Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Position-Taking is Not the Problem

[ 270 ] November 10, 2014 |

Rich Yeselson’s midterm postmortem should be read in its entirety. I’d particularly like to highlight this:

Based on number five, it would seem that Meyerson makes a strong point: Democrats need to act like, at the least, a party of leftist populism in order to galvanize its core constituency of the young, single women, and people of color, increase turnout, and more fully resist the GOP extremists. The problem is that while this is the right thing to do normatively, there is no particular evidence it would be that effective politically. The Democratic senators who got beat ran ahead of Obama’s approval percentage in their states. And a lot of them got killed.

It’s not the 1930s anymore — white people in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas despise anything that reminds them of the national Democratic party, which they already think is socialist as it is. They don’t want it to move left, they think it’s grotesquely left enough.

It was craven for Alison Grimes to not even say whether she voted for Obama, but there’s no social science or historical evidence that would indicate most Americans are intensely interested — as a matter of voter-motivated preference — in greater union bargaining rights, redistributive public programs, and the taxes that would be needed to pay for them.

This cuts the other way, too — Grimes probably didn’t gain much by running away from Obama and especially the ACA, since she’s tied with both anyway, so you might as well try to make a positive case (especially when many people in your state are benefiting from the Medicaid expansion.) But the idea that voters in most of the states where the Democrats lost are looking for full-throated left-wing populism is dreaming in technicolor. The number of voters in these races who don’t like Obama because they don’t think he’s liberal enough are essentially a rounding error. Enacting populist economic policies could well have substantial political benefits (although as the passage of the most important progressive legislation in nearly five decades shows, maybe not), but politicians talking about them more won’t.

I Am Pretty Sure That Lynch Ordered the Hit on Vince Foster, Though

[ 56 ] November 9, 2014 |


New York federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, the new nominee for attorney general, has a career filled with high profile cases — and she was a member of Bill Clinton’s defense team during the 1992 Whitewater corruption probe.

As he made his announcement Saturday afternoon, Obama called the two-time U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York a “tough, fair and independent” lawyer.

“It’s pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta Lynch,” Obama said.

Indeed, the prosecutor has a long career built of some high profile cases but there is one case Lynch was involved in that few are talking about. Lynch was a part of Bill Clinton’s Whitewater probe defense team in 1992.

Let us pretend to be hackish enough to pretend that a young U.S. Attorney involved in drug prosecutions was, for some reason, part of Clinton’s Whitewater defense team. What remains unclear is precisely what this revelation is supposed to be telling us. So Lynch 1)served as a part of the Clintons’ defense team 2)during a non-scandal in which the Clintons did nothing wrong. What does this have to do with the price of poutine in Quebec City? It’s amazing that at this late date merely saying “Whitewater” is supposed to signify some kind of major scandal when there’s less than nothing there. (In fairness, you can also do this kind of thing in a Harper‘s cover story.)

You can probably see the punchline coming:

Correction: The Loretta Lynch identified earlier as the Whitewater attorney was, in fact, a different attorney.

In fairness, if you had told me a winger outlet had made this mistake my money would have been on Tucker Carlson.

…hopefully, Vanity Fair will append a similar correction to this headline soon.

Feels Like An Arby’s Night!

[ 25 ] November 9, 2014 |

I guess this only works as a first date if it’s the WORLD’S BIGGEST ARBY’S.

Nobody Expects the Starr Inquisition!

[ 11 ] November 8, 2014 |

When an institution is as indefensible and morally bankrupt as the NCAA, the list of people who can defend it and maintain any trace of self-respect must be rather small.  Small, but not a null set!

Kenneth W. Starr stepped onto Baylor’s football field before a game last month wearing a track suit. He looked in better shape — less paunchy, less stressed — than he did more than 15 years ago, when he became famous for investigating a sitting president.


In August, as the N.C.A.A. prepared to approve greater autonomy for five major conferences, Mr. Starr argued on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that universities were reforming themselves. In May, on Capitol Hill, he testified against unionization in a hearing that took on a partisan color.

To tweak Atrios’s joke slightly, apparently Lanny Davis is too busy defending Dan Snyder to participate at the present time.

Area Pundit Confuses Mitch McConnell With Everett Dirksen

[ 88 ] November 8, 2014 |

This assessment of the current relationship between Congress and the president is so remarkable it might surpass anything in the oeuvre of Ron Fournier himself:

Progressives have long said that Obama made a mistake in 2010 by admitting he took a “shellacking” in those midterms, and by retrenching rather than pushing harder and louder with a bold progressive message. Those people now seem to have the ear of the president. After naming some unobjectionable items he hoped to get through in the current session, such as fighting Ebola and curbing ISIS, he offered incoming Republicans the chance to work with him on a higher minimum wage and other longstanding Obama agenda items.

Most notably, of course, he said he would take executive action on immigration by year’s end unless Republicans passed a bill. It’s certainly a bold negotiating tactic: You can do what I want, or I’ll go ahead and do what I want anyway. This is how you “negotiate” with a seven-year old, not a Senate Majority Leader.

I’m not sure that isn’t what Obama thinks he’s doing, and I’m sure many of my left-leaning readers are chuckling right now at the comparison. But Mitch McConnell is not a seven year old; he’s an adult, and he just won an election in which voters repudiated Obama and his party. (Temporarily, I am sure, but just the same: As someone once said, “Elections have consequences.”) McConnell is not the proverbial Tea Party extremist who won’t negotiate; he’s an establishment guy, known as a strategist and a tactician, not an ideologue (which is why the Tea Party isn’t that fond of him). In short, he’s someone who can make deals. Responding to McConnell’s rather gracious remarks about finding common goals by announcing that you know what the American public wants, and you’re going to give it to them no matter what their elected representatives say, seems curiously brash. It might chill the atmosphere today when he sits down with congressional leaders.

I…just can’t even. Yes, it’s perfectly true that Mitch McConnell is more of a tactician and strategist than ideologue. This doesn’t mean what McArdle seems to think it does, because his strategic goal is to deny Obama any legislative accomplishments. This can be easily inferred from his tactics, but in case there was any doubt he is entirely upfont about it. The argument stands reality on its head. An ideologue you can potentially negotiate with, but someone who’s opposed in principle to making a deal with you is a different story. The idea that McConnell is going to suddenly drop his blanket opposition to giving Obama any legislative accomplishments now that he’s the majority leader is absurd. And even if Mitch McConnell suddenly turned into a 60s Republican minority leader, the chances that Boehner could deliver the votes for any significant non-budget legislation acceptable to Obama are less than nothing.

Obama’s negotiating posture doesn’t reflect him kowtowing to progressives so much as elementary game theory. When your attempts at cooperation end up with the other side defecting, you don’t keep playing the sucker. If you want to call that like negotiating with a 7-year-old, fine, but it’s also the only rational response. Executive action is Obama’s one and only source of leverage; he’s going to use it. Attempts by pundits to preemptively excuse Republicans for not passing anything by blaming Obama aren’t going to fly.

Nor is this the first time McArdle has made this basic error (via Roy):

If there is one thing that Obama should regret most deeply, it was this fateful quote: “Elections have consequences,” he said. “I won.” Republican intransigence has stymied the president for four years. But the seeds of that revolution were laid in the first two years of Obama’s term, when giddy Democrats decided that he was the second coming of FDR, and Republicans would just have to go along with the Democratic agenda or get left behind. “Bipartisanship” involved gracious offers to let them fiddle with minor details of various plans — the policy equivalent of being allowed to choose the drapes for your maiden cruise on the Titanic. And when Republicans protested, they were bluntly told that their input wasn’t necessary, thankyouverymuchandgoodbye.

His presidency has never recovered from that mistake. The Tea Party Republicans who unnecessarily brought the government to a halt, and double-unnecessarily cost their own party many key elections, have much to answer for. But the Democrats who helped create them have some accountability, too. Democrats who try to attribute all the backlash to Republican racism are fooling themselves, setting themselves up for future repeats of these mistakes.

This argument has not improved with time. The claim about “offers to let them fiddle with minor details of various plans” is rather strange, given that Republicans had lost the White House and both houses of Congress. “Bipartisanship” means that a decisively repudiated minority party should not only be given some influence over the shape of legislation but…control over the legislative agenda or at least the core features of legislation?  I think I can see why Democrats didn’t consider this attractive.

In addition to this, the timeline makes no sense. McConnell’s intransigence was clear during the entire process of passing the ACA; it wasn’t a result of it. Given the moderate and conservative Senate Democrats who were desperate for bipartisan cover and wasted a lot of time trying to get it, this isn’t a difficult counterfactual; there was nothing Democrats could have done to get Republican support without abandoning any significant health care reform altogether. In addition, the Tea Party was of course not a direct response to the ACA. The Rick Santelli rant that was the crucial catalyst was 1)about proposals to help struggling homeowners, not the ACA, and 1)was more than a year before the passage of the ACA. The ACA might have somewhat intensified the Tea Party but it certainly didn’t create it.  (The implicit assumptions have the some problem here as all backlash arguments; you can sometimes reduce backlash by just not winning policy victories, but what’s the point of trying to win elections at all?)  And, needless to say, the idea that not passing the ACA would have been worth the 50 seats the Democrats would have needed to maintain control of the House is absurd.

So, in other words, McArdle is suggesting that Democrats should have foregone trying to pass any substantive legislative agenda in order to 1)prevent two midterm election losses that would have happened anyway (we can quibble about magnitude, but not control of the respective houses) and 2)to secure Republican cooperation that had no chance of coming under any circumstances. It’s a real puzzle that Obama didn’t take this advice!

Supreme Court To Almost Certainly Deny Millions of People Health Insurance

[ 189 ] November 7, 2014 |

It’s not every day that the Roberts Court can be worse than even I expect, but here we are: the Court is about to rule that the Moops invaded Spain. It’s not 100% that King v. Burwell will be overruled, I guess, but I don’t know why else they would preempt the Halbig en banc hearing otherwise.

I will have a piece on this coming out Monday, but it’s hard to overstate how evil and insidious this is. The Roberts Court stops both key components of the ACA from functioning in red states, based on farcial ad hoc legal arguments, without a single high-profile ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

People with strong stomachs can look at Johnathan Adler, in his palpable excitement about millions of people about to be stripped of their health insurance, claiming that this case is about…deferring to Congress. The fact that not a single member of Congress involved in passing the ACA has believed at any time that the subsidies were not available on federally established exchanges and the interpretation of the statute saying otherwise is nonsensical on its face renders this rather dark comedy indeed.

Great First Paragraphs In Dissenting Opinion History

[ 96 ] November 6, 2014 |

Today’s award goes to Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, dissenting from the 6CA opinion that will ensure that the Supreme Court takes up the same-sex marriage issue squarely:

The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state’s constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, the majority sets up a false premise—that the question before us is “who should decide?”—and leads us through a largely irrelevant discourse on democracy and federalism. In point of fact, the real issue before us concerns what is at stake in these six cases for the individual plaintiffs and their children, and what should be done about it. Because I reject the majority’s resolution of these questions based on its invocation of vox populi and its reverence for “proceeding with caution” (otherwise known as the “wait and see” approach), I dissent.

Well, in fairness, I can’t agree with the “engrossing” description, but otherwise yes.

Knowing That Pundits Don’t Know What They’re Talking About Is A Huge Strategic Advantage

[ 134 ] November 6, 2014 |

A useful summing up on McConnell:

But at a time when McConnell is likely poised to take over as Senate Majority Leader, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge his political acumen. Not acumen in winning reelection, but acumen in masterminding the Republican comeback after the huge Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008. His master plan was simple — hang together and say no. And, by and large, it worked. McConnell is not the most charismatic politician of our time, but he is arguably the sharpest mind in contemporary politics on a strategic level.


To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s been ugly. But in most voters’ mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats. It was a very counterintuitive strategy, but it was well-grounded in the best political science available. And it worked.

Most political coverage is premised on some potentially noble lies about how the public will punish politicians who subvert basic institutional norms or prevent popular things from being done. McConnell’s evil genius is to see that it’s all nonsense. The public generally doesn’t pay attention to the details of political squabbles. For all intents and purposes nobody in Congress pays a real price for obstructionism; even if the popularity of the party is dragged down it doesn’t affect the election chances of the vast majority of members. By the same token, Republican statehouses can refuse the Medicaid expansion and Obama will get more blame than the Republicans who turn it down, and so on. This cold strategic logic presents a serious problem because the structure of American government requires certain norms of comity to function in most circumstances — we’re about to get a lot of grim lessons about the superiority of parliamentary systems that don’t massively dilute and misallocate accountability — but this isn’t McConnell’s problem.

The JP Morgan Chase Whistleblower

[ 43 ] November 6, 2014 |

Good to see Taibbi back to doing what he does best:

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.”

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap?

[ 21 ] November 6, 2014 |

Looks like he’s on the Highway to Hell.

At the State Level, Candidates Matter A Lot

[ 69 ] November 5, 2014 |

Here’s the thing: Republicans were slaughtered in 2006. Reagan’s Republicans lost 8 Senate seats in 1986. LBJ’s Democrats lost 3 Senate seats (with a more than 8% negative vote swing) and lost 47 seats in the House. FDR’s Democrats lost 72 House seats and 7 Senate seats, in 1938 — which understates matters, given that FDR’s attempt to get anti-New Deal Democrats defeated in primaries came up a cropper. (Bill Clinton, I will grant, broke even in the Senate and gained slightly in the House, but in addition to the frivolous impeachment that was in motion the deal-making he used to maintain popularity 1)is no longer possible, and 2)was dubiously desirable.)

You get the idea. The in-party — even in cases where presidents are transformative and/or have bold agendas that deliver plenty to their constituents — rarely fares well in the midterms of term 2. Combined with a very unfavorable map, the fact that midterms massively favor the Republican electorate, and Republicans at both the state and federal level figuring out that the damage you inflict on constituents will actually be held against the party controlling the White House, the Democrats were going to get clobbered, and the “this proves Obama should have led with leadership by (proposing the most politically efficacious policy which by pure coincidence happens to be the policy I prefer on the merits)” genre is mostly a waste of time. Messaging and position-taking might matter a little at the margins, but there wasn’t any magic formula that was going to prevent the 2014 midterms from being a bloodbath at the federal level.

As Alec MacGillis argues, though, it’s crucial not to lump the inevitable Republican wave at the federal level with the state races. Some of the factors pertain, especially with respect to turnout, but fundamentals become less important and cadidates moreso, which was bad news for Democrats in some blue states:

I’m skeptical of that claim. No doubt, disaffection and low turnout among core Democratic voters hurt the party’s gubernatorial candidates in blue states as it did Senate candidates in red and purple ones. And anti-Washington, anti-Obama sentiment certainly played a role in the GOP’s Senate takeover. But to explain why some Democratic gubernatorial candidates lost in blue states while others (such as Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island, Dannel Malloy in Connecticut, and John Hickenlooper in Colorado) managed to hang on, one really needs to take into account the state and local context of the races.


But why would Coakley and Brown go down, while Hickenlooper and Malloy survived? Here one has to consider the ultimate local context, the quality of the candidates. Hickenlooper and Malloy provoked plenty opposition in their states, not least with their signing of sweeping gun control legislation after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. But voters also had a clear sense of where these men stood. The same could not be said for the lackluster Coakley and, especially, for Brown, who ran one of the worst campaigns I’ve ever observed up close. The son of a Jamaican father and Swiss mother, a colonel in the Army Reserve and former JAG officer whom O’Malley plucked out of relative obscurity in the Maryland House of Delegates to be his running mate in 2006, Brown is an amiable enough fellow but gives off the distinct vibe of a second-stringer. His big chance to show his stuff, the launch of the Maryland insurance exchange under Obamacare, was a total fiasco.

This is a real problem. Massachusetts was the worst example, with a candidate who had already failed disastrously once winning the primary fairly easily, but the weak bench created in part by the 2010 wave might continue to have reverberations.

Today In The Glory Of Third Party Politics

[ 109 ] November 5, 2014 |

Have any doubts about the brilliance of splitting the more left-wing vote into multiple parties as a way forward? Surely they’ve been erased now:

Republican Gov. Paul LePage secured a second term early Wednesday morning, defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud after a long, expensive and often bitter campaign.


Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who received 36 percent of the vote four years ago, less than 2 percentage points behind LePage, had 8 percent of the vote. The Cape Elizabeth attorney conceded shortly before 10 p.m.

“Tonight I’m very, very humbled and very proud – very, very proud – because for 50 years plus, I was raised across the street,” said LePage, referring to his childhood home near the Franco American Center. The governor left home at a young age, striking out on his own and fleeing an abusive father.

“I’m home,” he said Tuesday. “But home is Maine.”

He added, “Home is where every person born in Maine should have the opportunity to carve out their piece of the American dream. I have it. I have the American dream.”

LePage never mentioned Michaud but said he had a newfound respect for Cutler. LePage said Cutler should be the state’s attorney general, a position elected by the state Legislature.

I’m sure you do! But, really, what harm can he do?

The [Maine] legislature has voted for a Medicaid expansion five times, but each time it has been vetoed by Governor LePage.. An estimated 28,000 people would sign up for coverage by 2016 if the program were expanded, according to estimates from the Urban Institute.

Well, surely we can all agree that tends of thousands of poor people being denied medical coverage is a price worth paying if it allows onanists to congratulate themselves for being too good for mere politics.

Page 4 of 733« First...23456102030...Last »