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The Dreamlife of Beetles

[ 115 ] July 24, 2015 |


“We want someone willing to write up the “stop hitting yourself” version of political polarization in the most hackish form possible.” “What about Fred Barnes? Never hurts to return to the classics!”

Obama should have known better. He violated a decades-long rule of thumb in Washington that an initiative significantly affecting tens of millions of Americans should have popular support and a bipartisan majority before being approved by Congress. Since Obamacare had neither, it has stirred protests and disunity, anger at Washington, and political polarization.

Obamacare was “the biggest mistake of his political career,” says Jeff Anderson, the executive director of the 2017 Project. “It showed his political naïveté.” It was especially damaging to Obama, Anderson says, “from his perspective of trying to transform the United States of America.”

The raw partisanship of Obamacare’s passage was a preview of Obama’s presidency. Rather than woo Republicans, Obama attacks them, questioning their motives and values. He makes no effort to compromise. He spurns bipartisanship. After Republicans won the House in 2010, he began to turn away from Congress and govern through executive orders.

Right, Obama just unilaterally decided not to collaborate with Republicans. It’s not as if congressional Republicans made a public decision not to collaborated with Obama on any major issues. Clearly, Obama should have done the bipartisan thing and given Republicans a complete veto over everything.

It gets even better when you get down to specifics:

It didn’t have to be this way. But when the health care legislation was being drafted, Republican senators who wanted to have a role in shaping the bill were shut out. A small role might have satisfied them and won their votes. A few concessions surely would have. But none was offered. “Imagine FDR doing something like that,” Anderson says. “Or LBJ. No way.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh mercy. The interminable process of trying everything to get some Republican support for the ACA — the price of securing the votes of conservative Democrats — is described as offering no concessions at all. Oh, and conservatives have always loved FDR and LBJ.

What’s surprising is that Obama failed to understand he could use Republicans to his advantage. In the early weeks of his presidency, he and Democrats stiffed Republicans in drafting the stimulus. Had they accepted tax cuts proposed by Republicans, the stimulus would no doubt have given a bigger jolt to the economy. And the package would have been bipartisan.

Other than the facts that Obama did in fact agree to include more tax cuts in the ARRA in exchange for getting the Republican support he needed, and replacing aid to state governments and spending with tax cuts made the ARRA less stimulative, this still makes absolutely no sense.

In negotiating with Iran, Obama could have argued for a better nuclear deal by invoking his ornery Republican opponents in Congress. They will attack the deal furiously and make it impossible for the American public to swallow, he could have told the Iranians—unless you offer concessions. Instead, it was Obama who offered concessions, Republicans are tearing the deal apart, and the public is wary.

Other than the facts that Iran did in fact offer substantial concessions, that Republican opposition is not in fact a meaningful source of leverage, and in the unlikely event that anybody involved with the negotiations cared they would know that Republicans would attack any Iran deal signed by Obama, this still makes absolutely no sense.

But it’s Obamacare that is the president’s unending nightmare. Had he allowed Republican participation and produced a bipartisan bill, the political drag wouldn’t exist. If fixes were needed, he could ask Congress to make them. Even today, Obama insists he would entertain changes. But he’s failed to start negotiations. And when Republicans announce a proposed fix, he simply says no.

If only Obama had gotten non-existent potential Republican support for the ACA, he would be able to get “fixes” like replacing the ACA with a package of tort reform and preempting state regulations! (Only not really, because Republicans can’t even pretend to coalesce around a terrible alternative to the ACA no Democrat would support anyway.) What was Obama thinking?

You know, sometimes when you want the most shameless, comprehensively dishonest and intelligence-insulting hackery, you still have to go to the best.

“We might as well demand that Iran give us a unicorn that we can ride all the way to Candy Mountain.”

[ 120 ] July 24, 2015 |

Shorter Michael Oren: “The Iran deal sucks. Obama should have gotten one in which Iran gave up far more in exchange for nothing. By having the leadership to lead, with leadership. He could probably get Congress to pass single payer in the same bill.”

Mainstream Republican Candidate Advocates Ending Medicare

[ 142 ] July 23, 2015 |


Shorter verbatim reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s conservative Jeb! Bush: ““I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out [Medicare] for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something.”

It’s instructive that Jeb!’s call to end Medicare comes just as cost projections for Medicare have come down substantially. Jeb! is, of course, lying about wanting to end Medicare because it’s fiscally unsustainable. He wants to end Medicare because Republicans are ideologically opposed to providing access to health care for the non-affluenct. (Cf. also Republican statehouses and the Medicaid expansion passim.)

Meanwhile, Politfact has already declared my claim that when Jeb! Bush says he wants to phase out Medicare he wants to phase out Medicare the lie of the millennium.

Today From the Party of Ideas

[ 222 ] July 23, 2015 |


Finally, some fresh thinking from a respected conservative scholar. Victor Davis Hanson has a critique of the Iran deal, and you will never in a million years guess the original historical analogy he thought of!

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was a beloved peacemaker after the Munich Agreement of 1938 with Adolf Hitler but derided as a conceited fool and naif by May 1940.

I believe that, in the fervid imaginations of hack conservative op-ed columnists, Khamenei is now the five thousandth Hitler, and Obama the five thousandth Chamberlain, to have emerged since 1945. It’s frankly amazing any of us are still alive.

Still, every conservative pundit in America is probably writing this same idiotic argument as we speak. What makes Hanson special are the historical flourishes:

Second, the appeasement of autocrats always pulls the rug out from under domestic reformers and idealists. After the Western capitulation at Munich, no dissenter in Germany dared to question the ascendant dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.

Yes, the Hitler regime would totally have been peacefully toppled had it not been for that meddling Neville Chamberlain. Similarly, had Obama refused to make a deal with Iran I think we could have expected a liberal democratic regime led by Paul Bremer to emerge no later than 2017. Needs moar Jay-Z, though.

One thing about the everything-is-Munich arguments that should be noted more often as that they tend to be as stupid about Munich as they are about contemporary politics.

A Superb Idea

[ 85 ] July 23, 2015 |


Pressed on whether he would run as a third-party candidate if he fails to clinch the GOP nomination, Trump said that “so many people want me to, if I don’t win.”

“I’ll have to see how I’m being treated by the Republicans,” Trump said. “Absolutely, if they’re not fair, that would be a factor.”

My guess is that Trump won’t go third party. The glimmer of hope is that he probably has less stake in keeping Clinton out of the White House than the typical potential Republican supporter, but — I don’t think he’ll do it, alas.

In addition to the obvious, I’d like to see him run just to see if any advocates of third party politics on the left write op-eds arguing that this is Excellent News For the Republican Party because of how many steroids Trump would Bully Pulpit into the Overton Window.

Thursday Links

[ 55 ] July 23, 2015 |

Being Tom Friedman Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry

[ 68 ] July 22, 2015 |

A theory of Very Serious People.

Politics Involves Communicative Performance

[ 332 ] July 22, 2015 |

Bernie Sanders

I think Matt Breuning’s defense of Bernie Sanders at Netroots Nation is very misguided. A few points:

  • Class not race” is, in fact, a very real view, and it makes civil rights activists suspicious of a certain kind white progressive for good reason.  Jamelle Bouie is excellent on this.  Sanders’s dismissive response seems to reflect this view, which is a problem because it’s wrong.  Look, I’ve been beating the drum for the ACA for years.  People should point out that people of color have disproportionately benefited from it, especially when brogressives try to argue that any reform that doesn’t nationalize the health insurance industry is worthless.  But the idea that the ACA, or any other economic reform, is a solution for racial discrimination is just silly.  An African-American who benefits from the Medicaid expansion is still much more likely to be subject to police abuse than a white person of similar socioeconomic status. Jobs are important, but in the wake of Sandra Bland it should be obvious that they’re not a comprehensive civil rights program.
  • It won’t do to observe that Sanders has generally progressive positions on civil rights.  Priorities also matter.  I assume Ralph “I Don’t Do Gonadal Politics” Nader wouldn’t have voted with the majorities in Carhart II and Shelby County, but nonetheless his famous indifference to any politics that doesn’t involve the word “corporate” is a crucial reason that Sam Alito was there to cast the swing votes against civil rights.  I’m glad that Sanders isn’t a malignant narcissist like late-period Nader, but he should also understand why there’s a strain of progressive politics that makes supporters of civil rights suspicious.
  • Most importantly, in this context criticizing “communicative performance leftism” is deeply odd.  If we’re evaluating Sanders as a legislator, I agree that how he votes is more important than what he says.  But we’re talking about him is a candidate in the Democratic primaries.  And — BREAKING! — Bernie Sanders is not going to be the Democratic candidate for president.  His primary candidacy is, in fact, “communicative performance leftism.”  If he’s not trying to shift the discourse within the Democratic Party, I have no idea what he is doing.  Given his role in the party, to argue that his response to protests can’t be criticized is very strange.

Sanders screwed up.  That doesn’t make his a bad person, or mean that his primary campaign is worthless.  As Bouie says, he seems to be learning, and his strongest supporters should follow his lead.

“Moops, Er, I Meant to Say Snake Oil is Delicious!”

[ 14 ] July 22, 2015 |


I’ve already taken a few whacks at Michael Cannon’s unique theory that if a party wins a special Senate election that party’s platform must therefore be enacted by the Supreme Court of these voters have been disenfranchised. In a new piece, I observe that this argument also happens to be self-refuting:

The idea that the Supreme Court is required to follow the returns of special Senate elections in Massachusetts is…novel. The idea that the court is required to allow these results to trump the results of national elections is even dumber.

But it’s even worse than this. With this sentence, Cannon is spitting out his own snake oil. Remember that the premise of the King v. Burwell lawsuit was that the plaintiffs were allegedly just asking the court to enforce the law that Congress wrote. Cannon was the most aggressive proponent of the ludicrous, dystopian science fiction version of the ACA, claiming not just that the letter of the law required that subsidies not be available on federal exchanges, but that Congress also fully intended to establish federal backstops that it knew would fail.

In a refreshing, if inadvertent, moment of honesty, Cannon is conceding the obvious: the King lawsuit wasn’t designed to uphold the statute passed by Congress in 2010. It was intended to “enfranchise” the people who voted against the bill. And this is something that should always have been obvious from the fact that Cannon could not find any supporter of the ACA who could back his irrational reading of the law. In a constitutional case, this might not tell us much. But in a case involving statutory interpretation, the uniform rejection of the theory advanced by the bill’s opponents — both contemporaneously and in 2015 — should have been dispositive.

The fact that King was based on an almost comically transparent historical sham surely helps to explain why Roberts rejected the argument of the plaintiffs so forcefully. He declared that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” and foreclosed a different interpretation of the law by a future Republican administration. It also helps to explain why Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the majority even though he voted in 2012 to strike down the law in its entirety. The contempt the court showed for the people who brought the suit certainly wasn’t the product of any love for the ACA.

Although it must be admitted that if someone is going to make up a massive historical lie, it should be in the service of a truly noble cause, like stripping millions of people of their health insurance.

This would all just be black comedy…except that this crap actually got three votes from Supreme Court justices.

Why #BlackLivesMatter Matters

[ 256 ] July 22, 2015 |

Sandra Bland.

Today In Rape Apologia, Ayn Rand Edition

[ 186 ] July 21, 2015 |


Via Jill Filipovic, Milo Yiannopoulos describes the inevitable rape scene in the posthumously published Ayn Rand pseudo-novel:

Another reason people get upset about Rand and sex is that her ideal intimate encounters always seem to be pseudo-rapes. Naturally, the sex-negative, authoritarian modern feminist movement gasps in shock at the suggestion that consensually ambiguous encounters might be thrilling for both parties.

It’s been a while, but I don’t recall anything “ambiguous” about the rape scenes in the previous novels. As for the new old one, Filipovic has the text right here:

“She lay dressed, on his bed, and her one hand hung over the edge, white in the darkness. She jerked her head up and he could guess her eyes on the pale blot of her face. She felt his teeth sinking into her hand. She struggled ferociously, her muscles tense, hard, sharp as an animal’s. ‘Keep still,’ he whispered hoarsely into her throat. ‘You can’t call for help!’
She did not call for help…

That word “ambiguity,” I do not think it etc. The fact the review starts off with logic on a par with “you call yourself a feminist, yet you disagree with Phyllis Schafly, make up your mind!” As Filipovic goes on to say:

Perhaps Rand’s largest talent lies not in her status as the mother of Objectivism, but her ability to play the Cool Girl, even posthumously, in the minds of men whose view of women is colored by both desire and revulsion. You’re not a misogynist if your hero is Ayn Rand, and Ayn Rand is the ultimate shield and sword for the kind of arguments regularly entered into by the kind of man who worships Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand wouldn’t care that you called her a slut on the internet. Ayn Rand doesn’t think it’s rape if you hold her down and shove your dick in her without permission. Ayn Rand probably drinks whiskey and plays beer pong and has always had way more guy friends because girls cause so much drama. She’s the Sociopathic Pixie Dream Girl.

Rand’s admiration for murderers also seems relevant here…

Labor Rights Need a Strong State

[ 45 ] July 21, 2015 |

A crucial point from Michael Hobbes’s longform about how ethical consumerism can’t stop labor exploitation:

Yet this is how we expect to bring about better labor conditions in poor countries. Instead of empowering domestic agencies with a mandate to prevent abuses, we rely on international corporations seeking to insulate themselves from bad publicity.

Nearly all of the horror stories that show up in consumer campaigns are illegal in the countries where they take place. These countries simply don’t have anyone to enforce the laws. Bangladesh has just 125 labor inspectors for 75 million workers. Cambodian inspectors, on average, earn less than half as much as the garment workers whose conditions they’re supposed to be safeguarding. Uganda, with 40 million people, has only 120 practitioners capable of carrying out environmental impact assessments. In Burma, regional governments have received more than 6,000 complaints related to land revocations, but have investigated fewer than 300 of them.

That’s why Brazil is so startling. It has 10,000 public prosecutors and 3,000 inspectors, all making monthly salaries of at least $5,000. The inspectors collaborate with other government agencies, workers, unions and NGOs, not just to find the most outrageous violations, but to actually fix them.

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