Filibuster Deal Crumbling?

Heidi HeitkampIn case you were wondering about that filibuster deal that John McCain made with Harry Reid, well, it looks like it is crumbling. And this is the first vote after the critical seven that Reid said must be approved. Earlier this afternoon, the Senate was anxiously waiting for Senator Heidi Heitkamp to fly back to Washington. The reason? The Democrats are trying to pass a cloture vote on the nomination of Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Thus far they only have 59 votes and they need 60.

There are a couple of things that are worth nothing here. First, this wouldn’t even be an issue if the Senate had passed one of the minor filibuster reforms that people like me were calling for earlier this year. The proposal was to put the filibuster onus on the people filibustering, not the majority. So instead of the majority having to get 60 votes, the minority would have to get 41 votes. The way it is today with 59-40, Todd Jones’ nomination would already have had a successful cloture vote. The truth is that this is just pathetic. Not a single one of those 40 Republicans who have voted against cloture even need to be in Washington. It is all about the majority having to prove that it has the votes to stop a filibuster; the minority has no obligation to sustain its own filibuster.

The other thing about this is that this is a fucking filibuster! I am so tired of this bullshit. The idea of the so called nuclear option was that it would disallow filibusters on executive branch nominations. The deal was that the Republicans would not filibuster 7 critical nominations. But that’s not what happened. Every one of those nominations was filibustered. It is just that enough Republicans voted for cloture that the filibusters were unsuccessful. But they were still filibustered. There was still a whole lot of time wasted. The Democrats still had to make sure that every one of them was present to vote for cloture because most of the time the Republicans didn’t even give them a single vote to spare.

So here is how it all breaks down. The Republicans apparently are only willing to do the bare minimum necessary to avoid the Nuclear Option. Sure, this one cloture vote is likely to go through, but if we are already having difficulty with the eighth vote, it is hopeless after Congress returns from the break. The Republicans were never willing to stop filibustering. The Republicans have only been willing to give the minimum number of votes. And the onus of stopping a filibuster is still on the majority. This is not a lot of progress.

I know that things are (temporarily anyway) slightly better than they were. But is this really the way the Senate ought to work? The Senate operated a long time without a filibuster; the first one was in 1837. Then, for well over 100 years, the filibuster was rarely used. And as a rarely used tool, it makes quite a nice addition to the Senate where everyone is supposedly on such friendly terms. Now it is not a tool that the minority can use; it is a tool that gives the minority veto power over all legislation and appointments. I want to be as clear as possible about this: the filibuster should go. I don’t care that the Republicans will later be in the majority. The Senate ought to be able to run like a normal legislative body. And look: after it goes away, if the Republicans again become a normal (non-revolutionary) party, the filibuster can be brought back. But it needs to go. The sooner the better.

Update (1 August 2013 3:34 pm)

Todd Jones got confirmed. But Steve Benen adds some information about the cloture vote. It almost didn’t happen at all. It was only after John McCain and Susan Collins convinced Lisa Murkowski that Heidi Heitkamp’s vote mattered at all. The interesting thing is that Murkowski is (by Republican standards) a moderate. What does it matter if the ATF has someone to head it? I mean really? This is the kind of thing the Republicans filibuster over? Really?! This has nothing to do with policy. This is just blocking everything because you can. As I said: it needs to go.

I happen to have Mr. Suebsaeng Right Here…

Marshall McLuhanThis comes from Digby who clearly reads a lot faster than I do. Let me provide a little background. In the film Annie Hall, Woody Allen is in line to see the movie (apparently for the umpteenth time) The Sorrow and the Pity. In back of him in the line is some other New York intellectual spouting off about Fellini. Eventually he mentions Marshal McLuhan. Woody Allen and the annoying man get into an argument. Allen says that he doesn’t know anything about McLuhan and the man counters that he teaches a college course on media so his insights are valid. Then, in a bit of fantasy that is entirely typical of Allen’s films, Marshal McLuhan is produced to tell the annoying intellectual that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Allen concludes, “If life were only like this!”

Here is the scene:

So Mark Waters told a Mother Jones writer, Asawin Suebsaeng, that he is wrong to mischaracterize an article:

I do feel for Mr. Waters. We’ve all been dumb and it really sucks when it happens in public. But apparently, sometimes life is like this!

GOP Base Is Not Getting Better

Republican Base: Invade Iran NowThere is a new Pew poll out that asked Republican voters about their Republican leaders. And the results will undoubtedly cause a lot of people in the mainstream press to claim that it is good news: about half as many Republicans want there party to moderate as want it to become more conservative. According to Ed Kilgore, this is the wrong way to read the poll. The overall finding is 35% of Republicans want the party to be more conservative. And 32% think it is just the right amount of conservative. That’s 67% who think that the only possible problem with the current Republican Party is that it isn’t conservative enough.

Kilgore is completely correct, of course. This is what I argued last week. The country is not getting more liberal because the Republican base is waking up to just how harmful their party is to the country and its people. These people will die thinking that the country is turning communist. What I’ve been saying is only that these people will die. As Kilgore himself concluded:

If, as we have every reason to expect based on turnout patterns and the ’14 landscape, Republicans have a non-disastrous midterm cycle, there’s no reason to believe Republicans are going to demand massive changes in messaging or strategy…

This is why the Republican Party is having a hard time reforming itself. If the base was starting to moderate, it wouldn’t be hard. But think about it: currently, about 40% of the electorate is on the extreme right of the political landscape. That’s a large part of the electorate to risk losing in order to appeal to the center. The truth is that the Democratic Party could more easily move to the right on abortion than the Republicans could move to the left on anything.

To give you some idea of just how bad the problem is, here are a few numbers that Kilgore tweezed from the Pew report. These are how many Republicans want to stay as conservative or get more so compared to the current party:

60% Abortion
75% Immigration
87% Government Spending
79% Guns

As usual, the position of conservatives on government spending makes me crazy. Americans, as a group, are clueless of just how much help they get from the government. As Suzanne Mettler noted, large majorities of Americans want a smaller government with fewer services. But:

A 2008 poll of 1,400 Americans by the Cornell Survey Research Institute found that when people were asked whether they had “ever used a government social program,” 57 percent said they had not. Respondents were then asked whether they had availed themselves of any of 21 different federal policies, including Social Security, unemployment insurance, the home-mortgage-interest deduction and student loans. It turned out that 94 percent of those who had denied using programs had benefited from at least one; the average respondent had used four.

In my experience, conservatives are especially prone to this kind of thinking. When they are questioned about it, you find out that what they really want to do is cut spending on programs for those people. It just so happens that the programs for those people don’t cost much because they’ve already been cut to the bone.

But the other items on the list are just as appalling. Who could reasonably think that the Republican Party is not conservative enough on the issue of guns? Or abortion? I get the immigration issue. There are a fair number of Republicans who really do want comprehensive immigration reform. But the main thing here is just that the Republican base will not be happy until the Republican Party goes full tilt fascist.

There is no reason to care, however. These people are delusional. They look back to a time in the United States that never existed. It is effectively a white power movement. They aren’t so much concerned that they lack real power. But they don’t like to be told that they have had unfair advantages their whole lives. They are like the people who grandly offer you to join their Monopoly game after it has already started and all the property has been divided. What are those poor kids complaining about? If they had a bit of pluck, they could just get a good union job the way people did in the 1950s!

Meanwhile, we must work to create a real liberal movement. In the end, the Republican Party may not be able to reform itself. It may just be that the Democratic Party will split in two. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

Pernicious Milton Friedman

Milton FriedmanBaroque sculptor Alessandro Algardi was born on this day in 1598. Cuban composer Ignacio Cervantes was born in 1847. You can get an idea of the kind of stuff he wrote by listening to his Adios a Cuba. French modernist Jean Dubuffet was born in 1901.

Actor Michael Biehn is 57 today. Wesley Snipes is 51. And J. K. Rowling is 48.

The day, however, belongs to a man I’m none too fond of, Milton Friedman who was born on this day in 1912. There’s no doubt that he was a great economist. But he was far more influential as a popularizer of libertarianism. And in that capacity, he has pushed the thinking on the right to such an extent that now they would consider him a socialist who wants to steal everyone’s money via the Federal Reserve and its money printing.

The other thing about him is that the 2008 economic crisis showed that he was wrong about his greatest claim to fame. He supposedly showed that the Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression; if it had just increased the money supply all would have been well. That is exactly what has happened since 2008 and it hasn’t made two shits of difference. The only reason we aren’t in the same place as we were in the 1930s is because of automatic fiscal stimulus in the form of Social Security and Unemployment.

I also wonder about what Friedman would have said if he had lived to see the crisis of 2008. It is certainly the case that most of the people who followed in his footsteps came up with clever ways to justify themselves. I feel fairly certain that Friedman would have used his own remarkable mind to justify his old thinking rather than to adjust it.

Last year, I wrote about an interview in Jamie Johnson’s pathetic documentary The One Percent:

The film contains a number of interesting interviews. The best is with economist Milton Friedman. There were two aspects of it worth note. First, Friedman shows very clearly that his economic ideas are nothing more than religious faith. He argues that progressive taxation is socialism. This goes along with his work with Augusto Pinochet in Chile. As all of Friedman’s “free market” proposals failed, the reason was never the ideas themselves. It was always that the country wasn’t free market enough. This is a typically libertarian view that we saw very often after the financial collapse of 2008: the problem wasn’t deregulation, it was that there was still some regulation that was stopping the markets from working perfectly.

The second notable part of the interview gets to the heart of the problem with the whole film. Johnson really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His arguments come down to nothing more than, “Don’t you think that maybe the rich are too rich?” Friedman pointed out that while the rich may have gotten much more wealthy over the last 30 years, the poor have at least seen some improvement in their standard of living. Johnson countered anemically that the gains should have been more equally shared. Why? He doesn’t seem to have an answer. The truth is that many of the poor have seen their standard of living decrease. But the more important point is not that the poor are better off, it is how much better the poor would be doing if, for example, we still had strong unions in this country. To Friedman it is just a given that if the rich got less there would be no innovation, no productivity growth. But Johnson could not counter him on this because he didn’t understand what he was talking about.

Anyway, despite having a pernicious effect on the whole of humanity, happy birthday Milton Friendman!

People Will Notice If GOP Goes Crazy

Jonathan ChaitYesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote a provocative article, Are House Republicans Voter-Proof? In it, he argued that the Republicans likely have nothing to worry about in going full tilt Michele Bachmann. After all, most people don’t even know which party is in control of the House of Representatives. Why would they blame the Republicans?

Under normal circumstances, I agree with Chait. If the Republicans keep doing what they have been doing killing the economy inch by inch, the electorate will not notice. As I wrote last week, I fully expect the Republicans to pick up some seats in the House and also likely take control of the Senate. But I do wish people would stop talking about the Sixth-Year Cure. This is the belief of political observers that the president’s party loses big the sixth year of his presidency. Sean Trende has debunked this idea. What actually happens is that the president’s party loses big in one of the midterm elections. That already happened to Obama in 2010. Although it is likely that 2014 won’t be a good year for the Democrats, they are already doing about as badly as they can. There aren’t many seats (in the House at least) that they can gain.

Chait mentions 5 factors that work in the Republicans favor. The first is the silly Sixth Year Curse. The second is that Democrats tend to do badly in midterm elections. That’s true, but that’s already figured into the calculation. Third is that there aren’t many swing voters anymore. I’m not sure how this gives the Republicans an advantage when most of those swing voters are just Democrats now. Fourth is the observation that Democratic voters are concentrated and thus their votes don’t count as much. That’s true in the Senate races, but not in the House. So I don’t get his point given that the big issue is the House. And fifth is that the 2010 redistricting favors the Republicans. That’s true, but again, already figured into the calculation.

All he is saying is that the Republicans can continue to misbehave and get nothing done without a voter backlash. And that’s true! But no one is suggesting that the Republicans are idiots. They respond to incentives and they see that in 2014 they are not going to harmed if they vote yet again to defund Obamacare. What people like me have been talking about is the longer term. Over the next 6 to 8 years, if the Republicans don’t start to change, they will be overwhelmed by the demographic change. And no amount of redistricting and voter suppression is going to save them.

But this isn’t even about the long term. If the Republicans refuse to raise the Debt Ceiling or if they simply shutdown the government, people will notice. The TV news will be all about this. Even Fox News will have a hard time blaming it on the Democrats. And people won’t have to know who their legislators are or who controls the House of Representatives. They will just freak out about the crazy party that hates the government.

Fox Zealot Vs. Mainstream Aslan

Zealot - Reza AslanThe Fox News interview is Reza Aslan was interesting and fun. (For those that haven’t seen it, it is embedded below.) He was on to hock his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. And basically, the entire interview was about why a Muslim would write a book about Christianity. I understand why they approached Aslan and his book this way. The truth is that he was only being interviewed because according to conservative ideology the only interesting thing about the book was that Aslan is a Muslim. And really: who in the mainstream press is interested in New Testament scholarship?

What is sad about the current state of Biblical scholarship is that the field is overflowing with Christians. To me, there is no question that a Muslim can be a good Biblical scholar. But I have great questions as to whether any given Christian can be a good Biblical scholar. This isn’t to say that there aren’t Christian Biblical scholars who are good. In fact, there are great Christian biblical scholars. But there is a natural concern that these scholars will try to conform their scholarship to their religious beliefs. A Buddhist, for example, doesn’t have that problem.

The attitude on view at Fox News is typical. It is also an indictment of modern American Christianity. The way I see it is that “believers” are so insecure about the truth of their belief that they can’t brook any objective discussion of it. What’s funny about it is that such people think they are protecting the religion. But any objective viewer can see the terror in their attacks.

I haven’t read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. What’s more, I have no intention of doing so. Based only on the title of the book, it sounds distinctly like well traveled territory. In particular, it sounds like John Dominic Crossan—himself a Roman Catholic. I don’t mean that as an insult. Crossan is brilliant. I just don’t see why I would read yet another book on biblical scholarship that says more or less what I already know.

Plus, in the interview, Aslan said something that I really disagree with. He said that there was no question that Jesus was crucified. There is very much a question about that! There are no non-Biblical sources for the Crucifixion. What’s more, the Crucifixion stories are not consistent. I think it takes a great will to assume that somehow there must be some historicity behind what are at least mostly legend. As Robert M. Price wrote in The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man:

One wonders if all these scholars came to a certain point and stopped, their assumption being, “If Jesus was a historical figure, he must have done and said something!”

His point (in this comment and the book as a whole) is that as scholars dig into the Bible, they find very little that works as history. So believers have a tendency to simply stop working at a certain point and figure what they haven’t studied must be true. Regardless of who Jesus was or was not, it just can’t be determined by what is in the Bible. Regardless of all this, Aslan is firmly in the middle of New Testament scholarship. He isn’t arguing that the historical Jesus isn’t to be found in the Bible, much less that Jesus was a myth. Clearly, he thinks we can determine who Jesus really was based upon the Bible. And that man most likely is very much the man who Crossan finds in the Bible.

I used to have a roommate named Jerry. He was very conservative. He was also a hardcore Christian. Or so he thought. He never went to church. He never read the Bible. He commonly hired prostitutes, did drugs, and was extremely mean to many of God’s creatures. He was only a Christian in the sense that he would explode in rage if anyone suggested that Jesus was the one, true way. That’s what the whole Fox News interview seemed like to me. The truth is that Aslan’s book falls somewhere within the mainstream of Biblical scholarship. But such people can’t accept anyone who is not a true believer discussing their religion. It really comes down to the fact that they know almost nothing about their supposed faith. And that is something that is worthy of outrage.

Celebrate Emily by Reading Wuthering Heights

Emily BronteOn this day in 1511, art historian Giorgio Vasari was born. Pianist and Wolfgang’s sister, Maria Anna Mozart was born in 1751. Poet Samuel Rogers was born in 1763. Automaker and antisemite Henry Ford was born in 1863.

The half-sister of Marilyn Monroe, Berniece Baker Miracle is 94 today. I bring it up only to imagine what might have been. Blues great Buddy Guy is 77. Director Peter Bogdanovich is 74. Singer and lyricist Paul Anka is 72. Saxophonist David Sanborn is 68. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 66. I’m not even sure what he is. Actor Jean Reno is 65. So he will not be working anymore. Lawyer Anita Hill is 57. Actor Laurence Fishburne is 53. Actor Lisa Kudrow is 50. Director Christopher Nolan is 43. And actor Hilary Swank is 39.

The day, however, belongs to the great British novelist Emily Bronte who was born on this day in 1818. There is not a lot to say about her. Wuthering Heights is the most satisfying of the Bronte sisters’ novels. And I have never read any of the poetry—or at least I don’t remember any of it that I read or which one of the sisters might have written it. She appears to have been very shy. If her sister Charlotte is to be believed, she rarely left the house. All of that makes me the more fond of her. Regardless, she left us as much of a testament of her life as we need in her great novel. We celebrate her life by reading it.

Happy birthday Emily Bronte!

Obama’s Economic Clique and the Summers Pick

Larry SummersWhen Obama and Clinton were running for the Democratic nomination for president, I tended to side with Obama. The reason was not one I’ve heard anyone else mention. My fear was that Clinton would be another George W. Bush, just on the left. By that I mean that she would have been too insular. I thought that Obama would be more broad in where he looked for input. But that hasn’t been the case. Obama has been very insular. And when it comes to economic policy, it seems that the people he listens to are a group of New Democrat, pro-banking nitwits.

I’ve been thinking about this because of all the speculation about Larry Summers being nominated as Federal Reserve Chair. It isn’t that Summers would make a terrible choice for the job. I have big problems with him, especially his strong dollar policies (under and then following Robert Rubin) while he was in the Clinton administration. But there are far worse candidates for the job. The big problem is: why would Obama be so keen on Summers?

The answer, I think, is just that Obama’s insular economic decision making team is dominated by the kind of people who think that Larry Summers rocks. Obama could have just picked Janet Yellen, the current Vice Chairman of the Fed. She is extremely well qualified for the job and she is, as the pronoun indicates, a woman. Obama could have nominated arguably the best person for the job and also done something historic. Apparently, that didn’t matter. Or more likely, that didn’t even occur to Obama’s economic clique.

It’s pretty clear that a Summers nomination is not going to fly with most of the Democratic Party. As Dean Baker wrote, “There is a multi-count indictment that includes his support for the repeal of Glass-Steagall, his opposition to regulating derivatives, his notorious comment about women possibly lacking the ability for sophisticated mathematical reasoning, and his protection of the big banks in his years as President Obama’s National Economic Adviser.” And now a Senate Democratic leader told Talking Points Memo, “Given the level of opposition to Larry Summers within our caucus, confirming him would be a huge challenge and probably a pretty ugly process.”

But that doesn’t mean Obama won’t do it. In fact, he has often taken pride in thumbing his nose at the Democratic base. That’s how he got his New Democratic economic team in the first the place. Think what a Summers pick would mean, however. It would mean that Obama didn’t care about shoring up his base for the coming fights with the House Republicans. It would mean that he thought that Summers was so important that it trumped everything else going on in his second term. It would mean that he really didn’t care about his party.

I wonder if that’s not the case. After all, this talk about a Summers nomination has been festering. The White House could have leaked information to indicate that Summers isn’t in contention. Hell, they could have forced Summers to withdraw his name from consideration because he wanted to spend more time with his kids. But we haven’t heard a peep. And remember: that wasn’t the case with Susan Rice. So I think it is possible that Obama is still thinking he can ram Summers through as the Fed chair. It isn’t hard to believe. Generally, Janet Yellen is seen as a fiscal dove who isn’t obsessed with inflation. And in Obama’s insular economic club, that may disqualify her.

Update (30 July 2013 2:34 pm)

Matt Yglesias sent me to a Bloomberg View article by Albert Hunt, Could Geithner End Up the Next Fed Chairman? The important bit of the article is what people in the Summers camp are saying about Yellen, “No one doubts Yellen’s credentials as an economist, but questions have been raised, mainly by those in the Summers camp, about whether she has the gravitas to manage a financial crisis.” As Yglesias notes, it is hard to see this as anything except pure sexism.

I will go Yglesias one further: if Obama decides to pick Geithner as Fed chair, it will be an even more sexist pick. Then it won’t be a matter of thinking that Summers just has some great ability that no one else has. It will be that Obama just doesn’t want to pick Yellen. And what reason could there be for that? After all, no one doubts Yellen’s credentials as an economist. What else could it be? (Also: Geithner is a little weasel; who could think that he has “gravitas”?)

Politics of the Not-So-Grand Bargain

ObamaObama will be unveiling a Not-So-Grand Bargain at a speech today. The new deal would cut corporate income taxes down from 35% to 28% (and a special 25% rate for manufacturers). This would be made up by closing loopholes. The deal would also create a temporary windfall that would be used for infrastructure and education spending. Even before the details of the plan came out John Boehner rejected it, saying it was just more taxing and spending.

My concern about this deal is not its specifics. In general, the deal sounds pretty good. What’s more, real conservatives should love it. The problem is that I don’t trust future lawmakers. As we well know from experience, it is a lot easier to introduce loopholes into the tax code than it is to change rates. The standard rationale for exchanging loopholes for lower rates is that it is fairer. But the business community—especially the big players—are not interested in that. They want lower rates so that they can pay less. They assume (rightly) that they will later be able to get preferential loopholes. So that’s the problem: the deal would be good for a while, but soon we would have just as many loopholes but a lower tax rate. And then we will again be offered the deal to get rid of the loopholes if we lower the corporate tax rate down from 28% to 20%. And on and on. (Note: we could better replace the corporate income tax by taxing dividends as regular income.)

But okay: this deal is not too bad and is actually great compared to a lot of ideas Obama has had. And I can think of two ways in which this deal is a good thing. The first is clear from John Boehner’s instant hostility towards it. In a normal political environment, the head of the opposition would feel it necessary to at least give lip service to the proposal. “I have not seen the details of the proposal, but the Republican Party has long been in favor of lowering corporate taxes, which are at the highest level of any of the G-20 countries.” See how I made that sound reasonable while throwing in a totally deceptive conservative talking point? Anyway, Obama may just be playing Boehner and his caucus to make them look even more intransigent than they already are. After all, this Not-So-Grand Bargain is more a Teeny-Tiny Itsy-Bitsy Bargain. Corporate taxes don’t even make up 2% of federal income taxes. So Boehner saying that the deal leaves “small businesses and American families behind” is just silly and it looks that way too.

The other thing that is good about this proposal is that it shows that the administration may actually have learned a little bit about negotiating. It includes things that Obama is doubtlessly willing to trade away. But I don’t want to overstate this. The truth is that the administration has done this before, but it has been so eager that it’s traded things away too early in the process. Also: I fear that the White House may be willing to trade away all of the infrastructure and education spending. If that’s the case, then this deal breaks down to nothing but the corporate tax changes the Republicans have long wanted. That would not only risk greatly lowering corporate taxes over time, it would do almost nothing to promote economic growth.

In the end, I’m sure that the Republicans will simply be against this even though it is a good deal for their corporate backers. But it involves working with Obama and that would look bad to the base. I’m sure that the Republicans figure their corporate backers have nowhere else to go. (I’m not sure that’s the case; the Democrats are bought and sold by them as well.) The one thing that defines the modern House Republicans is that they are not willing to give up anything to get everything they want. I’m sure that will turn out to be the case here. So Obama will once again be shown to be the adult in the room. The question is whether the mainstream press will even notice.

Voter ID and the Self-Destruction of the GOP

Elephant and DonkeyRoss Douthat wrote a really good article last Thursday, The Politics of Voter ID. On one hand, the article is another in a long line of Republican pundits trying to convince the Republican establishment that all the self-destructive things they are doing are, you know, self-destructive. On the other hand, I haven’t heard this argument before. He says that while voter ID will disenfranchise lots of Democratic voters, it will also disenfranchise lots of Republican votes. Because of this, Republicans will not get as much benefit for these laws as they think. And according to Douthat, they are going to lose far more than they gain by both adding power to the Democrats’ voter registration drives and make the Republicans look like the bigots they are (my words, not his).

Although I think this is highly insightful, it won’t matter at all. The Republicans have convinced themselves that they are creating voter ID laws simply to make elections fair. I was originally shocked, but the truth is that many (even most) Republicans think that the only reason that Democrats ever win elections is because they are stolen. Many Republicans believe that ACORN stole the 2012 election for Obama, even though they went out of business almost two years to the day before the election. To these kinds of people, America is still as white as it was in 1950—or perhaps even more white. That’s a big part of the problem of the right wing echo chamber: it allows people to think that pretty much everyone believes as they do. It’s the whole problem of, “All Indians walk in single file—at least the only one I ever saw did.”

So I have no doubt that the people who support voter ID laws are simultaneously racist and sincere. They realize that the laws are racist. But this isn’t a problem for them, because they just know that voter fraud is primarily a problem with minority people. Since they are completely vested in this idea, they will never back away from the voter ID laws. Even if they were convinced that voter ID was bad for the Republicans, they are too vested in the idea that they are for it for idealistic reasons to go back now. Here I’m talking about the Republican base, of course; the elites pushing these laws are doing it cynically.

Douthat notes a very strange thing with where elite opinion is on this stuff. The Republican leadership is pushing voter ID laws. But they are also in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. In both these case, the Republicans are going against what African Americans want. They aren’t generally in favor of a pathway to citizenship. It isn’t that they are against it, but like most poorer Americans, they think that the government should do something about their situation before worrying about people who are here illegally. So in both cases, the Republican Party leadership is giving the African American community a big “Fuck you!”

This isn’t surprising, of course. The position on Voter ID laws is simply an obvious, first-order approach to staying in power without changing their highly unpopular positions on economic issues. The position on comprehensive immigration reform is simply one of these pro-business economic issues. I’ve never thought that the embrace of immigration reform by the Republican leadership was about making nice with the immigrant community. It was about doing what the true base of the Republican Party wanted. George W. Bush revealed a good too much about his party in this amusing 20 seconds of video:

Ross Douthat’s article went right along with what I’ve been thinking the last couple of months. At first, the voter ID laws concerned me greatly. But over time I came to see them not being that important. The way the United States already is, people are encouraged not to vote. In terms of developed countries, we make it harder to vote than anyone else. These laws will just make the voter registration drives that much harder—but they won’t stop them. What’s more, all the time that the Republicans spend on stopping people from voting is just time that they don’t work on becoming an appealing political party.

So what Douthat has done is put some numbers to what I was thinking. And he’s made me feel even better about these laws. It seems more than ever that the Republican Party is destroying itself.

When There Was Democracy in America

Alexis de TocquevilleOn this day in 1817, the great Romantic seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky was born. Writer of The Magnificent Ambersons and other classics, Booth Tarkington was born in 1869. Journalist and creator of “Archy and Mehitabel,” Don Marquis was born in 1878. Fascist Benito Mussolini was born in 1883. Operetta composer Sigmund Romberg was born in 1887. Actor William Powell was born in 1892. Lawyer Melvin Belli was born in 1907. Detective writer Chester Himes was born in 1909. The great jazz guitarist Charlie Christian was born in 1916. “The Black Dahlia,” Elizabeth Short was born in 1924.

Songwriter and composer Mikis Theodorakis is 88 today. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is 60. And actor and (much more compellingly) commentator Wil Wheaton is 41.

The day, however, belongs to Alexis de Tocqueville who was born on this day in 1805. He was an early political scientist, but in the United States, he is mostly known for having written Democracy in America. Conservatives especially like to quote him. This is largely because they don’t understand the book. De Tocqueville did idealize America, but this was for the purpose of making a broad argument to the French people about the move from monarchy to democracy. And in discussing this, de Tocqueville especially disliked the inheritance laws in France that allowed the rich to hold onto their wealth generation after generation regardless of their merit. Conservatives of course love inheritance laws and hate estate taxes. If you get into the details of his writing, you will see that he is the 19th century equivalent of a liberal. But conservatives love him because they think that he said that America really is “exceptional.” What’s more, conservatives love this quote, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” The problem is that de Tocqueville never wrote that.

Happy birthday Alexis de Tocqueville!

Five Reasons GOP Shutdown Is Suicide

Ramesh PonnuruWhenever I read Ramesh Ponnuru I wonder why it is the conservative movement can’t be more like him. After all, it isn’t like he is exactly reasonable. I can’t usually read more than two paragraphs without being forced to sit through silly Republican talking points. For example, he never misses an opportunity to slam Obamacare as though he wouldn’t be firmly on board with the program if it had been enacted by President McCain. And this Friday, he argued that one of the reasons the recent Republican efforts (to defund Obamacare via government shutdown) will look bad is because the Republicans don’t have an alternative for healthcare reform. This is just silly. As I’ve argued before, Obamacare was the conservative alternative to healthcare reform. When they decided that it was a communist conspiracy, they left themselves with nothing. Ponnuru must know that the there is no alternative to Obamacare and thus his suggestion that the Republicans need to have one is just pure conservative propaganda.

But most of the article is quite good, Drop the Disastrous Plan to Defund Obamacare. In it, he provided five reasons why the Republican plan to shut down the government or even default on our debt is a bad idea for the Republicans themselves:

  1. Republicans are less popular than the Democrats and thus all else equal will lose partisan finger-pointing contests.
  2. The executive has natural advantages over a group of legislators in a crisis atmosphere.
  3. People will be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible.
  4. Some Republicans will say that government shutdowns or defaults are just what the country needs, and those quotes will affect the image of all Republicans.
  5. The news media will surely side with the Democrats.

I think this can all be boiled down into what I have come to think of as Biden’s Law. You may remember in the vice-presidential debate that Paul Ryan was talking about the almost $600 billion taken out of Medicare. He was arguing that the Republicans were the true defenders of Medicare. Joe Biden didn’t even counter the specifics; he just said, “Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?” And that is why the Republicans will hurt themselves if they shut down the government. People may not be too thrilled with Obamacare, but they don’t think it is so bad that the government should be shut down over it. What’s more, everyone knows that the Republicans are itching to shut the government down. Only the true believers will applaud this move. In the end, people will use their common sense and decide that this is not about Obamacare at all—it’s just about the fact that the Republicans hate the government.

None of this means that the Republicans won’t shut down the government and default on the debt. I think I know why conservatives are so keen on doing this—or at least threatening to do it. In the conservative world, politics is simple. If only we sent strong willed people to Washington, all problems would be solved. (Interestingly, this is part of the authoritarian mindset.) But that isn’t the way things work when you aren’t in control of the White House and Congress. So they try through force of will to get what they want. That’s why the House has voted 37 times to repeal Obamacare. I heard one Republican claim that they were going to continue to vote for repeal until it happened—as though the 37 votes would have any effect on the one vote they would take after they do have control of Washington.

The move to threaten all of government is just the next logical step for the Republicans. And it does have the advantage of being an actual strategy. It isn’t just a hope and a prayer—there is an actual mechanism by which they might win. The problem is that the very small chance they have of winning is not worth all the damage they will do to their party if they lose. As I wrote in The Next Three Election Cycles, if the Republicans manage to destroy the world economy, they will bring on their reckoning in 2014 rather than 2018.

Ponnuru isn’t the only one trying to save the Republican Party from itself. I’m just not sure what he’s saying will be enough. The only argument that might stop the most radical elements of the party is to say that Obamacare will be so terrible that the people will demand its repeal once it is in effect. The problem is that no one ever believed that argument. Republicans are saying we should repeal Obamacare right now because they know that once it is in effect people will like it. Both the extremists and the more practical members of the caucus understand that this is their last chance. The only difference between these two groups is that the practical members don’t want to destroy the party for this cause. The extremists don’t care; they were sent to Washington to destroy it; if it is a suicide mission, so be it. (Interestingly, destruction is also a part of the authoritarian mindset.)