's ignorant, hysterical, faux-folksly, patronizing brand of anti-intellectual populism here many times before. I was content to just let sleeping dogs lie.

But like Scarborough, Palin crossed a line for me when she referred to President Reagan -- the greatest president of the 20th century and the intellectual figurehead of the conservative movement -- as "an actor." He wasn't just "an actor." He was the president of the Screen Actors' Guild for six years. He spent eight years after that as GE's ombudsman, traveling the lecture circuit and meeting with tens of thousands of employees. He not only served out an entire full term as California's governor (gasp! A full term!), but ran for a second and was re-elected easily. He nearly took down an incumbent president in the 1976 presidential primary, and outperformed a stellar, crowded field of candidates to earn the 1980 nomination and, of course, become the 40th President of the United States. While so doing, Reagan invented modern conservatism and turned American politics on its head for the first time since the New Deal. He created the modern conservative movement.

For any Republican to criticize Reagan for anything other than the deficit or Iran-Contra is an unforgivable sin, and to dismiss this great man as an "actor" is offensive.

Palin also attacked George H.W. and Barbara Bush as "blue bloods." As Scarborough notes, this also is absurd, considering the former president voluntarily enlisted in the military shortly after his 18th birthday, and spent his entire adult life dedicated to the service of his country. He is a man of grace and integrity from whom a know-nothing like Palin has much to learn. For Palin to attack good and decent people like the Bushes is inexcusable, petty and unbecoming.

Palin's recent remarks are further evidence that she is nothing more than a cartoon, spitting tinny, cliched lines at crowds she doesn't really understand, singlehandedly furthering the intellectual decline of modern conservatism, and feebly attempting -- and failing -- to burnish her own laughably thin resume by taking shots at two of America's greatest leaders.

Sarah Palin is a disgrace.

30 November 2010

Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell

I always considered the John McCain, circa 2006, position on DADT to be the correct one -- whether gays and lesbians are allowed to openly serve in the military is a decision that is best left to military commanders. When Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks ruled the Pentagon, perhaps DADT was the right policy. But now that Robert Gates and Mike Mullen are in charge, I'm not quite sure why a repeal of the law is so objectionable.

Most of the GOP thinks that homosexuality is morally repugnant, and I agree -- but to craft public policy -- especially policies that could have a profound effect on national security -- around this belief strikes me as irresponsible and short-sighted. Much like the conservative argument against gay marriage, I have yet to hear a single conservative articulate a compelling secular purpose for preventing gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

Barry Goldwater, one of the heroes of this site who rightfully earned the name "Mr. Conservative," was so abhorred by the Moral Majority crowd that his parting wisdom to the GOP was largely a warning to keep the moralizers like Tony Perkins and Pat Robertson at arm's length. He spent his last years in a constant battle with a Republican Party that he believed had been co-opted by these zealots. Ronald Reagan was famously ambivalent about dealing with homosexuality in public policy, and specifically rejected an anti-gay plank from the GOP platform in 1980. These are the two greatest conservative leaders in history, and any reasonable reading of their records would indicate that they would support a repeal of DADT -- or at the very least, wouldn't care one way or the other.

Why then is it the "conservative" position to support DADT -- or even stiffer policies?

If the military brass says a repeal is necessary -- and Gates and Adm. Mullen do -- then why shouldn't the law be repealed?

For further support of a DADT repeal, the Washington Post reports:

"According to a survey sent to 400,000 service members, 69 percent of those responding reported that they had served with someone in their unit who they believed to be gay or lesbian. Of those who did, 92 percent stated that their unit's ability to work together was very good, good, or neither good nor poor, according to the sources. Combat units reported similar responses, with 89 percent of Army combat units and 84 percent of Marine combat units saying they had good or neutral experiences working with gays and lesbians."

Like Goldwater, I continue to be confounded by the necessity of singling out homosexuals with respect to public policy. I fail to understand how this is the "conservative" thing to do, and continue to wait for an articulate conservative to make the case against DADT repeal.

I think I'll be waiting awhile.

29 November 2010

Why we rip Republicans

I'm a conservative. I believe Ronald Reagan was the greatest president since Lincoln. I believe Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson were two of the worst. I believe that President Obama deserved the rebuke he received at the ballot box several weeks ago.

My frequent, often searing, critiques of the Republican Party are much different than that which might be found at liberal blogs like the Daily Kos or Huffington Post. Rather, I agree with the fundamental underpinnings of conservatism as espoused by Edmund Burke, William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan -- limited government, individual liberty and the importance of existing institutions in providing stability and order.

My issues with the Republican Party, therefore, are not ideological in nature, but rather rhetoric- and policy-based. My criticisms often arise out of things that I believe the GOP does, or stands for, that are fundamentally un-conservative. For instance:

The Gang of 14. In 2005, the Senate was poised for a monumental showdown over a handful of President Bush's judicial nominees whom the Democrats had threatened to filibuster. Senate Democrats threatened the filibuster; Senate Republicans (the majority party at the time) threatened to change the rules and thereby eliminate the 200-year-old filibuster in its entirety. This made no sense and was as fundamentally abhorrent to ideological conservatism as anything one can imagine. Thankfully, a bipartisan group of 14 senators, led by John McCain and Robert Byrd, struck an agreement whereby the Democrats would vote to invoke cloture on three of the 11 nominees, and the Republicans would vote against the rule change. Crisis averted. McCain, et al. were slammed hysterically by right-wing bloggers and talk radio hosts for being insufficiently partisan. Never mind that engineering a rule change for purely political gain is one of the most fundamentally radical things a Senate could ever think to do.

Neoconservatism. As Pat Buchanan pointed out in his excellent book, Where the Right Went Wrong (published in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq), conservatism historically eschewed a radical, interventionist foreign policy. While Ronald Reagan was a strident anti-communist, the Reagan White House believed in containment and only intervened militarily when democratic governments were in danger of falling to pro-communist forces (e.g., Nicaragua). By contrast, the 21st century neoconservative cabal -- Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, et al. -- views the American military as the world's policeman, with many prominent "conservative" leaders now pushing for attacks on Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities. Neoconservatives have adopted the dogma of the Bush Doctrine, a silly black-and-white post-9/11 enunciation that the United States has the authority to attack any country that isn't fully and completely compliant with the anti-terrorism dictates of the imperial American presidency. In many cases -- especially with respect to the American Enterprise Institute and AIPAC -- the unabashedly pro-Israel bent of many American think tanks inform their foreign policy stances, arguably, to the detriment of the United States abroad.

Tort reform. In 2004, President Bush came to my backyard in Madison County, Illinois, and argued for a federal tort reform bill that would place caps on damages in medical malpractice suits. This policy is supported by virtually every Republican at the national level and, shockingly, by many Democrats. Despite the fact that 28 states now have some form of "tort reform" on the books, and despite the fact that verdicts and settlements have gone down over the past 20 years, malpractice premiums continue to rise. Instead of regulating the fundamentally corrupt malpractice insurance industry, Republicans would rather shut legitimate litigants out of court. By passing federal tort reform statutes that would make it more difficult to sue, or would artificially cap damages in personal injury suits, Republicans would likely run afoul of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of a jury trial. Additionally, and more fundamentally, federal Republicans completely ignore the guiding principles of federalism as espoused by none other than Reagan himself.

Civil liberties. While Republicans shriek about "death panels" and socialism, they turn a blind eye to rank civil liberties abuses that have taken place at the hands of the very federal government they profess to mistrust. President Bush claimed that his wartime powers were unlimited by the Constitution, claimed the ability to imprison and torture American citizens without access a lawyer, a jury trial or even a formal criminal charge, and overtly broke federal wiretapping laws in the name of "national security." Republicans didn't bat an eye. As a result, President Obama has been emboldened, ordering the assassinations of American citizens abroad by pure executive fiat, attempting to gain unfettered access to citizens' unopened emails, and blocking entire lawsuits challenging his overreaching federal programs under a laughably broad, fundamentally abhorrent conception of the state secrets privilege. The same conservatives who claim that the government will pull the plug on "Granny" are seemingly willing to give a blank check to the government when it comes to tapping their phones, breaking federal laws and making their fellow citizens disappear.

Budget issues: The Bush administration's profligate, out-of-control spending has been well-documented in virtually every corner of the internet. It's no secret that George W. Bush inherited a $200 billion surplus and blew it nearly immediately -- and again, the budget numbers never included the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, which were considered "off-budget." In 2010, conservatives -- who blindly followed Bush for 8 years -- have suddenly recalled their commitment to limited government and fiscal responsibility once a Democrat returned to the White House. These conservatives seem to think that repealing Obamacare, banning earmarks and eliminating "waste and fraud" will balance the budget and solve our fiscal crisis. Nothing is further from the truth. Obamacare was scored as deficit-neutral by the CBO and earmarks make up less than $20 billion a year. Conservatives who believe defense and entitlement programs are off-limits from budget cuts are only kidding themselves and are clearly not serious about fiscal responsibility. Furthermore, and more critically, conservatives seem unwilling to reconcile the inherent contradictions between their desire for a balanced budget on one hand, and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a blank check from the Pentagon on the other. Again, fiscal responsibility is the hallmark of conservatism, a fact that has sadly been erased from the Republican platform since Bush came to town.

22 November 2010

Why I like Pat Buchanan

"After Iraq and Afghanistan, the American people are not going to give the establishment and War Party a free hand in foreign policy. Every patriot will do what is necessary and pay what is needed to defend his country. But national security is one thing, empire security another.

Why should Americans, 65 years after World War II, be defending rich Europeans from a Soviet Union that has been dead for 20 years, so those same Europeans can cut their defense budgets to protect their social safety nets?

President Eisenhower told JFK to bring the troops home from Europe, or the Europeans would wind up as permanent wards.

Was Ike a closet isolationist?

Almost $14 trillion in debt today, we borrow from Europe to defend Europe, borrow from Japan to defend Japan, borrow from the Gulf Arabs to defend the Gulf Arabs. And we borrow from Beijing to send foreign aid to African regimes whose U.N. delegations laughed and applauded as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly that 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. government. Have we lost all sense of self-respect?"

Link here.

17 November 2010

Do they have ANY ideas?

I'm just riffing here, so give me two minutes ...

I made the mistake of watching the Senate Republican leadership -- McConnell, Kyl, Alexander, Barrasso and Thune -- address the congressional press corps after the announcement regarding the new Republican leadership.

Meet the new boss -- same as the old boss.

(First off, John Thune is an impressive physical presence. He has to be at least 6'5", and towered over his colleagues. While he looked a little uncomfortable making his short remarks, that guy looks like a president. For whatever reason, voters of all stripes go for that sort of thing. He is my dark-horse pick for the 2012 nomination, especially if Mike Huckabee doesn't run. He's so popular in South Dakota, the Democrats didn't even bother spending any money against him.)

After all five senators made their remarks, McConnell took half a dozen questions. In response to five of them, his answer was simply, "That's something we'll discuss." The only question McConnell actually answered was whether the Republican caucus hoped to repeal the healthcare law, to which McConnell responded in the affirmative.

Do these guys have any ideas? I mean that in all seriousness.

Of course, on the one hand, there are many, many Republicans who have great ideas. Read any of these (see here, here or here) profiles on Mitch Daniels, who I hope will be the next president. Paul Ryan's Roadmap is a thing of beauty. Chris Christie is just awesome. Among others, Ross Douthat and David Brooks are conservative pundits who are brimming with ideas. At one point, Newt Gingrich was this way too.

The problem is that these guys aren't the leaders. As long as McConnell and Boehner are in charge of the congressional Republican caucus, the stonewalling will continue. McConnell has been an avowed opponent of banning soft money in campaigns and has been a voracious earmarker -- only seeing the light 48 hours ago when the base put immense pressure on him. This is a man with no significant legislative accomplishments, who rose to the chairmanship of the RSCC -- the office that determines what campaign money gets spent on which candidates -- within his first term in the Senate. His entire Senate career has been marked by aggregating power not to advance the conservative cause, but rather, simply for power's sake. McConnell understands that because he hails from arguably the most conservative state in the union, the consequences of this attitude toward governance are negligible.

Remember McConnell's appearance on the Sunday talk shows in August? Ten weeks before the election, when pressed, McConnell refused to tell David Gregory what the Republican agenda would be. He played coy, telling Gregory that he -- and the voters -- would have to wait until after Labor Day to hear the Republican platform. This was politics at its worst from the man who was asking voters to make him Senate Majority Leader.

The Republican Party is not out of ideas, per se. Ryan and Daniels, among others, have plenty. But I see no agenda being pushed by the leadership that is anything but pro-Washington, pro-rich and obstructionist.

The totality of the McConnell agenda unfortunately appears to be repealing Obamacare -- even the popular parts, like the ban on lifetime maximums or the ability of twentysomething children to temporarily buy into their parents' insurance plans.

This might be a good way to score cheap political points during the next 18 months, but if voters said anything two weeks ago, it's that they're sick and tired of politics as usual.

And McConnell's career has been defined by nothing if not that.

The GOP follows him at its peril.

16 November 2010

Why I'm finished with John McCain

Today was the last straw. I've had it with the one-time hero of this site, John McCain.

He picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. At the time, readers of this site will note that I actually endorsed the move. As I explained later, however, I assumed -- incorrectly -- that Palin possessed at least a minimum standard of knowledge and competence about the world. I viewed her as a female Tim Pawlenty or Bobby Jindal. I'll admit I was completely wrong. As Andrew Sullivan has astutely noted, McCain is singularly responsible for Palin's rapid ascent on the national stage.

He admirably fought for comprehensive immigration reform in 2005, realizing that an imperfect solution was better than no solution at all to the country's immigration problem. But in trying to beat back a primary challenge from the buffoonish JD Hayworth in 2010, McCain seemed to make a hard-line stance on immigration his defining issue, culminating in the laughable "just build the danged fence" ad. As we've noted previously, immigration has never been a McCain issue. This was rank demagoguery.

In the past, he's also taken a reasonable stance on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, making it his firm position that whether to repeal that policy should be left to the discretion of the military brass. Both the Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, support repeal. But now, McCain is angrily leading the filibuster to stop a repeal from going to the floor of the Senate. While there might be dissenting voices at the Pentagon, the two most important people at the Pentagon support repeal. By his own standard, McCain's position utterly fails as, again, sheer demagoguery.

Between 2004-2006, McCain went on a one-man crusade against wasteful defense spending, no-bid contracts and fraudulent deals between the Pentagon and its biggest defense contractors. He called out former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on his stonewalling of the Senate's investigation into alleged corruption -- pressure to which Rumsfeld ultimately capitulated, proving McCain right. With little to no fanfare, McCain admirably rose to the occasion time and again on behalf of the American taxpayer, understanding that there is a difference between money spent for national security purposes and money that is just spent on the military. It was precisely because of feats like these -- for which McCain received virtually no publicity or political gain -- that we believed McCain would make an outstanding president.

Today, unfortunately, McCain criticized Sen.-elect Rand Paul for daring to suggest that in order to get America's fiscal affairs in order, Congress must consider cutting the Pentagon's budget. McCain said this evinced "isolationism." No word as to whether McCain will similarly attack his good friend Tom Coburn for the same transgressions after this searing op-ed in the Washington Examiner where Coburn, citing the comments of none other than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen, warned:

Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon's sacred cows.


There is a brewing civil war in the GOP over defense spending, with actual fiscal conservatives like Paul, Coburn and Pat Toomey on one side, and McCain leading the charge on the other.

And with that, he has lost me. McCain has engaged in embarrassing double-talk and proven himself to be just another politician who will do anything and say anything to get elected. Why should I continue to support a man like this? As we've noted, McCain didn't need to do this -- Arizona Republicans, while admittedly not thrilled with McCain on every issue, showed no inclination of taking Hayworth seriously in the Republican primary, and McCain won by 25 points.

We wrote a few days ago that conservatives must understand and reconcile their inherently contradictory pushes for a balanced budget and a blank check for the Pentagon. This is a distinction that has apparently since been lost on John McCain. The days of the happy warrior hunkered down in his Senate office late at night, ginning up trouble and holding bureaucrats' feet to the fire, are long gone. The American taxpayer has lost a hero, and the Senate has lost one of its most fascinating, important characters.

McCain could have entered his twilight years as a statesman, the most respected member of the Senate, and an honest bipartisan broker at a time when America so desperately needs such leadership. But the maverick is long gone. In his place is an angry, demagoguing fool who likely -- and rightfully -- will simply fade out from American politics and be forgotten.

Good riddance.

12 November 2010

America, eat your vegetables

Hats off to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson for their brilliant work as co-chairs of the president's Deficit Reduction Commission. In their report released earlier this week, they've made some very controversial recommendations.

They've also made partisans on both sides very uncomfortable.

It's refreshing to get such tough, reasonable talk after what was an almost unbearable election cycle in terms of hackish rhetoric.

Partisans on both sides have lambasted the commission's recommendations -- David Limbaugh, here; Paul Krugman, here; Nancy Pelosi, here; Grover Norquist, here.

Paul Ryan approves. Ross Douthat approves. So does Andrew Sullivan. So does the Brookings Institute. And holy s***, the New York Times editorial board has even endorsed it.

Look. We've written here many times before that our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path. Both Republicans and Democrats share the blame in driving America to the precipice of disaster. In order to get our fiscal house in order, both Republicans and Democrats must accept that we have to tackle this problem in a bipartisan fashion.

This is why Krugman's column, linked above, is so offensive. He indicts the commission's "conservative bias," whatever that means, and more critically, denounces any and all suggestions to curb benefits in Social Security or to raise the retirement age -- never mind the fact that the system is completely unsustainable and will be bankrupt in 2042. Krugman also completely ignores the fact that the commission called for deep defense spending cuts -- about $100 billion by 2015 -- and recommended that Social Security be both means-tested (a liberal policy) and that the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security purposes be completely lifted (an even more liberal policy).

I operate by the maxim that when partisans of both sides are upset by something, it's probably a good idea.

Krugman has offered no plan for reducing the deficit and getting our fiscal house in order, and in fact, seems to be one of those economists who gleefully doesn't believe a fiscal crisis exists at all.

On the other side, conservatives must swallow hard and reconcile the inherent contradictions between fiscal responsibility on one hand, and blank checks for the Pentagon and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans on the other. This is simply an incompatible, incoherent set of policy proposals that most conservatives wear like badges of honor. Hats off to Rand Paul and Tom Coburn -- perhaps my two favorite senators -- for targeting the great waste at the Pentagon.

The bottom line is that the time has come to make difficult decisions. I applaud President Obama for creating this commission, putting Erskine and Simpson in charge, and for making this a bipartisan discussion.

But it's now time for the president to do something he hasn't done much of yet -- lead. America needs it.

11 November 2010

Election reax - 3) Palin

It was delicious to see Sarah Palin's two most beloved candidates -- Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O'Donnell -- go down on election night.

If the 2010 midterms set the table for the 2012 primary, I'm not sure there was a bigger loser than Sarah Palin. It seemed that where she threw her weight around -- Alaska, Delaware and California with Carly Fiorina -- Palin's candidates lost. In Delaware especially, Palin's backing of O'Donnell over the much more moderate -- and critically, more experienced, respected and electable -- Mike Castle was a huge blow. For the most part, other 2012 contenders -- Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, most notably -- seemed to back more electable conservatives, e.g. Marco Rubio in Florida.

At the beginning of the year, we wrote here about what we believed Sarah Palin should do in order to establish herself as a serious presidential candidate. In short, we urged her to run against Lisa Murkowski, get back to the business of governing and re-establish herself as a serious political figure as Hillary Clinton did in 2000. We were nearly certain Palin could beat Murkowski in the Republican primary and cruise to a general election victory.

Instead, Palin has done the exact opposite. Since election night in 2008, she quit the Alaska governorship in the middle of her first term; engaged in outrageous rhetoric about "death panels"; became an "analyst" on Fox News; coined the term "lamestream media" and has refused any and all interviews outside of talk-radio hosts and her cushy cable news gig; wrote two books; shamelessly and repeatedly used her Down Syndrome son as a campaign prop; and asserted herself as the leading voice of the hysterical opposition.

It is now to the point where I can barely stand to hear Palin talk. She is so uninformed, so ignorant, so reactionary, so inauthentic and so cliche that it it's almost impossible to sit through even a snippet of a speech or interview.

Certainly, many in the GOP base admire Palin personally and respond well to her rhetoric opposing the Obama administration. This is not disputed. But there is a huge chasm between feeling those sentiments and supporting a Palin presidential run. Even the most partisan Republicans have a difficult time disputing the fact that she isn't fit for the presidency. In what is shaping up to be a very impressive field of candidates in 2012, I personally don't believe she stands a chance against the likes of Pawlenty, Romney, John Thune, and if he runs, Mitch Daniels. We explained here and here that Republican voters typically go for the safe, experienced play; are more concerned than Democrats about electability; and that the Republican establishment wants nothing to do with her.

Additionally, and perhaps equally as critically, the highest-profile candidates she backed in the 2010 midterms lost -- and in O'Donnell's case, lost badly. The losses sustained by Miller, O'Donnell, Ken Buck in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada demonstrated to the GOP electorate the folly of electing candidates who don't appear senatorial or presidential. It showed the folly of Palin's line of "thinking," which ostensibly posits that the most culturally admirable "commonsense conservative" should be the nominee in every case, regardless of experience or electability. I'll continue to maintain that the tea party cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Everyone expected Palin to cash in on her popularity after the 2008 election. It's disappointing this is the road she's chosen. Her strategy and irresponsible rhetoric cost her party control of the Senate, and she should pay the price for it.

10 November 2010

Tyranny in America

We've referenced President Obama's poor civil liberties record in passing here before, but I'm not sure we've ever devoted an entire post to it. This is surprising, because it's one of the critical reasons we believe the Obama presidency has been such a disappointment.

Glenn Greenwald and others have written about the Obama administration's absurd position on extrajudicial killings. That is, the Obama administration has claimed the novel power to order the assassination of natural-born American citizens by sole virtue of the fact that someone in the executive branch has deemed that person a "threat" or an "enemy combatant." This of course is shockingly similar to the Bush administration's claim that it had the power to capture and imprison American citizens without access to a lawyer, a jury trial or even a formal charge.

Barack Obama spent his entire presidential campaign railing -- rightfully -- against the executive power abuses of the Bush administration. Now, this alleged former constitutional law professor has jumped in with both feet and embraced the very abuses he condemned for so long. This is the height of hypocrisy.

On Monday, the Obama administration argued before a federal court judge that it should have unreviewable authority to kill Americans abroad that the executive branch has unilaterally deemed a threat. This claimed "power" is so patently offensive that it almost doesn't merit a response. To the extent a court would require one, however, the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment says this:

"... nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

It is difficult to imagine a governmental power that is more outside the bounds of the actual language of the Constitution than the ability of the president to unilaterally determine whether an American citizen lives or dies. Of course, there exists an a very broad exception for the battlefield, which no one -- not even the ACLU, who is prosecuting this case on behalf of the father of a targeted American citizen -- claims is illegal or unconstitutional. What is at issue are those situations outside the context of armed conflict, when an American citizen abroad might be sitting at home, at work or at a coffee shop.

The Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU put it thusly: "If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state."

The Obama administration effectively argues two points: First, it has this power. (It most certainly does not under the clear language of the 14th Amendment.) Second, it argues -- even more laughably -- that its power is a plenary executive power that is unreviewable by the courts. It has invoked the longstanding "political question doctrine," an exception courts typically use to dismiss lawsuits by private citizens because what is at issue -- typically things like gerrymandering or political appointments -- are political matters that are better resolved by voting than legislating by judicial order.

But this absurd expansion of the political question doctrine takes the ancient idea far beyond any previous conception. It is unsupported by facts or logic, and finds no support in constitutional jurisprudence of years past.

The Obama administration has also claimed this "power" falls under the state secrets privilege, which is typically a device used by the government to shield documents from discovery that might be sensitive to national security. But in this context, the Obama administration is claiming that its entire program -- the entire basis for this lawsuit -- is a state secret, and therefore the judiciary cannot review it. This is absurd. Patently, offensively, laughably absurd.

Through it all, the Obama administration remains steadfast in its belief that no matter the basis -- the political question doctrine, the state secrets privilege or otherwise -- it retains the power to ignore the very language of the Constitution and kill American citizens abroad -- simply because the president says so.

If tyranny means anything, it must certainly mean this.

The president took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. He is failing his country and failing the institution of the presidency. He is failing those voters who he patently lied to in 2007 and 2008. He has betrayed his oath.

Claiming the authority to unilaterally execute an American citizen, without affording due process and without judicial review, is an impeachable offense.

Of all of Barack Obama's failings, this one is paramount.

08 November 2010

Election reax - 2) Voter revolt

Certainly, Republicans have much to be happy about in the wake of last week's landslide at the polls. Republican leaders and conservative commentators have hit the nail on the head by pointing out that voters are unhappy with the direction of government and the policies pursued by the Democrats in Washington in particular.

Much like the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, the GOP was the beneficiary of a populace angry at a government it saw as too big, too ambitious, too wasteful and flat-out incompetent.

The GOP runs the risk of reading this election as a mandate, however. The only edict the voters delivered is that they are sick of Washington.

Barack Obama came to Washington promising to change politics as usual, and instead has shown himself to be yet another creature of Washington, cutting backroom deals with labor unions and Big Pharma, assaulting civil liberties and shattering promises about naming lobbyists to serve in his administration. In this regard, we've noted that Obama is much like George W. Bush before him, who came to office promising to be "a uniter, not a divider." Of course, Bush turned out to be one of the most polarizing presidents in history who left office with a historically low approval rating, effectively gifting the opposition party complete control of government upon his exit.

Voters served notice on the Bush administration and congressional Republicans in 2006 and 2008 that they were not only sick of deficit spending and the skyrocketing deficit, but also the incompetence exhibited in the response to Hurricane Katrina, and the misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans came to be viewed as big-spending politicians who were less concerned with governing competently and more concerned with making mountains out of social-issue molehills like gay marriage and Terri Schiavo. Through it all, Bush became a sort of caricature -- stubborn, obstinate, out of touch and completely paralyzed as the housing bubble burst, the financial markets crumbled, and America shed jobs by the thousands.

And in 2010, voters let Obama and the Democrats know how unhappy they've become with the new party in charge. When Obama took office in January 2009, it was almost unthinkable that the electorate would rebuke this administration so harshly. Even I've been surprised. After ramming through the "economic stimulus package" and swatting away Republican efforts to meet in the middle on a smaller, less economically cumbersome package, Obama made the biggest mistake of his presidency -- choosing to focus on healthcare rather than jobs. The stimulus failed to do much of anything, and Obama spent his remaining political capital on an issue that, as FactCheck.org has noted, is much less dire than liberals would like voters to think. It's still unbelievable to me that the Obama administration made this choice. It was an enormous political miscalculation. And they paid an enormous price.

Voters are sick of it. They want responsible, adult leadership. They want to be spoken to like adults. And quite frankly, I think they want their leaders to be direct and honest. How else to explain the immense popularity of America's two best governors, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels?

Republicans now have a choice. They can spend the next two years trying to repeal the healthcare bill and investigating the Obama administration's sausage-making, or they can legitimately try to get America back to work. If the White House is unwilling to work with them, voters will see it. But it is a recipe for disaster to re-litigate last year's battles. While voters may not have approved of the healthcare bill, they remain out of work and the economy shows no signs of turning around. They don't want politics. They want solutions.

If Republicans return to the stalemating ways of the past, voters will rebuke them harshly in 2012, and potentially return Obama to a second term. A lot falls on the shoulders of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Their party's fate, and the fate of the as-yet-undetermined 2012 presidential nominee, rests in their hands.

Republicans were simply the beneficiaries of voter anger last week. In 1994, they ran on a platform, the brilliantly crafted and appropriately titled Contract With America. In 2010 -- again, much like the Democrats did in 2008 -- they simply ran as the anti-incumbents. It worked. But with Republicans recapturing the House and nearly evening the margin in the Senate, voters expect them to be productive.

05 November 2010

Election reax - 1) Feingold

I'm not sure why my most noticeable sentiment on election night was disappointment that Russ Feingold will not be returning to the U.S. Senate after three terms.

Although we expected him to lose, we still wrote of our hope that the progressive/libertarian Frankenstein from Wisconsin would make an 11th-hour comeback. It didn't happen.

This short piece on Feingold by Reason's Hit and Run blog is highly recommended.

I consider myself somewhere between a conservative and libertarian. Aside from abortion, I don't care about social issues. I find myself agreeing with the conclusion of Andrew Sullivan and others that marijuana should be legalized. But I opposed the health-care bill and the wasteful stimulus. I agree with virtually all conservatives that the recent Congresses have spent wastefully and taken our country dangerously close to the precipice of fiscal calamity. Defense should be cut, and entitlements need drastic, deep reform. I'd love to abolish the Department of Education, and I think the United Nations is a joke.

And most critically, like Feingold, I am abhorred by the executive power abuses and civil liberties violations of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Neither anyone in my party, nor many in Feingold's, has had the guts to stand up to these abuses, for fear of voter backlash, or being branded "weak on terrorism," or both.

If you're a civil libertarian, Feingold was your man, one of your precious few allies in Congress. The establishment of both parties doesn't care about these issues, and without Feingold rattling his familiar sabre on the Senate floor, it's likely the establishment will care even less now that he's on his way out.

Despite ridicule from both sides, Feingold has been the most remarkably principled legislator I've ever seen. He opposed the PATRIOT Act in 2001; then he was the lone vote against the war in Iraq in 2003; then he slammed the Bush administration over warrantless wiretaps, torture and the denial of due process rights to Americans like Jose Padilla. And when he believed Obama was continuing the Bush-era practice of secreting intelligence reports from Congress, Feingold went after him, too.

Evidence of Feingold's civil libertarian bent can be found as far back as 1996, when he was one of just 16 senators to vote against the Communications Decency Act, which would have criminalized "indecent" material on the internet -- a bill which the Supreme Court eventually struck down as unconstitutional.

He campaigned as a deficit hawk in 1992 and is an avowed opponent of earmarks. While an unabashed supporter of a single-payor healthcare system -- something I'm not even sure President Obama would go for -- he was nearly impossible to pin down on any given issue -- partnering with John McCain on campaign finance reform and Chris Dodd to block immunity for telecom companies -- and was once voted the least predictable vote in Congress.

He was a liberal, and I disagreed with him at least 70% of the time. But we shared a common passion -- the rule of law, and the rights of normal Americans to go about their lives without unconstitutional interference from an imperial executive. For this, had I lived in Wisconsin, I would have gladly worked hard for Feingold's campaign. When a cause is so passionately pursued, party affiliation doesn't matter.

I'll miss him greatly.

I'll close with two quotes.

First, Feingold's impassioned remarks on the PATRIOT Act, made on the Senate floor just six weeks after 9/11:

"Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. ... But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die."

Finally, H.L. Mencken's description of the great Senator Robert LaFollette fits Feingold's political career like a glove:

"There is no ring in his nose. Nobody owns him. Nobody bosses him. Nobody even advises him. Right or wrong, he has stood on his own bottom, firmly and resolutely, since the day he was first heard of in politics, battling for his ideas in good weather and bad, facing great odds gladly, going against his followers as well as with his followers, taking his own line always and sticking to it with superb courage and resolution.

Suppose all Americans were like [him]? What a country it would be! No more depressing goose-stepping. No more gorillas in hysterical herds. No more trimming and trembling. Does it matter what his ideas are? Personally, I am against four-fifths of them, but what are the odds?...You may fancy them or you may dislike them, but you can’t get away from the fact that they are whooped by a man who, as politicians go among us, is almost miraculously frank, courageous, honest and first-rate."

01 November 2010

Election predictions

It's far from novel to point out that the GOP is on the cusp of enjoying one of the most lopsided election nights in decades.

As Scott Rasmussen correctly points out here, however, voters' anger toward Washington isn't a vote for Republicans, but rather a vote against Democrats and the Obama administration.

I'll have much more on this after the dust settles.

In the meantime, the predictions:

House of Representatives

The GOP needs to pick up 37 seats to regain control of the House, where the Democrats currently enjoy a 255-178 advantage (with 2 vacancies). They will do this with ease. The invaluable Real Clear Politics believes that a staggering 224 seats are already leaning Republican or safely Republican, to only 168 such seats for Democrats. Forty-three seats are "toss ups" -- and unbelievably, all but two of these are currently held by Democratic incumbents. I'll adopt the familiar maxim that, when given a choice in a toss-up election, in general, voters will tend to vote for the challenger. This is especially true in a "wave" election -- such as 1994, 2008 or yes, 2010 -- when the party in power is so wildly unpopular -- and in the House, where congressional members are much more beholden to their leaders' wishes than in the Senate. Picking up all but two of the toss-up seats seems a bit much, but I expect Republicans to take at least half of the 43. Even only taking 22 of these seats would give the Republicans a commanding 243-192 advantage, nearly an identical flip from the current makeup of the House. Thus, the Republicans would gain 65 seats. This comports with the projections of RCP (currently projecting a gain of 66-67 seats); Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com believes Republicans will end up with a 232-203 advantage, which would reflect a gain of 54 seats; however, he noted here that a gain of 70-80 seats isn't out of the question.


First, a few races:

Missouri: Here in Missouri, Democrat Robin Carnahan is in a comparable spot to Jim Talent in 2006: A victim of a wave election, and being tied to an unpopular president without regard for the fine work she's done as a public servant. Roy Blunt -- who represents a large swath of the conservative downstate Missouri area, and who's served as Republican whip forever -- is managing to bury Carnahan by simply tying President Obama around her neck, much as Claire McCaskill was able to do vis-a-vis Talent and President Bush in 2006. Blunt has creeped toward and above 50 percent in most polls, and it seems highly unlikely that Carnahan can come back from such a steep deficit.

Wisconsin: Sadly, civil liberties crusader Russ Feingold -- a strange ally of this site -- appears headed for defeat. In recent years, Feingold has been rated as the least predictable vote in the Senate; as we've noted, Feingold is a wonderful senator for those of us who care about the Constitution. Republican Ron Johnson has eclipsed 50 percent in nearly every recent poll, with Feingold languishing in the mid-40s. It's unlikely that a three-term incumbent who hasn't hit 50 percent in any poll in months will be able to make a comeback from such a deficit. Feingold will lose by 7, and the country will be worse off because of it.

Illinois: Democrat Alexi Gnkasdjafklasdfkalsdfa hasn't been ahead in a poll since Rasmussen gave him a 44-43 lead on October 11. Since then, undecideds have begun to break toward Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican congressman from the Chicago suburbs, and an early ally of John McCain's presidential campaign in 2007. Kirk should win Obama's old seat by 5 points, and we'll be delighted to see him in the Senate.

Nevada: Unfortunately, both candidates can't lose. Real Clear Politics rates this race a pure toss-up. However, examining the polling data, undecideds have begun to break hard for Sharron Angle, leaving Harry Reid fighting for his life. Reid hasn't hit 50 percent in a poll since September 1, while Angle hasn't been below 47 since October 11. The fact that a candidate like Angle can top the sitting Senate Majority Leader speaks volumes about both the anger toward Washington and what voters think of Harry Reid, who many years ago, was considered a moderate. Angle wins by 4.

Delaware: Tea partiers, you're retarded. You flooded the Republican primary and voted for a woman who has never held elected office over over precisely the type of Republican that NEEDS TO RUN IN LIBERAL STATES. You are truly, undeniably stupid people. Why you would rather send a standard-issue liberal to the Senate, rather than a moderate Republican, is beyond comprehension. Next, you'll no doubt be crusading to cost your party the presidency in 2012 by voting for Sarah Palin.

The current makeup of the Senate is 59-41, with Massachusetts' Scott Brown as the 41st Republican vote and Joe Lieberman typically caucusing with the Democrats. Real Clear Politics rates 48 seats as safe or leaning Democrat, and 45 as safe or leaning Republican (the latter includes, unfortunately, Wisconsin). That means that in order to retake control of the Senate, Republicans must win 6 of the 7 seats rated as pure toss-ups -- California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia. We've noted above that the GOP likely will win in Illinois and Nevada. Further, we fully expect former Club for Growth'er Pat Toomey -- a true-blue fiscal conservative if ever there was one -- to defeat Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania. We expect Ken Buck to defeat incumbent MIchael Bennet in Colorado. That takes Republicans up to 49.

However, West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin -- who has recently creeped above 50 percent --will keep his state's Senate seat in Democratic hands. The last 5 polls have given him at least a 3-point lead, and Republican John Raese has only been ahead in one of the last 12 polls. Similarly -- and despite her unpopularity outside of her liberal base -- Barbara Boxer will be very difficult to knock off in California. Carly Fiorina would be a wonderful senator, but the polling data simply doesn't indicate that she will have much of a chance, as most data shows the incumbent Boxer settling into a 3-to-6-point lead as undecideds break. Boxer's will be the 50th vote. And we expect Democratic incumbent Patty Murray to defeat Dino Rossi in Washington, which would ultimately give the Democrats a 51-49 hold on the Senate.

I want to point out one last thing. I fully expect Joe Lieberman to run as a Republican in 2012. The GOP establishment can very easily make it clear to Lieberman that if he wants Republican support, he must begin to caucus with them and vote for Mitch McConnell or Jim DeMint as Senate Majority Leader. Lieberman understands that he probably can never run as a Democrat again, despite his liberal domestic agenda. Lieberman could conceivably be that 50th vote. And again -- DELAWARE TEA PARTIERS COST THE REPUBLICANS THAT SENATE SEAT BY NOMINATING CHRISTINE O'DONNELL. Republican Mike Castle was poised to handily defeat Chris Coons; Castle had won nine consecutive statewide elections -- one as governor, and then the next eight as Delaware's lone congressman. Now that Joe Biden has ascended to the vice-presidency, Castle is arguably the most popular politician in Delaware. And tea partiers drove him out because he wasn't sufficiently ideologically pure. It is undisputed that Castle would have won the seat. Instead, the absurdly underqualified O'Donnell will probably lose to Coons by 30 points.

Yes, it makes so much more sense to make a statement about ideological purity, as opposed to GAINING CONTROL OF THE SENATE -- which a Castle victory, it turns out, would have almost ensured.

Well done. You people are fundamentally stupid.

26 October 2010

2012 odds: Part 2

We're continuing the rundown of BetVega.com's odds for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

We discussed the supposed frontrunners -- Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal -- here.

Now, the supposed longshots:

Tim Pawlenty: 10-1

Of the possible choices to lay money down on, Pawlenty at 10-1 is clearly the best bet. I see he, Romney and -- if he runs -- Mitch Daniels, eventually rising to the top of the heap. To prepare for his run, Pawlenty has (i) announced he won't seek a third term as Minnesota's governor; (ii) shelled out favors (money, appearances) on the campaign trail; (iii) made appearances everywhere from the Daily Show to Fox News, and (iv) most critically, wooed the big-dollar donors that are imperative to a successful presidential run. Pawlenty also will play well in his neighbor to the south, Iowa. He's a wonderful story -- the first person in his family to graduate from college -- and projects the kind of common-sense conservatism that Republicans desperately need to to take down Barack Obama. And unlike his principal rival, Romney, Pawlenty is a heckuva likable guy.

Mark Sanford: 12-1
Charlie Crist: 12-1

Yeah, right. Sanford was a rising star in the Republican Party until a bizarre episode involving an Argentinian mistress torpedoed his career. If Eliot Spitzer can make a comeback, perhaps Sanford can too -- but definitely not in 2012. Crist, likewise, is doing his best to destroy his carefully manicured career in the Republican Party by mounting a third-party challenge to the wildly popular Marco Rubio's Senate campaign. While the Democrat involved, Kendrick Meek, doesn't stand a chance despite Crist and Rubio bludgeoning each other, Crist has managed to turn every conservative in the country against him, including me -- and I'd probably vote for him if I lived in Florida. We explained here why Crist's decision will backfire on him.

Rudy Guiliani: 15-1

After deciding not to challenge Kristen Gillibrand for the New York Senate seat, Rudy's career is probably finished. He ran an abysmal campaign in 2008 and, even if he had competed seriously before Florida, it's not clear voters would have cared much for a guy who, as Joe Biden pointed out, made sure every sentence included "a noun, a verb and 9/11."

Newt Gingrich: 15-1

This is the most intriguing name of the lot. I still haven't decided whether Gingrich -- tossing out terms like "secular socialist" and "Kenyan anti-colonialist" -- is actually running for president or just trying to sell books. The pros? He's probably the smartest man in Washington and is an absolute idea factory. He has serious conservative credentials and formidable intellectual gravitas. The cons? While he was impeaching President Clinton, Gingrich was busy cheating on his second wife. He was thrown out of Washington in disgrace. His enemies list is a mile long -- and it includes a lot of Republicans. His bombastic rhetoric is completely unpresidential. There are a lot of skeletons in this closet, and Newt would be best served to keep the door closed.

David Petraeus: 15-1

Minimal analysis necessary here. With economic issues likely to remain paramount in 2012, a career military man won't have a shot. Petraeus could be an outstanding choice for Secretary of Defense, however.

John McCain: 20-1

As much as we still admire the Senior Senator, he will have no interest in taking a third shot at the presidency at age 75.

Jeb Bush: 20-1

If his last name was "Smith," the popular former governor might be at the head of the 2012 field. Perhaps in 2016, Bush could be a formidable contender, but voters will remain spooked by his surname. It's impossible to overstate how badly George W. Bush damaged the Republican brand, and his brother is paying the price.

Ron Paul: 20-1

The libertarian stalwart will most likely run, make noise and fight to the bitter end. On the one hand, Paul has been a prophet of doom on the growth of government -- criticizing the Bush administration long before it was the hip thing to do -- Iraq, civil liberties and bailouts. On the other, his haphazard answers make him seem erratic, and some of his policy prescriptions -- such as his insistence that America return to the gold standard -- are simply nutty. Despite his strong showing in the CPAC straw poll last year, Paul has neither the resources nor establishment support to make a serious run for the presidency. But he's still good for the party.

25 October 2010

2012 odds: Part 1

This morning, I ran across a site that, just days ago, posted the purported odds for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

According to this site, BetVega.com, these are the favorites:

Sarah Palin: 3.5-1

No way. We've taken this up here before. Palin won't win the nomination for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: (1) serious inexperience; (2) intellectual vapidity; (3) a lack of high-dollar donors; (4) high unfavorables, even among Republicans; and (5) Republicans' propensity to make the safe play (e.g., Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000, McCain in 2008). Furthermore, why would Palin want to leave the cushy Fox News/scripted rally/book-signing circuit? She's made millions since quitting the Alaska governorship in July 2009 and can pick and choose the interviews she gives. She won't have any such luxury if she seeks the presidency.

Mitt Romney: 4-1

A much safer bet than Palin, Romney will no doubt be a serious contender in 2012. He is everything Palin is not: Experienced, smart, a favorite of the high-dollar guys, and excruciatingly boring. I still don't think Romney will wind up with the nomination, however, simply based on the fact that John McCain -- reviled among many quarters of the right -- trounced him in 2008 despite Romney's bottomless finances. Romney simply doesn't get voters excited, and there is something fundamentally inauthentic about him that simply bleeds through the TV. Even when Romney was the allegedly clear conservative choice in the race and had the backing of the entire talk-radio circuit -- Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, et al. -- he still finished a distant third behind McCain and Mike Huckabee. When Romney faces a true-blue conservative -- and there will be several of them in 2012 -- he might get lost in the shuffle. And that doesn't even take into account the problems he will face when health care reform comes up.

Mike Huckabee: 5-1

Huckabee ran a marvelous campaign in 2008 to finish second behind McCain. But this also is a bad play for several reasons. First, as was pointed out in 2008, Huckabee was not a particularly conservative governor during his tenure in Arkansas. Second, if Sarah Palin runs, a chunk of his 2008 social conservative base will fall in line behind her instead. Third, like Palin, Huckabee has a cushy gig on Fox News and unlike the uber-wealthy Romney, Huckabee doesn't have a sizable personal fortune to run on. Fourth, Maurice Clemmons.

Bobby Jindal: 6-1

By demonstrating stoic, forceful leadership during the Gulf oil spill, Jindal made most people forget about his abysmal response to President Obama's State of the Union address in January 2009. I'm bullish on Jindal for 2016, but think 2012 might be a bit too early. He's super smart and an excellent governor, but I'm afraid he'll get swallowed up in the upcoming field. Even if a Republican topples Obama in 2012 and Jindal has to wait until 2020, that's plenty of time -- he'll only be 49 on election day.

The rest will be taken up in part 2 ...

19 October 2010

The dangers of entitlements

The French are lazy -- leaving work to riot over a proposed hike in the retirement age from 60 -- SIXTY! -- to 62.

France's nationalized pension system is on the verge of bankruptcy. Along with excessively long vacation allowances, a fully socialized healthcare system and laws that make it extremely difficult for employers to fire their workers, France is the model for what American conservatives abhor about liberalism in its purest form. The uproar in France demonstrates the danger of cradle-to-the-grave dependence on government programs and how parasitic humans can be.

Unfortunately, this poisonous mindset has pervaded the American left on entitlement issues. Most critically, President Obama's unbecoming demagoguery over the looming Social Security crisis has its roots in the very socialism that to which the French rioters subscribe -- the president would rather engage in a fear campaign and levy outlandishly unfair charges about his political opponents, instead of trying to reform a system that is so obviously broken.

An entitlement crisis is sweeping the country at the state level, as among others, Illinois is facing a massive budget shortfall as a result of outlandishly generous promises made to teachers, police officers and state bureaucrats. The New York Times examined this phenomenon here.

If congressional Democrats continue to follow their president's lead, and if Republicans are too squishy to stand up to such antics, the crisis in France will be at our doorstep soon.

07 October 2010

Iowa = Palin's kryptonite

We've written here recently that we don't consider Sarah Palin to be a serious contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

As Rudy Guiliani can attest, being competitive in either Iowa or New Hampshire is absolutely critical to one's ultimate success in a presidential campaign. In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore each won Iowa. In 2004, John Kerry -- at the time, considered a mid-tier contender -- finished a close second in Iowa in a crowded field and won in New Hampshire. In 2008, John McCain won big in New Hampshire, giving him a head of steam to cruise to victories in South Carolina and Florida. Barack Obama also won big in Iowa, and Hillary Clinton never quite seemed to fully recover after finishing a severely disappointing third in the caucuses. (The only reason a loss in Iowa didn't hurt McCain was because the Senior Senator -- an avowed opponent of ethanol subsidies and thus, an enemy of virtually the entire Iowa agricultural industry -- didn't even bother campaigning there.)

The bottom line is that there is no recent precedent for a candidate not winning in one of the first two states and going on to win a major party's nomination.

Sarah Palin will not be competitive in New Hampshire, period. New Hampshire voted for John McCain twice -- in 2000 and 2008 -- and the candidate who closest approximated Palin's place in the party in 2008 -- Mike Huckabee -- barely campaigned there, instead spending most of his time in the much more socially conservative South Carolina. New Hampshire voters are famously independent, a sort of pseduo-Tory mix of center-left social views and center-right economic views. They are revolted by tired, partisan cliches and instead demand face-to-face engagement. If there's a conservative Republican who can win in New Hampshire, it will likely be Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels (should the latter choose to run). Of course, Mitt Romney will be competitive there, but calling him a "conservative Republican" is a stretch. Palin would be better-served following Huckabee's model by avoiding New Hampshire entirely and focusing on her much stronger chances in South Carolina.

So what about Iowa? Some have suggested that Palin's folksy shtick might play well there. Here's why they're wrong:

1. Like New Hampshire voters, Iowa voters demand engagement. In 2008, Barack Obama was a force on the ground, shoring up his already strong ground game with the powerful force of his personality. Palin, to the contrary, only is visible at highly scripted rallies, doesn't do interviews that aren't on Fox News and doesn't have a sufficient breadth of knowledge to engage with voters who have legitimate concerns. There is no precedent for someone of Palin's ilk to win in Iowa.

2. As we've noted before, Barack Obama was so successful in Iowa in large part due to his phenomenal ground game, a well-funded and excellently organized grassroots network of students, labor leaders, retirees and everyone in-between. While Romney and Pawlenty have quietly built apparatuses based on the Obama model, Palin has done nothing of the sort. The people who make comparisons between Obama in 2006-2008 and Palin at the present time miss the critical fact that Obama was able to gain such a massive head of steam not because he was some sort of cult hero, but rather because his GOTV operation was so sophisticated.

3. As a corollary to point #2, Palin is approaching her presidential run in a rather cavalier way. Instead of doing the hard work of lining up the traditional GOP heavy hitters and organizational gurus (as Romney and Pawlenty have done), Palin has instead spent her time touring the country and endorsing candidates like Joe Miller in Alaska, Carly Fiorina in California and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Her hope, of course, is that these individuals will reciprocate her support in kind in the 2012 primaries. Not only is she banking on these candidates to get elected, but she's also banking on their endorsements of her to be so massively popular that public opinion will swing in her favor. However, this is an idiotic way to build a presidential campaign, for no other reason than there is absolutely no evidence that, for instance, anyone in Iowa cares who Joe Miller is, or what he thinks.

4. Iowa voters already like Tim Pawlenty. Voters in the northern part of the state are especially familiar with the reasonable, salt-of-the-earth Sam's Club Republican governor of their neighbor to the north.

5. If candidates drop out before Iowa or shortly thereafter, there isn't a single Republican candidate who will endorse her. Palin will be an island in the campaign, much as Romney was in 2008. Unless and until Palin is the clear-cut frontrunner, there isn't a single other contender who will offer his support. Romney, Pawlenty, Daniels and Mike Pence will fall in line behind one of each other. Huckabee and Thune, likewise. Gingrich is admittedly a wild card, but he understands that his position as the intellectual poobah of the party will be shredded if he endorses Palin over, say, the uber-cerebral Pawlenty. And if Ron Paul is around, he'll keep swinging 'til the bitter end.

6. She's going to say something stupid. She always does.

06 October 2010

The battle for the Senate

Thanks to the voters of Delaware bringing the crazy and nominating a candidate who has never held elected office, it will be a tall order for the GOP to re-take control of the U.S. Senate. Additionally, given the transformation of the filibuster from a sparingly used procedural mechanism into a full-fledged legislative club, the Democrats' agenda has been thwarted since Scott Brown's election to the Senate in January. Because of this, the determination of who actually controls the Senate will be rather anticlimactic. Regardless, there are a few races we're interested in:

In Missouri, Roy Blunt appears to have established a reasonably safe lead outside the margin of error in nearly all of the latest polls. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan seemed to be making headway with her ads tying Blunt to the TARP bailout and Jack Abramoff and painting him -- accurately -- as the consummate Washington insider. Carnahan's problem in this race is twofold: First, she's a Democrat, and running in what is clearly shaping up to be a "wave" election. Second, she's no outsider herself, coming from a family that boasts a former governor, a former Senator, a congressman and a brother who is a gazillionaire wind-farm investor. Unlike in places like Nevada, Wisconsin or Florida, Missouri voters are quite familiar with everyone on the ballot here. You can read here why I refuse to vote for Blunt, who as House Republican whip was one of the Bush administration's key enablers. I doubt I'm done blasting him either.

In the race to fill President Obama's old seat, congressman Mark Kirk is vying to knock off state treasurer Alexi Giannilazskjzmlbfs. As of today, Real Clear Politics rates this one a toss-up. Both men have had their share of issues -- Kirk was inexplicably caught lying about his military service in Iraq, and Giasdkalsfdapdfpaz has had myriad questions to answer about the abrupt collapse of his family bank. Kirk is a moderate Republican from the Chicago suburbs who was an early and key backer of John McCain's candidacy during 2007-2008, and precisely the type of candidate Republicans need to cultivate in traditionally blue states. We're pulling hard for him.

Finally, in Wisconsin, Russ Feingold looks to be in deep trouble. We've written before about our affinity for the civil liberties crusader. Local businessman Ron Johnson -- virtually unknown before winning the Republican primary -- has begun to consistently poll above 50%, and his RCP advantage is 9 points. This isn't insurmountable, but Feingold is fighting an immensely difficult uphill battle -- (i) he's an incumbent seeking a fourth term; (ii) he's considerably more liberal than the majority of his state on virtually every economic issue of import; and (iii) he's a Democrat. Voters know what they're getting with Feingold, and although he's made noise during his time in the Senate as a deficit hawk and an outspoken opponent of earmarks and pork-barrel spending, he is fairly classified as a tax-and-spend liberal. Again, we'd like to see Feingold return to the Senate, simply because the number of Senators who seem legitimately concerned with civil liberties is quite thin.

01 October 2010

Why Obama isn't Clinton

Peter Beinart offers this excellent piece on Bill Clinton's move toward the center after the 1994 midterms, and why Barack Obama is quite unlikely to follow Clinton's lead.

Beinart notes that during his time as governor of Arkansas, Clinton was aligned with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which had been at war with the party's liberal base for years. Clinton not only governed as a centrist in Arkansas, but he campaigned as a deficit hawk, promised middle-class tax cuts -- at the time, a heresy for a Democrat -- and vowed to end "welfare as we know it." It was only when he swung left -- pushing health care reform and Don't Ask, Don't Tell during the first half of his first term -- that he set the table for the GOP to sweep back into power. After his party's 1994 defeats, Clinton turned the eyes inward, and seemed to understand that his defeats came about because he deviated from what had gotten him elected in the first place. He then set into motion a series of policies, including welfare reform, the Al Gore-led National Performance Review and most critically, his crusade for a balanced budget, that led to the longest peacetime boom in American history.

While Clinton and Obama both campaigned as centrists in 1992 and 2008, respectively, there is one critical difference between the two: Clinton actually was one, while Obama simply used trans-partisan vagueries to get elected. Anyone who knew anything about Barack Obama knew this image as a bipartisan healer was a fraud. This was a man who managed to rack up the most liberal voting record in the Senate in 2007 and wrote more autobiographies (one) than serious pieces of legislation during his utterly inconsequential Senate career.

If you were shocked that Obama swung to the left upon taking office, seemed completely unable to stomach bipartisan compromise and engaged in comically hyper-partisan demagoguery, you simply weren't paying attention to what he's been his whole political career.

Now, Obama will be faced with a nearly identical situation that Clinton encountered in January 1995: A Congress controlled by Republicans. And it's up to Obama as to how he will govern. Will he reach out to the GOP and find common ground on deficit reduction, green energy issues and entitlement reform? Or will he continue to dispatch surrogates to blast the GOP for being obstructionists? The president is the one who sets the tone. It's up to him.

These days, after a big-government Republican and an old-time liberal Democrat have spiraled us deep into debt and governed ineffectually, I've begun to long for the days of Clinton, the last legitimately decent chief executive. To say Clinton was a great president is missing his obvious flaws -- he pushed for an even more sweeping health care reform package than did Obama; his foreign policy during 1993-94 was disjointed and misguided; and, obviously, he betrayed his country's trust in the Lewinsky scandal. But in terms of his efficacy as a chief executive, Clinton was everything Obama was not. Clinton was willing to listen to Dick Morris and examine the flaws of his first two years in office. Obama still seems to be in love with his own celebrity, has built a team of yes-men who apparently don't disagree about anything, and genuinely believes the country is just as liberal as he is. In short, he is laughably out of touch, while Clinton was anything but.

That's why "triangulation" isn't coming back, and why the Clinton coalition that Obama so masterfully rallied in 2008 is irreparably broken.

30 September 2010

Q&A time: The responses

That was quick. Answers in bold.

1. Your opinion on cutting defense spending to trim the deficit (as Obama did last year, phasing out those fighter jets that haven't been used in combat since the first Gulf War).

To me, defense is the very last thing that should ever be cut from a budget. At the same time, stuff (like these jets) that are doing nothing but taking up space for years should be phased out, and depending on the sensitivity of the technology onboard, sold to Afghanistan in helping them establish an Air Force (this assumes they'd be interested of course).

2. Every serious economist on the left, right and center agrees that even after you cut out out "welfare queens," end waste/fraud/abuse and outlaw earmarks, you still will be faced with a massive budget deficit. Do you agree with that conclusion, or not?

While it would help, it's clear some programs would have to be cut. I'd say cut programs with education and green energy. The federal government doesn't have any business running the education system (it's a local/state issue), and green energy simply is a low priority.

3 and 4. Do you seriously believe that as we're running a trillion dollar deficit, with the deficit expected to spike up to $1.2 trillion in FY 2011, you can eventually avoid raising taxes to balance the budget? If your answer is yes, that implies that you think you can find a trillion dollars to cut out of the budget, so ... Where do you plan to find this trillion dollars?

If you want to balance the budget tomorrow, you either cut EVERYTHING or raise taxes. If you're willing to make balancing the budget a process, I don't think taxes need to go up. As I'm willing to make this a process, we begin by repealing Obamacare which takes care of a bit of the deficit. From there, less government jobs at places like the Dept. of Education.

Those were precisely the answers I expected.

There will be more questions soon. I can't help myself.

29 September 2010

Question and answer time

Today, a Facebook friend sarcastically wondered why congressional Democrats would push back a vote on the Bush tax cuts until after the election. This friend -- a card-carrying member of the Palin/Limbaugh/Hannity wing of the Republican Party -- regularly makes disparaging comments toward Democrats on his Facebook page, which normally is fine with me, but he seems to be fond of recycling the cliches he hears on Hannity's show or from Palin's stump speeches. This is not a particularly insightful guy, and, I suspect, one that isn't able to grasp the disconnect between criticizing the size of the budget deficit and his own thirst for an extension of the Bush tax cuts.

To that end, I asked him the following four questions:

1. Your opinion on cutting defense spending to trim the deficit (as Obama did last year, phasing out those fighter jets that haven't been used in combat since the first Gulf War).

2. Every serious economist on the left, right and center agrees that even after you cut out out "welfare queens," end waste/fraud/abuse and outlaw earmarks, you still will be faced with a massive budget deficit. Do you agree with that conclusion, or not?

3. Do you seriously believe that as we're running a trillion dollar deficit, with the deficit expected to spike up to $1.2 trillion in FY 2011, you can eventually avoid raising taxes to balance the budget? If your answer is yes, that implies that you think you can find a trillion dollars to cut out of the budget, so ...

4. Where do you plan to find this trillion dollars?

Answers to come ...