A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

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

Tag: tea party

Super Scholar to Primary the Thomas Jefferson Out of John Cornyn, for America

by evanmcmurry

Wait for it………………..wait for it………………………Here we go:

Texas tea party activists eager to send another firebrand in the mold of Ted Cruz to the Senate have launched a movement to draft evangelical historian David Barton to run against Sen. John Cornyn.

Barton, who hosts a daily radio broadcast, has wide name recognition and respect on the religious right as a Constitutional scholar dedicated to restoring the America the Founding Fathers envisioned, though his scholarship on that point has been widely discredited in the world of academia.

Political analysts doubt he could take down a candidate as well-funded, well-known and widely endorsed as Cornyn. But they’re not willing to count out an insurgent from the right — not after watching Cruz come from nowhere two years ago.

Oh, and this launched today:

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 8.20.46 AM


Update, via Texas Tribune:

A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in Texas finds Greg Abbott (R) leading Wendy Davis (D) in the race for governor, 40% to 34%. 

In a three-way race against Davis and Libertarian Kathie Glass, Abbott’s lead shrinks to 5 points, 40% to 35%.

Where I Am Somewhat OK Being Called an Elitist Compared to the Alternative…

by pdxblake

“The Democratic political advisers who went from working on behalf of the president or his party to advising the San Francisco billionaire Thomas F. Steyer on his campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline provide a telling example. Twenty years ago, they might have gone to work for the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy or run for public office themselves. Today, they are helping to build a pop-up political movement for a plutocrat.” —Chrystia Freeland in the NY Times

I will admit that this is a bit out of my normal subject of economics that I write about, but it ties into economics because the economic situation of the country and specifically the distribution of the gains from the economy are driving the development of public policy in a very different way than they used to. As someone who often experiences the feeling of “it would be easy to fix this if people weren’t so ignorant” (which I suppose makes me a bit of an elitist), I have to admit that the technocratic type approach should get my support; but the way it is described in the quote above, it has the opposite effect.

The way it is designed now is that the ability to get the technocrats to pay attention to an idea is in direct correlation with the wealth backing the think tank employing the technocrats now and employing the policymakers when they leave government. Policy under this type of model is a struggle between billionaires to decide which of their vanity projects and visions of society is imposed on the country. Frankly, if you want to call me an elitist, I think more technocrats should be running policy and it should be removed from political processes, but I don’t want to see it turned into a billionaire’s sport, and even more than that I worry about the blowback to this type of governance.

The link I think Freeland is drawing is between the billionaire-funded technocratic people making the policies and the rise of populist movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. The problem with each of these movements is they typically start from a disdain for the status quo (rightly or wrongly) and first want to up-end the current system.  I am quite strongly an anti-revolutionary and (except for the times when I get worked up) I greatly prefer working within the system rather than overturning it for a return to some quaint time when all banks were small and local (OWS) or when the Constitution (TM) was respected (Tea Party).  Nevermind that these things were never really true (remember Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life for the lovable local banker or, um, segregation and slavery?).

They are more expressions of populist rage against the system that seems to have gone after them and ‘put them down’. This typically leads to, speaking modestly, TERRIBLE POLICY. It usually looks for scapegoats and often is driven more by anger than by thoughful discussion.

I don’t like the status quo and I don’t like the main groups trying to dramatically change it. I don’t think there is a “middle ground” because OWS doesn’t carry much sway within the Democrats and the Tea Party has taken over the policy of the Republican Party, so it is not symmetric (both sides are not at fault). But there’s not enough within the Democratic party that is focused on the underlying economic issues of the plutocracy. There is more working on the edges.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I worry about the end-game between the plutocrats and the populists and particularly the probability (whether in the US or abroad) the populists will get enough power to make some really ugly decisions (not just the US–remember the EDL in the UK, Marine Le Pen in France and others of similar affiliation around Europe).

Tea Party Rep Takes Founders Comparison to the End of the Line

by evanmcmurry

Ladies and gents, fallacy by analogy:

[Rep. Morgan] Griffith suggested the House should reject an unfavorable agreement from the Senate, even if it resulted in a debt default that severely damaged the economy.

“We have to make a decision that’s right long-term for the United States, and what may be distasteful, unpleasant and not appropriate in the short run may be something that has to be done,” he said.

Griffith, a former majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates, cited as an example the American Revolution.

“I will remind you that this group of renegades that decided that they wanted to break from the crown in 1776 did great damage to the economy of the colonies,” Griffith said. “They created the greatest nation and the best form of government, but they did damage to the economy in the short run.”

Too bad he didn’t work Hitler into that.

Chamber of Commerce Figures Out Tea Partiers Suck, After Getting Them Elected

by evanmcmurry

Tea partiers are proving a bad ROI for the Chamber of Commerce:

More significantly, the chamber’s big spending in 2010 to elect a House GOP majority appears to have backfired. Many of the conservative lawmakers the chamber helped elect are now an impediment to the business lobby’s legislative priorities, either by contributing to Congress’ dysfunction or by actively opposing chamber-backed measures.

Although chamber-backed candidates are not the most outspoken critics of immigration reform, as ThinkProgress reported last month, 19 House members who received contributions from the chamber’s political action committee in 2010 and 2012 have stated their opposition to the Senate immigration bill.

In the Senate, where 14 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, only four were backed by chamber money. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) received more than $1 million each from the chamber in their 2010 campaigns. All three voted against the immigration bill. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) benefitted from almost $750,000 in chamber spending. He also voted against the legislation.

Ditto transportation, etc. If only there had been some way to know tea party candidates would be obstinate reactionaries before they were elected!

Dick Armey Gets $8 Million Payout Cuz Austerity

by evanmcmurry

I think this is pretty much the only way an astroturf organization never for one second serious about fiscal responsibility could end:

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) received an $8 million payout to lead the conservative Tea Party group, FreedomWorks, “because of an internal split over the group’s future direction,” the AP reports.

A confidential contract shows that Armey agreed in September to resign from his role as chairman of FreedomWorks in exchange for $8 million in consulting fees paid in annual $400,000 installments.

Paul Ryan Wins No Matter What

by evanmcmurry

I’m going to admit political blogger defeat: I’ve turned this Romney/Ryan ticket around and held it up to the light, and I just don’t see the play. Some commentators have said he reinvigorates Romney’s campaign, but I don’t see that beyond the conservative base, any gains from which will be cancelled out by the chunk of independent voters who are turned off by Ryan’s “kill the poor” budget proposals. The best case scenario, electoral vote-wise, is Ryan puts a couple of midwestern states in play, especially Wisconsin; that his presence makes Florida Obama’s to lose seems to considerably outweigh that possibility. I give up: I literally can’t imagine what was said when Romney sat down with his advisors and decided Ryan would help them get to 270.

There’s an alternative reading here, which is that the Romney campaign just ceded defeat. They’re slipping in the polls despite a small increase in the unemployment rate; if they can’t beat Obama with 8.3% unemployment, and can’t offer a single substantive proposal of their own, they’re cooked. At this point, the campaign is in make-it-look-good mode. Adding Portman or Daniels or Pawlenty to the ticket would have been pouring weak sauce on a weak dish, impressing nobody and making the Romney effort seem wimpy and tepid from start to finish.

With Ryan, to mix metaphors, they go down swinging. I don’t think Ryan makes Romney any more likely to be in the White House on January 20, but he sure makes the fight to get there a lot more ideologically satisfying to the right. What good does that do Romney? It makes him look better going down; it also does a lot to keep him in good graces with the GOP. If there’s been one consistent thing about Mitt Romney, from his first campaign to this last one, it’s been the (R) after his name; though that designation meant wildly different things at different times, Mitt Romney has always done what he’s needed to in order to make the cause happy. Sometimes that meant winning the executive branch of a blue state; sometimes, as in 2008, that meant knowing when to quit. Now, it means taking his destined-to-lose campaign and refurbishing it as the strongest voicing yet of the right’s still-fringe economic policy.

That’s where Ryan comes in. Ryan, despite being the heartthrob of the Weekly Standard and WSJ set, champions a long-term budget proposal that Newt Gingrich rightly called radical. Newt was pilloried for the characterization, but he was simply speaking the position of the average GOP legislator. Congressmen in vulnerable districts ran from Ryan in the halls. As my (somewhat superficial) study of poll numbers over the course of the last year showed, Ryan’s Path to Prosperity was responsible for ending the GOP’s modest, tea-party fueled 2011 rise. The poor-man’s (literally) austerity politics of the tea party were given quite a wide berth by the electorate for a while, but even the tea party knew to stop at the door of Medicare; in fact, the tea party gained momentum from anger over Obamacare, which was wrongly purported to cut Medicare. When Paul Ryan took the austerity mantle and ran it past that threshold, the nation recoiled: there were limits to what voters were willing to tolerate when it came to slashing government services, and Ryan crossed that line. The Democrats immediately used this to win a special election, and the GOP’s favorability numbers never recovered.

Ryan released a second budget this year, mostly to crickets. For all his own star has risen as a result of his willingness to push uncomfortable policies (or so the narrative goes), those policies have not actually risen along with him.

That’s about to change. Barring a full-throated attack on the underlying economic arguments of Ryan’s budget—the type that would require a stronger labor movement that’s not withholding money from the Democratic Party, and a bolder Obama campaign that, at this point, is happy to run Bain outsourcing ads and call it a day—I don’t see the battle we’re about to have as epochal. There will be debates over austerity v. stimulus, and the insanity of Ryan’s budget (which does not, repeat, NOT come anywhere close to reducing the deficit), and all in all, the country will get a more nuanced argument over economic policy than it got in 2006 or 2008 or 2010. But this isn’t going to be “Capitalism: Yay or Nae?” I think come November 6, we’re still going to believe taxes are uniformly bad, find federal services noxious in the abstract but sacrosanct when they affect us, and think that the wealthy get away with too much but “punishing” them through tax reform is bad for the economy. Slightly more people might lean toward Obama’s reading of all this when the election is over, but I don’t see a single aspect of the American political consciousness being substantively altered.

What will be altered is the radicalness of Ryan’s budget policies; you can’t simultaneously be radical and on a ticket for the vice presidency. The budget that Ryan just released to a quietude will be given full amplification, and Republicans won’t be allowed to ignore it or run from it; they will have to align themselves at least in part with Ryan’s proposals, or explain why they won’t, at the risk of angering an RNC and a slew of Super PACs with lots of money to grant or deny. Ryan’s proposals won’t win the presidency, but his beliefs don’t necessarily want the presidency just yet; they want legitimacy. Two-plus months of his ability to sell them on a national stage, with a chorus of mainstream GOP legislators behind him, will give them that.

Even during austerity 2010-11 heyday, there was an element of amateur petulance to the whole thing, a sense that these upstarts were schoolchildren who had taken over the principal’s office. (Joe Walsh, anyone?) After Ryan is done campaigning, even if he loses, he will have officially removed the aura of immaturity from austerity, and the people who support it, which will prime it to be an even more potent force in 2016 and 2020, to say nothing of the midterm elections in which slightly more boutique ideas can dominate.

Remember, much of the rhetoric that has plagued Obama’s administration began in the later stages of the 2008 campaign, when Sarah Palin, freed by a limp campaign to mouth off at will, propagated the ideas of Obama as President of Otherstan, of socialism in liberal’s clothing, of “real America” versus the elites. Democrats howled at the time as she handed over the last chances of a McCain victory, but what Palin started in the late stages of that campaign, though it helped Obama win the presidency, significantly hobbled what he was able to do with it. Ideas, once loosed on a supersized stage like a national campaign, have to go somewhere. In 2009 and 2010, Sarah Palin’s loose invective found a home in the tea party, who used them to inflict incredible damage.

Similarly, there will be no putting back in the bottle what Paul Ryan is about to pour out. His ideas have nothing to lose from a national airing; if they convince even a tenth of the undecided voters who hear them, they will have added to their ranks, which will bolster Ryan’s opposition against a second Obama administration, making him even more the ideological steward of his party, which will reflect more respect onto his ideas, which will further propel him, and so on into 2014.

Mitt Romney’s probably going to lose. But Paul Ryan wins no matter what.


Counter: The obvious rebuttal to this argument is that the GOP follows Ryan so far to the right that it strands itself and has to hustle back to the center. James Fallows at the Atlantic talks to a poli sci professor who makes just this case:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush must be very relieved that he has already made clear his alienation from the move farther right in the party on economic and social issues.  The future of the party is almost certainly going to lie with governors who have had to deal with the actual problems of managing health, education and welfare systems in a country with growing number of senior citizens as well as growing numbers of minority voters and same-sex couples.  

If President Obama wins, Democrats should give some credit to Walter Mondale for the honorable race he ran in 1984.  After his defeat, no one could say it was the messenger not the message at fault.  That defeat provided the impetus for governors like Bill Clinton to work with the Democratic Leadership Council to find new approaches to old issues and bridge racial and economic divides.    

That’s a credible argument. I’d prefer it be true, over mine.

Enter Ted Cruz

by evanmcmurry

Tea party insurgent Ted Cruz beat establishment(?) figure David Dewhurst in a Texas Senate run-off. As the Atlantic points out, this doesn’t mean squat for the make-up of the Senate, as Texas was sending a Republican no matter what. Here’s what does matter:

Whether there are significant policy differences between [Cruz and Dewhurst] is a matter of some debate. The New York Times noted, “The two candidates differ little on major issues — both call for repealing Obama’s health care law, balancing the budget, abolishing the Department of Education and ending abortion.” But Dewhurst skeptics contend that he has been too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Dewhurst is an establishment figure—of a Rick Perry administration, one of the most extremely conservative of the country; when the establishment figure calls for abolishing the DOE, the word has lost all meaning. But Dewhurst’s mere presence in the political system as lieutenant governor necessitated that he occasionally speak in complete sentences to Democrats, and that was enough to get him on the tea party’s hit list.

Whether intransigence was once a tactic of the tea party’s to effect their policies of severe cuts to social services, or whether it was always a cover, is a matter of debate. What’s clear is intransigence is now an end in and of itself. The Texas GOP is sending a Senator to Washington with the express mandate of not participating in the legislative process except to ruin it.

Also: leading by example.

Here’s The Waste That Pentagon Cuts Would Have Eliminated If We Had Passed Them, Which We Didn’t

by evanmcmurry

Once upon a time, in a land very much like ours—America circa two months ago—an unprecedented thing happened: a majority of poll respondents came out in favor of cutting defense spending. As with all polling, there was a caveat, namely they only favored the cuts once they were informed how flippin’ much we were spending on defense. Via US News:

Respondents were given information about the size of the yearly defense budget in several ways. After digesting that data, in “three of the five cases a majority of respondents said that the size of the defense budget was more than they expected,” according to a study accompanying the poll results. “When asked for their conclusion, a large majority favored cutting defense.”

So that was May 16. On May 18, the tea partyized House of Representatives “voted to eliminate the sequestration part of the National Defense Authorization Act, bringing it in line with a previous House move on the Budget Control Act, all of which protects the defense budget from the threatened cuts.” Total number of days in the post World War II era in which Americans favored defense cuts: two. In fact, the final amount the House passed was actually a few billion dollars higher than Barack Obama’s proposed budget.

Yes, that was the same House that incited the debt ceiling debacle that created seuqestration in the first place, and that won’t accept a 10:1 spending-cuts-to-revenue-increase ratio. The sequestration would have cut just $55 billion from defense; for perspective’s sake, that’s only .02% of the Harry Reid’s proposal to cut $2.7 trillion from the deficit, which Republicans found laughably low. To justify keeping the defense spending, the House proposed $300 billion in cuts to domestic programs, including food stamps and women’s health care.

Yesterday, the Times informed us what we’re getting for our money:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to prove that the Pentagon could build a technologically advanced weapon system within an affordable budget, without huge delays. After the aircraft turned into the Pentagon’s biggest budget buster, and performed disappointingly, the Obama administration tried to correct course in 2010. A new report last month by the Government Accountability Office showed that the problems had not been solved.

The Air Force, the Navy and the Marines plan to buy more than 2,400 F-35s through 2037. The accountability office now estimates the total cost of acquisition at nearly $400 billion, up 42 percent from the estimate in 2007; the price per plane has doubled since project development began in 2001. Cost overruns now total $1 billion.

The agency reported other problems as well. It said that the plane would not be in full production until 2019, a delay of six years, and that the small number of planes produced so far were being delivered, on average, one year late. The F-35’s overall performance in 2011 was described as “mixed.” There also have been difficulties integrating 24 million lines of software code into the complex computer system.

Meanwhile, the F-22 Raptor, the world’s costliest and most advanced stealth fighter jet, is also mired in performance problems. Over the past 18 months, there have been repeated cases in which pilots have suffered dizziness and disorientation from lack of oxygen in the planes, which cost $400 million each.

Pentagon budget cuts—which aren’t actually cuts, but merely reductions in the annual increase of the budget—are not some progressive pipe dream of America laying down its arms and funding school lunches. The cuts’ biggest proponent is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who focused not on hacking away at America’s defense capacities, but on waste:

Gates announced today that, in the budget scrubs that got under way this past summer, the Air Force found $34 billion in waste and duplication that it was fine with cutting, the Army found $29 billion, and the Navy $35 billion—in all, $98 billion. (The various Department of Defense agencies not related to any service found an additional $54 billion to cut.)

Included in the waste Gates found? The F-22 Raptor.

There was a time when the tea party-ish elements of the Republican Party actually demonstrated some ideological consistency by including the defense budget along with social services in proposed budget cuts—though they often justified doing so by marrying defense cuts to an isolationist worldview—suggesting that no area, no matter how sacrosanct, was exempt from contributing to deficit reduction. Those days are gone. Now, conservatives openly endorse hundreds of billions of dollars in government waste while slashing social services in the name of austerity. What we all get for the trade: expensive, malfunctioning fighter jets.