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“Unhappy Surprises”: In A Democratic System, There Will Be “Wacky Primary Voters”

Missouri Republicans have just nominated a Senate candidate who appears to believe that the government’s college student loan program is the equivalent of Stage 3 cancer. Actually, he said “the Stage 3 cancer of socialism,” which is perhaps not the exact same thing. But I believe you get the idea.

This was a week after Texas Republicans nominated a Senate candidate who is worried about protecting the world’s golf courses from the United Nations. Republicans, I think you need to get a grip.

Meanwhile, the most cheerful place this side of Disney World is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the Democratic incumbent, was regarded as the political equivalent of roadkill until the Republicans picked Representative Todd Akin for her opponent. Now, the McCaskill campaign is doing a happy dance while Akin will be trying to explain that he thinks student loans are cancerous only when they come from the government rather than private industry.

This is not the kind of argument you really want to be having on your big primary win day. Also, Akin not only wants to keep the government out of the student loan business, his past votes suggest he also wants to see it steer clear of school lunches.

Before the primary, McCaskill ran an allegedly anti-Akin ad that cynics saw as an actual attempt to propel him to the front of the pack. It failed to mention the congressman’s principled opposition to the national School Breakfast Program, but instead denounced him as “too conservative” and an enemy of Planned Parenthood. Honestly, if you wanted to drive Tea Party voters to the polls, it was the next best thing to hiring a bus.

The Tea Party is once again giving Democrats a new lease on life. Not everywhere, of course. Tennessee Republicans seem to be happy with their incumbent senator, Bob Corker, while Democrats woke up on the day after their primary to discover that voters had nominated an anti-gay-rights activist named Mark Clayton, who, according to, “works in insurance and is also writing a book intended as a scripture study aide.” A spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, which is disavowing Clayton, theorized that he won because “his name was at the top of the ticket.”

We have been through this sort of thing before, Democrats. Remember Alvin Greene? The guy you accidentally nominated to run against Senator Jim DeMint two years ago? The one who turned out to be facing felony obscenity charges? Didn’t everybody agree that from then on, if you gave the voters a ballot full of totally unfamiliar names, you would warn them which ones to avoid?

But mainly, the Republicans are the ones getting stuck with the unhappy surprises. Richard Lugar, the longtime senator from Indiana, was tossed out in a primary by a Tea Party favorite, Richard Mourdock, who went on to become involved in a controversy over whether or not he compared Barack Obama’s auto industry bailout to slavery. We do not really need to resolve the issue, except to say that Mourdock is fond of making convoluted historical analogies and that he really, really did not like the auto bailout, despite Indiana’s rather large population of autoworkers.

Besides Tea Party upsets, one of the big trends this year is for Democratic Senate candidates in red states to demonstrate their independence by announcing that they are not going to the party convention. This is pretty much a no-brainer, since these events are really, really boring anyway, unless 1) You really like to eat finger food paid for by special-interest groups or 2) You really enjoy being in Southern cities with high humidity around Labor Day.

Skip the convention! Everybody’s doing it! Although Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did seem to be going a little bit overboard when he refused to say if he’ll even vote for President Obama. “I am just waiting for it to play out. I am not jumping in one way or another,” Manchin told The National Journal. “I’m worried about me. I’ve said it’s not a team sport. You need to go out and work for yourself.”

You’ve got to give the man credit for candor. Manchin may be pretending to be more worried than he really is, given that the Republicans nominated a Senate candidate whose big media splash involved comparing no-smoking regulations to the Nazis’ actions. (“Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody’s lapel, remember that? Same thing.”)

Next week we have Wisconsin, where former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the guy everyone expected the Republicans to nominate for the Senate, is in trouble thanks to a challenge from — yes! — the Tea Party. And will Connecticut Republicans nominate a former congressman with a reputation for bipartisanship or a businesswoman whose claim to fame is building a professional wrestling empire? Duh.

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 8, 2012

August 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taboo Ideas”: Regular People Could Use A Bailout Every Bit As Much As Wealthy Elites

Via Atrios, I see that the idea of just printing money and handing it out is gaining some elite traction. Here’s Anatole Kaletsky in Reuters:

Last week I discussed in this column the idea that the vast amounts of money created by central banks and distributed for free to banks and bond funds – equivalent to $6,000 per man, woman and child in America and £6,500 in Britain – should instead be given directly to citizens, who could spend or save it as they pleased. I return to this theme so soon because radical ideas about monetary policy suddenly seem to be gaining traction. Some of the world’s most powerful central bankers – Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank last Thursday, Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed on Monday and Mervyn King of the Bank of England this Wednesday – are starting to admit that the present approach to creating money, known as quantitative easing, is failing to generate economic growth. Previously taboo ideas can suddenly be mentioned.

The nice thing about this is it wouldn’t rely on some second-order effects through the expectation channel. With a big cash windfall a major fraction of the population are sure to spend it or use it to pay down some debt. When you’re in a depression, as we are, that’s just what the doctor ordered. This is as opposed to normal quantitative easing, which relies on pushing on the economy through the rotten banking system. Like a sponge, the banks absorb most of the money before it seeps out into the real economy.

Probably the biggest obstacle with this is how ridiculous it sounds. “The money has to come from somewhere,” people say. Actually, no it doesn’t. That’s the whole idea behind fiat money. Nothing behind it. “It’ll create hyperinflation,” conservatives will say. Nope. Right now we’re in a depression: we have very low inflation from too few people with jobs and money buying not enough goods and services to run the economy at potential.

Therefore, more spending will just pull in more idle people and resources. Only when the economy is at capacity is serious inflation a possibility. If it starts to happen, the Fed can easily act to restrain it.

The least convincing counterargument is the moral hazard one. “Can’t give people free money,” people say, “otherwise they’ll lose their moral fiber. Success must be earned.” I suppose all other things equal that’s the case, but that argument sure didn’t stop the Treasury from stuffing $700 billion down the rotting throats of the banks back in 2008, and it hasn’t stopped the Fed from stuffing God knows how many more trillions in cheap loans after it.

Again, I agree that moral hazard should be a consideration, especially for the richest and most powerful people and corporations, but we recognize in a crisis sometimes it’s more important to keep the system from collapsing than make sure every person gets exactly what she deserves. When we had a banking crisis, everyone agreed on this. Elites everywhere panicked, and swooped in with “incredible speed and force to bail out the financial sectors in which creditors are invested, trampling over prior norms and laws as necessary.” We’re now in the fourth year of an unemployment crisis, and it’s high time we found some similar urgency.

Nothing I haven’t said before, and still probably little chance of happening, but here’s hoping. Regular people could use a bailout every bit as much, if not more, than wealthy elites.


By: Ryan Cooper, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 9, 2012

August 10, 2012 Posted by | Banks | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Selective Accountability”: Louisiana Gives Us A Taste Of Mitt Romney’s Education Policy

Ed Kilgore has been sounding the alarms over Mitt Romney’s education proposals for a couple of months now, and I keep meaning — but somehow forgetting — to link to his posts about this. It’s probably all part of my love-hate relationship with education policy in general. But today he’s got another post up on the subject, so let’s take a look. He’s riffing on a TPM piece about the kudzu-like growth of Bobby Jindal’s voucher program in Louisiana:

In heading his state in the direction of universally available vouchers rationalized by public school failure, Jindal is not, of course, holding any of the private school beneficiaries accountable for results, or for common curricula, or, it appears, for much of anything.A big chunk of the money already out there is being snapped up by conservative evangelical schools with exotic and hardly public-minded curricular offerings, with the theory being that any public oversight would interfere with the accountability provided by “the market.” So if you want your kid to attend, at public expense, the Christian Nationalist Academy for Servant-Leader Boys & Fecund Submissive Girls, that’s okay by Bobby. 

Does that last sentence sound a wee bit unfair? Well, here’s a Reuters report from a few weeks ago about where kids with vouchers are actually likely to end up:

The top schools [] have just a handful of slots open….Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

….At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains “what God made” on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution. “We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children,” Carrier said.

But let’s not be too hasty. If these kids are doing well, maybe we shouldn’t care if they get their lessons from DVDs liberally sprinkled with Bible verses. The problem is that while public schools — and, increasingly, public school teachers — are being held rigidly accountable for their students’ test scores, most voucher schools aren’t. Here’s the Louisiana Budget Project:

Louisiana requires almost no accountability from voucher schools….While voucher students are required to take the same assessment tests as public school students, there are no penalties for private schools if they fail to measure up to their public counterparts. In fact, Gov. Jindal vetoed language in a 2011 appropriations bill that would have removed participating schools if their students’ scores lagged those in the lowest performing schools in the Recovery School District, which incorporates most New Orleans public schools.

So if public schools have lousy test scores, they’re failures and their students all get vouchers. But if the private schools have lousy test scores, then….nothing. Presumably the magic of the free market will fix them up.

And maybe it will. But this has always been the Achilles’ Heel of the voucher movement: its virulent opposition to holding private schools to the same standards as public schools. In some places this means not requiring students to take standardized tests at all, while in other places — like Louisiana — it means requiring the tests but not using them to evaluate how well schools are doing. In other words, they want taxpayer dollars without being accountable to taxpayers.

To the best of my knowledge, research on school choice remains inconclusive. Some studies show benefits from voucher and charter schools, others don’t. Part of the reason for this is that test data on voucher schools just isn’t always available, largely thanks to lawmakers who are afraid of what it might show. So if Mitt Romney plans to adopt vouchers as his main education proposal — and he does — it would be nice to hear a little bit about accountability from him to go along with it. Unfortunately, because the true core of the voucher movement is made up of social conservatives who just want taxpayer help sending their kids to Bible schools and consider “accountability” to be a code word for an assault on religious freedom, he’s not likely to do anything of the sort.


By: Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, July 2, 2012

August 10, 2012 Posted by | Education, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “War on Religion”: GOP Still Placating The Hard Core Base

Is anyone who doesn’t already hate Obama for the usual right-wing reasons really going to believe the new Romney ad, that Obama’s health-care law wages a “war on religion”? I doubt many people will. It’s just right-wing fever-swamp rhetoric that I think your average person will, in his or her bones, recognize as such, because we’ve now reached the point in history where we’ve heard a lot of this, and it no longer shocks or traduces the way it once did.

Romney is still placating the hard-core GOP base. It’s getting a little late for that, isn’t? August isn’t really the time to be trying to nail down the scary-lazy-black-people and the Democrats-hate-God voting blocs. August is when you start making your pitch to swing voters.

This is starting, just starting, to remind me of the Rick Lazio 2000 Senate campaign against Hillary, when he, under the brilliant hand of Mike Murphy, made a crucial mistake conservatives are naturally prone to make. He confused “regular New Yorkers” with “right-wing Hillary haters” and thought they were functionally the same thing. Thus he couldn’t for the life of him understand why middle-of-the-road New Yorkers weren’t impressed and persuaded when he and the state GOP accused the First Lady of the United States of sympathizing with the terrorists who blew up the USS Cole. The Romney camp is edging into the same territory.

If Romney wants to talk about wars on religion, I really hope he names Paul Ryan as his veep. The Catholic Bishops called the Ryan budget “immoral.” Unfortunately, the Democrats probably wouldn’t even point this out, wouldn’t want to lean on the bishops. And this raises a problem with today’s Democratic Party.

I’d love to see the party become less skittish about using religion to defend and support its policies. Many elected Democrats, indeed most, are religious people. Obviously, their religious beliefs inform their political views, and vice versa. They ought to be more comfortable talking about it.

Why should Republicans be the only ones to invoke Jesus, and only for conservative reasons and ends? I think it would be delicious if Democrats started quoting more Scripture in behalf of liberalism. After all, a lot of Scripture is liberalism. I’m not religious myself, but I think it’s a shame that liberalism is so guardedly secular.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, August 9, 2012

August 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Go Ahead, Make That Statement”: Why Obama Would Love To Run Against Paul Ryan

Sorry, conservatives: Having the Wisconsonite on the ticket would make it easier for the president to portray Romney as a heartless plutocrat.

As Beltway anticipation builds for Mitt Romney’s vice presidential announcement, conservative pundits have re-upped their calls for a “bold” and adventurous choice. This morning, the Wall Street Journal editorial page took the lead with a plea to add House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan to the ticket.

The Journal acknowledges the appeal of VP frontrunners Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman—working-class roots and high-level experience, respectively—but says that Ryan is the only politician with the gravitas and vision to campaign on a presidential level. Here’s the op-ed:

Too risky, goes the Beltway chorus. His selection would make Medicare and the House budget the issue, not the economy. The 42-year-old is too young, too wonky, too, you know, serious. Beneath it all you can hear the murmurs of the ultimate Washington insult—that Mr. Ryan is too dangerous because he thinks politics is about things that matter. That dude really believes in something, and we certainly can’t have that. […]

The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline.

The Journal’s broader argument is that Romney can’t win if this election is fought over “small issues,” like Bain Capital or his taxes. The only way he can prevail, they argue, is if he turns this into a fight over big ideas. Placing Ryan on the ticket would go a long way to making that a reality—he is the architect of the Republican Party’s policy platform.

It’s hard to escape the impression that conservatives view Ryan as a consolation prize for the fact that their best chance for rolling back the welfare state resides in the former Massachusetts governor who gave Democrats the bluebrint for Obamacare. But Ryan would be a terrible choice, and if you aren’t ensconsed in the conservative movement, it’s easy to see why: Ryan’s plan—low taxes on the rich and higher defense spending, funded by sharp cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and most social programs—is wildly unpopular with the public.

Last year, the Washington Post and ABC News surveyed Americans on key elements of the Ryan plan. Would you support reforming Medicare such that beneficiaries “receive a check or voucher from the government each year for a fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private health insurance policy?” Sixty-five percent of respondents said they would oppose such a plan. If told that the cost of private insurance would eventually outpace the value of the voucher—projected under Ryan’s proposal—opposition rises to 80 percent.

The same goes for new tax cuts. By two-to-one (44 percent to 22 percent), according to the Pew Research Center, Americans say that cutting taxes for the rich would harm the economy. The same percentage says that raising taxes on the rich would make the tax system more fair than it currently is.

Both realities have already caused problems for Romney. He does as much as possible to obscure his support for the Ryan plan from the public, but most Americans identify him as someone who would help the rich over ordinary people. Putting Ryan on the ticket would exacerbate that problem, and give Obama a huge boost as he begins the second phase of his attacks on Romney.

Remember, the focus on Bain Capital—and Romney’s tax returns—are a means to a end: showing Romney as a heartless plutocrat who will use the presidency to enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. That image will allow Obama to pin the Ryan plan on Romney, and to (accurately) present him as the avatar for selfish reactionaries.

Without Ryan on the ticket, this is a little difficult: The Ryan/Romney plan is an astoundingly right-wing proposal for the future of the country, so much so that voters refuse to believe that any politican would endorse it, much less make it the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. This was somewhat alleivated by the Tax Policy Center analysis—which shows the degree to which Romney would have to raise taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for his upper-income tax cuts—but would be simple to accomplish if Paul Ryan himself were the vice presidential nominee.

Already, with ads like the recent one from Priorities USA, Democrats are painting a picture of America under the Ryan/Romney plan: less mobility for most Americans, less security for middle-class families, and an explosion of income inequality. A Romney/Ryan campaign would allow Democrats to turn those attacks to eleven, and hammer the extent to which Republicans intend to transform government’s role in shaping our society.

Putting Paul Ryan on the ticket is the election-year equivalent of the Republican strategy on health care reform—high stakes, high reward. If the health-care strategy had worked, categorical opposition to reform would have blocked the law and destroyed Obama’s presidency. But it didn’t, and Democrats passed a health care bill that was more compehensive—and more liberal—than it would have been with Republican support.

A Romney/Ryan ticket could conceivably win, of course, and Republicans could then claim an ideological mandate for sweeping changes to the social contract. In all likelihood, though, Ryan’s vulnerabilities would weigh down the ticket and keep Romney from winning a critical number of undecided voters. By satisfying conservative cries for “substance,” Romney would all but condemn the GOP to four more years of an Obama presidency, allowing Democrats to entrench the major changes of the last three-and-a-half years (namely the Affordable Care Act) and gain a long-term upper hand.

Yes, it’s unsatisfying for ideologues, but for this election Republicans might want to stick to the small stuff, rather than risk it on a “statement.”


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, August, 9, 2012

August 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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