Norman Rockwell is dead. So is his America.
If you find that declaration sad, or possibly slanderous, you probably have fond memories of “the way we were” during a supposedly kinder and gentler time before the civil rights movement, women’s lib and cellphones. If you don’t shed tears over that America, you may have grown up as I did — oppressed by the strictures of a social and political system that didn’t show much respect to those who were not white male Christians.
Either way, the overwhelmingly white nation that Rockwell depicted in his sentimental paintings is gone. (I intend no disrespect to Rockwell, whose portrait of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges integrating a New Orleans school stands out in civil rights iconography.) Just last week, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed a trend long in evidence: The nation continues, inexorably, to grow darker.
For the year ending July 1, 2012, deaths among non-Hispanic whites exceeded births, the Census Bureau reported. The majority of births in this country are now to blacks, Asians and Latinas.
That trend helps to explain the discomfort among older conservative voters with immigration, which has been the driver of the nation’s increasing diversity. They see the country in which they grew up, in which they held the political, social and economic power, slipping away, becoming a place with which they are unfamiliar. Their anxiety boils down to a misplaced fear that they will be strangers in their own land.
Their misapprehensions are stoked and amplified by the right-wing media axis, which has spent years defining undocumented workers as barbarians at the gate and all people of color as suspect. Even as support grows in mainstream America for legalizing undocumented immigrants, the pit bulls of the right continue to denounce any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform as an unjustified “amnesty” to lawbreakers.
Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, the magazine founded by William Buckley, says so. So does former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Rush Limbaugh, as usual, doesn’t attempt subtlety as he argues that conservative voters would lose all political clout if undocumented immigrants gain citizenship: “There are legitimate fears that … Republicans/conservatives are gonna end up … outnumbered.”
If Limbaugh conflates conservatives with his listeners, he’s right. But they are dwindling, anyway. The Limbaugh audience, like the GOP primary voter, skews older. Looking toward voting patterns 10 to 20 years from now, Republican strategists have fretted over the party’s failure to appeal to younger voters.
One of the ways in which the GOP alienates younger Americans is with its harsh rhetoric and unwelcoming policies toward those who crossed the border illegally. According to a 2009 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 73 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 support giving them a path toward legal status.
Younger Americans have grown up in a more diverse nation, so they are far less likely to see those with darker skin and different accents as a threat. But there are good reasons for older white Americans to welcome immigrants, too — whether or not they entered the country with legal documents.
Without them, the United States would be doomed to the kind of demographic “bust” that countries from Japan to Russia are experiencing, with birth rates so low that the population is not reproducing itself. That has all sorts of dire economic consequences.
For one thing, there aren’t enough younger workers to support all the retirees. Japan’s long-running economic malaise has several causes, but its aging population — exacerbated by its hostility to immigrants — is surely one of them.
Whatever the long-term problems with our Social Security and Medicare programs, they’d be far worse without the Latinos, Asians and Africans who have revitalized rundown neighborhoods, invigorated popular culture and shared in the American Dream. As Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told The New York Times, the new census figures make “more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth.”
Their vitality ought to be welcomed.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, June 15, 2013
“Open Mouth, Insert Foot”: Darrell Issa Reverses Position, Refuses To Release Full Transcripts Of IRS Interviews
Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is refusing to release the full transcripts of interviews with Internal Revenue Service agents which supposedly prove his allegation that the White House directed the IRS to target Tea Party groups.
Last week, Issa shared excerpts of the interviews, which included allegations that “Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.” As a result, Issa declared on CNN’s State of the Union that the targeting was “a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters — and we’re getting to proving it.”
Issa also vowed that “the whole transcript would be put out,” presumably providing the evidence that his allegations have thus far lacked.
Since then, Issa has reversed his position. In a letter to Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) — the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, who has called on Issa to release the full transcript — Issa wrote that “if a full transcript were released, it would serve as a roadmap of the Committee’s investigation,” and called such an action “reckless.”
“It should be clear to you that the release of full interview transcripts at a point where additional witness interviews are likely would needlessly jeopardize the integrity of the investigation and hamper the Committee’s ability to get the truth,” Issa added.
Issa’s letter also explained why he thinks it was not a double standard to release a portion of the transcript on national television.
“The release of excerpts from witness interviews can serve to provide important updates to the public as the investigation progresses,” Issa wrote. “Limited releases of testimony may also serve to empower other witnesses to become whistleblowers and serve to vindicate individuals who have been subject to criticism or retaliation at the hands of their managers.”
Of course, it’s no coincidence that Issa’s limited releases strongly supported his long-held belief that President Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” By contrast, the excerpts that Cummings released on Wednesday — in which a self-identified “conservative Republican” IRS manager said that he did not have “any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases” — would not encourage the type of witnesses from whom Chairman Issa wants to hear, so he would rather keep that part of the record buried for as long as possible.
Issa’s selective leaking and complete about-face on releasing the full transcripts are just the latest in a series of hyper-partisan moves that have put some of his fellow Republicans on edge. With every day, it appears more and more likely that — as an unnamed senior Republican warned Politico – Issa “could jeopardize the biggest gift handed to them in months.”
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 12, 2013
“We Can’t Get Nothing To Stick”: When Politicians Ponder Optics And Atmosphere, The Red Flag Should Go Up
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) appeared yesterday on “Face the Nation” and seemed wholly unconcerned about the scope of the NSA surveillance programs. Indeed, like many of his congressional colleagues, McCaul expressed far more concern with prosecuting Edward Snowden for leaking the information than scaling back intelligence-gathering operations.
But notice how the Republican Texan chose to use the story to criticize President Obama anyway.
“The optics are terrible in this case when you consider the recent scandals,” said McCaul on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Ah, yes, the “optics.” McCaul has no problem with the NSA’s expansive surveillance programs, and has no intention of criticizing the efforts or voting for new restrictions, but he nevertheless sees a political problem for the White House — because of the “optics.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said something similar last week on “Meet the Press”:
“You know, when you look at the IRS and you look at the Benghazi issue and you look at the AP issue, I think the trouble here isn’t even the individual specific scandals, it’s this broader notion that there’s a pattern of this activity.”
See what he did there? The “individual specific scandals,” according to the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, don’t really matter. Indeed, they can’t really matter since the so-called “scandals” are either unrelated to the White House, deal with actions that are probably legal, or both.
So it becomes necessary to shift attention to “broader notions” and “optics,” since factual details are politically unsatisfying. It turns politicians into pundits, reflecting less on policy and more on perceptions.
Greg Sargent had a sharp take on this last week after hearing Rogers’ comments.
Those who remember the 1990s well … will recall that this is a time tested tactic. The goal is to create an overarching atmosphere of scandal, because this intensifies pressure on news orgs and reporters to hype individual revelations within that framework with little regard to the actual importance or significance of each new piece of information.
It’s worth emphasizing that all of this predates the NSA revelations. But it nevertheless provides a context to McCaul’s quote: “The optics are terrible in this case when you consider the recent scandals.”
Or to put another way, “We couldn’t get any of the scandals to stick, but we created an environment with some vague notion of the White House in crisis, despite the absence of wrongdoing. We can therefore opportunistically complain about NSA activities, even if we endorse them and want them to continue.”
When politicians talk about “optics,” instead of specifics, red flags should immediately go up.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2013
“Obamacare Is Killing The GOP”: Republicans’ Opiate Obsession With The Law Will Be The Party’s Undoing
It’s not an exaggeration to say Republicans have bet their future on the disaster they expect from Obamacare. “The implementation of the law over the next year is going to reveal a lot of kinks, a lot of red tape, a lot of taxes, a lot of price increases,” RNC spokesman Brad Dayspring told The New York Times last month. “It’s going to be an issue that’s front and center [in 2014].” GOP intellectuals see Obamacare as the centerpiece of the party’s strategy even well beyond then. “Republicans are likely to seize on every sad [implementation] story as justification for dramatic changes—and in 2016, mount campaigns designed to replace the system in whole or in part with plenty of material to use in their cause,” the conservative wonk Ben Domenech wrote approvingly in March.
And, of course, the party’s base is completely, unremittingly, obsessed with the issue. The mere anticipation of an implementation quagmire is “reinvigorating the movement,” Jenny Beth Martin, a national Tea Party official, told The Hill in early May. “We’re doing street rallies and protests over the next month to three months, initially. We’re working to recruit candidates that can talk about this.”
I happen to be agnostic about whether health care implementation will help the GOP in 2014. On the one hand, anything that energizes conservatives in a low-turnout election should benefit Republicans, much as it did on 2010. On the other hand, as The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent points out, much of the public antipathy toward Obamacare is already baked into the polls. The people who disapprove haven’t liked it from the get-go; similarly for the people who approve. It’s possible that a series of implementation snafus will move those numbers at the margins—a new poll suggests public opinion has soured a bit lately, perhaps as a result of all the “train wreck” chatter. On the other hand, it’s also possible that implementation will go relatively smoothly and people will embrace the program, netting Democrats a few more votes.
What I do know is that the GOP’s health care preoccupation is absolutely destroying its long-term prospects. However well the issue may work in the midterms, when an uptick in conservative turnout can flip a few dozen House seats, 2012 proved that it’s at best a wash in a presidential election, when Democrats can swamp that turnout with their demographic edge, and when the GOP’s challenge is to win moderates and independents as a result. Conservatives argue that the only reason health care didn’t work in 2012 is that Romney was a flawed messenger, given his patrimonial link to Obamacare. But with the Supreme Court largely blessing the law last June, the issue was mostly settled in the public mind, making it at best a non-factor among swing voters.
Even if implementation goes terribly, it isn’t likely to rekindle widespread angst. Most people will be untouched by implementation—even a disastrous implementation—for the simple reason that they won’t be relying on Obamacare. As Bloomberg’s Josh Barro has explained, 78 percent of us get coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, or our employers, a figure isn’t likely to change very much, or at least very quickly. Meanwhile, my colleague Jonathan Cohn points out that life for many people who do end up on Obamacare will improve, however flawed the program is, because it translates into insurance they didn’t have before.
Having said all that, the real problem with conservatives’ Obamacare strategy isn’t that it won’t work. It’s that the Obamacare obsession is actively sabotaging the GOP. Earlier this week The Washington Post ran an article about the ongoing dysfunction among House Republicans. Easily the most telling anecdote had to do with a largely symbolic measure called the Helping Sick Americans Now Act, concocted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor to help Republicans look like they care about the problems of ordinary people. (The bill feinted at easing the lot of the uninsured.) That, apparently, is where Cantor erred. As the Post explains:
A few dozen Republicans opposed the modest Helping Sick Americans legislation because they said it came from nowhere. Instead, Cantor pulled the bill and held another vote to repeal Obamacare — their 37th attempt to repeal part or all of the landmark health-care law — to appease conservatives.
To put the problem in Marxian terms, Obamacare has become the opiate of the GOP. By its own admission, the party must broaden its appeal to Latinos, gays, and young voters. It needs an economic agenda that encompasses more than tax cuts for the rich and brutal spending cuts. It has to persuade voters it’s more than just a nihilistic force bent on triggering global financial apocalypse if it doesn’t get its way in Washington. And yet, when party leaders so much as broach these liabilities, conservatives revolt and the leadership caves, appeasing them with an issue whose political utility peaked two-and-a-half years ago. (Suffice it to say, after the last few years, the words “reinvigorating the Tea Party movement” won’t exactly help Cantor and Boehner sleep at night.)
If you want to appreciate how truly incorrigible conservatives are on the subject, I recommend watching them grapple with the early news about Obamacare implementation, which has suggested the program could work better than anticipated. It’s a bit like watching a speculator learn he’s bet his life savings on a failing company—which is to say, chock full of denial and elaborate self-delusion.
For example, in late May, when the head of California’s insurance exchange announced that insurers were submitting cheaper bids than the state expected (and cheaper than many critics predicted), the conservative columnist Avik Roy tried to disprove the claims by visiting an online clearinghouse for private insurance plans. Roy solicited bids for a healthy 25-year-old male and a healthy 40-year old male, then pointed out that they came in far below what coverage would cost through the Obamacare exchange. All fine and good, except that Roy’s hypothetical bids were neither here nor there. The point of Obamacare is to provide affordable insurance to people who may be sick or older.
Alas, the fact that Roy basically affirmed the rationale for a program he set out to discredit—healthy, affluent young people are the one group that will do worse under Obamacare; everyone else will do better; no one has ever disputed this—didn’t stop every conservative outlet on the Internet from trumpeting his analysis. “Obamacare drives up insurance premiums by up to 146 percent in California,” screamed The Daily Caller. Even after a succession of wonks highlighted the glaring flaws, the editorialists at The Wall Street Journal leaned on Roy to declare an “ObamaCare Bait and Switch.”
The desperation here is palpable, but also understandable. If, instead of trying to fix your party’s deepest pathologies you wagered its entire future on a high-risk strategy that was starting to turn bad, you’d be a little desperate, too. Perhaps it’s a subset of Obama Derangement Syndrome that afflicts conservatives when they talk about health care—call it Obamacare Derangement Syndrome. Maybe one day, once the dust has settled, it’ll be covered under Obamacare, too.
By: Norm Scheiber, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 7, 2013
“Snowden And The Right”: The Republican Thermogenic Desire To See Barack Obama Have A Bad Day At The Office, Whatever It Takes
Here’s something I’ll certainly be keeping one eye fixed on as the Edward Snowden story advances: the degree to which the American right takes him up as a cause célèbre. They’re up a tree either way. If they do, then they’re obviously guilty of the rankest hypocrisy imaginable, because we all know that if Snowden had come forward during George W. Bush’s presidency, the right-wing media would by now have sniffed out every unsavory fact about his life (and a hefty mountain of fiction) in an effort to tar him. If they don’t, then they’ve lost an opportunity to sully Barack Obama. Since they like smearing Obama a lot more than they care about hypocrisy, my guess is that they will lionize him, as some already are. But in the long run, doing that will only expose how deep the rifts are between the national-security right and the libertarian right, and this issue will only extend and intensify those disagreements.
First out of the gate Sunday was Glenn Beck, who tweeted in the late afternoon, not too long after The Guardian posted the interview with Snowden: “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” Shortly thereafter, another: “Courage finally. Real. Steady. Thoughtful. Transparent. Willing to accept the consequences. Inspire w/Malice toward none.” And two hours after that: “The NSA patriot leaker is just yet another chance for America to regain her moral compass and set things right. No red or blue JUST TRUTH.”
Beck, I will concede, has a degree of credibility on the red/blue issue. He criticizes Republicans sometimes. Even so, it amounts to a speck of dust when set against his near-daily sermons (for years now) about liberal and Democratic fascism. So I wonder about the degree to which Beck would have hopped up to throw rose petals at young Snowden’s feet if he’d come forward in this way under the Bush administration.
About Beck, we can wonder. About the others, I think there is no reason to wonder at all. If Snowden’s parents had got about the business of conceiving him five or six years before they did, and the progeny had taken up this line of work in 2007 or 2008, it’s obvious that The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com, two right-wing outfits that Sunday evening were triumphantly bannering Snowden’s comments and the National Security Agency’s announced investigation into the matter, would have been savaging the guy. By close of business today, the rumors about his sexuality would be rampant.
They just want any cudgel they can find to beat Obama over the head, so Snowden suits their purposes for now. But let’s see where they go on this one over the long haul. On Sunday morning, Sen. Rand Paul called for a Supreme Court–level challenge to the NSA, in the form of a class-action suit, to end this data-mining. How’s that going to sit with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Reince Priebus, and the moneymen behind the Republican Party? Not very well.
Yes, the subject of the national-security state gives liberals and Democrats fits. We’re not “supposed” to do or support this sort of thing, because we believe in and hew to certain civil-libertarian principles. Conservatives, on the other hand, burdened with no such principles, can let it rip. No one expects ethical behavior of them in these arenas in the first place. It thus amuses me to watch conservatives attack liberals on the grounds of “hypocrisy” (if, say, they defend the Obama administration on this story) when everyone knows that (most) conservatives think civil liberties are some conspiracy against America.
But the bigger an issue conservatives try to make of this now, the more controversial the question of citizen-monitoring will become, and when that happens, the blowback is going to be much fiercer on the right than on the left, especially as we head toward 2016. On the left, Democrats will speak of the need for “balance” but not force a major debate on the issue, particularly if the nomination is essentially Hillary Clinton’s for the asking.
But on the right, the issue threatens to be much more disruptive. What used to be the Ron Paul–crank-libertarian faction, easily outnumbered by the neocons, is growing, and his son—a senator rather than just a congressman, young rather than curmudgeonly old, able to appeal to groups his father could not—is a much stronger standard-bearer for the anti-war-machine, pro-civil-libertarian message. Paul, it seems, is definitely running for president, and given the field, he’ll probably be in the first tier of contenders. He’ll have the ability to force a debate about these issues in a way his father never could.
The war caucus still dominates inside the GOP. But what really dominates the Republican Party mindset, what conquers everything, is the thermogenic desire to see Barack Obama have a bad day at the office, whatever it takes. So to the extent that Snowden proves useful to them in the coming days and weeks, they will use him. And liberals should say: let them.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 10, 2013