Republican voters must be steaming mad.
But they don’t seem to show it despite the political malpractice of their party leaders over the last several years.
Republicans bet everything to defeat President Obama’s health care reform plan — without ever offering a real alternative or working with Democrats to find common ground. Then they doubled-down on hopes the Supreme Court would overturn the law. They doubled-down again believing that voters would deny President Obama re-election and they could repeal the law. They lost every time. Now, the country will live under a health care law — for probably a generation or more — that could have been based on many Republican ideas had they simply negotiated.
The GOP is doing the same thing with the budget sequester fast approaching on March 1. President Obama wants additional tax revenues by closing loopholes in the tax code as part of a plan to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts. He’s also promised significant cuts — including to both Social Security and Medicare — in return. But Republicans on Capitol Hill aren’t interested. They could likely win more spending cuts than they would have to concede in new tax revenues if they negotiated. Instead, they dig in.
The GOP’s stance is especially maddening since just two months ago they were willing to raise tax revenues by closing loopholes during the “fiscal cliff” debate. Now every Republican leader speaks from the same talking points saying additional tax revenues are “off the table.” As a result, the country will get fewer but more damaging spending cuts via the sequester.
Common sense would suggest Republican voters would rise up against their party leaders for failing so dismally to advance their party’s stated goals. Their silence is deafening.
By: Taegan Goddard, The Cloakroom with Taegan Goddard, The Week, February 19, 2013
As Vice President Joe Biden plotted his task force’s plan of action on gun control this week, he invited representatives Walmart to the White House to talk about it. That makes sense—as we detailed last month, the retail giant is the biggest seller of weapons and ammunition in the United States. Stakeholders as far-flung as the hunting groups Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever were invited to meet with Biden’s task force, so Walmart surely has a place at the table.
In fact, many progressives and gun control advocates argue this is a very positive development .The thinking goes like this: Walmart would stand to benefit from a strengthened background check system, because independent sellers would have to go to a certified gun retailer (like Walmart) to conduct background checks—or might stop selling guns altogether, thus sending more customers Walmart’s way. The chain also must protect its image as a responsible, family-friendly store: it previously partnered with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to adopt tougher standards for gun sales.
So maybe Walmart can hop on board and advocate for the White House’s gun control package, thus lending a significant voice and lobbying power to the good guys’ side, and creating a crucial rift between gun retailers and manufacturers.
That all sounds good—if it happens like that. (Store officials haven’t yet announced any position on gun control following the White House meetings.) But there’s significant reason to suspect it won’t work out so splendidly. Clearly, the best of both worlds for Walmart would be a strengthened background check system that drives new customers to its stores, and no assault weapons ban.
Gun sales are a key part of Walmart’s recent sales spike, and have shot up 76 percent over the past two years. Walmart doesn’t sell handguns, and so assault rifles make up a significant portion of its gun inventory and thus its increasing sales. Meanwhile, there’s big pressure on Walmart from manufacturers not to stop carrying assault weapons. Freedom Group, a large gun manufacturing conglomerate and maker of the infamous Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, said in its most recent financial report that “In the event that Wal-Mart were to significantly reduce or terminate its purchases of firearms, ammunition and/or other products from us, our financial condition or results of operations and cash flows could be adversely affected.”
Walmart has already shown great hesitancy to pull back whatsoever on assault weapons sales. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, as competitors like Dick’s Sporting Goods yanked all assault rifles from shelves temporarily, Walmart didn’t stop selling a single assault weapon.
So: would Walmart be able so support the White House package upfront, perhaps even winning some special goodies that would drive customers specifically to its stores for background checks, while quietly killing the assault weapons ban behind the scenes? It’s happened before, in a very similar dynamic.
During the healthcare reform battles, the Obama White House was eager to get health insurance companies behind the reform push, and they had every reason to do so—the individual mandate meant millions of new customers. So the industry signed on. But there were many other aspects of the legislation it didn’t like, like the medical loss ratio and the public option. So behind everyone’s back, the health industry funneled massive amounts of money—$102.4 million dollars—to the US Chamber of Commerce to fight those aspects of the bill. This dark money was exceptionally difficult to track, but National Journal did it, months after the final legislation was passed.
Walmart, today, already sends significant amounts of money to strong opponents of gun control. The Walmart 1% blog found that between 2010 and 2012, Walmart gave over $1 million to candidates backed by the NRA. They note that “among politicians with 2012 grades from the NRA, 84% of the Waltons’ 2010-2012 cycle contributions went to candidates with scores between A+ and A-.”
So the retail giant already has some money baked into the anti-gun control cake in Washington, and could certainly promise more to these members if they vigorously oppose an assault weapons ban. Moreover, the dark money problem looms large. As Lee Fang has noted, the NRA has a half-dozen legal entities, many of them able to accept undisclosed donations to mount attack ads and lobbying campaigns. Walmart could easily dump money into these groups and it’s likely we would never know.
An outcome where the background check system is strengthened but there is no assault weapons ban is quite possible: even some conservative members of Congress with ‘A’ ratings from the NRA are coming out for better background checks. Walmart, ever the canny DC operator, must know that this is in reach. I would personally be shocked if the two-step strategy described above isn’t what they end up pursuing.
In that scenario, more gun buyers would be herded to Walmart, where there are plenty of assault rifles helpfully on sale. This is not a good result for gun control advocates. A full assault weapons ban should be enacted—and if Walmart is serious about being a good citizen and backing responsible gun measures, it should lead the way by discontinuing all assault weapon sales. Until it does that, beware any role it plays in the reform process.
By: George Zornick, The Nation, January 11, 2013
I decided to support Barack Obama pretty early in the Democratic primary, around spring of 2007. But unlike so many of his supporters, I never experienced a kind of emotional response to his candidacy. I never felt his election would change everything about American politics or government, that it would lead us out of the darkness. Nothing Obama did or said ever made me well up with tears.
Possibly for that same reason, I have never felt even a bit of the crushing sense of disappointment that at various times has enveloped so many Obama voters. I supported Obama because I judged him to have a keen analytical mind, grasping both the possibilities and the limits of activist government, and possessed of excellent communicative talents. I thought he would nudge government policy in an incrementally better direction. I consider his presidency an overwhelming success.
I can understand why somebody who never shared Obama’s goals would vote against his reelection. If you think the tax code already punishes the rich too heavily, that it’s not government’s role to subsidize health insurance for those who can’t obtain it, that the military shouldn’t have to let gays serve openly, and so on, then Obama’s presidency has been a disaster, but you probably didn’t vote for him last time. For anybody who voted for Obama in 2008 and had even the vaguest sense of his platform, the notion that he has fallen short of some plausible performance threshold seems to me unfathomable.
Obama’s résumé of accomplishments is broad and deep, running the gamut from economic to social to foreign policy. The general thrust of his reforms, especially in economic policy, has been a combination of politically radical and ideologically moderate. The combination has confused liberals into thinking of Obamaism as a series of sad half-measures, and conservatives to deem it socialism, but the truth is neither. Obama’s agenda has generally hewed to the consensus of mainstream economists and policy experts. What makes the agenda radical is that, historically, vast realms of policy had been shaped by special interests for their own benefit. Plans to rationalize those things, to write laws that make sense, molder on think-tank shelves for years, even generations. They are often boring. But then Obama, in a frenetic burst of activity, made many of them happen all at once.
Bipartisan panels of economists had long urged Medicare to reform its payment methods to curb perverse incentives by hospitals and doctors to run up costs as high as possible; Obama overcame fierce resistance in Congress in order to craft, as part of Obamacare, a revolution in paying for quality rather than quantity. He eliminated billions of dollars in useless subsidies to banks funneling (at no risk) government loans to college students. By dangling federal public-education grants, Obama unleashed a wave of public-school reform, over the objections of the most recalcitrant elements of the teachers union movement. And he forced Wall Street to accept financial regulations that, while weaker than ideal, were far tougher than anybody considered possible to get through Congress.
It is noteworthy that four of the best decisions that Obama made during his presidency ran against the advice of much of his own administration. Numerous Democrats in Congress and the White House urged him to throw in the towel on health-care reform, but he was one of very few voices in his administration determined to see it through. Many of his own advisers, both economists steeped in free-market models and advisers anxious about a bailout-weary public, argued against his decision to extend credit to, and restructure, the auto industry. On Libya, Obama’s staff presented him with options either to posture ineffectually or do nothing; he alone forced them to draw up an option that would prevent a massacre. And Obama overruled some cautious advisers and decided to kill Osama bin Laden.
The latter three decisions are all highly popular now, but all of them carried the risk of inflicting a mortal political wound, like Bill Clinton’s health-care failure and Jimmy Carter’s attempted raid into Iran. (George W. Bush, presented with a similar option, did not strike bin Laden.) In making these calls, Obama displayed judgment and nerve.
A year ago, I wrote about the pervasive disillusionment felt by Obama’s supporters. It is a sentiment that has shadowed every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt, and even Roosevelt provoked long bouts of agony and disillusionment among his supporters. All were seen by many Democrats at the time as failures, weaklings, or unprincipled deal-makers. It’s true that all of them, including Obama, have made terrible errors. What this tells us, though, is that we need some realistic baseline against which to measure them.
Obama can boast a record of accomplishment that bests any president since Roosevelt, and has fewer demerits on his record than any of them, including Roosevelt. The only president that comes close in gross positive accomplishment is Lyndon Johnson, whose successes were overwhelmed by his failures to such a degree that he abandoned his reelection campaign. The immediacy of the political moment can — and usually does — blind us. (In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the wide and even bipartisan sentiment prevailed that George W. Bush was exactly the right sort of person we would want to have as president at that moment.)
The sense among Obama’s wavering supporters that he has failed rests upon a two-part indictment. The first and most potent is that he has presided over a weak economy. This line of attack on Obama became inevitable starting on approximately September 14, 2008, when the U.S. financial system imploded. The economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have established that financial crises wreak vastly deeper harm than regular recessions. Financial crises freak out consumers, and they freak out political elites in a way that creates a panicked stampede toward exactly the wrong sorts of policies (like reducing short-term deficits) that in turn makes the crisis even worse.
This panic has impeded Obama’s recovery measures. But the fact remains that, by the standards of a financial crisis, the United States suffered through a relatively shallow trough and has enjoyed a fairly rapid recovery. (Here is a chart laying out the comparison between the United States and other comparably afflicted economies.) Obama managed to stabilize the financial system and, through the stimulus, avert a total collapse in consumer demand.
But while America has suffered less since 2008 than other victims of a financial crisis, it has suffered. Obama’s notable success in containing the damage has not redounded to his benefit for another, even more historically durable reason: Voters tend to blame or credit incumbent politicians for the state of their lives utterly regardless of responsibility. This is not even limited to things like the economy, where politicians can affect the outcome. Voters reward or punish incumbents based on the weather or the success of local sports teams. Mitt Romney’s campaign theme attempting to assign all blame to Obama for the state of the economy is a clever manipulation of this long-standing form of irrationality. In 2004, Romney dismissed any attempt to blame George W. Bush for the decline of jobs under his watch as “poppycock.” In his most condescending tone, Romney explained that of course outside forces were to blame — those outside forces being the vastly milder 2001 recession — and that attempting to hold Bush responsible for the economic record of his term was sheer stupidity. Now Romney has made that very theme the central basis of his presidential campaign.
The second indictment of Obama is that he failed to redeem the broader vision of trans-partisan governance he campaigned on. The reason this happened is that the Republicans’ leadership in Congress grasped early on that its path to returning to power required Obama to fail, and that they could help bring this about by denying his initiatives any support. In a meeting before Obama’s inauguration reported by Time’s Michael Grunwald, the House Republican leadership instructed their members on exactly this strategy. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has followed the same strategy. GOP House members and senators have admitted, some of them publicly, that their leadership prevailed upon them not to negotiate with Obama.
Partisan strife between Congress and the president has gone on for decades. In the past, members of Congress often opposed the president’s agenda, but they also believed that the voters would punish them if they failed to show accomplishments, and so they carefully balanced their substantive opposition with a sense of political self-preservation. What makes the Republican opposition different is that it rests upon a novel, and probably true, insight. Most Americans pay little attention to the details of policy. They rely upon a broad heuristic — if something has touched off an ugly and protracted battle, it is probably bad, but if both sides agree on it, it is probably good. Even many Sunday political talk-show chatterers and other blowhards use the same basic thought process. And so, as McConnell actually said out loud, “if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out.” McConnell, in keeping with his Bond-villain habit of boasting openly about his nefarious intentions, actually announced in a prepared speech that his top political priority was to make Obama a one-term president.
The Republican strategy is perfectly clear and not even very well hidden. Yet many of us don’t accept it as a reality because it does not feel true. We instinctively hold the president, not Congress, responsible, another finding political scientists have measured. The hunger to attribute all outcomes to the president is so deep that the political elite take it on faith. Bob Woodward, who is justly famed as a reporter but whose opinions are interesting only as a barometer of Washington establishmentarianism, blamed Obama because Republicans turned down an extraordinarily favorable budget deal. “Presidents work their will — or should work their will,” Woodward declared, “on the important matters of national business.”
How can a president “work his will” in such a way as to force autonomous members of the opposite party controlling a co-equal branch of government to sacrifice their own calculated self-interest? It is a form of magical thinking, but a pervasive one. Which is exactly why the Republican strategy — making Obama’s promise to transcend partisanship fail by withholding cooperation — has worked.
Whether this strategy succeeds in its ultimate goal — returning the GOP to power in 2013 — depends on the election. In an unusual way, the success of Obama’s first term hangs in large part on his reelection bid, as a President Romney would probably kill his grandest achievement of providing health insurance to those Americans too sick or poor to acquire it in the marketplace. So any evaluation of Obama’s term before the election must be provisional.
What can be said without equivocation is that Obama has proven himself morally, intellectually, temperamentally, and strategically. In my lifetime, or my parents’, he is easily the best president. On his own terms, and not merely as a contrast to an unacceptable alternative, he overwhelmingly deserves reelection.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, October 31, 2012
The so-called “mainstream media” (aka The New York Times) is constantly being assailed by Republicans and the right for their supposedly liberal slant. Yet another convenient right-wing lie.
Take, for example, Saturday’s above-the-fold NY Times story, entitled (in the print edition that arrived at my home this morning): “Romney Recalled as Leader Who Savors Details.”
It’s mainly a puff piece, aglow with Romney’s supposed managerial prowess. Coming just a bit more than three weeks before Election Day, it attempts to confirm Romney’s central selling point – that he can run the government better than Obama.
Nowhere does the Times bother to mention that Romney’s campaign has been devoid of any detail at all — details about his economic plan, his budget plan, his plan for what to replace Obamacare with, his plan to replace Dodd-Frank, or even details about the taxes he’s paid.
When he was governor of Massachusetts, the citizens of the Commonwealth had no idea what he was doing (I can attest because I was there, and as much in the dark as most people). He kept the details of his governing to himself and his staff. And he spent most of his last two years in office laying the groundwork for his run for the presidency.
Romney has always savored details when it helps him make money. But when it comes to running or holding office he’s been a standout for avoiding all details and keeping the public in the dark.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, October 20, 2012
“No. 1,” declared Mitt Romney in Wednesday’s debate, “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.” No, they aren’t — as Mr. Romney’s own advisers have conceded in the past, and did again after the debate.
Was Mr. Romney lying? Well, either that or he was making what amounts to a sick joke. Either way, his attempt to deceive voters on this issue was the biggest of many misleading and/or dishonest claims he made over the course of that hour and a half. Yes, President Obama did a notably bad job of responding. But I’ll leave the theater criticism to others and talk instead about the issue that should be at the heart of this election.
So, about that sick joke: What Mr. Romney actually proposes is that Americans with pre-existing conditions who already have health coverage be allowed to keep that coverage even if they lose their job — as long as they keep paying the premiums. As it happens, this is already the law of the land. But it’s not what anyone in real life means by having a health plan that covers pre-existing conditions, because it applies only to those who manage to land a job with health insurance in the first place (and are able to maintain their payments despite losing that job). Did I mention that the number of jobs that come with health insurance has been steadily declining over the past decade?
What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do.
How many Americans would be left out in the cold under Mr. Romney’s plan? One answer is 89 million. According to the nonpartisan Commonwealth Foundation, that’s the number of Americans who lack the “continuous coverage” that would make them eligible for health insurance under Mr. Romney’s empty promises. By the way, that’s more than a third of the U.S. population under 65 years old.
Another answer is 45 million, the estimated number of people who would have health insurance if Mr. Obama were re-elected, but would lose it if Mr. Romney were to win.
That estimate reflects two factors. First, Mr. Romney proposes repealing the Affordable Care Act, which means doing away with all the ways in which that law would help tens of millions of Americans who either have pre-existing conditions or can’t afford health insurance for other reasons. Second, Mr. Romney is proposing drastic cuts in Medicaid — basically to save money that he could use to cut taxes on the wealthy — which would deny essential health care to millions more Americans. (And, no, despite what he has said, you can’t get the care you need just by going to the emergency room.)
Wait, it gets worse. The true number of victims from Mr. Romney’s health proposals would be much larger than either of these numbers, for a couple of reasons.
One is that Medicaid doesn’t just provide health care to Americans too young for Medicare; it also pays for nursing care and other necessities for many older Americans.
Also, many Americans have health insurance but live under the continual threat of losing it. Obamacare would eliminate this threat, but Mr. Romney would bring it back and make it worse. Safety nets don’t just help people who actually fall, they make life more secure for everyone who might fall. But Mr. Romney would take that security away, not just on health care but across the board.
What about the claim made by a Romney adviser after the debate that states could step in to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions? That’s nonsense on many levels. For one thing, Mr. Romney wants to eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales, depriving states of regulatory power. Furthermore, if all you do is require that insurance companies cover everyone, healthy people will wait until they’re sick to sign up, leading to sky-high premiums. So you need to couple regulations on insurers with a requirement that everyone have insurance. And, to make that feasible, you have to offer insurance subsidies to lower-income Americans, which have to be paid for at a federal level.
And what you end up with is — precisely — the health reform President Obama signed into law.
One could wish that Mr. Obama had made this point effectively in the debate. He had every right to jump up and say, “There you go again”: Not only was Mr. Romney’s claim fundamentally dishonest, it has already been extensively debunked, and the Romney campaign itself has admitted that it’s false.
For whatever reason, the president didn’t do that, on health care or on anything else. But, as I said, never mind the theater criticism. The fact is that Mr. Romney tried to mislead the public, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 4, 2012