2014 Midterms

A Meandering Consideration of Absolutism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015.  (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Maybe it’s an unfortunate hallmark of contemporary conservative thought?”

Steve Benen

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan offers an interesting consideration:

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

SlateIf current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

There is, of course, much more to Kaplan’s consideration, including the implications of current Congressional momentum and the widening gap between the credibility of favoring and opposing arguments. Toward the latter, he notes, “Most criticisms of the deal actually have nothing to do with the deal”, and that’s about as least unfavorable as his critique of the criticism gets.

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Something About a Dunce Cap

U.S. Capitol building at dusk on a winter's eve. (Photo credit: Peterson)

“Every pundit who said the GOP was ready to prove it can be a governing party: go sit in the corner for a while.”

Steve Benen

It’s just one of those things. Does the day end in -y? Then this is what a Republican majority looks like:

It’s quite a congressional majority, isn’t it? Nearly a month into the new Congress, Republicans have prioritized an oil-pipeline bill they know can’t pass, an immigration package they know can’t pass, changes to Wall Street safeguards they know can’t pass, anti-abortion legislation they know can’t pass, and anti-healthcare measures they know can’t pass.

It’s part of a larger squeaky-wheel mentality: Make enough noise, then point to the noise you’ve made as evidence that there is noise.

Which seems almost silly, except as we saw once again in November, it works.

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Benen, Steve. “They’re not just ‘getting it out of the way'”. msnbc. 3 February 2015.

Not A Joke: So the Devil and a Republican Walk Into a Bar ….

Tinfoil

A basic historical pattern, overlain with a veneer of myth: The Devil is found first in what oppresses, then what competes, then what shares.

An example of how this works in history: Once upon a time, a new sect emerged within a religious and cultural archetype; they found the Devil in the Roman government that oppressed them and their Jewish brethren who collaborated with the authorities. Over time, the new group developed its own distinct identity and began competing for new converts, investing the Devil in the pagan gods and goddesses; once this sect had its own power, though, the Christians they became turned on one another, finding the Devil within its own ranks and struggling internally for political power.

It is not just Jews and Christians; the process holds generally.

Which suggests one might wonder how that applies to other movements. The Tea Party arose, finding its Devil in liberalism; they competed against a form of authoritarianism, appealing to libertarians left and right with issues like drug reform—because you wanna get high, right?—and other such superficial appeals to freedom. But they also chose to compete within Republican ranks, which means much of that second stage involves peeling off votes from partisan allies. As a result, it might seem hard to distinguish at what point the Tea Party movement considers itself in charge and rolls against its own ranks.

Steve Benen’s blog post headline pretty much makes the point: “Republicans turn on each other over Benghazi conspiracy theories”. The punch line is nearly predictable:

That’s right, it’s come to this: Republicans have uncovered a conspiracy so vast, it involves Republicans who went looking for evidence of a conspiracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party, 2014 Midterm Edition.

The problem with humor is that it makes no difference if it does not relate to any identifiable stake; that is, in and of its own, this conduct would be kind of funny the way we all have to deal with the question about when it is appropriate to laugh at people who cannot help themselves. But the question of the stakes really sucks even the cruelest, pettiest humor away.

When I was a kid, we would say this sort of thing is “retarded”. And the word works well enough; much like flame-retardant pajamas, Republicans are truth-retardant politicians. Logic itself is retarded, distorted to the point of inhibition, by this tragic conservative perspective. But, you know, it’s a two-party system, so that means sometimes we have to throw them some bones. You know, wreck the hell out of some other people’s quality of life so that we don’t accidentally oppress Republicans by demanding they start dealing with reality.

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Benen, Steve. “Republicans turn on each other over Benghazi conspiracy theories”. msnbc. 5 December 2014.

What Frightens Minnesota

Framegrab from KTSP. Mayor Betsy Hodges (left) with Navell Gordon. The Minneapolis television station considers pointing a "gang sign", and thereby sparked the #PointerGate controversy.

Thus it should occur that a goofy diagram of gangland sign language makes its way around the Facebook intertube thingy. And while there are plenty who would suggest that gang violence is serious business that should not be taken so lightly, it might be more useful to point out that the guide is incomplete.

GangSignChart-bwNote that one notorious (ahem!) “gang sign” is omitted, and that is the one-fingered point oft-known as the “fingerbang”. This is a well-known gesture that indicates, “Hey! Look at me! I’m standing next to a black dude!” and is the most dangerous of all gang signs known to Minnesota.

Or … something like that.

#PointerGate!

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Mack, David. “TV Report Accusing Mayor Of Gang Signs Prompts Online Ridicule In The Form Of #Pointergate”. BuzzFeed. 7 November 2014.

Hayes, Mike. “Minneapolis Mayor Explains Why Pointing Is Not A Gang Sign In #Pointergate Response”. BuzzFeed. 14 November 2014.

A Sour Grape of Wrath (…?)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).Something about market demand goes here. To the one, it is easy enough to mourn last month’s midterm election. To the other, sure, there is certainly some custom suggesting the dignified thing to do would be to move on. The beeblebrox, however, might suggest that the machinations of history during any given period are defined by the contemporary literary record. And if we want a fourth to raise while we sit around licking ourselves we might also wonder whether future considerations of our own contemporary literary record will account for marketplace demand in the context of various interests attempting to shape the historical record.

To wit, it is one thing to consider a legacy of history, another to attempt to manipulate our own legacies as we live our lives. And it is another thing altogether that our society includes a cottage industry dedicated to the shaping of historical narratives.

msnbcRepublicans might have been better off – which is to say, they would have ended up with a more conservative outcome – if they’d actually compromised and taken governing seriously in some key areas.

But McConnell thought it’d be easier to win through scorched-earth obstructionism.

Again, as of next month, he’ll be the Senate Majority Leader, so maybe he doesn’t care about the substantive setbacks. But for all the GOP gains at the ballot box, it’s Obama, not Republicans, moving a policy agenda forward.

(Benen)

The question of punditry takes on an interesting context when experts in subjective rhetoric enjoy increased marketplace demand while actual expert consultation faces public sector hostility.

But it is all ultimately part of the same narrative. Mr. Benen might sound akin to grasping at straws, but the 2014 midterm really was phenomenally demonstrative of something. Nobody is certain just what, but consider this context within the narrative: What does playing the centrist game get liberals? Trounced by rightist extremism.

Really, though, just how liberal are Democrats? Really?

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Benen, Steve. “Mitch McConnell and the limits of scorched-earth obstructionism”. msnbc. 1 December 2014.

Abrams, Lindsay. “House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research“. Salon. 19 November 2014.

Your Republican Party: Policy Outlook Edition

GOP-logo-banner-bw

Sometimes the message couldn’t be any more clear:

With negotiators nearing an accord on permanent tax breaks for businesses worth $440 billion over 10 years, President Obama rallied Democratic opposition on Tuesday and promised a veto.

“The president would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families,” said Jennifer Friedman, a White House spokeswoman.

† † †

Left off were the two tax breaks valued most by liberal Democrats: a permanently expanded earned-income credit and a child tax credit for the working poor. Friday night, Republican negotiators announced they would exclude those measures as payback for the president’s executive order on immigration, saying a surge of newly legalized workers would claim the credit, tax aides from both parties said.

(Weisman)

Really, this is what it comes to.

Then again, this is what Americans wanted, right? It’s what they voted for.

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Weisman, Jonathan. “Obama Threatens to Veto $440 Billion Tax Deal”. The New York Times. 25 November 2014.

A Long Note on Political Tradition in These United States

President Barack Obama, delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Charles Dharapak/AP)

By now of course we have become accustomed to the proposition that Republicans, once elected, would rather sit around. To some it actually seems a very sick idea; not only did the Speaker of the House demonstrate that Republicans conisder their job description to include going on vacation instead of actually working because, well, the most important part of the job is election and re-election, but in recent months the GOP has shown more and more willingness to simply admit that the inherent failure of government is more of a conservative goal than anything else.

Boehner and the band skipped out on gigs that might need Congressional attention, such as the Daa’ish question, the Ebola question, and the Immigration Reform question; despite their howls of rage regarding the latter, the fact of executive action occasionally arises when Congress refuses to pass a bill and the Speaker of the House calls on the President to use his executive authority. They could have skipped screeching themselves hoarse by simply sticking around and doing their jobs. Then again, the prior statement is controversial if only because it would appear that Congressional Republicans appear to believe their first, last, and only job is to win votes. Given their reluctance to undertake day-to-day Constitutional functions of Congress, such as advising and consenting to presidential appointments—or, as such, formally refusing the nomination—we ought not be surprised that the latest duty Republicans wish to shirk is sitting through an annual speech.

Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right’s mind.

“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”

Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.'”

Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it’s important to note that he isn’t the only one publicly pushing the idea.

Politico reported yesterday that congressional Republicans are weighing a variety of tactics to “address” their disgust over Obama’s immigration policy, and “GOP aides and lawmakers” are considering the idea of “refusing to invite the president to give his State of the Union address.”

Late last week, Breitbart News also ran a piece of its own on the subject: “Congress should indicate to President Obama that his presence is not welcome on Capitol Hill as long as his ‘executive amnesty’ remains in place. The gesture would, no doubt, be perceived as rude, but it is appropriate.”

(Benen)

Wait, wait, wait—sixteen years ago?

Yes. Like impeachment chatter and stonewalling, Republicans want to make refusing to hear the State of the Union Address part of their standard response to any Democratic president.

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What Americans Wanted

Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Conspiracy Theories.  (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP).

Post-something?

The election of President Obama in 2008 was heralded by some as the beginning of a “post-racial” society; then reality set in and Republicans reminded us why that hope had not come to pass.

President Obama himself hoped to be a “post-partisan” president; then reality set in and Republicans reminded us why that could not happen.

Some have gone so far as to speculate that the GOP has become “post-policy”, and there is considerable evidence for that argument.

But on Benghazi, Republicans appear to have set a new standard. Post-reality? It is hard to say.

Speaker John A. Boehner announced Monday he will reappoint Rep. Trey Gowdy as chairman of the Select Committee on the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya in the 114th Congress.

“On September 11, 2012, four Americans were killed in a brutal terrorist attack in Libya. Two years later, the American people still have far too many questions about what happened that night — and why,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s why I will reappoint Rep. Trey Gowdy and the Republican members of the House Select Committee to investigate the events in Benghazi in the 114th Congress. I look forward to the definitive report Chairman Gowdy and the Select Committee will present to the American people.”

(Eldridge)

Let us consider:

The House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the State Department’s independent Accountability Review Board have all published reports on the 2012 attack, and each found the same thing: none of the conspiracy theories are true.

In addition, the attack has been scrutinized by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the House Oversight Committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, each of which has held hearings, and each of which failed to find even a shred of evidence to bolster the conspiracy theorists.

Do Boehner and other Republicans believe their own allies are somehow in on the conspiracy? That GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate have somehow been co-opted into hiding imaginary evidence?

(Benen)

There is no point in complaining. This sort of determined paranoia is exactly what Americans just voted for.

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Eldridge, David. “Boehner Reappoints Gowdy to Head Benghazi Panel”. Roll Call. 24 November 2014.

Benen, Steve. “When even ‘definitive’ isn’t enough for the House GOP”. msnbc. 25 November 2014.

A Note on Voters’ Values

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01), promoting his budget agenda.

“It takes a truly talented individual to pack in this many falsehoods into a single paragraph.”

Steve Benen

The thing about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01) is that this sort of thing keeps happening. And while it certainly provides some sense of sport for commentators like Steve Benen of msnbc, there is only so much genuine laughter we might muster; the consequences of such dishonesty (ahem!) “innocent, forgetful mistakes” can be severe.

“Give us time to do immigration reform”? Well, Republicans have controlled the House for four years, during which time they haven’t even held so much as a hearing on a piece of legislation. More to the point, the Senate passed a popular, bipartisan immigration bill 512 days ago, and soon after, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised the lower chamber would act on the issue. The Republican leader then broke his word and killed the reform effort.

In other words, Obama gave Republican lawmakers “time to do immigration reform,” and the GOP did nothing. Does Ryan not remember this?

“He had two years with a super-majority of his own party”? Actually, no, Democrats had a super majority in the Senate for four months, not two years. It’s a big difference.

And it goes on.

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Another Look at Voters and What They Just Voted For

The U.S. Capitol is pictured at dawn in Washington D.C. on Oct. 15, 2013. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

And that’s where the confusion kicks in. The American mainstream strongly backs the same policy agenda Democrats want, but that same mainstream just elected a Congress that will make it impossible for Americans to get what they say they support.

Steve Benen

It might seem to need some unpacking, but in truth the point holds.

There is, for instance, the temptation to point out the Senate shift, and remind that this was the “mainstream” in places like Iowa, where voters clearly prefer uneducated, tinfoil trash and threats of sedition from elected officials. Or Kansas, where voters are cheering on the destruction of the state government. Or Colorado, where 2010 saw Sen. Michael Bennet win a narrow victory, but only because it was a statewide election, and just enough voters were offended at the idea of sending a prosecutor who aids and abets rape to the U.S. Senate; it should be noted that in the state’s Fourth Congressional District, Colorado voters had no qualms about sending the abettor to the House of Representatives. Of course, voters in the states’ Fifteenth Legislative District also sent a paranoid, homophobic exorcist to the legislature, and in the overlapping Fifth Congressional District, returned Rep. Doug “Tar Baby” Lamborn to the House in celebration of ignorance and hatred. Looking at the Senate swing, it’s easy enough to fall back to the comfort that, for the most part, Democrats lost where they were expected to lose.

But a broader picture of voters can also be found in the midterm election; Republicans made enormous gains in state government across the nation. Certes, in a state like Washington, where ballot measures were the only statewide votes, things went about as expected; we don’t match the national trend, but that in part is because we had nothing to do with the question of Senate control.

But it seems this will be the defining legacy of the 2014 midterms. Voters said they want something, and then voted against it. At this point, we cannot begin to explain the result without accounting for irrationality in the psychopathology of everyday life. A dialectic of neurosis might explain the preference of party labels over real results, but is it a twisted identity politic or something deeper, like a craven need for perpetual Manichaean dualism? Close, low-scoring contests are the height of professional sportsα, but disastrous for political outcomes.

It’s easy enough to express what just happened in the sense that Republicans just won big in an election. The harder answer is to figure just what that actually means in terms of voters. As to governance, the answer is clear: The ability of governments in the United States to function appropriately will be further degraded as Republicans move forward feeling empowered to prove their thesis that government just doens’t work.

It is, furthermore, easy enough to say we want nice outcomes. It is harder to accomplish those nice outcomes, though, and nearly impossible for voters to admit that, no, they don’t really want that stuff. And that, too, might well emerge from a dialectic of neurosis, that people only say they want good outcomes because they fret about what the neighbors would think if they came right out and admitted what they’re really after.

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α The basic principle: Offense wins games; defense wins championships. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer … you name it, the principle holds. And let’s face it, outside the SEC, most American football fans are pretty much sick of sixty-point blowouts.

Benen, Steve. “NBC poll: Public attitudes clear as mud”. msnbc. 20 November 2014.