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Draft Etc. Open Thread

[ 123 ] April 27, 2017 |


It’s NFL Draft day. NHL playoffs. I guess there might be games to help decided who loses to Cleveland or Golden State. Discuss here if you wish! Tanier’s mock draft is useful; if you trust his analysis the 49ers definitely got the better of the trade down with the Bears.



[ 83 ] April 27, 2017 |

sessions trump

I’m beginning to think that the president may not be entirely competent:

While the Republican Congress has been laughably deficient in checking President Trump’s corruption and power grabs, the federal courts have been doing their job. On Tuesday, a federal district court judge blocked an executive order intending to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. The president of the United States wasted little time in reacting, tweeting “[f]irst the 9th Circuit rules against the ban and now it hits again on sanctuary cities — both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!” and criticizing the winners of the suit for “judge shopping.” In a subsequent interview, he expressed agreement with “the many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit.”

Both the order itself and Trump’s reaction to the court’s ruling indicated why he’s had a rough ride in the courts so far: He has no idea what he’s doing.

The most obvious problem is that while U.S. District Judge William Orrick lives in the geographic area covered by the 9th Circuit — he is based in San Francisco — he does not in fact serve on that court. He’s a trial judge, not an appellate one. The fact that the same president issuing executive orders apparently doesn’t understand basic facts about the structure of the American judicial system is rather sobering.


It’s not exactly news that Trump’s tweets and interviews tend not to withstand rigorous, or even cursory, scrutiny. The bigger problem for Trump is that you can say the same thing about his sanctuary city order.

In a 1987 case which upheld the use of federal highway funds to establish a de facto national drinking age, the Supreme Court gave Congress a broad (although not unlimited) ability to use its spending power to persuade states to advance federal objectives. One of the limits that the Court placed, however, was that if Congress wants to put conditions on federal funding it “must do so unambiguously” so that states “exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation.” In addition, any conditions placed on spending must be “relevant to federal interest in the project and to the over-all objectives thereof.” Congress could withhold highway spending to compel states to raise their drinking ages because it was related to the federal interest in highway safety, but it could not accomplish the same goal by threatening to withhold Social Security spending.

These restrictions made it nearly inevitable that the courts would find Trump’s order unconstitutional. Judge Orrick’s holding that Trump’s order is not sufficiently related to the federal grants in question is debatable, although the case is strong. But it’s obvious that Congress did not “unambiguously” make clear that the grants in question were conditioned on local officials enforcing federal immigration law. The Supreme Court can revise its own precedents, but lower courts cannot — hence, Orrick had no real choice but to find that the order was unconstitutional.

I, for one, am shocked that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s commitment to the Noble Ideals of Federalism might be opportunistic and unprincipled. This is highly unusual for an Alabama politician!

Look Around the Table. If You Think You Spot Republicans Who Are Deficit Hawks, You Are the Sucker

[ 88 ] April 27, 2017 |


Speaking of framing that inexplicably takes obviously false Republican claims at face value, there’s this:

Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

As President Trump’s top economic advisers faced a barrage of questions on Wednesday about the tax plan they had just unfurled, there was one that they struggled most to answer: how to keep the “massive tax cuts” they proposed from ballooning the federal deficit.


Republican budget hawks will need to decide whether they want to stick to the arguments of fiscal responsibility that they used to bludgeon Democrats during the Obama era. One of those hawks, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, said Wednesday, “Rather than conforming to arbitrary budget constraints, the president’s plan rightfully aims to jump-start investment, which will produce significantly more revenue for the Treasury over the long term than any revenue-neutral tax plan could generate.”

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, who was a fierce critic of deficits when he was a member of Congress, offered a glimpse of the rationale his former colleagues might embrace. “As a conservative, that bothers me a little bit,” he said Tuesday on CNN of the possibility that Mr. Trump’s tax plan would increase the deficit. “But we also look at deficits through sort of a different lens.”

Rappeport does at least make it clear that the Trump tax cuts will lead to yoooge deficits and most “budget hawks” will support them. But it’s bizarre that he sees this as a “struggle” or that he insists on portraying members of Congress who supported Bush’s large, debt-funded tax cuts as “deficit hawks” in the first place. Drum:

When does this nonsense stop? Republicans aren’t deficit hawks. They haven’t been since the Reagan era. Republicans used to be deficit hawks, but the whole point of the Reagan Revolution was that tax cuts were more important than deficits. Their only concern about the deficit these days is as a handy excuse for opposing any increase to social welfare programs.

I know I’m a partisan, but the evidence behind this is about as clear as it could be. Read up on the Reagan tax cut. It took about a decade for the GOP to completely shake off its historical aversion to deficits, but George H. W. Bush’s tax increase in 1990 was the final straw. Since then, deficits have been a rhetorical trope, but nothing more.

Trump’s tax pan is the orthodox Republican position and has been for decades.

Massive Upper-Class Tax Cuts Are Paul Ryan’s Plan

[ 147 ] April 27, 2017 |


This framing is a classic example of journalist who don’t get Paul Ryan:

Donald Trump is set to steamroll Paul Ryan on tax reform, the issue the speaker has devoted his political career to achieving.

But don’t expect Ryan to relinquish his pet cause easily.

The White House on Wednesday will drop the outlines of a tax plan that insiders expect will contradict the blueprint Ryan has been working on for more than a year. It won’t include the House speaker’s controversial new tax on imports, which was expected to bring in $1 trillion to finance lower tax rates. And top Trump officials are insisting their tax plan need not be paid for, rejecting Ryan’s stance that any package should not add to the deficit.

The administration’s sudden change of course came as a surprise to the speaker’s office, which didn’t get a heads-up before Trump announced on the fly last week that he would drop a tax plan Wednesday. Ryan had been working with the administration on a tax proposal “hand in glove,” as he put it, and the administration seemed content to let him take the lead.

This alleged conflict between Trump’s “tax cuts” and Ryan’s “tax reform” is completely illusory. Ryan’s objective is to pass the biggest tax cut for rich people that he can. The “tax reform” angle is useful for Ryan in the abstract because “yoooge tax cuts for the rich” aren’t politically popular, and because revenue-neutral tax reform could be “permanent” rather than having to sunset in ten years. But Ryan’s plan, which also required ACA repeal, was actually rather dumb politics because doing “tax reform” means unpopular tax increases and spending cuts as well as upper-class tax cuts, and had little chance of passing anyway.

The inevitable end game, therefore, was exactly what Trump is proposing: another Bushesque round of debt-financed upper-class tax cuts. It will probably pass in some form, although I doubt the elimination of most deductions will fly, and this will suit Ryan just fine.

NHL Round 2 Preview

[ 34 ] April 26, 2017 |
Sep 30, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA;  Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 30, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

One round done, and the only thing we can say for sure is that Brian Elliott has the Conn Smythe wrapped up. (Ed. note: too soon.) Some pretty interesting second round series, though:

NASHVILLE OVER ST. LOUIS IN 5 Standings aside, I think the Blues are actually facing a better team this round (and remember that Josi and Subban missed 26 games between them.) Neither Allen nor Rinne will be able to sustain their first round performance but the latter has a stronger body of work. The Preds have the elite defensive pair, quality goaltending, and a strong top 6 up front — they’d be my bet to represent the West in the finals right now.

This series is an abomination in the face of the Lord; trying to figure out who I will cheer for will be like trying to determine whether I’d prefer Neil Gorsuch or Sam Alito to be the median vote on the Supreme Court. Analytically, Anaheim’s sweep is a little misleading in that they won 3 one-goal games against a team whose #1 goalie put up an .880 save% (for casual fans, .900 is below replacement-level.) This doesn’t mean they didn’t “deserve” it, of course — goaltending counts! — but they’re unlikely to do it again. The San Jose/Edmonton series was weird in that it featured alternating lopsided games rather than the closely-contested-games-decided-by-a-goal we’ve seen in most of the other series. In a coin flip series I’ll pick the Ducks for the same reason I picked them in round 1 — the Oilers are even more of a stars-and-scrubs team than Calgary, and this leaves them vulnerable to matchups on the road: the back end of Edmonton’s defense is very exploitable and McDavid and Draisaitl will have to contend with Kesler and Silfverberg (the latter of whom really drives the line now, I think — he’s a monster.) I expect it to be close either way, though.

Should be a great series, obviously. Caps fans shouldn’t be unduly nervous about the tough first round — it pains me to say it but the Leafs are a really good team, the best of the three interesting Canadian teams emerging from a rebuild. In a very even series, I side with Washington because 1)they’re healthier, 2)I like their goaltending more, and 3)I don’t believe in curses.

NEW YORK OVER OTTAWA IN 6. New York’s round one went well for me — I was happy to see them win for Subban-related reasons, and Montreal (who I thought would win) won their two games when I happened to be in Las Vegas (relevant to these previews, Steely Dan were great — Walter lead vocal on “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More!” LARRY CARLTON GUEST APPEARANCE!) So I was able to win two NHL parlays while still getting my rooting interest in the end. I will again be rooting for my undergraduate heroes Boucher and Raymond, but I think the Rangers are the stronger team here. One caveat is that I thought Lundqvist was in decline — not unreasonable, given that he’s 34 35 and had the worst regular season of his career — but he looked as good as ever in the first round. If that continues the Rangers will win fairly easily, but I’m not 100% convinced yet. Make sure to pay attention to Karlsson who even playing hurt is an absolute marvel — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a defenseman, including Bourque or Lidstrom, who can make high-degree-of-difficulty first passes look so easy.

And now, for a second opinion, Michael Berube (who also passes on this interesting analysis of the problems the Rangers have at home):

Rangers v. Ottawa. I read somewhere that whoever wins the Pens-Caps series has a clear path to the Stanley Cup finals. I’m thinking that one or both of these teams now has that remark on the locker room bulletin board– and I think it might matter more to the Rangers, who have finally managed to learn how to win at home in the postseason. Lundqvist looks great, the offense isn’t relying on just one or two lines, and the Zibanejad-Brassard matchup looks great. (I liked Brassard and was sorry to see him go, but for the next two weeks he is a bum.) Ottawa caught a break with a blown penalty call in OT in game 3 of the Bruins series, otherwise they might be home now. RANGERS IN SIX.

Penguins v. Capitals. I honestly don’t think anything can stop the Penguins now. The 1978 Canadiens, 1960 Canadies,1972 Bruins and 1985 Oilers could form a conglomerate fantasy team and I would still pick Pittsburgh. I called Columbus in 6 in round one because the Pens don’t have Kris Letang in the lineup, and now it’s like Kris who? That decimation of the Blue Jackets was decimating. And who knew Fleury had a Cup run left in him? Here’s to not dumping a former hero at the trade deadline. But I am just hoping that this really finally truly is the year an Ovechkin-led Capitals team makes the most of its talent, so I will pretend that home ice advantage means something here. CAPITALS IN SEVEN.

In the west: Nashville, wow. Edmonton, welcome back to the big time after a generation away. (C’mon, everyone knows 2006 was a fluke.) But goddamn, your home jerseys make my eyes bleed. Blues in 7, Ducks in 6.

Broadly Diverse

[ 120 ] April 26, 2017 |


As we have discussed, the New York Times has added to its Broad Array of Viewpoints on the op-ed page by hiring a third Republican white guy. Jeff Stein interviewed him, and the results are as expected:

It’s a decision that infuriated many of the paper’s liberal readers. Stephens may be a vocal critic of Donald Trump, but his views are firmly right-wing. In an interview on Sunday, his first since joining the Times, Stephens defended his view that fears of climate change are overblown, his argument that the campus rape epidemic is an “imaginary enemy,” and his belief that Black Lives Matter is sending the wrong message.

“Look, at the risk of being incredibly politically incorrect, but I guess that’s my job — I think that all lives matter,” Stephens said. “Not least black lives.”

Whew, finally Times readers can have access to the inane, offensive talking points that have already become cliches. Speaking of which, we also get the slightly more sophisticated variant of “how can there be global warming when it’s snowing in Minot in January” argument:

A guy I know just had a baby and he’s a big global warming, climate change activist. If he thinks in 20 years we’ll be heading toward unsustainable climates and there will be tens of millions of people being displaced, presumably including himself, at the most apocalyptic level, then presumably he wouldn’t be having children.

Ah yes, the old McArdle standby “if you favor higher taxes why don’t you send more money to the government?” It seems highly likely that Stephen’s friend, unlike Stephens, is not a climate denialist and also understands that nobody’s choice to have a single child has any impact on the climate. And here’s another Penetrating Insight:

But it turned out that, in Germany, the sun doesn’t shine all the time. And, even in Germany, the wind doesn’t blow all the time. However, you need power all of the time; because you’re spending tremendous amounts on wind and solar subsidies, you need an alternative base-line.


It’s pretty much all like this; not only are the arguments uniformly dumb you’ve also heard them all a million times before. So what is his contribution supposed to be, exactly? Here’s Liz Spayd:

What I do support — fully — is Bennet’s aim of hiring people who don’t conform to a liberal orthodoxy of thought. And I hope he is right in his unflinching belief that readers will want to hear what Stephens has to say. “The crux of the question is whether his work belongs inside our boundaries for intelligent debate, and I have no doubt that it does,” Bennet told me. “I have no doubt he crosses our bar for intellectual honesty and fairness.”

1)That is one hell of a low bar and 2)it remains unclear why Viewpoint Diversity justifies hiring a a third anti-Trump reactionary white guy but never anybody to the left of Krugman.

Comey, Lynch and Clinton

[ 91 ] April 26, 2017 |


The big Times story on the Comey coup d’etat contains this striking detail:

Ms. Lynch understood Mr. Comey’s predicament, but not his hurry. In a series of phone calls, her aides told Mr. Comey’s deputies that there was no need to tell Congress anything until agents knew what the emails contained.

Either Ms. Lynch or Ms. Yates could have ordered Mr. Comey not to send the letter, but their aides argued against it. If Ms. Lynch issued the order and Mr. Comey obeyed, she risked the same fate that Mr. Comey feared: accusations of political interference and favoritism by a Democratic attorney general.

If Mr. Comey disregarded her order and sent the letter — a real possibility, her aides thought — it would be an act of insubordination that would force her to consider firing him, aggravating the situation.

This further convinces me that there was nothing Lynch could have done at the time to prevent Comey’s election-tampering. He may well have refused a direct order, and even if he nominally followed it word of the investigation definitely would have leaked out only with an additional “what is Lynch trying to hide?” angle, which would have been even worse.

Lynch did screw up earlier, however, although I primarily blame Bill Clinton:

In late June, Ms. Lynch’s plane touched down at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as part of her nationwide tour of police departments. Former President Bill Clinton was also in Phoenix that day, leaving from the same tarmac.

Ms. Lynch’s staff loaded into vans, leaving the attorney general and her husband on board. Mr. Clinton’s Secret Service agents mingled with her security team. When the former president learned who was on the plane, his aides say, he asked to say hello.

Mr. Clinton’s aides say he intended only to greet Ms. Lynch as she disembarked. But Ms. Lynch later told colleagues that the message she received — relayed from one security team to another — was that Mr. Clinton wanted to come aboard, and she agreed.

When Ms. Lynch’s staff members noticed Mr. Clinton boarding the plane, a press aide hurriedly called the Justice Department’s communications director, Melanie Newman, who said to break up the meeting immediately. A staff member rushed to stop it, but by the time the conversation ended, Mr. Clinton had been on the plane for about 20 minutes.

The meeting made the local news the next day and was soon the talk of Washington. Ms. Lynch said they had only exchanged pleasantries about golf and grandchildren, but Republicans called for her to recuse herself and appoint a special prosecutor.

Ms. Lynch said she would not step aside but would accept whatever career prosecutors and the F.B.I. recommended on the Clinton case — something she had planned to do all along.

Mr. Comey never suggested that she recuse herself. But at that moment, he knew for sure that when there was something to say about the case, he alone would say it.

It’s telling that Lynch’s staff realized immediately what a terrible idea the meeting was. Lynch should have refused, but she was in an awkward spot. What Clinton was thinking, I can’t begin to imagine, but it was an astonishingly stupid thing to do under the circumstances.

It’s very possible that this blunder was not ultimately consequential. I think Comey’s inappropriate “extremely careless” editorializing was inevitable, and it’s very possible he would have sent the letter that blew up the world no matter what. But Comey is a partisan who is strongly convinced that he is the only Nonpartisan Man of Integrity left (and is also still able to convince credulous reporters that he’s free of partisan motives even as he consistently favors one side, but we’ll leave the for another post.) And as the story makes clear, he is therefore particularly offended when he believes other people have partisan motivations. It’s possible that his insubordinate decision to send the letter was motivated in substantial measure by the Clinton/Lynch meeting. And it was certainly a foolish, no-upside risk. It’s been obvious for a while that Bill Clinton has lost his fastball, but this has to be the worst example.

How the GOP Made the ACA Popular

[ 101 ] April 25, 2017 |


There are two fundamental paradoxes that created political problems for the Affordable Care Act. The first is that while as a whole the American health care system as a whole is horribly inefficient and inequitable, large numbers of politically important people (most notably, people with Medicare and good employer-provided insurance) are personally happy with the status quo. The second is that the individual components of the ACA were mostly very popular even though the law itself was not.

Republican efforts to repeal the ACA have, however, completely transformed the debate:

As President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress gear up for another attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, an ABC News/Washington Post poll finds broad public preference for keeping and improving it — including high levels of support for some of its key components.

Just 37 percent of Americans in the national survey say Obamacare should be repealed and replaced; 61 percent say it should be kept and fixed instead. Even more broadly, the public by 79-13 percent says Trump should seek to make the current law work as well as possible, not to make it fail as soon as possible, a strategy he’s suggested.

Both the status quo bias that makes any major change to health care laws enormously difficult and the popularity of the ACA’s components are now working in the law’s favor, and will make the specific Republican proposals even less popular than repeal in the abstract. I would make an Overton Window joke only the Republicans didn’t. even. try. to sell their real alternative (health care rationed by the glories of the Free Market) because it’s massively unpopular, and cynically attacked the ACA from the left instead. With a Republican in the White House the shell game doesn’t work.

Elite Liberals Need A Higher Standard

[ 459 ] April 25, 2017 |
Lloyd Blankfein, left, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, is greeted by Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State, for a panel discussion, "Equality for Girls and Women: 2034 Instead of 2134?" at the Clinton Global Initiative, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Lloyd Blankfein, left, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, is greeted by Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State, for a panel discussion, “Equality for Girls and Women: 2034 Instead of 2134?” at the Clinton Global Initiative, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

This is an excellent point:

Former President Barack Obama’s decision to accept a $400,000 fee to speak at a health care conference organized by the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald is easily understood. That’s so much cash, for so little work, that it would be extraordinarily difficult for anyone to turn it down. And the precedent established by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to say nothing of former Federal Reserve Chairs Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan and a slew of other high-ranking former officials, is that there is nothing wrong with taking the money.

Indeed, to not take the money might be a problem for someone in Obama’s position. It would set a precedent.

Obama would be suggesting that for an economically comfortable high-ranking former government official to be out there doing paid speaking gigs would be corrupt, sleazy, or both. He’d be looking down his nose at the other corrupt, sleazy former high-ranking government officials and making enemies.

Which is exactly why he should have turned down the gig.

The election in France earlier this week shows that the triumph of populist demagogues is far from inevitable. But to beat it, mainstream politicians and institutions need to shape up — not just with better policies, but with the kind of self-sacrificing spirit and moral leadership that successful movements require.

Someone in Obama’s position can’t really rely on a “hate the game, not the players” defense with respect to America’s underachieving and overcompensated elites showering many times the country’s median income on each other to deliver platitudes, because he can work to discredit the game.

I’m not sure I buy Matt’s subsequent argument that Clinton’s buckraking was crucial to her being unable to translate Obama’s popularity into an Electoral College win. The media did not press the issue during the general — although it’s a much more legitimate line of attack on Clinton than her email server management — not least because many elite journos are either on the speaking fee gravy train or hope to be. But who knows in an election this close, and more to the point no matter how politically damaging it is it’s just wrong. In a time in which ordinary workers have faced austerity for a long time, already-rich people showering each other with huge sums of money to deliver speeches to captive audiences, put their names on college syllabi, etc. is gross. Obama is in a position to set a new precedent for liberal elites, and he should.

The Machinery of Death Marches On

[ 13 ] April 25, 2017 |


With a bare majority of the Supreme Court having waved the matador’s cape, the state of Arkansas is proceeding with the killing of arbitrarily selected convicts:

On Monday evening, at 7:25 p.m., Jack Jones was executed by lethal injection in Arkansas’s Cummins Unit. And just a few hours later, a second inmate, Marcel Williams, was put to death as well. Arkansas can now claim the grim distinction of carrying out the first double execution in the U.S. since 2000.

According to the AP, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a stay of execution for Williams this evening, but after roughly an hour, lifted it. Thus, as of 9:22 on Monday evening, nothing prevented the state of Arkansas from killing two men in one night. And because Williams’s warrant expired at midnight, officials were motivated to act hastily.

Meanwhile, Arkansas’s district attorney is combatting claims that Jones suffered during his execution. Williams’s attorneys reported that 40 minutes were spent trying to insert the IV into Jones’s arm. Baker issued her stay for Williams upon learning this account, but ultimately, her actions indicated confidence that the second execution should proceed.

These random killings will not make anybody safer or bring anybody back to life. But at least these men seem to be clearly guilty of the crime for which they were executed and they were not convicted at trials where the judge was screwing the prosecutor, so one small step for The Natural State.

I Knew Him Before He Was Interviewing the Prime Minister!

[ 66 ] April 25, 2017 |


Longtime friend of LGM Jonah Keri has a pretty nice get for his podcast. I did. not. now. that Pierre was a baseball fan, and that his father had an ownership stake in the Royals (Jackie Robinson’s last minor league team):

PM JUSTIN TRUDEAU: It was, you know … It’s funny because my father was never a big sports fan. There’s famous stories about how my father would bring us to the Grey Cup and Premier Bill Davis was the one who had to explain to us what football was as 5-year-olds because my father was not a big sports fan, with the exception of baseball. For him, baseball was his sport and it was really important for him to bring us to games because as a kid it was one of those things that he had bonded with his dad over. He was affected all his life because his dad actually died when he was only 15 years old and it left a huge gap in my father’s life, for his entire life. But baseball was really important to my grandfather because he was one of the part-owners of the Montreal Royals, where Jackie Robinson got his start. And it was all sort of part of family lore for us. So for my father, it was really important. We’d go out to the Big O and watch games there. And Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Tim Raines were my sports heroes at that point because we didn’t have a lot of sports heroes but those were the three that really popped for me.

One thing I think a lot of baseball fans don’t understand, given how long the team was left to twist in the wind, is that the Expos were bigly popular in the late 70s and early 80s, drawing more than 26,000 fans a game when the major league average was around 20,000. They had a core with multiple Hall of Famers and a lot of other top-quality candidate. But they replaced Dick Williams with Jim Fanning (an affable baseball man but not a competent manager) and Bill Virdon (who had Billy Martin’s ability to burn out pitchers with none of his ability to evaluate or motivate talent), they surrounded that core with grit and leadership instead of talent, and the rest is history. But this market can support a team and might well get the chance again.

Working the Refs Works

[ 246 ] April 24, 2017 |


I’ll have more on one obvious takeaway from the big Times Comey piece — the remarkable refusal of the Paper of Record to take any responsibility for the effect that the Comey letter had on the race — later. But Tomasky makes another critical point about how the major players were all reacting to Republican pressure:

The big takeaway may be that the reason everything happened the way it did is that everyone involved, from Comey up to President Obama, assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win. Their behavior was guided by that assumption.

In Comey’s case, he thought maybe he was establishing his independence toward the person who was going to be his next boss. In Obama’s case, it was maybe more that he didn’t want to be seen as interfering in an election and felt he didn’t need to because Hillary was going to win anyway.

All that strikes me as true. But here’s another takeaway for you, and I haven’t seen anyone make this point, and it’s an important one: If the Times is to be believed—and stories like this one, based on 30 interviews, might get some facts wrong but are generally accurate in the gist of what they convey—Comey was often motivated by fear. Fear of how a certain group would react.

We see in three instances that he feared the wrath of the Republicans. One, if he didn’t break precedent and speak harshly of Clinton while officially exonerating her last summer. So he spoke harshly. Two, if he didn’t announce in late October that the investigation was reopened. So he announced the investigation (which, as we learned too late, again amounted to nothing) was reopened.

And three, if the Republicans in Congress decided post-election to include him and the bureau in its inevitable Clinton witch hunts. So he beat them to the witch hunt, and finally said she was clear just as she drowned. The article doesn’t say this, but surely Comey also feared GOP wrath if he did confirm before the election that Donald Trump was under investigation too, which he finally confirmed last month.


So fear of political fallout seems to have motivated almost everything he did. Kevin Drum made this point over the weekend.

But Drum didn’t emphasize what is to me the most telling thing, which is that there is one group Comey appears not to have feared at all: Democrats.

There’s a lot in the article about the thinking that went into Comey’s statement to the media explaining why Clinton would not be charged. He called her behavior “extremely careless,” you’ll recall, and spent about 15 teeing up a federal case before announcing that there wouldn’t be one.

The Times story says that Comey’s criticism of Clinton was “intended to insulate the FBI from criticism that it was too lenient toward a Democrat.” It also notes that “by scolding Mrs. Clinton, was speaking not only to voters but to his own agents.”

But nowhere does the article say that Comey feared how Democrats would react if he raked Clinton over the rhetorical coals without bringing charges. Of course he didn’t! Democrats don’t scare anybody.

As I recall things, some Democrats expressed some outrage, but it was scattered, nothing like what the Republicans would have done had the shoe been on the other foot.

And what is true of Comey is also true of Dean Baquet. Republicans attack the media and people who opposed their interests no matter what; Democrats are  often timorous about criticizing both the press and people like Comey even when it’s eminently justified. The incentives this creates are predictable and, in 2016, disastrous.

The idea that Democrats shouldn’t criticize the media’s awful coverage of the 2016 election or Comey’s indefensible election tampering even though doing so is both politically useful and clearly correct on the merits because it would interfere with discussions of how someone who will never run for president again sucks is, in other words, absolutely insane.

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