Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead

by James Fallows, The Atlantic, Sep 27 2013

A kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years

Two big examples of problematic self-government are upon us. They are of course the possible partial shutdown of the federal government, following the long-running hamstringing of public functions via “the sequester”; and a possible vote not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which would create the prospect of a default on U.S. Treasury debt.

The details are complicated, but please don’t lose sight of these three essential points:

  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classroomsor expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the “dig in their heels” headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/your-false-equivalence-guide-to-the-days-ahead/280062/

The Republican party acts like it’s 1999

By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, June 4, 2013

Excerpt

… House Republicans have shelved a serious legislative agenda this year in favor of 24/7 investigations….A good indication of House Republicans’ mind-set came last week, when Rep. John Boehner’s spokesman wrote on the House speaker’s official blog that a speech by Obama on student loans was an attempt “to change the subject from its growing list of scandals.” It’s telling that the GOP leadership would view a student loan event as a distraction from scandals but wouldn’t see the obsession with scandals as a distraction from pocketbook issues…One of the few things that unite them is the investigation of scandals…Republicans, after fighting Obama’s economic policies for four years, may have no better option than to focus on scandal now that the economy is rebounding.…The problem for Republicans is that they appear to be following not the facts but rather their own theories…

Full text

It’s beginning to feel like the late ’90s all over again.

Then, congressional Republicans howled themselves hoarse about Clinton administration scandals. But the indicators kept pointing to a booming economy, and support for President Bill Clinton climbed steeply through 1998 as House Republicans marched toward impeaching him.

Now, after a long economic winter, green shoots are everywhere: The stock market is booming, housing prices are rebounding and mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, long demonized by Republicans, are returning profits to the Treasury. Job growth has accelerated and consumer confidence has reached its highest level in almost six years. Health-care cost increases are slowing, Medicare’s prospects are improving — in part because of President Obama’s health-care reforms — and gasoline prices are forecast to decline. Long-term fiscal problems remain, but the federal deficit is shrinking, putting off Washington’s debt-ceiling standoff until late fall .

Yet House Republicans have shelved a serious legislative agenda this year in favor of 24/7 investigations. On Tuesday morning alone, they held two hearings probing alleged wrongdoing in the Obama administration. At a House education committee hearing in the Rayburn building, several Republicans grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over her fundraising for a nonprofit that works to enroll people in new health-insurance programs. (Similar activities were undertaken by officials in the George W. Bush administration.)

Next door in the Longworth building, the Ways and Means Committee hosted tea party groups complaining that their rights had been violated by the administration. (Investigators have yet to find a link to the White House or to Obama’s political appointees.) Instead of working on tax reform, Ways and Means is one of three House committees holding hearings this week on the Internal Revenue Service abuses. This sounds like a lot — until you consider that five committees are reportedly investigating the administration’s handling of September’s attack on U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya.

A good indication of House Republicans’ mind-set came last week, when Rep. John Boehner’s spokesman wrote on the House speaker’s official blog that a speech by Obama on student loans was an attempt “to change the subject from its growing list of scandals.” It’s telling that the GOP leadership would view a student loan event as a distraction from scandals but wouldn’t see the obsession with scandals as a distraction from pocketbook issues.

As The Post’s Paul Kane reported Tuesday, House Republicans haven’t passed much ambitious legislation this year after they “disintegrated into squabbling factions, no longer able to agree on — much less execute — some of the most basic government functions.” One of the few things that unite them is the investigation of scandals. A few weeks ago, Heritage Action for America, an influential conservative group, suggested that House Republicans focus on investigations and avoid legislation that could divide them.

To be sure, there are real issues involved in the probes, particularly the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s intimidation of journalists. And, with economic troubles remaining in much of the world, there’s no guarantee of a 1990s-style boom. But in terms of scandal, House Republicans so far have significantly less to work with than they did in 1998, when the president lied about sex acts with an intern.

Republicans, after fighting Obama’s economic policies for four years, may have no better option than to focus on scandal now that the economy is rebounding. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters Tuesday morning that Republicans would simultaneously be “emphasizing working families” while investigating the administration “in a deliberative, thoughtful manner, allowing the facts to speak for themselves.”

Reporters asked whether this thoughtfulness was consistent with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, calling the White House press secretary a “paid liar” and describing Obama as Nixonian. Cantor declined to disavow Issa’s statements.

The problem for Republicans is that they appear to be following not the facts but rather their own theories — perhaps best illustrated by the illogical claim from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) last week that the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi were caused not just by actions before and during the attacks but also by “the subsequent political coverup.”

As my colleague Greg Sargent noted, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) may have revealed too much about GOP motives when he said “the trouble here isn’t even the individual specific scandals” but “this pattern of deception administration-wide.”

Will Americans find compelling this hunt for a pattern among accusations that even the accusers regard as unimportant? Or will they be “distracted” by the passel of indicators showing accelerating economic growth and improved government finances?

For those who remember the 1990s, the answer is obvious.

Twitter: @Milbank

Read more from Dana Milbank’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more on this topic: Ruth Marcus: IRS, AP, Libya scandals are a trifecta with little payout E.J. Dionne Jr.: Facts sacrificed to the false god of ‘narrative’ Greg Sargent: Washington’s contradictory Obama narrative George Will: Obama’s shrinking presidency

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-party-like-its-1999/2013/06/04/086bcb40-cd42-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story_1.html

Gridlock and Its Causes

by Gary Hart, HuffingtonPost.com, 05/27/2013

There is not a lot of honest exploration of the root causes of what is now widely known as political gridlock. Most political journalism simply reiterates the fact that the legislative branch of government is virtually dysfunctional and deplores the fact.

But this did not happen by accident or in a vacuum. And it will not end until voters tire of it and replace those responsible. Throughout most of American history the U.S. government worked more or less the way it is supposed to, with occasional lurches to the left or the right.

Dysfunction in the early 21st century has its causes. A deep recession caused by deregulation of and consequent predictable speculation in the finance and housing sectors. Two extremely prolonged wars with no clear victories. Large budget deficits caused by tax cuts that failed to stimulate growth and revenues and running the wars off-budget.

This cumulative discontent produced predictable anti-government movements ironically directed not at the political forces that created these policies but at those who opposed them. The journalistic fiction of political “equivalence” is simply that — a fiction meant to avoid pinning the tail on the elephant and being accused of liberal bias.

Anyone who believes the administrations of Carter, Clinton, and Obama are liberal, let alone “socialist,” are living in a dream world. In fact, Democratic members of Congress, including many party leaders, voted for the Iraq invasion and the Bush tax cuts. Any fair assessment of both parties’ performance will show that Democrats have supported Reagan and Bush policies vastly more than Republicans now in office have supported Obama policies. In fact, it is the official, publicly-announced policy of the Republican party to oppose every Obama administration initiative, including appointment of cabinet, sub-cabinet, and judicial nominees.

If you are locked into an ideology that government is bad and ineffective, you have a stake in proving that to be the case, despite the election of a president and administration twice by substantial majorities. Whether a gridlock-committed Republican party will pay a price for opposing the will of the people remains to be seen. At the least it is a high-risk political strategy and at the most it is a rejection of majority government and jeopardization of the national interest.

There is mounting evidence that some Republican elected officials are beginning to foresee the cliff over which Tea Party representatives are headed and fear the damage, even destruction, the Republican party might suffer. It is ludicrous in the extreme for new Tea Party members to claim respect for the House and the Senate and then behave in the most disrespectful manner possible. If these radical individuals wish to alter the American form of government, juvenile behavior is hardly the way to achieve it. Anti-government forces must acknowledge that the size and shape of the national government does not change that much when Republicans are in power.

As always, it is up to the American people to decide what they want. But we must make up our minds. We cannot have a government that works by electing those who want it not to work.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-hart/gridlock-and-its-causes_b_3343154.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=052813&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

The Wisdom of Bob Dole

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, May 28, 2013

Excerpt

a furiously oppositional Republican Party… has left mainstream conservatives like Mr. [Bob] Dole and Senator John McCain shaking their heads in disgust.

The difference between the current crop of Tea Party lawmakers and Mr. Dole’s generation is not simply one of ideology…the time came to actually govern, Republicans used to set aside their grandstanding, recognize that a two-party system requires compromise and make deals to keep the government working on the people’s behalf.

The current generation refuses to do that. Its members want to dismantle government, using whatever crowbar happens to be handy, and they don’t particularly care what traditions of mutual respect get smashed at the same timeThis corrosive mentality has been standard procedure in the House since 2011, but now it has seeped over to the Senate…Already, the mulish behavior of Congressional Republicans has led to the creation of the sequester, blocked action on economic growth and climate change, prevented reasonable checks on gun purchases and threatens to blow up a hard-fought compromise on immigration. Mr. Dole’s words should remind his party that it is not only abandoning its past, but damaging the country’s future.

Full text

Bob Dole no longer recognizes the Republican Party that he helped lead for years. Speaking over the weekend on “Fox News Sunday,” he said his party should hang a “closed for repairs” sign on its doors until it comes up with a few positive ideas, because neither he nor Ronald Reagan would now feel comfortable in its membership.

“It seems to be almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” said Mr. Dole, the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate. “I mean, we weren’t perfect by a long shot, but at least we got our work done.”

The current Congress can’t even do that, thanks to a furiously oppositional Republican Party, and that’s what has left mainstream conservatives like Mr. Dole and Senator John McCain shaking their heads in disgust.

The difference between the current crop of Tea Party lawmakers and Mr. Dole’s generation is not simply one of ideology. While the Tea Partiers are undoubtedly more extreme, Mr. Dole spent years pushing big tax cuts, railing at regulations and blocking international treaties. His party actively courted the religious right in the 1980s and relied on racial innuendo to win elections. But when the time came to actually govern, Republicans used to set aside their grandstanding, recognize that a two-party system requires compromise and make deals to keep the government working on the people’s behalf.

The current generation refuses to do that. Its members want to dismantle government, using whatever crowbar happens to be handy, and they don’t particularly care what traditions of mutual respect get smashed at the same time. “I’m not all that interested in the way things have always been done around here,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told The Times last week.

This corrosive mentality has been standard procedure in the House since 2011, but now it has seeped over to the Senate. Mr. Rubio is one of several senators who have blocked a basic function of government: a conference committee to work out budget differences between the House and Senate so that Congress can start passing appropriations bills. They say they are afraid the committee will agree to raise the debt ceiling without extorting the spending cuts they seek. One of them, Ted Cruz of Texas, admitted that he didn’t even trust House Republicans to practice blackmail properly. They have been backed by Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who wants extremist credentials for his re-election.

At long last, this is finally drawing the rancor of Mr. Dole’s heirs in the responsible wing of the party. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said that negotiating on a budget was an “issue of integrity.” Roy Blunt, Lamar Alexander and many others have encouraged talks, and Mr. McCain (who was not above veering to the far right when he was running for president in 2008) now says the Tea Partiers are “absolutely out of line” and setting a bad precedent.

“We’re here to vote, not here to block things,” he said last week. “We’re here to articulate our positions on the issues and do what we can for the good of the country and the let the process move forward.”

Already, the mulish behavior of Congressional Republicans has led to the creation of the sequester, blocked action on economic growth and climate change, prevented reasonable checks on gun purchases and threatens to blow up a hard-fought compromise on immigration. Mr. Dole’s words should remind his party that it is not only abandoning its past, but damaging the country’s future.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/opinion/bob-dole-misses-his-republican-party.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130529

Transformation of the Republican Party into extremism

Cracked Worldview by David Klinghoffer, StarTribune, August 4, 2010 — Conservatism once had a meaningful and noble purpose. Those days, it seems, have waned…With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism.….

Meet The Radical Republicans Chairing Important House Committees, By Zack Beauchamp on Nov 28, 2012, thinkprogress.org -…ThinkProgress’ guide to the views of five of the new committee chairs on the issues they’ll be in charge of, which range from climate change to immigration to financial regulation:

Lamar Smith (Texas) — Science, Space and Technology — …Smith is a climate change skeptic…Smith received significant donations from both Koch industries and the oil and gas sector in his most recent campaign…

Jeb Hensarling (Texas) — Financial Services — …his candidacy was underwritten by Wall Street: banks donated more than seven times as much as the next largest industry to Hensarling’s reelection campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hensarling wants to take down the Dodd-Frank regulations and thinks taxing the financial industry is “frankly ludicrous.” Hensarling has also called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes.”

Ed Royce (California) — Foreign Affairs -  Rep. Royce has a questionable history with respect to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds: last year, he told an anti-Muslim rally that multiculturalism “has paralyzed too many of our citizens to make the critical judgement we need to make to prosper as a society.” He also appears on lead Islamophobic propagandist Frank Gaffney’s radio show, proposed a national version of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, and allegedly sent mailers accusing his Taiwanese-American opponent in the 2012 election of being funded by Chinese Communists.

Michael McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security -  Rep. McCaul…endorsed .. hearings on Islamic terrorism that..demonized” Muslims. He’s also a drug warrior… celebrated Arizona’s discriminatory “show me your papers” immigration law…

Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) — Judiciary -  Rep. Goodlatte…is staunchly anti-immigrant, opposing a pathway to citizenship…holds fringe views on the Constitution: he believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that the federal minimum wage may be.

Are Republicans rebranding or rethinking?

Calling radicalism by its name

How Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to ‘No New Taxes,’ Ever  

Meet The Radical Republicans Chairing Important House Committees  

Plu­toc­racy, Paral­y­sis, Per­plex­ity

The Worst Of Times

Where Have You Gone, Bill Buckley?

When Election Regulators Are Mocked

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, April 13, 2013

Excerpt

It is an open scandal in Washington that the Federal Election Commission is completely ossified as the referee and penalizer of abuses in national politics.

Karl Rove’s powerful Crossroads GPS money machine cruelly underlined the agency’s impotence last week with a snippy rebuff of a legitimate inquiry from the commission staff about the shadowy sources of the group’s war chest. Crossroads GPS archly replied that continued inquiries on the matter “are unnecessary,” but that if they keep coming, it will offer the same unrevealing response.

This was no niggling issue. The election commission was asking for more details about the operation’s 2012 fourth-quarter report showing more than $50 million in independent expenditures but not a sign of who donated the money. The insulting rebuke to the agency should be thrown back with a unanimous demand that election law be obeyed. But this is the F.E.C., one of the sorrier federal agencies, where standoffs engineered by the three Republican commissioners on the six-seat panel have stymied efforts to write regulations and enforce them.

The result is a mounting backlog of complaints about blatant campaign abuses. Campaign operatives flout the law, knowing that the commission is toothless. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision deregulating campaign spending by corporations and unions has yet to be spelled out in F.E.C. rules needed by campaign operations…[it is] a gaping failure in a democracy that is increasingly exploited by scheming professionals.

Full text

It is an open scandal in Washington that the Federal Election Commission is completely ossified as the referee and penalizer of abuses in national politics.

Karl Rove’s powerful Crossroads GPS money machine cruelly underlined the agency’s impotence last week with a snippy rebuff of a legitimate inquiry from the commission staff about the shadowy sources of the group’s war chest. Crossroads GPS archly replied that continued inquiries on the matter “are unnecessary,” but that if they keep coming, it will offer the same unrevealing response.

This was no niggling issue. The election commission was asking for more details about the operation’s 2012 fourth-quarter report showing more than $50 million in independent expenditures but not a sign of who donated the money. The insulting rebuke to the agency should be thrown back with a unanimous demand that election law be obeyed. But this is the F.E.C., one of the sorrier federal agencies, where standoffs engineered by the three Republican commissioners on the six-seat panel have stymied efforts to write regulations and enforce them.

The result is a mounting backlog of complaints about blatant campaign abuses. Campaign operatives flout the law, knowing that the commission is toothless. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision deregulating campaign spending by corporations and unions has yet to be spelled out in F.E.C. rules needed by campaign operations. “Everything gets objected to,” Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner, told the journal CQ Roll Call. “Everything requires a lengthy discussion.”

At the end of this month the F.E.C., already with one unfilled vacancy, will have five members continuing to sit though their terms have expired. President Obama should fulfill his old campaign promise to nominate independent professionals to the commission. Senate Republicans would doubtlessly block his choices, but it would draw public attention to a gaping failure in a democracy that is increasingly exploited by scheming professionals.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/opinion/sunday/the-federal-election-commission-is-mocked.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130414&_r=0

Republican Leaders Asked to Skip Values Voters Summit

BY Julie Bolcer, www.advocate.com,September 11 2012 

A letter asks Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and others to decline an invitation to speak at the event hosted by the antigay Family Research Council.
Since its launch in 2006, the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. has become a must-do event on the Republican political calendar, where high-profile hopefuls court influential religious conservatives in an atmosphere infused with antigay messages and demonstrable falsehoods.

This year a coalition of human rights groups including LGBT advocacy organizations is urging top Republicans such as vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and House majority leader Eric Cantor to decline invitations in order to avoid legitimizing the “demonizing lies” of the host, the Family Research Council. The host and one of the cosponsors, the American Family Association, have falsely linked homosexuality to pedophilia and the Holocaust, among other untruths that have been debunked by researchers and scientists.

Calling the FRC “far outside of the mainstream,” seven groups sent a letter to invited speakers last week saying, “We urge you not to lend the prestige of your office to the summit.” The letter concluded by saying, “We urge you to decline the FRC’s invitation and not share the stage with and lend your credibility to an organization that spreads demonizing falsehoods about other people.”

Congressman Ryan and Majority Leader Cantor are scheduled to speak during the morning plenary session at the summit’s opening day this Friday. Good as You reports that scheduled speakers also include Ann Romney, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The letter was sent by leaders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Council, National Council of La Raza, Faithful America, and People for the American Way Foundation. Representatives from most of the groups spoke to reporters in a press briefing call Tuesday morning.

“It is entirely inappropriate for mainstream elected officials who are responsible for advocating for the best interests of America’s diverse constituents to appear at an event for a group that actively works to banish LGBT people to the outskirts of society,” said HRC president Fred Sainz. “The only thing FRC advocates for is the demonization of those who do not fit into their narrow worldview.”

While the FRC opposition to marriage equality may contradict the emerging majority of Americans in favor, its president Tony Perkins last month exerted control over language in the Republican Party platform that opposes same-sex marriage, calls for a federal constitutional amendment banning such unions, and endorses the Defense of Marriage Act. Romney and his running mate, Ryan, also support those positions.

The FRC has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a classification that Perkins and others blamed for the nonlethal shooting of a security guard at the group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. last month. During the call Tuesday, SPLC president Richard Cohen reiterated his group’s explanation that the classification comes not from the FRC’s religious views or opposition to marriage equality, but from its “baseless and incendiary name-calling and lying about the LGBT community.”

Representatives on the call conceded that Republican leaders may be unlikely to skip a meeting with active conservative voters at the height of election season, but they claimed credit for the cancellation of at least one prominent speaker. Faithful America director Michael Sherrard said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York had been promoted on the schedule, but his office confirmed he would not attend after more than 20,000 people signed an online petition asking him not to speak. It was unknown whether Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had formally been invited or just listed by the summit’s organizers.

“It’s unclear whether he was actually on the schedule to begin with, but it’s equally clear that they were acting in response” to the petition, said Sherrard.

If leaders such as Ryan and Cantor do not heed the letter and attend the Values Voters Summit as scheduled, the human rights groups intend to bring the elected officials’ far-right association to the attention of media. Some of the other speakers include anti-Muslim activists such as Frank Gaffney, opponents of gay parents including Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, and Lila Rose, who has “called for abortions to be performed in the public square,” according to People for the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan.

“What’s remarkable about the summit is that it really does show how closely aligned the so-called mainstream conservatives are with these extreme groups,” he said. “Elected officials can’t pretend to be mainstream figures while appearing at an extremist event.”

http://www.advocate.com/politics/2012/09/11/republican-leaders-asked-skip-values-voters-summit