Of all the crazy things people on the right are now saying about Benghazi, I’ll admit that the one that most makes me want to scream is that it’s “worse than Watergate.” I get that much of the time it’s just a way of saying “This is a big deal,” and maybe there are some of your dumber elected officials (your Goehmerts, your Bachmanns) who believe it. But the idea is so plainly absurd that sometimes it feels like they’re just trolling, saying it not because any sane person could think it’s true, but because they just want to drive me nuts.
And as long as they keep saying it, I guess we’ll have to keep reminding people with short memories what actual scandals involve. To that end, Jonathan Bernstein has a nice reminder for us about Watergate and what a real cover-up looks like, in the course of which he counters the old “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” aphorism: “I’ll stick with what I always say about this: its the crime, not the cover-up, that gets people in trouble. The reason for the Watergate cover-up was that specific crimes had been committed, crimes which could have (had they been confessed to in June 1972) sent much of the senior White House staff, much of the campaign organization, and perhaps the President of the United States straight to prison.” I’d add that in the case of Watergate, the cover-up actually consisted of new crimes, added on to the original crimes.
This is an important distinction to make. As the Watergate scandal was proceeding, Nixon and his top advisors didn’t just say, “Let’s send the press secretary out to say this is all no big deal.” They committed crimes in their effort to contain the scandal. They paid hush money. They destroyed records. They committed multiple acts of obstruction of justice. And just as they should have, for those crimes, some of Nixon’s top advisors went to prison.
Everybody in politics tries to avoid looking bad, and everybody attempts to shape the news to their liking. Did the Obama administration do that with regard to the Benghazi story? Sure, just like every administration does every day, not to mention every member of Congress. They portray themselves as noble and courageous, and their opponents as craven and cynical. They encourage reporters to talk about issues that make them look better, and ignore topics that make them look worse. But when you call those efforts a “cover-up,” you’re implying something much more serious. There was a cover-up in Watergate, and people went to jail for it. There was a cover-up in Iran-Contra—Oliver North, currently appearing on Fox News to express outrage at the Obama administration, perjured himself before Congress and shredded incriminating White House documents to hide the Reagan administration’s illegal and morally abhorrent scheme. That’s a cover-up. Editing talking points? Not even close.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 14, 2013
Everyone knows that Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But as Ramesh Ponnuru recently pointed out, there is a “less famous yet crucial beginning of that sentence”: “In our present crisis.”
Conservatives rightly hate nanny-state government and big-spending bureaucracy. But too often, the word “government” has become unfair shorthand for what is actually only bad or oppressive government.
Conservatives aren’t anarchists, after all. We don’t want Big Brother, but none of us should want to live in a Hobbesian state where every person is absolutely and entirely for himself, either. Instead, we believe in ordered liberty via limited government.
Certainly, the size and scope of government has increased over the years. But still, we shouldn’t conflate all government with bad government. We need a functioning state, and yes, there is such a thing as a government that is too weak.
This is a lesson that goes back to our founding. And it’s one conservatives should appreciate. Judging from their colonial garb and tri-cornered hats, Tea Party activists are fond of the Constitution and its Founders. So you might expect that they, of all people, would appreciate the importance of having a government that isn’t laughably weak.
As Baylor professor and Patrick Henry author Thomas Kidd tells me, “Most of the major Founders became convinced that Americans needed a stronger national government to coordinate trade policy and protect against domestic and foreign threats.”
Under the Articles of Confederation, the government was impotent. “Major decisions — declaring war and signing treaties — needed the approval of nine states,” writes Richard Brookhiser in his book James Madison. Congress couldn’t even tax, and “as a result, the United States was perpetually broke,” Brookhiser adds.
To be sure, some patriots, like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, opposed the Constitution precisely because they feared big government. But as Kidd points out, “the majority of the best-known Founders believed that the new republic needed a bigger, stronger government for the United States to survive and compete on the world stage.”
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” wrote Madison, who (in fairness) added, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
So, a natural question: What should a limited government do?
For starters, preserve law and order, ensure the rule of law, enforce contracts, provide for our defense — and yes, control the border. (I’m also partial to clean water, but that’s just me.)
Max Weber said the government has a “monopoly on legitimate violence in society.” This is needed to enforce law and order. Otherwise, whoever has the biggest gun — or the most brothers — takes your property.
“Government is the most common form of hierarchy,” Robert Kaplan recently noted. “It is a government that monopolizes the use of violence in a given geographical space, thereby preventing anarchy. To quote Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher, only where it is possible to punish the wicked can right and wrong have any practical meaning, and that requires ‘some coercive power.’”
But government functions don’t just keep us safe, they also make us prosperous. Sure, overregulation can be a job killer. But consider the extreme alternative. If you believe that someone could steal your business if he wants to, then you are much less likely to start one. If you believe that someone can break a contract with you — or steal your invention — without fear of punishment, that might make it less likely that you will go into business or to invest in research and development.
In their 2012 book Why Nations Fail, economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson provide a largely free market argument for why some nations succeed. For example, Acemoglu and Robinson fault protectionist policies instituted to avoid the process of creative destruction as a primary reason some nations fail.
But interestingly, they also frequently cite a lack of a strong central government as a prime reason nations fail. For example, the authors lament Somalia’s “lack of any kind of political centralization, or state centralization, and its inability to enforce even the minimal amount of law and order to support economic activity, trade, or even basic security of its citizens.”
I can’t imagine that any conservatives who decry government would prefer this sort of extreme chaos to our current, albeit imperfect, government.
So maybe the answer is to be more specific about our concerns with government. Attempting to do just that, Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan distinguished between the productive state, the protective state, and the redistributive state.
Essentially, the productive state would constitute infrastructure like roads and bridges, the protective state would encompass the police, criminal justice, etc., and the redistributive state is obviously the entitlement state.
While most conservatives concede that we need some social safety net, they are mostly worried about the out-of-control growth of the redistributive state. And yet, too seldom is that distinction made. Instead, the criticism is usually directed at “government.”
When it comes to government, a lot of conservatives are probably too obsessed with size. Grover Norquist famously wants to shrink government to such a small size that you can drown it in a bathtub.
But I’m not sure most Americans want that. And trying to force it via draconian cuts doesn’t work, especially if they don’t address the specific problem, such as the need for entitlement reform. ”You can’t make a fat man skinny by tightening his belt,” observed John Maynard Keynes.
Whether you’re a conservative who cares about preserving law and order, or a free marketer who appreciates the importance the rule of law plays in providing confidence and incentives to entrepreneurs, you’re a fan of government. Stop pretending otherwise.
By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, May 9, 2013
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has released an important new report that details Barack Obama’s record on nominating judges during his first term. It’s no surprise: Republican obstruction against his selections was unprecedented. For example:
President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).
A quick look at the report’s summary confirms that Obama’s nominees have been treated more roughly than those of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and the other Bush.
That’s only half the story. George H.W. Bush had to deal with an opposition party Senate for his entire first term, and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had that during about half of their first terms. It’s at least plausibly legitimate for opposite party Senators, when they have the majority, to argue that they should have a larger role in filling judicial vacancies, and to act accordingly. At the very least, if they simply oppose some of those nominees, they will defeat them in “up or down” votes.
But Obama, like Ronald Reagan, had a same-party Senate majority during his first term. He should have had among the best results over any recent president, all things being equal.
What changed when Obama took office, however, was the extension of the filibuster to cover every single nominee. Republicans didn’t always vote against cloture (or even demand cloture votes), but they did demand 60 votes for every nominee. That’s brand new. It’s true that Democrats filibustered selected judicial nominations during the George W. Bush presidency, but only at the circuit court level, and not every single one.
That meant that despite solid Democratic majorities and solid support from those Democrats, Obama’s judicial approval statistics are basically the worse of any of the recent presidents. He doesn’t show up last on every measure — for example, George H.W. Bush had a lower percentage of district court nominees confirmed — but he’s fourth or fifth out of five of these presidents on almost every way that CRS slices the numbers, and it adds up to by far the most obstruction faced by any recent president.
And remember: the losers here aren’t just the president and liberals who want to see his judges on the bench. Ordinary people who just want to get their legal matters taken care of promptly have suffered because of all the vacancies on federal courts.
It’s really a disgrace. Especially those picks that were delayed for months, only to wind up getting confirmed by unanimous votes. Especially the foot-dragging on district court nominees. Just a disgrace.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 3, 2013
The Unending War On Obamacare: Count On Republicans To Stand In The Way Of Fixing Whatever’s Wrong With It
I’m not a historian, so maybe there’s something I don’t know, but it seems to me that there may never have been a piece of legislation that has inspired such partisan venom as the Affordable Care Act. Sure, Republicans hated Medicare. And yes, their rhetoric at the time, particularly Ronald Reagan’s famous warning that if it passed, “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free,” was very similar to what they now say about Obamacare. But once it passed, their attempts to undermine it ran more to the occasional raid than the ongoing siege.
I bring this up because Kevin Drum makes an unsettling point today about the future of Obamacare:
No, my biggest concern is what happens after 2014. No big law is ever perfect. But what normally happens is that it gets tweaked over time. Sometimes this is done via agency rules, other times via minor amendments in Congress. It’s routine. But Obamacare has become such a political bomb that it’s not clear that Congress will be willing to fix the minor problems that crop up over time. There’s simply too big a contingent of Republicans who are eager to see Obamacare fail and are actively delighted whenever a problem crops up. This has the potential to be a problem that no other big law has ever had to face.
It’s hard to overstate just how enormous a symbolic presence Obamacare has come to occupy in Republicans’ minds. They’ve invested so much time in not just criticizing it but telling their constituents that it is the worst thing to ever happen to America—and yes, sometimes they literally say things like that—that they’ve lost all moral perspective. To them, trying to fix a feature of the law so that it works better or helps people more would be a horrifying moral compromise, tantamount to sending fur coats to the guards at Stalin’s labor camps in Siberia. If you say to them, “Look, it’s the law now—why don’t we make sure it works as well as possible?” it just won’t register.
Combine that with the fact that in general, congressional Republicans have stopped caring much about policy at all, and they never cared about health care in the first place. They don’t want to know the details of issues; it just isn’t their priority. In the House, conservatives are spending their time clamoring for an opportunity to cast yet another vote to repeal Obamacare. “The guys who have been up here the last two years, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace ObamaCare,” said Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. “Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?” Your tax dollars at work.
You can look at this state of affairs and assume that as new difficulties with the law come to light, it will be possible for the Obama administration to address them with administrative action, through the Department of Health and Human Services. And that may be true to an extent. But other changes could require legislation, and it’s a fair bet that no matter what is involved, Republicans in Congress would reject anything having to do with the law that didn’t involve repealing it. You could tell them that there was a typo in the bill which was causing orphans to be turned into Soylent Green and all it would require to fix was a quick voice-vote, and they’d say no, because Obamacare kills freedom.
And let’s not forget, it’s entirely possible that 45 months from now, there will be a Republican president. If that happens, it’s possible that in order to get confirmed, his or her nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services will have to pledge to Senate Republicans to work every day to dismantle Obamacare. The clock is ticking.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 25, 2013
“Rand Paul Goes To Howard”: Ignoring Past Generations Of Egregious And Willfull Acts Of Insensitivity
The Republican Party is struggling with its future. Will it be a regional, Congressional party fighting a last-gasp battle for a shrinking base in a David and Goliath war against ominously expanding federal government? Or will it become a national, presidential party capable of adapting to a new American reality of diversity and expression in which the government serves an essential function in regulating public safety, providing a safety net and serving as a safeguard against discrimination?
Senator Rand Paul is trying to find a balance between the two. The same week that a dozen defiant senators threatened to filibuster any new gun control legislation, Paul ventured across Washington to historically black Howard University and gave a speech aimed at outreach and bridge building.
The man is mulling a presidential run after all.
The speech was a dud. It was a clipped-tail history lesson praising the civil rights record of the pre-Southern Strategy Republican Party, while slamming the concurrent record of the Democrats.
It completely ignored the past generation of egregious and willful acts of insensitivity by the G.O.P. toward the African-American community.
During the speech Paul asked, rhetorically and incredulously:
“How did the party that elected the first black U.S. Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American Congressmen, how did that party become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?”
You can’t be serious, Senator Paul. In fact, I know that you’re not. No thinking American could be so dim as to genuinely pose such questions.
Let me explain.
Republicans lost it when Richard Nixon’s strategist Kevin Phillips, who popularized the “Southern Strategy,” told The New York Times Magazine in 1970 that “the more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
They lost it when Nixon appointed William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, a man who, while he was a law clerk in Justice Robert Jackson’s office, wrote a memo defending separate-but-equal during Brown v. Board of Education, saying, “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by my ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.”
They lost it in 1976 when Ronald Reagan adopted the racially charged “welfare queens” trope. They lost it when George Bush used Willie Horton as a club against Michael Dukakis. They lost it when George W. Bush imperially flew over New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when people were still being plucked from rooftops and were huddling in a humid Super Dome.
They lost it when the McCain campaign took a dark turn and painted Barack Obama as the other, a man “palling around with terrorists,” a man who didn’t see “America like you and I see America.”
They lost it when Republican Representative Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress. They lost it when a finger-wagging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer publicly chastised the president on an Arizona tarmac.
They lost it in 2011 when a Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who was the front-runner for a while, falsely and preposterously claimed that: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”
They lost it when another Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, he of “blah people” infamy, accused President Obama of “elitist snobbery” and “hubris” for supposedly saying “under my administration, every child should go to college.” (For the record, the president never actually said that.)
The Republicans lost the black vote when Herman Cain, an African-American candidate for the Republican nomination, began using overt slave imagery to suggest that he had left “the Democrat plantation.”
They continued to lose it when the African-American Republican of the moment, Dr. Benjamin Carson, echoed Cain and said of white liberals:
“Well, they’re the most racist people there are. You know, they put you in a little category, a little box. You have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”
The Republican Party has a tarnished brand in the eyes of the African-American community, largely because of its own actions and rhetoric. That can’t be glossed over by painting the present party with the laurels of the distant past.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April !0, 2013