Hilary Clinton 2016!

Hillary ClintonI love this woman! I’ve never thought as highly of Hilary Clinton as I do now, having watched her take on these ridiculous Republicans. As more and more information has come out, the Republican position on Benghazi has become so narrow that it could fit through the eye of a needle. And Clinton calls Ron Johnson on this bullshit. He asks, “Do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn’t have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?” That is a classic “Monday morning quarterback” question. Clearly, the State Department had more important things to think about other than, “Gee, I wonder what we should say on TV?”

Basically, the Republicans have reduced this entire “controversy” down to, “You gave incorrect information on the Sunday morning talk shows!” So all of the other aspects of the murder of four government employees doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the Republicans are angry that the one remaining thread they have—misinformation reported on Meet the Press—is what is most important. These Republicans think that it is more urgent to get to the bottom of what they consider the treasonous act of misreporting something on Fox News Sunday, than to properly fund the State Department going forward.

So you had a clear contrast: Clinton hammering the House for not dealing with the needs of State versus the Republicans hammering the “controversy” of giving George Stephanopoulos the wrong idea for a day or two. I’ll leave it to you to decide who looked presidential and who looked like a fucking idiot.

If you haven’t seen this exchange between Clinton and Johnson, you owe it to yourself to watch it. It is fantastic!

Hilary Clinton 2016! I’m signing up now!

Ryan Budget is Back

Paul Ryan - Reagan 2.0The Republican leadership seem to have listened to Obama’s claim that they mustn’t crash the economy because, you know, we have to pay our bills. The budget is the time to cut costs, not afterwards when the bills come due. As a result of this realization (or at least the realization of the bad political optics of it) they are now claiming that they will tie the Debt Ceiling raise to a plan to balance the budget in ten years.

Before we get to this plan, let’s take a moment to step back and marvel at the ridiculousness of this bit of political theater. They want to be seen as Very Serious. But first and foremost, debt is not a problem—at least not now and not until the economy is doing a lot better. Even if it were, this congress can only budget for this congress. As we learned all too well during the first years of the Bush Jr administration: fiscal restraint from one administration can easily turn into fiscal recklessness from the next.

Paul Ryan’s Budget: a Primer

Now let’s talk about that budget. Let’s talk about Paul Ryan. You see, John Boehner has turned to him to come up with this budget balancing plan. And that, my friends, is high-larious. Paul Ryan was not even able to balance the budget over 30 years. He certainly won’t be able to do it in ten!

I know there was a lot of reporting on the Ryan Plan and how it balanced the budget. But it was all done with fairy dust. Here’s his plan in about as much detail as he provided:

  1. Cut income tax rates (Very specific!)
  2. Cut deductions (Vague!)
  3. Stimulate the economy (Fairy dust!)
  4. Cut spending (Vague!)

Now I understand that Paul Ryan is a follower of Ayn Rand. And that means he understands important Randian concepts like: X = X. But we normally expect a bit more rigor from our budgets. Ryan’s entire plan comes down to this: “I will balance the budget by cutting spending and stimulating the economy.” And if you’ve ever seen a budget, you know it doesn’t look like that. What Paul Ryan has proposed is a statement of purpose. The problem is that we know for the last 30 years, all Republicans have wanted to do that. We are still waiting for the details.

But even a plan this vague can be shown for the nonsense it is. Total taxes are going to remain the same. Under most circumstances, this would have no effect on the economy. But not in this case! As we saw with Romney’s tax plan, this one can’t help but lower taxes at the top and increase them in the middle. So the people who already have more money than they know what to do with (Why else do you think they are paying the government to hold their money?) will have even more. Meanwhile, people who generally spend all of their money will have less. Thus, Ryan’s tax changes will hurt the economy.

But wait, there’s more! Cutting government spending will also hurt the economy. (Just ask people living in the United Kingdom!) So Ryan’s great idea will cause the economy to tank. And thus there will be less tax revenue. And this will mean that all of his unspecified spending cuts will be partially offset. And thus, he will need even more savage spending cuts. But don’t worry! It is certainly the case than in 20 or 30 or 40 years, the economy will recover.

What They’re All Saying

Political watchers are no more impressed than I am. Jonathan Chait notes that the only way that Ryan could make his budget work is to cut about 90% out of our spending on the poor and sick. But he puts his general thoughts very poetically:

Paul Ryan’s budget, even while employing all sorts of fanciful projections, didn’t balance the budget until 2040.Why? Because the parameters Republicans have picked for the budget make balancing the budget utterly impossible. Moving that timetable up by seventeen years changes the plausibility level from Level: Unicorn to Level: Unicorn Being Ridden By Santa Claus Who Has Lost 50 Pounds Through One Weird Trick.

Matt Yglesias questions the very idea of balancing the budget. He gets to the heart of what I was talking about this morning, The End of History. Can it possibly be that we are at exactly the right amount of taxation? Mostly, he’s just poking them to note that they have no reasons for their position on the budget. They just “feel” that certain numbers are right.

But mostly everyone else is still focused on Paul Ryan’s problem yesterday: his claim that he never said that people on Social Security and Medicare were “takers” (or the more common Randian term “moochers”). Mother Jones provided this video to jog his memory:

Update (23 January 2013 5:16 pm)

Ezra Klein has a great article that shows just how much of a charlatan Paul Ryan is, What Happened When I Asked Paul Ryan Why He Hates Taxes. It is very much worth reading.

Boehner’s Weakness is America’s Strength

John BoehnerJust for the record, John Boehner is still a very weak Speaker of the House. The House of Representatives voted to suspend the Debt Ceiling through 18 May. This in itself is a chickshit move. Boehner had decided that he didn’t need to make his caucus have to vote to raise the Debt Ceiling; instead, he would just have them ignore it for a while. Why not just “ignore” it forever? And I’m sure that a lot of people in the next set of Republican primaries will ask that very question.

But what makes Boehner look weak is that yet again, he could not get legislation passed without the help of the Democrats. Only 199 Republicans voted for the bill that required at least 230. And this was with the ridiculous unconstitutional[1] “sweetener” of saying the congress doesn’t get paid if it doesn’t pass a budget. The truth is that it is clear that he can’t control his caucus. But the bill did at least fulfill the Hastert Rule, so Boehner has to be pleased about that.

I think we should all be pleased about this vote, however. It shows a willingness on the part of the Republican leadership to work with the Democrats. If Pelosi had whipped the Democratic caucus, Boehner’s bill would have likely gone down in defeat. Boehner had to be a little uneasy about bring the bill up for a vote. And more important: he must have brought it to the floor because he thought that the Democrats would work with him. This doesn’t mean that it will work the other way around, but it is some movement in the right direction. Boehner is using his weakness for good rather than evil.

[1] The 27th Amendment is really clear, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

The End of History

End of HistoryLast night on The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell presented a rewrite where he attacked conservatives—Bill O’Reilly in particular—about the one thing that makes them conservatives. The clip is below and it is worth watching. He says that conservatives always think that however things are, that is how they should be. So when there was slavery, well, that is how it should be. How could anyone have improved on the life of America in 1860? And similarly today, it is right and fitting for fifty million Americans to go without healthcare and for most of the rest to be one illness away from medical bankruptcy.

This is what I call “the end of history.” It is the belief that all of history was leading up to the present. We aren’t going somewhere, we have arrived. And for those in power, I guess the case can be made. But for the rest of us? I don’t think we only need tinkering around the edges. In particular, I’m thinking more and more that all markets are turning into winner-take-all. These are markets where those at the top make ridiculous amounts of money, while all the rest barely get by. Think: violin players. We effectively have the same sort of thing going on with other areas that should not be winner-take-all markets. For example, high tech has become a place where big companies use government policy to stifle small companies.

This is why we must not allow conservatives to claim that they are for free markets. They are for anything but. The only time they are for “free markets” is when it helps powerful installed interests. Take for example, “free trade” agreements. These are agreements to allow free trade in, say, tomatoes. But they don’t allow free trade in medicine, law, teaching, or anything else that would hurt American elites but help American poor. So it is critical to see conservatism for what it is and not for what it claims to be.

It is very easy to see how shortsighted conservatism is. Just look at conservatives of the past. Whenever conservatives hearken back to great minds, they always go to Edmund Burke. It is too dangerous to use any more recent conservatives. This is because it is all too clear that the basis of their thinking was racism, sexism, homophobia, and elitism. Whenever a conservative talks about William F. Buckley, they are careful to whitewash his extremely troubling early writings that are explicitly white supremacist. (Buckley spent much of his later career trying to backtrack on this.) Here’s a prediction for you: in 20 years, all conservatives will accept Obamacare as God given, but they will denounce any idea of a single payer system.

I can’t say for sure whether conservatives really believe that we’ve reached the end of history. It may just be rhetoric that they’ve created to justify the far less compelling argument that those who are down should be kept down and those who are up should be kept up. But given that American conservatism has always embraced the idea of opportunity, it probably is that they believe this end of history nonsense. And that makes them the kings of cognitive dissonance. They must know that their thinking of not long ago is now repugnant. And they must know (or have actively avoided finding out) that America does not provide “equality of opportunity.”

Regardless, we must push ever forward the truth about what conservatives believe. They are the party of the American aristocracy. Forget free markets. Forget religious liberty. Remember: the end of history.