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Showing posts from November, 2015

Learning from the Lion of the Senate

As someone who calls themselves a pragmatic progressive, I have always been fascinated with the strategies employed by Senator Ted Kennedy. And so, it is with great interest that I read Frances Lee's review of the book Lion of the Senate: When Ted Kennedy Rallied the Democrats in a GOP Congress by Nick Littlefield and David Nexon. As members of Kennedy's domestic policy team, Littlefield and Nexon had an inside look at the strategies he deployed for dealing with Congress during the height of the Gingrich revolution (1995-1996).

Here is how Lee describes the dilemma.
A minority party in Congress always faces the strategic dilemma of whether to prioritize accommodation or confrontation. Politics and policy frequently trade off against one another in these circumstances. Members of a minority party can often exercise limited legislative influence by participating in the majority’s efforts and trading their support for policy concessions. But in so doing, the minority party loses …

"As the Soviet Union Was to Communism, So ISIL is to Jihadism"

The Republican meme about ISIL these days is that, if you don't call them by the right name, you won't be able to defeat them. Eli Berman and Jacob Shapiro suggest that there is something more significant that we need to understand about ISIL in order to defeat them.
Is it a tremendously well-resourced terrorist group that controls substantial territory, which it uses to plan attacks, vet operatives and manage a complex financial network? Or is it a fledgling nation-state that sponsors terrorist attacks? They go on to provide evidence that the latter is a better description of ISIL and that is why President Obama's containment strategy makes sense.
We’re fighting a failed state in the making, one that will implode if merely contained, and will collapse even faster under coordinated economic and military pressure from its neighbors. But then they go on to describe an additional benefit to containment by drawing a comparison with the president most idolized by Republicans.
I…

Building Momentum for a Climate Agreement in Paris

President Obama is in Paris today for the opening of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. We've been here before - most notably in Kyoto in 1992 and Copenhagen in 2009. While both of those meetings were important milestones, they failed to produce the kind of global agreement that many are hoping will finally happen in Paris. So it is helpful to look at what has changed this time around.

The Kyoto Treaty was rejected in the U.S. Senate by Republicans, most notably because "developing countries" like China and India were not included. Negotiations in Copenhagen were mired in confusion and disarray, primarily over disagreements between industrialized nations and developing countries.

Perhaps the biggest difference this time around is that rather than attempting a "top-down" agreement on goals that everyone must meet, a "bottom-up" approach has been implemented, with each country being asked to submit their own Intended Nationally Determined …

It's Black Friday and Religious Zealots Have No Place to Shop

On this Black Friday, apparently members of the religious right are running into a problem. After having joined the bandwagon of turning Christmas into a commercialized shopping extravaganza, Linda Harvey says that they're running out of places to spend their money that are content to discriminate against LGBT people.

Of course she warns people to stay away from the usual suspects like Macy's for allowing a transexual to use a woman's dressing room and Target for selling gay pride t-shirts. But oh my, she now has to add that conservative bastion known as Wal-Mart to the list for opposing "religious freedom" bills in Arkansas and Indiana.

But my very favorite is her problem with Mattel.
If you’re thinking toys, avoid Mattel. They just created “Moschino Barbie” with an ad featuring a tragically feminized little boy who plays with Barbies, a wicked accommodation to the current gender-destructive culture. Little boys playing with Barbies? What is the world coming to?…

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Trump-Mania?

David Frum took up the cause of proposing yet another plan for how "the establishment" can bring down Donald Trump. His suggestion is that the driving force behind Trump-mania is immigration, and so they should call out Trump for hiring undocumented workers and flip-flopping on the issue. I personally don't think that will work any better than all the other ideas that have either been tried or discussed so far.

But in the course of setting that up, he buried the kicker.
Now the same party leaders who insisted that Sarah Palin could do the job of president, if need be, want to persuade the rank-and-file that Trump can’t? Good luck with that. Boom! That is essentially what Martin said the other day. They took this genie out of the bottle and now they can't figure out how to get it back in.

As a reminder, the religious right were no fans of John McCain in 2008 after he took them on in the 2000 primary against George W. Bush. Mike Huckabee was their man. So McCain flippe…

The Thanksgiving Song

There is an awful lot of music associated with the Christmas holiday. But when it comes to Thanksgiving…not so much. If you’re anything like me, the one song you grew up singing on this holiday was “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.” But until this week, I never knew anything about the origins of that song.

It comes from a poem written in 1844 by a woman named Lydia Marie Child.
Child herself had an unhappy youth: her mother was ill and remote, and her father was a strict and irascible Calvinist who was alarmed by her interest in books.

When Child was 12, her mother died, and she was sent to live in her sister’s home in the interior of Maine. There, she was free to fashion an education for herself: she found tutors at Bowdoin College, mentors at a public library, and friends among the local Indian tribes, who’d been violently uprooted from their land.

At 19, Child returned to Boston to live and study with her brother, who had graduated from Harvard a…

Inspiring Americans

Yesterday the White House hosted a star-studded cast of recipients of the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Included on the list were some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment: Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Itzhak Perlman, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and James Taylor. Also receiving the honor were some who had made their name in politics, like Lee Hamilton, Barbara Mikulski and the amazing Shirley Chisholm.

But it is often the people who many of us have never heard of before that are the most inspiring. Like Billy Frank, Jr.

Born on a Nisqually reservation in Washington state, the Native American activist resisted state fishing regulations in the 1960s and early '70s, arguing that the imposed laws violated 19th-century treaties signed between the U.S. and Native Americans. Frank was arrested numerous times, and his argument was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court in the mid-'70s.

In the decades after, he continued…

What's Up With Millennials?

The millennial generation is a nightmare for Republicans. They are more diverse, more urban, more college-educated, more tolerant and more liberal than their predecessors. The result is that in 2008 and 2012, they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. In 2016, this generational cohort is predicted to make up 38% of the electorate. So it should come as no surprise that the topic of millennials has been addressed recently by two conservative writers: Carl Wagner at Real Clear Politics and Donald Devine at The American Conservative.

Before taking a look at what these two writers have to say about millennials, it is important to keep in mind that conservatives often cling to the idea that we all get more conservative with age. As the old saying goes:
Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains. But the trouble with that assumption is that research has proven that it is a myth. Here's what Wagner has…

The Politics of Fear

Jeff Greenfield has written an article that sparked a lot of thought for me titled: Getting the Politics of Fear Right. He acknowledges that following the Paris attacks, Donald Trump "went on a fear-mongering bender." But then, he finds President Obama's response to be problematic as well.
Meanwhile President Obama has tacked sharply in the other direction, playing down the public's anxiety, defiantly continuing to downgrade the possibility of an attack on the U.S. and the capabilities of Islamic State...Obama's dismissiveness is no doubt one reason for Trump’s popularity; clearly many voters believe our current crop of leaders—starting with the president—have been too inattentive to their fears. This is not an uncommon critique of President Obama. Way back in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Maureen Dowd led a chorus of people complaining about the fact that the President didn't seem to feel our panic.
President Spock’s behavior is illogical.

Onc…

State of the Race

We're all getting a little wary of predicting how this 2016 Republican primary race is going to turn out. The big question is: will things revert to the historical precedents political scientists have documented over the years? Or are we in a whole new territory this time around? The only way to answer that question is to wait and see - which drives those of us who are political junkies a bit nuts.

But the chart above from Huffington Post's Pollster captures the state of the race right now. If, instead of trying to predict where this thing is going to go, we focus on what we can learn from where things are right now, I see trajectories for these five candidates as follows:

* Donald Trump is holding steady
* Ben Carson is going down
* Marco Rubio is re-gaining the ground he lost over the summer
* Ted Cruz is going up
* Jeb Bush continues his slow descent

If, as Cruz recently suggested, we take a look at the different "lanes" available to the candidates, we can say th…

The Public Nature of Health

Whenever people talk about a public advocacy campaign to change behavior, the anti-smoking initiative of the 1980's and 1990's is the standard to which all others aspire. That's because it was spectacularly successful. As Shannon Brownlee writes in the latest edition of the Washington Monthly:
The result has been a dramatic reduction in rates of smoking over the last twenty years. In 1981, 33 percent of Americans were smokers. By 2011, it was down to 19 percent. Today, actors in movies are no longer wreathed in clouds of cigarette smoke, and smoking is far less acceptable as a habit. More importantly, deaths from lung cancer have been declining since the 1980s, a triumph of public health. Brownlee recounts that success in her review of the book Saving Gotham: A Billionaire Mayor, Activist Doctors, and the Fight for Eight Million Lives by Tom Farley, MD. It is the story of how Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Public Health Department not only won battles agains…

Reminding Voters What Works

There has been a lot of pontificating about why (mostly white) Americans these days are so angry and distrustful of government. The latest to wade into those waters was Alec MacGillis with his much-discussed article titled: Who Turned My Blue State Red?

It is important to make the distinction between being distrustful of politics and being distrustful of government programs. All of us are angry at the former, sometimes for different reasons. But it is the Republicans who decided that their best play against a Democratic president was to completely abandon their responsibility to govern. I would simply remind you that when touting the idea of a "permanent Republican majority" back in 2003, Grover Norquist was asked what that meant for when a Democrat won the White House. His response was, "We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.” We've seen that plan in action now for 7 years. And yes, it is infuriating.

But the distrust and anger Americans fe…

Where I Come From

I wrote this to formally introduce myself to the readers at Washington Monthly's blog Political Animal. Even though some readers here will have heard parts of this story, I don't think I've ever put it all together here.

The literal answer to the question, "Where do you come from, Nancy?" is that I've lived in Minnesota for the last 30 years. But that represents a stability that I didn't experience during the first 30 years of my life. Home base for my family has always been north east Texas (in the Congressional District that is currently represented by Louie Gohmert - if that gives you some idea of the culture). But beyond that, I've lived in Peru, South America, Oregon, Florida, Colorado and Southern California - with a year in England during college.

But the more figurative answer to the question that might help you understand my writing and view of politics has to do with two of the major developments in my life. I graduated from college with a d…

Appealing to the Republican Id

According to Beth Reinhard and Janet Hook, establishment Republicans are preparing to mount yet another attempt to bring down the candidacy of Donald Trump.
The Republican establishment, increasingly alarmed by the enduring strength of Donald Trump’s presidential bid, is ratcheting up efforts to knock him out of the race, including the first attempt to unite donors from rival camps into a single anti-Trump force. The challenge becomes: what's the message?
One possible ad would link Mr. Trump’s views and style to his celebrity foe, Rosie O’Donnell, in hopes of provoking a reaction from Mr. Trump, according to the memo.

Other possible tactics include fake pro-Trump ads that show him supporting socialized medicine, seizing property through eminent domain and taking other positions that stray from GOP orthodoxy; using a Trump impersonator to show him insulting people; and attacking his business record in “stark, nasty terms.” I could save these folks a lot of money by suggesting that&…

President Obama's Containment Strategy Against ISIS

This morning CBS is reporting that only 23% of Americans think President Obama has "a clear plan for dealing with ISIS." Let's first of all put that kind of question in perspective. Since when does a Commander-in-Chief publicly broadcast his plan for defeating an enemy? I'll grant you that, following the Paris attacks, it is probably time for the President to update the American public on his overall vision for dealing with ISIS. But I can also guarantee you that when/if he does, it will simply be dismissed by those on the right as weak tea. So I doubt it would change the conversation much.

But President Obama does have a plan. It involves understanding ISIS. From the beginning, we knew that they had a very different approach than al Qaeda. Here's how Graeme Wood described it:
Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonom…

It Runs in the (Bush) Family

After listening to Dubya for 8 years, there's no doubt that this is - in fact - his brother.
“It’s like the crabs in the, you know, whatever —the crabs in the boiling water,” Mr. Bush tried.

“Frogs,” an audience member shouted out, helpfully.

“The frogs,” Mr. Bush continued. “You think it’s warm, and it feels pretty good and then it feels like you’re in a whirlpool—you know, a Jacuzzi or something.”

He concluded with a morbid twist: “And then you’re dead. That’s how this works.”

Why the Focus is on Refugees After the Paris Attacks

As serious as the situation is, I've actually found it odd that the focus of our conversation in this country following the attacks in Paris is all about Syrian refugees. Sure...there are the occasional digs at President Obama for not being "tough enough" on ISIS. But that kind of talk is not necessarily front and center right now.

The are a couple of reasons why we're not hearing Republicans talk about what we should be doing about ISIS. Some of them tried to make a big deal about the fact that France bombed ISIS in Raqqa two days after the attacks. Here's a typical response:
Dear President Obama, today France is leading from the front to contain what you couldn’t contain leading from behind. — Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) November 15, 2015 That kind of statement demonstrates Erickson's ignorance of the fact that over the last 15 months, the U.S. has carried out 6,353 airstrikes against ISIS. Here's how that looks on a per day basis in graph form:


Accor…

Carson's Top Foreign Policy Advisor: Duane Clarridge

During the last Republican debate, Ben Carson threw out a line about the Chinese being involved in Syria. Later, when questioned on MSNBC, his spokesperson Armstrong Williams insisted that the information came from their intelligence briefings. My response was that perhaps it would be important to know who Dr. Carson was relying on for those briefings. Trip Gabriel reports that his top advisor on terrorism and national security is a man with a pretty colorful past and present - Duane Clarridge.

Here is how Gabriel describes Mr. Clarridge:
He was a longtime C.I.A. officer, serving undercover in India, Turkey, Italy and other countries. During the Reagan administration, he helped found the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and ran the C.I.A.’s Latin American division. Running Reagan's CIA Division in Latin American means supporting the brutal dictatorships of people like Roberto D'Aubuisson in El Salvador and Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala. It also means being intimately involved…

A New Gig

In case you haven't heard yet, this morning Paul Glastris (editor in chief at the Washington Monthly) announced that Ed Kilgore will be leaving his position at the Political Animal to begin a new job at New York magazine. Congrats to Ed!

Here's what comes next:
We’ll be handing over the reins of Political Animal to a rising star in the blogging world, a wonderful writer who’s been contributing on weekends and filling in for Ed for a while: Nancy LeTourneau. Joining her will be another shrewd political observer who’s also been writing great stuff for us: Martin Longman. I'm already getting some ribbing from my friends who are saying: "Rising star...at your age????" It's all in fun. But it's also a reminder that it's never too late to take a shot at doing what you love. For me, that's meant writing about politics. Initially it was just a hobby. And now look what's happening!

In case you are wondering what will happen to this blog, I haven't …

Smart on Terrorism

During the Democratic debate on Saturday night, John Dickerson asked each candidate respond to the Republican talking-point about whether or not they were prepared to call ISIS "radical Islamists." It is a ridiculous point to make - as if the right words were somehow determinative in an extremely complex situation. But when he got push-back from both Sanders and Clinton, Dickerson attempted to make the argument about why using the right words matters. Here's what he said:
The critique is that the softness of language betrays a softness of approach. So if this language - if you don't call it by what it is, how can your approach be effective to the cause. That is a ridiculous argument on it's face. But what struck me was the use of the word "softness." Where have we heard that word before? It immediately took me back to the 1980's and 1990's when the big critique of Democrats was that they were "soft on crime." That is exactly what got …

When Good Politics is Also Good Public Policy: Clinton's Plan for Coal Communities

With the presidential election about a year away, every move by candidates is assessed first and foremost for it's potential impact on electoral politics. With people like Sen. Mitch McConnell accusing President Obama and Democrats of waging a "war on coal," the politics of committing to clean energy can have a negative impact on support from coal communities. That is why Hillary Clinton's announcement today of a $30 billion plan to aid those communities is good politics.

But we should note that this plan is also good public policy. The introduction captures our current situation.
From Central Appalachia to the Powder River Basin, coal communities were an engine of US economic growth for more than a century. Coal powered the industrial revolution, the 20th century expansion of the middle class, and supplied as much as half of US electricity for decades. The hard-working Americans who mine, move, and generate power from coal put their own health and safety at risk to …

Another Train Wreck for McConnell

You might remember that back in early 2010 Senate Democrats used a rule called budget reconciliation to by-pass a Republican filibuster and tweak their version of the Affordable Care Act to make it consistent with the one in the House. As a result, Republicans had a bit of a hissy fit, making the dubious claim that a simple majority vote in the Senate signaled the end of democracy as we know it.

In a move that should break all of our irony meters, Senate Republicans will soon attempt to use that same budget reconciliation rule in an attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act with a simple majority vote on a bill that has already passed the House. And we wonder why the practice of politics gets a bad name.

But hold onto your hats. This one is running into some trouble because, even with 54 Republicans in the Senate, McConnell is going to have trouble rounding up the 51 votes he needs.

The first problem comes from the Senate's version of insurgents - Cruz, Rubio and Lee - who say …

The Business of Media and Politics

After the last GOP presidential debate, the Fox Business Network is determined to gloat about how much more accommodating they were to the candidates than CNBC. But there is a much deeper story about the relationship between television media and political campaigns than that kind of one-upmanship reveals. Michael Wolff captured that pretty well with a story titled: GOP Candidates are Hollywood's Unlikely New Divas.
At some point, politics crossed over from being a civic obligation of television news to television news' central business. The dutiful and high-minded became incredibly profitable, complicating the responsibilities and attitudes of journalists (and their managers), most recently in NBC's exclusion from the Republican debate cycle over complaints about CNBC's "gotcha"-style questioning.

News was once the loss leader of TV, and politics was the loss leader of news, the slog you waded through before crime, disaster, human interest, weather and sports…

The Costs of Continual Warfare

Debate about the civil liberties issues raised initially by the Bush/Cheney "war on terror" and subsequently during Obama's presidency has been raging for years now. My position has been that the best way to resolve them was to end what has come to be the "indefinite war." I was encouraged along those lines by some of the things I heard from President Obama. For example, this is what he said when he visited Afghanistan in 2012:
My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda...

This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. The President got even more specific in a speech he gave abo…

Two Races in the Republican Primary

When I look at the Republican primary poll aggregators, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the state of the race right now is that there are two contests beginning to shape up.

The first is the one between the current front-runners - Trump and Carson. Since both of them are blowing up all of our previous assumptions about presidential campaigns, it is impossible to know how all that will turn out.

But another battle is beginning to shape up between Rubio and Cruz. A sure sign of that came when Cruz, who regularly excoriates Republican Congressional leadership but has kept his powder dry in going after his competitors for the nomination, went after Rubio recently.
“As I look at the race, historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary. There's been a moderate lane and a conservative lane,” Cruz told CNN on Thursday. “Marco is certainly formidable in that lane. I think the Jeb [Bush] campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate …