The Notion | The Nation


The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Rand Paul to America's Hungry Seniors: Let Them Eat Private Charity

In tough economic times, senior citizens often pay a brutal toll. Already saddled with limited means and poor health, it can be a struggle for some seniors even to get regular meals. A 2009 study found that 5 million seniors face the threat of hunger, which is over 11 percent of all senior citizens in the country.

A Senate subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders, held a hearing Tuesday on the “human toll and budget consequences” of senior hunger. Panelists shared tales of woe from older Americans unable to get enough food, and urged increased funding for nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act of 1965.

This might have been non-controversial a few years ago, but not with the Tea Party in town. The hearing produced a fierce debate between Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, and Senator Rand Paul, the prototypical Tea Partier, about whether the government should even perform simple tasks like feeding hungry senior citizens.

Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for the Administration on Aging, began by assessing the problem. Of the millions of hungry senior citizens assisted by the federal government, 24 percent simply do not have enough money or food stamps to purchase enough food. Beyond poverty, millions of other seniors have trouble getting meals because they are either functionally impaired or live alone. Seniors in rural areas, far from grocery stores and perhaps family members, are particularly vulnerable. For around 60 percent of the seniors assisted by the government, the meals they are provided make up half or more of their daily food intake.

In written testimony, one panelist shared the story of Peggy Shannon, a 63-year-old administrative assistant in California who was laid off in 2008, two years before retirement. Unable to find work, Shannon was forced to choose between paying for either medications or meals—both requirements, especially given her severe diabetes. “The stress of her situation caused her to lapse into a deep depression where she isolated herself in her apartment and cried most of the time,” the testimony read. “Her deep pride and embarrassment over her situation prevented her from reaching out to family and friends.”

Though Shannon found food through a government-assisted program, her situation underscores how the recession is particularly endangering those already near retirement. Since the downturn, 80 percent of aging agencies have seen requests for home-delivered meals increase, with one in five of them unable to fulfill all of the requests.

“From a moral perspective, it is clear to me that in this great nation, no one should go hungry, especially those that are old and frail and unable to take care of themselves,” Sanders said.

But there’s a financial element as well—medical care for senior citizens is a massive driver of overall health care costs, and ensuring basic nutrition among seniors is a simple way to control those costs. One day in a hospital is equivalent to the cost of a one-year supply of home-delivered meals, according to the subcommittee’s research.

Mary Jane Koren, a geriatrician and vice-president of the Commonwealth Fund, noted that seniors often suffer health problems and are put in nursing homes after falling down. Poor nutrition leads to decreased muscle strength, meaning a higher chance of falling—and weaker seniors are more likely to be gravely injured in such a fall. Koren noted that by 2020, the annual cost of medical care for seniors who fall is expected to reach $54.9 billion—many magnitudes more than the approximately $2 billion per year the federal government spends on nutrition assistance for senior citizens.

Senator Paul, however, explicitly rejected this logic. “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money,” he said. “The idea or notion that spending money in Washington somehow is saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers.” Instead, Paul touted the “nobility of private charity” as opposed to government-funded “transfer programs.” He suggested privatizing Meals on Wheels and other government assistance for hungry seniors.

Sanders had none of this. “Senator Paul has suggested that only in Washington can people believe that spending money actually saves money. And I think that’s the kind of philosophy that results in us spending about twice as much per person on health care as any other country on earth,” Sanders said. “We have millions of millions of Americans who can’t get to a doctor on time. Some of them die, some of them become very, very ill and end up in the emergency room or end up in the hospital at great cost.

“Maybe it’s the same reason why we have more people in jail than any other country on earth including China, tied to the fact that we have the highest poverty rate among children among many other major countries on earth,” Sanders continued. “I happen to believe that intelligently investing in the needs of our people does in fact save substantial sums of money.”

Nevertheless, Paul—who’s home state of Kentucky is ranked twentieth in the nation in senior citizen food insecurity, with over 5 percent of seniors there facing hunger—pressed on. Addressing Greenlee, he asked: “If we are saving money with the two billion we spend, perhaps we should give you 20 billion. Is there a limit? How much money should we give you in order to save money? If we spend federal money to save money, where is the limit? I think we could reach a point of absurdity.”

Senator Al Franken turned on his microphone and offered a quick reply: “I think you just did.”

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

He Likes Reagan, Also Street Tacos—But Who Is Jon Huntsman?

It is an ironclad law of Republican primaries that every candidate must invoke the legacy of Ronald Reagan whenever humanly possible. Usually that takes the form of explicitly referencing one’s involvement in the Reagan revolution, or how Reagan would have handled a policy matter. But on Tuesday former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman took a different approach by announcing his candidacy on the same ground in Jersey City, New Jersey, where Reagan had famously kicked off his general election campaign in 1980.

To a reporter who trekked across the Hudson River to witness the spectacle, it was a lot less spectacular than one might have expected. Liberty State Park, Jersey City’s pride and joy, actually faces the back of the Statue of Liberty. Getting there from the nearest train station proved difficult, as the shuttle from the train to the park has been cancelled on weekdays due to budget constraints (welcome to Chris Christie’s New Jersey.) After traipsing down the sidewalk-less shoulder of roads filled with trucks and arriving at the event, the scenery grew only slightly more impressive. The day was hazy and overcast, and members of the media outnumbered actual spectators, of which there may have been fewer than 100. A campaign staffer was overheard exhorting the few fans—all of them were white, mostly young and preppy—to crowd into the shot for the media. There was no warm up act and no music, save for a couple bars of America the Beautiful that disappeared as suddenly as they came over the speakers.

Huntsman was introduced with a video, a longer version of the peculiar promo he released last week, which features him riding a motorcycle through the desert with country music in the background. This version features a narrator detailing Huntsman’s achievements and virtues with a series of noun-less, non-sequiter phrases: “knows Asia,” “knows business,” “married forever,” “forever pro-life,” “the ultimate conservative,” “cut government,” “cut taxes,” “not in it for the winning,” “not in it for the balloons” and “a taste for dirt.”

It also rather bluntly stated what is supposed to be some of Huntsman’s subtle appeal, such as declaring that Huntsman, “prefers a greasy spoon to a linen tablecloth.” Huntsman, the son of billionaire, has aggressively promoted that notion, by showing reporters how much he loves tacos from a street truck. That doesn’t have the intended effect when reporters are wise to your game, and it works even less when you just baldly proclaim your regular guy credentials.

Huntsman and his family made an awkward, carefully choreographed entrance from the far side of the park that was presumably intended to give the proceedings an air of Reaganesque grandeur, but instead begged the question of why we were all staring at a handful of blond people walking across an empty grass lawn as if there were something interesting about the sight. Huntsman’s speech was concise, laying out the basic Republican rationale for running— that we are accumulating too much national debt and we need a more effective economic steward in the White House—without the rancor that his primary opponents deploy. He took only one swipe at Obama, when he leaned in to emphasize the line, “leadership that knows we need more than hope.”

Huntsman closed with a section that gave a clear window onto his electoral strategy: to run right for the independent and moderate voters who are turned off by the extremism of other Republicans and the partisanship of the political debate. “I respect the President of the United States,” Huntsman said. “He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who's the better American.”

Several of the young attendees—including a 24-year-old former campaign staffer for Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, who declined to give his name because he skipped work for the occasion—said they had voted for Obama and might vote for him again over other Republicans, but they find Huntsman appealing. If Huntsman can win the Republican nomination that could make him a strong candidate in the general election, but he’s got a long way to go before he gets there.  

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Battling Another Rapper, Bill O’Reilly Defends Obama

Bill O’Reilly is still picking fights with rappers, but it feels like his heart’s not in it. 

On Monday night, O’Reilly hosted Lupe Fiasco, a 29-year old rapper and singer who recently dubbed President Obama a terrorist. The remark created an opening for O’Reilly to attack hip hop while getting Obama’s back.  That’s a twist for Fox News, which usually attacks rappers by lumping them with Democrats, or rehashes the conservative complaints about “gangsta rap.”  But the new angle couldn't really save the segment. 

O’Reilly dutifully presented his soundbites (“Obama is not a terrorist”), then turned to condescension, lecturing “Mr. Fiasco” that the word fallacious means wrong, and observing that few rap fans have political science Ph.Ds.  Mr. Fiasco countered that his beef is not just with Obama, but with militaristic foreign policy, the root causes of terrorism and all American presidents. There was no fire, and very little substance, in the 5-minute exchange.  (It’s a long ways from O’Reilly’s classic rap battles —like the spirited, lengthy 2003 debate he hosted between Damon Dash, Cam’ron and Salome Thomas-El, a black elementary school principal who felt that rap promoted obsccenity and negativity. )

O’Reilly has been obsessed with rappers as social and political leaders for over a decade, but the mainlining of hip hop in American culture has rendered his outrage rather quaint.

“The conventional wisdom is that attacking a rapper is good for high drama,” says Jay Smooth, a hip hop radio host who also does political commentary on the video blog illdoctrine.com. He argues that nowadays, however, rap has become “a bland middle American product like any other,” pointing to this year’s Superbowl, which included three different luxury car ads by rappers (Eminem, Jay-Z and Diddy). “That was a big landmark to me of how far hip hop has come into the safe mainstream,” Smooth told The Nation. Meanwhile, the conservative critique still assumes people think rapper is a dirty word. 

As for O’Reilly’s enduring fascination with his hip hop adversaries, real and imagined, Smooth has that figured out, too:

 "I’ve always had a theory that O’Reilly sees rappers as kindred spirits —sees a lot of himself in their bravado. He’s always had this mix of declaring himself the master of ‘the no spin zone,’ and 'keeping it real' the whole time, but he’s doing a contrived persona that is calculated to keep people watching, which is similar to commercial rappers."

Smooth first spotted this connection in 2007, in an irreverent music video taking O’Reilly’s MC fetish to the next level. (Hint: it rhymes. Video below.)

And back to Monday’s interview, it would not be complete without some post-show sparring.  Later in the evening, Lupe Fiasco went online to complain that some of his sharpest arguments were edited out of the segment. He had charged, for example, that U.S. military manuals “teach you how to be a terrorist.”  He tweeted the claim to his 670,000 followers, hastening to add that his father was a Green Beret and he’s “not against the military.” 

Well alright.  Branding opponents terrorists is a destructive tack, obviously, from any corner of the spectrum.  Still, Lupe’s lyrics are more compelling than his punditry.  Take “Words I Never Said," the new song that started this controversy, where he raps about the War on Terror and the sensationalism of the news media:

I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullsh**/
Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets...
Your childs future was the first to go with budget cuts/
If you think that hurts then, wait here comes the uppercut
The school was garbage in the first place, that's on the up and up/
Keep you at the bottom but tease you with the uppercrust

If you turn on TV all you see’s a bunch of “what the f*cks
‘Dude is dating so-and-so, blabbering ‘bout such and such/
And that aint Jersey Shore, homie —that's the news!
And these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth
Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist
Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say sh*t
Thats why I aint vote for him —next one either/
I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful
And I believe in the people.

So Lupe on politics is more interesting than Lupe on Lupe -- and definitely more worthwhile than Lupe on O'Reilly.

Videos below:

Jay Smooth's O'Reilly video:

Lupe Fiasco's music video:

The Fiasco-O'Reilly debate:

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

This Day in History: When Muhammad Ali Took the Weight

In an era defined by endless war, we should recognize a day in history that won’t be celebrated on Capitol Hill or in the White House. On June 20, 1967, the great Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston for refusing induction in the US armed forces. Ali saw the war in Vietnam as an exercise in genocide. He also used his platform as boxing champion to connect the war abroad with the war at home, saying, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” For these statements, as much as the act itself, Judge Joe Ingraham handed down the maximum sentence to Cassius Clay (as they insisted upon calling him in court): five-years in a Federal penitentary and a $10,000 fine. The next day, this was the top-flap story for the New York Times with the headline, “Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.”

The sentence was unusually harsh, and deeply tied to a bipartisan Beltway effort to crush Ali and ensure that he not develop into a symbol of antiwar resistance. The day of Ali’s conviction the US Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft four more years. They also voted 385-19 to make it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. Their fears of a rising movement against the war were well-founded.

The summer of 1967 marked a tipping point for public support of the Vietnam “police action.” While the Tet Offensive, which exposed the lie that the United States was winning the war, was still six months away, the news out of Southeast Asia was increasingly grim. At the time of Ali’s conviction, 1,000 Vietnamese noncombatants were being killed each week by US forces. One hundred US soldiers were being marked as "casualties" every day, and the war was costing $2 billion a month.

Antiwar sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place. Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It] reverberated through the whole society…. you could hear people talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People who had never thought about the war before began to think it through because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”

Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying, “I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand—either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth must eventually prevail.”

Already by this point, Ali’s heavyweight title had been stripped, beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile. Already Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam had begun to distance themselves from their most famous member. Already, Ali had become a punching bag for almost every reporter with a working pen. But with his conviction came a new global constituency. In Guyana, protests against his sentence took place in front of the US embassy. In Karachi, Pakistan, a hunger strike began in front of the US consulate. In Cairo, demonstrators took to the streets. In Ghana, editorials decried his conviction. In London, an Irish boxing fan named Paddy Monaghan began a long and lonely picket of the US Embassy. Over the next three years, he would collect more than twenty thousand signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title.

Ali at this point was beginning to see himself as someone who had a greater responsibility to an international groundswell that saw him as more than an athlete. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some bloodthirsty people. I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world. I’ll always have a home in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. This is more than money.”

Eventually justice did prevail and the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction in 1971. They did so only after the consensus on the war had changed profoundly. Ali had been proven right by history, although a generation of people in [Southeast] Asia and the United States paid a terrible price along the way.

Years later upon reflection, Ali said he had no regrets. “Some people thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t just black people being drafted. The government had a system where the rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war. Then, after the rich man’s son got out of college, he did other things to keep him out of the Army until he was too old to be drafted.”

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

How to Make Elections Competitive

Looking toward this year’s statewide elections, the Virginia Public Access Project—a nonprofit that focuses on transparency in state elections—finds that of the 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, only fifteen are contested. Of the remaining 85, either the incumbents are running unopposed, or the opponents woefully underfunded. Matthew Yglesias uses this to make a point about the importance of money in politics:

People often discuss uncompetitive seats primarily through a gerrymandering lens, but I think the money is a much more important factor and one that there’s a better solution available for. If any major party nominee was guaranteed a decent amount of money, then almost every seat would be meaningfully contested. Incumbents might still be regularly re-elected (and why shouldn’t they be if they’re ideologically well-fitted to their districts) but they’d still need to hustle and try and worry that they’ll be exposed to scrutiny.

Among political scientists who study the effect of money on politics, “floors, not ceilings” is a common and easy to understand refrain: the goal of campaign finance isn’t to restrict a candidate’s ability to spend money, it’s to ensure a fair system where everyone is able to compete. The problem in Virginia, and to a large degree nationwide, is that electoral challengers are woefully underfunded. As Yglesias points out, “The quantity of meaningful elections is very driven by the imperative to raise funds and then try to allocate them ‘efficiently’ to winnable seats.” When there isn’t enough money to go around, incumbents stay untouched, challengers unsupported, and the public suffers from an impoverished debate.

Solving this problem doesn’t require anything complicated; publicly financed block grants to major party candidates—indexed to the average cost of running a competitive campaign in the area—would automatically elevate most state-level elections to something that approaches competitive. For congressional candidates, Jonathan Bernstein recommends a block grant of $500,000, with strict disclosure laws for further fundraising. I would probably include a system of supplementary public financing for those of who chose it (probably along the lines of New York City’s matching system), but the main idea is to make every race a serious contest, regardless of whether or not the incumbent wins.

Republicans Abuse Confirmation Process in an Attempt to Make Policy

The New York Times reports on the vacancy crisis in the executive branch, and the Senate GOP’s culpability due to its categorical rejection of President Obama’s nominees. To its credit, the Times recognizes that this just isn’t a matter of overzealous but reasonable senatorial prerogative; Republican senators have essentially issued a blanket rejection of all executive branch nominees, and have hijacked the confirmation process in an effort to change or overturn administration policies. It’s not that Republicans can’t see Elizabeth Warren’s qualifications for heading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; it’s that the institution exists and Republicans want to destroy it, or at least, weaken it to uselessness.

This is an unprecedented abuse of the Senate’s right to provide “advice and consent” to the president; it’s one thing for minority senators to hold a nominee in order to make a deal or secure a program; it’s something else entirely for the minority party to overcome its legislative minority by categorically blocking the president’s nominees. On nominees—and a whole host of other procedural issues—Republican behavior has veered into a flagrant disregard for Senate norms.

Naturally, when asked to defend their behavior, Republicans blame Democrats. “They were the first ones to break norms,” Republicans say, “we’re just trying to compensate”:

Republicans say the blockade reflects their frustration with the White House and the last Congress for passing broad policies without winning broad support. Republicans are consigned to defensive tactics because they lack the votes to pursue their own agenda.

“This isn’t about any particular appointee—Ben Franklin could come back to life and they would oppose him,” said Mr. Engelhard, a former Republican aide on the House Financial Services Committee. “There’s just very strong concerns on their side that the process, that traditional way that the Senate likes to come to bipartisan compromise, isn’t working.”

This is pure, unadulterated bullshit, and I’m disappointed by the Times’ willingness to swallow it. From the stimulus package to financial reform, President Obama and Congressional Democrats worked hard to build a bipartisan consensus. In their efforts to find Republican support, Democrats shrunk the stimulus package, scrapped the public option, and crafted a weaker set of financial regulations. It’s not that Democrats refused to build broad support, it’s that Republicans rejected every overture in a clear effort to sink the administration’s agenda. The irony of it all is that Republicans gave up greater influence on current policy when they rejected Democratic attempts at compromise.

Of course, even if that weren’t the case, it doesn’t excuse Republican behavior; in 2008, Democrats won the presidency and large congressional majorities. Insofar that mandates exist, the Democratic Party had earned a right to pursue its agenda to the best of its ability. Democrats owed nothing Republican lawmakers, and they certainly weren’t required to compromise their own interests for the sake of bipartisan comity.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

New Wisconsin Budget Grants Broad Power to Gov. Walker to Remake State Health Programs

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is set to sign a two-year budget that provides tax breaks for state businesses, individual taxpayers and multi-state corporations yet includes zero state sales or income tax increases, and limits the amount schools and local governments can raise property taxes.

Furthermore, the budget contains deep cuts in education spending, health care and programs for the poor. The state will slash aid to public schools by $800 million over two years, and cut Medicaid by $500 million by increasing co-pays and deductibles. Poor families will see a reduction in their income tax credits if they have two or more children.

Critics of Gov. Walker’s myopic plan fear -- by granting tax breaks to corporations, freezing property taxes, and slashing the social safety net -- the governor will bleed Wisconsin dry in the long run.

These same critics say the devastating cuts to schools and public programs place an unfair burden on the middle class.

"Everybody knows we needed to make cuts, everybody knows we had to ask public employees to be part of the solution, too, and we were willing to do that," said state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton. "But the way that this does it really, really puts a lot of the solution on top of people who can least afford the cuts that are given to them."

Opponents of Walker’s budget plan also say it’s laughable that Republicans are claiming to be fiscally responsible when they’re guaranteeing the future bankruptcy of the state.

Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a progressive advocacy group, said the cost of the budget's tax cuts will "skyrocket" in coming years.


"In the next 10 years, it's $2.3 billion," he said. "It's impossible to say they (Republicans) are tackling the structural deficit when they are putting all these new obligations that will come online with a massive cost."

A particular point of contention are those corporate tax breaks Walker is dealing out in the midst of these harsh budget cuts. 

"Part of the reason we had deficit problems in Wisconsin was because of the tax policies that allow the wealthy to squirrel more of their assets, but also because much of our tax revenue is generated by people having good-paying jobs," Ross said. "So when the economy collapsed, people were spending less money, they had less money to tax.

 "And this system that the Republicans are enacting, in terms of gutting public education, in terms of what they are doing to the tech college system and our university system, will in the long run cost us revenue because people won't have the skills to have good-paying jobs."

Essentially, Walker’s plan is a shortsighted giveaway to the wealthy and corporations that ultimately will leave the state much weaker in the future.

The new state budget also grants broad power to Walker’s administration to remake BadgerCare Plus and other state health programs with little legislative oversight.

"It's a terrible precedent," said David Riemer, director of Community Advocates Public Policy Institute.

 State legislators, he said, basically have given the governor the power to undo laws on books for the programs.

 "The Legislature just sort of capitulated," Riemer said.

 It also enables state legislators to sidestep some potentially controversial decisions.

 "This makes it very difficult for the public to hold their elected officials accountable for these decisions," [Bob Jacobson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families] said.

The budget also contains anti-choice measures such as defunding nine Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide preventive care to over 12,000 uninsured women, adding new restrictions on the services provided by family planning providers, and blocking women facing unintended pregnancy from accessing unbiased and non-directive information about their options.

Walker’s budget also makes men ineligible for the BadgerCare Family Planning Program.

It is clear Walker’s budget will benefit some individuals, but what is equally apparent is that those beneficiaries won’t be the majority of working class Wisconsinites.  

Tea Party Darling Michele Bachmann Rallies Conservative Convention

Minneapolis—This week Joe Klein had an interesting piece in Time about how the 2012 GOP presidential race is shaping up to be a battle between outsiders vs. insiders. Mitt Romney is the obvious insider of choice. Michele Bachmann, despite being a three-term member of Congress, is making a strong push to be the outsider who rallies the GOP faithful against the party establishment. Her appearance at the conservative RightOnline conference in Minneapolis today illustrated why she may be the dark horse to watch this cycle. (It’s also worth noting that the “grassroots” conference is run by the Koch Brothers–funded Americans for Prosperity Foundation.)

Bachmann drew enthusiastic cheers from the packed ballroom at the Hilton—complete with a gaudy blue and red stage with white stars—by talking up her opposition to Obamacare (she’s sponsored a bill to repeal it), the financial and auto bailouts, and raising the debt ceiling. “When are we going to buck up, when are we going to say no?” she asked rhetorically. Don’t be surprised if she leads the opposition among House Republicans to any impending deal between the Obama administration and the GOP leadership to raise the debt ceiling.

Bachmann’s making an unapologetic bid for the Tea Party vote, saying the movement represents far more voters than the “right-wing fringe of the Republican Party” and was “just gaining strength.” She asked the crowd to hold up a $1 bill to illustrate how the nation is drowning in debt. “42 cents on the dollar is borrowed money!” she said. Bachmann even talked about the unemployment rate among black and Hispanic Americans in front of the nearly all-white, predominantly middle-aged crowd. And the avowed social conservative kept the focus on jobs and the economy, despite ending her speech by quoting a passage of the Bible about the Philistines, reflecting the newfound center of gravity among the Republican base.

Unlike compromise candidates like Romney, who are considered more electable but have in the past taken positions at odds with the GOP base, Bachmann is an unapologetic Tea Party disciple. “Bachmann-Palin,” one crowd member yelled during her speech. Although a huge oil painting of Palin rested just outside the ballroom, Bachmann is positioning herself as a calmer, saner, more intelligent version of the Mama Grizzly. She seems far less crazy in person than she does on TV. Democrats would be smart not to underestimate her potential appeal. (Though she couldn’t escape a “glitter bomb” protester at the end of her speech.)

The GOP presidential primary is starting to look eerily familiar to the Democratic presidential primary in 2004. If Mitt Romney is John Kerry, the flawed yet formidable frontrunner, Michele Bachmann could become Howard Dean, the bomb-throwing hero of the grassroots. It’s insurgent vs. establishment all over again. As is usually the case, I’m guessing the establishment will ultimately prevail, although the attendees at RightOnline might have something to say about that.

Jeffrey Sachs Calls Out the Gang of Jive

Conservative Democratic senator Mark Warner is on the secretive Gang of Five—the three Dem and two Republican senators (Tom Coburn took a powder a few weeks ago) who are trying to cut a deal on the deficit in return for raising the debt ceiling. You must see this from today’s Morning Joe: Economist Jeffrey Sachs takes down Warner’s—and by extension, most corporate-friendly politicians’—fallacious argument that you can raise revenues by lowering tax rates for billionaires if only you close a few loopholes. And Sachs leaves no doubt about what he thinks of letting the top 2 percent run away with such an outlandish share of the American economy.

Sachs: These billionaires and multimillionaires have gotten away with the biggest increases of income and wealth in the history of this country, in the history of the world, since 1980. What are we talking about? Are they so fragile, so desperate that we need to get the billionaires’ top rates down? It’s outrageous.

Warner: We’re talking about trying to make sure they actually are paying close to…

Sachs: Make sure? Go after them! Make sure! This is what’s ridiculous—that we have to come beg them to pay their taxes?

Later in the clip, Sachs zaps the Simpson-Bowles commission as “filled with gimmicks” even as Warner repeats its formula of three dollars of cuts to one dollar of revenue as if that’s somehow a square deal. Warner is the sixth-richest congresscritter, with a reported net worth of between $65 million and $283 million.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Which Old White President Does Obama Most Resemble?

For The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost, it’s Jimmy Carter, the preferred bogeyman of conservatives and right-wingers. Cost begins on a reasonable note, pointing out the extent to which campaigns can’t overcome poor economic performance, but then goes off the rails with his Carter comparison, ignoring the actual substance of Carter’s presidency as compared to Obama’s.

Yes, Cost is right to place Obama on shaky ground for his re-election campaign. Unemployment isn’t projected to dip below 8 percent until 2013, per capita disposable income is stagnant and Obama is trailing the “generic Republican” by six percentage points, according to a recent Gallup survey. On the other hand, Obama has several advantages that eluded Carter. For starters, Obama has run a competent administration, and has signed several major pieces of legislation: the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, and “don’t ask don’t tell” repeal. These are actual accomplishments, and will help when Obama makes his case for a second term. By contrast, with the notable exception of deregulation, Carter accomplished little on the domestic front, thanks to his tough and alienated relationships with liberal activists and Congressional Democrats.

More importantly (for his re-election campaign) is the fact that Obama is still more popular than each of the Republican candidates for president, the generic advantage notwithstanding. According to a recent NBC poll, Obama leads Mitt Romney by six points in a hypothetical match-up (49 to 43) and Tim Pawlenty by 13 points (50 to 37). 49 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, making him the most popular politician among the possible choices for president in 2012.

Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was wildly unpopular by the time 1980 rolled around, and faced a credible primary challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy. What’s more, the public blamed Carter for the poor economy of the late seventies, which isn’t true of Obama and today; more than six in ten Americans say that President Obama inherited the country’s economic problems, and 47 percent place most of the blame on George W. Bush.

Of course, none of this is to discount the problem of a poor economy. If things are bad enough, a Republican will win the White House in 2012. But if we’re working with historical analogies, this would make Barack Obama the second coming of George H.W. Bush—another president who floundered in the face of a poor economy—and not a retread of the hapless peanut farmer from Georgia.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.
Syndicate content