A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Category: Democrats

Your Friday Pick-Me-Up: 2013 Has Been *Real* Bad For The GOP

by evanmcmurry

The surprising efficacy of a small cadre of conservatives in making the Chuck Hagel nomination process a supreme pain in the White House’s ass suggests that GOP obstinacy has not only not declined since their November ’12 whooping, but remained just as effective in grinding government to a halt. The next couple years are gonna suck, right?

Nah. The Hagel tantrum is just that—a tantrum, thrown primarily because nothing else is going the GOP’s way. Deveined Shrimp Rick Scott (R-Florida’s Wang) has caved on health care, a huge switch that provides cover for the few Republican governors yet to do so; the GOP didn’t get much in the fiscal cliff fiasco besides blame, and the looming sequestration nonsense, provided the Democrats hold strong, will likely end up with even more revenue; gun control is more possible than ever, as is immigration reform, both of which force the GOP into compromised positions; the minimum wage debate is not turf on which the GOP wants to fight, at all; and for all the noise, Hagel will almost certainly be approved on Wednesday, and while he will go into office weaker than a nominee should, chances are the most memorable part of this needless little battle will be the extent to which Republican news organizations and sitting Senators fell for an unintentional prank by an NY Daily News reporter.

Long story short: Republicans are 0-for-everything in 2013; delaying the Hagel vote ten days is their biggest victory.*

Now is usually when someone accuses me of scorecarding politics at the expense of focusing on “real people” or something.** But this all pertains to the Democrats’ ability to govern in the fashion for which they were elected. Rick Scott’s caving is the result of years of (political) fighting over Obamacare, but it will result in up to 1,000,000 Floridians gaining access to health care. The fiscal cliff and sequestration debates means more revenue, finally, after years of destructive austerity. And we kinda need a Defense Secretary, preferably one who doesn’t want to nuke Iran as a preliminary strike. If all that is “politics,” I’ll take it with seconds.

* One could count the watered-down filibuster reform as a GOP victory, but it only helps them if they remain in the minority, in which case it becomes something of a Pyrrhic victory.

** Anybody wanting to accuse me of focusing on national-level policy while ignoring state-level government, where the real crazy stuff happens, will have a point.

Does The NRA’s Current Insanity Make It Easier For Red State Dems To Support Gun Control?

by evanmcmurry

On my theory from the other day that the enthusiasm gap on gun control—in which the intensity of guns nuts gun rights advocates’ hatred of gun control overwhelms the popular majority who want moderate regulatory measures but aren’t willing to have a meltdown about it—is hurting itself by getting, er, a bit too enthusiastic, we now have the test case: red state Dems, whom the White House is lobbying, hard, for its new gun control legislation:

Part of the goal is to demonstrate support for gun-control measures in states such as West Virginia, North Dakota or Louisiana, where Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III, Heidi Heitkamp and Mary Landrieu, respectively, face strong pressure to side with pro-gun groups.

Ordinarily this is where the NRA’s inexplicable might would most damagingly assert itself, easily nixing key votes with the specter of an endless direct mail campaign about how Heidi Heitkamp wants to take your guns and melt them into steel for Obamacare. But now that the NRA is Wayne LaPierre giving such erratic post-shooting press conferences that even the Daily News and the New York Post wanted nothing to do with him, and now that guns nuts gun rights advocates are this guy, red state Dems may have an out. The NRA and its supporters have gotten so far out there that you don’t have to actually be in favor of gun control to not follow them. I don’t think it would be impossible for a red state Democratic campaign to craft a message that Heidi Heitkamp thinks guns are great but moderately regulating a guy who makes YouTube videos threatening to kill people might not be such an insane idea.

I’m not saying this an easy sell, but it’s better than the position these Dems would have been in a few years ago, when it was “side with NRA or don’t get reelected.” As Sargeant points out, some red/purple state Dems are already coming around on background checks, which may be a sign that they no longer see gun control as a prohibitive issue. Background checks do enjoy huge popular support, but again, a few years ago that would have run up against the enthusiasm gap: you may support background checks, but you’re not likely to vote on it; guns nuts gun rights advocates will. The fact that red state Dems are looking at it means they no longer fear this possibility as they once did. If we see more Dems flip on guns, it will be a sign that the intensity of the gun lobby, which has been the NRA’s trump card for the past three decades, is beginning to turn on them.

GOP Obstinacy Is Emboldening Filibuster Reform

by evanmcmurry

A few days ago, I wrote a history of the past four years as a series of Republicans declining concessions from Obama over various fights (health care, the debt ceiling, the fiscal cliff) only to lose everything they wanted due to their own intransigence: Obama got health care reform, the GOP got blame for the debt ceiling, and the fiscal cliff ended with an upper income tax hike and no spending cuts. On major battles the GOP is 0 for 3, despite unforced assists from the President.

In case you can’t tell, the GOP House has learned little to nothing from an election that saw their side get trounced in every possible metric (only redistricting saved them in the House; Democratic candidates actually had more aggregate votes). Thus far the GOP has refused to give an inch on the fiscal cliff, any of Obama’s cabinet nominees, the Violence Against Women Act, and so on. And while everybody’s focused on the next debt ceiling debate (one Republicans are rapidly realizing is not in their interests), their current obstinacy is jumpstarting another fight: eliminating the filibuster.

After the election, we started hearing a lot about reforming the filibuster, which, along with the insane GOP House, is one of the bridles keeping government from being able to do pretty much anything. But the closer we got to the Senate’s reconvening (a loophole allows the Senate to change the rules on the first day with only 51 votes, thus precluding Republicans from filibustering filibuster reform), the more waffly Harry Reid sounded about the whole thing, and the more the furor over the filibuster got subsumed by other stories.

Not anymore. The GOP’s tanking of Susan Rice’s nomination used up all of the patience in the Capitol. Now that Republicans are throwing a tantrum not only over Chuck Hagel, one of their own, but Jack Lew, who seems a genuinely inoffensive Treasury candidate (besides Charles Pierce’s legitimate beef), it’s clear that the Republicans never cared about Susan Rice and Benghazi, or Chuck Hagel and Israel, or Jack Lew and anything. They simply care about grinding the bare minimum of Democratic governorship to halt.

Democrats have watched the reaction to Hagel and Lew and decided enough is enough, and are pursuing reform with new gusto. Eliminating the filibuster, of course, will allow much easier passage not only of Hagel’s and Lew’s nominations, but of nominations to which Republicans might have a genuine objection, along with a whole host of other legislation they won’t like in the next two years (quick, imagine what Obamacare might look like without Scott Brown’s sudden 41st-man veto power). Once again, by being obstinate over every little thing, the GOP looks to lose the big fight. Are they ever going to figure this out?

Today In Mandates

by evanmcmurry

Of all the ways Republicans had to explain away Obama’s victory, the thin popular vote margin was the easiest: by the next day, the conservobloggertwittersphere was crowing about how Obama won by the smallest popular vote margin in modern history. Honestly, Smithers, I don’t know why Harvard bothered to show up—they barely even won!

Alas:

With late returns still trickling in, his popular-vote margin now exceeds four million, a million more than George W. Bush amassed when he ran for reëlection. (Obama’s electoral-college majority is also larger: 332 to Mitt Romney’s 206, as against Bush’s 286 to John Kerry’s 251.)

I completely disagreed with Bush’s 2004 assessment that he had been handed a mandate—he’d simply ridden the evaporating fumes of war just far enough to keep his post. But while Obama’s victory wasn’t significantly larger, the Democrats’ was: not only did they gain Senate seats when they were supposed to shed them, but the makeup of the Senate itself took a big step leftward, as a number of the Democratic newbies—Tammy Baldwin, Heidi Heitkamp, Elizabeth Warren, Tim Kaine—are more liberal than the Dems they were replacing, and in Warren’s case, left of nearly everybody in the chamber.

This was by no means a wave election, but it was in every possible way an endorsement for the Democrats’ agenda of stimulating the economy through stimulus rather than budget cuts and increasing revenue through the expiration of the Bush tax cuts rather than slashing entitlements. Obama’s climbing vote total just puts a stamp on that.

Looking back at the stimulus and economic policy in severe recessions

by pdxblake

Mark Thoma points me to an op-ed by Christina Romer, who was Obama’s head of the the Council of Economic Advisors in the first part of the administration,writing on the economic stimulus.  Her perspective offers a few very insightful counter-arguments for why the stimulus is perceived by many to have ‘failed’.  It also tackles head-on what Henry Blodget calls ‘the chart that will get Obama fired’:

The chart above is from the Council of Economic Advisors’ projections of the job impact of the stimulus compared with their estimates for what would happen in the absence of the stimulus.  If projections were always accurate, this chart would be enough to raise questions about the effectiveness of the stimulus.  But, projections are rarely always perfect descriptions of the future, and Mrs. Romer explains the divergence between reality and the projections:

When we were designing it, most forecasters estimated that the United States would lose around six million jobs… Compared with this baseline, creating three million jobs would have filled roughly half of the employment hole. As it turned out,… the correct no-stimulus baseline was a total employment fall of nearly 12 million. With a loss that big, creating three million jobs was helpful, but not nearly enough.

If you recreated the forecasts with twice the job losses in the ‘no stimulus’ projections, and had the actual recovery bill waiting to be analyzed, you would come to the conclusion “we’re going to need a bigger boat”.  And when the stimulus was proposed, it was scaled back for political reasons.  The Republicans and some Democrats would have balked at a stimulus of the size needed, which would have certainly exceeded $1 trillion and possibly over $1.5 trillion.  Paul Krugman, for instance, criticized the size (and heavy reliance on tax cuts) in the proposed stimulus plan as not big enough before Obama was even inaugurated.

The negative campaign against the stimulus being pushed by conservatives, which not surprisingly is not entirely based on the truth, confirms something that Krugman wrote about today on his blog about whether the fact that economic growth coming out of a financial crisis is typically slower than a ‘garden variety’ recession.  He highlighted the difference between saying there is usually slow growth following a financial crisis and saying that it is necessary to have slow growth after a financial crisis.

There are policies that could be used to effectively fight a recession following a financial crisis, but these policies are not usually followed.  Why?  Krugman explains:

“Historically, however, countries tend not to do these things [effective policies to fight the effects of a financial crisis], or not to do them on a sufficient scale. Why? Politics. Intellectual confusion. Inertia. Misplaced fears.”

The US is an example of exactly this failing, and for multiple reasons.  There was the politics, for sure.  Republicans today have a built in and exaggerated fear of the ‘gummiment’ doing anything (particularly with a Democratic president).  There was intellectual confusion for sure.  Many economist stuck their head in the sand, or were just unaware, of the vast literature and policy prescriptions for dealing with a severe recession following a financial crisis that were learned in the Great Depression.  That was ‘Keynesian’ and in their minds, it had been disproved and replaced by ‘micro-foundations’ and the Real Business Cycle theory (the first is useful in some situations, where macroeconomic theory is rooted in the idea of how individuals respond to different incentives; the second is just a crock of shit).

But even without these other factors, there was a failure in forecasting the depth of the recession (or the acknowledgement that other economists like Paul Krugman might be making a good point when he criticized the stimulus as being too small in January 2009).   That forecasting error made the stimulus look appropriately sized (though some would disagree with this point as well).  The recession turned out to be much more severe than the models forecasted, which should have led policymakers to return to the well for some more stimulus.  But by that time, the Republicans had locked the gates of Congress from doing anything that might help the Democrats in 2010 or Obama in 2012 and they had effectively decided that a worse economy was politically better for them, and screw you if you didn’t like that.

So About That Guy Who Thought Elizabeth Warren Was Too Controversial To Speak At The DNC…

by evanmcmurry

Politics moves so fast these days that it can sometimes be hard to remember to hold people accountable for the dumb shit they say. As a corrective to that, let’s all take a stroll to exactly six weeks ago, when Luke Russert tweeted this gem:

Indeed! Never mind that Warren is one of the strongest and most articulate critics of Republican economic policies, that her being a lightning rod for criticism is actually nothing more than her voicing what should be the thesis statement of the Democrat platform, and that she’s running to reclaim a seat for the D column that could decide control of the Senate.

Anyhoo, how’d all that criticism end up?

Two new surveys put Scott Brown’s Democratic challenger in the lead, one by 6 points and the other by 2.

This represents a significant shift from a few weeks ago, when Brown seemed to be opening a healthy lead, and suggests that the Democrats’ successful Charlotte convention – which featured a prime-time appearance by Warren – has helped energize the Democratic base and brings traditionally Democratic voters home. (via Steve Kornacki)

The first poll, which showed Warren up by six, initially appeared to be an outlier, and was rightly distrusted by Pierce and others. But when joined by the second that shows her up by 2—still a sizable swing from her pre-convention numbers—there’s no disputing that something turned this race around. As Pierce points out, not a single other credible event has occurred that could explain this shift except for a prime-time appearance before a national audience. And Kornacki quotes Public Policy Polling as crediting her rise entirely to bringing Brown-curious Democrats back into the fold—in other words, the exact group that would have been watching Warren’s speech.

Warren and Brown start a series of four debates on Thursday, which will likely change this race around a lot, so none of this really matters. But the next time you hear some pipsqueak advise that you silence one of your most articulate members for fear of—gasp—criticism, tell em to cram it with walnuts.