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“First, Know How Power Works”: Revolutionaries Have To Be Smart And Ruthless

Truer words were never spoken:

A top Republican National Committee staffer fired back Tuesday at presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, saying it’s not the committee’s fault that Trump’s campaign staffers and his children don’t understand the rules.

Sean Spicer, an RNC spokesman, said on CNN the delegate allocation rules in Colorado and every other state were filed with the national committee back in October and made available to every GOP campaign.

“If you’re a campaign and you don’t understand the process that’s going on, then that’s bad on the staff. That’s bad on the campaign,” he said. “Running for office entails putting together a campaign that understands the process. There’s nothing rigged.”

Spicer continued: “I understand that people sometimes don’t like the process or may not understand it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fair and open and transparent.”

Apparently, a couple of Trump’s children couldn’t even understand how to register themselves to vote in the New York primary.

Look, I understand the sentiment that the system is rotten and the game is rigged. I do. But I don’t take people seriously who seek power but have no real idea how power works. If you want to be the nominee of the Republican or the Democratic Party, you need to figure out how that can be done. And, if you’re an outsider who is running with a message that the gatekeepers are all a bunch of losers and morons, or that they’re all corrupted by money, then you’ll need a plan for winning the people you’ve insulted over to your side.

Let me remind you to take a look at the list of Republicans that Donald Trump has insulted just on Twitter. I won’t deny that Trump’s insult-dog comedy routine contributed to his electoral successes, but it’s biting him in the ass now that he’s losing delegates who should rightfully be in his corner.

Bernie Sanders ought to have understood that he needed to work very hard on introducing himself to southern black voters, but that’s only half of his problem. The other half is that the superdelegates are overwhelmingly opposed to his candidacy. He needed a plan to prevent that from happening.

We can argue about how possible it ever was for either of these candidates to win over more establishment support, but they both thought they could overcome the lack of it by going straight to the people. Trump may still pull this out, maybe, but he’s acting awfully surprised to discover that his delegates can be stolen from him for the simple reason that delegates don’t like him. A savvy adviser would have told him about this likelihood last summer, and maybe he could have been a little more selective in his insults and a little more solicitous of establishment support.

Obviously, Sanders is running an outsider campaign built on criticizing those who are flourishing in our current political system, but he’s also running to be the leader of a party (and all that party’s infrastructure and organizations), and there has to be a better middle ground that allows you to challenge entrenched power without totally alienating it. Even if there wasn’t a way to be successful in gathering more institutional support, I would have liked to see him make the effort.

So far, I’ve been focusing on a straightforward strategy for winning a major party nomination as an outsider and challenger of the status quo, which is difficult enough. But imagine if one of these two outsiders actually won the presidency. They’d both have a lot of repair work to do with an establishment that they’d have to govern.

I really do understand the appeal of declaring the whole system rotten and just going after it in a populist appeal for root-and-branch change. But I think it’s a bit of a sucker’s game to hitch yourself to that kind of wagon if you don’t get the sense that the challengers really understand how power works, how to seize it, and what to do with it if you get it.

I want a progressive challenger who is pragmatic and ruthless enough to navigate our rotten system and then have the leadership abilities to lead it once they’ve taken control of it.

I never got the sense that Sanders was that guy, or even close to that guy.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 13, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Campaign Consultants, Donald Trump, Governing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Idealism-Vs-Pragmatism Debate”: The Differences Between Obama And Sanders Matter

Paul Krugman noted the other day that there’s a “mini-dispute among Democrats” over who has the best claim to President Obama’s mantle: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The New York Times columnist made the persuasive case that the answer is obvious: “Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama.”

The framing is compelling for reasons that are probably obvious. As a candidate, Obama was the upstart outsider taking on a powerful rival – named Hillary Clinton – who was widely expected to prevail. As president, Obama has learned to temper some of his grander ambitions, confront the cold realities of governing in prose, and make incremental-but-historic gains through attrition and by navigating past bureaucratic choke points.

But the closer one looks at the Obama-Sanders parallels, the more they start to disappear.

Comparing the core messages, for example, reinforces the differences. In 2008, Obama’s pitch was rooted in hopeful optimism, while in 2016, Sanders’ message is based on a foundation of outrage. In 2008, red-state Democrats welcomed an Obama nomination – many in the party saw him as having far broader appeal in conservative areas than Clinton – while in 2016, red-state Democrats appear panicked by the very idea of a Sanders nomination.

At its root, however, is a idealism-vs-pragmatism debate, with Sanders claiming the former to Clinton’s latter. New York’s Jon Chait argues that this kind of framing misunderstands what Candidate Obama was offering eight years ago.

The young Barack Obama was already famous for his soaring rhetoric, but from today’s perspective, what is striking about his promises is less their idealism than their careful modulation.

What Obama did eight years ago, Chait added, was make his technocratic pragmatism “lyrical” – a feat Clinton won’t even try to pull off – promising incremental changes in inspirational ways.

That’s not Sanders’ pitch at all. In many respects, it’s the opposite. Whatever your opinion of the Vermonter, there’s nothing about his platform that’s incremental. The independent senator doesn’t talk about common ground and bipartisan cooperation; he envisions a political “revolution” that changes the very nature of the political process.

The president himself seems well aware of the differences between what Greg Sargent calls the competing “theories of change.” Obama had a fascinating conversation late last week with Politico’s Glenn Thrush, and while the two covered quite a bit of ground, this exchange is generating quite a bit of attention for good reason.

THRUSH: The events I was at in Iowa, the candidate who seems to be delivering that now is Bernie Sanders.

OBAMA: Yeah.

THRUSH: I mean, when you watch this, what do you – do you see any elements of what you were able to accomplish in what Sanders is doing?

OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that.

I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive. You’d have to be to be in, you know, the position she’s in now, having fought all the battles she’s fought and, you know, taken so many, you know, slings and arrows from the other side. And Bernie, you know, is somebody who was a senator and served on the Veterans’ Committee and got bills done. And so the–

THRUSH: But it sounds like you’re not buying the – you’re not buying the sort of, the easy popular dichotomy people are talking about, where he’s an analog for you and she is herself?

OBAMA: No. No.

THRUSH: You don’t buy that, right?

OBAMA: No, I don’t think – I don’t think that’s true.

The electoral salience of comments like these remains to be seen, but the president is subtly taking an important shot at the rationale of Sanders’ candidacy. For any Democratic voters watching the presidential primary unfold, looking at Sanders as the rightful heir to the “change” mantle, here’s Obama effectively saying he and Sanders believe in very different kinds of governing, based on incompatible models of achieving meaningful results.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 25, 2016

January 26, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pragmatic Policy vs Ideological Philosophy

For some time now, Democrats and Republicans alike have been yearning for a great philosophical clash between the two parties. No more of this five percent of 12 percent of the federal budget stuff. We wanted entitlements, the role of government, the obligations that the old have to the young, that the rich have to the poor, that the powerful have to the powerless.

Paul Ryan’s budget offer exactly that sort of reconstruction of the social compact. America is a very different place before his budget than it would be after his budget. But though Obama’s speech was closer to that sort of clash of visions than anything he’s offered before — he used the word “vision” 15 times, for instance — what he offered was not philosophy. It was policy. But you have to read it closely — and know where it came from — to see that.

This is difficult advice when it comes to deficit reduction, but don’t look at the number. This plan cuts $4 trillion, that plan cuts $2 trillion, that one cuts $10 trillion. Those numbers reflect little but the internal hopes and dreams of the plan. If I say that my plan means Medicare will never spend another penny and economic growth will shoot to 8 percent — and that’s only a shade less optimistic than the assumptions and models included in the Ryan budget (pdf) — I can save an almost unlimited amount of money. My number can be anything I want it to be. The problem is I actually can’t save that much money because my math is based on fantasy. So my number is meaningless.

President Obama says his plan cuts $4 trillion over 12 years. Rep. Paul Ryan says his plan cuts $4 trillion over 10 years. If you look at the numbers, the two plans appear quite similar. But if you look at how they’d get to the number, they couldn’t be more different. And it’s how you get to the number that matters, because that’s what decides whether you’ll get to the number. It’s also, incidentally, what decides the shape of our government going forward.

Ryan’s number is the product of holding the growth of Medicare and Medicaid to the rate of inflation, which is far lower than has ever been shown to be possible. How he gets there is, on Medicaid, he tells the states to figure it out, and on Medicare, he tells seniors to figure it out. Both strategies have been tried: Various states have gotten waivers to radically remake their Medicaid program, and the consumer-driven model that Ryan is proposing for Medicare has been attempted in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and Medicare Advantage. None of these programs have worked, which is why we’re in our current predicament.

Obama’s number is the product of holding Medicare growth to GDP+0.5 percent — which is, in practice, a few percentage points beyond inflation, and a few percentage points behind the health-care system’s normal rate of growth. He mostly gets there through the cost controls passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, which hope to hold Medicare to GDP+1 percent. He then proposes to shave a further half-percentage point off the growth rate by introducing value-based insurance — where we pay more for treatments that are proven to work than for treatments that are not proven to work — into Medicare and giving generic drugs quicker entry into the marketplace. These programs have worked at smaller scales and in more limited pilots. We don’t know if they’ll work across the entire Medicare system, but we have reason to think they will.

Then there are taxes. Ryan’s plan pledges to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, at a cost of at least $4 trillion over 10 years, and more after that. He’d then clean out the tax code, but he’d pump the money he made from closing expenditures back into tax cuts. Obama proposes to return to the Clinton-era tax rates on income over $250,000 and then raise a further trillion through closing tax expenditures. Altogether, that’s about $2 trillion less than letting all the Bush tax cuts expire, but at least $2 trillion more than Ryan’s plan. Notably, Obama hasn’t said which expenditures he’d close to get to $1 trillion. The difference between the two tax plans — particularly when added to Obama’s decision to cut $400 billion from security-related spending, while Ryan largely exempts that category — explains why Obama doesn’t have to make such deep cuts in programs for seniors and low-income Americans.

So are we finally getting the grand philosophical debate we wanted? Not quite. Obama spoke extensively of vision — the GOP’s, which “claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires … {while} asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill,” and his, “where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and rising opportunity for our children,” but he’s overselling it.

Obama’s budget is not philosophy. It is very similar to the Simpson-Bowles report, which attracted the votes of Republicans as far to the right as Tom Coburn. Few Democrats would say their vision of balancing the budget is one in which there was only one dollar of new taxes for every three dollars of spending cuts, but that’s what Obama’s proposal envisions. Obama’s budget, somewhat curiously, is what you’d expect at the end of a negotiation process, not the beginning. In fact, as it’s modeled off of Simpson-Bowles, it is the product of a negotiation process, as opposed to an opening bid. It is, in other words, policy. You could argue that this is a philosophy, and that philosophy is pragmatism, but I think that’s getting too cute. This is the sort of policy that might pass and might work.

Ryan’s budget is purer, but it is also more fantastical. It posits the government it wishes were possible, and the policies it wishes would work. It is an opening bid so ideological that it leaves little room for a process of negotiation. Every dollar it purports to raise comes from cutting spending. Not one comes from taxes. It privatizes Medicare and unwinds the federal government’s role in Medicaid. For all the philosophy in his budget — and his budget does have a very different philosophy about the proper role of government than we see in federal pllicy today — there’s neither policy that could pass nor policy that could work. And, curiously for a conservative who distrusts both government and congress, it has no answer to the question of “what if this fails?”

The policy that clarifies this difference is the “trigger.” Obama’s budget, aware that it might not pass and, if it does pass, it might not work, proposes to make automatic cuts to discretionary spending and tax expenditures if the promised savings don’t materialize. If Ryan’s budget falls shorts, there’s no comparable failsafe. That is to say, Obama’s budget has two plausible ways to get to its number, while Ryan’s budget has none. You don’t need a PhD in philosophy to understand why that’s a problem.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideology, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Defection Track In Libya: Pragmatic And Correct

Everybody has questions and anxieties about our policy in Libya. My own position is this: I oppose the policy the Obama administration has described in various public statements. I support the policy the administration is actually executing.

The intellectual, cultural and scientific findings that land on the columnist’s desk nearly every day.

The policy the administration publicly describes is constricted and implausible. The multilateral force would try to prevent a humanitarian disaster from the air, but then it remains maddeningly ambiguous about what would happen next: what our goals are; what our attitude toward the Qaddafi regime is; what an exit strategy might be.

Fortunately, the policy the Obama administration is actually implementing is more flexible and thought-through.

It starts with the same humanitarian purpose. People sometimes think of President Obama as a cool, hyper-rational calculator, but in this case he was motivated by a noble, open-hearted sentiment: that the U.S. cannot sit by and watch tens of thousands of people get massacred when it has the means to prevent it.

President Obama took this decision, I’m told, fully aware that there was no political upside while there were enormous political risks. He took it fully aware that we don’t know much about Libya. He took it fully aware that if he took this action he would be partially on the hook for Libya’s future. But he took it as an American must — motivated by this country’s historical role as a champion of freedom and humanity — and with the awareness that we simply could not stand by with Russia and China in opposition.

In this decision, one could see the same sensitive, idealistic man who wrote “Dreams From My Father.”

As president, of course, one also has to think practically. The president and the secretary of state reached a hardheaded conclusion. If Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is actively slaughtering his own people, then this endeavor cannot end with a cease-fire that allows him to remain in power. Regime change is the goal of U.S. policy.

There are three plausible ways he might go, which inside the administration are sometimes known as the Three Ds. They are, in ascending order of likelihood: Defeat — the ragtag rebel army vanquishes his army on the battlefield; Departure — Qaddafi is persuaded to flee the country and move to a villa somewhere; and Defection — the people around Qaddafi decide there is no future hitching their wagon to his, and, as a result, the regime falls apart or is overthrown.

The result is a strategy you might call Squeeze and See. The multilateral forces ratchet up the pressure and watch to see what happens. The Western nations are reaching out to senior Libyan figures to encourage defection (the foreign minister has already split, and more seem to be coming). There is an effort to broadcast television signals into Libya to rival state TV. In the liberated areas, the multilateral alliance is sending aid to build civil society and organize the political opposition. The U.S. is releasing billions of confiscated Libyan dollars to the opposition to ensure its staying power.

Eric Schmitt had a fabulous piece in The Times this week detailing what the air assault actually involves. It’s not just hitting Libyan air defenses. It also involves psychological warfare inducing Libyan soldiers to defect. It involves messing with Libyan communications systems, cutting off supply lines and creating confusion throughout the command structure.

All of this is meant to send the signal that Qaddafi has no future. Will it be enough to cause enough defections? No one knows. But given all of the uncertainties, this seems like a prudent way to test the strength of the regime and expose its weaknesses.

It may turn out in the months ahead that we simply do not have the capacity, short of an actual invasion (which no one wants), to dislodge Qaddafi. But, at worst, the Libyan people will be no worse off than they were when government forces were bearing down on Benghazi and preparing for slaughter. At best, we may help liberate part of Libya or even, if the regime falls, the whole thing.

It is tiresome to harp on this sort of thing, but this is an intervention done in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is motivated by a noble sentiment, to combat evil, but it is being done without self-righteousness and with a prudent awareness of the limits and the ironies of history. And it is being done at a moment in history when change in the Arab world really is possible.

Libyan officials took Western reporters to the town of Gharyan this week to show them the grave of a baby supposedly killed in the multilateral bombing campaign. But the boy’s relatives pulled the reporters aside, David D. Kirkpatrick reported in The Times. “What NATO is doing is good,” one said. “He is not a man,” another whispered of Qaddafi. “He is Dracula. For 42 years it has been dark. Anyone who speaks, he kills. But everyone wants Qaddafi to go.”

By: David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 31, 2011

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Dictators, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Libya, Media, No Fly Zones, Politics, President Obama, Qaddafi, United Nations, War | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government by the Week: Is A Government Shutdown The End-Game For The GOP?

Parents have begun arranging alternative child care for their preschoolers, uncertain of whether their Head Start program will be there when they need it. The Social Security Administration is unable to open new hearing offices to handle a backlog of appeals. The Pentagon has had to delay equipment repairs. There is chaos throughout the federal government, as Robert Pear reported in The Times on Tuesday, because a riven Congress has forced agencies to operate on a week-by-week basis.

Yet, on Tuesday, the House passed another short-term spending bill. This one keeps things going for all of three weeks. The Senate will almost certainly join in shortly to avoid an impending shutdown on Friday, the result of the stopgap bill from two weeks ago.

These slipshod exercises in governance were choreographed by House Republicans, who knew that neither the Senate nor President Obama would ever accept their original proposal to gut nonsecurity discretionary spending with $61 billion in cuts through September, including riders to end financing for Planned Parenthood and the health care law. They had hoped to use the pressure of a potential shutdown to achieve much of their goal, but, so far, all they have accomplished is a cut of about $10 billion, mostly from earmarks or programs that the president himself proposed to cut. (The new bill cuts $6 billion.)

House Republican leaders, who say they do not want a government shutdown, have, so far, held off their more fanatical freshmen, who want to slash everything in sight. But the leadership cannot do so forever, and the evidence of that was clear on Tuesday. More than 50 Republicans refused to go along with the three-week resolution because it did not cut enough. Several specifically complained that it allowed financing for Planned Parenthood and the health care law to continue.

This is not a group that cares much for pragmatic compromise, and the three weeks are just a timeout. Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican who voted no on the new bill, spoke for many of his colleagues when he said the budget could not be resolved without a willingness to shut down government. “By giving liberals in the Senate another three weeks of negotiations,” he said, “we will only delay a confrontation that must come.”

He is absolutely right about that. If Democrats, including the president, do not draw a clear line soon, making their priorities and their limits unmistakable, they will be harried by these kinds of votes for years. Even in the unlikely case that an agreement is reached in three weeks to finance the government through September, a different vote will be necessary just a few weeks from now to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans have already vowed to vote that down — even though it could be financially disastrous — if they do not get their way. And then there is the vote for the fiscal 2012 budget, which begins Oct. 1, and then the year after that.

At some point, Mr. Pence will get his confrontation. If Republicans continue to press for cuts of tens of billions from discretionary spending, setting back the economic recovery largely for ideological purposes, Democrats will have to say no, even if that results in a short-term shutdown. The American people will be able to figure out who is at fault. Responsible governing means agreeing quickly to a deal to finish out the fiscal year, and then starting a serious talk about entitlement programs and taxes — the real causes of a soaring deficit.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, March 15, 2011

March 16, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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