The American Prospect
Want to receive our daily political roundup in your inbox? Sign up for Ringside Seat by creating an account at the Prospect here and ticking off "Ringside Seat" in the Newsletter-subscription options.
This morning, Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania made an astonishing admission: The whole reason Republicans opposed expanded background checks for gun-purchasers was President Obama. It wasn't that the president went too far or that he was making unreasonable demands; it was just that Obama supported the proposal on the table. As Toomey said, “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
That is incredible. It’s as if a good chunk of the GOP has regressed to kindergarten, where they refuse to play with toys that someone else likes.
If there’s a silver lining to this revelation, it’s that it offers a way forward for President Obama as he tries to pursue his agenda. Namely, he has to pretend that it isn’t his agenda.
That’s right. Expanded background checks are off the table because Republicans already know what Obama wants. But climate-change legislation? Immigration reform? A grand bargain on taxes and spending? These are things where there’s still a little ambiguity. The White House should take advantage of it and loudly declare that, in fact, Obama doesn’t want any of these things.
In fact, he doesn’t want to enforce immigration laws at all, and he’s afraid of what Marco Rubio might do if they can get an immigration bill through the Senate. If Toomey is right—and the past four years strongly suggest he is—then this should be enough to get Republicans to sign on to some form of comprehensive immigration reform. After all, Obama doesn’t like it!
And if that doesn’t work? Well, Obama can always bring Mitt Romney back into public life as “president for a day.” On days that Congress passes something that needs signing, Romney can take his place and sign in his stead, that way, House Republicans don’t have to tell their constituents they voted with Obama.
The administration gets to govern, and Republicans get to maintain their purity. It’s win-win!SO THEY SAY
"I'm not a Marxist. But I worry that political conservatives are going to turn me into one."
—Matt Yglesias, writing about Republicans unwilling to lessen the sting of income inequality through redistribution
DAILY MEME: "WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?"
- The United States's detention facility at Guantánamo Bay is back in the news again following a hunger strike that now involves around 100 detainees.
- As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson describes it, "The Navy sent reinforcements to the prison there on Monday—forty medics, added to the cohort guarding a hundred and sixty-six prisoners, watching them in their cells, and, increasingly, pulling them into rooms where they are strapped to chairs and have rubber tubes stuck into their noses and snaked down to their stomachs, then pumping in a can’s worth of a liquid nutritional supplement. That is what our sailors are assigned to do now."
- The strike was captured horrifyingly by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel in theTimes: "The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply ... People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood. And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made."
- At Swampland, Michael Scherer sums up the situation thusly: "The detention center at Guantánamo Bay now operates with the dizzying logic of a Franz Kafka novel. By administration policy, no new prisoners arrive, 166 remain."
- The New York Times editorial board heaped on more scorn: "It is a blight on the nation’s reputation. It mocks American standards of justice by keeping people imprisoned without charges. It has actually hindered the prosecution and imprisonment of dangerous terrorists."
- Obama agrees: "It’s not sustainable. The notion that we’re going to keep 100 individuals in no man’s land in perpetuity [makes no sense.] All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?”
- So why, five years after then-candidate Obama promised to close Guantánamo, are we force-feeding 23 detainees who refuse to eat? When coupled with the administration's troubling history with drones and other foreign-policy decisions, itdoesn't look good.
- But as The Washington Post puts it, "the challenge in closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay is not actually the detention facility itself. The problem is the 166 detainees, each of whom has to be moved somewhere else." There arecomplications concerning all the proposed ways the prison could be emptied.
- Colonel Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantánamo, is campaigning for the prison's closure, and started a Change.gov petition that has already gathered more than 64,000 signatures.
- In the wake of the Boston bombing, 61 percent of American now say they are more worried about civil liberties. Although Guantánamo may be off our shores, we should also spare concern for the civil liberties being given up there too.
WHAT WE'RE WRITING
- Taking a principled stand backfired for Russ Feingold, whose opposition to Dodd-Frank gave Republicans leverage to cut one of its key provisions. Gabriel Arana writes that gay-rights activists should keep Feingold's tale in mind before opposing immigration reform: The bill will likely open a path to citizenship for a quarter million LGBT immigrants but not recognize their same-sex marriages.
- When considering whether to intervene in Syria, the mistakes of the past bear heavily on the present, writes Steve Erickson. So heavily that Barack Obama is facing one of his most difficult decisions as president: "It’s hard to remember a problem this large for which there were so few prospects that were so barely tolerable."
WHAT WE'RE READING
- Three of Dzokhar Tsarnaev's friends were charged in a criminal complaint today for concealing evidence and misleading the Boston police, and their testimony provides details about what the bombing suspect did in the days after the explosions.
- A five-year-old boy in Kentucky fatally shot his two-year-old sister with a Crickett rifle yesterday. The gun company's tagline is "My first rifle."
- NPR looks at the history of chemical weapons, and why they've been a "red line" since World War I.
- In other news, 29 percent of Americans think we might need an armed rebellion in the next few years.
- Mother Jones's Andy Kroll asks, will Andrew Cuomo go the distance on campaign-finance reform?
- The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates's guide to how to be a political-opinion journalist.
POLL OF THE DAY
In a New York Times/CBS poll that will worry privacy activists, over three-quarters of Americans say they support placing surveillance cameras in public places while only one-fifth say the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties in fighting against terrorism. The survey found most people believe terrorism is a fact of life, but that regulation and rigorous law enforcement can effectively combat it.
Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant (see here, for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary.
I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt:
The GOP leadership is dealing with an unprecedented level of frustration in running the House, according to conversations with more than a dozen aides and lawmakers in and around leadership. Leadership is talking past each other. The conference is split by warring factions. And influential outside groups are fighting them....
Speaker John Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy are plagued by a conference split into two groups. In one camp are stiff ideologues who didn’t extract any lesson from Mitt Romney’s loss and are only looking to slash spending and defund President Barack Obama’s health care law at every turn. In the other are lawmakers who are aligned with Cantor, who is almost singularly driving an agenda which is zeroed in on family issues.
Read that last paragraph again. The split among House Republicans isn't between conservatives and moderates, it's between one group of dogmatic conservative ideologues who will brook no deviation from their extremist vision, and another group of dogmatic conservative ideologues who will brook no dissent from their extremist vision. It's the People's Front of Judea versus the Judean People's Front.
It's all the more problematic because John Boehner is such a weak leader. To a degree, it's not his fault, because his troops don't care about things like coming to agreement or passing legislation, which makes them almost impossible to corrall. An unusually large number of them are those "outsiders" who got elected since the Tea Party wave in 2010, and legislating just isn't part of how they see their job. They're in Washington to wage all-out ideological war, and they don't much care if everything grinds to a halt. They don't feel loyalty to the institution of Congress, or even, in many cases, to the Republican party. They sincerely believe that government is almost always evil, so if it stops working that's fine with them. They don't want to go home and tell their constituents about the bill they sponsored or the compromise they reached; they want to tell their constituents that they fought the good fight against socialist tyranny each and every day.
Boehner and some other Republicans know how bad this makes their party look, which is why when things get to a crisis point he's willing to jettison the House GOP's "Hastert Rule," which states that no bill will be voted on unless it has "a majority of the majority," and allow certain compromises to pass with mostly Democratic votes. I'm guessing that's what will happen the next time the debt ceiling comes up, and it may even happen on immigration reform. But he's never going to get his caucus to act in a unified way unless it's for things like voting to repeal Obamacare for the 37th time.
Will this state of affairs change any time soon? It's hard to see how. Most of those Tea Party candidates come from pretty safe districts, and even if some of them lose in the next election or two, they're likely to be replaced in the Monkey Wrench Caucus by Republicans who got elected in other districts when somebody retired and the GOP primary became another contest to see who could be the most uncompromising. Good times!
For those of you who didn't get the Life of Brian reference above, here you go:
In July of 2010, Russ Feingold did the principled thing. After weeks of markup and debate, the liberal Wisconsin senator voted against Dodd-Frank. "My test for the financial-regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said at the time. "[The bill] fails that test." Ironically, Feingold's fortitude only served to further weaken the legislation. In order to break a filibuster, Dodd-Frank's sponsors had to appease conservative Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who opposed a "bank tax" that would have made financial institutions pay for the new regulatory regime. The provision was stripped from the legislation, costing taxpayers $19 billion.
Gay-rights advocates should keep this scenario in mind as the Gang of Eight tries to push immigration reform through the Senate. Given that more than a quarter million undocumented immigrants are LGBT, the movement has a broad interest in seeing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship succeed. But gay-rights supporters have also been pushing for a specific provision in the bill recognizing LGBT families, who under current law are ineligible for family-based immigration. President Obama's immigration proposal, released in February, contained such a provision. But few were surprised that the bill unveiled by the bipartisan group earlier this month contained a legalization program for the undocumented but made no mention of LGBT families. This is no doubt a shortcoming in the current proposal, and one that groups like Immigration Equality, which advocates on behalf of gay and HIV-positive immigrants, should fight to fix. Immigration Equality has already said that the current Senate bill "does not reflect the values or diversity of our country" and that "we are watching—and we will remember—which lawmakers stand with us, and which stand to the side, when this critical vote happens." The Human Rights Campaign and other prominent gay-rights groups have similarly condemned the current Senate bill.
Of course, if support for the immigration-reform bill is widespread—last week, Senator John McCain predicted it would get 70 votes in the Senate—LGBT allies in the chamber can feel free to stand on principle and vote it down to send a message. But if the current opposition shaping up against the bill is any indication—Republicans on the Senate Judiciary have said the inclusion of protections for LGBT families would surely sink the bill, as has Marco Rubio—it is in the interest of the LGBT community to support the bill even without this provision.
To see why the hold-fast-and-then-yield strategy makes sense, it’s crucial to understand that the tools grassroots true-believers and legislators have at their disposal are very different. Unencumbered by the vagaries of lawmaking, activists are free to push for the ideal result now (who's ever seen a sign at a rally that says 'We want X after Congress passes that appropriations bill!'?). And the truth is that we need an activist community that's slow to compromise. Without the gay community jumping and screaming that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" wasn't happening fast enough, we'd probably still be waiting. Agitating from the base holds politicians' feet to the fire and propels legislative action.
But as Feingold discovered, as you move closer to the levers of power, unfiltered idealism starts to work against you. This is largely the story of the Tea Party, whose unyielding representatives in Congress have failed to pass a single piece of substantive policy (the House's 29 symbolic repeals of Obamacare don't count) that furthers the movement's goals in the last three years. Those of us who support gay rights must learn that you can’t keep allies in Congress without cutting them some slack every now and then.
Holding out or selling out is "a gamble that you have to take given the competing considerations of passing immigration reform and making it as inclusive as possible," says Nolan McCarty, a political scientist at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. As with Dodd-Frank, McCarty explained that if passage of immigration reform comes down to a handful of key votes and gay-rights allies in Congress balk at supporting a bill without all the provisions they want, you have to make up for the loss of support elsewhere. This could mean watering down other key pieces of the legislation, like making the path to citizenship for the undocumented more narrow. In two disaster scenarios, courting Republican legislators could doom the legalization program—the heart of the current proposal—or cause the whole effort to go up in flames. Even the most hardline gay-rights supporter will concede that this is worse than passing an imperfect immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship.
This is not to say that giving up on LGBT protections in comprehensive immigration reform is a no-brainer. It is a "calculated risk to delay" getting LGBT-family recognition passed, McCarty says, and the strategy one adopts depends on what one thinks the future holds. But with the Supreme Court poised to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in the states—including for immigration purposes—the future arc of gay rights bends toward justice. At least for couples in the nine states plus Washington, D.C. that recognize same-sex unions, a win on DOMA will mean a substantial number of LGBT couples will gain recognition for their families even without the provision in the bill.
This brings me to another point: Ultimately, recognition for LGBT couples in our immigration system is part of the marriage fight—not the immigration fight. While Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has suggested including language in the immigration-reform legislation that defines a same-sex spouse as a "permanent partner" and allows her to apply for a green card, what we are basically asking is for Congress to recognize same-sex marriages, at least in this narrow sense.
The broader fight is well underway, and we're winning. By the end of next year, that list of marriage-equality states will likely include New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon. This may be cold comfort to the thousands of LGBT families caught in red-state immigration limbo, but the hard reality is that winning full recognition for same-sex couples will take time.
An immigration bill including a path to citizenship has been a progressive dream for more than a decade. The failure to pass reform during George W. Bush's presidency and Obama's first term were epic disappointments. The current political moment—fresh off the 2012 election, in which Latinos showed Republicans at the ballot box the cost of their opposition to comprehensive immigration reform—offers the perfect climate for passing a good immigration bill. It's an opportunity that won't come up again in the near future. If it comes down to it, the noble thing for gay-rights supporters to do is take a win for 267,000 LGBT-identified undocumented immigrants and recognize that you don't get everything you want all the time.
Last month, federal judge Edward Korman held that the Obama administration's override of the FDA's recommendation for over-the-counter emergency contraception was illegal. The "compromise" of making Plan B available without a prescription only to women over 17, Korman persuasively argued, was "arbitrary and capricious" and hence exceeded the power of the secretary of health and human services. Yesterday, the Obama administration responded by modifying the policy. The new policy is better, but still not nearly good enough and still not in compliance with the requirements of Korman's decision.
Under the new policy, Plan B would be made—at least on paper—available over-the-counter to all women aged 15 or over. Making emergency contraception available to the vast majority of women who might become pregnant is certainly an improvement compared to five years ago. But the age limit—even if lower—remains completely irrational. There is no scientific evidence that emergency contraception is unsafe for women of any age; lowering the age at which emergency contraception can be obtained without a prescription doesn't address the core problems with the initial override of the FDA's experts. Restricting access for those under 15 is not merely pointless but perverse. Carrying a child to term is less safe for women under 15 than it is for women between the ages of 15 and 17, and women under 15 are obviously much less likely to be emotionally and financially ready for motherhood. As age decreases, the need to prevent unwanted pregnancies becomes more compelling, not less.
Nor will the effects of the new rule necessarily be confined to women under 15. As Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes, the decision creates a "significant barrier" not only for "low-income teens under 15 years of age" but for "those without ID who “look” younger and are denied access." Not all young women aged 16 and 17 have driver's licenses or passports, and pharmacists are required by the new policy to ask for ID. Even pharmacists attempting to comply with the rules in good faith may be required to deny over-the-counter access to women who are eligible under the policy, and maintaining an age limit gives an additional pretext to pharmacists who seek to impose their own moral values on women seeking emergency contraception. A bright-line rule eliminating age limitations on over-the-counter access is important not only to young women over 15 but to those under 15 as well.
Judge Korman summed up his analysis last month by noting that "the Secretary’s action was politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent." The FDA's response to the decision retains the same defects. It should just comply with the court order and act in the interests of all women, rather than coming up with further evasions that are indefensible on the merits and don't even provide any discernible political benefit.
The last week has been not so much a case of national déjà vu as a Philip K. Dickian time-slip where the past bleeds into the present and transforms it. Syria is potentially the frankenstein of foreign-policy crises, made up of the parts of dead blunders: Vietnam, where we learned that firepower won’t overcome the unquantifiables that make for a quagmire; Iraq, where we learned that intelligence may be faulty or manipulated; Libya, where we learned both the combat possibilities and limitations of no-fly zones; Afghanistan, where a quarter-century ago we armed freedom-fighters who became accomplices in the murder of 3,000 citizens on American soil; Kosovo and Rwanda, where we ignored mass slaughter at the cost of our collective conscience; and Somalia, where we answered the call of conscience to disastrous end. Syria surpasses them all. With a warring population becoming ever more kaleidoscopically sectarian, and an air-defense system as sophisticated as any in the non-Israeli Middle East, it’s an unfolding horror show that morally demands a response from the greatest nation on earth even as we face a void of viable military, political, and diplomatic options. This was true before the looming holocaust that would be wrought by chemical weapons. As the president of the United States noted yesterday in his press conference, Syria was a cataclysm of mind-boggling dimensions before the conversation ever turned to red lines.
The disposition of ideology is to conflate matters in a way that serves ideological purposes. Both right and left have done this with the Afghan and Iraq wars; the former became for the right an excuse to invade the latter, while the latter became for the left a way to discredit the former. Actually, each war was girded or undone by its own realities, which in the case of Afghanistan justified our entry given the Taliban’s complicity in 9/11, and which disqualified our involvement in Iraq given the utter lack of connection of Saddam Hussein to 9/11 or al-Qaeda, and also the failure of inspectors just two months before our March 2003 invasion to find the weapons that allegedly were harbored by Saddam and posed such a threat. The same spokespeople on the right that championed the Iraq debacle so fervently, steamrolling as flatly unpatriotic the concerns that were raised before the war began, now conclude that the failures of Syria will encourage Iranian and North Korean follies; while decrying our supposed appeasement of Islamic extremism everywhere else—including in our own country, where such extremism is virtually nonexistent (Boston notwithstanding)—the right ignores the fact that many of the Syrian rebels it wants to arm actually are Islamic extremists. In the meantime, the left responds to the spectacularly cruel imagery emerging from Bashar al-Assad’s barbarism with more frantic calls for a wholly diplomatic solution that might somehow take into account both Assad’s war crimes and the intransigent support (so far) of his principal ally, Russia. This is the sort of soft-headedness that gave liberalism a bad name back around the rise of Ronald Reagan.
By all reports, the current president is an analytical man. It doesn’t take much analysis to note that at last week’s opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the Iraq War—the single worst American foreign-policy mistake of any of our lifetimes (mine includes Vietnam)—went entirely unmentioned: the Decision That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Shortsighted as it may seem in retrospect, an imagination that’s both contextual and empathic might comprehend how, half a century ago, reasonable men sincerely thought the fall of Southeast Asia to communism was perilous to American security, whereas no effort at revisionism, no matter how fervently pressed by the Bush Administration’s denizens, can make right the bad faith of Iraq. If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, those who learn its lessons too literally are doomed to misunderstand them, and particularly at the Syrian precipice we might now be well served by, if nothing else, a discussion that has some integrity and doesn’t render as pawns of our partisan discourse a couple million refugees crossing the borders into Turkey and Lebanon, not to mention many more millions slaughtered, including untold children. Barack Obama coolly grasps that it was the Iraq War as much as any single thing that made him president, but he also has not only enough imagination, both contextual and empathic, but plain moral sense to realize that doing nothing in Syria is as outlandish as committing American troops, and that humanitarian action is as imperative as avoiding a plunge into a civil war that has no strategic or ethical clarity. It’s hard to remember a problem this large for which there were so few prospects that were so barely tolerable. The past bleeds into the present and transforms it, but that doesn’t make the present the past, and Syria becomes its own lesson for future Americans to remember even as this week, in this moment, there’s no one to learn it but us.
Yesterday Massachusetts held a primary for the June special election to fill new Secretary of State John Kerry's senate seat. Roughly four people turned out to vote in my district, with a total of 153 voters statewide. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There were four people in my polling place when I went in to vote, at 5:30 pm—a time when, were it a presidential election, the line would be down the block. As I write this, The Boston Globe is reporting an estimated 10 percent turnout. My guess is that that the number of people who were aware of the fact that the primary was yesterday, compared to the number of Massachusetts residents aware of the first names of both marathon bombers, was roughly 1:100.
We’ve had a rough few weeks here in Boston, as I know you’ve heard. While the rest of the country has—rightly—moved on to the next public event, we’re going to be stuck on this one for some time. But even were this the most neutral of times, a special-election primary is a pretty sleepy deal, unless there’s an electrifying candidate or two. This time there were none.
On the Democratic side, there were two Congressman facing off for the senatorial nomination. There's Stephen Lynch of South Boston, a former ironworker, an anti-abortion voter, the favorite of the he-man unions and the more conservative Democrats. He was roasted at the traditional St. Patrick’s Day political breakfast in South Boston as having been born in a manger that he welded himself. Ed Markey is, on paper, the progressive, congressional veteran who’s lived in Massachusetts representing his district since 1976, a staunch advocate for action on climate change and for VAWA. In person he comes across as stiff, arrogant, and anything but likable. But the pro-Warren faction of Democrats turned out for him; here in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, my house must’ve been flyered by Markey folks at least six separate times, each one reminding us to vote. Lynch won the “red” parts of the state, which had added up to only 43 percent of the Dem vote as of last night at 11 p.m.; Markey won the blue districts, with 57 percent.
Since our former senator Scott Brown declined to run, the Republican side of the race was wide open—and went to Gabriel Gomez, who on paper looks like a picture-perfect William Weld-style Republican. While his parents immigrated from Colombia, he’s white, the kind of Latino whose children will be highly assimilated; his Spanish is the upper-class kind. He was a Navy SEAL, a Harvard Business School grad, and a private-equity investor with enough money to bankroll plenty of television ads. He’ll run against the national Republicans and for bipartisanship, stressing the pro-gun-control and immigration-reform issues where he sides with Obama; it’s the only way for an “R” to win in this state.
So can he win? Until the day that Martha Coakley lost to Scott Brown, the state Democratic party activists took it for granted that whoever won the Democratic primary had won the election. They learned their lesson. They will be out knocking on doors and taking names between now and June 25, when the election will be held. And Massachusetts Dems can out-organize Massachusetts Republicans hands down. The Massachusetts Democratic Party has 47 field offices and a deep organizing infrastructure that’s still stinging from the Coakley loss and invigorated from the intense effort they put in to win it for Elizabeth Warren. By contrast, the Massachusetts Republican Party is nearly a theory; it has ten field offices and few grassroots volunteers. Markey won’t inspire folks to come out of the woodwork the way Warren did—no one could—but neither is there any evidence that Gomez is driving around the state inspiring potential voters the way Brown did. Warren will work for Markey, and her coattails matter. It’s hard for me to picture who can do that for Gomez.
There are still unknowns. Will Markey’s lack of charisma and decades out of state hurt him? Will Gomez’s Navy SEAL background work for him at a moment when Massachusetts is still aching from the bomb blasts? The local media and likely voters should be tuning into the race sometime soon, but the vast majority of the state won’t get engaged. The trial of Whitey Bulger, who tormented the eastern part of the state for decades, and the ongoing Marathon bombing drama will dominate the news—and overshadow the election. Since any race comes down to turnout—whose voters actually have the energy or enthusiasm to show up?— my guess at this distance is that the Massachusetts Dems’ organizing structure will win the day for Markey. But stay tuned.
Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, I've held more than one opinion on just how the American public will feel about it as time goes by. Initially, perhaps influenced by the momentousness of the Act's passage, I wrote that once it was implemented, it would be much harder for Republicans to attack. They would no longer be able to frighten people with phantoms of death panels, and instead would have to talk about reality. Since people would have their own experience with the law to judge from as opposed to some hypothetical future, the attacks would lose their potency, Republicans would back off, and the law would rise or fall in public esteem on its own merits.
Then I began to have second thoughts. One of the biggest problems, which I wrote about a few months later, is that Obamacare isn't a single program like Medicare that people can come to love. It's a whole bunch of pilot programs and new regulations, many of which involve private insurance or existing programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and when people are affected by those changes they won't necessarily see them as being part of Obamacare. For instance, beginning in January, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But to most people, interacting as they will be with private companies, it will look like Aetna or Blue Cross or whoever just got more humane, and they may not even know that the government made them do it. Even the exchanges, if they work well, will just be the place where you go to shop for private insurance. Your relationship with the insurer you choose will certainly be affected deeply by the ACA's regulations, but most people still won't understand exactly how.
Among the consequences are that Republicans will be absolutely free to continue to blame every problem anyone has with the health care system on Obamacare, without concern of producing a backlash from the law's supporters. Compare that to how they talk about Medicare, a program they've hated since the moment it was proposed. Because they know how much seniors love their Medicare, they have to pretend they would never harm a hair on the program's lil' ole head. Medicare cuts? Heaven forfend! We merely want to strengthen the program! Turning it into a voucher? Not us! We merely advocate premium support. It's supportive!
That ridiculous kabuki Republicans are forced into is what protects Medicare from the shivs they'd love to jam into its hide. But nobody is going to shout, "Take your hands off my Obamacare!" because Obamacare isn't going to be perceived as a thing you have. It's just a bunch of rules governing how other things run.
Republicans were no doubt overjoyed to see the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing 19 percent of Americans believe that Obamacare has already been repealed, and another 23 percent don't know whether it's the law of the land or not. Most Americans have next to no idea what it does and how it might help them. Some commentators see that and blame the administration for not spending enough time communicating the law's benefits, which is like saying to a baseball player that the reason he's only hitting .250 is that he hasn't bothered to go the batter's box and attempt to hit the ball with his bat. They've spent untold energy and time communicating the program's benefits; I haven't bothered to count because I want to retain my sanity, but I'll bet that if you did you'd find that the president has given a couple hundred speeches, interviews, and statements about Obamacare.
The problem isn't that they haven't tried, it's that given the complex nature of the law, getting a largely inattentive and (let's be honest) ignorant citizenry to understand it is a very difficult task even for people who are good at that sort of thing, just like hitting 99-mph fastballs. Might it have been easier if the law were designed differently? Absolutely. If it were a single-payer plan, everyone would understand it. But instead, it's an extremely complex set of regulations, every one included to address a particular problem or woo a particular interest group or placate a particular ornery senator. That complexity was dictated by both the existing complexity of our health care system and political reality as the administration and congressional Democrats understood it at the time (accurately or not).
That isn't to say that Obamacare's image can't improve as we go through implementation in the beginning of next year. If you want a less gloomy view than mine, you can read Jonathan Cohn (here and here), who details some of the reasons to be optimistic about the early stages of Obamacare's implementation. It's entirely possible that if things go reasonably smoothly, people will say, "Gee, this isn't nearly as bad as Republicans said it would be." Implementation will get a lot of press coverage, and I'm sure many news organizations will do their best to help their audiences understand how the law will affect them. That will increase what people know, and also give the law's advocates another opportunity to make their case that it's a good thing. But even so, there'll be little reason for Republicans to let up on their attacks on the law. They may not be able to scream about death panels anymore, but they'll certainly blame every insurance company misdeed, rate increase, or anything else you might not like on Obamacare. That means that public opinion on it is likely to be divided for the foreseeable future, and as long as American health care is anything other than perfect, Republicans will keep telling people that whatever's wrong is the fault of that socialist Obama's big government takeover.
Want to receive our daily political roundup in your inbox? Sign up for Ringside Seat by creating an account at the Prospect here and ticking off "Ringside Seat" in the Newsletter-subscription options.
For many—most?—liberals, the aftermath of the 2000 election is like an old injury that won't heal. Most of the time you don't think about it, but if someone touches it, the old pain flares up again. Despite Antonin Scalia's frequent admonition to "Get over it!", doing so is awfully hard. Had George W. Bush been a run-of-the-mill Republican president, it might have been easier. But he wasn't; he was an epically awful president whose ability to cut such a far-reaching path of destruction made him exceptional.
Which is why so many of us were unimpressed when Sandra Day O'Connor, after years of defending the Supreme Court's intervention in Bush v. Gore, told the Chicago Tribune, "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye,'" since the case "gave the Court a less-than-perfect reputation." You don't say.
At the time, you may remember, O'Connor was eager to avoid a Gore presidency. Attending a party on election night, she reportedly exclaimed "This is terrible" when early reports showed Gore winning Florida; her husband explained that she was hoping to retire, but couldn't if a Democrat would be in the White House. She got her chance later, after signing on to one of the most disgraceful, unprincipled decisions in the history of American jurisprudence.
The fact that O'Connor was replaced by the doctrinaire conservative Samuel Alito doesn't mean she was some kind of liberal while on the Court. And as some have pointed out, many of the areas in which she steered a moderate course are being dismantled by Alito, whose ascension was made possible by Bush v. Gore. So don't feel sorry for her; she went on her way to a pleasant retirement. It was the rest of us who paid the price.SO THEY SAY
"I get a big emotional kick out of it."
—Newt Gingrich on problem-solving
DAILY MEME: A SPECIAL-ELECTION TREAT
- There's a special election today! People in Massachusetts are heading to the ballot box to vote in primaries to determine Secretary of State John Kerry's replacement in the Senate.
- Representative Ed Markey is ahead in the polls in the Democratic primary, the contest that will likely produce the election's eventual victor.
- The GOP contest is a little more exciting, given the possibility of a surprise.
- Special elections rarely lead to long lines at the polls, and the Boston bombings two weeks ago changed the tenor of the race—and left even fewer eyes focused on the campaign trail ...
- ... as well as leading to a few candidate blunders.
- Reports from polling centers today are less exciting than live commentary of a 100-meter dash by earthworms.
- Which is unsurprising for those who know about the "comically" low turnout in D.C.'s special election last week.
- Outside spending in the race has topped $2.2 million.
- The Massachusetts Senate race isn't the only special election in town—South Carolina's House candidates just had a debate yesterday ...
- ... which can be summed up thusly: "Elizabeth Colbert Busch Goes There on Argentine Affair in Debate with Mark Sanford."
- These new billboards for an online dating company in South Carolina also went there.
- The election is only a week away.
WHAT WE'RE WRITING
- The sequester strikes again. Scott Lemieux notes that the tightening of federal funds will cripple the accused's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and adequate representation.
- The Tea Party has been scary for the sane and the liberal for a long time. A new report on the upstart pseudo-movement has come out, and Abby Rapoport writes that it's time for the GOP to join in the fear-fest.
WHAT WE'RE READING
- Neda Semnani on how Hollywood just can't get female journalists right anymore: "Whereas being a female reporter was once synonymous with tenacity, superior intellect, and wit, today's fictional female reporter serves as shorthand for new media reporter/blogger: young, naïve, and morally bankrupt."
- Mexico is winding down its extensive cooperation with the U.S. in its disastrous drug war.
- Temp agencies are at the heart of a new boom in wage theft and labor exploitation, and in cities like Chicago, raiteros are their veins and arteries.
- Economists Reinhart and Rogoff have been discredited, but austerity rushes on. The next front, it seems, is "policy uncertainty"—a term that, as Wonkblog notes, should hold just as little capital.
- The president will soon be pushing for a new head of the Federal Communications Commission, and despite the sad, monopolistic state of our telecommunications industry, Obama's pick will almost certainly be industry insider Tom Wheeler rather than equality crusader Susan Crawford.
- A new study confirms that the backlash against voter-suppression laws increased the proportion of minorities who voted in 2012.
- Possibly in light of last week's doomsaying by Max Baucus, Obama went on air to say that the health-care law is doing fine, that it'll be implemented fully in 2014, and that nobody needs to worry.
POLL OF THE DAY
According to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than four in ten Americans think that the Affordable Care Act has been overturned or repealed. That could be a good thing given that 40 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the law, compared with 35 percent who have a favorable view of the law. But more likely, it just means that when the benighted four-in-ten start reaping the rewards of Obamacare, they won't know whom to thank.
Just last year, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was touted as a top-tier candidate for national office. Successful and well-liked in the Commonwealth, he could sell conservatism as a reasonable, pragmatic approach to solving the nation’s problems.
In just the last few months, however, things have just collapsed for the Virginia governor, who is limited to a single term by state law. First, in throwing his remaining political capital behind an overhaul of Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, he alienated conservative activists—in the state, and nationwide—for his support of new taxes to pay for road improvements and other measures. And now, over the last few weeks, he’s been embroiled in a controversy—and FBI investigation—over his relationship with the chief executive of Star Scientific, a major donor to his campaign.
The short story is that the executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., gave $15,000 to pay for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter. McDonnell, however, claimed that the bride and the groom had covered that expense. In doing so, he lied about the financing and failed to disclose the gift. What’s more, after the wedding, McDonnell hosted Williams at the governor’s mansion for an event. Here’s The Washington Post with more details:
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has said his daughter and her husband paid for their own wedding. So a $15,000 check from a major campaign donor to pay for the food at the affair was a gift to the bride and groom and not to him, and therefore did not have to be publicly disclosed under the law, the governor says.
But documents obtained by The Washington Post show that McDonnell signed the catering contract, making him financially responsible for the 2011 event. The governor made handwritten notes to the caterer in the margins. In addition, the governor paid nearly $8,000 in deposits for the catering.
When the combination of the governor’s deposit and the gift from the donor resulted in an overpayment to the caterer, the refund check of more than $3,500 went to McDonnell’s wife and not to his daughter, her husband or back to the donor.
The new documents suggest that the governor was more involved with the financing of the wedding than he has previously acknowledged.
The more information comes out, the more this looks like a straightforward case of quid pro quo. Which, for McDonnell, puts another nail in the coffin of his national ambitions. Political rehabilitations aren’t rare, but McDonnell doesn’t have a lot on his side. After he leaves office at the beginning of next year, his only conceivable path to prominence is through the Senate. And to get there, he would have to face Democratic incumbent Mark Warner in what would be a fiercely contested election.
And where does McDonnell stand vis a vis Warner? In a hypothetical match-up, according to Public Policy Polling, Warner leads McDonnell, 52 percent to 42 percent.
During this morning’s press conference, President Obama got a question from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl on whether he still has “the juice” to get the rest of his agenda through Congress. Obama’s response came in two parts.
First, he noted the extent to which Republicans are unwilling to play ball. On sequestration, for example, the GOP has adopted two, mutually exclusive positions: That it isn’t a big deal, and that it’s causing terrible pain to ordinary Americans. As Obama points out, this allows Republicans to reject any effort at replacing the sequester—citing their opposition to new revenues or higher taxes—and it gives them a hammer with which to hit the administration. He didn’t say it, but he was clearly exasperated—how, exactly, is he supposed to deal with this behavior?
His answer is that he can’t, and moreover, that it’s not his responsibility:
[Y]ou know, Jonathan, you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people. So if, in fact, they are seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now or 15 years from now.
Much of Washington is in the grips of what several observers call the “Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power.” For those unfamiliar with the comics, the Green Lanterns are a galaxy-spanning corps of space police. Each Lantern is given a power ring that emits a green energy. With it, Lanterns can do anything—the only limit is their will.
Likewise, pundits and journalists from across the spectrum seem to understand the president as a singular figure whose power flows from his willingness to “get things done.” If Obama can’t get legislation through Congress, for example, it’s because he hasn’t been willing to pressure, cajole and influence. What this ignores is that Obama can’t actually force individual lawmakers to do anything—after all, they come to Congress with their own interests and priorities.
In other words, congressional Republicans have agency, and at a certain point, they need to be held accountability for their actions. It’s not on Obama that Republicans refused to expand background checks. To treat it as if it were obscures the realities of policymaking and helps Republicans evade responsibility for their choices.
NBA player Jason Collins, left, in 2009. Collins recently came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed, the first active player in a major-league sport to do so.
As the first active member of one of the major sports leagues to come out as gay, NBA player Jason Collins’s announcement yesterday has generated praise from gay-rights supporters. Predictably, it has also prompted dire warnings about gays in the locker room from homophobes like the Family Research Council’s Brian Fischer:
I will guarantee you ... if the ownership of whatever team is thinking about bringing him back, or thinking about trading for him, and they go to the players on that team and they say 'How do you feel about an out active homosexual being in the same locker room, sharing the same shower facilities with you?' they'll say no way. I don't want that. I do not want some guy, a teammate, eyeballing me in the shower.
This seems to be a concern primarily among men—women, for whatever reason, aren’t half as scared of lesbians—but it’s a common refrain among homophobes trying to stoke gay panic. The gay-shower scenario comes up whenever public discussion turns to gays in sports, and it was also a concern during the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” with some members of the military suggesting separate showering facilities for gay and straight soldiers. For those who don’t fear gay people, it may seem a bit juvenile or downright paranoid—for guys like Fischer, it’s as if the mere gaze of a gay guy has the strange, infectious power to rob you of your masculinity. But one can understand how the idea generates mild discomfort even among guys who are pretty accepting.
First, let’s state the obvious. For as long as there’ve been sex-segregated locker rooms—and, if we’re talking about the Romans, public baths—gay guys have been showering with straight guys; it’s a natural consequence of using sex as a proxy for sexual orientation. The only difference now is that, at least in the military or on sports teams with openly gay members, you know who’s gay. You’d think that homo-haters would prefer to know where the threat is coming from, but the point is that same-sex harassment in locker rooms should be no more a problem with openly gay athletes than it was before. It would be silly to say that no guy has ever been hit on in a locker room, but as far as I know this has not been a widespread problem in any of the major sports leagues; having a colleague who’s had the courage to be honest about who he is won’t change that.
Which brings me to the main point: As a gay man, I can assure you that we’re probably less likely to look at your junk than your fellow straight guys. Rather than engage in the typical bro-to-bro bravado at the gym—I’ve never witnessed towel-snapping fights so often portrayed in movies, but I have seen guys shout boisterously across the locker room, pat each other on the back, and comment on each other’s bodies (“dude, what’d you do to get those pecs?”)—I and the gay friends I’ve spoken to do our best to keep to ourselves. Frankly, we find this behavior sort of terrifying. Part of this is no doubt a vestige of our closeted high-school days, when we’d stop at nothing to avoid being found out (as a lanky teenager with no eye-hand coordination to speak of, P.E. was a special challenge). But I’ve also come to see it as a means of showing respect for the comfort of others. I’m aware that even the most gay-friendly straight guy doesn’t want to be ogled in the locker room—who does?—and do my best not to give off that impression.
This is precisely what a Department of Defense working group found in recommending how to implement the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In addition to posing a logistical nightmare, the group predicted that creating separate facilities for gays and straights would stigmatize gay service-members and that concerns about integrated showers were based on stereotypes about gay people as predators. Gay service-members, their report said, have “learned to avoid making heterosexuals feel uncomfortable or threatened in situation [sic] such as this.”
Despite the plot lines of countless porno flicks, anyone who’s a regular gym-goer can tell you the experience of sweating and heaving in the weight room or cleaning up afterward in the showers is hardly sexual. Gym tunnel-vision sets in. With your iPod playing “Final Countdown”—or in my case, the soundtrack to Les Misérables—you’re ensconced in a prayer-like state of isolation. Church-time isn’t for cruising, and for most of us, neither is gym-time.
Allowing gays and straights to share locker rooms begs the question of whether we should stop segregating these spaces by sex altogether. If gays can shower with straight guys, shouldn’t straight guys be able to shower with women? In principle, this seems like a reasonable conclusion—until you take into account our current gender and power dynamics. Women are regularly victimized by men; this includes not only being disproportionately the victims of sexual assault and rape, but everyday harassment like being cat-called while walking down the street. Like all-women’s colleges, sex-segregated changing facilities provide women a sanctuary from these pressures. So long as our culture puts up with and encourages such behavior, women should be able to keep the boys out of the locker room.
Note that in the scenario above, we’re not talking about men needing protection from lecherous women. Similarly, it is not straight guys who are bullied, become the victim of hate crimes, or have discriminatory laws passed against them. The most ridiculous thing about the gay-shower scare tactic is that it paints straight guys as helpless sheep when in fact—in the locker room and in life—they have most of the power. Unless we’re talking about an all-gay sports team, trust me: Straight guys, you have nothing to worry about.
For the last few years, the Harvard Institute of Politics has been running detailed surveys of 18 to 29 year olds—the so-called “Millennial” generation—designed to uncover and describe their political beliefs. The latest survey, released this morning, shows a striking result—a growing number of young people are pessimistic about the quality and competence of our institutions, and skeptical that politics can solve problems.
According to Harvard, 81 percent of 18 to 29 year olds rarely or never trust Congress to do the right thing. Fifty-eight percent say the same of the Supreme Court, 60 percent of the presidency, and 77 percent of the federal government overall. The only institution that comes in for positive marks is the military—54 percent say they trust it to do the right thing most of the time.
As for political participation, only 35 percent say that running for office is an “honorable thing to do,” 47 percent say that politics are no longer to meet the challenges “our country is facing,” and 56 percent say elected officials don’t seem to share their priorities.
If these results are surprising, it’s not because they’re uncommon—this is how most adults feel—but because previous surveys from a variety of groups have shown Millennials as a group with high trust in government and a steadfast belief in political participation.
Then again, does any of this really come as a surprise? Two things are true if you’re in your mid-twenties. First, you graduated into the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, with far fewer opportunities than you expected as a college graduate, to say nothing of the mountain of debt you (likely) accumulated. And second, the most you’ve seen of American politics is bitter partisanship and terrible gridlock, with few efforts to improve your life and standard of living.
Insofar that Millennials have lost faith in the ability of government to do good, it’s a reasonable response to actual conditions.
This is why liberals should be skeptical of anyone who predicts a lasting majority for their side—young people just aren’t confident that government can solve problems.
As for conservatives, they shouldn’t celebrate. Millennials aren’t thrilled with government or the Democratic Party, but they have nothing but disdain for the GOP. Only 25 percent call themselves Republicans, and 71 percent disapprove of their performance in Congress.
Since the 2012 election, there's a story we've heard over and over about Republicans and the Latino vote. After spending years bashing immigrants, the party got hammered among this increasingly vital demographic group this election cycle, whereupon the party's more pragmatic elements woke up and realized if they don't convince Latinos the GOP isn't hostile to them, they could make it impossible to win presidential elections. They've got one shot on immigration reform. Pass it, and they can stanch the bleeding. Kill it, and they lock in their dreadful performance among Latinos for generations.
This story is mostly true. But I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late for the GOP to win Latinos over. It's going a little far to suggest that Latinos could become the equivalent of African Americans, giving 90 percent or more of their votes to Democrats in every election. But is it possible that so much damage has already been done that even if immigration reform passes, Republicans won't see any improvement in their standing among Latinos?
Since we're talking about what might happen in the future, this is all speculative, and it's a little ridiculous to predict that anything that happens now will hold for "generations." One generation, maybe, but nobody can say what the political landscape will look like in 30 or 40 years. But let's think about how this is likely to play out in the near term.
If immigration reform fails because of anti-immigrant sentiment from the GOP's right wing, that's obviously a disaster for them. But even if it passes, that might be only a marginally better outcome. The debate itself could be making things worse by giving the anti-reform forces a bigger platform to express their views, even if other elements of the party are trying to put on a friendlier face. And if a bill does pass, who's going to get the credit? Barack Obama, of course. It'll be trumpeted in the media as the major legislative accomplishment of his second term (either the first, or the only, depending on how the next few years go), and much of the story will be about him for no reason other than that he's the president and that's how these things work; the president is the protagonist of most of the stories told about what happens in Washington, whether he deserves to be or not.
Furthermore, the legislation will almost certainly pass with the votes of almost every Democrat in both houses of Congress, and over the opposition of most Republicans. It doesn't need many Republican votes, and for every Republican officeholder who wants to see it pass, there are probably two or three who feel enough pressure from the party's right wing that they'll end up voting against it, if for no other reason than to forestall a primary challenge— the primary thing every Republican member of Congress fears these days.
So how is this debate going to look to the public as the vote approaches? On one side you'll have Obama and the Democrats, along with a few Republicans; on the other side you'll have a whole lot of Republicans, some of whom will no doubt continue to say offensive things about immigrants. For good measure, many people will assume, whether it's true or not, that the Democrats are sincere in their support of immigration reform, while the Republicans who join them are doing it just to save their political skins. When it's over, Obama will declare victory, and everyone will know that it happened because the intransigent Republicans were defeated. Some conservative Republicans running in primaries around the country will still see immigrant-bashing as a potentially fruitful campaign tactic, giving voters the occasional helpful reminder about where much of the party stands. And in the next election (and the one after that, and the one after that), the default assumption among Latino voters will continue to be that your average Republican despises and distrusts them. That isn't to say that any individual Republican candidate can't overcome that assumption and win the votes of significant numbers of Latinos, but it will be a very difficult thing to do, and most will fail when they try.
So at this point, it certainly looks like the two potential outcomes are that conservative Republicans succeed in killing immigration reform, which is disastrous for the GOP, or it passes, which is only a little bit better. If they're going to change their image among Latino voters, it's going to have to be a long-term project.
Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court famously declared in Gideon v. Wainwright that the government was required to supply counsel to defendants who cannot afford it. The noble ideals of the Bill of Rights, Justice Hugo Black wrote in that case, "cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him." Unfortunately, as journalist Karen Houppert demonstrates in exhaustive detail in her terrific new book, Chasing Gideon, in practice the requirements of Gideon have often been flouted by governments. This week provides two excellent examples of the way in which the dysfunctions of American government have translated into inadequate legal representation for those accused of crimes.
First of all, the sequester that resulted from Republican hostage-taking in 2011 is undermining both public safety and the rights of defendants. Because of the sequester, people working in the federal public defender's office in Boston will face furloughs—Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers could be forced to "take up to 15 days of unpaid leave before the end of the fiscal year on September 30." Even worse, the sequester will not have the same effect on the U.S. Attorney's Office, which handles prosecutions, further diminishing the important check on government power provided by the Sixth Amendment. In cases less high-profile than Tsarnaev's, the sequester may mean defendants receiving inadequate representation and could possibly require some defendants to be released (or have their convictions overturned).
Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case presenting an egregious failure of the state to provide adequate counsel. Jonathan Boyer had to wait in jail for more than seven years before his case went to trial. The Louisiana Court of Appeals found that most of this delay was caused by a "funding crisis" that prevented the state from making available two lawyers qualified to try a capital case to Boyer, as state law required. The Louisiana court, however, found that the state's failure to provide counsel shouldn't be counted against it in determining whether or not it violated Boyer's Sixth Amendment right to a "speedy and public trial."
The Supreme Court on Monday held that Boyer's appeal was "dismissed as improvidently granted," which basically means the Court ruled that it shouldn’t have taken the case in the first place; the decision lets the lower-court ruling stand. Dissenting from the Court's order, Justice Sotomayor, speaking for the Court's four Democratic appointees, argued that the Court should have deferred to the Louisiana court's finding that lack of funding explained a majority of the more than seven-year delay, which would presumptively violate the Sixth Amendment if it was the state's responsibility. Given this assumption, Sotomayor argues, "our precedents provide a clear answer: Such a delay should weigh against the State. It is important for States to understand that they have an obligation to protect a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial." While not saying that Boyer's Sixth Amendment rights were clearly violated, the dissenters argued that at a minimum the state could not evade responsibility for the delays caused by a lack of counsel by arguing that funding issues are beyond the control of the prosecutor's office and that the case should be sent back to the state courts so that they could evaluate the Sixth Amendment claim using the proper standard.
While the two swing votes in the case—Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy—declined to explain their reasoning, Justice Alito argued that the appeal should be dismissed because it was based on a false premise. Alito—providing a classic demonstration of the important principle that nobody actually cares about federalism—refused to defer to the findings of the state court. Based on his reading of the record, he argued that the delay wasn't caused by the funding crisis per se but by the motions filed by the defense related to the lack of funding. This argument is unpersuasive, but it is important to note that the concurrence did not deny that a failure to provide counsel would count against the state for speedy-trial purposes if it were its responsibility.
Whether one agrees with the appeal being dismissed or not, however, there's no question that Louisiana's public-defender system was a disaster at the time of Boyer's arrest. Whether the state reforms passed in 2007 will prove to have improved the system is very much an open question. And the problems revealed by this case are pervasive. Public defenders are generally underfunded and understaffed, which leads to extensive trial delays, the violation of individual rights, and convicting innocent people of crimes up to and including the death penalty. The sequester's ill effects on public defenders are just the latest example of American politicians who simply aren't committed to effectively implementing the right to counsel guaranteed by the Constitution.
At a time when the backlog of cases before the courts has reached staggering proportions, Republicans on the House immigration working group have come up with a proposal to lengthen judicial waits beyond all imaginable horizons.
According to a Roll Call report, the eight House members (four from each party) devising an immigration legalization bill they hope can win bipartisan support have hit upon a compromise that might make the bill more palatable to the GOP’s nattering nativists. They’d require undocumented immigrants to appear in federal court and plead guilty to breaking U.S. immigration law. The immigrants would then be sentenced to five years probation, to be followed by five more years of hanging around legally, whereupon they could apply for citizenship, which they could achieve in another three years. The waiting period, in other words, would be the same 13 years that the Senate’s own "Gang of Eight" has proposed, but with a guilty plea thrown in for good measure.
I’m not averse to including symbolic gestures that would ease the path to enactment of any bill that offers citizenship to undocumented immigrants. If a plea is what the Republicans insist is required for their support, then let’s have those pleas. Still, we need to be clear on what such a mandate will and won’t accomplish. Starting off with the “won’t,” it’s hard to imagine such a requirement will deter a single immigrant from crossing the border without papers in the future. (“Appear in court and get probation? Sure thing.”) Then, moving to the “will” side of the ledger, isn’t it possible that requiring 11 million people to show up in federal court may just overload our judicial circuits? The actual number of pleaders will probably be less than 11 million, because I assume the law won’t require immigrants who were brought here as children to enter pleas. (Kind of makes a mockery of the judicial process to have someone brought here as an infant to be required to plead guilty, no?) But even if the number of immigrants who must show up is reduced by half, that’s still a lot of people who’ll be lining up at federal courthouses if and when a bill requiring such pleas is enacted. And this at a time when the courts are already swamped, and when Republicans are either taking forever to confirm, or using the filibuster to reject, President Obama’s judicial appointments.
So here’s my own proposed compromise, which I have vetted with absolutely nobody. If the price for a Republican sign-on to immigration reform is to drown the courts in pleading immigrants, Democrats should link that to the GOP agreeing to stop filibustering Obama’s judicial appointees. Okay, I know this plea business comes from the House and judicial confirmations are up to the Senate, but surely the causes of justice for immigrants and an eight-hour day for judges are of sufficient magnitude to engender a cross-Rotunda deal between Republicans.
You want ‘em to plead? Then give the courts enough judges they can plead to.
Tariq al-Fadhli wept when he heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
“I love him and thank him for supporting me. If it wasn't for Osama Bin Laden, maybe I wouldn't have returned to my country,” recalled al-Fadhli, a well-known Yemeni tribal Sheikh recently expelled from his compound in southern Abyan province at gunpoint by anti-al-Qaeda militiamen who were convinced he was aiding militants in the area. But during an interview at his government-proffered villa in neighboring Aden, al-Fadhli insisted that he is affiliated with not al-Qaeda.
“If I had a relationship with al-Qaeda, the local intelligence would know,” he said, waving a cigarette in his neatly manicured hand. Safe behind a high wall buffered with heavily armed tribesmen—most of whom had a wad of khat (a mildly narcatoic leaf chewed by many Yemenis) in their cheek—Sheikh al-Fadli was relaxed. Wearing a local kilt-like futa, a traditional dagger known as a jambiya, and other colorful accessories, he even cracked jokes. If the accusations of al-Qaeda affiliation turn out to be true, he said, “I am prepared to go to Guantanamo and pay for the ticket. I would go there naked.”
Al-Fadhli is a notoriously enigmatic figure in Yemen’s kaleidoscopic political landscape. As Yemen struggles through a U.N.-backed political transition designed to reconcile the tensions that pushed the country toward civil war in 2011 and prepare it for multiparty elections scheduled for February 2014, al-Fadhli personifies the Sisyphean challenge that interim President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi is up against.
In the late 1960s, following the end of British colonial domination of the region, what is now Yemen was split into two separate nations: the tribal-dominated Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) in the north and the socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) in the south. In the late 1980s, al-Fadhli, fresh from the battlefields of Afghanistan, returned to the southern capital of Aden to wage jihad against the socialist regime that had driven his family into exile.
The North and South signed a fragile unity agreement in 1990, but it crumbled in 1994 when the South tried to exit the pact. As tensions flared in the lead-up to civil war, al-Fadhli’s band of jihadis sided with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the YAR’s autocratic leader, helping crush the socialist regime. Fadhli’s guerrillas were accused of assassinating a number of the some 150 socialist officials and supporters ahead of 1993 parliamentary elections. They also played a prominent role in the war, backing northern troops in a decisive victory.
Seeing Saleh and his ruling party—a relatively secular mix of technocrats, businessmen, and close associates of the now ex-president—as a means to prosperity, al-Fadhli formalized the alliance after the war, trading jihad for a public sinecure in the Sana’a-based government. It was not until 2009 that his calculus changed. In another about-face, al-Fadhli joined the mounting “Hirak” movement, made up of aggrieved southern secessionists who seek remuneration for a slew of injustices suffered under the rule of the northern-centric administration.
“I grew up with [Hirak supporters] and I understand them,” al-Fadhli said, explaining his change of heart. If his appearance at a Hirak rally this January is any indication— he donned a Che Guevara shirt bearing the flag of the former South Yemen—al-Fadhli seems to have fully embraced his newfound freedom-fighter persona.
Some, however, suspect that al-Fadhi only joined Hirak as a means to regain ancestral territory and to restore personal and family prestige as heir to the fallen al-Fadhli Sultanate in Abyan. Indeed, his chameleonic political career makes his loyalites nearly impossible to discern. But as players jockey for power in the new Yemeni state amid economic stagnation and political uncertainty, the survivalist mentality that is gripping many corners of the country is not so different from al-Fadhli’s serial pragmatism.
President Hadi must juggle tribes, militants, militias, separatists, Islamists, and a host of international powers vying for influence in the country. Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, famously referring to the job as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”
The country’s numerous non-state actors are as important to Yemen’s stability, if not more so, than the political parties nominally in charge. Tribes, for example, have formed the backbone of governance and social order for millennia. Integrating clans, tribes, and confederations into the modern political system has proven difficult, with government leaders (i.e., ex-President Saleh and loyalists) often choosing temporary appeasement over more durable solutions. That said, “tribalism” is only one of many Yemeni identities, and in some areas plays little to no role at all.
Religion represents another piece of the Yemeni puzzle. Over the centuries, the country has hosted Jews, Shia Muslims, various Sunni sects, and the occasional Christian. In recent decades, sectarian tensions have escalated and have been exacerbated by political agendas. The most conspicuous split is between various Sunni offshoots and a revivalist Zaydi Shia sect, known as Huthis, whose oppositionist stance made them the target of six wars waged by the central government leading up to the Arab Spring in 2011. In the post-revolution transitional period, the Huthis have greatly expanded their sphere of influence, which had up until then largely been limited to the northern province of Saada
This fluid system of governance and loyalties can confound foreign observers, who tend to view Yemen through the lens of Western politics.
Al-Fadhli has, for example, proven hard for U.S. diplomats to read. An October 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Sanaa describes his relationship with various Hirak leaders:
Fadhli has "good communication" with [Ali Salem al] Beidh, Ali Nasser and Mohammed Ali Ahmed, the former governor of Abyan [province] now living in the United Kingdom.
Yet in early 2011, al-Fadhli burned pictures of Ali Salem al-Baidh and Ali Nasser Mohammed while denouncing Ahmed’s more moderate stance toward unity.
Another leaked 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy referred to al-Fadhli as the “strongman” of Abyan. Recent events suggest otherwise. Last November, anti-al-Qaeda militias besieged one of Fadhli’s compounds in Abyan for allegedly facilitating al-Qaeda’s takeover of the province in 2011.
Fadhli admits that his support across Abyan is far from unanimous, even in cities historically loyal to his tribe. "The [local militias] in Jaar agreed with me, and the one in Zinjbar was against me,” he said.
President Hadi, also a native of Abyan, intervened on al-Fadhli’s behalf during the November siege, in part to pacify the local militias that his government supports and also because of their personal relationship—al-Fadhli is technically his tribal sheikh. To calm the situation, Hadi relocated al-Fadhli and most of his family to their current seaside residence, after an initial stay at a house next to the defense minister’s in Aden.
Despite these troubles, al-Fadhli remains entrusted with delicate tasks such as mediating al-Qaeda kidnappings. Asked how he has managed to do so, he said: “I'm a tribal sheikh. I know al-Qaeda and I know the government. I tell the truth to al-Qaeda, I tell the truth to the government, and I tell the truth to the people. I don't take sides.”
Al-Fadhli described his role in negotiations for the release of a Saudi diplomat kidnapped last March in Aden.
“I was the mediator between Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda, and the Yemeni government,” he said. The head of Ansar al-Sharia, a populist-oriented al-Qaeda subsidiary formed in 2011, apparently sent proof of life to al-Fadhli via two curriers.
“They brought me a C.D., and I opened in the laptop to make sure it was the Saudi. Immediately I was sure that it was [him]. He was living, talking, and behind him was a black flag of al-Qaeda.”
Al-Qaeda was demanding the release of prisoners held in Saudi Arabia. Al-Fadhli said they even refused monetary offers for the diplomat’s release. “I called one southern [Yemeni] businessman in Saudi Arabia and he was he was ready to pay $13 million. Cash.”
To Americans, the most important non-state actors in Yemen have long been violent global jihadists; in October 2000, al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole, a Naval destroyer docked in the port of Aden. Following the 9/11 attacks, in which some Yemeni nationals were implicated, Yemen became a front line in American counter-terrorism efforts. The militants have proven difficult for international and regional players to manage ever since.
As al-Fadhli put it, “It's like a burning soccer ball that everyone throws on the other.”
While Bush-era counter-terrorism policy in Yemen relied heavily on capturing al-Qaeda suspects, the Obama administration has carried out a controversial targeted-killing strategy that has come under increasing public scrutiny. The first Senate hearing on the subject was held last week, highlighted by the impassioned testimony of a young Yemeni activist, Farea al-Muslimi, talking about an American airstrike near his village days earlier.
“The reality is that U.S. interests in Yemen are always going to be first and foremost security interests,” said Danya Greenfield, the deputy director of the Rafik Hariri Center at the Atlantic Council, a think-tank in Washington, D.C.
Al-Fadhli holds an unexpectedly moderate stance on U.S. drone policy. While he stopped short of endorsing American strikes, he did not denounce them either, instead saying that they are preferable to Yemeni Air Force operations. He lived in Abyan during the heaviest periods of U.S. drone strikes in the region, from mid-2011 to late 2012, and said that, “When the Americans strike a target, they strike the target correctly, 100 percent.”
“Yemeni planes bomb indiscriminately. They break houses, they kill innocent people, and the relationship with America is clear. So leave the skies to the Americans,” he said.
In many ways, the enigmatic Fadhli embodies the challenges facing an international community that has struggled for decades to make the right move—or at least avoid erring too seriously—in the chess game of Yemeni politics. The unprecedented size and scope of support on offer from foreign donors during Yemen’s current transition has only magnified these concerns. Perhaps Greenfield phrases the problem best:
“It's very easy to get lost, or stuck, or misled within the complicated web of factors in Yemen,” she said. “There is no one single truth.”
In recent weeks, rumors have been swirling around the sports world that a currently active male athlete from one of the four major sports—baseball, football, basketball, and hockey—was about to come out as gay. Today, we found out who it is: NBA center Jason Collins, in an upcoming cover story for Sports Illustrated, reveals his sexuality to the world. Collins, a journeyman who has played for six teams, is at the tail end of his career—he's 34—and is what is referred to as a "defensive specialist," meaning he doesn't score very much. Nevertheless, this is a significant moment. There have been retired players from all four of those sports who have come out in the past, but Collins is the first to do so while still playing.
It was without doubt a courageous thing to do. But as Collins is lauded, we should acknowledge that gay athletes from earlier times whose sexuality became public—voluntarily or otherwise—faced much more difficult roads than Collins likely will. For example, in 1981, both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were outed, King in a palimony suit and Navratilova by a reporter (Navratilova had been eager to come out earlier, but faced pressure from the Women's Tennis Association to stay in the closet; she tells the story here). Though King was semi-retired, she was still a major figure in the sport. Both lost endorsement contracts once their sexuality was known. In contrast, Brittney Griner, the first pick in this year's WNBA draft and perhaps the most dominant women's player in college basketball history, casually revealed her sexuality in an interview two weeks ago; it didn't stop her from getting an endorsement contract with Nike.
As the first out active male player in one of the big four sports, Collins will face extra scrutiny, provided he finds a team to pick him up for next season; he's a free agent at the moment. But times have changed enough that he obviously didn't think opening up would destroy his career—who knows, all the attention might even help him land a new team. And so far, the reaction from the league and his fellow players, publicly at least, has been nothing but positive.So They Say
"I told him I’ll come to South Carolina and campaign for him or against him, whichever will help the most—I know which it’ll be ... I’m going down there to to the JJ next weekend, Lindsey, and I assure you I will rip your skin off for you, and I expect a thank-you note."
—Vice-President Joe Biden, kindly offering to help Lindsey Graham—who will likely face a tough primary in 2014
Daily Meme: A Case of the Economic Mondays
- Another week, another spate of doom-and-gloom economic stats, and the requisite analysis to drill the point home.
- As Bloomberg Businessweek puts it, "It’s as if the economy is trapped on some sort of cosmic hamster wheel."
- A new study from the Urban Institute shows that the economic downturn has widened an already yawning gap between the wealth of whites and nonwhites. As one of the study's authors notes, “The racial wealth gap is deeply rooted in our society. It’s here, it’s not going away, and we need to care about it.”
- The fact that close to one in three black people are living in poverty isn't going to close the gap.
- In general, unemployment is likely worse than we think given an ever-falling participation rate.
- And the number of young people out of work globally nearly approaches our country's entire population.
- And to improve the lives of the world's poorest, they'll need to make nearly ten times their current incomes.
- Economic confidence in Europe is flailing, even falling below modest expectations.
- And in response to the lackluster numbers, yet more countries fall prey to austerity's false charms.
- To top that all off, April's jobs numbers come out on Friday. Last month's were epically disappointing. Let's hope this isn't a repeat performance.
- Last week, Rhode Island became the final New England state to allow same-sex couples to wed. The Northeast has been at the vanguard of the struggle for marriage equality, writes E.J. Graff, clearing the path for the "eleventh, twenty-fourth, thirtieth" states to approve, or one day approve, gay marriage.
- The Tea Party has fundamentally reshaped the Republican Party, but little is known about these pugnacious patriots. Abby Rapoport describes three key findings from the first political-science survey of the group proud to say they've been Taxed Enough Already--most notably their dislike of compromise, even with the GOP.
- Jeffrey Rosen looks at how free speech has changed in the age of the Internet.
- NPR interviews Sarah Allen, a computer programmer who often finds herself the only woman in the room.
- Elizabeth Drew issues some #realtalk on the efficacy of White House arm-twisting.
- Molly Ball asks, have we entered the golden age of female political candidates?
- The New York Times examines New York City's young archivists, who collect, among other things, primary sources on George Washington's preference for roomy pantaloons.
- Keystone XL protesters are being vastly, vastly outspent.
According to a recent Gallup poll, young Americans are more hopeful about their economic future than those who are older. The study found that although 48 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and those 65 and older rated their current financial conditions as "Excellent/Good," 73 percent of the younger age group felt that things were "getting better." Older American's were a bit less rosy—only 23 percent reported feeling optimistic about their financial future.
In the election of 1952 my father voted for Dwight Eisenhower. When I asked him why he explained that “FDR’s debt” was still burdening the economy—and that I and my children and my grandchildren would be paying it down for as long as we lived.
I was only six years old and had no idea what a “debt” was, let alone FDR’s. But I had nightmares about it for weeks.
Yet as the years went by my father stopped talking about “FDR’s debt,” and since I was old enough to know something about economics I never worried about it. My children have never once mentioned FDR’s debt. My four-year-old grandchild hasn’t uttered a single word about it.
By the end of World War II, the national debt was 120 percent of the entire economy. But by the mid-1950s, it was half that.
Why did it shrink? Not because the nation stopped spending. We had a Korean War, a Cold War, we rebuilt Germany and Japan, sent our GI’s to college and helped them buy homes, expanded education at all levels, and began constructing the largest public-works program in the nation’s history—the interstate highway system.
“FDR’s debt” shrank in proportion to the national economy because the national economy grew so fast.
I was reminded of this by the recent commotion over an error in a research paper by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
The two Harvard economists had analyzed a huge amount of data from the United States and other advanced economies linking levels of public debt to economic growth. They concluded that growth turns negative (that is, economies tend to collapse into recession) when public debt rises above 90 percent of GDP.
That finding, in turn, fueled austerics, who insisted that the budget deficit (and debt) had to be cut in order to revive economic growth.
But Reinhart and Rogoff’s computations were wrong, and average GDP growth in very-high-debt nations is around 2.2 percent rather than a negative 0.1 percent.
A few days ago, the two offered a defense in an op-ed in the New York Times, asserting “very small actual differences” between their critics’ results and their own.
Regardless, Reinhart and Rogoff seem to be correct in one basic respect: Economic growth does seem to be lower in very-high-debt countries.
But the entire debate over their paper’s flaws begs the central question of cause and effect.
Is growth lower because of the high debt? That would still make the austerics' case, even without the magic 90 percent tipping point.
Or does cause-and-effect the other way around? Maybe slow growth makes debt burdens larger. There’s evidence to suggest this is the case.
If so, government should be fueling growth through, say, spending more—at least in the short run.
As we should have learned from what happened to “FDR’s debt,” growth is the key.
Rand Paul’s unsuccessful speech at Howard University—where he tried, and failed, to paint the Republican Party as the true home for African American voters—didn’t happen in a vacuum. It drew from a heavily revisionist history of American politics, in which the GOP never wavered in its commitment to black rights, and the Democratic Party embraced its role as a haven for segregationists. In this telling of history, black support for Democrats is a function of liberal demagoguery and crude identity politics. If African Americans truly understood their interests, the argument goes, they’d have never left the Republican Party.
Conservative writer Kevin Williamson offered a version of this history in a large feature for the National Review last year, and this week, he’s back with a smaller take—highlighting Barry Goldwater’s contributions to a local civil rights fight in Arizona—that comes to the same conclusion: Democrats were never on the right side of civil rights. Here’s Williamson (please forgive the long blockquote, it’s necessary):
Barry Goldwater was not the most important opponent of racial segregation in Arizona, nor was he the most important champion of desegregating the public schools. What he was was on the right side: He put his money, his political clout, his business connections, and his reputation at the service of a cause that was right and just. While he was doing all that, his eventual nemesis, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a low-rent practitioner of the most crass sort of racist politics, was gutting anti-lynching laws and assuring Democrats that he would offer those “uppity Negroes” “just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.”
For more than a century, the Republican party had been the party of civil rights, of abolition, of emancipation, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and the NAACP did not represent a break from that tradition, but a continuation of it.
It was a masterpiece of politics that allowed the Democrats to convince the electorate that they were the party of civil rights, that they had not until the day before yesterday been the party of lynching — even as that very same cabal of segregationist Democrats that had tried to block or gut every single significant piece of civil-rights legislation for decades, still led by a member of the Ku Klux Klan, remained comfortably entrenched in the Senate.
The core of what Williamson wants you to believe is that neither party saw substantive change in its position on civil rights. But there’s almost no evidence for that view. The Republican Party that championed civil rights in the mid-to-late 19th century all but abandoned the cause in the beginning of the 20th, as white America turned away from blacks, and left them to suffer at the hands of segregationists and lynch mobs. Key GOP politicians (like President Taft) embarked on a campaign to wash the Republican Party of its connection to blacks, in order to expand its constituency in the white South.
Likewise, the same Democratic Party that advanced white supremacy throughout the same period—and into the New Deal—began to shift in the opposite direction. First as a result of Roosevelt’s domestic programs—which gave Democrats a black constituency for the first time in history—and then as an attempt to win votes in Northern industrial cities, where blacks were migrating in large numbers. That’s not to discount principle—figures like Hubert Humphrey were genuine supporters of black rights, and successfully pushed the Democratic Party to adopt a civil rights plank at the 1948 convention (thus sparking a segregationist revolt).
“The masterpiece of politics” that Williamson derides was actually just an attempt—primarily by Democrats—to deliver benefits to black voters, in the form of political protection and domestic programs. It’s for that reason that Democrats began winning greater and greater shares of the black vote throughout the 1940s and 50s.
Williamson dismisses the Civil Rights Act of 1964—and Goldwater’s opposition to it—as a minor variable, something that shouldn’t discount the GOP’s history on civil rights. But the fact of the matter is that the Act was a transformative piece of legislation, and a necessary step on the long road to racial equality. It is arguably the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed, and Goldwater’s opposition is correctly seen as a blemish on his legacy. Indeed, it’s correctly seen as a blemish on Williamson’s own magazine, which opposed the civil-rights movement and voiced solidarity with segregationists.
Yes, the Democratic Party was founded as the party of white populism, and thus, of white supremacy. But institutions change, and by the middle of the 20th century, activism, hard work, and political maneuvering had turned the Party of Andrew Johnson into a real vehicle for black rights.
The GOP transformation wasn’t as dramatic, but it happened. Decades of neglect set the stage for a gradual embrace of former segregationists, who had either left the Democratic Party, or has been ejected. The South’s shift to a Republican stronghold, the collapse of white support for the Democratic Party—all of these are part of the story.
The problem with Williamson’s piece isn’t that he wants to uncover a narrative of Republican civil-rights advocacy. That’s an admirable goal, and one I support. The problem is that he’s used this as an occasion for partisan point scoring, and in the process, has twisted history to fit his ideological concerns. If his piece says anything, it’s that he doesn’t want to learn—he wants to be right.
You can see as much in his follow-up, where he hammers on Democratic opposition to the Civil Rights Act, ignoring its wide Democratic support in both chambers of Congress—46 of 67 Democrats voted for it in the Senate (69 percent) and 153 of 244 Democrats voted for it in the House (63 percent). The percentages were larger among Republicans, which owes itself to the fact that the chief divide on civil rights was sectional. Southern and border state state lawmakers voted against the law, Northern and Midwestern ones voted for it. And when Williamson dismisses the partisan shift of the South, he ignores the presidential vote, opting instead for congressional totals.
Again, it’s misleading: White Southerners jumped ship from Democratic presidential candidates in the 1960s, and this was followed by a similar shift on the congressional level, and eventually, the state legislative level. That the former two took time doesn’t discount the first.
I’m still unsure of what this revisionism is supposed to accomplish. If it’s to appeal to actual African American voters, you might want to try a different approach, since this one won’t work. But if it’s to assuage guilt and assure conservatives that they are, and have always been, on the right side of history, then—to borrow from President Obama—please proceed.
Mark Sanford is getting desperate.
At the beginning of this year, the South Carolina Republican looked like a good bet for the congressional seat that was vacated by Tim Scott after he was appointed senator (to replace arch-conservative Jim DeMint). Yes, the primary field was crowded, but he was a former governor who stood a chance at winning back voters alienated by his hike-not on the Appalachian Trail. And while he had a potentially strong Democratic opponent in Elizabeth Colbert-Busch—sister of comedian Stephen Colbert—odds were on his side; suburban South Carolina is tough territory for a Democrat.
Sanford won the primary in a run-off earlier this week, which was followed—almost immediately—by the complete unraveling of his campaign. First came the revelation that Sanford was regularly trespassing on the property of his ex-wife Jenny Sanford, in direct violation of their divorce decree. The most recent trespass came in early February, when Sanford was still fighting in a primary.
In response, the National Republican Congressional Committee took the step of withdrawing its support from Sanford’s campaign with a single—cold—comment. “Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections. At this time, the NRCC will not be engaged in this special election." And after that, a new survey from Public Policy Polling had Sanford down nine points against Colbert-Bush.
For now, it looks like the former governor is in free fall—again. To wit, he spent a chunk of today arguing against a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi, in a strange political stunt.Meanwhile, not coincidentally, Colbert-Busch was meeting with a group of local Republicans endorsing her campaign.So They Say
"What we’ve said to the girls is, ‘If you guys ever decided you’re going to get a tattoo, then mommy and me will get the exact same tattoo in the same place. And we’ll go on YouTube and show it off as a family tattoo."
—President Barack Obama, bestowing modern parenting advice
Daily Meme: You Don't Know George
- The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens in Dallas tomorrow, and the requisite wave of opinions, questions, and retrospectives is accompanying the event.
- So: What's the building like? According to Peter Baker, "No president produces a museum known for self-flagellation, and Mr. Bush’s is no exception. It does not ignore controversies like the weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq, but it does not dwell on them either."
- The center's editorial director says, “One of the instructions that he always gave throughout was that this museum is not a monument to him, but a monument to principles that brought him into public office. And that’s what inspired him, and that’s what still inspires him."
- These 24 charts of his presidency are also not a monument to him. Also quite short on inspiration.
- Ed Gillespie, a former Bush counselor, sees the library as an opportunity to sit in the Decision Points Theater and bask in the light of the salad Bush days—a nice time to think about, apparently, during the gosh-darn-terrible Obama presidency.
- Keith Hennessey, another former Bush White House hand, seeks to dispel all the "Bush is dumb" rumors. Heck, he's not just smart—he's smarter than all of you!
- But, Ezra Klein replies, even smart people make big mistakes. Look at Wall Street crumbling in 2007, with some of the smartest people in the country at the helm. "These are stories about how smart people can lead themselves and others down the wrong paths. To a large degree, they wouldn’t be able to do it if they weren’t smart, but that just proves that not all mistakes are dumb, and that being smart isn’t the same thing as being wise, right or capable."
- Whatever. Dubya doesn't care. As a friend told the National Journal, "He's enjoying the hell out of life. He's his loosey-goosey self again, the way he used to be."
What We're Writing
- David Dayen reports on the alternate reality where Treasury officials live, a beautiful land where Dodd-Frank is the bank-reform holy grail and additional whacks at Wall Street are unnecessary.
- Abby Rapoport reports on the alternate reality in which gay marriage may pass in Rhode Island with unanimous support of the GOP senators ... wait, what? No, this actually might happen!
- Will the SEC actually make public corporations disclose all their political spending? Nick Confessore reports.
- The American Spectator puts the words "Sarah Palin's Rack" on its cover. (What kind of rack, you ask? See, they've got you where they want you!)
- Ann Friedman issues some #realtalk on the gossip about New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.
- Richard Socarides wonders if the Supreme Court will join the bandwagon for gay marriage that is currently touring the globe.
- In an excerpt from his new book Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill reports on the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki.
- Alex Seitz-Wald asks an expert, "Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?"
- Anthony Weiner says there might be more dick pics in his future.
Pew just released a poll on the public's reaction to the dearly departed gun-control bill. Unsurprisingly, there's a partisan split. Two-thirds of Democrats are either disappointed or angry by the outcome, while just over half of Republicans are happy or very happy in the aftermath of the legislation's demise. If you look at the population at large, 47 percent expressed a negative reaction following the Senate's gun vote, while 39 percent had a positive reaction.