Destabilizers and Laying Blame

Set aside S&P's credibility problems and their $2 Trillion oopsie (also, somewhat credible defenses from Ezra Klein and Felix Salmon), and what they're saying is we don't care exactly how you do it, as long as everyone agrees to do it for longer than the next election cycle.  Cuts are super, no revenue increases = unrealistic, and someone we aren't serious enough to name specifically used the prospect of default as a bargaining chip, and that's just crazy.

The reasons for the downgrade, in a nutshell: dysfunctional politics.  And NYU's Jay Rosen nails it in a tweet:

If we are to credit S & P's clear thinking, as says, then the opinion should have read: the Republicans destabilized the system.

But saying that directly in a report that could (probably not) further weaken the US economy would be uncivil! Let's just dance around it, fan the flames of dysfunction, and scurry back before Goldman Sachs yells at us again.

In the end, the downgrade may be useful in elevating a legitimate point from progressive circles to, oh, say, the White House and Senate Dems:  The House of Representatives is held hostage by a pack of simple minded zealots who don't give two shits about governance, economics, or reality. The Daily Beast profiles 19 freshmen who'd like to see it all burn:

If there is one thing clear from the Tea Party caucus’ first triumph, it is that its members don’t adhere to Washington convention or care about public sentiment. The greater the criticism, the more they stiffen. Their singular focus is collapsing the size of government, at any cost.

No tactic is too extreme, no issue too small (debt-ceiling votes used to be routine before they came to Washington), and no offer of a federal project for their district or a glitzy committee assignment can lure them from the stubborn line they intend to hold against spending.

“So you’re sitting down with [Speaker] Boehner and [House Majority Leader] Cantor, and they’re offering you stuff for a vote,” Walsh, the Illinois Republican, recalls. “They can help you and do some things, you know, committee assignments and help moving up the chain.

“But whew,” he says, making a whistling sound and sweeping his hand over his head. “You’re talking beyond me. I just don’t care.”

Calling this a mere lack of adherance to "Washington convention" is like calling Charlie Manson a "free thinker."  It's clear, for what it's worth, that S&P puts a lot of the reason for the downgrade on a handful of lawmakers with a near-religious fidelity to an American history they've re-imagined in their own image.  It's not just that the President shouldn't be open to negotiating with the lowest common demoninators, it's that you can't negoatiate with them, and they rule the GOP.

Also via Tweet, Robert Reich sees a way around it for Obama:

Mr President: Put forth bold jobs plan, challenge Rs to support it, and if they refuse make it center of your 2012 campaign.

Keyword: bold.  Drew Westen writes today that the President's problem is messaging.  He didn't tell a story with clearly defined villains, Westen says.  I agree.  But while the blame for the downgrade itself may be clear, blame for the situation right now should be spread on Democrats across the board.  More from the Daily Beast:

This time the geometry of triangulation is different. Obama is hunkered in one corner with House and Senate Democrats, who are increasingly alienated by the president’s willingness to compromise with the conservative wing of the GOP.

House and Senate Democrats are alienated?  Valid criticism -- and important going forward -- but Democratic lawmakers get a pass now considering their track record and the Legislative Meh they've served up again and again?  The POTUS and Democratic lawmakers shoulder the blame for the 2010 outcome.  Sure the story could have been better told by Obama. Also true, legislative agendas under a Democratic majority haven't lent themselves well to defining a compelling narrative. For every legislative success there is a contradicting backstory.  For every bold challenge, a walk back.  Where's the inspiration in running away from a pre-election Bush Tax Cut fight? Where's the vision in letting Max Bacchus wander health care reform through the woods for months?  NYT's Timothy Egan wrote in August 2010, foretelling Democratic losses, "[Democrats] have been terrible at trying to explain who they stand for and the larger goal of their governance."

The public has long been soured on the tea party, even in conservative meccas.  They support tax reforms and increased contributions from the nation's most wealthy.  They've cooled on the overly-simplistic Republican slogans and warmed to blaming them for failure to solve our country's problems.  They want Social Security and Medicare strengthened not shredded

Now if they could only find a party that stood for those things!

Been Here Before

A strange thing happened to me this Fall.  I stopped writing regularly about politics, for the first time since 2005.  I absorbed about as much as I always have, but all I had little more to say than "This is stupid."  Rinse, repeat.

I've always felt that the best blogging -- at least the stories I enjoyed reading the most -- were 2 parts productive anger, and one part cynicism, as least toward the two party architecture of our politics.  And in November, I was angry.  The Democrats had just backed away from the only winable fight on the Bush Tax Cuts, and seemed hell bent on heading into the election with nothing much to get voters, at home either content or disenfranchised, out to the polls to fight back.  Part of that was the policy they were defending, and part of it was the lack of any unified, consistent message.  You can't campaign on principle your policy doesn't back up, and the principle the policy does portrays -- Eh, we sorta tried? -- isn't a winning slogan.  Ta-da!  GOP "mandate."

We've been here before. 

In 2006, I remember making MoveOn.org calls for Claire McCaskill from a coffee shop in northern Utah, almost as a rebellion against the politics of the state I live in as much as wanting to be a part of what seemed like an actual "movement" developing in the Democratic Party.  Dean was out fighting, the message was tight, targeted, and right.  A takeover was a-foot.  Right?

In 2008, I remember sitting in that same coffee shop re-drafting talking points for a long shot congressional candidate headed to an OFA event in Salt Lake City, feeling I was still a part of something bigger.  That campaign ended with the predictable 60/30 split Democrats can't seem to break here.  I was a bit frustrated with the voting betrayal of some I'd worked for in 2006.  But Obama was about to take the White House, Democrats were going to have their better-than-working-conservative majority, and the state party here was finally standing up, if a bit wobbly still, on two legs.  There was still a sense of "movement" to it all for me.  Call it naive, but for me that feeling is where it's at.

This fall, when the pre-election Bush Tax Cut vote fight was scrapped, Democrats were running away from the health care reform many of the same helped to hobble, and I found myself writing -- embarrassingly often! -- in defense of Blue Dog Jim Matheson (yes, his opponent, Morgan Philpot, was that crazy, and things were trending dangerously close to a Bishop/Chaffetz/Philpot trifecta with little to offer but pandering to the same base that had just positioned the Skousen brain-trust Mike Lee as a US Senator), my energy and productive anger fizzled.  The Democratic Party suffered the same self-induced setbacks in 2010 they struggled with 2002-2005, and I was just angry.

We've been here before.

The past months, I've re-read those that had always inspired me before.  Drew Western.  Lakoff, Sirota, Moulitsas/Armstrong too.  I even tried watching David Gregory pretend to be useful a few times, hoping that might flare me up.  I buried myself in what local volunteering there was available, and gave up writing for longer than I had since first creating the ol' blogger account.

Last week though, I felt a little spark.  Still a bit irked at Jon Tester's Dream Act vote (I'd made calls and volunteered for him back in the day too), I was struck by just how tone-deaf his newly announced 2012 challenger seemed, announcing along-side none other than his "President" Michelle Bachmann.  This is really their world, I thought, and it's lunatic!  Dream Act aside, I know if anyone asks, I'll go to work for Tester.  Seriously, President Bachmann, Mikey?

But what really brought me back from the brink of silence wasn't Rehberg and Bachmann or the frightening hilarity that was CPAC'11 this week.  It was Dana Carvey, circa 1996.  Check it out, at least the first minute.

Notice that?  Edit Fred Armisen's Obama in place of Carvey's Clinton, and you've got relevant 2012 satire, without a single script change from 1996.

This is the Republican Party, my friends.  Has been for a very, very long time. 

The Democratic Party is a long way from where I or you want it to be, and no doubt still room for More and Better Democrats, but as Greg Giraldo would've said: They aren't that team!

A few week's into the new GOP House, they've tried to redefine rape and leverage tax code against women, fought carbon regs for polluters, made good on their "pledge" to propose a middle class gutting budget, and continued to feed the anti-government hysteria while quietly taking credit for it's benefits.  (I had to leave the PATRIOT Act extension out as example, because... well, Obama wanted a longer extension than the GOP.  Thanks for that, Mr. President).

The Democratic Party has abandoned progressives many times, and will again.  But once in a while, maybe by accident, progressives make gains, either in policy or poll cycles.  The Democratic Party right now, with all it's warts, is still the best vehicle for progressive change.  It doesn't have to stay that way, but as of this post, it is the reality.

Frustration is healthy, but at some point I let it take me almost to the point of resignation, and I doubt I'm alone in that.  Political change is much more fullfilling when you've got a clearly defined ass to kick, and nothing will ever mandate that targeting corporatist hacks posing as Democrats and unhinged opportunists driving the TeaGOP back centuries in policy IQ are mutually exclusive.

Also, Dana Carvey is still funny.

Squandered Political Capital and the Stench of Failure

Not that they’d listen – they don’t listen to anyone – but I’d counsel Republicans along the same lines as the Democrats when they came to power…keep the fist pumps, terrorist or otherwise, to a minimum. Refrain from the siren call to rub it in, lest you be treated to the swirly next election cycle.

Voters partially returned you to power, but don’t mistake that for an overarching mandate. Their opinion of ALL politicians is only slightly higher than that beagle that shit on their new shoes and they’ll tire of you just as quickly if you can’t turn things around within a few months. That’s highly unlikely and some polls already indicate voters believe there will be as little progress under the Griping Old Pootieheads as there has been under the Demojellies. I fear they are right.

Many voters went Republican not so much because they thought Reps were good, but because they don’t like El Jefe and wanted to send a signal. As goes the President so goes Congress in midterm elections.

Walking on Water to Drowning In Water
No doubt, the O-Man has squandered a tremendous amount of political capital in his two years. CHANGE meant continuing or expanding far too many policies he railed against from the last administration. As for HOPE, he left too much of his base and moderates hoping he would get better – while he didn’t. Had he seized the power of his huge win, he could’ve gotten much more done and he and Congressional Dems would stand a better chance of delivering the Hope and Change they touted. Instead, he let the power of NO run his agenda.

But, it’s not like this hasn’t happened before.

Bush the Lesser squeaked into the White House in an election decided by some moronic guy named Chad who couldn’t operate a punch card without putting an eye out. Dub’s first few months were lackluster at best, but then he got the best political gift a pol could ask for – a scruffy hermit with a penchant for bad home movies dispatched some nuts to cause massive mischief on the Hudson.

He, rightfully at the time, climbed up on a pile of rubble, loudspeaker in hand, and railed against the evil trying to defeat America. People rallied around him as they haven’t done since WWII. In a week he went from just another run-of-the mill stumble bum to someone with more political capital than Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina could ever buy… combined.

Imagine What All That Capital Could Buy
With that amazing power, he could’ve done so many things to help this country. For example, and there were many others, he could’ve used it as a bloody pulpit to preach the dangers of foreign oil dependence. Instead, he encouraged domestic and foreign oil companies to poke more holes in the country than ever before at the expense of enforcing any regulation, no matter how trivial. Today we find ourselves not only more dependent, but watching oilagarchs rob the country blind.

He was still riding high at the beginning of term two, although the first rumblings against the most useless and poorly managed war in history were getting louder. By the time Katrina made his uselessness truly evident, the rumble became a shout and he went down in hot flames of embarrassment.

Everyone else’s embarrassment, not his. And all that political capital he crowed about? He apparently banked with Washington Mutual.

Clinton managed to get a few things done in term one, but pissed it away lying about the world’s most expensive BJ. An entire four years wasted, an incredible historical blot on him, and the final death of whatever shred of bipartisanship and civility was left in Washington.

Bush the Elder fared no better. He squandered the terrific political abundance delivered by Gulf War I by encouraging people to watch his lips as they said, “No new taxes”. He then called every new tax a fee until it got to be such a charade he asked people to stop staring at his lips. Voters repaid him by saying, “Watch our lips. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

He did manage to stay out of jail over that whole Iran/Contra thing though. No small feat that.

Failure is one of the few things that is truly bipartisan. Whether, like Obama, you negotiate like a fear-crazed 90-year old lady buying a used car at Mad Man Dapper Dan’s Used Car Emporium or are so incompetent you choke on a pretzel, whether you can’t keep your Johnson out of your intern’s mouth or puke in the Japanese Prime Minister’s lap, there are a million ways to fail. Failure is cumulative. Failure is contagious. In short, failure fails.

Unfortunately, I’d say odds are far more than even that we’re well on the way to another failure.

And, it will no doubt be one huge MoFo.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

There’s Gotta Be a Morning After

  • Barack Obama is a wretched excuse for a president and leader of the Democratic Party. Nevermind this nonsense about a blanket “anti-incumbent” fevah. This was a repudiation of our party’s leaders and their policies. Instead of offering voters anything in the way of changed course—mortgage moratorium? Timothy Geithner’s head?—the White House decided to essentially ride out the clock. The thing about congressional politics is this: most representatives are hack politicians—one way or the other. Not every Democrat that voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, corporatist health care “reform,” etc., was Barney Frank or Obama. That is to say, left-wing agents of finance capital. The vast majority of these folk merely toe the line. Consequently the onus is on this president and he sacrificed a great deal of decent people last night. Many of them would have been willing to go down for a hell of a lot more than Mitt Romney’s health care plan. This man has to go.
  • A Republican rout of 60+ seats in the House of Representatives will probably retire Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mrs. Pelosi was—nay, is—a tough broad, a trailblazer and a savvy operator. Over the past two years, her considerable talent has been in the service of either flawed or outright failed policies and that’s regrettable. I continue to regard Mrs. Pelosi as a relatively decent establishmentarian who would have been fantastic if given a real Democratic president on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Grandpa Edwin is Governor of California again. Ironically, I suspect the failure of Proposition 19 will engender the least bit of griping from the progressive base. For all intents and purposes, ganja is already legal in the Golden State. There isn’t much either Gov. Brown or a Gov. Meg Whitman could have done to arrest the systemic problems the state faces otherwise, so it’s a wash.
  • Florida’s Marco Rubio bested both Charlie Crist, the orange governor who pole-vaulted to independence, and Rep. Kendrick Meek, the good guy. Once again President Obama disgraced himself. (Granted, Mr. Meek was an early, enthusiastic and loyal supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.) There wasn’t any reason to believe Marco Rubio would lose in either a two- or three-way race and many of us said so. Kendrick Meek may be a meek, small-time politician, but there’s no reason why Gov. Christ had to siphon as many Democratic votes from the Democratic nominee as he did. Meek’s supposed vulnerability was an entirely self-fulfilling prophecy. Barack Obama’s condescension towards the only possible black U.S. senator—aren’t we supposed to care about that kind of thing?—was stunning. “Don't say I never gave you anything,” Obama quipped after buying Kendrick Meek a sandwich while in town for a token visit.
  • In 1952 Barry AuH2O ousted Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland in Arizona. Harry Reid managed to avoid the same fate. This is a crowning achievement, to be sure, but pales to the point of transparency in comparison with him making a liar out of Jack Landsman. The latter was quite certain the harlot from Reno, Sharron Angle, would dispatch Mr. Reid electorally. Guess that “2nd Amendment” solution is back on the table, eh?
  • What else can possibly be said for our patron saint Russ Feingold—murked last night by a random reactionary named “Johnson” or some such? Ultimately Sen. Feingold has no one to blame but himself. In conservative districts around the country, numerous Democrats took the extraordinary step of running against their own House speaker or professing support for John McCain in 2008. And it was necessary. For his part, Russ Feingold should have thrown in with the left opposition to Barack Obama months ago. Obama and Feingold are not the same kind of liberals, but he nevertheless allowed himself to be caricatured as such. Instead of going out like a boss—a fitting end to the lone dissenter against the Patriot Act in October 2001—Russ Feingold went out like a punk, carping about outside expenditures, as if anyone cared about process. I want to believe he’ll be back in some fashion or another.

What Democrats Have Done Past Two Years: Make History

If you want to know what President Obama and the Democratic Party has done in the past two years — while making history — these two videos are a MUST watch:  Rachel Maddow

Diaries

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