I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.
But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:
A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.
It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.
Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.
Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014
“How Not To Get Your Country Back”: Americans Who Want Their Country Back Should Follow Their Elders’ Example
The Tea Party mantra, “I want my country back,” resonates with many. The racial undertones can be ugly (as well as pointless). But the longing for an economically secure America centered on a strong middle class is on point and widely shared.
Older and mostly white members of the far right tend to see themselves as model Americans who worked hard, saved up and played by the rules. They may have done all the above, but many also have no idea of how easy they had it.
After World War II, Americans with no college could walk into a factory and obtain a job paying middle-class wages. Global competition was a future threat. Today’s retirees are among the last Americans to enjoy the most golden of benefits, including a defined pension check, guaranteed for the rest of their lives.
More troubling than the tunnel vision, though, is the right’s program for restoring the country it purports to miss. The ideological obsession with slashing taxes, shrinking government and keeping labor as cheap as possible is downright destructive.
The America of yore did not build its middle class that way.
When President Dwight Eisenhower backed the construction of the interstate highway system in 1956, the top marginal rate for individual income taxes was 91 percent. Older taxpayers bore their burdens more or less stoically (and there wasn’t Medicare to pay their parents’ doctor bills). Building America was the public-spirited thing to do.
Fast-forward to the economic crash of 2008. The infrastructure was in shambles and unemployment high. Robust stimulus spending was the ticket out of both dilemmas. But even though the top marginal rate was only 35 percent, fringe conservatives controlling the Republican Party fought against government intervention every inch of the way — lest Congress raise taxes one dime.
Kansas has become the patient on which to conduct this experiment at its most extreme, and the results are disastrous. Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through wild tax cuts, mainly benefiting the well-to-do, while placing Kansas classrooms, libraries and other public services on a starvation diet.
And what do Kansans have to show for it? The tax cuts drained their state of $300 million in expected revenues for the recent fiscal year. (Where’s that explosion of economic activity that the theorists said would make up the difference?) Meanwhile, earnings are falling faster and jobs growing more slowly than the national average.
The bond rating agencies remain unimpressed. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have lowered Kansas’ credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow.
Study after economic study shows the 21st-century spoils going to the educated. And here we have Kansas cannibalizing its schools just as competing states are restoring their education spending.
One wishes older conservatives opposed to raising the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, took an honest look at the wages government guaranteed them back when. The minimum wage in 1968 was the equivalent of $10.90 in today’s dollars.
A new study of the 20 major economies finds the U.S. minimum wage among the lowest relative to the country’s average wage. China, Brazil and Turkey did better.
The minimum wage helps less skilled workers but also influences the pay levels higher up the scale. Putting more money in the pockets of those likeliest to spend it fuels economic demand.
Tax policy does matter, and there is such a thing as government waste. But in the end, a middle class is nurtured on good schools, roads and other public services. They cost money.
Americans who want their middle-class country back should follow their elders’ example. A little gratitude would be nice, too.
By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, September 16, 2014
“When Moderates Fight Back”: Middle-Of-The-Road Republicans Are Now Attacking The GOP From The Outside
The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.
In Kansas, Democrat Chad Taylor shook up the Senate race by dropping out last week, giving an independent candidate, Greg Orman, a clean shot at the incumbent, Pat Roberts.
At least one poll showed Orman with a 10-point lead over the 78-year-old Roberts in a two-way race. Republicans are so afraid of Orman that Kansas’s Republican (and unabashedly ideological) secretary of state, Kris Kobach, used a technicality to keep Taylor’s name on the November ballot anyway. Taylor is challenging the decision.
In Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott ended his candidacy for governor and chose instead to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket led by an independent candidate, Bill Walker. By combining forces, Walker and Mallott hope to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
Because of the revolution in Republican politics spearheaded by the tea party, these should not be treated as isolated episodes. They are both signs that moderates, particularly moderate Republicans, are fighting back.
The safe journalistic trope is that both of our major parties have become more “extreme.” This is simply not true. It’s the Republican Party that’s veered far off center. To deny the fact is to disrespect the hard work of conservatives in taking over the GOP.
By contrast, there are still plenty of moderates in the Democratic Party. They include Sens. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All of them are threatened in this fall’s elections by conservative or right-wing Republicans. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is another moderate on the ballot this year, but so far, he seems safe.
On the other hand, outright liberals have been losing primaries in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, particularly in Senate races. In the House, the few remaining liberal Republicans (one thinks of Maryland’s Connie Morella and Iowa’s Jim Leach) were defeated because Democrats in their districts finally decided that electing even Republicans they liked only empowered the party’s increasingly conservative congressional leadership.
As for the Republican establishment, it may have overcome many tea party challenges this year, but it is increasingly captive to the right wing.
This summer, conservative writers Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru offered an insightful analysis of the tea party-establishment dynamic in an article in National Review appropriately titled “Establishment Tea.” Lowry and Ponnuru argued that the establishment candidates who triumphed did so largely on the tea party’s terms, though the authors put the matter somewhat more politely. “Candidates who make the case that they will fight for conservative ideas, and not just serve time,” they wrote, “can win tea-party support.”
What’s happening in Kansas is particularly revealing of the backlash against the right from moderate Republicans. Although Roberts is not a tea party candidate — indeed, he defeated a tea party challenger in last month’s primary — the Senate race could be influenced by the state’s contest for governor, one of the most important in the country.
Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has championed an unapologetic tea party, tax-cutting agenda and has sought to purge moderate Republicans who opposed him from the state legislature. Many GOP moderates have responded by endorsing Brownback’s opponent, Democrat Paul Davis. A Brownback defeat would be a major blow to the right.
“The moderates have said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Dan Glickman, a moderate Democrat who represented the area around Wichita in Congress for 18 years. In an interview, Glickman argued that the rightward tilt is antithetical to the GOP’s history in Kansas, a state that sent both Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, in her day a leading GOP moderate, to the Senate.
“The Republican Party in Kansas was always a heartland, common-sense, moderate or moderately conservative party,” Glickman said, adding that at times, it has had a strongly progressive contingent as well.
Orman has been almost maddeningly disciplined in not revealing which party he would caucus with if he defeated Roberts. With national Republican operatives pouring into the state to save the three-term incumbent’s floundering campaign, the battle will get a lot tougher.
But already, Republicans are learning that the cost of driving moderates away could get very high. What middle-of-the-roaders could not accomplish inside the party, they may achieve by attacking from outside the gates.
BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2014
“Don’t Be Fooled, The GOP Wants Impeachment”: A Litmus Test To Separate Constitutional Conservatives From RINO’s
In Washington, the conversation about impeachment is preceded by a conversation about a conversation about impeachment.
Democrats say Republicans are bring up the I-word to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings for high crimes and misdemeanors after the November elections; Republicans say this is nonsense—it is Democrats who are fanning these Clintonian flames in order to paint the GOP as out of touch and energize their base. “A scam,” House Speaker John Boehner called it. A ploy, Karl Rove labeled impeachment talk in his Wall Street Journal column, by a cynical president trying to distract from his failed agenda.
Rove and the Republicans do have a point. Congressional Democrats have used any chatter about impeaching President Obama as their own personal cash register, sending out a slew of fundraising emails warning of an imminent trial. Conservatives have noted a recent study that found that MSNBC mentioned impeachment 448 times in July—that’s once every 22 minutes—while the subject came up just 95 times on Fox News during the same time period.
But travel outside the Beltway, and the conversation about impeachment is far from abstract. In fact, in the remaining Republican primaries across the country, the issue is front-and-center, with GOP candidates signaling that they are more likely than their opponents to remove Obama from the Oval Office.
“I would certainly vote for impeachment,” said Joshua Joel Tucker, a computer systems analyst running for Congress in southeast Kansas against incumbent U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the August 5 primary. “If you look up the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, one of them is malfeasance, which is basically not doing the job you are supposed to do. And I don’t think anybody could say that Obama is doing the job he is supposed to do.”
In the neighboring 4th District, incumbent Mike Pompeo and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt are locked in a fierce battle in which, according to one local newspaper, the need to impeach the president seems to be the only thing they can agree on.
At a recent forum, Pompeo said that the president had engaged in “absolute overreach.” “If such a bill were introduced, I would [vote to impeach]” he said, while Tiahrt said that Obama had broken the law” and proudly noted his votes during his previous turn in Congress to impeach President Bill Clinton.
And in the race for a U.S. Senate seat there, a spokesman for Milton Wolf, the Tea Party-backed doctor challenging longtime lawmaker Pat Roberts, refused to rule out the prospect of impeachment, saying that it would depend on which specific articles passed the House.
“If it is determined that the president violated his oath of office, that would certainly justify impeachment proceedings,” the spokesman said.
But it is not just in deep-red states like Kansas where impeachment talk is a campaign topic. Candidates up and down blue state Michigan have brought it up, and it has become something of a litmus test to separate “constitutional conservatives” from “RINO,” according to Matthew Shepard, a Tea Party leader from the central part of the state.
“True conservatives are mentioning it. And if Congress had any gumption they would have taken care of this by now.”
Indeed, Michigan’s 7th District, in the southern part of the state, is represented by Tim Walberg, who has been calling for Obama’s impeachment since back in 2010, when he said that such a move could force the president to release his birth certificate. His opponent in the August 5 primary, Tea Party-backed Douglas Radcliffe North, floated impeachment in his video announcing his candidacy.
Also in the Wolverine State, Kerry Bentivolio, a first-term congressman and former reindeer farmer, told a gathering of Republicans last year that it would “be a dream come true” to impeach Obama. Alan Arcand, a garage owner in the Upper Peninsula who is challenging incumbent Congressman Dan Benishek, told the The Daily Beast that Congress should hold off on impeaching the president for now—until Attorney General Eric Holder is impeached first.
“The way I see it, if we can’t hold Eric Holder accountable, how are we going to hold Barack Obama accountable?” he said. “This Congress should be held accountable. They are letting these people do whatever they want.”
The impeachment issue is driving campaign narratives even in the relatively liberal precincts of New England. In a race to take on Democratic incumbent Ann Kuster, both Republicans have said that Congress should explore whether or not to impeach Obama, with front-runner Marilinda Garcia telling a town hall meeting just this week that the president ignored “the separation of powers, through executive actions, executive privileges,” and that he was “completely in violation of his constitutional rights and obligations.”
“If it’s an impeachable offense as the process will show, then every member of Congress is also sworn to uphold that and needs to vote appropriately,” Garcia added.
This is not to suggest that should any of these candidates win, that Obama is in danger of impeachment. Republicans are aware of what happened in 1998, when they pushed to impeach Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a move that backfired on them and led to lesser-than-expected Democratic losses at the ballot box.
And besides, as Arcand, one of the few interviewed for this story to urge caution, put it, “If we do that, then it will just mean we got Joe Biden as president.”
By: David Freedlander, The Daily Beast, August 1, 2014
“Left Coast Rising”: California’s Success Demonstrates That Extremist Ideology Still Dominating Much Of American Politics Is Nonsense
The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.
And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.
I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.
What has actually happened? There is, I’m sorry to say, no sign of the promised catastrophe.
If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housing bubble, is back to pre-recession levels.
On health care, some people — basically healthy young men who were getting inexpensive insurance on the individual market and were too affluent to receive subsidies — did face premium increases, which we always knew would happen. Over all, however, the costs of health reform came in below expectations, while enrollment came in well above — more than triple initial predictions in the San Francisco area. A recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that California has already cut the percentage of its residents without health insurance in half. What’s more, all indications are that further progress is in the pipeline, with more insurance companies entering the marketplace for next year.
And, yes, the budget is back in surplus.
Has there been any soul-searching among the prophets of California doom, asking why they were so wrong? Not that I’m aware of. Instead, I’ve been seeing many attempts to devalue the good news from California by pointing out that the state’s job growth still lags that of Texas, which is true, and claiming that this difference is driven by differential tax rates, which isn’t.
For the big difference between the two states, aside from the size of the oil and gas sector, isn’t tax rates. it’s housing prices. Despite the bursting of the bubble, home values in California are still double the national average, while in Texas they’re 30 percent below that average. So a lot more people are moving to Texas even though wages and productivity are lower than they are in California.
And while some of this difference in housing prices reflects geography and population density — Houston is still spreading out, while Los Angeles, hemmed in by mountains, has reached its natural limits — it also reflects California’s highly restrictive land-use policies, mostly imposed by local governments rather than the state. As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has pointed out, there is some truth to the claim that states like Texas are growing fast thanks to their anti-regulation attitude, “but the usual argument focuses on the wrong regulations.” And taxes aren’t important at all.
So what do we learn from the California comeback? Mainly, that you should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt. Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 24, 2014