Tag Archives: E.J. Dionne

Arguments Commence Over The Best Way To Remember, Over The BBQ Grill

Tim Smith at The Baltimore Sun:

The original purpose of Memorial Day can get easily lost amid all the cookouts or, in these parts, trips to the beach for the unofficial start of the summer season. The origin of the holiday can get overlooked, too, since there have been so many wars since the one that led to the practice of commemorating those who died in service to the country.

It was in 1868 that the first Decoration Day ceremonies were held, honoring the dead of the Union Army in the Civil War. Over time, of course, the observance incorporated the dead of both sides and, renamed Memorial Day, encompassed all of this country’s fallen in subsequent wars.

I was thinking today of those Civil War roots of the holiday and of a song that was popular with Northern troops: “We’re Tenting Tonight On the Old Campground.” I’m fascinated by Walter Kittridge’s words from 1864 as much as the tune. This is a remarkably powerful, personal expression of that war’s toll — any war’s toll.

It seems doubly appropriate to recall it on this Memorial Day, when there are still conflicts and casualties. I’ve posted some of the lyrics here, followed by a recording of “Tenting Tonight” that effectively communicates the song’s sadly timeless message:

We’re tenting tonight on the old campground. Give us a song to cheer our weary hearts, a song of home, and friends we love so dear. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease. Many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace …”

E.J. Dionne at WaPo:

Why is it that every Memorial Day, we note that a holiday set aside for honoring our war dead has become instead an occasion for beach-going, barbecues and baseball?

The problem arises because war-fighting has become less a common endeavor than a specialty engaged in by a relatively small subset of our population. True, some people slipped out of their obligations in the past, and military service was largely, though never exclusively, the preserve of men. The steady growth of opportunities for women in the armed forces is a positive development. I say this proudly as someone whose sister is a veteran of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as is her husband.

Can we ever return to a time when we pay proper homage to the service of our warriors, living and dead? Closing the divide that exists between military life and the rest of our society is the first step on that path. Achieving that end is the single best reason for ending the ban on gays in the military. This is not a special-interest demand. It is a powerful way of declaring that in a democracy, service should be seen as a task open to all patriots.

Our major wars — particularly the Civil War, which gave rise to Memorial Day, and World War II — were in some sense mass democratic experiences. They touched the entire country. The same cannot be said of our more recent conflicts.

Because it has been 65 years since we’ve seen anything like a mass mobilization, regular contact with our military is largely confined to the places where our men and women in uniform live. And, according to a 2007 Defense Department report, more than half of our home-based military personnel — 54.5 percent of them — are stationed in only six states: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Twelve states account for three-quarters of our service members. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a terrible principle when it comes to honoring those who protect us. But is there any doubt that it applies?

Atrios:

I really hate the annual ritual of writing columns about how people don’t behave properly on Memorial Day. People don’t get many vacation days in the greatest country on Earth, and sitting around pretending to be sad or watching Spielberg war porn doesn’t really honor those who served either. Not going to read the minds of those who served, willingly and enthusiastically or otherwise, but when after I die Atrios Memorial Day is declared, feel free to grill some burgers and have a few beers in my name. I’ll be honored.

Robert H. Scales at Politics Daily:

The heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan is being done by a very small and increasingly isolated minority. We find that military service is fast becoming a family business. At least 100 sons and daughters of general officers are in harm’s way as we speak. The level of relative sacrifice is far greater today than it was in my generation. It’s not unusual to find a soldier or Marine who is now in double-digit deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we don’t sense the difference between their lives and ours, but increasingly they do. We don’t hear much from them publicly because, unlike my generation of draftees, they are professionals and tend to keep their own counsel. But resentment is there, just under the surface. Unlike my generation, soldiers are plugged into the outside world through the Internet. You can often find a young soldier in the remotest and most inhospitable place blogging and tweeting and watching his countrymen with a wry cynicism.

Soldiers often ask why the media gave them so much attention before the surge when things were going badly in Iraq and so little attention now when things are going well. They wonder how so many political and media pundits know so much about a soldier’s business, and yet lately, soldiers see so few of them near their foxholes. The Internet is a two-edged sword. In Vietnam, we only heard from home infrequently, by letter. Today a soldier is likely to go off on patrol after getting an earful about his loved one’s problems with bill collectors, teachers or, increasingly, family counselors.

Memorial Day should be about memories, to be sure. But it should also be about remembrances of those who are serving us so selflessly now. We must never allow this precious and tiny piece of Sparta to become permanently detached from America’s Babylon. Next time you’re in an airport, spend a second to shake a soldier’s hand. Commit to rekindling that sense of good will toward our men and women in uniform you felt just after 9/11. The war for us is now background noise. But believe me, war is very real and increasingly dangerous for those whom we charge to fight it.

Michelle Oddis at Human Events:

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–> At a time when President Obama’s relationship with the military is already on shaky ground, his decision to take a vacation with his family in Chicago rather than pay his Memorial Day respects at Arlington National Cemetery further proves his apathy toward our armed forces, according to some veterans.

“The President seems to demonstrate almost weekly just how, at least to me, little he cares about this country and our history and our heritage,” retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle told HUMAN EVENTS.

“He seems almost to resent it, which is the most mind-boggling thing in the world, because without a country like America Barack Obama could not be President. He seems to dislike our institutions… and that’s a sad, sad thing,” said Swindle, a decorated Vietnam prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain’s cellmate in Hanoi.

David Corn at Politics Daily:

There’s a hole in the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is still near 10 percent. There are two wars underway. And what are conservative pundits fretting about? That this year President Obama won’t be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

The liberal watchdog outfit, Media Matters, has been keeping track of this latest right-wing meme:

– Glenn Beck says, “Obama is skipping out on a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington Cemetery because he’ll be in Chicago on vacation. I’m sorry, I don’t ever, ever question the president’s vacation. I didn’t under Bush, I didn’t under Clinton, I don’t under Obama. . . . I have no problem with the man taking a vacation. But I am sick and tired — sick and tired — of people believing the lie that this administration has respect for the police or has respect for the soldiers of our country. I’m tired of it.”

– Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and CNN contributor, tweeted, “Obama skipping the Tomb of the Unknowns this weekend for Chicago is offensive. Chicago can wait. The Commander-in-Chief has a job to do.”

– Noting that Vice President Joe Biden will assume the wreath-laying duties this year, Doug Powers, a guest blogger for conservative Michelle Malkin, grouses, “President Obama went to Arlington Cemetery to lay the wreath last year, but this year Obama’s handing the wreath to [Biden] and heading off to the more welcoming political climes of Chicago. . . . Obama will however make it back to Washington in time to honor Paul McCartney next week. Boy, I’m starting to think that West Point speech [Obama gave this past weekend] wasn’t from the heart.”

You’d think these folks would have better things to gripe about. And Obama is not retreating on Memorial Day. (What president would?) Instead of visiting Arlington cemetery, Obama and the first lady will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., about 50 miles south of Chicago. Moreover, not every president has spent Memorial Day at Arlington. In 1983, President Reagan was at a summit meeting, and the deputy secretary of defense — not even the veep! — placed the wreath. Nine years later, President George H.W. Bush passed off the wreath to Vice President Dan Quayle (who had used family connections to get a slot in the National Guard during the days of the Vietnam War draft). And in 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney took on the wreath mission, while President George W. Bush was in Texas, perhaps clearing brush.

This wreath scuffle is yet another silly episode in the right’s never-ending campaign to persuade Americans that Obama doesn’t care about U.S. troops and is weak on national security. It shows how unserious these bloviators can be. Obama is in the middle of sending an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan and has boosted the number of drone attacks aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, conservative wingnuts insist on questioning his commitment to the defense of this nation. (I’m skeptical of the Afghanistan surge, but it certainly is a commitment to the war — for at least the time being.)

John J. Miller at The Corner:

Some conservatives have criticized President Obama because he won’t pay homage to America’s fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery today. Instead, he will be at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois. This is a silly controversy and has the potential to make the complainers look petty. Thousands of American veterans are buried at national cemeteries that aren’t as famous as the one at Arlington. These heroes are worthy of presidential visits on Memorial Day, too.

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A Children’s Primer To The Various Points Of The Reconciliation Debate

Julie Rovner at NPR:

To reconcile or not to reconcile — when it comes to a health overhaul bill, that seems to be the biggest argument of the moment.

At issue is a process called budget reconciliation. By writing Obama’s health care plan as a budget bill, Democrats can prevent a Republican filibuster in the Senate and advance the bill with a simple majority instead of the 60-vote supermajority they no longer have.

Not surprisingly, that has Republicans crying foul. Budget reconciliation, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) told reporters Tuesday, “was never designed for a large, comprehensive piece of legislation such as health care, as you all know. It’s a budget exercise, and that’s why some refer to it as the ‘nuclear option.'”

“The use of expedited reconciliation process to push through more dramatic changes to a health care bill of such size, scope and magnitude is unprecedented,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote in a letter to President Obama on Monday, urging him to renounce the possibility of trying to pass a bill using the procedure.

But health care and reconciliation actually have a lengthy history. “In fact, the way in which virtually all of health reform, with very, very limited exceptions, has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process,” says Sara Rosenbaum, who chairs the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University.

For example, the law that lets people keep their employers’ health insurance after they leave their jobs is called COBRA, not because it has anything to do with snakes, but because it was included as one fairly minor provision in a huge reconciliation bill, she says.

“The correct name is continuation benefits. And the only reason it’s called COBRA is because it was contained in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985; and that is how we came up with the name COBRA,” she says.

COBRA, which confusingly did not become law until 1986, was actually a much larger bill, including many nonhealth provisions and many other important health provisions as well (see chart). Among them was the so-called Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments to at least screen patients who arrive for emergency treatment, regardless of their ability to pay.

Tim Noah in Slate:

“You know, we’ve witnessed the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, the Gatorade, the special deal for Florida,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Feb. 22 on Fox News.* “Now they are suggesting they might use a device which has never been used for this kind of major systemic reform.” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, wrote Feb. 23 on USA Today’s Web site that the Obama White House is engaged in “an all-out push for the highly partisan ‘nuclear option’ of reconciliation, special rules to circumvent bipartisan Senate opposition, to jam this bill through Congress. To be clear, this procedure was never contemplated for legislation of this magnitude.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R.-Iowa, said Aug. 23 on CBS News’ Face the Nation, “If you have reconciliation, it’s a partisan approach.” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R.-Me., said much the same in April. “If they exercise that tool,” she told the Washington Post, “it’s going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide.”

But look at the Senate roll call on the conference report for the 1996 welfare reform bill, the most momentous piece of social legislation to become law in the last 20 years. The bill’s formal name was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (italics mine). It was called that because it passed the Senate through budget reconciliation, even though the bill’s purpose (“ending welfare as we know it”) was only peripherally about trimming the federal budget. Yet McConnell voted for the bill. So did Hatch, Grassley, Snowe, and every other Republican in the Senate. So, for that matter, did most Democrats.

Why did the Republican-controlled Senate use reconciliation to pass welfare reform? Interestingly, when I posed that question to several welfare-reform experts—including one person (Ron Haskins, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution) who’s published a narrative history of it—none could immediately remember why. Why couldn’t they remember? Because the decision to use reconciliation was one of the least remarkable things about the bill.

Ezra Klein:

Elsewhere, political scientist Joshua Tucker found a Congressional Research Service report (pdf) listing every time reconciliation was used between 1981 and 2005, and he built a rough model testing which party used the process more frequently. During that period, there were 19 reconciliation bills, 11 of which were signed by Republican presidents, five of which were signed by Democratic presidents, three of which were vetoed by Democratic presidents, and none of which were vetoed by Republican presidents. “By my admittedly simple classification scheme,” Tucker concludes, “this would suggest that 14 of the 19 times reconciliation was used between FY1981 – FY2005, it was used to advance Republican interests.”

The real story lurking in these arguments is that reconciliation has become the normal process for many of the most important bills in recent years. The Bush tax cuts went through reconciliation. Welfare reform went through reconciliation. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 went through reconciliation. We’ve never really discussed the fact that we have a majority-rules process tucked inside the supermajority Senate (in part because the realization that we have a supermajority Senate is relatively recent), but it’s been key to getting anything done for at least 20 years now, and it will be an even more constant presence in the next 20 years.

Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics:

Reconciliation bills have a privileged status on the Senate floor. There is no debate on whether to begin consideration of a reconciliation bill. Proposed amendments must be germane to the bill. Debate on the bill and any amendments to it is limited to 20 hours. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “vote-a-rama,” this is where it comes from: when the time limit for debate on a reconciliation bill has been reached, remaining amendments are voted on in quick succession.

All of this is designed to facilitate Congress in making a budget plan, then actually sticking to it. Of course, determined congressional majorities, especially when given clear guidance by a determined President, have used reconciliations rules for purposes beyond the original intent. The first notable event in this history occurred in 1981 when President Reagan and the GOP Senate majority used it to cut spending and taxes by a significant amount. As legislative expert Walter Oleszek has written, “Never before had reconciliation been employed on such a grand scale.”

Liberals like Klein will suggest that this justifies, in some ethical sense, the use that Harry Reid is now apparently planning for budget reconciliation. Conservatives will use words like “jam” and “ram” and phrases like “the nuclear option” to argue that there is no such justification.

When it comes to legislative procedure, I am a strict Hobbesian. There is what a Senate majority can do, and what it can’t do. “Appropriate” or “inappropriate” are not applicable phrases. Congress is sovereign over its own procedures, which are the product of self-interested members working to secure reelection and/or policy goals. Morality doesn’t enter into it. (See the note at the bottom of this post for another thought on this topic.)

I’ll go a step further to suggest that people with strong policy preferences should rarely be listened to in a debate about appropriate procedure. People who care intensely about the final vote tally often don’t care how the votes are counted, so long as they get their preferred outcome. This is why there was no hue and cry coming from most of these born-again majoritarians on the left when the Democrats were looking to filibuster judicial nominees in 2005. It is easy to find numerous examples of conservative hypocrisy on this subject, too.

Michael Gerson in WaPo:

Obama now approaches the Rubicon. The Senate is in disarray. Its procedures frustrate his purposes. Before crossing the river with his army, Julius Caesar is reported to have said, “Let the dice fly high!” For what stakes does Obama gamble?

First, the imposition of a House-Senate health-reform hybrid would confirm the worst modern image of the Democratic Party, that of intellectual arrogance. Parties hurt themselves most when they confirm a destructive public judgment. In this case, Americans would see Democrats pushing a high-handed statism. It is amazing how both parties, when given power, seem compelled to inhabit their own caricatures.

Second, this approach would almost certainly maintain conservative and Republican intensity through the November elections. In midterm elections, it is intensity that turns a trend into a rout. It is one thing to pour gasoline on a populist bonfire. It is another thing to pour gasoline on a populist bonfire while one is already being roasted.

Third, this action would undermine Obama’s own State of the Union strategy, which seemed like a shift toward the economy and away from health-care reform. The White House finds it impossible to settle on a strategy and stick with it. Democrats keep being drawn back into debates — Reid is now proposing the return of the “public option” — they have lost decisively, as if one more spin of the roulette wheel will recover their losses.

Fourth, a reconciliation strategy would both insult House and Senate Republicans and motivate them for future fights. The minority would not only be defeated on health reform but its rights would be permanently diminished — a development that would certainly be turned against Democrats when they lose their majority. Each side would have an excuse for decades of bitterness, creating a kind of political karma in which angry spirits are reincarnated again and again, to fight the same battles and suffer the same wounds.

Fifth, Obama would manage to betray many politically vulnerable members of his own party, proving himself a party leader of exceptional selfishness. Because the legacy of his presidency is at stake, or because of his pride, or because he is ideologically committed to an expanded public role in health care, Obama is pressuring Democratic members to join a suicide pact. When a president doesn’t care about his party, his party eventually ceases to care about him.

Democratic leaders respond: Since we have already taken the damage for proposing health reform, we might as well get the benefit for passing something. But there is always more damage to be taken on a self-destructive political path. And, in this case, there is a respectable alternative: approve and take credit for incremental reforms while blaming Republicans for blocking broader changes.

Obama’s decision on the use of reconciliation will define his presidency. If he trusts in his charmed political fortunes and lets the dice fly, it will raise the deepest questions about his judgment.

Breitbart.TV

Ed Morrissey:

Or maybe God just figured that Joe Biden wasn’t terribly serious about this 2005 prayer, unearthed by Breitbart TV and Naked Emperor News today. He was not the only Democrat bemoaning “majoritarian, absolute power,” either, or complaining about unilateral rules changes at that time. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton join Biden as current administration officials who have suddenly seen the light of majoritarian power:

[…]

“I pray God when the Democrats take back control we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”

Dianne Feinstein said on the Senate floor that “it begins with judicial nominations, next will be executive appointments, and then legislation.” Now, Democrats want to skip over the first two — which never happened — and leap right to legislation. Chuck Schumer called the 2005 suggestion to exempt judicial nominations from the filibuster as “almost a temper tantrum”; if that was the case in 2005, what does 2010 represent? A psychotic break from reality? Strauitjacket time?

It smells like desperation from a political party groaning under the heavy burden … of an eighteen-seat majority.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein

Jonathan Chait at TNR

UPDATE #2: Greg Sargent

Orrin Hatch in WaPo

Andrew Samwick

Atrios

UPDATE #3: Rachel Maddow:

Michelle Malkin

Jonathan Cohn at TNR

Ezra Klein

Daniel Foster at NRO

Brian Darling at Redstate

Ana Marie Cox and Rich Lowry at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: EJ Dionne in WaPo

UPDATE #5: Mike Allen at Politico

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Paul Krugman

Brad DeLong

John Cole

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Worst. Decade. Ever. Or, Whatever.

Andy Serwer in Time:

Calling the 2000s “the worst” may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s entire history. Between the West’s ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it’s no wonder we feel as if we’ve been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it’s in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer.

Then came the defining moment of the decade, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which redefined global politics for at least a generation and caused us to question the continental security we had until then rarely worried about. We waged war in Afghanistan that drags on and today is deadlier than ever. Then came our fiasco in Iraq. Don’t forget the anthrax letters and later the Washington, D.C., snipers and the wave of Wall Street scandals highlighted by Enron and WorldCom.

Sometimes it was as if the gods themselves were conspiring against this decade. On Aug. 29, 2005, near the center point in the decade, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, killing more than 1,500 and causing $100 billion in damages. It was the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history.

There is nothing natural about the economic meltdown we are still struggling with as the decade winds down. A housing bubble fueled by cheap money and excessive borrowing set ablaze by derivatives, so-called financial weapons of mass destruction, put the economy on the brink of collapse. We will be sorting through the damage for years. Meanwhile, the living, breathing symbol of this economic sordidness, prisoner No. 61727-054, a.k.a. Bernie Madoff, rots away in a Butner, N.C., jail cell, doing 150 years for orchestrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of humanity.

Danny Groner at Mediaite:

Back on New Year’s 2000, Time ran the following blurb attributed to several of the magazine’s writers:

The new decade is upon us, and according to the readers of TIME, this decade will be called the Aughts…or the MMs, depending on your level of skepticism. Last year Notebook conducted an online poll to find out what name should be given the next decade. Of the Zips, Two Thousands, Zeros, Ohs, Double Ohs, 2Ks, MMs, Aughts or Singles, readers clearly put the Aughts ahead, until the last week of polling, when the MMs took the lead–so suddenly (and implausibly–the MMs?!) that it aroused suspicions of a Mars candy campaign. Despite hints of vote tampering, several advertising agencies agreed to create ads to sell the new names to the public. Enjoy yourself in the…whatevers!

That was written as the staff looked ahead at what they could only expect to be a decade full of promise and profits. How quickly that plan went awry. Compare the message of that comment from nearly ten years ago with a portion of the magazine’s cover story in the most recent issue. Reflecting on the decade gone by, writer Andy Serwer says:

Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. We’re still weeks away from the end of ‘09, but it’s not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.

And there it is, as clear as night and day. “The Whatevers” started with a looser and more upbeat tone to them and now end with a much different feel. Through terrorism, wars, a severe recession and more, we’ve somehow managed to persevere through “The Whatevers.” During that period, the term’s connotation has changed.

It emerged as a last-resort option to appease everyone who’d rejected all other names. It rejected no offerings as being too stupid or lame because it recognized that all of the proposals were stupid and lame; this strategy made everything – and everyone – acceptable. Over time, though, “whatever” morphed into something else. “Whatever you want, you got” turned into  a less involved, less enthusiastic and less caring “whatever” attitude. Some Americans have adopted a doomsday outlook to cope with a world where bad news never fails to stop piling on. The ‘Whatever” generation rolls its eyes, shakes its head, and talks about how things can’t get any worse. What hurts most is remembering times when things weren’t nearly as bad.

So was this the decade from hell? It very well may have been. But Time’s first prediction says a lot more about how this decade  impacted Americans emotionally. And as we look ahead at the next decade, one can only hope that fortune will shift to a new era of “Whatever” defined by a more hopeful approach of “Que sera, sera.”

Tyler Cowen:

Some people are saying they’re the worst decade ever, but that’s more true for the global relations of the United States than for the level of human well-being in the world as a whole.  Even in the U.S., a lot of social indicators improved.  Elsewhere Chinese growth continued, Indian growth moved into the big time (in the gross reckoning we’re already at well over two billion people), a lot of Eastern Europe was successfully absorbed into the EU,  Indonesia made slow but steady progress.  Brazil may have turned a corner, and Africa had a better-than-lately decade in terms of economic growth.  Communism didn’t really come back.  Admittedly the Middle East is a tougher call.  Canada did strikingly well, as did Australia.  There was lots of progress on public health, including in the war against AIDS.  The internet truly blossomed and human creativity continued.

For a lot of you it feels bad, but it’s not obvious that the naughties have been such a terrible decade overall.  By the way, that home prices fell was overall a good thing; the roofs on those homes still keep out the rain.

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

Recently, Time magazine had a cover story that claimed the past 10 years have been “the worst decade ever.” Seriously. I guess the headline writers at Time must have missed the Black Death, the 1930s, etc.

Granted, there’s some hedging involved. “Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end,” writes Andy Serwer, “the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era.” Worse than the seventies, in other words. Don’t fret, though. “The next decade should be a helluva lot better than the last one,” mainly because a Democrat lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The whole exercise is exhausting. I chose to read the essay as if it were an article in The Onion, which made the experience more enjoyable.

Will Bunch at Huffington Post:

The biggest problem is that the “Decade from Hell” suggests that life can be boiled down to, in $10,000 Pyramid terminology, “Things That You See on CNN.” What about all the billions of people, literally, who brought a new son or daughter into the world during the 2000s, who found a soulmate or got married (or even both!) or created an amazing work of art during the last 10 years? True, these same folks may have also been pained by 9/11 or suffered a job loss as well, but they probably won’t look back on these years as all hellish.

It’s also, appropriately in a weird way, a very America-centric view — I doubt people in India or China, which grew their economies and gained clout on the global stage, will see the 2000s through a ring of hellfire. But yes, if you look at the United States and from the perspective of all the big stuff in politics, the economy and the ways that we relate as a society, it was not the best of times. But here’s the other thing that troubled me about “The Decade from Hell” concept, this underlying assumption that maybe our Decades are somehow fated or handed down to us; that the same fickle Decade Gods who gave us sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s and then whomped us upside the head with Pet Rocks, the AMC Gremlin and “Muskrat Love” in the 1970s are up there deciding our fate in 10-year increments

Steve Tobak:

Whoever said, “May you live in interesting times,” must have seen the first decade of the new millennium coming. And if you ever wondered whether that enigmatic proverb was meant as a blessing or a curse, as far as this decade is concerned, well, it sort of depends on whom you ask.

I’m sure Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers would say the first year was great, then everything went to crap. Bernie Madoff and Tiger Woods, on the other hand, at least had 9 good years. I have no idea what George W. Bush would say, but I’m relatively sure Al Gore had a blast.

UPDATE: David Frum at CNN

UPDATE #2: Steve Benen

UPDATE #3: Paul Krugman at NYT

UPDATE #4: Rod Dreher

UPDATE #5: Patrick Deenen at Front Porch Republic

Peter Lawler at PomoCon on Deenen

Back on topic, E.J. Dionne in TNR

UPDATE #6: Tyler Cowen in the NYT, more Cowen

Arnold Kling

James Joyner

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Filed under Go Meta, History

FEC, Easy As 1,2,3

GroverCleveland-AGThurman

Federal Election Commission posts. I know, exciting!

Pete Martin and Zachary Roth in TPM have a long story about the FEC:

Election-law experts, supporters of campaign-finance regulations, and even some members of the commission itself are expressing growing concern about a string of cases in which the three Republicans on the commission — led by Tom DeLay’s former ethics lawyer — have voted as a block against enforcement, preventing the commission from carrying out its basic regulatory function. As the normally mild-mannered Washington Post editorial board wrote recently: “The three Republican appointees are turning the commission into The Little Agency That Wouldn’t: wouldn’t launch investigations, wouldn’t bring cases, wouldn’t even accept settlements that the staff had already negotiated.”

Craig Holman of Public Citizen told TPMmuckraker the commission is currently “defunct.” (The FEC’s press office declined to make any of the commissioners available for interviews.)

FEC watchers say the commission’s three Republicans — Donald McGahn, Matthew Petersen, and Caroline Hunter, each nominated by President Bush — are acting out of philosophical opposition to the very idea of regulating campaign money. “It’s the Republican caucus that actually believes there shouldn’t be campaign-finance regulation,” said Holman. “It is ideological. They are ideologically opposed to the purpose of the Federal Election Commission.”

Matthew Yglesias on the above story and also on Citizens United v. FEC. Matt Y links to Ian Millhiser at The Wonk Room:

This Term, however, the Court announced that it will leave one case, a campaign finance case called Citizens United v. FEC, undecided.  Moreover, in a brief order explaining why this decision will be delayed, the Court ordered the parties to brief whether a landmark precedent limiting the influence of corporate money in politics should be overruled.

Nineteen years ago, in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Court upheld a ban on independent political expenditures–so-called “soft money” contributions–by corporate donors.  As the Court explained in Austin, “the unique state-conferred corporate structure that facilitates the amassing of large treasuries warrants the limit on independent expenditures.”  Corporations are designed to amass massive amounts of money, and they can use their enormous wealth to drown out individual voices, all while spending only a fraction of their treasuries.

Should the Court toss out Austin, it could be the end of any meaningful restrictions on campaign finance.  In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office.  Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation.  Without Austin, even a cap on overall contributions becomes meaningless, because corporate donors can simply create a series of shell-corporations for the purpose of evading such caps.

Ed Morrissey:

The Supreme Court has danced around the BCRA’s onerous restrictions on political speech for years.  Roberts himself tiptoed around the question, as did Samuel Alito, in Austin, although Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia all wrote that they believed these restrictions in the BCRA to be unconstitutional. Ted Olson, representing Citizens United, asked the court to overturn Austin and the previous ruling that the BCRA was constitutional, but observers believed Roberts would tiptoe around it again.

Apparently, Roberts has had a change of heart.  The delay allows both sides to prepare extensive written and oral arguments on the broader questions of constitutionality of the BCRA’s speech restrictions and the effects of striking them down.  It does not affect the limitations on campaign contributions — or at least not yet.

Hans Von Spakovsky at NRO:

Hopefully, this means the Supreme Court recognizes that its prior rulings upholding these limits on political speech and expression may have been wrongly decided and should be reconsidered. The electioneering communications provision represents one of the most severe restrictions on free speech since the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. It puts government bureaucrats (and I speak from experience as a former commissioner on the FEC) in the terrible position of making judgments on political and issue advertising to decide what is prohibited and what is not — the Supreme Court should strike down this travesty of a law as a basic violation of the First Amendment.

Anthony Dick in NRO

UPDATE: E.J. Dionne in TNR

UPDATE #2: Lots of posts I missed on this. Here’s one

John Vecchione at New Majority

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We’ve Looked At Health Care Reform From All Sides Now

Has Obama overlearned the Clinton lessons? That’s what some on the left, liberal, center-left and center are debating.

Karen Tumulty in Swampland rounds up three op-eds. Jonathan Cohn:

Bill and Hillary Clinton are off saving the world, he through his global foundation and she via the State Department. But their presence looms over the health care debate as surely as if they were running the White House. Their epic failure to pass reform in 1994 has become the defining object lesson in how to botch health care legislation–a lesson President Obama has obviously taken to heart. Push for reform right away; let Congress hash out the details; and, above all, don’t threaten people’s current insurance arrangements. You can sum up Obama’s strategy for health reform as “WWCD”: What Wouldn’t the Clintons Do.

And it’s working well so far. Notwithstanding the predictable fits-and-starts of the legislative process, it seems likely that Obama will have a bill to sign by year’s end, thereby accomplishing what the Clintons famously could not. But then what? Having crafted a bill that can pass Congress, will Obama be signing a bill that people actually like?

E.J. Dionne in WaPo:

There are progressives (probably including Obama) who would trade the public plan for a strong universal-coverage bill if it included genuinely tough rules on the insurance companies. What should be avoided above all is a fake public plan hemmed in by so many restrictions that it would be doomed to failure.

My own preference is for a bill with a strong public plan financed by broader tax increases on the best-off Americans. Still, there are many routes to universal coverage — the recent proposal by former Senate leaders Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and Howard Baker deserves more attention than it has received — and some compromises will be necessary.

The key is that no compromise should be allowed to undermine the long-term goals of covering everybody and containing costs. Concessions made for purely political reasons could produce an unworkable monstrosity of a bill.

Obama’s lobbying helped to save climate change legislation, and he now needs to weigh in more forcefully on health care. He should toughen Baucus’s negotiating strategy, and he’ll have to mediate among liberals. He doesn’t need stone tablets, just an iron will.

David Brooks in NYT:

On health care, too, the complicated job of getting a bill that can pass is taking priority over the complicated task of creating a program that can work. Dozens of different ideas are being added, watered down or merged together in order to cobble together a majority. But will the logrolling produce a sustainable health system that controls costs and actually hangs together?

The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.

When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.

Tumulty:

It’s also important to remember that a bill–if it passes–is only the beginning of the process. Implementing any kind of far-reaching health reform is going to take years, maybe decades. And that is an argument for making sure that it starts with both a broad base of support, as well as with its gain and pain in balance. Congress, with its two-year election cycles, is not exactly known for taking the long view.

Ezra Klein:

Of course, as David Brooks points out, a firm hand with Congress is remembered as the defining mistake of the Bill Clinton’s first-term. As you can read in detail here, there was no mistake more consequential than the president’s decision to dictate every jit and tot of his health reform plan to the legislature. Obama’s congressionalist approach is an effort to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton years. Predictably enough, that’s led to a growing chorus flaying him for making the opposite mistakes.

And maybe that chorus is right. But the implicit assumption of these arguments about strategy is that there is, somewhere out there, a workable strategy. That there is some way to navigate our political system such that you enact wise legislation solving pressing problems. But that’s an increasingly uncertain assumption, I think.

Imagine a group of men sitting in a dim prison cell. One of the walls has a window. Beyond that wall, they know they’ll find freedom. One of the men spends years picking away at it with a small knife. The others eventually tire of him. That’s an idiotic approach, they say. You need more force. So one of the other men spends his days ramming the bed frame into the wall. Eventually, he exhausts himself. The others mock his hubris. Another tries to light the wall of fire. That fails as well. The assembled prisoners laugh at the attempt. And so it goes. But the problem is that there is no answer to their dilemma. The problem is not their strategy. It’s the wall.

Digby:

Clinton’s health care plan was derailed largely because it was perceived as being cumbersome and complicated. They had to explain things like “managed competition” and “global budgets” and “premium caps.” Those things don’t exactly read well on a bumper sticker and the right was able to persuade people that the whole thing was a big mess that wasn’t going to work.

Times have changed. People have learned a lot about health insurance in the past 16 years — more than they ever wanted to know — and they have come to realize that the system is already complicated and that it’s not working for them a good part of the time. But using the public plan as a rallying cry keeps the pressure on the congress to at least see this through.

I recognize that there are people of good faith out there who believe that the public plan is a sham and that progressives are selling out their beliefs by backing it instead of insisting on single payer or nothing. I would just say that if there were any other path to getting reform in the next eight years, I’d agree. But I don’t see that there is. The politicians are already making the sausage. We don’t know yet what they are going to put together and for the sake of all those millions of people who have no insurance or are about to lose theirs, it seems to me that we at least try to get something passed. I wish it could be more perfect, but I have absolutely no idea how to make it better at this point. Standing in the way without a serious strategic alternative that could actually result in real reform seems short sighted to me.

Philip Klein in the American Spectator:

My sense of Obama is that if it came down to it, he would be willing to settle for pared down legislation so he could at least point to some sort of legislative accomplishment, as opposed to the political fallout of watching the whole effort go down in flames. That’s why he isn’t drawing any lines in the sand, because he doesn’t want to end up in a box like Bill Clinton did when he declared in his 1994 State of the Union speech that he would veto any health care bill that fell short of guaranteed coverage for every American. Yet even if Obama is willing to settle for less, he’ll have his work cut out for him explaining that approach to liberal activists.

And on what Axelrod said on MTP last Sunday?

Jim Geraghty in NRO

I’m glad that people are noticing that when Obama’s chief advisor David Axelrod won’t rule out the possibility of taxing employer-based health insurance, it’s a major reversal of Obama’s campaign rhetoric. I just wish more folks noted just how much of Obama’s campaign message was based on this — $44 million on 16 different attack-ad commercials ripping McCain for proposing the very same idea.

When a man won’t even stand by his attack ads, he’s really without principles.

Allah Pundit

RDemocrat in Daily Kos

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