Obama and Simpson-Bowles: Don’t Panic. Yet.

The Washington Post today says that Obama’s “deficit reduction” speech will do so by “promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission.”  The Shrill One rightfully eviscerates this idea.  But let’s not panic.  Yet.

Krugman says that the President will “more or less endorse” Simpson-Bowles.  But that’s not what the article says; in fact, it’s not quite clear what the article is saying.  One of its alleged reporters is Peter Wallsten, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and co-author of possibly the worst article in the entire 2008 Presidential news cycle, which argued that basically Obama and McCain agreed on all the major issues.  He seems committed to High Broderism, even after the death of The Master.

The article is lazy in general, arguing, for example:

Independents abandoned the party last year as concern grew about government deficits and spending. But Obama also must worry about his liberal base, which views protecting entitlement programs central to Democratic Party orthodoxy.

There is actually no evidence for the first assertion; it is essentially recycled Beltway orthodoxy.  What happened last year was a supercharged Republican base.  And Social Security and Medicare are not “central to Democratic Party orthodoxy”: they are fabulously successful and fabulously popular programs among the entire US population. 

I have no confidence that Obama won’t sell Democratic Party principles down the river; Congressional Democrats heard about his plans for the speech from David Plouffe on the Sunday shows.  Trinagulation is alive and well at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But it’s going to take more than this article to persuade me that it is happening here.  Ezra Klein says that the White House tells him that it is not endorsing Simpson-Bowles, and that “this will make sense tomorrow.”  We’ll see.

This Never Would Have Happened in a Blue State

The front page of the New York Times reports a bullying Governor refusing to maintain an income tax surcharge on high earners, and instead slashing money for public education and Medicaid.

An outrage!  This is why we need to elect Democrats.

Oh, wait a minute….

This never would have happened if Mario Cuomo were alive.

Unilateral Disarmament in the Class War

What’s worse? That the Right has been waging class war on working Americans for three decades? Or that progressives haven’t even been aware of it?

Some outrage in Blue Blogistan about a proposed law from House Republicans that would deny union members and their families of Food Stamp benefits if they are on strike.  Chait notes that “obviously the intent here is to increase the bargaining power of management vis a vis its workforce by increasing the threat of severe deprivation to anybody contemplating a labor strike. I don’t believe these members of Congress actually sought to punish the spouses and children of striking workers, but when you’re waging class war, collateral damage is inevitable.”

Very true.  Well, guess what?  The joke’s on us because this horrid bill is current law. 7 U.S.C. sec. 415(d)(3) reads:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a household shall not participate in the supplemental nutrition assistance program at any time that any member of such household, not exempt from the work registration requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection, is on strike as defined in section 142(2) of Title 29, because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout) as defined in section 152(9) of Title 29: Provided, That a household shall not lose its eligibility to participate in the supplemental nutrition assistance program as a result of one of its members going on strike if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such household shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household: Provided further, That such ineligibility shall not apply to any household that does not contain a member on strike, if any of its members refuses to accept employment at a plant or site because of a strike or lockout.

This provision, according to my colleague Noah Zatz (who specializes in employment law and public benefits law) was put in by the Reagan Administration in 1981.  In other words, the provision that progressives are screaming about now has been the law for nearly thirty years now.  And no one has seen fit to do anything about it.  (Food Stamps is now called the “supplemental nutrition assistance program” so it’s the same program).

This reveals two points:

1)  There is nothing in current Republican policy that really diverges from Reaganism.  The entire push of the American Right since Reagan has been to crush labor in particular and working Americans in general.  This is just working out of the general program.

2)  It says something quite pathetic about the state of progressive America that none of us seemed to know anything about this, and that promoting the rights of working people has been pushed so far to the background that we can’t even see a lot of its most pernicious manifestations.

What’s worse?  That the Right has declared class war on working Americans?  Or that progressives haven’t even been aware of it?

Renewing a Modest Proposal for the 2012 Democratic Convention

Now that we know the 2012 Democratic Convetion will be in Charlotte, we should try to make sure that Fox “News” is denied privileged access to it.

As befits a person of my high stature, I received a “personal e-mail” from Michelle Obama this morning, letting me on the secret that the Democratic Party will hold its 2012 Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Seems to me that it’s a good choice: the Dems will get a lot of free media in a state that Obama carried in 2008 and will make it difficult for the Republicans to win if he carries it again.  (It’s also got a very nice new airport, which will help.).

But Michelle — and of course the FLOTUS and I are on a first name basis now — also told me that she needs 

to hear from you. We want to know what you’d like to see at next year’s convention, how and where you plan on watching it — and the very best way we can engage your friends and neighbors. Jonathan, please share your input with us right now — how can we make The People’s Convention belong to you and your community?

Well, that’s easy: I don’t really have strong views about what I want to see at the Convention, but I have a very strong idea of what I don’t want to see: a Fox News skybox.

Fox “News” is not a news organization: it is an arm of Movement Conservatism in general and the Republican Party in particular.  Just today TPM’s Brian Beutler revealed that Fox managing editor Bill Sammon pushed very hard in 2008 to emphasize Obama’s “socialism.”  An estimated three people nationwide are surprised at this.  Of course it has every right to advocate and support Movement Conservatism, but there’s no reason why the Democratic Party should help it to do so.

The Republican Convention shouldn’t give a skybox to ACORN, and the Democrats shouldn’t give a skybox to Fox.  It’s that simple.

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”: The Coach and the President Heed an African Proverb

African-American leaders know better than to frighten their followers. Shouldn’t the rest of us know better than to berate them for their self-restraint?

The people who’ve spent the past several seasons calling for the head of Coach Lovie Smith on the grounds that he’s “ignorant and weak” and “emotionless” (among many less printable adjectives) are nowhere to be found since he led the Chicago Bears to the NFL Conference championships. Having failed to bury Smith, they absolutely refuse to praise him.

Why?   Because Coach Smith is a soft-spoken professional who leads not by shrieking but by—well, leading.   Chicagoans, particularly Chicago sports fans, can’t seem to wrap their heads around the notion that this gentle man— this gentleman—could possibly be any good at coaching football. That’s because the mold for Da Coach was set by Mike Ditka, a screaming, foul-mouthed, temper-losing maniac whose heart attack only narrowly missed taking place on the field.   If you’re not yelling like that, you must not be leading.

But if Coach Smith behaved like that—berating his players and abusing the press in rants liberally sprinkled with profanity—we’d hear nothing but tut-tuts about what an angry black man he was.  Probably neither the fans nor the team itself would be willing to follow him.  It’s no accident that the most successful African-American coaches — Tony Dungee, Mike Singletary, Lovie Smith — are all matter-of-fact and free of braggadocio.   That’s the way black men have to negotiate the world to avoid waking the not-very-soundly sleeping dogs of white racism.

Which brings us to the case of President Obama.   Everyone who derides him for not being tough enough—for not being Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson—seems to forget that they’re speaking of someone whose life has required constant attention to the problem of being non-threatening.   That’s quite a challenge for a man who’s tall, brilliant and black.

But the President has succeeded at it through a combination of self-deprecation (“a skinny kid with a funny name”) and unshakable composure (“No-Drama Obama”).   If instead he’d emulated FDR in saying of his opponents “I welcome their hatred,” Fox News would have announced that he hated all white people. (Oh, right, someone on that network did that anyway.)   If like LBJ he’d insisted a reporter accompany him while he used the toilet, he wouldn’t be considered a lively and original character but just some ghetto type who didn’t know how to behave.

Consider the reportage when the president held a news conference explaining his decision to make the tax-cut compromise.  Having answered a series of questions designed to get him to say that he’d betrayed his promises, his party and his people, he was finally irate enough to respond, “It’s the health care battle all over again. Some people would rather rest in their purity than get something done,” or words to that effect.   As a rebuke goes, his was a pretty mild one.   But it was sufficient to produce several weeks of headlines about how the President had “scolded” his party and how “angry” he was.   If he’d actually been angry, we’d probably have seen articles of impeachment.

So all the people who want to give the President—and the Coach, for that matter—lessons in leadership should bear in mind that both men have learned precisely how much force they can use before that force is turned against them.   And they haven’t learned it from the Op-Ed pages or the screaming-heads fests.   Experience keeps a hard school but we will learn at no other.

I myself wrote—but fortunately did not post—the following incredibly misguided advice:

I understand the President’s unwillingness to assume the role of Angry Black Man into which his opponents wish to thrust him. But when the people on the other side of the table are card-carrying members of the Paranoid Style in American Politics, it’s time to stand up and call them the proto-fascists they are.   And hoping they’ll be willing to compromise seems a deliberate act of denial, like whistling past the graveyard. Instead, Barack Obama should emulate Harry Truman.   Give ’em hell, Barry!

WRONG!   As the Tucson shootings demonstrate, the last thing we need right now is public officials giving each other high-decibel hell.   And even if hell were called for, a black man in power couldn’t be the one to deliver it.   That’s an indulgence reserved for powerful white men—and every powerful black man knows it. It’s time the rest of us learned the same lesson.

The volume of reproach and disappointment and disapproval and correction directed at Coach Smith and the President says nothing about their leadership ability.   It’s purely a reflection of the fears and fantasies a significant subgroup of American white people have about American black people.   The fact that one of them produced a championship team, and the other achieved the health-care reform none of his white predecessors could manage (among many other victories), demonstrates that they’re far better leaders than anyone less challenged could dream of being.

So let’s stop giving them hell.

Pitchforks round the White House

Why Obama should learn to love the left.

What gives with Obama´s scolding attitude to his base? The idea seems to be that life in the White House and the Democratic caucuses in the Capitol would be better if all his supporters were like RBC bloggers: conciliatory, rationalist left-of-centrists. (Our commenters trend further left, pace Brett, Thomas [pacificatory update, but this is the last: and Dave]).

Rubbish. It´s a truism of negotiation theory that it pays to be crazy or at least look it : red-eyed, trembling hands, on the edge of losing it entirely. This extends I reckon to principal-agent situations: agents want crazy clients to negotiate for. Obama would be much better off if his base included a large contingent of people on the edge of storming the NYSE and pushing the bankers out if their helicopters without a parachute.

The British parliamentary reforms of 1832, 1867, and 1911 took place against a background of popular agitation. Rioters set fire to Nottingham Castle in 1832; in 1867 the police did not dare to enforce a ban against a huge demonstration in Hyde Park; 1911 was marked by bitter industrial conflicts, in one of which two workers were shot dead by police. It´s hard to see how the centrist reformers could have got their way in the smoke-filled rooms without the agitators outside.

So the rational strategy for a moderate reformer is to cosset your radicals, signal that your heart is with them, though unfortunately etc, and point their anger at your political opponents – and away from you. At the same time you signal to your opponents that you personally would be willing to compromise, but your crazy radical base have tied your hands.

In this Pol 101 analysis, Obama´s problem isn´t that he has too many lefty supporters but too few. Of course he doesn´t want the radicals to become so strong they determine his actions, but there´s no risk of that. Dennis Kucinich and his friends don´t even fill a cosy Adullam´s cave.

Why is Barack Obama, a cerebral and well-educated politician, unable to see what what was obvious to his soulmates Grey, Disraeli, and Asquith? It´s pure speculation, but here´s my guess.

Barack Obama had close dealings with real left-wing radicals only once, as a young community organizer in Chicago. He did once meet Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, former members of the Weather Underground, and no doubt others on the far left of Chicago politics. During the election, the acquaintanceship was used by conservatives in an absurd attempt to portray Obama as a closet far-left radical himself. Progressives rallied round to dismiss, and bury, the allegation.

But there is a real question about the effect of the contact on the ambitious young black politician. My hypothesis: Obama was close enough to feel in his bones the attraction of clear-cut iconoclastic ideas married to fierce egalitarian passion; but also to see them as a real danger to the moderate, Luther-King path he chose. The danger extends to association, for people like Ayers and Dohrn really do scare off centrist Democrats and independents.

Obama should get over this. Jane Hamsher wants a public option in health care; Glenn Greenwald, fair civilian trials for alleged terrorists; Paul Krugman, a return to Clinton´s tax rates and Roosevelt´s financial regulation. These are not the positions of revolutionaries. In many ways, they are closer to the centre of American opinion than he is.
Update: Among other things, I take away from Andrew´s new post the ¨hard cop – soft cop¨ metaphor, which fits well here.

Update 2 – 10 Dec: Liberal Democrats on the Hill are enraged! House Dems are holding out for an extra year on the payroll tax cuts (and why not also for the long-term unemployment insurance, plus extending the debt ceiling)! Sen. Schumer is still fighting for ending the millionaire tax cuts! Feel the dark side of the Force! Obama should be delighted, as long as his Leveller troops come round in the end.

GOP Busily Locking Down the Latino Vote

…for the Democrats.

…for the Democrats.

1)  Senate Republicans are planning a big push against the DREAM Act, because it’s extremely important to deny citizenship to college students and soldiers;

2)  Idaho Republicans are working on replicating SB 1070, the Arizona immigration law, in their state; and

3)  House Republicans will begin their new majority to repeal the 14th Amendment and deny “birthright citizenship” to children born in the United States.

The Pacific and Mountain West contained some of the few bright spots for the Democrats in the midterms, with Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer, Harry Reid, and Michael Bennet all pulling through, relatively small losses of House seats, capturing the California Governorship and retaining the Colorado governorship.  And this was in large part due to the Latino vote.

Keep at it, guys: you had a good midterm during the worst recession in 70 years, but in a couple of decades, you’ll have Idaho, Utah, and the Confederacy.

Jack Conway’s Next Ad Writes Itself

Washington Democrats are attacking Jack Conway for his Aqua Buddha ad. And that’s just the way he likes it.

Washington Democrats and Beltway pundits are attacking me for demanding to know why Rand Paul joined an organization that ridicules Christianity.

“Well, that may be the way they do things in Washington, but not here in Kentucky.  When Rand Paul’s buddies attack Christianity, I’ll call them out on it, no matter what media elites say.

“I’m Jack Conway, and I approved this message.”

Two Midterms At Once

There are two houses of Congress — and this year, that means that there are two different midterms.

I think that Tom Jensen has a point here:

Candidates matter- but they matter a lot more in Senate elections where voters really get to know them than in House elections that are much more likely to be determined by the national tide. We’ve seen time and again in Senate races this year that the better voters get to know the Republican candidates the less they like them. But unfortunately for Democrats I don’t know that voters ever get to know the House candidates well enough for that same effect to occur.

Jensen’s Public Policy Polling has a clear ideological sympathy for Democrats, but it is a highly respected outfit. When it talks, I listen, and I think he’s making sense.

I see no reason to believe that the Republicans will fail to take the House in this cycle, and as the New York Times reported the other day, the GOP is expanding its field.  But over the last few days, Senate polls have started to tilt back toward the Democrats: Manchin either slightly up or tied in West Virginia, Bennet closing fast in Colorado (and even up in a PPP poll), Reid and Giannoulias climbing back into dead heats in Nevada and Illinois, Murray beginning to cruise in Washington.  Now, we even have a poll reporting a small lead for Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania (caveat emptor: that poll is a DSCC internal).  Update: yet another Democratic internal shows this race as a toss-up, with Sestak in a statistical tie.  As the piece says, certainly the NRSC sees it that way: after ignoring this race for months, it has launched its first ad against Sestak.

Jensen’s logic makes sense.  Most House races are not high on anyone’s radar screen: the GOP candidate might as well be the proverbial “generic Republican.”  And that means he’ll win.  But in Senate races, the voters are actually finding out something about Republicans — and they are running away from what they see.

Keep that in mind next time the Villagers say that the electorate has endorsed Republican policies.  They haven’t.  The economy is terrible, and voters are angry.  End of story.

In the meantime, you can keep the pressure on by providing money to key races here.

Events, New Realities, and the Right Attitude

Now is the time for all good people to stiffen the spines of the Democratic Party — both before and after the election.

Apparently there’s been some hand-wringing about Josh Marshall’s piece published last night entitled “Events Create New Realities.”  Is he giving up on the midterms?  Well, no, but Josh has a crucial point to make:

How well will Democrats stand up to the headline that says Republicans win 50 House seats?

And remember, it won’t be “Republicans win 50 House Seats.”

The headline will read “Angry Country Repudiates Obama Agenda, Embraces Small Government Conservative Values.” And that will be the Times. Believe me, it won’t be pretty.

In any case, a lot of folks are thinking, well, sure the Republicans take the House and maybe they even take the Senate. But Obama’s got the veto pen and the big legislation has already been pushed through. And if they come after Social Security, c’mon, let them try: Obama can veto whatever they pass. And they’ll kill themselves for 2012.

But all of this is based on the premise that the Democrats — congressional leaders and the White House — are going to be something like the same people on November 3rd as they were on November 1st. And a lot of painful history, the post-Scott Brown victory period being only the most recent example, says that’s a very bad assumption.

Josh is right.  It is a very bad assumption.  Blue Blogistan and loyal Democrats, however, can make a difference here.

This is going to be a very ugly midterm.   But it will be even uglier if Democrats buy into what will surely be the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom: America’s voters have rejected progressivism, it’s a conservative country, and — most maddeningly — the Dems took it on the chin because they went “too far to the left.”

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, in one of those necessary takedowns of Matt Bai, said it the best:

It’s not complicated at all: Obama’s approval ratings have fallen because the economy stinks.  End of story.  Anything else is on the margins…and it’s certainly possible that everything else is pushing his ratings up, not down.  

The same is true for Democrats generally.  That means the last thing we want to do is start getting into a defensive crouch, setting up yet another round of interminable “Rethinking Liberalism” conferences, wondering where we “went wrong,” or why we’re “not connecting.”  The economy stinks.  End of story.

Or maybe not even that.  The economy stinks because (to extend Bernstein’s scatology) the Republicans put it in the toilet.  Their policies failed.  As Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt have demonstrated in their recent superb book, financial crises take a very long time to shake out, particularly because of the key role the financial system plays in directing investment through the economy.  Combine that with historic gains in the last two cycles, many of them in Reddish areas, and you have the recipe for a bad cycle.  But a bad cycle does not equal rejection.  It’s just a bad cycle.

This Congress has accomplished a tremendous amount of good: the stimulus, student loan reforms, financial reform, and of course the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.  If it hadn’t been for the Senate, there would have also been historic climate legislation, a bigger stimulus, stronger support for higher education (particularly community colleges), and probably a much stronger economy.  There is nothing for Democrats to be ashamed of.

If the predictions from the polls come true, our tasks will be 1) keeping Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader (if she wants the job); 2) stiffening the President’s spine (which from his excellent statement today on the Bush tax cuts, seems to be in decent shape); and 3) continuing to fight in the trenches for important things, like making sure ACA implementation proceeds, blocking GOP gerrymandering, and attacking conservative talking points.  I’ll have more to say more on these in due course, but we cannot do any of these things if we wake up on November 3rd in some sort of ideological stupor, cowed by right-wing browbeating, and lacking the courage of our convictions.

Fight like hell the next two months.  Give money when you can.  Here’s an excellent place to start.  But most of all, let leading Democrats know that they must not back down, no matter what happens.  The country, and the world, depend on them getting this message.