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 Mullen do -- then why shouldn't the law be repealed?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.