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“Presidential Leadership Is A Moving Target”: For Republicans, President Obama Shouldn’t Do Anything That Might Make Them Mad

If Ron Fournier’s goal was to generate some discussion with his new column, he succeeded. Putting aside whether readers found his thesis compelling, it’s clearly generated some chatter.

Before highlighting Fournier’s case, it’s important to note for those unfamiliar with his work that the National Journal columnist is perhaps best known for his frequent – some might say, incessant – calls for President Obama to “lead” more. Many, including me, tend to think Fournier’s thesis is superficial and blind to institutional limits, but it’s nevertheless become a signature issue for him.

It’s with this background in mind that his latest piece seemed especially noteworthy. Fournier considered the president’s possible use of executive actions on some key issues, including immigration, and urged caution.

Bypassing Congress may be legal. The reforms he wants may be a good idea. But when I look beyond the next election and set aside my issue biases, I reluctantly conclude that it would be very wrong.

Depending on how far Obama extends presidential authority – and he suggested Wednesday that he’s willing to stretch it like soft taffy – this could be a political nuclear bomb. The man whose foundational promise was unity (“I don’t want to pit red America against blue America”) could seal his fate as the most polarizing president in history.

Well, that certainly sounds serious. Fournier has been eager, if not desperate, to see Obama lead more, but now that the president is considering a forceful demonstration of leadership, the columnist sees a “political nuclear bomb.” And why is that?

For argument’s sake, let’s say Obama is right on the issue and has legal authority to act. The big question is … Would it be wrong to end-run Congress? Another way to put it might be, “Would more polarization in Washington and throughout the country be wrong?” How about exponentially more polarization, gridlock, and incivility? If the president goes too far, he owns that disaster.

Hmm. For argument’s sake, the nation is facing some serious policy challenges, and the White House has some meaningful solutions in mind. Those solutions, again for argument’s sake, are both legally sound and correct on the merits. As a matter of public policy, President Obama could take these actions and advance proposals with real merit.

But apparently, he should do no such thing. Fournier, who has spent years complaining about the need for Obama to lead more, now recommends the president lead less – because doing the correct and legally sound thing would make Obama’s opponents unhappy.

It’s a curious prescription for presidential leadership: Obama should take bold moves to move the nation forward, but only if his opponents who refuse to govern first extend their approval.

Under this Fournier thesis, legal authority and policy merit are but two legs of a three-legged stool. The president still needs permission from those who would see him fail – even if they refuse to govern, even if they will not negotiate in good faith, even if their preferred policy is to do nothing, regardless of the consequences.

Kevin Drum summarized this nicely: “What Fournier is saying is that President Obama shouldn’t do anything that might make Republicans mad. But this means the president is literally helpless: No proposal of his has any chance of securing serious Republican engagement in Congress, but he’s not allowed to take executive action for fear of making them even more intransigent. Obama’s only legitimate option, apparently, is to persuade Republicans to support his proposals, even though it’s no secret that Republicans decided years ago to obstruct everything, sight unseen, that was on Obama’s agenda. So that leaves Obama with no options at all.”

I find Fournier’s argument well-intentioned, but ultimately incomprehensible. Indeed, to a certain degree it’s bizarre – Fournier has argued that Obama must “act” on his agenda. Great presidents, the columnist has said, “find a way” to advance their goals, even in the face of fierce opposition.

And as Obama prepares to do exactly that, effectively embracing on Fourier’s own advice, the National Journal columnist suddenly decides bold presidential action isn’t so great after all. Obama’s principal concern should no longer be advancing worthwhile ideas to advance national interests, but rather, the focus should be what might make Republicans – the unpopular party that lost the most recent elections – angrier than they already are.

The president’s detractors can’t have it both ways. They can’t say Obama is leading too much and too little at the same time. They shouldn’t demand bold action and passive timidity simultaneously.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 8, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Count Primaries In The Short Run”: The Tea Party Is Still A Powerful Force In GOP Politics

Liberal-friendly media outlets have been running obituaries for the Tea Party almost from the moment the grassroots conservative movement began in 2009. Tea Party anger over ObamaCare and corporate bailouts helped fuel a surprise Republican wave in 2010, shocking most pundits, as the House of Representatives shifted firmly into the GOP’s control. But then the movement fell short in 2012, and ever since then, much of the media have once again seemed eager to pronounce the Tea Party either dead or irrelevant — missing the larger point, and the larger impact. And the media’s Tea Party misfire will surely continue today, now that longtime Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts has emerged victorious over conservative challenger Milton Wolf in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Or take, for instance, this year’s Mississippi Senate primary. The Republican incumbent, Thad Cochran, has a long reputation for pork-barrel politics and down-home pandering, neither of which has endeared him to small-government conservatives. The competitive challenge from Chris McDaniel came as a shock to Cochran and his supporters, who believed they could get one more easy ride back to the Senate from the seven-term senator in one of the friendliest states for Republicans. Instead, McDaniel narrowly edged Cochran in the initial vote, and narrowly lost the runoff — although McDaniel is contesting the results. To win the runoff, Cochran had to appeal to an unusual constituency: Democrats.

But in most states where incumbents faced challenges from Tea Party activists, the incumbents have had to defend their conservative credentials. Two key Senate GOP leaders had to fend off challengers with more effort than they have probably expended in several cycles put together. National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn defeated a sitting House member, Steve Stockman, in the March primary in Texas, but it wasn’t easy; Cornyn got 59 percent of the vote, a decent enough showing, but hardly a ringing endorsement, even after Cornyn vigorously defended his brand of conservatism in the Lone Star State.

Mitch McConnell in Kentucky found himself in the hot seat, too. The Senate minority leader often runs afoul of Tea Party activists for his efforts to find compromise on issues when the grassroots want confrontation. McConnell won his Senate primary by 25 points over a first-time challenger, whose campaign ended up collapsing under its own weight. But first, Matt Bevin forced McConnell to shift to the right and get more defiant, at least rhetorically speaking.

Most Republican incumbents knew to move to the right well before the primary campaign; Lindsey Graham began laying the groundwork two years ago for his re-election effort, which paid off this spring in an easy win over six challengers. But not everyone got the memo. The biggest surprise came in the primary for Virginia’s 7th congressional district, where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was expected to win easily. Cantor certainly expected it, spending most of his campaign fundraising outside of the district and barely engaging in his own race. Dave Brat, a local college professor with no electoral experience but with plenty of grassroots support, spent less on his whole campaign than Cantor spent on steakhouses — and ended up beating Cantor by double digits.

This dynamic — of conservative challengers, win or lose, forcing longtime incumbents to be more conservative — seems to be lost on the media. This week, both CBS News and The Hill ran Tea Party obituaries. CBS called this week’s primaries “the Tea Party’s last gasp this year,” while The Hill said that the movement’s Senate hopes will surely “fade.” And in the moment, that might well be true.

But look: The true test of the Tea Party won’t be in primary victories this week or this year, but in the impact of the conservative grassroots movement on the Republican Party. We have already seen incumbents who have rarely if ever had to deal with intraparty challengers shift their focus and message in response. The lack of banner wins in 2012 certainly didn’t persuade most of these incumbents to dismiss that pressure — in fact, the ones who succeeded most were the ones who prepared soonest and most vigorously.

When the New Left brand of progressivism arose in the 1960s, its candidates didn’t win a lot of elections at first either. It took two decades for the pressure of the movement to shift the center of the Democratic Party away from its traditional, blue-collar liberalism. In the late 1980s, the trend worried Democrats enough to form the Democratic Leadership Council to push back and recruit moderates to run for office, the most successful of which was Bill Clinton in 1992. By 2008, his wife blew her opening for the presidential nomination in part by falling short of the progressive credentials of Barack Obama.

The lesson here is not to count primaries in the short run. Look for the way incumbents have to defend their record and wait for the grassroots to produce change organically over the long run.

 

By: Edward Morrissey, The Week, August 6, 2014

 

August 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Phosphorus And Freedom”: The Libertarian Fantasy

In the latest Times Magazine, Robert Draper profiled youngish libertarians — roughly speaking, people who combine free-market economics with permissive social views — and asked whether we might be heading for a “libertarian moment.” Well, probably not. Polling suggests that young Americans tend, if anything, to be more supportive of the case for a bigger government than their elders. But I’d like to ask a different question: Is libertarian economics at all realistic?

The answer is no. And the reason can be summed up in one word: phosphorus.

As you’ve probably heard, the City of Toledo recently warned its residents not to drink the water. Why? Contamination from toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, largely caused by the runoff of phosphorus from farms.

When I read about that, it rang a bell. Last week many Republican heavy hitters spoke at a conference sponsored by the blog Red State — and I remembered an antigovernment rant a few years back from Erick Erickson, the blog’s founder. Mr. Erickson suggested that oppressive government regulation had reached the point where citizens might want to “march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp.” And the source of his rage? A ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergent. After all, why would government officials want to do such a thing?

An aside: The states bordering Lake Erie banned or sharply limited phosphates in detergent long ago, temporarily bringing the lake back from the brink. But farming has so far evaded effective controls, so the lake is dying again, and it will take more government intervention to save it.

The point is that before you rage against unwarranted government interference in your life, you might want to ask why the government is interfering. Often — not always, of course, but far more often than the free-market faithful would have you believe — there is, in fact, a good reason for the government to get involved. Pollution controls are the simplest example, but not unique.

Smart libertarians have always realized that there are problems free markets alone can’t solve — but their alternatives to government tend to be implausible. For example, Milton Friedman famously called for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration. But in that case, how would consumers know whether their food and drugs were safe? His answer was to rely on tort law. Corporations, he claimed, would have the incentive not to poison people because of the threat of lawsuits.

So, do you believe that would be enough? Really? And, of course, people who denounce big government also tend to call for tort reform and attack trial lawyers.

More commonly, self-proclaimed libertarians deal with the problem of market failure both by pretending that it doesn’t happen and by imagining government as much worse than it really is. We’re living in an Ayn Rand novel, they insist. (No, we aren’t.) We have more than a hundred different welfare programs, they tell us, which are wasting vast sums on bureaucracy rather than helping the poor. (No, we don’t, and no, they aren’t.)

I’m often struck, incidentally, by the way antigovernment clichés can trump everyday experience. Talk about the role of government, and you invariably have people saying things along the lines of, “Do you want everything run like the D.M.V.?” Experience varies — but my encounters with New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission have generally been fairly good (better than dealing with insurance or cable companies), and I’m sure many libertarians would, if they were honest, admit that their own D.M.V. dealings weren’t too bad. But they go for the legend, not the fact.

Libertarians also tend to engage in projection. They don’t want to believe that there are problems whose solution requires government action, so they tend to assume that others similarly engage in motivated reasoning to serve their political agenda — that anyone who worries about, say, environmental issues is engaged in scare tactics to further a big-government agenda. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, doesn’t just think we’re living out the plot of “Atlas Shrugged”; he asserts that all the fuss over climate change is just “an excuse to grow government.”

As I said at the beginning, you shouldn’t believe talk of a rising libertarian tide; despite America’s growing social liberalism, real power on the right still rests with the traditional alliance between plutocrats and preachers. But libertarian visions of an unregulated economy do play a significant role in political debate, so it’s important to understand that these visions are mirages. Of course some government interventions are unnecessary and unwise. But the idea that we have a vastly bigger and more intrusive government than we need is a foolish fantasy.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 10, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Deregulation, Environment, Libertarians | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘From Embattled To Pitiful”: Boehner Has A New Pitch To Defend Congressional Ineptitude

About a year ago, a reporter started to ask House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about Congress’ “historically unproductive” term. “That’s just total nonsense,” he snapped, before the question was even finished.

In reality, it wasn’t nonsense at all, and the question appears even more apt now. The fact remains that this is the least productive Congress since clerks started keeping track nearly a century ago.

Soon after, Boehner switched gears and tried to turn the argument around – sure, he said, Congress isn’t legislating, but that’s a good thing. According to Boehner, Congress “should not be judged by how many new laws we create,” but rather, Congress “ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

This effort to rebrand failure also posed a problem: Congress hasn’t repealed laws, either. By either standard, the legislative branch was failing miserably.

But the hapless House Speaker clearly remains sensitive about Congress’ ineptitude, which seems to have led him to an entirely new argument: Congress isn’t working, but the Republican-led House is awesome.

As he began his annual month-long, 14-state bus tour this week, the Ohio Republican left many of the red-meat issues that rev up his base back in Washington. Instead, he’s trying to promote a different message: Republicans are doing the legislating while everyone else is slacking off. […]

“When you hear all this stuff about the Congress, understand there are two bodies in the Congress,” Boehner said during a morning fundraiser in Bolingbrook, a suburb of Chicago. “One is working our rear ends off, and frankly, you’d be surprised all the stuff we do is done on a bipartisan basis. [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid didn’t even try to pass a border bill that we passed last Friday.”

And it’s at this point when the House Speaker made the transition from embattled to pitiful.

Boehner may feel slightly embarrassed for creating an accomplishment-free legacy for himself, and he’s no doubt frustrated by the fact that Congress’ approval rating has fallen to levels unseen since the dawn of modern polling, but this latest tack to rationalize failure is laughable.

Consider the example Boehner himself is using: the GOP-led House passed a “border bill,” while the Democratic-led Senate ignored it. Proof of House Republicans working their “rear ends off”? Not for anyone who was actually awake and watching Congress last week.

The House’s “border bill” was a ridiculous joke that even Boehner didn’t like. The Speaker pushed an entirely different bill; his own members decided to ignore his weak leadership (again); causing Boehner to give up and tell right-wing extremists to write whatever they wanted, without any regard for whether it would become law.

It was a pathetic effort to ram through a symbolic gesture, not a legitimate effort to pass a real bill. That Boehner is using this as a great example of how effective House Republicans are helps prove the exact opposite point.

On the surface, it stands to reason both sides are going to blame the other – in this do-nothing Congress, the Democratic Senate wants voters to blame the Republican House and vice versa. None of this is surprising.

But there’s an objective truth available to anyone who wants to see it. This Congress could approve immigration reform, tax reform, ENDA, and a minimum-wage increase, among other things, were it not for the no-compromise, far-right party dominating the U.S. House. That’s just the reality.

Boehner, taking orders instead of giving them, has approved a bunch of symbolic, partisan bills that no one, including Republicans, expect to become law, but that’s not governing – it’s self-indulgent posturing. Until the Speaker is prepared to acknowledge the difference, Congress will remain a national embarrassment.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 7, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What ‘War On Whites’?”: The Myth Of White Victimhood Is Not Just Ahistorical, But Obscene In Its Willful Ignorance

If there really were a “war on whites,” as a Republican congressman from Alabama ludicrously claims, it wouldn’t be going very well for the anti-white side.

In 2012, the last year for which comprehensive Census Bureau data are available, white households had a median income of $57,009, compared with $33,321 for African American households and $39,005 for Hispanic households. The white-black income gap was almost exactly the same as in 1972; the gap between whites and Hispanics actually worsened.

According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, the average white family has six times as much accumulated wealth as the average black or Hispanic family. Other authoritative data show that African Americans and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to be unemployed, impoverished or incarcerated.

Yet Rep. Mo Brooks feverishly imagines that whites are somehow under attack and that the principal assailant is — why am I not surprised? — President Obama.

Asked whether Republicans were alienating Latino voters with their position on immigration, Brooks said this to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

Ingraham, who makes her living as a rhetorical flamethrower, actually told the congressman that his “phraseology might not be the best choice.” But Brooks stuck to his appalling thesis in a subsequent interview with AL.com, saying that “in effect, what the Democrats are doing with their dividing America by race is they are waging a war on whites and I find that repugnant.”

Brooks is from Alabama, where public officials used fire hoses and attack dogs against black children who were peacefully trying to integrate the whites-only lunch counters of Birmingham. Where terrorists acting in the name of white supremacy bombed a historic African American church, killing four little girls. Where demonstrators marching for voting rights were savagely beaten by police and vigilantes as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Brooks is 60, which means he lived through these events. Surely he knows that it was white-imposed Jim Crow segregation — not anything that black or brown people did — that divided America by race. At some level, he must realize that his overheated blather about a “war on whites” is not just ahistorical but obscene in its willful ignorance.

But maybe not. Maybe Brooks has fully bought in to the paranoid myth of white victimhood that gives the opposition to Obama and his policies such an edge of nastiness and desperation.

I do not believe it can be a coincidence that this notion of whites somehow being under attack is finding new expression — not just in Brooks’s explicit words but in the euphemistic language of many others as well — when the first black president lives in the White House.

The myth of victimhood is not new. Long after it was understood that slavery was morally wrong, Southern whites justified its perpetuation by citing the fear that blacks, once liberated, would surely take bloody revenge against those who had held them in bondage. Jim Crow laws and lynchings had a similar purpose. In the minds of his assassins, 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured and killed to protect the flower of Southern womanhood.

The myth surfaces whenever Obama comments on race. When he spoke about the killing of Trayvon Martin, nothing he said was inherently controversial. But the mere fact that Obama expressed sympathy for Martin was taken by some as an attack on the forces of law and order, or an apology for hip-hop “thug life” culture, or an indication that his real agenda is to ban all handguns, or something along those ridiculous lines. When Obama was running for president, I wrote that to win he would have to be perceived as “the least-aggrieved black man in America.” He has tried his best, but for some people it’s not enough.

There are other reasons why the myth of white victimhood is gaining strength — economic dislocation, rapid immigration from Latin America, changing demographics that will make this a majority-minority country before mid-century. But I can’t help feeling that Obama’s race heightens the sense of being under siege.

Congressman Brooks, you’re talking pure gibberish. But thanks for being honest.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 7, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Racism, War on Whites, Whites | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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