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“A Regular Joe He’s Not”: Among The Common Folk, A Breakfasting John Boehner

From the “Politicians—they’re just like us!” file today, we have something seemingly aimed straight at one of my pet peeves, the habit of Blue Collar Chic among politicians (and to an even greater extent, certain bigshot media figures). Esquire magazine asked John Boehner to “endorse” something, and what he came up with was “breakfast at a diner,” which he says he has “most mornings when I’m in Washington.” You may have thought the Speaker was a merlot-sipping, golf-playing gent who had risen above his hardscrabble roots. Au contraire!

I sit at the counter in jeans and a ballcap. Order eggs, and sometimes sausage, but never on Fridays. (And never the bacon. My diner makes lousy bacon. I don’t know why.) I’m there maybe 15, 20 minutes.

It’s pretty much the same thing on the road. I’m always looking for new diners, and when I find one I like, I stick with it.

It’s an anchor to my day, a way to feel like I’m home in Ohio no matter where I am. That’s why I endorse breakfast at a diner.

Mr. Speaker, if you’re eating eggs and sausage at a greasy spoon every morning, legislation isn’t the only thing getting clogged. But how wonderful to know that just like ordinary folks, you wear “jeans and a ballcap”! Since you presumably go to work after this breakfast, do you get dressed in your jeans and ballcap, then go back home and change into the suit you’ll wear the rest of the day on Capitol Hill? Why not just put on the suit, get the breakfast, and then proceed to work? Is the costume change really necessary?

I realize I’m making too much of this. And of course, when a magazine asks you to do something like this, you’ll be conscious of the image you’re projecting. Unlike a political “endorsement,” this endorsement is not about explaining to readers the wonders of breakfast at a diner, but telling them who you are, and if Boehner had endorsed an earthy yet whimsical Chateau Latour, he would have been mocked for an entirely different reason. But I find the efforts of politicians to convince us they’re just ordinary joes so insufferable, especially when it’s this transparent.

It’s only partly their fault, though. Every election season we’re treated to an endless discussion about which candidate is more reg’lar and can do a better job relating to the common folk, without any explanation of what that has to do with their potential performance in office. Here’s a little piece of the column I linked to above, when the question consuming some in the media, none more than Chris Matthews, was whether Barack Obama was too much of an effete swell to win the Pennsylvania primary over the (allegedly) slightly more down-to-earth Hillary Clinton. We knew he wasn’t, because he committed the horrible sin of being a crappy bowler:

Every night at 5 and 7, Matthews acts like a psychic channeling the spirit of the working class. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he insightfully informs his viewers, are just not the type to whom Joe Sixpack takes a liking: “Pennsylvania prefers a beefier sort to either of these people, Matthews claimed, “a more rustic, tougher sort than either of them.” When neither Obama nor Clinton turned out to be particularly skilled bowlers, Matthews said gravely, “Maybe that tells you something about the Democratic party.”

In the days since, he has returned to the alleged symbolic importance of Obama’s lack of bowling skills so often, and with such a combination of glee and indignation, that you would have thought that before launching a gutter ball, Obama had donned a powdered wig, sipped from a snifter of brandy, then smacked Rocky Blier across the face with his riding crop. “This gets very ethnic,” Matthews said at one point, a preface that no doubt made his producers whisper, “Oh God, please don’t.” He then went on, “But the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody, but the fact that he’s that terrible at bowling does make you wonder.” Makes you wonder what, exactly? Whether he would be a better president, were he a better bowler? No, what Matthews wonders is whether Obama can “woo more regular voters — you know, the ones who actually do know how to bowl.”

According to the Times Magazine article, Matthews makes a salary of $5 million a year. When it comes time to relax, he doesn’t head to the Jersey shore, where the typical blue-collar Philadelphian might go to get some sea air. Instead, Matthews repairs to his $4.35 million house on Nantucket.

I don’t mind that Chris Matthews has a house on Nantucket; maybe I would too, if I made as much money as him. And I don’t care whether John Boehner prefers a fine wine to a downmarket beer. My problems with Boehner have nothing to do with his personal tastes in food and recreation. The thing about politicians is that they take positions and perform official actions that give great insight into whether and how much they care about regular people. That’s the place to look if you want to know who they really are. You don’t have to ask where they eat breakfast.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 17, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | John Boehner, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The “I Hate Everything” Vote”: The GOP Base That’s Always Been Around, But Given A Fresh Identity By The Tea Party Movement

There’s a new ABC-WaPo poll out showing about what you’d expect: the president’s job approval rating is at 43%, about what it was last month but way down from a year ago.

But at The Fix, Sean Sullivan and Scott Clement look at a large slice of the electorate they call “haters,” and see a potential GOP landslide coming. The “haters” are people who disapprove of the president and both congressional parties.

Seventy-two percent of voters who disapprove of the job Obama, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans are doing say they’d vote for the GOP candidate for U.S. House in their district if the election were held today, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday. Just 14 percent say they’d vote for the Democrat….

[T]he haters don’t tilt as heavily toward the GOP now as they did on the eve of the GOP wave election of 2010, when 85 percent said they planned to vote for the GOP candidate.

Now you might look at some of these numbers and conclude that Democrats should be frantically appealing to the “haters,” since they are “between” the two parties and open to both. But you’d be wrong: the people we are talking about are largely GOP “base” voters if they vote at all. They’ve always been around, but the Tea Party Movement has given them a fresh identity: people who will vote for any Republican over any Democrat 99 out of 100 times, but can’t bring themselves to say they approve of any major party that’s not busily tearing down the welfare state or eliminating taxes. To their credit, Sullivan and Clement note the “haters” strong right-ward tilt:

Thirty-four percent identify as Republicans and another 38 percent are independents who lean Republican. Just 13 percent are independents with no lean and just 10 percent are Democrats.

So in any poll of the popularity of the two parties, you have to put a fat thumb on the scale for Republicans because so many of their own just won’t admit their proclivities. Yes, haters are gonna hate both parties, but they’re sure not up for grabs at the ballot box.


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

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Voters | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Conservatives Have No Idea What To Do About Recessions”: Republicans Have Not The Wrong Answer, But No Answer

For the last five years, liberals have promoted three main economic policies to shorten or ameliorate the Great Recession and speed the recovery from it.

  • Deficit-financed spending to compensate for demand gaps in the private sector.
  • Easy monetary policy to raise inflation and support demand.
  • Mortgage modifications to reduce foreclosures and support consumption.

Most conservatives hate this agenda. As Mike Konczal notes, they bizarrely portray these policies as “corporatist” efforts to enrich the rich. But what’s really weird is conservatives have no alternative to this agenda they loathe.

To be clear, conservatives absolutely do have an economic policy agenda. They favor lower taxes, less regulation, government spending cuts, more domestic energy production, school choice, free trade, and low inflation. They often cite these policies as ones that might alleviate recession and speed recovery. They favor these policies now, they favored them in 2008, and they favored them in 2004.

That is, conservatives favor the same set of economic policies when the economy is weak and when it is strong; when unemployment is high and when it is low; when few homeowners are facing foreclosure and when many are. The implication is that conservatives believe there is nothing in particular the government should do about economic cycles.

This is a big problem. Recessions are terrible. They create enormous misery by throwing people out of work and out of their homes. How can a political ideology have nothing to say about how to address recessions?

Perhaps conservatives believe that conservative economic policies will prevent recessions, making it unnecessary to have policies aimed at addressing them. That view would involve a distinctly unconservative degree of hubris.

Perhaps conservatives concede that recessions are terrible and sometimes inevitable, but genuinely believe that nothing productive can be done to address them. If that is so, how can they favor reductions in the social safety net? The argument for cutting welfare programs is that able-bodied people should work and will do so if denied the opportunity to receive benefits without working. But the defining characteristic of an economic down-cycle is that some people who would like to work cannot find work.

As with many economic issues, there is a gap between conservative wonks and conservative policymakers. Many conservative economic policy wonks break with the Republican party by favoring one or more recession-specific economic policies. Economists Luigi Zingales and Glenn Hubbard have called for aggressive programs to modify mortgages. Scott Sumner, David Beckworth, Josh Hendrickson and others have promoted monetary intervention to combat recessions. Michael Strain has promoted a suite of reforms, mostly aimed at the labor market, that would aim to cut unemployment in recessions.

But acceptance of these policies among actual Republican policymakers is near zero. The standard Republican answer for what to do about a bad economy is the same as their answer about what to do about a good economy. As with health care and bank regulation, economic recessions are a policy question to which conservatives have not the wrong answer, but no answer.


By: Josh Barro, Business Insider, December 16, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Great Recession | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Battle For The Republican Party”: Just Another GOP Pity Party, Looking For Sympathy In All The Wrong Places

Imagine what would happen if:

•  The budget deal passes the Senate with a handful of Republicans;
•  Immigration reform passes the House and something is agreed upon by the Senate;
•  In 2014 the House lead expands;
•  All Senate incumbents defeat their right-wing challengers and the GOP takes the Senate;
•  If not a grand bargain, then a modest bargain with some entitlement reform is passed; and

•  One or more tea party favorites run in 2016 and lose decisively to a mainstream GOP nominee who wins the presidency.

Well, that would be a triumph of the center-right and the demise of the tea party, at least from an electoral and governance standpoint. It would reaffirm the GOP as a national, if not dominate, party. And it would move the national agenda significantly to the right since the GOP would hold both houses of Congress and the White House.

One can see, then, that what is of tremendous benefit to mainstream Republicans (and to the agenda of conservative reform) puts the tea party professionals  — those inside the Beltway right wingers who gain glory and make money by attacking Republicans and blocking legislative compromise — largely out of business. Sure, they remain active participants in electoral politics, even more active critics and occasional contributors to national policy debates, but they no longer have the influence to either elect or primary candidates. They become merely gadflies and kibitzers.

That is one possible scenario that plays out over the next few years. One can see how the interests of mainstream and tea party conservatives collide and why, for example, the recent budget deal was a threat to the latter. The enemy (not of conservatism) but of the right wingers who depend on controversy, resentment and defeat is center-right governance. Functional government of the center-right saps the interest in throwing the “traitors” out. It discourages primaries from the right. It dulls the interest of donors.

It is important to distinguish here between conservatives who largely embrace the modern Reagan and post-Reagan agenda (best exemplified these days by GOP governors) and right wingers, those whose volume is always turned to high, see politics as all-or-nothing, want to take the country back to the pre-New Deal or even pre-Progressive era, and aim to freeze the United States demographically by keeping immigrants out and socially by refusing to accept changed beliefs on topics like gay marriage. The entities and politicians (the Heritage Action, angry talk radio, Sen. Ted Cruz crowd) that populate the second group flourish when the GOP is in the minority, so defeat is their ally.

The contrast between the two groups is evident in the trajectory of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), pre- and post-shutdown. His ideology didn’t change, but his tone, outlook and purpose sure did after he saw the destruction wrought by the shutdown. He moved from the group that relishes defeat and delights in spreading resentment to the group that wants to govern. I’d suggest in the wake of the shutdown, and now the budget deal, we will see more conservatives follow Lee’s lead.

Now, there is another scenario, maybe less likely but certainly possible over the next few years:

•  The budget deal passes the Senate with no Republicans;
•  Immigration reform never passes the House and nothing is agreed upon with the Senate;
•  In 2014 the House GOP lead stays the same or shrinks;
•  Some Senate incumbents defeat their right-wing challengers, but others do not and the GOP doesn’t take the Senate;
•  No bargains are struck for the remainder of the Obama term; and
•  One or more tea party favorites runs in 2016, one wins the nomination and loses decisively to Hillary Clinton while the GOP House majority is lost as well.

In that case we return to an era of Democratic rule and the GOP becomes a marginal player on the national scene. It is impossible, I would suggest, for the country to be governed mostly, let alone entirely, by the GOP if the tea party contingent triumphs within the GOP. The people who brought us the shutdown do not reflect the desires, outlook and views of a majority of the country. When presented with that alternative, the lion share of the country will choose the Democrats time and time again.

Which one will it be? It’s up to GOP office holders, candidates and voters.

By: Jennifer Rubin, Opinion Blogger, Right Turn; The Washington Post, December 16, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ideological Hurdle They Can’t Clear”: Why There’s No Republican Health Care Plan

Where’s the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act? The question is generally best suited for milk cartons – it’s pretty clear GOP officials would love to “repeal” the federal health care law, but we’ve been waiting for years to know what they’d “replace” it with.

This observation is an ongoing point of annoyance for the right, which is quick to argue that a variety of Republicans have presented reform plans of their own. Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist and Patrick Gleason push the argument in a new Politico piece, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) made a related case in the Republicans’ official weekly address over the weekend.

“There are common-sense, bipartisan solutions to our health care problems that don’t require ObamaCare’s wholesale government take-over of the system,” Toomey said. “Now, in a nutshell, we can make insurance more accessible, more affordable, and more responsive to individuals and families. And put patients and their doctors in charge of health care decisions, instead of politicians and government bureaucrats.” […]

Toomey did not mention a specific proposal, but he voiced support for allowing people to transfer insurance from job to job and purchase it across state lines.

And just like that, we’re reminded all over again why Republicans love to attack what exists, but struggle to craft a credible alternative of their own. Toomey still doesn’t quite understand that the Affordable Care Act is not a “wholesale government take-over” of the health care system, and more importantly, can’t get past the “nutshell” phase of the GOP’s rival policy.

In fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that Republicans did present something resembling a health care plan in 2009. Following up on our previous coverage, GOP officials missed a series of self-imposed deadlines in 2009, but eventually threw together a half-hearted joke – the GOP “policy” largely ignored the uninsured, did nothing for those with pre-existing conditions, and offered nothing for those worried about losing coverage when it’s needed most.

As Matt Yglesias noted at the time, the Republican approach to reform sought to create a system that “works better for people who don’t need health care services, and much worse for people who actually are sick or who become sick in the future. It’s basically a health un-insurance policy.” And as ThinkProgress added, the CBO crunched the numbers and found that the Republican alternative would leave “about 52 million” Americans without access to basic medical care.

Pressed for some kind of alternative to Obamacare, this was the best congressional Republicans could do.

Since then, GOP lawmakers have periodically stepped up with alternatives, all of which looked pretty similar. Indeed, a few months ago, when the Republican Study Committee said they’d finally put together an “Obamacare” rival, Ed Kilgore predicted before its unveiling that the policy would feature high-risk pools, interstate sales, tax credits, tort reform, and entitlement reform. A couple of hours later, the RSC unveiled its proposal and it was … exactly what Kilgore predicted it would be.

Months later, Toomey used his party’s weekly address to reiterate support for the same cliches.

The result is a stunted debate. We don’t have two competing approaches to solving a problem that has plagued the nation for decades; we have one party with a solution and another party that hates the solution but has no serious alternative. And this isn’t likely to change anytime soon – NBC’s First Read reported two weeks ago, “House Republicans wouldn’t commit Tuesday to offering their own formal alternative to the Affordable Care Act, instead vaguely describing their preference for a ‘patient-driven health care system.’”

As for why Republicans have no rival plan, as we discussed in September, there’s no great mystery. Every credible, effective solution requires some combination of regulating the private insurance market and investing in broader coverage for consumers. There’s just no way around that, and as a result, GOP officials are left with an ideological hurdle they simply cannot clear.

And so Republicans spin their wheels, condemning a policy that they used to like – remember, the basic ACA blueprint was a conservative approach to health care reform – while pretending to have an alternative they can’t identify in earnest.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 16, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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