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Today In “Dick Nixon, Liberal Hero”

[ 128 ] July 20, 2015 |


Please, please make it stop:

It isn’t that I feel some fervent nostalgia for the good old days of moderate Republicanism, although it’s true that the Nixon-era GOP was only microscopically to the right of today’s Democratic Party on most major policy questions – and decidedly to its left on healthcare and social spending. (Which United States president actually proposed a nationwide, single-payer healthcare system? Well, I’ve already given you the answer.)

The answer to O’Hehir’s question, of course, Harry Truman. I happen to have Richard Nixon’s health care proposal right here, and it’s distinctly to the right of the ACA. (Dig that fully privatized Medicaid!) And even this is far too generous, because it assumes that Nixon sincerely supported such a health care plan, and you’d have to be delusional to assume that. The Heritage Uncertainty Principle might be the most obvious con in history, and yet it’s amazing how many liberals line up to give it their live savings and house keys. Yes, the Republican Party was better then, but its offer on comprehensive health care was exactly the same as it is today: nothing.

I’ve observed this before, but the political universe people nostalgic for 1972 have invented is bizarre. Allegedly this was a golden age in which 1)The Democratic Party weren’t a bunch of corporate sellouts but actually supported single-payer, and 2)the last liberal president Richard Nixon totally supported single-payer and yet 3)not only did single-payer not pass nothing remotely like single-payer came close to passing and 3)when this awesome, way-left-of-Obama Democratic power controlled Congress and the White House for 4 years starting in 1977 not only did single-payer not pass but no major progressive legislation passed. At some point, it might be time to consider the possibility that premises 1 and 2 are wrong.

The Problem With the “Hypocrisy” Justification

[ 244 ] July 20, 2015 |

Attempting to defend the now-retracted Gawker story, Maria Bustillos tweets:

As applied to this specific case, the two massive holes in the argument are immediately evident. First, it uses a far too expansive definition of “public figure.” (As Greenwald says, any definition capacious enough to include an executive accountant for a privately held company would surely include Bustillos, who I’m guessing doesn’t believe every aspect of her private life to be fair game for high-traffic websites.) And second, if there’s any “hypocrisy” angle the story doesn’t even make any attempt to establish it.

Still, the Geithner non-story is an easy case. What interests me are are the broader, more widely shared premises underlying the argument, which as I said the last time there was a similar controversy remain problematic.

One thing we should notice is that “hypocrisy” arguments are as plastic as originalism — you can manipulate levels of abstraction to justify almost any story really motivated by a prurient interest under a “hypocrisy” pretext. Bustillos later tries to do this: don’t all c-suite executives implicitly pretend to a certain bourgeois respectability? But the problem is that pretty much everyone who isn’t a nihilist or sociopath is a hypocrite. People who are able to adhere with perfect consistency to the principles they aspire to are rare indeed. If a “hypocrisy” is defined in broad enough terms there’s no privacy.

Perhaps the bigger problem with the argument is that it assumes that “hypocrisy” per se is a major issue, when it fact it’s a relatively trivial one. I don’t disagree that an inconsistency between personal behavior and values that a powerful public figure is trying to impose on others, hypocrisy is potentially newsworthy. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that its the bad values, not the hypocrisy, that are the major problem. The legal disabilities Larry Craig sought to impose on gays and lesbians would be just as indefensible if he was a 0 on the Kinsey Scale. On the other hand, if the values one is acting inconsistently with are good values, the hypocrisy doesn’t invalidate the values.

On the story at hand, there is one important underlying issue: the fact that someone like Geithner is enormously unlikely to face any legal sanctions, while sex workers always labor under the fear of legal sanction. Criminalizing sex work is really, really terrible public policy. But stories like this with an explicit or implicit hypocrisy angle not only fail to make this point — they rely on the stigma against sex work for a substantial measure of their alleged newsworthiness. Focusing on hypocrisy is more likely to impede clear thinking than to promote it.

Too #Slatepitch For Slate

[ 317 ] July 18, 2015 |


The “we need someone who’s plainly not running to run” genre of primary season op-eds is inherently useless. This call for Al Gore to enter the race, however, is very special. There’s some garden variety specious arguments that Ron Fournier has probably made 20 times since the beginning if the year (“Hillary Clinton is IN BIG TROUBLE because her approval ratings have dropped now that she’s running for office!”) But this is amazing:

Gore is a superstar with impeccable qualifications. The GOP will have a hard time marginalizing someone of his caliber and experience. His background speaks for itself: a former Congressman, U.S. Senator, and two-time Vice President. He’s even succeed wildly in the private sector as a businessman — something Republicans can’t help but praise. In short, Gore passes the credibility test by any measure, and that matters in a national election.

This is…like the Platonic ideal of wrongness. Jonah Goldberg has dreamed his whole life of being this wrong. The idea that it would be impossible for Republicans to demonize any candidate because they have impressive formal credentials is in itself insane. But to say this about Al Gore — who was successfully branded the lyingest liar who ever lied and the phoniest phony who ever phonied who said he invented the internet and said he was a farmer and said he slept with Ali McGraw and wears disturbing three-button suits and lets uppity women tell him to wear earth tones — Jesus Christ. You couldn’t do more to disqualify yourself from offering campaign strategery if you were trying to.

I’m looking forward to future Illing columns such as “Sam Alito would never be a conservative ideologue” and “history tells us it is unpossible for the Yankees to win a pennant.”

Thigh-Rubbing Is Not Speaking Truth to Power

[ 104 ] July 17, 2015 |


I’m reluctant to write this post, not only because it involves siding with suits over writers and editors but because many in the latter category are writers I admire, and in some cases they have edited and published my work.  But the brutal truth is that Denton is right: the now-deleted story about the ex-Treasury Secretary’s brother was indefensible.  Arana, Greenwald, and Heer have good explanations of why.  To summarize:

  • Geithner is not a public figure in any meaningful sense.  What power the CFO of Conde Nast holds is relevant to nobody but the Newhouse family and the company’s employees.  Geithner is not a public figure; he has no record of public moralism about sexual issues.  This case involved blackmail, a subject of potential public interest, but Geithner was the target of the blackmail; Gawker was more abetting the scheme than revealing it.
  • The underlying behavior is of no non-purient public interest.  Worse than point 1 is the fact that the behavior being uncovered would be unworthy of publication if it involved Tim Geithner.  His consensual sexual activities simply don’t matter.  The media isn’t the marriage police, and as Greenwald observes we don’t even know that he was doing anything his wife disapproves of.  As long time readers know I have always held the view that the consensual sexual behavior of public officials is in most cases irrelevant, and I stand by that — if there’s any relationship between being an effective politician and a good spouse history keeps it very well-hidden.  But even by the more expansive media mores of today there’s no hint of public relevance here, no “hypocrisy” angle or any other reason to reveal the private behavior.

The problem with the justification that this represents an adversarial media speaking truth to power, then, is that the truths are irrelevant and the meaningful power is absent.  There are many critical things than can be said about Tim Geithner’s public actions; it should also be obvious that humiliating his brother does nothing to address them.  Less than nothing, actually, since it brings discredit to a media voice that is in fact often a very valuable adversarial voice.

…[Erik] See also Evan Hurst

Republican Governor Named Walker Accepts Medicaid Expansion

[ 23 ] July 17, 2015 |

No, not that one.  But we do now have 30 states who have taken the Medicaid expansion.

And here’s a reminder about the monstrousness of those who are resisting the neoliberal initiatives of the President who makes us long for the unvarnished liberalism of Richard Nixon, who was so liberal he wanted to privatize Medicaid.

Scott Walker Could be President

[ 146 ] July 17, 2015 |


Paul Waldman on the political implications of Scott Walker’s remarkably cruel and reactionary policy record:

Well those days are long past. In the 2016 GOP primaries, it’s compassionless conservatism that’s in fashion.

Or at least that’s what Scott Walker seems to think, because among other things, he is hell-bent on making sure that anyone who gets food stamps in Wisconsin has to endure the humiliation of submitting to a drug test. First the Wisconsin legislature sent him a bill providing that the state could test food stamp recipients if it had a reasonable suspicion they were on drugs; he used his line-item veto to strike the words “reasonable suspicion,” so the state could test any (or all) recipients it wanted. And now, because federal law doesn’t actually allow drug testing for food stamp recipients, Walker is suing the federal government on the grounds that food stamps are “welfare,” and welfare recipients can be tested.

This is why Scott Walker is never going to be president of the United States.

I wish this was true — but I don’t think it is.

I would agree with a more modest form of this argument. Presidential elections are largely, but not entirely, decided by economic fundamentals. Voter perceptions of a candidate’s ideology do matter at the margin. Walker is the most conservative viable candidate for the Republican nomination, and Paul is right that he isn’t able to mask this effectively. This would probably cost him a couple of points in the popular vote that the Republican nominee is unlikely to be able to spare.

But is it impossible for Walker to win, assuming he has enough political competence to secure the Republican nomination? I don’t think so. It hurts, but it’s not dispostive. The 2000 election shows the importance of ideological positioning — if Gore had been perceived by the electorate to be no further to the left than Bush was to the right, the election would have been beyond the ability of Republicans to steal. But despite this handicap Gore still won the popular vote, and still would have been elected president had there not been a third party vanity campaign or had Democrats been in charge of the executive branch of the Florida government. Marginal disadvantages can be overcome.

If I were a Republican, I would certainly support Rubio, as there’s probably not a dime’s worth of difference between what a Rubio and Walker presidency would look like policy-wise, and Rubio is better at appearing moderate. But is it impossible for Walker to win? Absolutely not. If the fundamentals turn against the Democrats enough, he can.

How to be a Hack, “Nixon Was a Liberal!” Edition

[ 397 ] July 16, 2015 |


Our friend Freddie deBoer is self-immolating today, and since better people than I are on it I’d rather talk about this gem unearthed by a commenter:

Obama is to the right of Richard Nixon irl

We’ve discussed this before, but I’m not sure there’s any better illustration that someone 1)considers themselves very sophisticated about politics and 2)has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about that this particular bit of truthiness. Fortunately, Elizabeth Drew has a good corrective to this nonsense in a recent Atlantic, but let’s respond to Freddie’s attempts to defend this silliness with the tl; dr version:

Check their records in domestic policy.

Ok. I see some environmental legislation that passed with massive veto-proof majorities despite Nixon’s contemptuous indifference to the subject. I see the Clean Water Act passing over his veto. I also see Nixon vetoing a bill aiding the unemployed and local services, a pay equity bill, a minimum wage bill, and a bill creating a national day care system. On the other hand, I see on the one hand Barack Obama signing the most progressive package of legislation since Johnson with razor-thin margins to work with in Congress, and I also see him vetoing zero progressive bills. When Richard Nixon got his first choice he nominated Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court; Obama nominated Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. So, in short, I see that anyone claiming that Nixon is to Obama’s left on domestic policy is revealing their own massive cluelessness.

Check their preferences on health care.

Nixon’s preference on health care was “to do nothing.” We can see this from the fact that he was working with a Congress well to his left and nothing came close to passing. The fact that Republicans can offer decoy fans and various country-fried rubes will take the plans as sincere expressions of Republican policy preferences while presenting themselves as tough-minded leftists will never cease to be hilarious.

I don’t claim to know what precise health care reform Barack Obama would favor in a parliamentary system, but I do know that he succeeded in getting comprehensive health care reform passed where presidents since Truman have failed. Also note the utter idiocy of the methodology of comparing empty position statements with actual statutes. If one takes this logic seriously, Obama would be more left-wing if he had held out for single payer and gotten nothing. This is just remarkably dumb. (And, of course, even the people making this argument don’t take it seriously — the response to such a result would not be “you have to respect Obama’s lefty purism!” but “the failure of the Senate to bring the bill to a vote proves that Obama really didn’t want it.”)

Check their relationship to the social safety net

Asked and answered above. Obama signed a comprehensive health care reform bill that, among other things, included a massive expansion of Medicaid. Nixon — did no such thing, but he did veto a proposed expansion of the safety net.

I dunno, maybe one reason Ta-Nehisi Coates is a much more widely respected writer is that his political writing tends not only to be highly insightful but also tends to avoid massive howlers.

Why Should Any Journalistic Standards Apply to Reproductive Freedom?

[ 175 ] July 15, 2015 |


I’m sure this version of heavily edited Candid Camera will turn out to be solid!

See also.

And the thing is, even if the video were honest it would be neither here nor there. The fact that something sounds gross isn’t actually a reason to ban something unless you think the practice of medicine should be eliminated entirely. Over to you, Justice Stevens.

More on Iran

[ 133 ] July 15, 2015 |



In stark contrast, the historic nuclear deal announced Tuesday in Vienna between the U.S. and its P5+1 partners and Iran demonstrates an alternative vision of the use of American power. It shows that our security and the security of our partners can be effectively advanced through multilateral diplomacy, and proves once again the importance of U.S. global leadership in addressing shared problems. Specifically, it achieves the central goal of blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon by dramatically reducing its capacity to produce nuclear fuel (something which continued to expand even under tight international sanctions), and by putting Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure under the most intensive inspections regime in history.

As a result of the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency will have eyes on Iran’s nuclear program at every level: mining, procurement, production, enrichment, etc. Not only does this deep visibility create a deterrent to cheating, but it also means that, when the intensive inspection period expires years from now, the IAEA will possess far more detailed information and understanding of Iran’s program than any other in the world.

Beinart on the Green Lanternism of the deal’s opponents:

The actual alternatives to a deal, in other words, are grim. Which is why critics discuss them as little as possible. The deal “falls apart, and then what happens?” CBS’s John Dickerson asked House Majority Leader John Boehner on Sunday. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Boehner replied. “And from everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration has backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set out for themselves.”

In other words, Boehner evaded the question. The only way to determine if a “bad deal” is worse than “no deal” is to consider the latter’s consequences. Which is exactly what Boehner refused to do. Instead, he changed the subject: Rather than comparing the agreement to the actual alternatives, he compared it to the objectives that the Obama administration supposedly outlined at the start of the talks.


When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea.

If you believe American power is limited, this agenda is absurd. America needs Russian and Chinese support for an Iranian nuclear deal. U.S. officials can’t simultaneously put maximum pressure on both Assad and ISIS, the two main rivals for power in Syria today. They must decide who is the lesser evil. Accepting that American power is limited means prioritizing. It means making concessions to regimes and organizations you don’t like in order to put more pressure on the ones you fear most. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt did when allying with Stalin against Hitler. It’s what Richard Nixon did when he reached out to communist China in order to increase America’s leverage over the U.S.S.R.

Indeed, reading winger criticisms of the deal is like reading Trudy Lieberman-style criticism of the ACA. “But why didn’t Obama take the deal where Iran would dismantle every aspect of its nuclear program and have the current regime step down in favor of a leadership hand-selected by Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for nothing? It would have happened with only a little more strength, resolution, and strong, resolute leadership.”

Richard Glossip and the Broken Death Penalty

[ 76 ] July 14, 2015 |


The Breyer/Ginsburg dissent in Glossip v. Gloss made a strong argument that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional, a position that may well become the default position of Democratic Supreme Court nominees. It’s worth noting — as Breyer’s dissent did not — that Richard Glossip is a particularly strong case for the arbitrary, unreliable nature of the death penalty:

Richard Glossip is Exhibit A for problems of reliability and fairness with the process that sentences people to death, particularly when prosecutors rely heavily on plea-bargaining with one defendant in order to convict a defendant who refused to admit guilt.


Richard Glossip is likely to be executed, even though the Oklahoma Supreme Court implied if not stated outright that, given the inconsistencies in the trial record and police reports in his first trial, and decent counsel would have beaten the murder charge, if not the entire conviction.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though the witnesses at his second trial were trying to recall events that happened more than seven years ago and at least two justices not known for their liberalism think prosecutorial misconduct biased the jury.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though Justin Sneed, who provided the only evidence that directly ties Glossip to the murder of Barry Van Treese, was induced to testify by the promise that he would not be executed. Not exactly the most reliable testimony.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed because no physical evidence can exonerate him. There is no physical evidence in this case. The central issue is whether Justin Sneed lied or exaggerated in order to save his skin.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though Oklahoma has decided not to execute the person who actually committed the murder, Justin Sneed. This seems particularly arbitrary given that one of the aggravating factors in the case was the brutality of the murder and Sneed was the person who actually committed the murder.

Richard Glossip is likely to be executed even though for almost a decade, Oklahoma was prepared to promise Glossip that he would not be executed if he confessed to the crime. Glossip is being executed because he exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial.

There are some similarities between this case and McKleskey v. Kemp, the 1987 case in which the Supreme Court considered whether the death penalty was unconstitutional if there was proof of systematic racial discrimination. (Majority holding: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) It’s not a prefect comparison: there is the possibility that Glossip is entirely innocent of the murder, whereas McKleskey was part of the robbery that led to the killing of a police officer and was at the scene. But McKlesley was singled out among the four conspirators for the death penalty based on “evidence” that he was the triggerman that came from an illegally paid informant.

To return to Glossip, Thomas’s concurrence responded to Breyer’s lengthy demonstration of the arbitrary nature of the death penalty by describing some horrible crimes committed by people who were executed. But this is just a non-sequitur. Breyer’s argument was not that nobody executed in the United States has convicted a heinous crime. Breyer’s argument was that the death penalty does not reliably single out the worst crimes for the ultimate punishment, even in death penalty jurisdictions, and sometimes results in killing people who were guilty of no crime at all. The facts of the lead petitioner’s case illustrate this. The evidence that Glossip is guilty at all is underwhelming, and even assuming arguendo that he paid for the murder he’s not obviously more culpable or deserving of punishment than the man who committed it.

Potter Stewart said in Furman v. Georgia, the case that temporarily suspended the death penalty in 1972, that the death sentences in question were cruel and unusual “in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” It remains true today.

If You Oppose Academic Freedom, At Least Have the Guts to Say So

[ 78 ] July 13, 2015 |


Bernie Sanders has a higher education plan intended to diagnose its major ills. It would make tuition free — in other words, have the federal government directly rather than indirectly subsidize students. It would also, inter alia, require 75% of courses to be taught by tenure-track faculty and ensure that instructors were provided with office space, participate in the governance of the institution, etc.

Kevin Carey’s reaction:

In other words, states would be required to embrace and the federal government would be obligated to enforce a professor-centered vision of how to operate a university: tenure for everyone, nice offices all around, and the administrators and coaches can go pound sand.

75% of faculty being tenure-track is “tenure for everyone.” (On many levels, it’s not!) The administrative and construction bloat that is driving increases in tuition — as Carey later essentially concedes — is no big deal. Sure, there are schools where inexorably rising tuition funds stuff like multi-million dollar annual salaries for legendarily incompetent coaches, but surely there’s an instructor who got reimbursed for travel to a conference somewhere we can focus on instead — heaven frobid Charlie Weis have to “pound sand” by trying to live on an associate professor’s salary.

But the most offensive line is turning Sanders’s argument that instructors should have access to office space (something many adjuncts don’t have) into “nice offices all around.” As a friend observed, this is the higher ed equivalent of going on about welfare recipents and their Obamaphones and color televisions. Carey should put his money where is mouth is and give up his own office — no big deal, right — while also agreeing to be available to meet with interns several hours a week.

Given the realities of teaching for many people, Carey’s flippant snark is quite repellent. If he believes that even more teaching should be done by adjuncts making starvation wages with no job security or institutional resources so that universities can fund more Associate Vice Provost Deans of Strategic Dynamism, he should make the case for it rather than sneering at the very idea that instructors expected to prepare classes, interact with students, and (if they have any hope of professional advancement) conduct research should have access to office space.

And then there’s this:

Instead of tenure, classically defined, they might protect academic freedom in a different way.

You will be unsurprising to know that Carey does not even hint at how academic freedom can be protected without tenure. The reason he doesn’t do this is that it cannot, in fact, be done. If there’s no tenure, instructors can be fired for expressing unpopular views, the end. The case of Steven Salaita should be instructive two ways here. First of all, it should make it obvious that vague requirements that faculty be fired for cause without the due process provided by tenure would be worthless. Someone has a long cv and excellent teacher evaluations? No problem — some non-experts in the field can skim one of his books and declare that his scholarship is incompetent, and someone who’s never observed him in the classroom can declare he’s an incompetent teacher based on his Twitter feed. And second, the ability of UIUC to fire him depended on the fact that tenure had not formally attached.

Look, you can support tenure, or you can support academic freedom, but to pretend that you can oppose the former while supporting the latter is laughably disingenuous. And you certainly can’t speculate about other methods for protecting academic freedom without even hinting at what those might be.

Germany to Greece: Drop Dead

[ 367 ] July 12, 2015 |

Austerity today, austerity tomorrow…

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