Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Done.

For better or worse, it's done. The bill is signed. It's law. It's still surprising that the Senate didn't try to pull a fast one, but I suppose they wanted this behind them as much as everybody else does.

I still hope it is better law than I suspected it is.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Favorite Books"

Ezra Klein linked to me while opining on books that influenced his thinking, since blogs feature as much as books in his thought.

Much of my emphasis on the institutions of American government and the processes by which they work (or don't) came from my relationship with Mark Schmitt, first through his blog and then through his editorship at the American Prospect. That was cemented, of course, by reporting deeply on health-care reform, which is an opportunity that TAP gave me but that few other outlets would've been even mildly interested in letting me pursue. I consider reading the blogger Demosthenes use the word "props" in relation to politics as something near to an epiphany; it was the first time I realized that I could speak about Washington in a language I recognized.
Before I say anything else, I'd like to point out the box to the right that describes where all this comes from. That "no further connection" is something that I take quite seriously; my opinions have almost nothing to do with any fictional characters or their authors, and I have never claimed otherwise. It's all about pseudonymity, and the importance of clear pseudonymity. The character of Demosthenes did affect my thinking in that respect, and still does, since said character predicted a lot of the strengths (and weaknesses) of pseudonymous opinion journalism.

In fact, if anything, my opinions have been reconfirmed. The conflict between public and private interest has become as much of an issue for bloggers as for other journalists. Perhaps even more so, since bloggers are often trusted as much as (or more than) journalists since they're writing as citizens, instead of elites. What's handy about an obvious pseudonym is that it's actually quite difficult to exploit it to benefit yourself. Sure, you could theoretically attack someone behind a wall of anonymity, but nobody has any reason to trust you, unless you can bring solid proof to bear. You can't hide behind your organization, nor your profession. You are no expert, and in fact cannot be an expert, since you can't prove your expertise. Even if you succeed, you can only benefit indirectly at best. You can't put a pseudonym on a resume, and you sure as hell can't leverage it into a spot at the Washington Post.

So that's why I still think pseudonymity is important. You'll never be inducted as a member of the "village" as a pseudonymous opinion writer. You remain forever an outsider. You won't go to the cocktail parties. You won't drink at the insider bars. You won't attend the events. You won't get the plum administration positions. All you can do is read, and write, and think, and try to communicate your thoughts and beliefs as best you can.

But maybe that's enough.

N-Bombs and Populists

So here's the tea party at work:
The tea party movement is disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches. On Saturday, as a small group of protesters jammed the Capitol and the streets around it, the movement's origins in white resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was impossible to ignore. Here's only what the mainstream media is reporting, ignoring what I'm seeing on Twitter and left wing blogs:

  • Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis was taunted by tea partiers who chanted "nigger" at least 15 times, according to the Associated Press (we are not cleaning up language and using "the N-word" here because it's really important to understand what was said.) First reported on The Hill blog (no hotbed of left-wing fervor), the stories of Lewis being called "nigger" were confirmed by Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones and Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, who was walking with Lewis. "It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a former police officer. "He said it reminded him of another time."
  • Another Congressional Black Caucus leader, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, was spat upon by protesters. The culprit was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges.
  • House Majority Whip James Clybourn told reporters: "I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus."
  • There were many reports that Rep. Barney Frank was called a "faggot" by protesters, but the one I saw personally was by CNN's Dana Bash, who seemed rattled by the tea party fury. Frank told AP: "It's a mob mentality that doesn't work politically."
Two things to take away from this.

First, a lot of "tea partiers" really are racist as all hell. We all knew it, as much as folks like Carville tried to deny it—back when they thought that Republicans could be brought onside for things like health care reform—but now it's absolutely obvious.

Second, right-wing populism ain't going anywhere. The tea party isn't entirely about race; it's tapping into the enormous dislike of American elites right now. It's turning it in a destructive and racist right-wing direction, yes, but it didn't cause that dislike: the behavior of America's political and business elites did.

Health Care is now a done deal. Fine. But Dems who think that this will somehow salve this anger are delusional. The new health regime is fundamentally an elitist activity: one set of elites (in Washington) is requiring you to pay money to another set of elites (at the insurance companies) "for your own good". It's regulating things, and it might be better than the system that exists, but it is still very much a top-down approach. It will do nothing to help this fundamental alienation, and that alienation is what will dominate the next elections.

No, the only way that this will be sorted out is if one set of elites sticks it to another. It could be pro-business leaders sticking it to Washington. That's more likely than you might think: it motivates a lot of deregulation fervor, and is a favorite of Republicans that argue that government "is the problem, not the solution". People go along with it because at least some elites are getting knocked down.

Dems can't do that, though. It doesn't fit their ideology, their themes, or the public's perception of the party. The Republicans will always outdo them on that front. No, the only way they can recover is if Washington sticks it to the big business elites. They need to get populist, and get there fast, before the tea partiers distort and exploit the existing rage even more than they already have.

HCR was a good opportunity to do that, since everybody despises health insurance companies, but the Dems dropped the ball on that one. So it'll have to be finance reform. They have to go beyond wise and minimal regulation. They must be seen to be horrible punitive bastards—and when called on it, they need to frame it as a conflict between the common man and the fat cats that exploit them and grow rich at their expense. It's not difficult for a Dem to pull off, and if you contrast it with small business and businesses that actually make things, you'll do well. (Businesses that make things tend to employ more people, leading to more votes.)

Do I think they'll do anything along that line? No. Not with the Senate the way it is now. Not with the conservative Democratic Senators having been given ample proof that the White House will do and say absolutely anything they want, and that they need never fear the sort of arm-twisting that brought principled progressive Reps like Kucinich on board.

I still think 2010 will be a disaster. The Dems simply Do Not Get It, and the people who are supposed to be speaking truth to power have been almost completely co-opted to support everything the party tells them to. But I do hope that 2010 will change this. I hope that, post-disaster, those people who are so reflexive in repeating the party line will wake up and start doing their damned job. I hope that the progressive movement will finally find its own feet, and realize that its own interests can vary from those of the Dems.

No promises. But one can hope.

LieberCare is Law, But It's Still a Dark Time for Progressives

It passed the House. I wasn't sure it would; I had thought that the Stupak contingent would, perhaps, be willing to risk the wrath of their party in order to curry the anti-abortion vote. But that door was closed when Obama decided to use executive privilege to curry their favor instead.

Honestly, I hope I'm wrong. I hope the critics are wrong. I hope that the bill—as tremendously broken in creation and flawed in execution as it is—ends up serving as the foundation for something that could actually benefit America. I believe that that is still possible, if progressives are vigilant about protecting Americans' interests in the face of the now-clearly-overwhelming influence of the insurance and pharma industries.

I am no longer confident of that, however. I have seen too many self-declared liberals and progressives make the same mistake now that they did in 2002: put the political interests of a party ahead of their own beliefs and America's best interests. I have seen too many people decrying terrible legislation and then, half a year later, supporting the same bill out of personal interests and political expedience. I've seen the collapse of progressive influence in the House, the Senate, and even the Blogosphere, showing that they cannot and will not learn the lesson of their more-successful conservative counterparts.

And I've seen people I used to respect tremendously push the same sort of disingenuous talking-point bullshit that they hated so much when it came from their political opponents.

Is this legislation better than the status quo? Maybe, maybe not. It is a product of the status quo, in almost every way, reflecting every dysfunction that the American political system has to offer. That it even exists is due to the legacy of the hopefulness of 2008, but I don't believe that there's much left of that anymore. What's left might help propel it in a more positive direction.

In the meantime, though, I still believe now what I did last summer: that if a congressman voted for a bill that didn't include a public option, they should be subject to primaries. Progressives ended up looking like absolute tools over the past year, and the only way to fix that is to exert influence that makes a real difference. Many Americans thought the bill didn't go far enough: their voices must be heard, and primaries are the best way to do that. Maybe not this year, since the deadline is past; but in 2012, certainly. It is still possible that progressives can get a little power, develop a credible threat, though it is less likely than it was yesterday or the day before.

In the meantime, though, there is the Senate. I don't even want to think about that.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Digby on Walking Away

Take a look:
Contemplating Chris Bowers' interesting discussion of the progressive bloc(k) strategy, Matt Yglesias points out what should be evident to anyone who's ever done a negotiation: whoever can walk away always has more power. It's just the way things work. That doesn't mean that you can't win if you want something more than the person with whom you're negotiating. There are lots of strategies. You can ask for far more than you're willing to settle for, you can play others against each other, you can try for a "win-win." But in the final analysis, it's always going to be much tougher to walk away from something everyone knows you really want and much easier if it doesn't matter much to you. That's life.
True. But it's not that simple.

Everybody wants a lot of things. In fact, they want so much that they're often contradictory. You want lots of services and low taxes. You want to eat your cake and have it too. You want to save your money but buy nice things. That's life, too.

The real question is "what do you want more?" Do you want health care expansion, or do you want a good health care expansion? Do you want broader coverage, or do you want to reduce the power of insurance companies? Sure, you want to "raise the poor", as digby says later, but how do you want to do that, exactly?

You also have to compare personal vs. public or political goals. Do you want personal access and wealth? Do you want to be "at the table" as a reliable supporter, or do you want to be influential but, perhaps, somewhat untrusted? Are you willing to sacrifice your personal career goals for something you truly believe in, or are your beliefs flexible?

It's that latter problem that has motivated my opinions on this fight. Chris Bowers and Matthew Yglesias can write all they wish about how the "progressive bloc has been ineffective" because progressives aren't as willing to walk away as Conservatives are. But let's be honest: they've been part of the problem. They have access. They have notoriety. They have identities in the notorious "Village", and careers that depends on such things.

They also know that if they don't play ball with the White House, all that could go away. That suffuses every word of their arguments; particularly Yglesias. It's one of the main reasons I've been so disappointed with them of late. It's why I asked the question that, unanswered, still guides my beliefs to this day: Is there a Democratic bill that they wouldn't support, as long is it was labelled "Health Care Reform"?

That's what it comes down to, really. Are they willing to walk away? Not "the progressive movement". Obviously some progressives are, or Jane Hamsher and the rest of the anti-HCR progressive group wouldn't exist. I mean you personally. Are you willing to give up influence, notoriety and access in favor of something greater? Digby's right. That's where power comes from. It comes from the ability to walk away.

They didn't, though. Yglesias, Bowers, Moulitsas, Klein et al—they haven't provided a single reason to ever believe that they would walk away. Not one. They are as reliable as the sunrise and therefore completely ineffectual. Worse still, when people did make that decision, Yglesias et al carved them up: over, and over, and over again ad nauseum. They didn't just go along with the White House's agenda, they enforced it. They deny their own agency, but one of the major reasons why progressives didn't walk away was because they would endure withering attacks if they did. I mean, for the love of all that's holy, we had Kos saying he was going to try to primary Dennis Kucinich! This over a bill that Kos himself said was unsupportable, back before he stood the risk of actually taking some serious heat over it!

(And I'm not even going to get into Nate Silver's issues.)

Conservatives understand that the power of their movement comes from being able to walk away from the Republicans. They did it to George H. W. Bush, and they've certainly done it at lower levels. They don't attack those who disagree from the right: those people actually get catered to! They don't employ the opposition's framing during the debate, as the Dems' lackeys so often do, and they recognize those lines that they are not willing to cross.

Digby says that maybe they should take a stand on a different issue:
But as Yglesias says, there are plenty of issues where it can work. In fact we saw it with Grayson's audit the fed initiative and earlier in the year they gave Pelosi and Emmanuel big, big headaches over the first war supplemental. There's power in legislators working together across party lines and being willing to play hardball.
I don't believe there is actually precious little power in "working together across party lines" in this case. (One of the things I disagree quite severely with Hamsher about, by the way.) You will just end up supporting their arguments, and they'll judo-flip you to force legislators to move in their direction. I do agree that there is enormous power in being willing to play hardball, but that must come making it absolutely clear that you aren't going to pull a 180 and support the bill when the White House tells you to. You not only must accept that they might get egg on their faces; you have to be willing to hurl the thing yourself, or be willing to stand by those that would.

So far, they have not demonstrated that they are. I hope things change. I hate having this incredible disappointment and discouragement about people that I once respected so highly. I do hope that, when the next time rolls around, Yglesias, Kos et all are willing to say "no, Mr. Obama, this is too important and we will not compromise on it."

But, then again, I hoped that in 2003, too.

Edit: Here's Hamsher's position on it:
[I]t’s also worthy of note that it’s hard for them to withstand the assault of liberal “pundits” who sneeringly derided their efforts as naive, futile and “purist.” These thoughtful folks should be proudly taking credit for their role in delegitimizing progressive opposition to the bill in liberal intellectual circles, much the same role that the same people played during the Iraq war. After all, it’s TNR’s stock in trade.

I’ll leave it to others to analyze how corporate cash was laundered through foundations to underwrite the efforts of various “opinion leaders” in the health care debate, but it definitely deserves more scrutiny.

I had been wondering why Yglesias had been so obnoxious in this post, saying "they say they agree with me now so that proves I'm right! Hah!" Now it makes sense, though, since he really hates the Iraq analogy. Probably because it sort of hits home—a lot of the people who supported that war did it for the same political ends that causes them to support LieberCare now.

Re-Edit: Look at Kucinich here. This is not a man who enthusiastically agrees with Yglesias and the defenders. This is not a man who thinks that this is even a good bill. This is a man who has, for whatever reason, been given no other choice but to knuckle under.

To claim him as anything else is just perverse.

(Edited slightly for clarity)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Next Question...

Does anybody actually think that the House's reconciliation bill will actually be passed?

Now that we know that the Senate bill must be law before it can be changed, what's to stop the President's beloved, coddled "centrist" Senators from walking away just as soon as they get what they want?

And what is to stop the Dems (who just want this over), the Republicans (who want the terrible Senate bill to run against), and their various spokescritters from moving on to a "there just aren't enough Senate votes, you have to live with reality" story, now that the House is proven utterly ineffective?

Does anybody REALLY think "reconciliation" will happen?

Edit: Here's a link from the Daily Caller:

Jon Ward interviewed Rep. Mike Pence today about deem and pass (AKA “demon pass”), the whole thing is worth a read, not least of which for enigmatic exchanges like this one:

[Mike Pence]: The Senate bill cannot be fixed by reconciliation. The reconciliation bill that’s been talked about and contemplated can’t pass the Senate for a variety of substantive and procedural reasons. So all that we’re really doing here is passing the Senate bill in the House. That’s all we’re really doing and the American people know that and they’re intending to pass the Senate bill without ever voting for it.

Does the GOP know something Democrats don’t?

I'd assume so, yes. But it's not about the Republicans. It's about pulling the football away from progressives. Again.

It Would Appear Kucinich is On-Side

So says the Washington Post.

His prerogative, but once again this raises the question of liberal independence, and progressive relevance. Once again, a progressive is being smashed into supporting the powers-that-be where his "centrist" counterparts, flush with health corp cash, would be coddled and catered to at every opportunity.

And, once again, progressives have to ask what, exactly, they fought for, when their supposed spokesmen and -women appear to have no belief they're not willing to jettison to get access to the halls of power. It's illusory access, of course. The progressive groups have still proven themselves completely unable to affect policy because of the lack of a credible threat. But at least they get to feast at the Village.

Edit: By the by, this is partially the result of the Republicans' obstructionism, but not in the way you think. As long as the Republicans are publicly obstructionist, they can be sure that no small number of Democratic-leaners will support the legislation, because Republicans oppose it. Opposition from the left becomes difficult as hell, because you get lumped in with the Republicans.

(As happened with Kucinich.)

This wouldn't be a problem for progressives if the Republicans had no say in legislation whatsoever. They do. They have a big impact in committees, they have a lot of friends in the media, and the President has continued to reach for "bipartisan" solutions. One of the main reasons the Senate HCR bill is so weak is precisely because the Republicans were playing this push-pull game. So, as should have been apparent a long time ago, the Republicans get to have it both ways: they get legislation that caters to their whims, and they either get divided progressives or progressives that are willing to do their work for them because said progressives think they're stymieing them.

(And then they win more seats back, because any bill a Republican has input into is almost guaranteed to be terrible, so the public punishes the Dems for passing it.)

Nothing new there, of course. And it is possible that HCR might be improved. But it won't be improved by Republicans, that's for damned sure, and I see no opportunity for the Dems to improve it outside of the very near-term. Not with 2010 looking the way it does.

Re-Edit: And it looks like he didn't get anything for his vote, either.

Ben Nelson got a big ol' kickback. Stupak is going to get women sold out for his cause. (Oh, he is. Let's just admit it.) Lieberman got the Medicare extension killed.

Do you know why that is, fellow progressives? Because if you can make a credible thread, they will concede to you what you want. Basic bargaining and negotiations. If Kucinich had held out and been the last House vote, he'd have gotten something, too.

As it is, he got nothing. His constituents got nothing. His supporters got nothing. Hell, he probably isn't even going to get an apology from Kos.

That's why the Obama administration won't listen to you. They won't, unless they need to. Your choice.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

And Now They're Attacking Kucinich

There's a reason I haven't been blogging much. When the medium is associated with transparent White House spin this odious, it doesn't strike me as worth the pixels its written on.

What's sad isn't that Silver is spouting nonsense that's politically convenient. He's outed himself as a mercenary long before now. What's sad is that he damned well knows that attacking Dennis Kucinich as "not valuable" is ridiculous, because he acknowledges that opposition from the left moves the Overton Window in progressives' favor.

The only way that you could possibly reconcile that is if you believe that Democrats don't care about progre....


Oh. Well then.

Edit: And I hadn't even gotten to Kos. Markos, you're on record as someone who has admitted that you couldn't give a rat's ass about policy. You're about the team, and handing it victories.

Sometimes, it's not about the team. Sometimes it's about something more important. So, for God's sake, stop shitting on someone who does care about policy.

I remember Kos from way back in 2002. I remember his ideals, and what he wanted to do when he got a real voice. Now he has one. What an absolute goddamned disappointment.

Re-edit: As always, you have to ask yourselves a simple question: is there anything an advocate would not support even if it would aid the interests of the party?


Then he's not an opinion maker. He's not even a politician. He's nothing more than a marketer.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Damage Control! Damage Control!

So Ben Adler over at Newsweek is now trying to establish some critical distance between himself and the rather damning conversation over whether or not "terrorists live in caves", as his colleague Dan Stone asserted last week.

According to Adler, it's not as if Stark or Michael Isikoff or Kathy Jones or whoever believe this sort of thing. Oh no. They're just talking about how the media looks at it.

To which I can only respond: "pull the other one. It's got bells on it."

I'll give you credit for having made some of the more sensible comments. But they ARE the media, Ben. In a situation like that, being in that position, your colleagues (especially Daniel!) should have taken great pains to point out that these are not their beliefs, but the ones that they see floating in the aether. (Or however that works.)

If your group HAD done so, then it wouldn't look utterly self-serving for you to claim as much now. Your colleague Jan Interlandi might also not look quite so bad for saying that "we reserve the label 'terrorist' for foreign attackers". And Isikoff wouldn't have looked like an idiot for thinking that a terrorist must be "equipped and dispatched by a foreign power": an assumption which is not only ahistorical but shows how deeply the media has internalized Republican post-9/11 talking points.

Come on. It's pretty transparent that you're leading the defense here because you were one of the very few to come out of this looking like anything but a schmuck. You are taking one for the team. Good on 'ya. It still doesn't change a damned thing; even if Stone was being facetious, there's no way that Isikoff was.

It wouldn't do them any favors to claim that they were being facetious, either. This is a deadly serious issue. Why the hell WOULD Stone be joking around about it? Why would he be busting out the sarcasm, knowing that it doesn't come across well in text and that the discussion was going to be published? Why the hell would anybody have thought it was appropriate? Sure, maybe if the discussion was happening on Fark or 4chan or something, but you people are professionals working at NEWSWEEK. Get it together.

Here's Glenn's Greenwald's reaction:
Time constraints prevent me from addressing this, except to say that it's hard for me to believe that Adler actually read what I wrote, since the points he claims I overlooked were ones I expressly addressed, and the aspects of their discussion which he claims I omitted were ones I explicitly included. Moreover, Adler's denial that Newsweek was reluctant to use the term Terrorism for Joseph Stack is strange, given that the whole point of their deliberations, as the magazine's editor defined it, was to have "a discussion over here about the aversion so far to calling the Austin Tax Wacko a terrorist," and the very first response, from Managing Editor Kathy Jones, was to explain what she called her "rule of thumb" "handy guide" that the word is only for foreigners protesting "the American government," but not used for Americans. Adler's response is one of those which negates itself, and I'm content to allow readers here and elsewhere to compare what Newsweek actually said to what Adler now claims they said and decide for yourself (see also: this insightful objection to Newsweek's discussion from The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates).
That Jones bit is really the crux of it. Newsweek had already decided that it was going to equate the word "terrorist" with "foreigner". That wasn't humor or hyperbole; it was a simple statement of policy. Hirsh stating that "Al Qaeda co-opted terrorism after 9/11" wasn't humor either. It was denial of Newsweek's own culpability for equating "terrorist" with "foreigner".

What I find truly amusing, though, is that it feels like Adler was more responding to my outrage than Glenn's. Glenn is right. This doesn't really respond to his points at all. Perhaps I'm not the only one who thought that Stone et al deserved to have scorn poured on to them, but Glenn really did have a broader critique of agency in media that went ignored.

Ah well. It's Newsweek. Perhaps I shouldn't have expected any better. The last decent thing I read there was N'Gai Croal's old gaming blog. It's just too bad that Adler was trotted out to try to cover for 'em.

Edit: Kathy Jones also whines "it's not my opinion, it's just how people in the media describe things!" Well, guess what? YOU ARE THE MEDIA. You're a managing editor at one of the biggest newsweeklies in the country. You know damned well how important an issue this is, and you know how likely it is that such a comment will get misconstrued. You know that the ugly mood in America makes it quite likely that this sort of violence may become more commonplace if it is not roundly condemned, and you did not write word one to condemn it.

Indeed, the best Kathy could do is say that it was "a loaded term". That's true. It is. Your magazine uses it anyway. Your choices about whether and when to do so are therefore fair game, and you don't get to assert critical distance to try to save yourself.

Re-Edit: Case in point for how terrible Newsweek is: one of their articles blaming the public for all of America's ills. It's the sort of lovely, contrarian "I can't get in trouble for blaming everybody because I'm blaming everybody" articles that journalists adore because it won't get them in trouble or threaten their access to the Big Cheeses that ARE largely responsible for America's current plight. The kind that always includes paeans to bipartisanship that never actually existed, and which only encourages the Dems to hand the store over to the Republicans that much faster.

It includes the sentence (quoted verbatim) " Grade inflation is so out of control in the nation's high schools that 43 percent of college-bound seniors taking the SATs have A averages—even though SAT scores have remained flat or drifted slowly downward for years."

That SAT scores may have been renormalized did not even occur to them. That the biggest issue is actually that too many kids are getting perfect scores would probably blow their fool heads off.