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“What Lesson Was Learned?”: For Republicans, It’s About “The How” Rather Than “The What” And “The Why”

So if the end of the fiscal crisis represents, as Ross Douthat calls it, a “Teachable Moment” for the GOP, what would that lesson, exactly, be? It mostly appears to be about strategy and tactics, not goals or ideology (or “principles” as ideologues like to say in their endless efforts to ascribe dishonesty and gutlessness to dissidents).

Even for Douthat, who clearly wants the memory of the Tea Folk (or to use his term, “populist”) failure in this incident to be seared into the collective memory of Republicans, it’s mostly about the how rather than the what and the why:

The mentality that drove the shutdown — a toxic combination of tactical irrationality and the elevation of that irrationality into a True Conservative (TM) litmus test — may have less influence in next year’s Beltway negotiations than it did this time around, thanks to the way this has ended for the defunders after John Boehner gave them pretty much all the rope that they’d been asking for. But just turn on talk radio or browse RedState or look at Ted Cruz’s approval ratings with Tea Partiers and you’ll see how potent this mentality remains, how quickly it could resurface, and how easily Republican politics and American governance alike could be warped by it in the future.

So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again.

The problem was “the stunt,” not the violent antipathy towards a pale version of universal health coverage or the conviction that the New Deal/Great Society legacy is fatal to America or the belief that nearly half the country is composed of satanic blood-suckers and baby-killers.

Eric Cantor stressed this distinction between strategy and tactics, on the one hand, and ideology on the other in his speech to yesterday’s doomed House Republican Conference:

“We all agree Obamacare is an abomination. We all agree taxes are too high. We all agree spending is too high. We all agree Washington is getting in the way of job growth. We all agree we have a real debt crisis that will cripple future generations. We all agree on these fundamental conservative principles. . . . We must not confuse tactics with principles. The differences between us are dwarfed by the differences we have with the Democratic party, and we can do more for the American people united,” he told them.

In fact, I’m beginning to get the sense that the more loudly a conservative denounces the tactics of the fiscal fight as idiotic, the more he or she can be counted on to insist on agreeing with the ideology that motivated the idiocy in the first place.

One of my favorite characterizations of the whole “defund Obamacare” crusade was by the conservative blogger Allahpundit:

If “defund” was more likely than repeal, it was more likely in the sense that an 85-yard field goal is more likely than a 90-yard one.

But don’t confuse that strategic argument with any broader sense that conservatives or Republicans should rethink their entire militant opposition to the Affordable Care Act. No, it just means recognizing that getting rid of this law–as opposed to obstructing it and making sure the number of people benefitting from it is as small as possible–must await the kind of victory in 2016 that eluded the party last year.

Don’t get me wrong here: there’s great value to the nation in convincing one of our two major political parties to respect the results of elections and eschew wildly disruptive legislative strategies and tactics. But even if that “lesson was learned,” and the jury’s still out on that proposition, it’s not the same as a serious reconsideration of today’s radical conservatism, which may well emerge from this incident as strong as ever.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 17, 2013

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Alternate Bizzaro Universe”: Ted Cruz’s “American People” Remain Imaginary And Elusive

Give Ted Cruz this much: He remains unbowed in the face of both substantive defeat and public opinion, which he ceaselessly claims to have on his side.

For example, yesterday Cruz addressed the press (the man seems to only communicate in formal speeches – can you imagine dining with him?) on the shutdown and its conclusion, declaring the whole thing a massive expression of the will of “the American people.” He said:

Unfortunately, once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people.

It is unfortunate that Washington is not listening to the people.

And I want to commend the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives has taken a bold stance listening to the American people.

Months ago, when the – when the effort to defund “Obamacare” began, official Washington scoffed – they scoffed that the American people would rise up. They scoffed that the House of Representatives would do anything, and they scoffed that the Senate would do anything.

We saw, first of all, millions upon millions of Americans rise up all over this country. Over two million people signing a national petition to defund “Obamacare.” We saw the House of Representatives take a courageous stand listening to the American people …

As I have argued before, it raises the question of precisely which “American people” Cruz is speaking for, because it’s not the ones who are answering pollsters. For example, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday found that 74 percent – 74 percernt! – of Americans disapproved of the way Congressional Republicans were handling the budget negotiations, an 11 percent increase from a few weeks earlier. That came after an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week found only 24 percent of those surveyed approving of congressional Republicans – a result which Republican pollster Bill McInturff (who along with Democrat Peter Hart conducted the survey) said made it, “among the handful of surveys that stand out in my career as being significant and consequential,” along with polls taken in the wake of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Lehman collapse and the last debt ceiling crisis. (Cruz tried to “unskew”  the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, but was unsuccessful.)

Further, polls have shown that Obamacare has become more popular and that the intensity among its opponents has ebbed. And while polls show that more Americans disapprove of Obamacare than like it (though those numbers are deceptive if you don’t take out the people who disapprove because the law doesn’t go far enough), surveys also show that most Americans prefer to have Congress work to improve the law rather than repeal or defund it, a la Cruz.

And all of this after polls showed overwhelming numbers of Americans disapproved of shutting down the government in order to win policy concessions from the other side … which brings me to Cruz on Fox News last night. “But we’ve also seen a model that I think is the model going forward to defeat Obamacare, to bring back jobs, economic growth, to abolish the IRS, to rein in out-of-control spending,” he said. A model going forward – that’s right folks, Ted Cruz enjoyed this shutdown so much that he wants to do it again.

Presumably he’ll claim then to be acting in the name of the American people as well. Ted Cruz was elected from Texas, but it’s clear he really hails from some bizarro alternate universe. Where else could Obama winning a comfortable re-election and poll after poll after poll showing that Americans like neither shutdowns nor the party behind the specific shutdown that just ended all add up to a by-any-means-necessary mandate to pursue Cruz’s narrow right-wing agenda?


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, October 17, 2013

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Ted Cruz, The American People | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Achieving Conservative Objectives:” Behold The Paradigm, Roberts Court Cloaks Its Activism In Complexity

To understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s order on greenhouse-gas regulations, I had to read it three times — and I’m a law professor. The complication isn’t a coincidence. It’s the very essence of the imprint that Chief Justice John Roberts is putting on the court.

As its ninth term clicks into gear, the Roberts court has finally developed something like an identity of its own. It avoids highly activist conservative headlines that would drive Democrats to the polls. At the same time, behind a screen of legal complexity, it achieves significant conservative objectives.

The court’s health care decision is an obvious recent example: Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold mandatory coverage, enraging conservatives and encouraging liberals. But by striking down the provision that pressured states to extend Medicaid, the court gutted the universal coverage that was the Affordable Care Act’s ethical ideal.

The regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions bids fair to produce a similarly confusing result. The court had been asked to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that upheld Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gases that are the Barack Obama administration’s most significant accomplishments for environmental protection. The court declined to review — and thus left in place — the regulations on motor-vehicle emissions. It also chose not to review the basic question of the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Environmentalists cheered this result.

At the same time, however, the court agreed to review a single, wildly technical-sounding question: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” What this question asks in English, roughly speaking, is whether the EPA was allowed to issue emissions regulations governing factories and power plants under the authority of the law that lets it regulate cars and trucks. And what that means in practical terms is that the court could strike down the Obama EPA’s existing greenhouse-gas regulations for the nonmoving (“stationary”) polluters who create much of the pollution that drives global warming.

Behold the Roberts paradigm! Or don’t behold it: The hand is quicker than the eye. The headline allows environmental regulation to stand. The fine print suggests that the most important part of the existing regulations enacted by the Obama administration could be ditched.

And, remarkably enough, environmentalists are buying into the shell game as well. Some experts hastened to explain that, even if the Roberts court were to strike down the stationary-source regulations on the grounds that they were not authorized by laws permitting regulation of motor vehicles, there would still be other ways under the Clean Air Act to enact such rules. The court’s decision to hear the case, they implied, shouldn’t worry environmentalists too much.

The experts’ observation is technically correct but could prove too optimistic. The administration plans to enact different regulations covering coal-fired power plants, under different authority. But if the court were to strike down the existing stationary-source regulations in June 2014, significant uncertainty will result. The court’s reasoning, which cannot be foreseen, could potentially call into question other types of regulation. The litigation surrounding the planned regulations — and believe me, there’ll be litigation — will have to take into account the court’s reasoning, whatever it may be. The apparently narrow question to be addressed doesn’t guarantee a holding acoustically sealed off from regulations under different authority.

Coincidentally, the energy producers and manufacturers who make up the stationary-source polluters form a concentrated interest group. They will lobby to fight the new regulations, no doubt using the argument that greenhouse gases have already been significantly cut by regulating drivers. And, of course, drivers’ interests are more diffuse, so (surprise!) their lobbying power is weaker. They are, in short, perfect patsies to take the regulatory hit.

All this adds up to an extremely sophisticated strategy for the justices who agreed to take the case. Even if they strike down the regulations, they will be doing so on the highly technical basis that the EPA relied on the wrong source of authority. Environmentalists will focus the public’s attention on enacting new regulation, thereby distracting the public from blaming the court. The whole decision will look Solomonic — upholding a part of the regulations while striking down another part — rather than like pro-business activism. The court’s legitimacy will be preserved, even strengthened.

What makes this strategy hallmark John Roberts is how markedly it differs from the approaches of the court’s other conservatives. Justice Antonin Scalia, still the intellectual leader of the conservative wing into his increasingly cantankerous mid-70s, declares his broad principles of originalism and textualism and puts them into practice, most of the time consistently. His swashbuckling decisions and clever, incisive rhetoric leave you in no doubt where he stands. You can love him or hate him (I myself feel both emotions, usually simultaneously), but you always, always know where he stands. Justice Clarence Thomas is similarly out there, lauding the virtues of the 18th century. No one could call either of these justices crafty.

In their decades on the court — each having served with Chief Justice William Rehnquist — Scalia and Thomas never managed to achieve the conservative revolution that the Ronald Reagan era promised and the Federalist Society championed. Radical — and radically consistent — they couldn’t hold the center, frequently losing the votes of Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy when the chips were down. Rehnquist, equally conservative but less openly ideological, couldn’t help. As men of principle, which judges are supposed to be, Scalia and Thomas might feel a perverse pride in never winning the big ones. As men of action, they have mostly failed.

Roberts is a horse of a different color. As a former law clerk to then-Justice Rehnquist, he decided to win, even at the cost of temporarily alienating his conservative elders. His legal craft is unmatched — because if you’re the Supreme Court, it’s much better to win while appearing to lose than to lose by insisting on looking as if you’ve won.


By: Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View, Published in The National Memo, October 17, 2013

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Environment, John Roberts, Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Standing With Mitch”: Is Rand Paul A Secret RINO?

Rand Paul (R-KY) was one of the 18 senators who voted against the deal brokered between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that ended the government shutdown and raised the debt limit — but that deal would likely never have happened if not for Paul’s alliance with McConnell.

Less than four years ago, Paul easily defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson, McConnell’s choice to replace Senator Jim Bunning, in a GOP primary. The minority leader quickly moved to make amends with Paul as the Tea Party favorite cruised to a win in the general election.

Since 2010, the two men have formed a relationship of equals that’s worked to the advantage of both. “You know, I think when we call people a ‘mentor,’ I think that overstates,” Paul said when asked about the nature of their bond earlier this year. “We are colleagues, and I do respect him.”

McConnell backed Paul’s “drone” filibuster of future CIA director John Brennan. Paul has not only endorsed McConnell’s re-election, he’s lent out his campaign manager Jesse Benton to the senator. A hot mic caught the two senators discussing tactics for how to avoid blame for the government shutdown.

It’s impossible to imagine McConnell being able to swoop in at the last moment to negotiate a deal if he weren’t leading his primary opponent — Tea Partier Matt Bevin — by as much as 40 percent. And it’s impossible to imagine McConnell crushing a hardline opponent so handily if Paul had decided to back said hardline opponent.

In the wake of the McConnell-Reid compromise, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has gotten most of the grief from the Tea Party. You can get a sampling of the vile things he’s being called on his Facebook page from this Tea Party Insult Generator. The Speaker is much more deserving of grief because he let the shutdown happen and refused to even hold a vote on the “clean” continuing resolution that McConnell let pass the Senate.

However, Sarah Palin said on Thursday that she’s ready to fight in Kentucky in order to “shake things up in 2014.”

McConnell has already said there will not be another shutdown over Obamacare. He also refused to comment on the ascent of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). To those who have embraced the junior senator from Texas as the new leader of the conservative movement, this makes the minority leader a member of the “Surrender Caucus.”

It used to be a big deal when a former member of a national Republican ticket threatened to support a primary challenge to the GOP’s leader in the Senate. But that was back when Republican congressmen didn’t accuse former GOP standard-bearers of being in league with al Qaeda.

Palin’s threat would be a much bigger problem for the senator if Rand Paul weren’t standing with Mitch. And if you’re wondering where Paul’s loyalty is coming from, ask the man both men have employed — Jesse Benton. If he doesn’t know he’s being recorded, Benton might tell you, “I’m sorta holdin’ my nose for two years, cause what we’re doin’ here is going to be a big benefit for Rand in ’16…”


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, October 17, 2013

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Love Story For The Ages”: Republicans And The Sequester

The deal allowing the government to reopen today included a mandate that the House and Senate engage in a new round of budget negotiations, with the lawmakers involved facing the unenviable task of reconciling the different tax and spending plans passed by each respective chamber. One contentious issue right off the bat is whether or not to preserve the spending levels under the so-called “sequester,” which were a byproduct of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle.

To review, when Republicans took the debt ceiling hostage two years ago, the deal crafted to avoid default – known as the Budget Control Act – mandated the creation of a “supercommittee” that was supposed to come up with a budget compromise. The sequester was meant to be the stick that would force a deal, as it included cuts that were supposedly so painful to each party that they would have no choice but to agree on something else.

Except that’s not what happened. The negotiations fell apart where they always fall apart: with Republicans refusing to accede to one dime in new revenue. The sequester went into effect and is now cutting an indiscriminate path through the budget.

Democrats, then, have made some noise about undoing the sequester, for at least a short period of time, during this new round of budget negotiations. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made clear on the Senate floor yesterday that he is not interested in such an idea.

“I’m also confident that we’ll be able to announce that we’re protecting the government spending reductions that both parties agreed to under the Budget Control Act, and that the president signed into law. That’s been a top priority for me and my Republican colleagues throughout this debate. And it’s been worth the effort,” McConnell said. “Some have suggested that we break that promise as part of the agreement. …  But what the BCA showed is that Washington can cut spending. … And we’re not going back on this agreement.” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called sequestration, “one of the good things that has happened” and “an important thing that we have achieved.” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, even threatened another debt ceiling standoff in the new year should Democrats try to undo the sequester.

But when the sequester first went into effect, Republicans did everything they could to blame it on Obama. They even tried to call it the “Obamaquester.” In fact, here’s what McConnell had to say about the sequester back in February: “Take the Obama sequester as just one example. The president had a chance last night to offer a thoughtful alternative to his sequester, one that could reduce spending in a smarter way. That is what Republicans have been calling for all along.”

So in just eight short months, those spending cuts went from “the Obama sequester” to a “top priority” for the GOP. How the times change.

During his floor speech, McConnell also excoriated Obamacare for “killing jobs.” Not only is that false, but if McConnell wants to see a real job killer, he needs to look no further than his precious sequester spending levels. As I noted last week, the sequester has not only been gutting important programs, but is slowly strangling economic growth.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the spending levels under the sequester will cost up to 1.6 million jobs through fiscal year 2014.

Of course, the GOP to this point has been impervious to the mountain of evidence showing that cutting spending in a weak economy just makes for a weaker economy. So perhaps it’s best that McConnell and co. are just owning up to the fact that the sequester is something they desire and admire. It’s a love story for the ages: the sequester, once spurned, is now the one thing Republicans want to ensure will be staying around forever.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, October 17, 2013

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Debt Ceiling, Sequester | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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