The Emergency Committee to Promote Bill Kristol

For the last 20 years, the Right has worked hard to convert support for Israel from an area of bipartisan consensus into a topic for Republicans to beat Democrats with.  Even Washington’s most tepid disagreement with the Israeli government will be lept upon by right-wingers as an indication that the US is selling out the Jewish state — even though in most of those circumstances, the American position arguably helps Israeli democracy more than Jerusalem’s own.

No organization has played a more prominent role in this effort than the Emergency Committee for Israel, yet another fake think tank cooked up by conservative welfare recipient Bill Kristol.  Kristol’s foreign policy credentials comprise a series of embarrassingly wrong and ill-informed predictions about future events.  But his real talent seems to be inventing think tanks that he can get gullible GOP billionaires to spend money on.

Still, one might think that in the past week and a half, with Israel in the midst of a genuine security crisis (whatever you think of it on the merits), that an “Emergency Committee” might have something to say.  Statements of support?  Lobbying efforts?  Op-eds?  Something?

Well, no.  A check of the Emergency Committee’s website has nothing on the current crisis.  Indeed, its Twitter feed has nothing on it in the last 87 days.  All that the front page contains is a series of stale tweets, advertisments, and statements criticizing Democratic candidates for not standing with Israel.  ECI has produced a lots of anti-Obama propaganda, including an infamous and deceitful audio mash-up where Obama is supposedly debating Netanyahu, which now must be somewhat embarrassing given the President’s support for Israel in the current crisis.  The Emergency Committee for Israel has a lot to say during domestic elections, but what about when an Israeli public relations effort would really need it?  Sorry.  Must be on vacation.

None of this should be surprising, of course.  The Right’s supposed love of Israel is really more about its own domestic goals.  American Jews get this, which is why 70% of us voted for President Obama.  But Israelis should understand this as well: Republicans will make a lot of noises, but unless it serves their own political interests, they don’t really give a goddam.


The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Filegate.  Travelgate. Whitewater.  Birtherism. Solyndra. Fast and Furious.  Notice a pattern?

When there is a Democratic President, Republicans are quick are quick to make wild accusations of wrongdoing that turn out to be a huge nothingburger.  (Oh yes, they did impeach a President for having sex with an intern.  Saving the Republic, that.).

Now we are hearing about Benghazi.  There might be things to be investigated there, but it is painfully obvious that Republicans have no interest in actually finding them out about it.  If they did, then they would attempt to actually investigate.  Instead, we have hissy fit threats of filibusters from has-beens like John McCain and pompous lectures from never-weres like Lindsey Graham.  By the way, you know during the seven times that embassies and consulates were hit during the Bush Administration?  Still waiting for outraged threats from McCain and Graham.  You know that small event that occurred on September 11, 2001?  If Democrats had responded with half the vitriol of Republicans after Benghazi, Fox News would have accused them of treason.

It’s been obvious for a while that the essential Republican ideology, at least after plutocracy, has been to put party over country.  After January 1st, when the Republicans don’t budge on raising taxes on the $370,000+ a year crowd, Obama might try to remind the American people of this.

Instead of shutting down Organizing For America, the President needs to make it a permanent feature of the political landscape, holding as many rallies as he can in as many states as he can.

And if the Villagers start reaching for their scented handkerchiefs over the President not being “presidential,” all he needs to do is respond that he will spend more time in Washington once the GOP grows up.

UPDATE:  John McCain cares so deeply about protecting national security in light of Benghazi that he skipped a classified CIA briefing on it in order to give a press conference attacking the President.  What a pathetic, bitter, cranky old man….

Occupy the White House

We all know the famous story of FDR meeting with a group of liberal activists early in his term.  They made an impassioned plea for their policies, and the President said, “Okay, you’ve convinced me.  Now make me do it.”  This must the progressive mantra for President Obama’s second term: make him do it.

While progressives celebrated in November 2008, President Obama appointed an economic and leadership team that did some good things (the Recovery Act, for example) but in many other cases undermined the promise of the 2008 campaign. And the cossacks work for the Czar.

As I have argued before, Obama is essentially a Rockefeller Republican — a noble enough tradition in American politics, but hardly one that can grapple with the problems facing the country.  Progressives thus cannot expect that President Obama will fight for fairness, justice, and the middle class now that he is safely re-elected.  He will be exponentially, infinitely better than the alternative, which is why I contributed to him and made phone calls on his behalf.  But we should not kid ourselves.  He will not fight for us unless we push him to do so.

Progressives need to fight vigorously against the Village mentality telling him to cave before Congressional Republicans, appoint Wall Street bankers to key positions, continue massive deportations and splitting up of families, violate civil liberties, and neglect the peril to the planet.  That is our job.

Yesterday, The New Republic’s John Judis wrote a shrewd piece distinguishing between the electoral system, where Democrats emerged with a victory, and the pressure system, where the Right still dominates.  Progressives have done amazing work over the last several years to begin to equalize the imbalance, but more work needs to be done.  We will have to dig deeper, make more contributions, write more e-mails (and blog posts!), and work at building a pressure infrastructure to compete with the malefactors of great wealth who distort what remains of our democracy.

Do not trust this President.  Occupy the White House.

All Hail Harry Reid!

Once again, Mark and I disagree.

1)  What Reid said is not McCarthyism because his allegations are easy to disprove with evidence that Mitt Romney himself has, viz., Romney’s tax returns.  It’s not at all like accusing somebody of being something because of someone that they knew, or proving that they weren’t a Communist.  If Romney wants to show that Reid is full of crap, then all he needs to do is release his returns.

2)  What Reid said is not slimy because demanding that Romeny release his returns is perfectly legitimate.  Every party nominee for 40 years has done the same thing.  He’s not asking Romney to, say, release sealed divorce records (the case of Jack Ryan, who was going to be Obama’s opponent in the 2004 Senate race) or release the Romney sex tape or some such.  These are tax records.  They are fair game.

3)  And they are particularly fair game because Romney’s whole campaign is based on the idea that he is some sort of economic genius who will wave fairy dust over the economy like he did with, say, his IRA.  Fine: show us the goddam fairy dust.

Reid is right.  Romney is wrong.  Put up or shut up, Mitt.  End of story.

TBogg has more, including the notion that Harry Reid is the honey badger.  See for yourself.

QUICK UPDATE: I could be persuaded otherwise if I thought Reid was just making his source up out of whole cloth, but he isn’t: Dana Bash reports that Reid’s source 1) exists; and 2) is very credible.  Mitt’s in trouble, and he deserves it.

Nancy Pelosi’s “attack” on Stephen Colbert and his Super PAC is the cleverest marketing the Democrats have done since the 1964 daisy ad linking the Republican Presidential nominee with nuclear war.  Yes, it’s been a long dry spell; but let’s be grateful for this particular bit of rain.  If nothing else it disproves the canard that feminists don’t have a sense of humor.

Election 2011: Your Homework Assignment

In the wake of the good political news last night, especially from Ohio, let us pause and consider these questions from Charlie Pierce over at Esquire (penned before the results were in).  Because at the end of the day, they are the ones that matter.  And if we can’t answer them, then anything that happened yesterday will be less than a footnote.

Let’s assume that Kasich gets kicked around, the way it looks like he might, and the way he thoroughly deserves to be, god knows. What happens next? Is there really an actual movement building here, a parallel mobilization among the largely white middle class that would parallel the one taking place in the Occupy camps around the country? Or will the people on the lawn go back to sneering about the drum-beating hippies sleeping in the parks? Will they all leave the state capitol in Columbus and go back to listening to the hundreds of sub-Limbaughs on their local radio stations, telling them that teachers have it too good because they have summers off, or that firefighters are gaming the disability system, and that “government” is merely a way for all of Them to steal Our money, and that voting is just a waste of time? Do they all go back to worrying about The Deficit, which is merely convenient shorthand for all the things they don’t want to pay for? Do they all go home and prepare themselves, through ignorance and apathy, to vote for the next John Kasich who comes along?
What are the answers to these questions?  And what are we supposed to do about it?

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”: The Coach and the President Heed an African Proverb

African-American leaders know better than to frighten their followers. Shouldn’t the rest of us know better than to berate them for their self-restraint?

The people who’ve spent the past several seasons calling for the head of Coach Lovie Smith on the grounds that he’s “ignorant and weak” and “emotionless” (among many less printable adjectives) are nowhere to be found since he led the Chicago Bears to the NFL Conference championships. Having failed to bury Smith, they absolutely refuse to praise him.

Why?   Because Coach Smith is a soft-spoken professional who leads not by shrieking but by—well, leading.   Chicagoans, particularly Chicago sports fans, can’t seem to wrap their heads around the notion that this gentle man— this gentleman—could possibly be any good at coaching football. That’s because the mold for Da Coach was set by Mike Ditka, a screaming, foul-mouthed, temper-losing maniac whose heart attack only narrowly missed taking place on the field.   If you’re not yelling like that, you must not be leading.

But if Coach Smith behaved like that—berating his players and abusing the press in rants liberally sprinkled with profanity—we’d hear nothing but tut-tuts about what an angry black man he was.  Probably neither the fans nor the team itself would be willing to follow him.  It’s no accident that the most successful African-American coaches — Tony Dungee, Mike Singletary, Lovie Smith — are all matter-of-fact and free of braggadocio.   That’s the way black men have to negotiate the world to avoid waking the not-very-soundly sleeping dogs of white racism.

Which brings us to the case of President Obama.   Everyone who derides him for not being tough enough—for not being Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson—seems to forget that they’re speaking of someone whose life has required constant attention to the problem of being non-threatening.   That’s quite a challenge for a man who’s tall, brilliant and black.

But the President has succeeded at it through a combination of self-deprecation (“a skinny kid with a funny name”) and unshakable composure (“No-Drama Obama”).   If instead he’d emulated FDR in saying of his opponents “I welcome their hatred,” Fox News would have announced that he hated all white people. (Oh, right, someone on that network did that anyway.)   If like LBJ he’d insisted a reporter accompany him while he used the toilet, he wouldn’t be considered a lively and original character but just some ghetto type who didn’t know how to behave.

Consider the reportage when the president held a news conference explaining his decision to make the tax-cut compromise.  Having answered a series of questions designed to get him to say that he’d betrayed his promises, his party and his people, he was finally irate enough to respond, “It’s the health care battle all over again. Some people would rather rest in their purity than get something done,” or words to that effect.   As a rebuke goes, his was a pretty mild one.   But it was sufficient to produce several weeks of headlines about how the President had “scolded” his party and how “angry” he was.   If he’d actually been angry, we’d probably have seen articles of impeachment.

So all the people who want to give the President—and the Coach, for that matter—lessons in leadership should bear in mind that both men have learned precisely how much force they can use before that force is turned against them.   And they haven’t learned it from the Op-Ed pages or the screaming-heads fests.   Experience keeps a hard school but we will learn at no other.

I myself wrote—but fortunately did not post—the following incredibly misguided advice:

I understand the President’s unwillingness to assume the role of Angry Black Man into which his opponents wish to thrust him. But when the people on the other side of the table are card-carrying members of the Paranoid Style in American Politics, it’s time to stand up and call them the proto-fascists they are.   And hoping they’ll be willing to compromise seems a deliberate act of denial, like whistling past the graveyard. Instead, Barack Obama should emulate Harry Truman.   Give ’em hell, Barry!

WRONG!   As the Tucson shootings demonstrate, the last thing we need right now is public officials giving each other high-decibel hell.   And even if hell were called for, a black man in power couldn’t be the one to deliver it.   That’s an indulgence reserved for powerful white men—and every powerful black man knows it. It’s time the rest of us learned the same lesson.

The volume of reproach and disappointment and disapproval and correction directed at Coach Smith and the President says nothing about their leadership ability.   It’s purely a reflection of the fears and fantasies a significant subgroup of American white people have about American black people.   The fact that one of them produced a championship team, and the other achieved the health-care reform none of his white predecessors could manage (among many other victories), demonstrates that they’re far better leaders than anyone less challenged could dream of being.

So let’s stop giving them hell.

Events, New Realities, and the Right Attitude

Now is the time for all good people to stiffen the spines of the Democratic Party — both before and after the election.

Apparently there’s been some hand-wringing about Josh Marshall’s piece published last night entitled “Events Create New Realities.”  Is he giving up on the midterms?  Well, no, but Josh has a crucial point to make:

How well will Democrats stand up to the headline that says Republicans win 50 House seats?

And remember, it won’t be “Republicans win 50 House Seats.”

The headline will read “Angry Country Repudiates Obama Agenda, Embraces Small Government Conservative Values.” And that will be the Times. Believe me, it won’t be pretty.

In any case, a lot of folks are thinking, well, sure the Republicans take the House and maybe they even take the Senate. But Obama’s got the veto pen and the big legislation has already been pushed through. And if they come after Social Security, c’mon, let them try: Obama can veto whatever they pass. And they’ll kill themselves for 2012.

But all of this is based on the premise that the Democrats — congressional leaders and the White House — are going to be something like the same people on November 3rd as they were on November 1st. And a lot of painful history, the post-Scott Brown victory period being only the most recent example, says that’s a very bad assumption.

Josh is right.  It is a very bad assumption.  Blue Blogistan and loyal Democrats, however, can make a difference here.

This is going to be a very ugly midterm.   But it will be even uglier if Democrats buy into what will surely be the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom: America’s voters have rejected progressivism, it’s a conservative country, and — most maddeningly — the Dems took it on the chin because they went “too far to the left.”

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, in one of those necessary takedowns of Matt Bai, said it the best:

It’s not complicated at all: Obama’s approval ratings have fallen because the economy stinks.  End of story.  Anything else is on the margins…and it’s certainly possible that everything else is pushing his ratings up, not down.  

The same is true for Democrats generally.  That means the last thing we want to do is start getting into a defensive crouch, setting up yet another round of interminable “Rethinking Liberalism” conferences, wondering where we “went wrong,” or why we’re “not connecting.”  The economy stinks.  End of story.

Or maybe not even that.  The economy stinks because (to extend Bernstein’s scatology) the Republicans put it in the toilet.  Their policies failed.  As Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt have demonstrated in their recent superb book, financial crises take a very long time to shake out, particularly because of the key role the financial system plays in directing investment through the economy.  Combine that with historic gains in the last two cycles, many of them in Reddish areas, and you have the recipe for a bad cycle.  But a bad cycle does not equal rejection.  It’s just a bad cycle.

This Congress has accomplished a tremendous amount of good: the stimulus, student loan reforms, financial reform, and of course the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.  If it hadn’t been for the Senate, there would have also been historic climate legislation, a bigger stimulus, stronger support for higher education (particularly community colleges), and probably a much stronger economy.  There is nothing for Democrats to be ashamed of.

If the predictions from the polls come true, our tasks will be 1) keeping Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader (if she wants the job); 2) stiffening the President’s spine (which from his excellent statement today on the Bush tax cuts, seems to be in decent shape); and 3) continuing to fight in the trenches for important things, like making sure ACA implementation proceeds, blocking GOP gerrymandering, and attacking conservative talking points.  I’ll have more to say more on these in due course, but we cannot do any of these things if we wake up on November 3rd in some sort of ideological stupor, cowed by right-wing browbeating, and lacking the courage of our convictions.

Fight like hell the next two months.  Give money when you can.  Here’s an excellent place to start.  But most of all, let leading Democrats know that they must not back down, no matter what happens.  The country, and the world, depend on them getting this message.