At Rep. Paul Broun’s town hall meeting on Tuesday, the Athens congressman asked who had driven the farthest to be there and let the winner ask the first question.
We couldn’t hear the question in the back of the packed Oglethorpe County Commission chamber, but whatever it was, it got a big laugh. According to an outraged commenter on the article, the question was, when is someone going to shoot Obama?
I’ve asked Team Broun whether that was indeed the question and haven’t gotten an answer. The commenter accurately described the questioner and the circumstances, and no one has disputed his account.
Update: Broun’s press secretary, Jessica Morris, confirmed that the question was indeed, who is going to shoot Obama? “Obviously, the question was inappropriate, so Congressman Broun moved on,” she said.
Here was Broun’s response:
The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president. We’re going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
During President Obama’s January State of the Union address, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA 10) became the closest thing to a “You lie!” moment, tweeting during the address “Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.” Broun became embroiled in another controversy when, at a Tuesday town hall meeting, he was asked “who is going to shoot Obama?” and responded with stunning nonchalance
Mark Farmer of Winterville, Georgia went to the meeting on Tuesday to ask a question about Social Security reform, and said in an e-mail to TPM he was “shocked by the first question and disgusted by the audience response.”
“I was gravely disappointed in the response of a U.S. Congressman who also laughed and then made no effort to correct the questioner on what constitutes proper behavior or to in any way distance himself from such hate filled language,” Farmer wrote.
Reporter Blake Aued, who was at the town hall and originally reported on the incident confirmed to TPM that Broun was “chuckling a little bit.”
However, one group who took this seriously is the Secret Service. According to Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, the situation has been looked into.
“We’re aware of the incident and the appropriate steps were taken,” Donovan told me. “At this point it’s a closed matter.”
A law enforcement source confirmed that the Secret Service interviewed the constituent and determined that he or she was an “elderly person” who now regrets making a bad joke.
“In this case this was poor taste,” the source says. “The person realized that.”
Now there’s the small matter of whether Broun regrets not condemning the comment. My understanding is more will be forthcoming from his office on this soon, so stay tuned.
UPDATE, 11:50 a.m.: In a new statement Rep Paul Broun appears to admit he should have condemned his constituent:
Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Oglethorpe County, Georgia an elderly man asked the abhorrent question, “Who’s going to shoot Obama?” I was stunned by the question and chose not to dignify it with a response; therefore, at that moment I moved on to the next person with a question. After the event, my office took action with the appropriate authorities.
I deeply regret that this incident happened at all. Furthermore, I condemn all statements — made in sincerity or jest — that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.
I certainly give Broun credit for the condemnation. I hope it’s sincere.
But at the risk of sounding picky, I have a couple of follow-up questions. First, when Broun argued he “chose not to dignify” the question, why do local media accounts have him offering a response?
Second, if Broun believes such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated, why did it take him three days to issue a denunciation? Is it just a coincidence that the congressman felt compelled to condemn the assassination “joke” after the media started covering it?
If the crowd was so big, and it was a planned event, where’s the digital video? Don’t tell me the crowd was too noisy for anyone to record it AND that the crowd heard it.
Now, as is widely known, it’s a serious federal crime to threaten the life of the president, which makes it less likely that the words are as reported in the pseudo-quote. It also makes it less likely that a person of the left was trying to make trouble for Broun (a theory I see some righties are propounding). If it was said, it was said by someone who was both malevolent and stupid. Why would a whole crowd of people give a big laugh when they found themselves in the presence of someone malevolent and stupid?
Is that really Scott Walker? [Update: Yep.] A New York-based alt-news editor says he got through to the embattled Wisconsin governor on the phone Tuesday by posing as right-wing financier David Koch…then had a far-ranging 20-minute conversation about the collective bargaining protests. According to the audio, Walker told him:
That statehouse GOPers were plotting to hold Democratic senators’ pay until they returned to vote on the controversial union-busting bill.
That Walker was looking to nail Dems on ethics violations if they took meals or lodging from union supporters.
That he’d take “Koch” up on this offer: “[O]nce you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”
But was it for real? Check out the details on the guerrilla caller and audio of his conversation below the jump.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Ian Murphy is a gonzo journalist and editor of the Buffalo Beast, an online mag that was founded in 2002 as an alternative biweekly by gonzo Matt Taibbi and a band of colleagues. Murphy’s probably best-known for a tough read about America’s war dead called “Fuck the Troops.” But if his latest Beast post, “Koch Whore,” is to be believed, it’s likely to be read a lot more widely.
Here’s something for your “can this possibly be for real” file this morning. Over at the Buffalo Beast — the former print alt-weekly turned online newspaper founded by onetime editor Matt Taibbi, typically best known for its annual list of “The 50 Most Loathsome Americans” — there appear to be recordings of a phone call between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and current editor Ian Murphy. Now, why on earth would Scott Walker want to talk on the phone with the editor of an online site in Buffalo? Well, he wouldn’t.
But what if said editor pretended to be David Koch of the famed Koch Brothers? Well, that’s a different story altogether, apparently! And so Walker, believing himself to be on the phone with his patron, seems to have had a long conversation about busting Wisconsin’s unions.
Buffalo Beast Publisher Paul Fallon told The Huffington Post that the audio is “absolutely legit.” That the call took place as described by the Beast has been confirmed by Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie.
“Basically what happened was, yesterday morning [Murphy] was watching television about this Wisconsin stuff and he saw a report where he saw Walker say he wasn’t going to talk to anybody,” Fallon said. “And he said, ‘I bet he would talk to somebody if he had enough oomph behind him.'”
This all apparently went down Tuesday afternoon, hours before Walker made his “fireside chat.” It took some doing: Murphy-as-Koch said he had several hoops to jump through before he was granted access to Walker, beginning with a receptionist, leading to the governor’s executive assistant, and finally ending up with his chief of staff, Keith Gilkes.
So Walker will happily take a call from a Koch brother. He says that he considered “planting some troublemakers” among the protesters. He is convinced that everyone is on his side. Like most people who only watch Fox, he has a skewed impression of the popularity of his union-crushing proposals. (His plan is, nationally, roundly unpopular. Except on Fox.)
When “Koch” calls Mika Brzezinski “a real piece of ass,” Walker does not respond by saying something awful, which is a bit of a disappointment.
They can recess it … the reason for that, we’re verifying it this afternoon, legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum because it’s turned out that way. So we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that’s the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capitol with all 14 of them. My sense is, hell. I’ll talk. If they want to yell at me for an hour, I’m used to that. I can deal with that. But I’m not negotiating.
Walker also thinks that Reagan crushing the air-traffic controllers’ union was “the first crack in the Berlin wall,” because he’s been stewing in the propaganda of conservative mythology for years.
The Internet is burning up with the news that Governor Scott Walker may have been pranked by a caller claiming to be David Koch, and a spokesman for the Governor, Cullen Werwie, emails a statement confirming the call is legit:
The Governor takes many calls everyday. Throughout this call the Governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. The phone call shows that the Governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having.
More on this in a sec, but for now, suffice it to say that this will reinforce perceptions that Walker is in way over his head.
Walker stood firm on his no-negotiations stance with Big Labor and talked about his already publicized efforts to bring the Dems back to the state by requiring them to collect their paychecks in person
To Walker’s credit, he doesn’t say anything incriminating. When Murphy/Koch offers to plant demonstrators, Walker declines. The worst you can say is that when Murphy/Koch makes a lewd comment about Mika Breszinski, Walker doesn’t challenge him on it. But that portion reads to me as Walker politely grunting in response to an odd provocation. I imagine politicians are pretty good at gently moving the conversation along when their contributors say crazy things.
But if the transcript of the conversation is unexceptional, the fact of it is lethal. The state’s Democratic senators can’t get Walker on the phone, but someone can call the governor’s front desk, identify themselves as David Koch, and then speak with both the governor and his chief of staff? That’s where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration, and why so many in Wisconsin are reluctant to see the only major interest group representing workers taken out of the game.
The critique many conservatives have made of public-sector unions is that they both negotiate with and fund politicians. It’s a conflict of interest. Well, so too do corporations, and wealthy individuals. That’s why Murphy — posing as Koch — was able to get through to Walker so quickly. And it shows what Walker is really interested in here: He is not opposed, in principle, to powerful interest groups having the ear of the politicians they depend on, and who depend on them. He just wants those interest groups to be the conservative interest groups that fund him, and that he depends on.
A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. The Republican-backed legislation, House Bill 1171, has passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to face a floor vote in the state’s GOP-dominated House of Representatives soon.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.
I just had a spirited conversation with the bill’s chief sponsor, State Representative Phil Jensen, and he defended the bill, arguing that it would not legalize the killing of abortion doctors.
“It would if abortion was illegal,” he told me. “This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion.”
Jensen’s defense of the bill, however, is unlikely to make abortion rights advocates any happier, since he seemed to dismiss as irrelevant the possibility that the measure could inflame anti-abortion fanatics to violence.
Jensen insisted that the bill’s primary goal is to bring “consistency” to South Dakota criminal code, which already allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of fetuses to be charged with manslaughter. The new measure expands the state’s definition of “justifiable homicide” by adding a clause applying it to someone who is “resisting any attempt” to murder of an unborn child or to harm an unborn child in a way likely to result in its death.
When I asked Jensen what the purpose of the law was, if its target isn’t abortion providers, he provided the following example:
“Say an ex-boyfriend who happens to be father of a baby doesn’t want to pay child support for the next 18 years, and he beats on his ex-girfriend’s abdomen in trying to abort her baby. If she did kill him, it would be justified. She is resisting an effort to murder her unborn child.”
Pushed on whether the new measure could inflame the unhinged to kill abortion doctors, as some critics allege, Jensen scoffed. “You can fantasize all you want, but this is pretty clear cut,” he said. “Never say never, but if some loony did what you’re suggesting, then this law wouldn’t apply to them. It wouldn’t be justifiable homicide.”
Asked whether he was conceding that the law could conceivably encourage such behavior, Jensen pushed back: “You could cross the street and get hit by a car. Could happen, couldn’t it?”
This is how Jensen has previously characterized it; as Sheppard pointed out, the state’s criminal code does does define murder in the first degree as “perpetrated without authority of law and with a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or of any other human being, including an unborn child.” But there’s that “authority of law” part. It’s legal to perform abortions. And this is why the Jensen bill wouldn’t legalize the killing of abortion doctors. It just looks like it does, right now. It would legalize of abortion doctors if abortion became illegal.
It’s clear this bill likely has the goal of inciting violence–murder–of abortion providers. But I think this logic can actually be taken a step further, to include the murder of a pregnant woman herself.
Often one connection between anti-choice legislation that isn’t talked about is how it affects the rights of pregnant women who do want to parent. I’m talking about the rights of pregnant women to decide what kind of medical treatment they will seek–and not necessarily abortion.
There is an incredible battle going on around the country about the rights of pregnant women to refuse certain types of medical care (as the rest of us are legally entitled to do). In numerous cases, women have been forced against their will to have c-sections or other medical procedures in the name of the protecting the fetus.
This proposed legislation takes that logic to it’s extreme–not only is it okay to super-cede the autonomy and rights of pregnant women in the name of the fetus–you could actually justifiably murder her in pursuit of this as well. In addition, of course, to doctors performing perfectly legal and constitutionally protected abortions.
You can smell the rationalization built in to say this isn’t about terrorism, because most people who have successfully killed abortion providers didn’t actually know any patients of theirs. But obviously, it’s an invitation to kill abortion providers, especially in light of how much the larger anti-choice movement is trying to encourage men who are bitter because an abortion allowed a girlfriend to leave them. In other words, men who are angry because they couldn’t trap a woman with pregnancy. Let’s be clear that any man who thinks it’s appropriate to trap a woman with pregnancy is a man who deserves to lose his relationship, full stop, but anti-choicers tend to romanticize and celebrate controlling, abusive men. I’ve seen anti-choice websites encourage men who’ve impregnated women to stomp into abortion clinics and try to remove her forcibly (though this is often portrayed in romantic terms, because hey, you’re showing her that you want to keep her around, and any woman should be slobberingly grateful that a man will have her). And of course, there’s the oldie-but-a-goodie of Jill Stanek applauding men beating women to punish them for thinking they can say no to incubating the manly seed. After describing the scene in “Godfather II” where Michael Corleone—a cold-blooded murdering gangster—slaps his wife after she admits an abortion, Stanek said (man, this never gets old):
That spontaneous slap was the reaction of a real man who a woman had just told she aborted his baby. Compare that to the modern day cowardly male response, “It’s your choice. Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.”
Straight from the “pro-life” mouth: Real men use violence to control women. Cowards believe women own themselves.
In the real world, it’s not unknown for abortion clinics to have to go to great lengths to keep domestic abusers from harming their partners or the health professionals in a clinic trying to provide abortions. Many abortion clinics just don’t let male partners past the waiting room, even though that means that women who want support from loving male partners often have to go it alone. It’s just a safety precaution, though. Unfortunately, domestic abusers are just the sorts to wait until the procedure is about to start to start throwing shit and breaking things, in order to get the maximum impact on the victim. That’s kind of how these things work, and clinics have to work around that.
If this bill passes into law, a wife beater whose wife is trying to abort for the entirely sensible reason that you don’t want babies with a batterer could walk into a clinic, shoot the doctor to prevent the abortion, and plead justifiable homicide, with the blessing of the South Dakota legislature and presumably the anti-choice movement that lobbied them.
For all the ridiculous paranoia on the right about creeping “sharia law,” here we see a Republican plan at the state level to make it legal to assassinate medical professionals as part of a larger culture war.
Sources tell Mediaite Keith Olbermann and MSNBC were headed for a breakup long before Comcast’s rise to power, but clearly something set the divorce into motion quickly today, with network promos set to run touting Olbermann’s role in MSNBC’s coverage of next week’s State of the Union address–and, notably, a Keith Olbermann promo running on MSNBC in the hour after the host signed off and left the network.
MSNBC executives have long planned for the day the network’s star might be sent packing, and the rise of Rachel Maddow at MSNBC–along with the grooming of Lawrence O’Donnell as a potential replacement for Olbermann–appears to have hastened the host’s departure.
While Olbermann and his iconic Countdown have been immensely important in the resurgence of MSNBC, Olbermann’s friction with management has been a sticking point. At many points–including the recent suspension over political contributions–tensions rose so high as to lead to serious discussions inside MSNBC about firing their star.
With Maddow enjoying both immense popularity inside MSNBC and very strong ratings for her Rachel Maddow Show, Olbermann’s invincibility as the heart and soul of MSNBC’s brand became softer. In recent weeks, sources tell Mediaite there have been meetings on the topic of Keith Olbermann and his future at the network. Did Comcast–as many Countdown viewers seem to suspect–order Olbermann out? It appears that the end of the Olbermann era at MSNBC was not “ordered” by Comcast, nor was it a move to tone down the network’s politics. Instead, sources inside the network say it came down to the more mundane world of office politics–Olbermann was a difficult employee, who clashed with bosses, colleagues and underlings alike, and with the Comcast-related departure of Jeff Zucker, and the rise of Maddow and O’Donnell, the landscape shifted, making an Olbermann exit suddenly seem well-timed.
Whatever his excesses, he led third-place MSNBC out of the cable wilderness to the point where it overtook CNN in prime time, boosted not only by his numbers but by those of his protégé, Rachel Maddow.
Without question, he was a polarizing presence, and several NBC veterans, including Tom Brokaw, complained to network management that he was damaging MSNBC’s reputation for independence.
At a meeting with Olbermann’s representatives last September, NBC Chief Executive Jeff Zucker and NBC News President Steve Capus said that some of their client’s behavior was unacceptable and had to stop. Griffin said that Olbermann’s personal problems were affecting his work and he looked angrier on the air, eclipsing the smart and ironic anchor they had once loved.
In November, when Griffin suspended Olbermann indefinitely over the political donations, the two sides engaged in blistering negotiations over how long it would last. Olbermann’s manager, Price, warned Griffin that if the matter wasn’t resolved quickly, Olbermann would take his complaints public by accepting invitations from Good Morning America, David Letterman, and Larry King.
“If you go on GMA, I will fire Keith,” Griffin shot back.
The suspension wound up lasting just two days, and Olbermann said he was sorry for the “unnecessary drama” and “for having mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule” in making the $7,200 in contributions. But after years of internal warfare, Olbermann had no major allies left at 30 Rock.
There were similar backstage struggles in 2008 and 2009 when top executives tried to get Olbermann and O’Reilly to tone down their personal attacks. O’Reilly, who never mentions Olbermann by name, was assailing NBC’s parent company, General Electric, while Olbermann once imagined the fate of “a poor kid” born to a transgendered man who became pregnant, adding: “Kind of like life at home for Bill’s kids.”
I was just on in the opening segment of Olbermann tonight. And I get home and get this press release from NBC saying this was the last episode of Countdown. At first I figured it had to be a spoof email because, jeez, I was on and I didn’t have any sense that any other than a regular Friday evening show was on. But sure enough I pulled up the recording and now I’m watching his final sign off.
I doubt I would have had any heads up or known anything was happening if Olbermann was going to go off the air. But I was a bit more stunned than I might otherwise have been because I was just over there. And I did not have any sense that there was anything any different than normal going on. Everything seemed calm and pretty sedate. I didn’t sense anything different in Keith’s manner or affect (though it’s not like we’re tight and I would have been the person to notice.) There were a few more people than I’m used to seeing in the studio — maybe two or three, seated, who seemed to be there to watch. (Something I don’t remember seeing before.) But nothing that made me think twice that anything odd was going on.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing soon enough what on earth happened here. But color me stunned. And really disappointed.
Keith Olbermann and I started from the same place, the same school, the same English teacher–Arthur Naething–who changed our lives. I’ve always had a soft spot for Keith as a result, even when he called me one of the worst people in the world (based on a wildly inaccurate interpretation of something I’d written). I’ve criticized him, too, for his melodramatically over-the-top effusions. I’m not so sure what this dispute with MSNBC is all about, but I’m sad that Keith won’t be around (at least, for a while). If there is a place for the nonsense-spew of Fox News, there has to be a place on my cable dial for Olbermann (who, while occasionally obnoxious, operates from a base of reality–unlike some people we know [see below]). Keith is a brilliant writer, and presenter; I always enjoy watching him, even when he’s occasionally wrong. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do so again soon. In the meantime, I hope he’ll heed the words of the master and “Go forth, and spread beauty and light.”
On another decidedly hilarious front, Glenn Beck has found yet another enemy of the people in a 78-year-old Columbia University professor named Frances Fox Piven. I’ve always thought that Piven’s work was foolish and inhumane. There was a brief, disastrous time in the 1960s when her desire to flood the welfare system with new recipients was the tacit policy of the city of New York, which produced absolutely terrible results–as Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted–in the 1970s and 1980s. I also remember Piven railing against a brilliantly successful welfare-to-work program called “America Works” because it was for-profit, even though the company only was paid by the government if the recipient remained on the job for six months (and even though the ability to do honorable work gave the women involved new-found confidence, according to study after study of the results). But the notion that Piven’s ideas had any widespread influence, or are even worth commenting on 45 years later, is beyond absurd; it is another case of Beck’s show-paranoid perversity. It seems academic and sophisticated, to those who don’t know any better: Glenn’s soooo erudite, he’s found a secret part of The Plan to turn America into a socialist gulag, hatched by a college professor. The reality is that he’s focused onto an obscure form of left-liberalism that was found wanting a long time ago, as the sociological results of Aid to Families with Dependent Children became known, and better ways to help the poor were developed.
Beck’s essential sin is a matter of proportionality. He has, as ever, latched onto an obscurity, blown it out of proportion–as he did with Van Jones’ stupid but essentially harmless comments about communism–and turned it into a lie. He is an extraordinary liar, on matters large and small, as I’ve learned from personal experience with the man. That Beck remains on the air and Keith Olbermann–unpleasant and extreme at times, but no fantasist–isn’t anymore is a travesty.
What of Olbermann’s legacy? There’s a great deal of crowing on the right about Olbermann’s apparent ouster. But let’s be clear on what he accomplished: He helped clear a huge space on the airwaves for “unapologetic liberalism,” as Steve Benen puts it, when it remained anything but certain that such a space could be created with any measure of success.
The unexpected popularity of Olbermann’s show early on cleared the way for MSNBC to stack its nighttime lineup with pugnacious lefty hosts. Indeed, it was Olbermann who invited Rachel Maddow on repeatedly as a guest, raising her profile to the point where she got her own show. Olbermann, followed by Maddow, proved in the face of enormous skepticism that there’s a huge audience out there for real liberal talk-show hosts to adopt the sort of take-no-prisoners approach once monopolized by the right. Only they accomplished this without descending into the crackpot conspiracy mongering and all-around ugliness of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Indeed, there’s already talk that CNN might be interested in picking up Olbermann. While that seems unlikely, given CNN’s more staid air, the mere fact that it’s being discussed at all shows how much he helped change the landscape.
Olbermann may be gone, but the space he did so much to help create is here to stay.
Though it’s as of yet impossible to answer the question “Why?” in regards to Olbermann’s dismissal, what is on the record is how trying he was to manage. Back in October, there was Gabriel Sherman’s account in New York of the cable news wars with tidbits like this:
But Olbermann can take his eccentricities to extremes. There’s a story that he told his producers to communicate with him by leaving notes in a small box positioned outside his office. Last spring, after David Shuster tweeted that he was guest-hosting Countdown while Olbermann was out sick, Olbermann erupted when a blog mentioned Shuster’s tweet and he fired off an e-mail to him saying, “Don’t ever talk about me and medical issues again.” Olbermann’s executive producer later told Shuster that there’s a rule against mentioning Olbermann on Twitter.
And more of the same in the Times today:
Mr. Olbermann was within one move of being fired in November after he was suspended for making donations to Democratic Congressional candidates. He threatened to make an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to protest the suspension; Mr. Zucker was prepared to fire him on the spot if he did, according to a senior NBC Universal executive who declined to be identified in discussing confidential deliberations.
Many questions remains, but if he’s not in the mood for a vacation, Olbermann does have options, namely radio or the internet. So he should join us and he needn’t worry — here, everyone is an asshole.
When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.
Yet, what other countries deserve this designation? For the sake of convenience, start at 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia ratified the modern system of nation-states. And grade on power, prosperity and goodness.
Is Spain the greatest ever? It had a nice run a couple of hundred years ago based on plundering the New World of its gold and silver. By 1800, it was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Today, it teeters on bankruptcy.
Is France? Its model of centralizing monarchy in the 17th century was extremely influential, and admirable — if you like elaborate court ritual, religious persecution and expansionistic wars. It gave the world the template for modern ideological madness in the French Revolution and for the modern tyrant in Napoleon. After the debacle of World War II, it recovered to a power of middling rank. If there’s no doubting the greatness of the French, their history comes with the implicit admonition: “Do not try this at home.”
Germany? In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a cultural jewel. And one of the most talented statesmen ever, Bismarck, forged a nation that became an industrial behemoth. It also had an illiberal heart. Germany today is an anchor of democratic Europe, but with a hellish black mark against it that will last for all time.
Russia? By the beginning of the 20th century, a decrepit autocracy sat atop a mass of misery. Then, things went south. The communists murdered and enslaved many millions across seven decades. Russia remains an important, if vastly diminished, power, governed by a prickly, grasping kleptocracy.
Britain? Getting warmer. It invented the rights that are the bedrock of liberal democracy. More than most European powers, it lived by Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity: “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” From a tiny island, it came to govern an enormous extent of the globe in a relatively benign colonialism. It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler. And it spawned the countries that have made the English-speaking world a synonym for good governance and liberty: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and America.
Which brings us to the U.S. We had the advantage of jumping off from the achievement of the British. We founded our nation upon self-evident truths about the rights of man, even if our conduct hasn’t always matched them. We pushed aside Spain and Mexico in muscling across the continent, but brought order and liberty in our wake. Our treatment of the Indians was appalling, but par for the course in the context of the time. It took centuries of mistreatment of blacks before we finally heeded our own ideals.
The positive side of the ledger, though, is immense: We got constitutional government to work on a scale no one had thought possible; made ourselves a haven of liberty for the world’s peoples; and created a fluid, open society. We amassed unbelievable wealth, and spread it widely. Internationally, we wielded our overwhelming military and industrial power as a benevolent hegemon. We led the coalitions against the ideological empires of the 20th century and protected the global commons. We remain the world’s sole superpower, looked to by most of the world as a leader distinctly better than any of the alternatives.
Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion. When a Marco Rubio talks of the greatness of America, it’s not bumptious self-congratulation. Our greatness comes with the responsibility to preserve our traditional dynamism and status as a robust middle-class society. To paraphrase the Benjamin Franklin of lore, we have the greatest country ever — if we can keep it.
The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”
And sources now tell us that Lowry’s been called to the White House this week for a secret meeting.
Meanwhile, we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.
The last thing you need is more proof of the mindlessness and vapidity of the right’s attack on Obama for allegedly not believing in “American exceptionalism.” But Bill Kristol’s latest rendition is really worth savoring, because it unwittingly shows what nonsense it all is.
Kristol has a post up making the case that Obama has finally caved to the right’s attacks and has grudgingly conceded America’s greatness. The evidence? Kristol notes that in his weekly address on Saturday, the President hailed America as “the greatest nation on earth,” and “the greatest country in the world.”
This, Kristol says, showcases the “new, revised Obama.”
It’s unclear whether Kristol is joking, but given the idiocy we keep hearing along these lines, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he isn’t. So allow me to point out that Obama has been using these phrases for literally years now.
In his breakout speech at the 2004 Dem convention, Obama hailed the “greatness of our nation” and the “true genius of America.” And he’s repeatedly stated as president that we live in the greatest country evah. Way back in August 2009, Obama described America as “the greatest nation on Earth.” In October of 2009, Obama declared that “we live in the greatest country on Earth.”
Bill needs no defense from me, but let me explain the joke to Greg. It is not Obama who is the target of Bill’s humor, but the left and its disinclination to project American power and values. Bill, like many conservatives, has supported the president’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been quite generous in his praise of a number of Obama speeches. The point of the barb is to make clear that not even the liberal icon Obama adopts the left’s disdain for American exceptionalism, nor its desire to retreat from the war on Islamic terror. Conservatives, me included, are prone to marvel at the left’s propensity to sneer at George Bush’s formulation of American exceptionalism while remaining mute as their liberal hero does the same.
The point, you see, is not to discredit the president, but to discredit those that would pull him ever leftward on matters of national security. To the degree Obama sounds much like his predecessor and conducts a robust foreign policy (e.g. use of drones in Afghanistan, a continued presence in Iraq) conservatives will applaud and, candidly, take some glee in recognizing that a president cannot adopt a leftist world view and hope to successfully defend U.S. interests.
Unfortunately, I can’t resist pointing out minicon stupidities, and the latest example of this problem came to my attention in a recent syndicated column by Rich Lowry. In what is intended to be a discourse on American exceptionalism, Lowry goes through the anti-democratic evils of continental countries and then gets to England, which is awarded a clean bill of health. England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.”
Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.
It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find. What the English typically practiced was Realpolitik, which meant siding with some undemocratic, feudal regimes against other more powerful states. During the Napoleonic wars the English allied themselves with a reactionary Russia against a much more progressive France, which abolished serfdom and proclaimed religious liberty wherever its armies went. English Tories feared the rise of Germany from the time of its unification not because they viewed it as a “dictatorship” but because it was becoming a continental powerhouse. Later, in order to defeat its rival, England pulled the U.S. into the First World War, thereby setting the stage for playing second fiddle to England’s American cousins.
There was a lot of chest-thumping, or weasel-whacking or monkey-strangling or what have you, about the awesomeness of the United States among the wingerati over the past few days. Rich Lowry declared that the United States is the best because we are the best, no one rocks as hard as we do, bitch.
Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion.
Bill Kristol then gave Lowry some kind ironic boo-yah about the fact that Obama talked about how great the US is right after Lowry wrote his column.
The exchange was fairly typical of what passes for high-brow conservatism these days. And yet there are those who why conservatism has such little appeal for intellectually-inclined voters.
Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, “My greatness is simply a fact.” He’d be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we’re put off when people announce their own greatness – experience has taught that they’re usually doing so because they’re a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry’s case, it’s intellectual bullying – wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America’s fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).
So it goes when conservatives invoke the greatness of America. The rhetoric that follows is inevitably political. When Marco Rubio lauds the USA, we roll our eyes because we have not had our skepticism of politicians sugically removed: we understand that politicians pin on flag lapels and talk about the greatness of America because they’re calculating pols, not because they think more highly of the United States than the rest of us. Our eyes tend to roll when politicians kiss babies too. That isn’t because we object to the notion that babies are lovable – merely because most politicians aren’t. Especially when uttering fatuous platitudes.
I’ve really got to wonder what the purpose of stuff like this is. The GOP has been obsessed in recent years with the idea of national “greatness” and conservatives are quick to condemn and political leader who doesn’t make the appropriate statement about how the United States of America is the greatest country ever. It all strikes me as rather silly schoolyard boosterism. It doesn’t inform policy decisions, and it tends to lead to the rather dangerous idea of “My country, right or wrong.”
This is what passes for political insight from the right these days, apparently.
While the broad outlines of the proposal were already public, the details were being debated by Senators Udall, Jeff Merkley, Tom Harkin and Amy Klobuchar until as late as yesterday. The actual resolution is important, because it will serve as a jumping off point for the debate over reform that will unfold over the next couple of weeks.
Here’s a summary of the main items, also provided by a Udall aide:
Clear Path to Debate: Eliminate the Filibuster on Motions to Proceed
Makes motions to proceed not subject to a filibuster, but provides for two hours of debate. This proposal has had bipartisan support for decades and is often mentioned as a way to end the abuse of holds.
Eliminates Secret Holds
Prohibits one Senator from objecting on behalf of another, unless he or she discloses the name of the senator with the objection. This is a simple solution to address a longstanding problem.
Right to Amend: Guarantees Consideration of Amendments for both Majority and Minority
Protects the rights of the minority to offer amendments following cloture filing, provided the amendments are germane and have been filed in a timely manner.
This provision addresses comments of Republicans at last year’s Rules Committee hearings. Each time Democrats raised concerns about filibusters on motions to proceed, Republicans responded that it was their only recourse because the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree and prevents them from offering amendments. Our resolution provides a simple solution — it guarantees the minority the right to offer germane amendments.
Talking Filibuster: Ensures Real Debate
Following a failed cloture vote, Senators opposed to proceeding to final passage will be required to continue debate as long as the subject of the cloture vote or an amendment, motion, point of order, or other related matter is the pending business.
Expedite Nominations: Reduce Post-Cloture Time
Provides for two hours of post-cloture debate time for nominees. Post cloture time is meant for debating and voting on amendments — something that is not possible on nominations. Instead, the minority now requires the Senate use this time simply to prevent it from moving on to other business.
There’s a lot to like there. I’ve long favored the “talking filibuster” model since it is a) the way the rule was originally designed and b) is a natural check on abuse. No major GOP filibuster of the last four years — think Obamacare — would have gone any differently under a talking filibuster; when the stakes are high enough the minority should be able to rouse a rotation of senators to hold the floor. The end of the filibuster on motions to proceed I’m more ambivalent about. There is certainly an element on commonsense logic here. But filibustering motions to proceed has long been a tool to force the majority to give the minority amendments as a condition for allowing debate to proceed (more on that below). I like that, and I favor a slow Senate in general, just not a glacial one. I’d have to think more about the balance here. Same goes for the limitation on post-cloture debate for nominees.
Making holds transparent just seems like an undeniably good idea, and I suspect it would get broad bipartisan support if brought up as a standalone.
And guaranteeing the minority three germane amendments to all bills could also be really good. For one thing, it probably favors Republicans more than Democrats, since the Harry Reids of the world block Republican amendments not just because they delay final passage, but because they often actually have a chance of passing. That is, it is a feature of our political landscape that there will almost always be more Ben Nelsons than Olympia Snowes — more Democrats willing to vote with Republicans than vice versa. Again, think about how this could have changed the way Obamacare played out. My concern would be that majorities and their parliamentarian gimps would find a way to define “germane” down to nothing. I’d have to look into it.
The threshold worry is that the GOP is still in the minority and therefore stands to lose some leverage if this goes through. True, but that’s meaningless with a Republican House. Anything nutty that Reid passes will die on Boehner’s desk. Think ahead to 2012, when the House will almost certainly stay red and a slew of red-state Senate Democrats will be fighting for their political lives in November. That chamber could flip to the GOP too. If filibuster reform passes now, thereby setting a precedent for the next Congress, and Obama loses his own reelection bid, then the filibuster would be the Democrats’ last means of preventing the repeal of ObamaCare. They could still do it if they’re willing to talk — and talk and talk and talk until the GOP gives up — but this package would weaken their hand. Plan ahead!
As for the particulars, please do read Foster’s thoughtful post. I think he’s right that the “talking filibuster” would be a big enough weapon for a committed minority to kill important legislation on the floor (Democrats had better hope so per my point above about ObamaCare repeal). And the GOP has complained for ages that Reid hogs all the amendment opportunities for Democrats, effectively leaving the party with no options on a bad bill except to filibuster. McConnell grumbled about that in an op-ed just this morning, in fact; under this new package, he’d be guaranteed at least three chances to tempt the Testers and Pryors and Nelsons of the world into siding with the GOP on amendments that could potentially kill the underlying bill. In fact, Foster thinks that because there are likely to be more centrist Democrats in the chamber than centrist Republicans, the ability to dangle amendments at fencesitters in the other caucus would favor the GOP permanently. I’m not so sure about that — between Brown, Snowe, Collins, Murkowski, Kirk and whoever’s elected in 2012, there are actually plenty of RINOs there with maybe more to come — but it’s worth considering.
I think this analysis is largely correct. This proposal isn’t the elimination of the filibuster that pundits like Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias have been advocating for the better part of it year, so it doesn’t totally dilute the rights of the Senate minority to have their voice heard in debate. Instead, these reforms propose doing things like making Senators who want to block debate on a bill stand up and do so publicly, whether by holding the floor via a filibuster, or by eliminating the secret hold. None of these detracts from the rights, or powers, of the minority to have their voices heard, but it does mandate transparency, and to the extent that transparency means that Senators will be less likely to block legislation just for the hell of it, or just to appease their base. It would also seem to encourage more actual debate, which strikes me as a good thing.
Dan Foster at the National Review and AllahPundit at HotAir.com both agree: There’s really nothing for minority parties to fear in the Democrats’ proposed filibuster reforms. And they’re right about that.
Compare the provisions that say minorities can’t do something to those that say they can do something. In the “can’t” category is (1) can’t uphold a filibuster without having people debating the bill on the floor, (2) can’t place a hold on a bill without disclosing that you’ve done so and (3) can’t filibuster a motion to proceed.
If you read that closely, there’s no basic tool Senate minorities have now that they won’t have if these reforms pass: They can still filibuster bills, they can still place holds. I cannot think of a single piece of legislation that would’ve ended differently in the presence of these rules.
Conversely, the reform package also says minorities can do something: They get to offer at least three germane amendments on every single bill. The majority often doesn’t let the minority do this because the amendments, if sufficiently well targeted, can split the majority party, adding something that, say, conservative Democrats can’t vote against, but liberal Democrats can’t stand to see pass. I can think of a few bills where this power would’ve, at the least, changed the makeup of the final legislation.
For ever-hopeful liberal bloggers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s introduction of a filibuster reform measure yesterday was a sure sign, yes indeed, that the Democrats are serious about filibuster reform. But are they?
Reid could have staged a vote, but instead, as I predicted, that will have to wait until after the Senate returns on January 24. (Only in Congress do you show up for the first day of work and then go on vacation for three weeks). A senior Senate adviser scoffed that if Reid had the votes, there’d be no delay. The only reason to put this off is to come up with an alternative that will allow the Democrats to withdraw the “nuclear option” gracefully.
It seems some Democrats have figured out the downside of lessening the rights of the minority. The Hill reports:
A senior Senate Democratic aide said some of the younger Democratic senators are having second thoughts about filibuster reform because they expect to be in the minority at some point in their careers.
“Believe me, when you’re in the minority, you want the filibuster,” said the aide.
In his last show of the year, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Congress and the media to task for not making the Zadroga bill a priority. Named for James Zadroga, a 911 first responder who died in 2006 of respiratory disease, the bill would create a trust fund to cover the health care costs of surviving police, firemen, emergency medical technicians and clean up crews who toiled for months in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The bill passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate due to GOP concerns that it would, in essence, create a new — albeit relatively tiny — entitlement.
(Stewart may have taken outrage lessons on the issue from his buddy Rep. Anthony Weiner with whom he’s shared a South Hampton summer sublet.)
With Senate Democrats upping the pressure for passage of the bill giving health benefits to sickened 9/11 responders, it’s going to get increasingly hard for GOP Senators to maintain their opposition. That’s because even right-leaning commentators and political operatives are growing mighty uncomfortable with the Senate GOP’s stance.
Case in point: This morning Joe Scarborough ripped into GOP opponents of passing the bill, which is called the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. He said Republicans were taking a big risk, and the crucial point Scarborough made is that this should be a national issue, not a New York one
“If there’s the ability for that to sort of break through in our political environment, there’s a good chance that he can help do that,” Gibbs said in his briefing. “I think he has put the awareness around this legislation. He’s put that awareness into what you guys cover each day, and I think that’s good. I hope he can convince two Republicans to support taking care of those that took care of so many on that awful day in our history.”
Stewart has dedicated lengthy segments on “The Daily Show” to the legislation that would help the first responders on Sept. 11.
“It seems, at the end of a long year around the holiday season, a pretty awful thing to play politics about,” Gibbs said Tuesday. “That’s a decision that 42 Republican senators are going to have to make.”
I’m glad Stewart’s efforts are garnering attention, because it’s really not an exaggeration to say the bill would have no chance without his coverage. Indeed, major media outlets — at least in broadcast media — almost completely ignored the Zadroga bill every step of the way. When a GOP filibuster blocked the most recent attempt at passage, despite 58 votes in support of the proposal, it looked like Republicans had killed the bill.
But then “The Daily Show” ran a bunch of segments on this, noting not only the legislation’s merit and the inanity of Republican talking points against the bill, but also calling out news organizations for blowing off an important story regarding 9/11 heroes who need a hand.
And sure enough, Stewart’s public shaming paid off — news shows that couldn’t be bothered to even mention the bill in passing started talking about it. The visibility took a story that was entirely overlooked by the mainstream and made it a national issue, which in turn prompted Republican senators to begin talking to Democratic sponsors again.
The New York Daily Newsnoted this morning, “Thanks in large part to relentless television advocacy by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show,’ the 9/11 bill has risen up the agenda.”
It’d be an exaggeration to say Stewart was solely responsible. Other voices in media (including, ahem, the one you’re reading now) were reporting on the importance of the bill several weeks ago, and as soon as the tax deal was settled, Republicans who were at least open to the Zadroga bill were willing to start talking again.
In the never-ending debate about whether Jon Stewart is a comedian with opinions or an activist who happens to make jokes, he’s always argued for the former. When Tucker Carlson accused Stewart of liberal hackery on Crossfire in 2004, Stewart famously played the joker card. “You’re on CNN,” he said. “The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”
It’s true—Stewart leans left, but the jokes always come first. At October’s Rally To Restore Sanity, which many observers considered his coming-out party as the anti-Glenn Beck, Stewart was careful not to cross the line into advocacy. He didn’t even tell people to vote. He’s just not “in the game,” he told Rachel Maddow in an interview in November. “I’m in the stands yelling things, criticizing.”
Last week, Stewart stepped onto the field. The change came after Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would provide $7.4 billion in medical benefits to firefighters, police officers, and health workers who got sick from working at Ground Zero on and after 9/11. Stewart didn’t just mock the 42 Republicans who refused to consider the bill until the Bush tax cuts were extended. He ripped them apart. “I can’t wait for them to take to the floor to talk about why their party hates first responders,” he said. He shredded Sen. Mike Enzi’s argument that the bill would lead to waste, fraud, and abuse by pointing to Enzi’s support for corruption-riddled spending in Iraq. Last week, he did a follow-up segment, “Worst Responders,” in which he called the refusal to pass the 9/11 bill “an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11.” The bill would even be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes. “It’s a win-win-win-win-just [bleep] do it!” he yelled. He also blasted the media for failing to cover the story, noting that the only cable news network to devote a full segment to the issue was Al Jazeera. He then interviewed four first responders—a fireman, a police officer, a Department of Transportation worker, and an engineer—who suffered illnesses as a result of their work at Ground Zero. The segment had funny moments. But the jokes didn’t come first.
Stewart would probably argue that pushing for 9/11 workers comp—9/11 workers comp, for Chrissake!—isn’t taking a political stance. It’s taking a stance for decency, heroism, and the American people. Indeed, he called it “the Least-We-Can-Do-No-Brainer Act of 2010.” But stripped of the funny, that sounds a lot like what a politician would say. So did Stewart’s cheap shot about Mitch McConnell crying over the departure of his friend Sen. Judd Gregg—but not, Stewart seemed to suggest, about 9/11. Republicans may have had a flimsy case for blocking the bill, and Stewart rightly mocked the GOP for failing to help 9/11 workers after milking the tragedy all these years, but by shaming them in the name of 9/11 workers, he was engaging in demagoguery himself. It may have been for a good cause, but it was political demagoguery all the same.
New York Democrats hoping for quick action on a bill to give health care compensation to ground zero workers are about to run into Tom Coburn.
The Oklahoma Republican senator and physician — known in the Senate as “Dr. No” for his penchant for blocking bills — told POLITICO on Monday night that he wouldn’t allow the bill to move quickly, saying he has problems with parts of the bill and the process Democrats are employing.
Another Republican, Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, said he had concerns with the measure and that it should instead move through the committee process.
“I’m not trying to fight it; I’m trying to get it right,” Enzi said. “There are 30 things that ought to be changed real quick in committee but very difficult on the floor. To finish a bill at this point of time, we’re not going to be able to amend it.”
It’s a huge victory at the very last minute–the lame duck Congress delivering the 9/11 First Responders bill–and a moment in history.On Fox News, Shepard Smith, who railed against the Republicans who blocked the bill in the face of 9/11 heroes, asking “how do they sleep” at night, was on set to report the passage this afternoon.
At times visibly teary-eyed, Smith called it a “compromise of utmost importance for those who put their lives on the line.”
Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni described how the deal got done:
“Everybody saw the writing on the wall, the time was running out, Republicans might get a black eye for not supporting the 9/11 responders if they blocked the bill, and Democrats wouldn’t have a chance to get quite as good a deal if they waited for the next Congress.”
Senate Democrats abruptly pulled down an omnibus spending bill after senior Republicans – caught with their hands in the cookie jar — deserted the measure in an effort to square themselves with tea party activists and conservatives in the party.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the announcement and signaled he would substitute a short-term spending resolution for the much more detailed year-long $1.1 trillion plus measure which many in the GOP had been quietly rooting for just weeks ago.
With Washington facing a funding cutoff Saturday night, the result is a genuine fiscal crisis — at once serious and rich in political farce.
Democrats have only themselves to blame for failing to pass any of the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the day-to-day operations of the government. At the same time, Republicans contributed mightily to this failure and are going through their own culture war — torn between the Senate’s old-bull pork-barrel ways and the more temperate fiscal gospel of their new tea party allies.
The Senate passed its version of the tax deal by a wide margin this week, but in the House, the plan appears to be in jeopardy. Democratic leadership had to pull the rule governing the debate on the bill after liberals in their caucus revolted and threatened to send it to a defeat. One Democrat called it a “speed bump,” but as of yet the road to passage has not opened:
A final House vote on President Obama’s tax proposal could be delayed after Democratic leaders were forced to pull a procedural measure off the House floor Thursday.
The House was set to vote on the rule governing debate on the broad tax bill, but the measure was withdrawn at the last minute when leaders realized it was likely to be rejected. Liberals opposed to the deal Obama struck with Republicans were upset that the procedure approved by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday did not allow them a clean opportunity to vote on the legislation the Senate passed on Wednesday. A final vote on the tax deal had been planned for Thursday evening.
“We’re just trying to work out some kinks,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a floor manager for the tax bill, told reporters. He characterized the decision to pull the procedural measure off the floor as “a bump” and said he did not think the House would have to delay a final vote past Thursday. Yet he said it was unclear what the next move was and said Democratic leaders were huddling over how to proceed.
Ironically, this resulted from an attempt to “deem-and-pass” the tax deal. The rule would have allowed an amendment for the sake of altering the estate-tax portion of the deal Barack Obama cut with the GOP; had it then passed, the House would have deemed the rest of the deal to have passed as well and sent the amendment to the Senate. If not, then the House would have held a clean vote on the Senate bill.
House progressives just nearly brought down the Bush tax cuts bill over lingering anger at the compromise President Obama worked out with Senate Republicans. Democratic leaders had hoped that an amendment built into the package changing the estate tax provisions would sway enough liberals to vote to proceed to the bill and for the legislation on final passage. But the leaders were forced to yank the rule — which outlines the debate and procedure to pass the bill — off the floor when it became clear it was going to fail. Progressives are demanding a clean vote up or down on the original package — unamended — so they can register their opposition.
Overall, the nearly $900 billion bill extends all of the Bush tax cuts by two years, provides a fix for the Alternative Minimum tax, extends renewable energy tax credits passed in the stimulus and extends unemployment insurance to millions of Americans. It also ups the estate tax level from 55% of estates worth $1 million to 35% of estates worth $5 million or more. House Dems want to see that rate lowered to 45% on estates worth $3.5 million or more. If the amendment to lower the rate succeeds in the House, it will ping-pong the bill back to the Senate where the changes could bring it down.
Rep, Jim McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who is managing the bill on the floor, told reporters that the problem was “just a bump,” and leadership sources say they still expect final passage of the bill today after they add an amendment to the rule. Meanwhile, a caucus meeting has just been called for 3:45pm, so this could be a late night for the House.
As a matter of fact, there is a simple way that Reid can make the time necessary to ensure this gets done, aides involved in the discussions tell me. Reid needs to schedule a debate and vote on DADT repeal beginning as soon as this weekend, once the issue over government funding is resolved. Reid can do this before New START is resolved, or at least while it’s getting resolved.
On MSNBC just now, Joe Lieberman called on Reid to fast-track DADT repeal in this fashion. “I believe instead of going back to the START treaty, we should go to the independent stand-alone repeal of don’t ask don’t tell Saturday night,” Lieberman said. “We can get it done by Monday, maybe Tuesday at the latest, and then go back to the START treaty.”
Here’s why this is the way to go, as spelled out by an aide involved in the discussions. If Reid waits until New START is done before holding the vote on DADT, Senators could start going home once the treaty is resolved, dooming DADT repeal. But this scenario would be averted if Reid slips in the DADT vote before START. By contrast, if the DADT repeal debate and vote are done first, no Senator will leave Washington before START is resolved. So doing DADT repeal first doesn’t imperil START.
What’s more, if worst comes to worst, START could be resolved early next year. DADT repeal, meanwhile, can’t be resolved next year, because by then the votes simply may not be there in the Senate to pass it. The votes, however, are there right now, and GOP moderates have signaled that it’s time.
The debate over New START officially began on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, as Democrats and Republicans staked out seemingly irreconcilable positions as the Christmas holiday approaches.
A vote to move to debate on the treaty Wednesday passed 66 to 32, indicating that there is not enough Republican opposition to stop the process from moving forward. Democrat Evan Bayh (D-IN) missed the vote but is expected to support the treaty. The vote is giving treaty supporters confidence in the chances of ratification, but there are to be many more twists and turns before that can happen.
Nine Republicans voted to begin the debate: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Bob Bennett (R-UT).
Following the vote, leading Senate Democrats and Republicans held dueling press conferences on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon in what has turned into a high-stakes game of legislative chicken. Only three GOP senators have publicly announced their support for New START, and nobody knows for sure if there are 6 additional Senate Republicans who will buck their own party’s leadership to support the agreement when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the vote, probably before Christmas day.
One large looming question is whether the White House will insist on holding the vote if it hasn’t secured assurances of the 67 “yes” votes needed for ratification when the clock runs out on the lame duck session.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), in a press conference today, said that Vice President Joseph Biden told him he’d rather take the risk that the treaty is defeated this year than take the risk of delaying consideration until the new Congress is seated in January.
Acknowledging that it’s the White House’s decision whether to call the vote and risk defeat, Kerry said that Biden told him personally that the outlook in the next Congress is worse than the outlook now.
“We’d rather lose [the vote on New START] now with the crowd that’s done the work on rather than go back and start from scratch [next session],” Kerry said that Biden told him.
Earlier this afternoon, just before Harry Reid went onto the Senate floor and gave a speech calling for a vote on repeal of don’t ask don’t tell — which has now failed — he turned to a Senate aide and shrugged his shoulders.
“I have to go to the floor, but I’m not going to like giving this speech,” he said, according to the aide.
Reid then went to the floor and called for an immediate vote on the defense authorization bill containing repeal, in the full knowledge that it was likely to go down. As Reid knew, he had not agreed to Susan Collins’s demand for four days of debate time, giving several Republicans who support repeal an excuse to vote No, dooming the bill to fall short of 60 votes needed for passage, 57-40.
I have now spoken to a senior Senate aide and put together what happened and why Reid did this.
Reid concluded that even if Collins was sincere in her promise to vote for repeal if given the four days of debate, there was no way to prevent the proceedings from taking longer, the aide says. Reid decided that the cloture vote, the 30 hours of required post-cloture debate, and procedural tricks mounted by conservative Senators who adamantly oppose repeal would have dragged the process on far longer.
“It would have been much more than four days,” the aide says. “Her suggestions were flat out unworkable given how the Senate really operates. You can talk about four days until the cows come home. That has very little meaning for Coburn and DeMint and others who have become very skilled at grinding this place to a halt.”
After spending several hours thinking it over today and consulting with other members of the Dem caucus, Reid decided to push forward with the vote today, the aide says.
The aide rejected the claim that Reid should have extended the session another week in order to accomodate GOP procedural demands, as Joe Lieberman and others had asked, arguing that extended debate would actually have dragged the session into January, what with other things on the Senate to-do list.
“Why do we need to extend the session?” the aide asked. “Republicans have blocked this bill since February. We’ve made offer after offer to try to reach agreement on this. Going through those procedural motions along with the START treaty and tax cuts would have taken us until January 5th.”
Yes, Republicans could have dragged things out until January…but so what, if ultimately it gets done before the clock runs out? And what exactly is the downside if they try and just can’t quite finish?
Meanwhile, Mark Udall just went to the Senate floor and said he’d like to see either another bite at this, or an attempt to bring back DADT as a standalone bill. Reid’s office apparently believes that, too, could be blocked, but I’m not really sure why they believe that, if there are really 60 votes for it and, say, ten calendar days remain after the rest of their business gets done.
Two Republicans in particular, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had earlier said they were committed to DADT repeal. But both ended up voting against it, claiming they wanted to see the tax-cut bill resolved first and more time to debate. Principled! Meanwhile, West Virginia’s newest Democrat, Joe Manchin, also voted no, but here’s what one Democratic aide toldHuffington Post‘s Sam Stein: “I would say that if he was somehow the 60th vote, I do not think he would have voted the way he did.” In other words, there actually were 60 senators who wanted to end discrimination against gays in the military, it just didn’t work out that way because…
So is that it for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? It looks that way. Collins, Reid, and Joe Lieberman are planning to sponsor stand-alone repeal legislation that’s separate the defense spending bill, but as one Senate aide told the Post, the odds of success are slim because, once again, “such a move would be ripe for all sorts of procedural shenanigans.” What’s that? But repealing DADT would be the right thing to do, morally speaking? As if that had anything to do with anything.
The bill repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t fail: The Senate did. The bill got 57 votes, not 49. As Dylan Matthews pointed out, a procedural failsafe that’s theoretically meant to protect the rights of minorities was just used to restrict the rights of minorities — which is how it’s always been, of course.
The various players are excitedly blaming one another. Anonymous aides to Harry Reid are arguing that Susan Collins’s demands would’ve meant so much conservative obstruction that there wouldn’t have been time for a vote. Collins was just on the television saying that if Reid had only given her more time, the bill would’ve passed.
I don’t care who’s right. And nor should anyone else. The diffusion of responsibility that comes from deciding law through complex parliamentary gamesmanship rather than simple majority-rules votes is the problem. What happened today is that a majority of the Senate voted for a bill that the majority of Americans support. The bill did not pass. Neither Harry Reid nor Susan Collins are ultimately responsible for that. The rules of the Senate are.
Well, gee. There’s still time—in theory—for the Senate to act. But fuck ’em: here’s hoping we get a ruling from a judge that stops all expulsions under DADT. That’s what Defense Secretary Gates warned the Senate about during his testimony; if they didn’t pass the DADT repeal, a judge was likely to step in and order an immediate end to DADT. (Hey, did you know that the bill being debated didn’t actually end DADT?)
And that will, of course, be good for the Republicans. They’ll get to scream and yell about judicial tyranny, liberal judges, and legislating from the bench—all because they successfully blocked all efforts to, you know, legislate from the legislature.
When Fox News and talk radio host Glenn Beck comes to Washington this weekend to headline a rally intended to “restore honor” to America, he will test the strength – and potentially expose the weaknesses – of a conservative grass-roots movement that remains an unpredictable force in the country’s politics.
Beck, who is both admired and assailed for his faith-based patriotism and his brash criticism of President Obama, plans in part to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero. He will speak on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, from the spot where King delivered it.
Some “tea party” activists say the event, at which former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is also scheduled to speak, will have a greater impact than last September’s “9/12” march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the attendance figures for that anti-tax rally are disputed, it was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and influence of the tea party movement.
But with just a few days before the Beck rally, basic questions linger, including how big it will be and whether the event, which Beck says is nonpolitical, will help or hurt Republicans in November. Also unanswered is whether Beck can pull off the connection to King without creating offense – or confrontation with another event the same day led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Glenn Beck’s 8/28 Restoring Honor Rally has already drawn all sorts of criticism. It’s scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – which he delivered on the steps of the memorial in 1963. Given that Beck has said President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” some black civil rights feel the rally’s location and scheduling are offensive.
What’s gotten less attention, however, is the group that will financially benefit from the event, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). All proceeds raised through Glenn Beck’s promotion of the event go to SOWF – once costs for the rally itself are covered.
The charity, founded in 1980, provides college scholarships for children of special operations personnel killed in action or in training. SOWF is very well-run, with low administrative costs and a four-star rating from the watchdog group Charity Navigator. Some 160 of its scholarship recipients have graduated from college in the past 30 years and there are more than 100 students in college now.
Beck claims he didn’t know Aug. 28 was the anniversary of King’s most famous speech when he chose the day, and I’m not sure what’s worse — that he’s lying, or that he’s telling the truth. My gut says he’s full of crap: You don’t schedule an event at the Lincoln Memorial, on the same day of one of the most famous events ever held there, and not know of the coincidence. Besides, Beck has been comparing himself to King, and his acolytes to civil rights strugglers, at least since the Obama administration began. He’s too big a megalomaniac not to know the symbolism of his choice.
But let’s say he’s telling the truth: Can someone who purports to be knowledgeable about our political and social history really not know about the 1963 March on Washington? Was Beck even paying attention when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver just two years ago, and every news organization in the world noted it happened to be on the 45th anniversary of the King speech — that’s right, Aug. 28. It’s hard to believe.
When the “coincidence” was called to his attention, Beck exhibited his trademark megalomania and paranoia. It was “divine providence,” he said — and besides, he snarled, “black people don’t own Martin Luther King!” It seems a little tone-deaf to talk about “owning” someone when King was fighting to undo the legacy of slavery, when African-Americans were literally owned by white people. A final fun fact: Beck insists he only chose the date because that was the only open Saturday before 9/12, and of course he couldn’t ask people to rally on a Sunday, “the Sabbath.” Of course, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, but I guess Jews weren’t high on the outreach list for Beck’s big event. But that’s our Beck, who has shown he subscribes to one of the ugliest anti-Semitic canards, that Jews bear the blame for killing Jesus.
We can’t ignore the controversy: Beck is holding the rally at a time and place that is sure to draw scorn from a multitude of people. He’s doing it in the middle of election season, adding additional political weight to his avowed apolitical rally. Beck is a huge talker, and talks a lot about things that no one else does.
But that’s just one side of the coin. There are a multitude of people who believe that Beck is perfectly justified in holding the rally at that time and place, and even consider it an well-executed move. He’s got solid Christian credentials, so even if the rally does leak into politics, he’s built a firm foundation on which to honor our troops and focus on values. And Beck’s talking isn’t just background noise: his audience of over 3 million cable viewers are dedicated to his cause, and eager to spread the word.
Most importantly, lets not loose sight of the forest in the trees. Beck is motivating hundreds of thousands of Americans to get off their couch and get inspired. He’s providing a venue to praise our military and focus on what’s important, and no matter what your view of his political maneuverings, he’s doing a very effective job.
Dems are gleefully noting to reporters that Beck intends to rally the faithful from the Lincoln Memorial — the very spot where King gave his speech 47 years ago. And with turnout estimates running as high as 300,000, Dems say they hope they can wrest some political advantage from what they hope will amount to a massive show of Tea Party force that’s rife with ugly Obama-bashing.
Though there are good reasons to wonder how effective it is, Dems have doubled down on a strategy of relentlessly elevating Tea Party whack-jobbery to turn moderates independents against the GOP. Several Dems cheerfully noted to me this morning that a raucus Tea Party rally staged on the anniversary of one of the turning points in the Civil Rights movement can only help in this regard.
To buttress the case that the rally is bad for the GOP, Dems are circulating a report in this morning’s Post claiming that officials with the Republican party committees are distancing themselves from the rally:
“In general, people coming to Washington, being organized and active is a good thing,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.
“But I gotta be honest with you — I don’t know about any Glenn Beck event.”
Given the awful job numbers and the nation’s other myriad problems, it’s hard to imagine that using the Beck rally to tar the GOP will do much to alter the Dems’ electoral fortunes. But the sight of Beck trying to coopt the legacy of King while crazed Tea Partyers bash the first African American president in the ugliest of terms may well go down as an iconic moment in the history of this movement.
Yeah, because bashing the tea party has done them so much good so far. I remember the Democrats begging, begging for Sarah Palin to endorse Scott Brown in the January 2010 U.S. Senate special in Massachusetts, in the apparent hope that she’d pass her crazy cooties on to him. How’d that turn out for Senator Coakley?
Beck isn’t stupid, and he’s trying to cut down on the easy shots from liberals with a rule: No signs.
In a new promo posted on a “Producers’ Blog” at his website, Beck humbly places the rally in the context of the moon landing, the Montgomery bus boycott, Iwo Jima, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and other landmark historical events. It also not-so-subtly suggests that Beck is following in the tradition of Martin Luther King (which is a farce), Abraham Lincoln, most of the Founding Fathers, Martha Washington, the Wright Brothers, and other notable historical figures.
To give you some sense of the egomania on display here, it starts with the line, “Every great achievement in human history has started with one person. One crazy idea.”
And it’s “brought to you by Goldline.”
Greg Sargent says that Democrats are gleeful about the “I Have A Nightmare” gathering because they think these people will expose themselves to America as the kooks they really are and the people will reject them. But what if they don’t? There’s ample historical precedent for kooks to break through into the mainstream and it can lead to some very unpleasant outcomes. Yes, Beck is nuts. But he’s also the most important figure in the Tea Party movement, which in case anyone hasn’t noticed is in the process of taking over one of the two major parties in the most powerful nation in the world. You can deride these people, as I do every day. But it’s a mistake to not take them seriously or underestimate their appeal in times like these.
No one should ever count on the people naturally seeing through demagogues. Their power lies in their ability to be convincing even when it doesn’t make rational sense and the truly talented ones can change the world. It remains to be see if Beck and his fellow travelers have that kind of juice. But I wouldn’t be so sanguine that they don’t.
In a demonstration of the overwhelming support of mainstream America for conservative principles, Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is drawing ‘hundreds of thousands,’ according to McClatchy Newspapers.
Early reports indicate that so large is the crowd that attendees were having difficulty hearing the speakers. A quick scan of mainstream news outlets that have done actual estimates this morning indicates that attendance at this point is between 300,000 and 500,000 people.
And attendees are still arriving at the rally, which began some 90 minutes ago.
Michelle Malkin reports that as early as 7:30 AM there were already 100,000 peope gathered at the site.
Reporters on the ground, however, state that the claim of 500,000 attendees is grossly underestimated. A more accurate assessment of the crowd may well turn out to be between 500,000 and 1 million.
Speakers at the event represent a broad cross-section of America–civil rights leaders who were present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in 1963, baseball manager Tony LaRusa, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a host of black preachers, and Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.
Update–Glenn Beck is speaking. Passionate, eloquent, fervent defense of the Founders’ vision of America–faith, liberty, truth.
Update 2–Beck concludes by saying our hope as a nation is in God–a concept that is entirely consistent with the numerous writings of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin. They may not have agreed on points of doctrine, but in one accord they looked to God as the author and sustainer of LIBERTY!
Update 3–Country singer JoDean Messina sings ‘America the Beautiful.’
After listening to the Beck rally this morning, though, I think the charges of racism were clearly over the top. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a political rally, though. Regardless of whatever Beck might say, the political undertones were rather obvious, and the degree to which it mixed religion and politics should quite honestly be disturbing to anyone who believes in the value of secularism in politics.
I’m not sure what the impact of this rally will be. I’m sure Beck has something more planned, he always seems to, stay tuned.