It was sad, so sad

21 11 2013

Don’t do it, Harry! Don’t do it! You’ll regret it! Why, we might turn around and cram the courts full of Scalias and Thomases and. . .

Wait, what’s that you say? That that’s what we did, anyway? Weelllll, we’ll just. . .



Dave Weigel has some really nice observations at Slate, noting in particular that

They didn’t demand the change because they’re ignorant about the 2014 polls. If they lose that election, they’ll have given themselves a year to confirm judges and executive nominees. If they lose the presidency in 2016, they’ll have empowered a Republican to put judicial robes on whichever Federalist Society member he wants. But they expected Republicans to break the filibuster anyway. “I know that if there is a Republican president and a Republican majority,” Sen. Merkley said this month, “they will force up-and-down votes, because they demonstrated their commitment to that principle in 2005.”

Merkley’s opponents never really reckoned with his logic. Progressives did not consider filibuster reform a “risk.” They saw a way to kick over an impediment to majority rule, before Republicans took power and kicked it over themselves. They’re trading something that might have brought “consensus” for something that empowers the party that wins elections. And they’re fine with that.

Just so.

And now we see what happens next.

But you’re a piece of junk

14 10 2013

“We can’t get lower in the polls. We’re down to blood relatives and paid staffers now,” said Senator John McCain on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But we’ve got to turn this around, and the Democrats had better help.”

If by “turn this around” the senator from Arizona means, pass a budget and raise the debt ceiling, by all means.

But if “turn this around” refers to the sub-basement esteem in which the public holds the GOP, then no, no, the Dems had better not help—except, perhaps, to send down more shovels.


Quote via Robert Costa, National Review

‘Cause I told you once, you son of a bitch

1 05 2013

The Dems need some sons-of-bitches.

I’ve been mulling this ever since the presidents-are-assholes post (which, honestly, was the wrong word to use. I was thinking arrogant asshole when I wrote asshole, but since asshole is now more associated with thoughtlessness and jerkish behavior than an annoying overflow of self-confidence, I should have pulled another term out of the ol’ noggin. Prick, perhaps: presidents-are-pricks. Yes, that works, doesn’t it? And it has a minor alliterative bit going for it as well.). . .  and, um, yeah.

Okay, sons-of-bitches. Since US presidents have to appeal to citizens, there are limits as to how ruthless they may appear to be. I’m of the opinion that to become president you have to be one of the most ruthless people on the planet, but while you can—must—offer flashes of ruthlessness, you cannot be only ruthless.

Hence the need for sons-of-bitches.

Machiavelli is, unsurprisingly, my touchstone for this. Not everything he advises for would-be princes holds up in a democratic system, but even back in the day he recognized the value of a good hatchet man:

When he [Cesare Borgia] took Romagna, . . . the province was a prey to robbery, assaults, and every kind of disorder. He, therefore, judged it necessary to give them a good government in order to make them peaceful and obedient to his rule. For this purpose he appointed Messer Remirro de Orco, a cruel and able man, to whom he gave the fullest authority. This man, in a short time, was highly successful in rendering the country orderly and united, whereupon the duke, not deeming such excessive authority expedient, lest it should become hateful, appoint a civil court of justice in the centre of the province. . . .

Of course, Borgia was himself a son-of-a-bitch:

And as he knew the harshness of the past had engendered some amount of hatred, in order to purge the minds of the people and to win them over completely, he resolved to show that if any cruelty had taken place it was not by his orders, but through the harsh disposition of his minister [de Orco]. And having found the opportunity he had him cut in half and placed one morning in the public square at Cesena with a piece of wood and blood-stained knife by his side. The ferocity of this spectacle caused the people both satisfaction and amazement.

(My favorite part of this anecdote? He ends by saying “But to return where we left off.”)

No, I don’t recommend public body-choppings, but Machiavelli’s basic admonition holds:

a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which make him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.

Note that such faithlessness has less to do with the people than with other rulers and political actors.

Not that he has much respect for the people:

to possess [virtue] and always observe them is dangerous, but to appear to possess them is useful. Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. . . .

The people want to be well-ruled and to think well of those who rule them, so if you have to be faithless to maintain good order and lie about such faithlessness to maintain your reputation, well, that’s what effective leadership requires.

Given my antipathy toward moral consequentialism—the ends justify the means—you’d think I’d be appalled by Machiavelli, who is a consequentialist par excellence. And yet I am not, because the morality (if you will) of politics is not that of ethics; what is required for good governance of a state is distinct from that of good governance of a soul.

Anyway, the president-as-son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t work in contemporary American politics, not just because we want—Odin forbid—a “likable” president, but because he almost certainly couldn’t conceal his bad acts. No fingerprints, and all that.

Consider Nixon, a son-of-a-bitch if there ever was one, who was nonetheless dwarfed in his SOB-ness by his advisers. He could have survived Watergate had he been able to offload the responsibility on the execrable pack of hounds around him, but he couldn’t keep his beetle-brow out of it.

Compare that to Reagan. Does anyone truly believe that he knew nothing about the arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra clusterfuck? Sure, he was nodding off by the end of his term, but he wasn’t completely out of it when his henchmen were sending cakes to the ayatollah and offloading weapons to a scrum of fascists and opportunists camped in the hills of Nicaragua. His SOBs were colossally delusional, but they at least kept their duke out of it.

This is all getting away from me, isn’t it? “But to return where we left off.”

The Democrats need some sons-of-bitches because they are dealing with an opposition which leadership is itself too cowed to beat back the howling horde of feral paranoiacs which have overrun their party. The Dems—the Democratic president—needs their/his own pack of hounds (execrable or not) who are not only willing but positively gleeful at the thought of handcuffing the Republican party to the dead weight of the nutters and conspiracists, the young-Earthers and old birthers, the contraceptive-grabbers and ammo-clingers, and dragging the whole lot of them into the metaphorical sea. Only then will those Republicans who retain some faint memory of the necessity of good governance be scared into gnawing off their arms to preserve themselves and prevent their entire party from drowning in a roiling mass of incoherence and stupidity.

There’s another reason besides likability and  deniability to cultivate some SOBs: punishing the GOP will take time and real effort, and the president has his own shit to do. I always thought Rahm Emmanuel was overrated as an SOB—swearing a lot is no substitute for a well-cultivated ruthlessness—and while Anthony Weiner was a fine SOB in his own right, he had his own liabilities (besides the obvious ones) within his own caucus, and, in any case, couldn’t do it all by himself.

There are dangers to SOBs, of course, chief among them running off their leashes—which is why the president must himself retain his own ruthless streak and be willing either to yank them back into line or put ‘em (metaphorically) down.

But he must appear sincerely humane in doing so.

Mayan campaign mashup 2012: This ain’t no party

5 09 2012

I’d say I was a lousy Democrat, except that I’m not.

A Democrat, that is. (I’m a lousy independent socialist, thankyouveddymuch.)

Still, since I’m Oh-yeah-Obama I wonder if I should watch/listen to the convention, just. . . because, or something.

Now, there was no way I was going to listen to the GOPpers at their shindig. My hammer-down realism can only go so far in protecting me from rampant bullshit, and I didn’t feel like spending three nights uncreatively cursing those motherfucking motherfuckers. . . !

(Yes, I am teaching an intro American govt course and it would probably be a good pedagogical thing to subject myself to the parties partying, but hey, I’m an adjunct and CUNY does not pay me anywhere near enough to put myself through that.)

I did watch Michelle Obama’s speech today, and, yeah, it was good (tho’ the ‘mom-in-chief’ bit? good grief), but I don’t really care. My sister likes her A LOT and I like her just fine, but I’m voting for the president, not the first lady, so, eh.

Then again, I’m pretty “eh” about all of this, probably because I am Oh-yeah-Obama—I’ve already made up my mind. I live in New York, which is going to go blue in November, so it’s not as if I need to be charged up to go knock on doors or cold-call strangers in order to bring the state home.

In other words, these speeches ain’t for me.

They’re for my sister, who needs the boost in the teeth of the disaster that is Scott Walker, and Dems in red states who need the boost in the teeth of GOP domination and fence-sitters who don’t know into which pasture to fall and activists who are determined to push those fence-sitters in the right direction. They’re for the people who need to know they’re not alone and those who want to stand up an be known.

And they’re for the Republicans, to let them know there will be a fight, that the president cannot be separated from his party and his party cannot be separated from the Yoo-nited States of America.

Anyway, I’m listening to Bill now, because, yeah, that man can give a speech, It’s all right, so far, but, again, it’s not for me.

What is nice, however—and a distinct contrast from those mofing mofers—is that it’s not against me, either.

*Update* Okay, okay, I’m now watching Bill on PBS’s website, and, damn, that man can give a speech.

The politics of contempt, cont.

12 09 2011

Apostates tend to get attention—of the furious sort from those betrayed, and delight from those whose views such apostasy confirms.

So too with Mike Lofgren, the former GOP staffer whose resignation from the Republicans has been widely quoted, at least among those who agree with his analysis that his party has gone bonkers.

Now, I tend toward skepticism of the reception to such turn-coats, largely because his or her rethink matters less for the thought than for the fodder it provides in the endless schoolyard battle of “I’m-right-and-you’re-stupid/evil”. We welcome the other side’s apostate for the same reason the other side welcomes ours: their apostasy confirms our wisdom.

So, with the additional conditionals that I don’t know Lofgren, I don’t know his motivations, and I don’t know if he’s right, I want to highlight this bit:

I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP. While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s alleged murder. [emph. added]

That we’re in agreement on this dynamic of delegitimization hardly makes us correct. But it does serve to highlight as a problem something which so many of us have taken for granted as a feature of current American politics.

And yes, it is a problem.

The politics of contempt

7 09 2011

Can I steal from myself? ‘Cause I’m gonna steal from myself.

I’ve been yelping and hectoring and despairing and whatevering for the past year on the battlefield that is American politics, on the Republicans’ scorched-earth tactics, and on President Obama’s unwillingness to open the hose on these arsonists.

There is more to be said on this.

My attention is wavering, however, so I’ll let James Fallows (here, here, here, and here) and TNC run a few legs of this race, and, for now, simply steal the comment I posted at TNC’s joint:

I think this [destructiveness] goes back even further—at least to FDR—but it took a different form then than it does now.

My hypothesis: that the sense of the illegitimacy of any kind of left (center-left on outwards) government used to be on the fringes of the polity, but has since edged into some of the main streams of the Republican party.

There were certainly (loud) mutterings that Roosevelt was a communist, but I don’t know that these came from the Republican leadership. The Eisenhower administration was, of course, attacked by McCarthy, and Kennedy was hardly universally mourned; still, even if the GOP leadership thought that all liberals and Democrats (a phrase that only in the late 80s became redundant) were axiomatically illegitimate, they didn’t say so in public.

The attack on the legitimacy of the government emerged as an open campaign theme in the 1980s; the attack on the legitimacy of Democrats to lead government blew open in the 1990s, culminating, of course, with the impeachment of Clinton. These lines crossed and fused in the 2000s, apparent in the various campaigns, and then going nuclear—with the eventual blessing of the GOP leadership—with the election of Obama.

Again, this is just an hypothesis, and I’d guess that a full exploration of this hunch would reveal all sorts of exceptions and wrinkles and significant subdynamics (such as the movement of white southern Democrats into the GOP); I’d also caution that I think this phenomenon has until recently been confined to the national level.

I’ll let this be for awhile—other things on my mind—but the full flowering of this discourse of delegitimization is nothing less than an expression of contempt for democracy itself.

That bears watching.

Hippy-hippy forward

2 08 2011

I will try to restrain myself from commenting any further on the debt-deficit-deal-debacle—but only after making the following two points:

1. Politics is not one thing. Yeah, Duh, I know, but in this debt bill there are two crucial pieces: the substance of the deal and the optics of the deal-making.

I am unenthusiastic about the substance, and am pleased that my representative (Yvette Clarke) and one senator (Kirsten Gillebrand) voted against it. I’m convinced by those who state that cutting spending during a time of low demand and high unemployment is a bad idea because such cuts will simply push the lows lower and highs higher.

Yes, I am effectively unemployed and no it’s not because this is hitting me, but I think a far bigger concern than the deficit is unemployment.

Get people to work, and those people start paying taxes on their paychecks. You may at some point need to raise taxes and/or cut spending to curb the deficit, but right now the emergency for tens of millions of people and their communities is unemployment.

Regardless of my unenthusiasm for the deal and small pleasure in Clarke’s and Gillibrand’s votes, I also understand why others voted for it. The debt ceiling had to be raised, most of the cuts are pushed back to 2013 and beyond, and, well, default would have been catastrophic.

Upshot: this is lousy on its merits, but it could have been worse.

On the optics, however, this is worse-er than merely lousy. Obama and the Dems could have dealt with the debt ceiling back when they were still in the majority, and, oh yeah, could have gotten in front of the budget issue in general.

Yes, Republicans were uncooperative before the 2010 elections and even less cooperative between the elections and the seating of the new Congress, but Obama, Reid, and Pelosi could have pushed forward a strong enough agenda that would have required the TeaPer-fueled GOP at least to have to fight for their “No!No!No!” platform. As it was, the Dems retreated before the wave rather than holding on and waiting for the wave itself to recede.

The Dems weakened themselves both in terms of not going hard at the Republicans and in not defending, much less advancing, their own vision for the country—probably because they seem to have forgotten that they ought even have a vision.

There are some good, tough Democrats out there, and yes, I’ll vote for Obama again in 2012, but beyond stopping the conservative onslaught, I have difficulty discerning what is the purpose of the Democratic Party.

Saying “it could be worse” is a truism, not a rallying cry.

2. The notion that Obama’s weakness in, ahem, “negotiating” this deal is due to the apathy of the left and/or the party base is false and infuriating because false.

I’ll give half-credit to those who note that people have to vote, and those who stayed home did failed in not taking advantage of one of few powers we have.

The other side of this, which goes unmentioned, is that it’s up to the candidates and the party to motivate them to vote, and the Dems did themselves no favors in the many months preceding the elections by not promoting what were, in fact, some solid accomplishments.

Again, telling us the other guy is worse ain’t enough.

What really flips my lid, however, are those who raise the FDR card: “The president told us to push him to do the right thing, and we didn’t do that.”


Axelrod and Plouffe and the president himself looking for some hippie to smack when they were, in fact, pushed—how does fit into the whole “keep me accountable” gig?

Mocking and deriding as hippies those left-critics who you invited to speak does at least indicate that the president retains the ability to go after his detractors. Too bad he only deploys this ability against his own side.

Finally, when is telling people to “make me” do the right thing a sign of strong leadership?

Lead from behind, wait-and-see, blah blah—yeah, I get it: the president isn’t a bully and for the most part he dispenses with the pulpit.

But you can be cool without losing strength:

No, the president can’t do what Malcolm did, for all kinds of reasons.

But there’s no reason he can’t also lift his hand and point to where he wants us to go.

You can’t always get what you want

28 07 2011

Completely irresponsible.

Yes, I disagree with the Republican agenda in general and the Tea Party agenda in particular. No surprise there.

And I’m not particularly happy with the Democrats, either—see my various Bam! posts—and their apparent inability even to generate an agenda (which is likely related to their lack of overall purpose).

But there are certain realities which are indifferent to ideologies and agendas, realities which include a high unemployment rate, divided government, and a wary global economy. There are, in other words, constraints on one’s aspirations, constraints which ought to discipline one’s behavior.

And yet they do not. Or, to put this another way, “limits” are apparently to be used only as an ideological battering ram by the TeaPers, rather than marking out the boundaries of a difficult debate.

Difficulty? What difficulty? We’ll simply wave our “don’t-tread-on-me-flag” and declare that our will is what is.

Why deal with reality when you are the Master of Your Own Universe?

It must be admitted, of course, that life in the real world is a little less heady, a little more complicated, and contains more than its share of frustrations. The notion of living within one’s means requires that we nail down just what we mean by “living with” and “one’s means”, and that the old Rolling Stone lyric is wrong only in that, honestly, you don’t always get even what you need.

We can change the world (the universe? not so much), but not by declaring the world changed. We have to do the work.

So, members of the House of Representatives, put down the flag and do the fucking work.

If you don’t like how and how much the government spends, you deal with that in the budget process. Want less spending? Then allocate fewer funds. Lower taxes? Ditto.

If, however, you want to increase defense spending, maintain agricultural price supports, protect subsidies for oil companies, fatten up the transportation/highway spending budget, fence out all illegal immigration, give money to survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and fire, well, then, you have to make some decisions about those taxes.

You don’t get to say “no deficit spending” and then vote for deficit spending.

You want a balanced budget? Then produce a FUCKING BALANCED BUDGET.

And after you’ve produced an unbalanced budget, don’t pretend to have been victimized by your own actions.

Don’t say “hey, spend money on this,” and then refuse to hand over the credit card.

I’d prefer more spending: on multiple high-speed rail routes, a single-payer health plan, scientific and medical research, aggressive development of green technologies, elder care, day care, welfare, environmental protection, job (re)training, mixed- and low-income housing, education—the whole social welfarist shebang. Higher taxes, more and better services.

You want more, you have to pay more, full stop.

But maybe you don’t want to pay more. I think the anorectic approach to governance is wrong, but legitimate—or it is only legitimate if you actually lower your spending levels to match your revenues (and, frankly, if you don’t off-load any costs on to other entities). If you’re willing to tell people that they’ll receive precious little in return for the precious little they pay, then, okay.

But you don’t get say “I’ll cut—and there will be no blood.” And then double-back and proclaim your courage in dealing in “hard truths”.

Don’t paint yourself as a martyr—“I’m willing to risk my seat over this!”—for doing your fucking job, especially when you’re not doing your fucking job.

You took a job in government, a government which has obligations which predate your arrival and will incur obligations after you’re gone. Whether you like it or not, you’re responsible for those obligations.

So start acting like it.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

12 07 2011

Hellooooooo! Anyone hooooooomme? Democrats, are you theeeeere?

“We think public schools should go away,’’ says Teri Adams, the head of the Independence Hall Tea Party and a leading advocate — both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania — of passage of school voucher bills. The tea party operates in those two states and Delaware. They should “go away,” she says, because “they are hurting our children.’’ [...] Adams says the current voucher program “discriminates” against wealthier students by providing public subsidies only to inner-city children in allegedly failing schools. Her group’s e-mails pushing vouchers caught the attention of James Kovalcin of South Brunswick, a retired public school teacher who asked Adams for clarification. She responded via email: “Our ultimate goal is to shut down public schools and have private schools only, eventually returning responsibility for payment to parents and private charities. It’s going to happen piecemeal and not overnight. It took us years to get into this mess and it’s going to take years to get out of it.” [emph. in original]

Can you do something with this? Or how about this—Orrin Hatch on taxation:

No matter what these Democrats tell you, the wealthy and middle class are already shouldering around 100 percent of the nation’s tax burden and 51 percent pay absolutely nothing in income taxes,” Hatch fumed before lambasting the entire system.

“Furthermore, because of this perverse distribution of federal income taxes, there is no way to fix our deficit hole and start paying down the debt by increasing taxes only on the so-called rich,” he said.

And here’s Senator Hatch again, on aid for workers displaced by trade deals (TAA):

I hope we can find a better path forward and the president will now act quickly and submit these agreements for congressional consideration, without including the TAA poison pill.

That’s right, help for workers thrown overboard on the rough seas of  ‘free’ trade is a poison pill.

You can’t do anything with that?

How about Eric Cantor’s proposal to make students begin paying interest as soon as they take out student loans? Republican resistance to corporate tax breaks?

Go after them, all of them. Go into their districts and raise hell, force them to deal with constituents who’d be burned by their policies, make them all answer for the worst of them.

Let the president play nice.

The party, on the other hand, needs to grow a pair of titanium tits and fight! fight! fight!


h/t Zaid Jilani, Think Progress; Michael McAuliff, HuffPo; Pat Garofalo, Think Progress/Doug Palmer and David Lawder, Reuters

Bam! Bam! Bam!

11 07 2011

Bad Republicans!

Putting together a video—hell, a series of videos—on Republican obstructionism and bad governance—shouldn’t be that difficult.

Consider Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in October 2010 stated The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

The single most important thing: not jobs, not education, not energy, not anything else which would affect the quality of life of Americans, but beating the other team.

Or remember when Vice President Dick Cheney said Reagan proved deficits don’t matter? Where was James DeMint then? Did Eric Cantor have any pushback to this deficit dovery? Paul Ryan? Where was Mr. Budget Butchery then?

This isn’t difficult, Democrats. Sure, the White House wants to take the high road, but what’s to prevent the Democratic National Committee from taking the low road and getting to Scotland afore ye?

And, really, shooting vids on Orrin Hatch stating poor people need to pay more taxes or some Republican expressing horror at the thought of forcing responsibility on financiers or removing tax loopholes for wealthy corporations and individuals is hardly distorting the record. If it’s the low road it’s because the GOP decided to dig a ditch and call it the expressway to electoral victory.

So start counting the bodies on the side of that road and charging the Republicans with hit-and-run.

This is outlaw ultimate fighting, and while the Republicans have been landing their blows low and aiming their kicks high, the Dems are still waiting for the ref to show up.

Fight! Fight! Fight!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,268 other followers