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“A Study In Contrasts”: Take A Moment To Think About How It Is We Chose People To Be Our Political Heroes

I’m about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker – but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we’ve seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital just prior to the 2012 election.

It’s interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren’s web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long…all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for – going after Wall Street – she sponsored the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013,” which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I’d like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Very Cynical Strategy”: Having Never Tried, Republicans Want Jobs To Stay Anemic

Job-growth is sputtering. So why, exactly, do regressive Republicans continue to say “no” to every idea for boosting it — even last week’s almost absurdly modest proposal by President Obama to combine corporate tax cuts with increased in spending on roads and other public works?

It can’t be because Republicans don’t know what’s happening. The data are indisputable. July’s job growth of 162,000 jobs was the weakest in four months. The average workweek was the shortest in six months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also lowered its estimates of hiring during May and June.

It can’t be Republicans really believe further spending cuts will help. They’ve seen the effects of austerity economics on Europe. They know the study they relied on by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff has been debunked. They’re no longer even trying to make the case for austerity.

It could be they just want to continue opposing anything Obama proposes, but that’s beginning to seem like a stretch. Republican leaders and aspiring 2016 presidential candidates are warning against being the “party of ‘no.’” Public support for the GOP continues to plummet.

The real answer, I think, is they and their patrons want unemployment to remain high and job-growth to sputter. Why? Three reasons:

First, high unemployment keeps wages down. Workers who are worried about losing their jobs settle for whatever they can get — which is why hourly earnings keep dropping. The median wage is now 4 percent lower than it was at the start of the recovery. Low wages help boost corporate profits, thereby keeping the regressives’ corporate sponsors happy.

Second, high unemployment fuels the bull market on Wall Street. That’s because the Fed is committed to buying long-term bonds as long as unemployment remains high. This keeps bond yields low and pushes investors into equities — which helps boosts executive pay and Wall Street commissions, thereby keeping regressives’ financial sponsors happy.

Third, high unemployment keeps most Americans economically fearful and financially insecure. This sets them up to believe regressive lies — that their biggest worry should be that “big government” will tax away the little they have and give it to “undeserving” minorities; that they should support low taxes on corporations and wealthy “job creators;” and that new immigrants threaten their jobs.

It’s important for Obama and the Democrats to recognize this cynical strategy for what it is, and help the rest of America to see it.

And to counter with three basic truths:

First, the real job creators are consumers, and that if average people don’t have jobs or good wages this economy can’t have a vigorous recovery.

Second, the rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than their current big share of an economy that’s hardly moving.

Third, that therefore everyone would benefit from higher taxes on the wealthy to finance public investments in roads, bridges, public transit, better schools, affordable higher education, and healthcare — all of which will help the middle class and the poor, and generate more and better jobs.

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, August 3, 2013

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bolsheviks Of The Right”: The GOP Brings Politics To A Crisis Point

Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern. They are an ongoing, at this point almost mundane, threat to democracy, subverting and preventing progress the American people clearly desire across a number of fronts. They have to be stopped, and the only people who can really stop them are corporate titans and Wall Streeters, who surely now are finally beginning to see that America’s problem is not Barack Obama and his alleged “socialism,” but a political party that has become psychologically incapable of operating within the American political system.

We all know that the GOP has become much more extreme in the last few years, and, taking the longer historical view, the last 20 or 25 years. But when that gets said, it usually elides an important point—the important point. It’s usually meant to refer to the party’s policy positions. And the move to the hard right is obviously true along those lines.

But politics, and certainly political parties, aren’t only about policy positions. There’s also the question of what I’ll call process, which means simply how a party practices politics on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis. This isn’t a question of the positions per se, but how the party attempts to advance and defend them.

And it’s on process far, far more than on policy that the Republican Party has gone nutso. You know this story, too, so I needn’t rehearse the details, except to describe the current end point, which is that to the GOP today, the Democrats must be denied any victory by any means necessary. The Republicans unwilling to vote for Plan B weren’t in the main loathe to give Boehner a win. The problem was that that particular Boehner win might have led to an Obama win. That was the issue that drove them.

In that sense, all these people saying they learned no lesson from the election are completely wrong. They learned a lesson, all right, but the lesson they took away is just the opposite of the kind of lesson normal small-d democrats would learn. Normal small-d democrats would learn that you’ve lost twice now, and while you should still stick to your principles of course, it was also time to play a little ball. But these Republicans learned that they have to be even more obstructionist. Their ideas are unpopular, their America is dying. But by God, they’re standing until the last man! They’re Paulus’s soldiers at Stalingrad, surrounded by an enemy that embodies evil—and is fated to outlast them. This is how they’ve been trained to think.

So they’ll give no ground. People are now saying that the only way to avoid going off the cliff is for Boehner to let the Senate bill come to the floor and let it be passed mostly by Democrats. But what reason is there to believe that even 20 or 25 Republicans would vote for a bill? And please, don’t tell me “because a large majority of Americans would support it.” That doesn’t matter to them.

And next year, in January or February, when Joe Biden’s task force completes its work and we have new gun legislation? We have now rafts of new polling showing that clear majorities will support the kinds of proposals that are likely to be in any such legislation. But that won’t matter. They have the votes to block, and they will. And then perhaps Obama will attempt immigration reform, again with a solid majority of Americans behind him. They showed a few post-election signs of yielding here, so we’ll see. But as the issue heats up, the usual sources will start warning even the softer-hearted GOP legislators that a vote for immigration is a vote for Obama, you quisling, and if you waver on this you can certainly expect a primary challenge.

They didn’t come to Washington to govern. They came to sabotage. So our working assumption must be whatever the issue, sabotage is what they’re going to do.

And they can do it all they want. Our founders didn’t assume that a cadre of people of such immense bad faith and cynicism would ever come to control key levers of government; they built a system that would work, albeit slowly, in the hands of people of reasonably good will. It’s a system that people of bad will can subvert and stop from functioning.

Someone has to tell them enough. The only people I can think of with the power to do so are the high-profile figures of Wall Street and the corporate world. They’re the only people these Republicans might conceivably listen to. They should have done it—and some did—last year during the debt-limit hostage-taking. But then, most of corporate American was still wagering that the Republicans could beat Obama in 2012. Now that that hasn’t happened, now that we’re four years away from another election and Obama will be retiring anyway, and now that the Republicans have demonstrated that they are interested in no compromise at all in any way shape or form, maybe the business elite will finally show some responsibility.

Once upon a time, the statists—Roosevelt and his brains trusters—helped save capitalism from the Bolsheviks of the left. Today, the capitalists have to help save the state. This time the enemy is the Bolsheviks of the right, our current GOP. They’re taking us over the fiscal cliff, and they’ll do far worse without an intervention.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 23, 2012


December 24, 2012 Posted by | Democracy, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Obama Exception”: Why The “Are You Better Off” Line Won’t Work For Republicans

Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s very ambitious Democratic governor, stepped in it a bit on Sunday when he said that Americans aren’t better off today than they were four years ago.

It was a dream sound bite for Republicans, who seem convinced that swing voters will ultimately turn on President Obama if they feel the same way. Not surprisingly, Obama’s team moved quickly to provide a different answer, and O’Malley has since said that he thinks Americans are “clearly better off” now.

This illustrates the tricky spot Obama is in. He obviously can’t run the kind of feel good reelection campaign that every incumbent president dreams of, and he risks seeming like he’s trying to spin away the very real anxiety millions of Americans still feel whenever he claims his policies are working or highlights an encouraging economic statistic. But staying mute is hardly an option; doing so would concede the point and make it that much easier for Romney’s team to argue that Obama is a failed president.

And so, O’Malley’s comment aside, Democrats have settled on a message similar to what Brad Woodhouse, the DNC’s communications director, said on CNN this morning:

The truth is though is that the American people know. I mean, we were literally a plane that was heading — the trajectory was towards the ground when the president took over. He got the stick, he’s pulled us up out of that decline.

We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Lost 3.5 millions, Americans I know have not forgotten, we lost 3.5 million jobs in the last six months of the Bush administration. We gained 4.5 million jobs over the past two and a half years.
So if you just put those side by side, clearly we’re better off. However, we have a long way to go.

Context isn’t an easy sell in politics, especially since there’s usually little room for collective memory or foresight in mass opinion. But Obama’s argument may be an exception, because polls consistently show that Americans do remember what happened four years ago – who was president when the economy melted down, how severe and terrifying the fallout was, and how impossible the situation that Obama inherited was. There is evidence that memories of George W. Bush have translated into a benefit-of-the-doubt effect for Obama, leaving him in better political shape than in incumbent president in this economic climate should be.

This is why, as Greg Sargent argued Sunday, Romney’s team may be miscalculating in depending so much on economic anxiety to push swing voters into their camp. They have the examples of 1992 and 1980, the last two times incumbent presidents were defeated for reelection, in mind, but those situations were different. The “Are you better off?” question, in fact, was basically invented in ’80, when Ronald Reagan employed it to devastating effect in his debate with Jimmy Carter. The line worked so well because inflation had nearly tripled on Carter’s watch, and unemployment had climbed nearly two points in the 18 months before the election. To the casual voter, the answer to Reagan’s question was simple and obvious. There was no room for context.

It was the same in 1992. The unemployment rate had been around 5 percent when George H.W. Bush took office, but by the summer of his reelection year it had spiked to nearly 8 percent. The fall brought some signs of improvement, but it was too late for the incumbent. It sure seemed like something had happened on Bush’s watch to hurt an economy that had been working pretty well when he came to power.

This is a much different election. The economy was in a freefall that hadn’t been seen since FDR’s days as Obama was taking the oath of office. If the Wall Street meltdown had played out in September 2009, Obama probably wouldn’t be getting much benefit of the doubt now. But it played out in September 2008, at the end of a presidency that the overwhelming majority of voters had decided was a disaster. This doesn’t mean Obama is in the clear; the polls are close, and even if he wins, it will probably be by a narrow margin. But “Are you better off?” doesn’t automatically undermine him the way it did with Carter and Bush 41.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, September 3, 2012

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hack On The Stomp: Lindsey Graham Forgets What “Everything” Means

Lindsey Graham sure does sound confident about 2012.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says the 2012 presidential election is the GOP’s to lose.

“President Obama has done everything he knows how to do to beat himself,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The reason people have little [confidence] in President Obama’s policies is they’re just not working. Everything is worse.”

Now, as I recall, Graham’s record of election predictions isn’t exactly sterling. A week before the 2008 election, Graham was in North Carolina touting John McCain’s chances. “[McCain] fits North Carolina like a glove…. I’ll beat Michael Phelps in swimming before Barack Obama wins North Carolina.”

A week later, Obama won North Carolina. Michael Phelps was unavailable for comment.

The senator’s track record notwithstanding, I still think Republicans are making a mistake with this “everything is worse” nonsense. Sure, Graham’s a hack, more concerned with cheap shots than telling the public the truth, but he should nevertheless realize he’s making the wrong argument.

“Everything is worse”? That might make more sense were it not for the fact that:

* American job creation is better now than when Bush left office.

* American economic growth is better now than when Bush left office.

* Al Qaeda is dramatically weaker now than when Bush left office.

* The American automotive industry is vastly stronger now than when Bush left office.

* The struggle for equality of the LGBT community is vastly better now than when Bush left office.

* The U.S. health care system is better and more accessible than when Bush left office.

* The federal budget deficit is better now than when Bush left office.

* The major Wall Street indexes and corporate profits are better now than when Bush left office.

* International respect for the United States is better now than when Bush left office.

Want to try that again, Lindsey?

Whether Graham realizes it or not, he and his cohorts are inadvertently making President Obama’s pitch to voters significantly easier. By that I mean, they’re creating a standard for the debate: either conditions have improved since Obama took office or they haven’t. What the right still doesn’t understand is that this is the best of all possible standards for Democrats.

If the message to voters is, “The status quo stinks,” that’s a tough message for Dems to argue against, because as much progress as there’s been since late 2008, conditions are still awful for much of the country. We were in a very deep hole, and we’re not done climbing out.

But if the pitch is, “Obama made it worse,” that’s a much easier message for Dems to argue against because it’s demonstrably ridiculous.

Republicans, who are usually better at messaging than this, are setting up the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Did Obama make things good?” they’re urging voters to ask, “Did Obama make things worse?” Democrats much prefer the latter for a reason.

If all Obama has to do is prove he didn’t make things worse, he stands a much better chance.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 18, 2011

September 19, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Unemployed, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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