Tag Archives: Jonathan Bernstein

Numbers For The “Sage Of Wasilla”

Chris Cillizza and Jon Cohen at WaPo:

Sarah Palin’s ratings within the Republican Party are slumping, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a potentially troubling sign for the former Alaska governor as she weighs whether to enter the 2012 presidential race.

For the first time in Post-ABC News polling, fewer than six in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents see Palin in a favorable light, down from a stratospheric 88 percent in the days after the 2008 Republican National Convention and 70 percent as recently as October.

In one sense, the poll still finds Palin near the top of a list of eight potential contenders for the GOP nomination. The former vice presidential candidate scores a 58 percent favorable rating, close to the 61 percent for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and 60 percent for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and better than the 55 percent that onetime House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) received.

But Palin’s unfavorable numbers are significantly higher than they are for any of these possible competitors. Fully 37 percent of all Republicans and GOP-leaning independents now hold a negative view of her, a new high.

In another first, fewer than 50 percent of Republican-leaning independents — 47 percent — hold favorable views of Palin.

Andrew Sullivan:

But look behind the headlines and you find something more interesting:

“Strong” favorability matters in primaries, where motivation to turn out is an important factor. Among strong Tea Party supporters, strongly favorable views of Huckabee and Palin are highest, at 45 and 42 percent, respectively; strongly favorable views of Gingrich and Romney drop off in this group to 35 and 31 percent, respectively.

There’s a similar pattern in a related group, leaned Republicans who say they are “very” conservative. Palin and Huckabee (at 45 and 44 percent) again attract much higher strongly favorable ratings among strong conservatives than do Gingrich and Romney (30 and 28 percent).

In primaries, enthusiasm matters. And if Huckabee doesn’t run …

Jonathan Bernstein:

In response to the latest polling on the Sage of Wasilla, which show her continuing to lose support even among Republicans, I went looking through my old posts on her to see if I could claim a little told-you-so — if I had clearly said that if she continued to snub party leaders they would eventually turn against her, and if that happened (as it has) then the rank-and-file, or at least many of them, would follow, regardless of how popular she was with them back then. Yup! Hey, I’m wrong sometimes (and I’ll try to ‘fess up when I am), but I think I nailed this one.

I bring that up because I still don’t think it’s too late for Sarah Palin to turn it around, at least in large part, if she suddenly decided to play by the rules that normal candidates follow. Policy expertise can be bought and faked; party leaders, whether they’re national columnists, interest group leaders, or locals in Iowa and New Hampshire, can be schmoozed. It increasingly appears that either she is constitutionally incapable of doing those things or just has no interest in it, and even if she does them there’s no guarantee she would be nominated…but it is clear now, as it has been from the start, that the normal rules of politics apply to her regardless of what she or anyone else thinks.

One other thing that I did come across from last summer which still seems relevant now is the question of whether Republicans will campaign with Sarah Palin. I said then that given how few people, especially swing voters, are Palin fans — but also how many Republicans remain strong supporters — that it would make sense for Democrats to press their GOP opponents over whether they would campaign with her or not. Of course, skilled politicians know how to duck questions for which there are no good answers, but it can’t hurt to ask those questions.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

The obvious question is why? Chris Cillizza suggests Palin’s tendency to polarize, but I’m skeptical. For starters, she continues to score a high favorability rating among Republicans: 58 percent, compared to 60 percent for Mitt Romney and 55 percent for Newt Gingrich. Moreover, her views are within the mainstream of the GOP; on every issue, Sarah Palin is an orthodox Republican.

As far as I can tell, Palin’s fall from grace has less to do with ideology or popularity and more to do with her obvious disdain for Republican elites. Since 2008, she has been on a one-pol crusade against the activists and donors who represent important interests and elites within the GOP coalition. This was tolerable last year, when she was something of an electoral asset, but with the upcoming presidential election — and her stark unpopularity among everyone else — it’s less than acceptable. Conservative elites are gradually distancing themselves from Palin, and in all likelihood, this has trickled down to the grassroots.

This isn’t to say that Palin has lost her influence among conservatives — she continues to enjoy a devoted following — but it does put a damper on her presidential ambitions, if she ever had them (I’m doubtful).

Steve Benen:

It may be counterintuitive, but I actually think this is good news for Palin. She’s done nothing but bring shame and embarrassment to herself on a nearly daily basis for years, and she’s likely dropped about as far as she can with the GOP. And at this point, she still enjoys favorable ratings from a clear majority of Republican voters.

James Joyner:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: By presidential candidate standards, Sarah Palin is an ignoramus. That is, she’s “utterly lacking in knowledge or training about matters of public policy, law, or international affairs” one expects of someone contending for the presidency. That was my assessment more than two years ago and it has only been buttressed with the passage of time.

But the fact that she’s not particularly studious or intellectually curious doesn’t mean she’s unintelligent. I’m guessing she’s within swinging distance in terms of raw IQ to George W. Bush or, certainly, Mike Huckabee. And she’s enormously charming and good in front of a friendly crowd.

Bush the Younger was thought by many to be a lightweight at this point in the 2000 presidential cycle. Granted, he’d finished his term as Texas governor and was into his second by this time in 1999. And he had his MBA from Harvard, so people presumed he had at least passing knowledge with business and economic affairs. But, aside from perhaps Mexico, there was little evidence that Bush had any particular interest in foreign policy.

But Bush surrounded himself with smart people and studied. Recall the great “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the second debate with Al Gore, in which he gratuitously cited the names of various obscure world leaders in an attempt to shake off a weak performance in the first debate. It worked.

When this debate last mattered, during the 2008 general election campaign, Republicans who disagreed with me on Palin rightly pointed out that her resume favorably compared with then-candidate Barack Obama’s. Even Democrats who ultimately supported Obama, like our own Dave Schuler, were concerned about his lack of experience. But, by the time the debates rolled around, Obama had mastered the playbooks and could intelligently debate matters of domestic and foreign policymaking. Yes, there were some early stumbles. But few thought he was stupid or ill informed by the time it mattered.

Palin has the inherent talent to apply herself and win over skeptical Republicans and centrists. Many people really want to like her. But Bernstein is right: There’s no evidence thus far that she’s willing to do what it takes.

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Actually, He’s Really Gone Now. No, Seriously. Egypt Just Overthrew Its Government.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place has a round-up of reacts. Video via Appel.

David Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid at NYT:

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned his post and turned over all power to the military on Friday, ending his nearly 30 years of autocratic rule and bowing to a historic popular uprising that has transformed politics in Egypt and around the Arab world.

The streets of Cairo exploded in shouts of “God is Great” moments after Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced during evening prayers that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.

Even before he had finished speaking, protesters began hugging and cheering, shouting “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head.”

“He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.”

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

As the jubilation spread across Tahrir Square with the announcement of Hosni Mubarak’s departure, one can only imagine what was running through the minds of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he watched. Or that of Saudi King Abdullah. Or Jordan’s King Abudllah. Or of any of the region’s autocratic leaders. We know that over the past several days the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Jordanians had urged support for the status quo. So too, for that matter, had Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And while the drama unfolding in Egypt today is profound and powerful, it clearly marks the end of only the first scene of the first act of what will be long twisting drama. Many questions hang in the air about what comes next. What will the transition look like? Will the army truly allow the emergence of a pluralistic, representative model government? Will the interim government have the savvy to present such a road map early enough to placate activists? Will the process be transparent enough? Will international observers be invited to monitor elections? Will real democracy be supported by broader changes than just in election laws?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The Egyptian people have won a startling and historic victory. It is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world to do, to force a Pharaoh from the palace, but they did it, and without bombs.

Now, though, comes a series of terrible challenges that could undo what the people have achieved. The Egyptian economy needs to grow at least seven percent a year to create the jobs necessary for the masses of underemployed, often-over-educated, young people who have been crowding the streets, and economic power is still in the hands of plutocrats and oligarchs, who are not terribly interested in reforming the system that has made them obscenely rich.

If economic power is in the hands of the oligarchs, political power now is in the hands of the military. In other situations, in other countries, what we’ve seen today is called a military coup.  Egypt has no tradition of democracy, and a strong tradition of military leadership. The people, for the moment, seem to want the military. I don’t think this will last. And because Hosni Mubarak spent 30 years marginalizing and banning secular parties and opposition movements, there is no obvious path toward representative democracy. I am not overly worried, for the moment, in the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover, but the fortunes of the Brothers could change quickly, and dangerously.

My apologies for being a downer, but Egypt’s crisis has just begun.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Don’t even bother to try keeping up with Egypt on Twitter right now. Using the social networking service that allowed the world to follow the uprising in real time is like drinking from a fire hose. Monasosh, another leading Egypt-tweeter, reports, “Shit! Ppl are going crazy, screaming and running.” Danger Room friend Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation: “I am close by Tahrir and the roar even outside the square is really loud. Some happy people right now.”

On “We Are All Khalid Said,” the Facebook page that galvanized the 18-day mass protests, Nana Mohamed comments (via GoogleTranslate), “Egypt gets the salvation of God.” The mood is the polar opposite of the fury expressed on the page last night after dictator Hosni Mubarak defiantly vowed to stay in power until presidential elections this summer.

“I’ve worked my whole life to see the power of the people come to the fore,” activist Rabab Al Mahdi told Al Jazeera through tears.  “I never thought I would be alive to see it. It’s not just about Mubarak. It’s a protest that brought about the people’s power to bring about the change that no one, no one thought was possible.”

The euphoria is unimaginable. Peaceful protests, propelled but by no means determined by social media, dislodged a 30-year dictatorship in one of the most important Middle Eastern countries. Neither violent repression nor an Internet shutdown nor mass arrests of Facebook-fueled human rights activists could stop what’s become the #Jan25 revolution. Al Jazeera was blamed for the protests by Suleiman and its reporters were physically attacked and detained, but the network went to round-the-clock coverage that kept pressure on Mubarak.

Steven Taylor:

It sounds a bit ugly to say, but it is still true:  the removal of Mubarak and the transfer of power to the high command has to be understood as a coup d’etat.  Indeed, I will not be surprised if we learn at some point in the future that Mubarak did not “decide” to “step down” and to then “transfer” power to the military but rather that he was told by the military that that was what he was going to do.  The lack of a statement from Mubarak, and his removal from Cairo seems to support this notion (as did the dour pronouncement of the Vice President about the resignation—a stark contrast to his more defiant statements after Mubarak’s speech last night).

The constitution has been set aside as there are no provisions for a military takeover of this type.  And I would expect to see other extraconstitutional moves in the days to come (like, perhaps, a dissolution of parliament and/or the cabinet).

It is worth noting that while the protestors prompted these events that the state is under the control of the military, not the protestors.   The real question now is whether this abrogation of the constitution will lead to its replacement with a more liberal system or whether the military will consolidate power in its own hands.

In the coming days it will be most fascinating to see whether the military reaches out to opposition figures or whether it remains quiet about its intentions.

I would note, by the way, that to date there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a threat of an radical Islamic takeover in Egypt.

By the way:  to call it a coup is not to assign a negative assessment to the events.  Indeed, this may have been the best way to move things forward.  Still, it seems clear that Mubarak was not going to resign on his own and to foster a transition on his own (which he could have done).  Still, we do not even know what the military high command’s dispositions are at the moment in regards to reform.  No doubt they figured out that something had to be done to restore order and to forestall a movement towards greater chaos.  Beyond that, we do not know what will happen next.

Tom Maguire:

My instant, uninformed reaction – if Mubarak had announced last night that he was stepping aside in favor of Suleiman and a group of generals, the popular reaction would have been that the faces had changed but the regime remains the same.

Today, since he is stepping aside in response to overwhelming public rejection of his speech, the public response seems to be a sense of empowerment and change.

Slick marketing by the regime, if this flies.

OR, IF YOU DON’T LIKE THAT IDEA I HAVE OTHERS:

Upon booth review, we are considering the possibility that Mubarak is secretly from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.  Yesterday his aides greased the skids and tried to get him to gdepart gracefully, without success.  Today, having seen how well he is loved and how successful his speech was, he is prepared to move on.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

There’s been a fair amount of speculation in recent days about now ex-President Mubarak’s preperations for departure. I just spoke with Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East studies at Britain’s Durham University who focuses on the economic interests of Arab rulers. He cast doubt on the $70 billion figure which has been floated widely by the media recently, but said Mubarak undoubtedly has interests throughout the world to fall back on:

 

There would be something wrong with the people he paid if we knew much about this. A lot of the figures we’ve seen in the press are really just speculation.  As with gulf ruling family, his wealth his hidden abroad very carefully with layer upon layer of shell companies in London and the States. There’s also a big question about his numbered bank accounts in Europe, whether he will be able to recover those or not.

Davidson speculated that Mubarak’s ability to recover funds from his Swiss bank accounts, and the difficulties his now partner-in-exile Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has had in recovering his own assets, may have played a role in his delayed departure:

I would imagine that he’ll struggle to recover everything. A few weeks ago we had the Baby Doc ruling in Switzerland so that will clearly be playing on his mind. I suspect that this one of the reasons why he was trying to hold on as long as possible, so he could portray himself as having resigned peacefully as a legitimate president rather than having been ousted.

Despite having now holed up at his “Winter Residence” in Egypt — which is less a palace than a floor of a luxury hotel and golf resort —  and his earlier promise to die on Egyptian soil, Davidson believes that Mubarak is not long for Egypt:

 

He’ll be headed to the Gulf for sure. Perhaps not to Saudi like Ben Ali, but I think he’ll go to the UAE. [UAE Foreign Minister] Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed visited Cairo quite publicly and likely put a plan on the table to give him refuge.

Update: Sure enough, we now have reports that Switzerland is freezing Mubarak’s assets.

Jonathan Bernstein:

And so Mubarak is done.

How has Barack Obama done during this major foreign policy challenge? I don’t know, and you don’t know, and the people talking about it on TV and in the blogs don’t know; too much of what’s happened (and what may have happened) is behind the scenes. Not just what Obama and the Americans are doing, but it’s going to take some time for us to really know what many of the key Egyptians have been up to. If I had to guess, at this point, I’d say that at the very least he’s avoided any significant egregious blunders, but even that is extremely provisional. We won’t be able to really say much for a while.

In the meantime, I want to steer you to some very useful analysis of the presidency in foreign affairs from political scientists. Over at the Monkey Cage, read two excellent posts from Elizabeth Saunders (first one, second one), who studies the ways that presidents personally make a difference in foreign policy. And I also highly recommend a post by presidential scholar Matthew Dickinson, who emphasizes the constraints presidents work under in foreign and security issues. For those interested in more, read a journal article by Saunders on JFK and LBJ in Vietnam.

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The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Is On Fire

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

The U.S. appears to be the only country in the developed world that forbids its government from accumulating debt without authorizing legislation. And that’s led to some scary moments, including one that the economist Henry Aaron shared with me recently.

During the early years of the Kennedy Administration, Congress passed an increase in the debt ceiling at the last minute. But when JFK went to sign the bill, according to Aaron, nobody could find the document. Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon wanted to know what would happen if the government reached its debt ceiling and an administration lawyer, after some brief research, reported that “it seems, Mr. Secretary, that you are personally liable for interest on the debt.” Dillon, who was an investment banker, pressed the lawyer: How much would that be? “About $150 million a day,” the lawyer reportedly said, prompting Dillon to deadpan “I can’t last more than three days.”

It’s a funny story because it had a happy ending: Kennedy’s advisors eventually found the bill. And if they hadn’t, they would have gotten together with Congress and found some other way to raise the debt ceiling. That’s because, relatively speaking, they were grown-ups who took governing seriously.

Fifty years later, can we say the same thing? Sometime in the next few months, the U.S. will reach its debt limit and Congress will, once again, have a choice: Raise the limit or let the U.S. default on its obligations. For a while now, Tea Party Republicans like Senator Mike Lee, who unseated the insufficiently conservative Robert Bennett in Utah, have been threatening to vote against the debt ceiling increase unless they win substantial reductions in government spending. Idle threats about refusing to raise the debt ceiling are nothing new, but the Tea Party crowd seems quite serious about it–in part because they’ve promised their base they’re going to do it.

And now it looks like they have company. On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham announced that he, too, was willing to engage in serious brinkmanship over the debt:

I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations, starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits. On the spending side, I’m not going to vote for debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending.

As many others have noted, the demand of going back to 2008 spending levels is radical and, not coincidentally, highly unrealistic: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it’d amount to a one-fifth cut in discretionary spending–forcing cuts that could damage the fragile recovery and starve programs like Pell Grants that most Americans value.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Unlikely as it may seem at the moment, I’m becoming more and more convinced that congressional Republicans can get a lot — in terms of spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and the like — in exchange for agreeing to raise the federal debt ceiling at some point in the next few months.

My argument is dead simple.

P1) The debt ceiling won’t be raised without a ‘yea’ vote from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.)

P2) Senator Graham said on Meet the Press that

“I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations, starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits. On the spending side, I’m not going to vote for debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending.”

P3) The debt ceiling must be raised.

C: Graham will get what he wants, or something approximating it. That is, there will be significant revenue-side concessions from Democrats in exchange for support from the likes of Graham and Senate Republicans in his ideological neighborhood.

Don’t buy it? Okay, so which premise is false? P1? Does anyone think 53 Democrats can overcome a filibuster, in a tea-infused Senate, on anything significant, without Lindsey Graham? P3? Does anyone think either party’s leadership will allow a federal debt default?

That leaves P2, which, admittedly, is the shakiest. It rests on us taking a politician at his word. But Graham has been — for good and ill — remarkably transparent about his strategic calculus when it comes to votes. Remember when he publicly, and baldly, abandoned the energy bill he helped write because Harry Reid was going to make his life in South Carolina exceedingly difficult by doing immigration reform first? Graham is a known bipartisan deal-maker, and one of the few Senate Republicans with an open line to the White House. So not only does Graham almost certainly want to make a deal, but he is in a better position than most to know what kind of deal is possible. Indeed, knowing Graham’s style, the hidden premise in his Meet the Press comments is that he has reason to believe Democrats in the White House and in the Senate are willing to negotiate.

Bruce Bartlett:

This morning, CEA chairman Austan Goolsbee warned Republicans against playing games with the nation’s credit rating by refusing to raise the debt limit and creating a technical default. I have been warning people about this problem for more than a year because I know there is a widespread belief among the nuttier right-wingers that a debt default is just what the country needs to force massive spending cuts into effect. Many stupidly believe that the budget would be balanced overnight because the government couldn’t spend any more than the available cash flow from taxes would permit.
Since I first started writing about this danger, some of these nutty right-wingers have been elected to Congress under the Tea Party banner. Since many have never served in elected office before and know virtually nothing about economics or finance, I don’t think they realize that they are playing with fire when they even hint at the possibility of a debt default. They are like children playing with matches.
What I haven’t figured out how to properly convey is that a default triggered by a failure to raise the debt ceiling is of a completely different nature than the sort of default that Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart wrote about in their book. All of those cases were market-driven, where investors refused to buy or refinance a nation’s debt because of fiscal profligacy, irresponsible monetary policies etc. A U.S. default, by contrast, would be 100% self-inflicted based on loss of the Treasury’s legal authority to issue bonds, not because of a lack of market demand for those bonds. The historically low level of real and nominal interest rates on Treasury securities is proof that there is still strong demand for Treasury securities.
I have spent considerable time trying to figure out what exactly would happen in the event that, at some point, the Treasury literally had no cash to pay interest on the debt, redeem maturing securities, pay Social Security benefits and so on. Some people believe that the Treasury has an almost unlimited ability to fudge the problem indefinitely. But I know that there are analysts at the GAO who are very concerned about hitting a hard limit on the Treasury’s legal authority not long after the debt ceiling is breached. The law is very unclear and has never been tested in court.
As far as I am aware, no other country on Earth has the idiotic policy that the United States has of having a legal limit on the amount of bonds the central government can issue. They correctly recognize that the deficit and the debt are simply residuals resulting from the government’s tax and spending policies. It makes no sense to treat the debt as if it is an independent variable.

Tom Maguire:

That whistle you hear on down the tracks heralds an impending train wreck, as Tea Partiers brace for a vote on raising the debt limit sometime in the next few months.

Let’s get a sense of their attitude – some thoughts:

…raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.

Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion.That is “trillion” with a “T.” That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers…

And the cost of our debt is one of the fastest growing expenses in the Federal budget. This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities and States of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges, ports, and levees; robbing our families and our children of critical investments in education and health care reform; robbing our seniors of the retirement and health security they have counted on.

Every dollar we pay in interest is a dollar that is not going to investment in America’s priorities.

Put him down as “Undecided”.  Ooops, my bad!  That was Barack Obama himself, speaking in 2006.  Put him down as “Present”.  And now, as “President”.  The shoe is on the other foot, sauce for the goose, and away we go.

Republicans will be having a lot of fun with that speech (as they did a year ago) but I hope they eventually suck it up and do the right thing.  Bruce Bartlett worries that they won’t.

Jonathan Bernstein:

First of all, it’s worth mentioning that way back in 2006, long, long, ago, we still didn’t have a 60 vote Senate: the debt ceiling increase passed by a 52-48 vote, with no cloture vote at all because the Democrats didn’t filibuster it.  As far as I can tell from a quick search of the reporting back then, the Democrats did threaten to attach amendments (and wound up forcing at least one recorded vote), but they didn’t use it as leverage (by filibustering or threatening to filibuster) to, say, force a withdrawal from Iraq.

Now, in fact, I don’t know that using the threat of default to win policy victories is irresponsible.  Even bluffing that you’re going to destroy the country if you don’t get what you want…I don’t know that I’d say that would necessarily be irresponsible.  Actually going through with it, though: yeah, that would be about as bad as it gets.  So I’d make a distinction not just between pure posturing and terrible behavior, but between pure posturing, responsible negotiations, and irresponsible negotiations.  And I’ll note that we probably can’t guess which one is going on until the end of the game.

John Cole:

I suppose it is too much to ask that the Democrats run a competent political operation and point out that the Republicans have no actual plan for governance, but intend to simply play chicken with the debt ceiling and hold investigations of the travel office and other crap like that.

If Lindsey Graham wants to go after social security, the Democrats should not do or say a thing until the Republican proposal is in bill form and the details are included. Let them be the party that wants to go after grandma’s income. Let’s see DeMint’s plan for the default of the United States.

Having watched Obama the last two years, I’m reasonably sure the brain trust in charge of the political operation will instead pretend the Republicans are serious and offer more than the Republicans as an opening bid, and then watch themselves get undercut but the douchebag Blue Dogs and flayed alive by the professional left. That’s just how they roll. Morans.

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Asking, Telling, Continuing

Uri Friedman at The Atlantic with the round-up

Greg Sargent:

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.”

Andrew Sullivan’s round-up

Jonathan Bernstein:

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.

More Bernstein

Bradford Palmer at TNR:

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.

Ezra Klein:

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.

Dan Savage:

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.

Allah Pundit:

Even more hope for Lieberman’s bill:

On Manchin, aide says: “I would say that if he was somehow the 60th vote, I do not think he would have voted the way he did”

If that’s true, then Reid doesn’t need Brown and Murky. He needs only one, and then the pressure of being the deciding vote will flip Manchin to yes too.

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Filed under LGBT, Military Issues

“Wait Until That Deal Come Round”

Jon Ward at The Daily Caller:

President Obama and congressional Republicans have reached a tentative deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income levels and are presenting the proposal to congressional Democrats Monday afternoon, The Daily Caller has learned.

The deal will extend the current tax levels for two more years, preventing taxes from going up on any income levels, despite the wishes of many liberal Democrats — including Obama — that individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families with more than $250,000 a year in income see their rates go up.

In exchange, Republicans have agreed to extend unemployment insurance benefits for an additional 13 months.

Obama presented the proposal to Democratic congressional leaders at the White House Monday afternoon, seeking to obtain their approval for the deal.

Philip Klein at The American Spectator:

This year’s Republican landslide was rooted in the party’s ability to forge a coalition of independents and more conservative Tea Party voters, even though these groups don’t always neatly overlap. The clear strategy of the White House in the coming two years is to try and force Republicans to take stances on issues that would highlight the differences between these groups and drive them apart. One potential issue for the White House to exploit is extending unemployment benefits, a measure which many conservatives (rightly, in my view) object to, but which is more popular among the broader population. Republicans were likely to eventually cave on this issue anyway, because they’re wary of being portrayed as uncompassionate and extreme, a caricature that haunted Newt Gingrich and House Republicans after the 1994 GOP takeover. Under normal circumstances, Republicans’ caving on unemployment benefits would probably trigger a backlash on the right, but now that Republicans seem to have agreed to an extension as part of a larger deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, that criticism is likely to be a lot more muted. Now, instead of the attention being on Republicans, all of the focus is going to be on Obama’s more significant capitulation. Basically, one way or another, there was going to be an unemployment extension, but Obama has now made it a lot easier for Republicans to justify it to their base.

Michelle Malkin

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

The tax cuts were an issue in the 2010 midterms, but not by any means the biggest. The economy and health care reform took center stage, even as Tea Partiers and anti-tax groups criticized Obama for wanting to let the higher-income cuts expire.

That said, a presidential election is hotter and brighter than anything else. Everything is magnified. Americans for Tax Reform presently keeps a “Countdown to the Biggest Tax Increase in American History” clock on its website, and such rhetoric will only intensify as November 2012 approaches. Obama and his GOP opponent will discuss the tax cuts during debates. Third-party groups will spam their constituencies. The tax cuts will be a thing.

A reasonable question, then, is: If Democrats are losing this debate now, poised to give in to GOP demands, why would they think the situation will be any different in two years? There are no compromises in a presidential election, only winners and losers.

Obama isn’t actually losing this debate, it’s important to remember, in terms of public opinion. While Obama appears to be losing on the tax cuts, it mostly appears that way because he’s not going to get his way over the GOP, and because the left is angry at him, voicing discontent with his willingness to compromise. But Obama is winning the broader popularity contest. People support his stance on the Bush tax cuts, according to recent polls.

CBS (Nov. 29 – Dec. 1) shows 53 percent wanting only the sub-$250K cuts extended, with 26 percent supporting a full extension. Gallup (Nov. 19-21) shows 44 percent supporting some income threshold (different figures were polled) and 40 percent supporting the GOP’s plan. AP/CNBC (Nov. 18-22) shows 50 percent supporting Obama’s plan and 34 percent supporting the GOP’s.

So, while Obama appears to be losing this debate right now, it could be a winning issue for him in the 2012 presidential race.

Ezra Klein:

The compromise the White House is negotiating on the Bush tax cut is looking more and more like the White House’s opening gambit in the 2012 campaign.

The White House has stopped negotiating for ideal — or even acceptable — tax policy and moved to negotiating stimulus policy. The tax cuts for income over $250,000 will pump about $100 billion into the economy over the next two years. It’s not the most stimulative way to spend $100 billion, but it’s more stimulative than not spending it, or than raising taxes. And it won’t be alone.

The deal isn’t done, but right now, Democrats look likely to get a 13-month extension of both unemployment insurance and many of the tax breaks built into the stimulus (Making Work Pay, the bump in the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, the business tax breaks and so on). That totals about $180 billion over two years. So if the White House gets the deal that the early reports suggest are close — and that they seem to think they’ll be able to get — this is a two-year stimulus package that approaches $300 billion. [Update: Just to be clear, that’s $300 billion for tax cuts for income over $250,000, and tax extenders. Add in the rest of the tax cuts — which I left out because they’re already at consensus — and it’s closer to $750 billion. So the $300 billion is the marginal cost over the tax cuts for income under $250,000.]

In other words, rather than paring the tax cuts and the deficit back, they’re making both larger. If you’re of the mind that the economy needs all the extra help it can get right now — and you should be — this is a lot more extra help than anyone expected Republicans and Democrats would agree to give it. And from a political perspective, if you believe that what matters for elections is the economy — and you should — then it’s worth it for the White House to lose news cycles in 2010 if it means adding jobs by 2012.

Digby:

So it’s done. Would it be unseemly for me to say I told you so? (My miscalculation was that they would also be able to hold unemployment insurance hostage along with the middle class tax cuts, which was really brilliant considering that it’s Christmas and they can all go home now warm in the knowledge that God blesses us one and all. Damn.)

Ezra sets forth what I would imagine is the thinking among Democratic insiders, namely that tax cuts for the rich are a form of stimulus and since we can’t get any kind of real stimulus, they have to extend them. The problem here is that while tax cuts are often used for stimulus, it doesn’t seem to have worked all that well in this recession, although it may have mitigated the worst of it at its depth. But tax cuts for the wealthy have been shown over and over again to be the least effective form of stimulus and coming as they are at a time when the wealthy have recovered very well and their investments are booming (while the rest of the country is still swimming in debt and suffering from lack of jobs, the housing slump and underemployment) they are likely to be even less stimulative than usual. I really don’t think even they believe this rationale.

So why? I think it’s a basic belief in “markets” as the savior of all economic problems and a broader fear of further angering the business community and the financial sector: they hear the threats loud and clear — “unless you give us our tax cuts, the country gets it.” The corporations and Wall Street are already sitting on a boatload of cash which they have no need to distribute as long as they are making big profits anyway. They simply do not believe they should have to pay higher taxes so they are holding a metaphorical gun to the head of the government and daring it to thwart them.

Jon Bernstein:

Part of the confusion is that everyone is so used to seeing Republican rejectionism that they don’t recognize accommodation (that is, willingness to make a deal that gives both sides policy gains) when they see it.  Perhaps another part of that confusion is that this may be an issue in which liberal activists really do part ways with the bulk of Democratic voters.  It’s surely the case that among liberal activists, climate/energy, immigration, and several other issues are a much higher priority than the tax cut pledge.  But for many Obama voters, that’s probably not true.

I’d also say that I agree with those who believe that the Democrats’ spin on this issue has been far from impressive, although as usual it probably made little difference.  Still, it’s made no sense at all for Barack Obama and the Democrats to publicly support anything called “the Bush tax cuts.”  From the start, or even from summer 2010, it sure seems that it would have been a lot smarter to invent something called “the Obama middle class tax cuts” and supported that as an alternative to Bush tax cuts (or, even better, Bush tax increases).  Indeed, Obama could have outbid the Republicans on the “middle class” portion of the tax cuts, opposed tax cuts for the rich, and still had plenty of money left over.  Framing the whole thing along GOP lines never made any sense.  On the other hand, at the end of the day the Democrats’ position was still popular, so it’s not easy to see what was lost in losing the spin war.

Back to the analysis…the case rests on four assumptions: that Republicans care a lot about upper level tax rates; that Republicans are basically indifferent about tax rates for everyone else; that Democrats care quite a bit about tax rates for everyone outside of the wealthiest Americans; and that neither side has the votes to impose their preferred policy on their own.  We don’t really know whether any of those assumptions is correct — we get to hear everyone’s rhetoric, but that doesn’t always match with their real intent.  However, if these assumptions are correct, then the way this issue has played out makes lots of sense.

One question to bear in mind as you watch: Where does this temporary fix leave him during campaign 2012? He’s going to swear up and down that there’ll be no more tax-cut extensions for the wealthy, come hell or high water, but of course he made the same promise during campaign 2008 and yet here we are. His base will have every reason to believe that he’s lying to them — and with good reason, given Ben Bernanke’s dire warning that it’ll be four or five years at least until unemployment returns to “normal” levels. If Obama’s willing to compromise now in the name of stimulus, why not again in 2013? Stand by for updates.

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Filed under Economics, Politics, The Crisis

Another Week, Another Ross Douthat Column

Ross Douthat at NYT:

There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.

But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

These two understandings of America, one constitutional and one cultural, have been in tension throughout our history. And they’re in tension again this summer, in the controversy over the Islamic mosque and cultural center scheduled to go up two blocks from ground zero.

The first America, not surprisingly, views the project as the consummate expression of our nation’s high ideals. “This is America,” President Obama intoned last week, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” The construction of the mosque, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told New Yorkers, is as important a test of the principle of religious freedom “as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The second America begs to differ. It sees the project as an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness. And beneath these concerns lurks the darker suspicion that Islam in any form may be incompatible with the American way of life.

This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (”first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

E.D. Kain at Balloon Juice:

Leaving aside the obvious fact that Muslims have actually been migrating here for many years and sprouting up second and third and seventh generations in the United States, this use of a specific instance – the Cordoba Center – to segue into a larger framework in which American Muslims writ large are not doing enough to assimilate is, to put it bluntly, nonsense. (And are no American Muslims a part of Second America? Then they must all be part of First America…unless we’re working on creating a Third America. That’s possible, too.)

He goes on:

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

I wonder what exactly qualifies as ‘too often’? What percentage of Muslim institutions fit this criteria? Furthermore, what bearing does this have on the question of the Ground Zero Mosque?

For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

Leaders like this guy, perhaps? I mean, if we’re going to just lump everyone of a particular faith together and cherry-pick the ‘leaders’ who we feel best represent them, why not pick the loudest of the bunch?

And if we can identify the group’s leaders, then we can pigeonhole the entire population’s motives. We can attribute the words of the few to the motives of the many. We can rile up “second America” against the fearful Other. And we can do it all quite nicely by calling into question the sincerity of the group’s desire to properly integrate into mainstream culture. It’s their fault, after all, that they haven’t made it all the way. Why would any real American want to build a mosque so near ground zero?

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

But this is bad history; the nativists of 19th-century America weren’t much interested in having “new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture,” rather, the nativists of mid-19th-century America wanted to keep immigrants off of American shores. In its 1856 platform, the American Party — otherwise known as the “Know-Nothing Party” — pushed for the mass expulsion of poor immigrants, and declared that “Americans must rule America, and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal, and municipal offices of government employment, in preference to all others.”Likewise, nativism in the late 19th century was preoccupied with keeping foreigners out of the United States. Here is a passage from the constitution the Immigration Restriction League, formed in 1894 by a handful of Harvard graduates:

The objects of this League shall be to advocate and work for further judicious restriction or stricter regulation of immigration, to issue documents and circulars, solicit facts and information on that subject, hold public meetings, and to arouse public opinion to the necessity of a further exclusion of elements undesirable for citizenship or injurious to our national character.

This seems completely obvious, but nativists and xenophobes have never been interested in seeing immigrants join our nation and culture as Americans. Our modern-day nativists — as represented by the previously mentioned Tea Party activists — see “undesirable” immigrants as pests to be dealt with, not potential Americans:

“Instead of finding bugs in our beds, we’re finding home invaders,” said Tony Venuti, a Tucson radio host who attached a huge sign to the fence that told immigrants to head to Los Angeles, where they will be more welcome, and even offered directions for getting there.

Contra Douthat, nativists and xenophobes have never been integral to assimilating immigrants. That distinction goes to the assimilationists of American life who understood — and understand — that “American-ness” can be learned and adopted. Different assimilationists had different approaches to bringing immigrants into American life, but they were united by a common view of America as an open society.

Jonathan Bernstein:

Jamelle Bouie has a great post up this morning about assimilation and immigration, riffing off of Ross Douthat’s column.  Douthat’s claim is that the America of high-minded ideals is at odds with cultural protectionism, and while the latter is bigoted and small-minded, it also winds up having the virtue of forcing newer immigrants and minorities in general to conform to American cultural norms (including those high-minded ideals).  I think Bouie is a bit harsher than necessary to Douthat, who isn’t exactly warm towards those who he says use discrimination and persecution to get their way.  But I also think Bouie is correct: Douthat’s claim that it’s the nativists who have indirectly encouraged assimilation through intimidation may not be entirely wrong, but it’s a somewhat strained reading of history — the nativists didn’t want assimilation, they wanted (and often got) exclusion.  And Bouie is right that Douthat’s history ignores that those in Douthat’s “first” America (the one with the high-minded ideals) have almost always supported and worked to achieve assimilation.

But I think both of them are missing the main actors here: the immigrants themselves, who in almost all cases have been pretty desperate to assimilate as quickly as possible.  That was true of the great immigration waves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it’s true of the great immigration wave now.  Of course, each group has had various cultural bits and pieces they keep with them (bits and pieces which generally are gobbled up by the larger American culture, so that everyone eats tacos and bagels), and each group has minorities within their minority who resist assimilation, keeping the old language and practices alive (although often radically altered, sometimes without anyone realizing it) even as most of the community drifts — runs — towards America.

Matt Welch at Reason:

Such John Edwards-style reductionism inevitably sends off alarm bells, but this paragraph in particular smelled funny to me:

[B]oth understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

Is this true? To find out I asked an old college newspaper buddy of mine, the immigration historian Christina Ziegler-McPherson, who is author of a recent book called Americanization in the States: Immigrant Social Welfare Policy, Citizenship, and National Identity in the United States, 1908-1929. She e-mailed me back 2,500 words; thought I’d pass along a few of them:

Douthat is full of crap in several ways:

1. […] [F]or much of the 19th century, except in the big cities like New York, immigrants and natives had little contact and less competition with one another, because the country was growing and was so physically big. […]

This is not to discount the nativism (i.e. the Know Nothing party) of the mid-1850s but that was a city phenomenon and was driven mostly by anti-Catholicism inspired by famine Irish immigration. Some people didn’t like “clannish” Germans but as long as they weren’t Catholic, no one complained as much. Nativism in the mid-19th century was basically an anti-Irish phenomenon. AND, in some ways, it wasn’t anti-immigrant, just anti-Catholic, and sought to slow down the integration of immigrants into the polity (i.e., by requiring a much longer period of residency before naturalization, and this was as much an elite anti-machine politics idea as anti-Irish or anti-immigrant).

Also, there was no real “national” culture until after the Civil War (and this developed gradually with industrialism and the spread of a mass media and eventually mass consumption) so there could be no “insistence” on immigrants assimilating. Who the heck is he talking about? […]

2. Nativism, and some aspects of the Americanization movement of the WWI period (especially the more coercive stuff) has always had the effect of making immigrants cling more tightly to their cultures, their languages, traditions. This is both basic psychology and is historically accurate and can be documented for many groups.

Any attack on religion (which frankly, is what anti-Muslim talk is, it’s not anti-ethnic, because there’s no ethnic group called “Muslim”) encourages more orthodoxy, not less, and is totally counter-preductive, because of the 1st Amendment. The American Catholic Church became the authoritarian institution that it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries in large part because of Anglo-American Protestants insisting that Protestantism and Americanism were synonymous and attacking Irish Catholics. […]

[T]he harder you push for “assimilation”…the more you get orthodoxy, extremism, alienation.

3. Post-WWI restrictions were separate from the Americanization movement and were not designed to encourage assimilation (although a few people did realize that assimilation might happen if immigrants were cut off from rejuvenating contact with their home cultures). The 1924 and 1929 restrictions were explicitly racist (and I mean that in the 19th century biological sense, as in, we don’t want our blood being contaminated by alien blood which is different and is incompatible with ours.)…Eugenics heavily influenced the 1924 and 1929 acts and eugenicists were the statisticians who determined the specific quotas for each group. […]

The problem of course with Douthat, besides that he has no idea about what he’s talking about, is he’s so vague. When in the 19th century? Which groups? Where? What created these “persistent ethnic divisions”? Are these institutional, cultural, created by policy? Who the heck can tell?

Alex Knapp:

First off all, you’ll note that Little Italy’s and Chinatowns still exist all over the country. There are neighborhoods on the East Coast where you’re lost if you don’t speak Italian, and neighborhoods on the West Coast where you’re lost if you don’t speak Chinese. There are people living in these neighborhoods who are still hostile to outsiders, and lots of different ethnic neighborhoods share this characteristic.And it’s important to realize that these ethnic enclaves, with their insularity and hostility to integration, not only failed to “swiftly assimilate”, they failed to swiftly assimilate because of discrimination. Because of the law and because of cultural prejudice, Italians, Chinese, Irish, Slavs, Jews and other immigrants were very often not hired by their neighbors. As a consequence, Italians hired Italians, Chinese hired Chinese, Irish hired Irish, etc. Immigrant neighborhoods were often either ignored by the police or shaken down by them for protection money. In either case, in a desperate desire for order, immigrants turned to organized crime for protection from criminals or the police. While the Mafioso were brutal, greedy and ruthless, they also kept order on the streets and took care of widows, etc. (You can actually see a similar pattern in Palestine, where Hamas was voted into power as not only a reaction against Israel and the PLO, but also because while Arafat’s government was growing rich and corrupt on foreign aid payments, Hamas was building schools and medical clinics for the destitute.)

Indeed, the combination of the rise of organized crime and the hositility from “second America” more likely delayed the integration of immigrant communities. That integration really didn’t start to happen until various immigrant populations simply became numerous enough to vote their preferred candidates into office, such as the experience of the Irish in Boston.

Another example of Douthat’s willful glossing over of history comes in his discussion of the Mormon experience:

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream.

This is a great example of how to write something that’s factually true, but rhetorically false. Given his tone, you’d think that Mormon families were getting some glares and “tsks tsks” at PTA meetings. The reality, of course, is that Mormons were violently persecuted, first by their neighbors in Illinois and Missouri, and then by the U.S. Army after they moved to Utah. The Mormons weren’t “persuaded” to abandon polygamy, they were forced to after the United States Congress disincorporated the Church and seized all Mormon assets. Mormon leaders fought the Act in the Courts, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld Congress’ Act. It was only then that the Mormons capitulated to the government. And it was a long time before Mormons got over that and became more assimilated into every day American life. And even at that, there was considerable hostility among quarters in the Republican Party against Mitt Romney because of his religion.

I definitely agree that, as a culture, Americans should encourage the integration of immigrant populations into every day life. But that integration isn’t built on fear and peer pressure. It’s built on tolerance, a shared ideal of freedom, and the embrace of new cultures into the rich tapestry of American life. Integration comes from delicious foods at Indian buffets and the required learning about American government before an immigrant takes his oath of citizenship. It certainly doesn’t come from protesting Mosques or putting up No Irish Need Apply signs on the door of your business.

UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf at Andrew Sullivan’s place

Douthat responds to Friedersdorf

Razib Khan at Secular Right

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Filed under History, Immigration, Mainstream, New Media, Religion

Felix Frankfurter, You Are Outta There!

H/T Jon Chait at TNR

James Fallows:

Lifetime tenure for Supreme Court Justices is another of the ideas from 200-plus years ago that might well be adjusted if Madison, Adams, et al had a chance to re-do the Constitution in light of current circumstances. It is inconceivable that people as practical-minded as they would have come up with today’s “two Senators for each state” model, California and Wyoming alike, which contributes to the paralysis of the Senate. (As argued here; main point is that when the Constitution was agreed to, the states were much closer in population size, rather than the 70-to-1 difference between today’s most and least populous states.) And they might well have rethought the wisdom of open-ended places on the Court.

Average life expectancy at birth during the late 1700s was 30-some years, versus 70-some now. Of course that figure is misleading, since so many people died very young — and those who reached age 50 often chugged along into their 80s. Still, circumstances have clearly changed. Part of the thick academic literature on the topic is a Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy article (PDF here), which points out that from the founding of the Republic until 1970, the average tenure of a Justice was under 15 years; since then, it’s over 26 years. As a result, actuarial considerations have become fundamental to the modern nominating process, to what the Founders would recognize as a distorting degree. It is a “wasted” appointment to choose someone over age 60, since a nominee in his or her 40s (Clarence Thomas, age 43 when chosen) or early 50s (Elena Kagan, 50) can likely cast that many more votes over the years.  The idea that we’re locking in policy for the next three or four decades makes the confirmation process all the more embittered and partisan — and dishonest, as nominees, whether John Roberts or Elena Kagan, pretend they have no settled views. Older and ailing Justices may hold onto their seats unnaturally long, too, if the “wrong” party controls the White House.

“We believe the American constitutional rule granting life tenure to Supreme Court Justices is fundamentally flawed, resulting now in Justices remaining on the Court for longer periods and to a later age than ever before in American history,” Stephen Calabresi and James Lindgren, authors of the Harvard Journal article, say. I agree with them too. This is not a new idea, and like many other Constitutional adjustments it’s probably not going to happen. But we’d be better off it if did.

More Fallows

John Sides:

This presents a nice opportunity to review some political science on this subject, in particular Justin Crowe and Chris Karpowitz’s article, “Where Have You Gone, Sherman Minton? The Decline of the Short-Term Supreme Court Justice” (gated; ungated).Crowe and Karpowitz make several important empirical points:

First, any changes in the tenure of justices over time is not due to an increase in the number of justices serving long terms. There have always been those justices on the Court. Instead, there has been a decrease in the number of short-term justices, as the title of the article suggests. This is what a measure like “average tenure” conceals. Crowe and Karpowitz write:

Our analysis suggests that mean tenure on the Court in any given period is substantially influenced by the presence or absence of the short-term justice. The long-term justice has always been—and will likely continue to be—a feature of our constitutional system. The short-term justice has been a consistent presence in every period except the most recent. When we take this development into account, we see that using measures of central tendency as evidence of an inexorable upward trend obscures the full picture. To be sure, we are currently at a historical peak in average service, though we should be careful not to over-interpret this statement about patterns of Court service. But for the absence of the short-term justice, all other trends are similar to other periods in American history

Second, justices tend to serve short terms because of illness and death in many cases but, in others, because of higher ambition (John Jay), dissatisfaction with the job (Jay again, also Minton), and occasionally scandal (Fortas).

Third, and consequently, the disappearance of the short-term justice is not just a function of better medical treatments and longer lifespans. (There were plenty of people living long lives and serving long terms on the Court, even in the early years of the United States.) It is also a function of this simple fact: serving on the Court is a much better job these days. Consider these changes, all quotes from Crowe and Karpowitz:

  • …structural changes in the justices’ working conditions, such as the elimination of circuit-riding and the expansion of support staff (secretaries, marshals, and law clerks), as well as more favorable retirement provisions.
  • …while the Court’s workload has decreased, the significant expansion of certiorari jurisdiction has meant that the justices’ control over it has increased, thereby allowing the Court to focus its attention on constitutional issues of broad national significance…the justices have assumed an increasingly prominent and meaningful role in core aspects of American political life.
  • To the extent that these issues are controversial among the public and politicians alike, they are no less so among the justices. As a result, on a closely divided and ideologically polarized Court, one vote can mean the difference between upholding and striking down laws that implicate foundational constitutional and democratic values.

Simply put, justices have more power and prestige than they used to. No wonder few want to leave the bench quickly.

But is this really a problem? Crowe and Karpowitz find it hard to muster an easy case for term limits. On the one hand, more frequent rotation through the Court could make it more accountable — i.e., closer to the public. On the other hand, this presumes that the Court should hew toward the majority’s will, and that is a problematic criterion. And, in any case, the Court is often sensitive to public opinion, even when composed of long-serving justices.

Other advocates of term limits argue that they would reduce the divisive politics of Court appointments. This is the motivation for Fallows’ post. Crowe and Karpowitz are skeptical, and I tend to agree. I doubt that presidents, Senators, interest groups, and others would suddenly stop caring as much if justices served only 6 or 8 or 12 years. A lot of the divisiveness stems from party polarization in Congress, which is not likely to go away anytime soon. Under term limits, I would foresee an increasing number of equally divisive Court battles. Indeed, they might become even more divisive because leaders would know exactly when vacancies would arise, making them even more a dominant consideration in campaigns.

Andrew Gelman:

I tentatively disagree with John on this one. It’s not that I think any of his points are wrong, exactly, and I’m sure that John is much more knowledgeable about the political science literature than I am. It’s more a matter of emphasis. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that political scientists, at least those studying American politics, are often skeptical about proposed reforms, perhaps in reaction to the overselling of such proposals by activists.

In this case, John has a bunch of reasonable arguments but it seems to me that he’s spinning them in the skeptical direction, but they could just as well be spun in the direction of reform. Let me go through the arguments in turn:

1. Long-term and short-term judges. John writes:

Any changes in the tenure of justices over time is not due to an increase in the number of justices serving long terms. There have always been those justices on the Court. Instead, there has been a decrease in the number of short-term justices.

That’s fine, but it doesn’t at all counter the argument that term limits will reduce the long terms.

2. Changes in working conditions. John writes:

Justices have more power and prestige than they used to. No wonder few want to leave the bench quickly.

This makes sense to me, and it seems related to the general pattern in our society that life is getting better for people at the top. I agree with John that this is evidence neither in favor nor against judicial term limits.

3. Divisive politics. John writes:

Other advocates of term limits argue that they would reduce the divisive politics of Court appointments. . . . Crowe and Karpowitz are skeptical, and I tend to agree. I doubt that presidents, Senators, interest groups, and others would suddenly stop caring as much if justices served only 6 or 8 or 12 years.

John seems to be making a reasonable point here. With the current partisan polarization and the current huge power of the Supreme Court, it makes sense to see ideological battles over judicial nominees. The surprise, maybe, is that this hasn’t happened more already.

4. Age. John writes:

The last argument is that the Court would benefit from youthful vigor. Advocates of this argument also point to the decline in mental acuity that some older justices have faced. Crowe and Karpowitz note, however, that if acuity is the criterion, then term limits are a not an ideal solution, since mental decline could strike even at a younger age. Coming up with an acuity test for justices would be challenging, to say the least.

I don’t buy this argument at all. Yes, mental decline could strike even at a younger age. But there’s a correlation with age, no? It seems silly to dismiss this argument just because the correlation isn’t 100%.

Beyond this, one argument I’ve heard for term limits is that, under the current system, presidents are motivated to nominate youngsters because then they can be on the court forever. With a fixed term, this motivation would be reduced (even if not completely removed).

Matthew Yglesias:

Andrew Gelman and John Sides have an interesting exchange about the merits of creating fixed tenure for Supreme Court justices. I agree with Gelman that seems like a case where Sides is suffering a bit from an occupational hazard of political scientists confronted with proposals for reform—proponents oversell them, and political scientists become unreasonably skeptical in response.

At any rate, I’m a proponent of this reform. The strongest argument I can make in favor is that it would create a less-random relationship between election outcomes and the composition of the judiciary. Right now, if John Roberts and Samuel Alito decided to go out on a double-date with their wives, and a drunk driver hits their car killing all four passengers, Barack Obama would wind up reshaping the course of American law for decades. If instead he merely found himself appointing replacements to serve out their terms we’d much reduce this kind of arbitrariness.

Then there are two related points. One is that the current system creates too many incentives for a physically or mentally incapacitated justice to try to hang on to his seat until someone more ideologically congenial gets into the White House. Conversely, the current system causes the age of a nominee to loom too large in the decision-making calculus. In exchange, life tenure accomplishes basically nothing that a longish fixed term plus a pension wouldn’t accomplish. America makes it hard to tinker with the constitution (a mixed bag, in my view) so this almost certainly won’t happen unless some turn of events focuses national attention on the potential problems embedded in the current system. But I think making the point that this is a bad system is important anyway, since there’s always the risk that foreign countries engaged in democratic transitions will decide to emulate our model.

Jonathan Bernstein:

As I’ve said, I tend to be very conservative about institutional design.  I’m suspicious of Seligism — Bud Selig, the current baseball commissioner, is constantly supporting changing long-standing design because some minor flaw turned up, without stopping to consider how various portions of the design are interrelated, or that minor flaws are inevitable regardless of design.  I’m even more suspicious of those who turn frustrations with losing in a democracy into enthusiasm for changing the system.  On the other hand, I’m not against all reform.  Serious institutional breakdown, especially with a good case for inherent design flaws, should be met with reform — the current most obvious case within American politics is California, with its impossible budget politics and destructive initiative process.  Another reason to support reform is when the underlying reality that the rules are designed for changes, so that stable rules yield an unstable political system.

One can make a pretty good argument, I think, that lifetime appointments for Supreme Court Justices fit that last category.  As Linda Greenhouse reported back in 2007, the actual length of terms for Justices has gone up dramatically since 1970 (from an average of about 15 years before then to an average of about 26 years since).  Since life expectancy continues to grow, I expect that number to only continue to increase in the future.  And the longer each appointment lasts, the more valuable it becomes, which pushes presidents to choose younger and younger nominees (although I think we’re fairly close to the lower limit on that).  Elena Kagan, should she be confirmed, may well be on the court for forty years.  At some point, I think that’s a very different system than that the Constitution envisioned.

As far as the advantages and disadvantages of the present system, Yglesias identifies two problems.  The first one, which has to do with the process in which Justices are groomed and selected, doesn’t really bother me much; as far as I can tell, the most recent selections under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama are all highly qualified and capable, so I’m not really worried about what they had to do to get there or about those who were blocked because the system works against them.  It is true, however, that the high value of each pick creates incentives to selected a certain kind of nominee: young, ideologically reliable, and ambitious enough for the Court that he or she has known from an early age to avoid saying potentially controversial things.

The second problem is that the system produces a lot of random results.  I do think is a serious flaw.  There’s no reason that the election of Jimmy Carter (who had no Court openings) should be worth less than George H.W. Bush.  Nor is it reasonable that a president can be far more influential because his nominee lives another forty years, while that of another drops dead after a decade.  Both of these always existed, but they matter far more when average tenure doubles.

The third problem is that it’s not exactly clear why the results of elections decades ago should have so much influence in governing us today.  Justice Stevens was nominated by President Ford (and for what it’s worth, that’s Unelected President Ford) and confirmed by an extremely liberal Senate.  And then Americans elected Carter, and then Reagan, and then Bush, Clinton, Bush…and still, the dead hand of the 1972 presidential electorate and the 1970, 1972 and 1974 electorates and the Senators they chose controlled 1/9th of one of three coequal branches.  Abortion is important, right?  Roe vs. Wade was decided after Nixon was reelected, and after two-thirds of the Senators who confirmed Stevens were chosen.  Of course, the nature of the Constitutional system, including not only lifetime judicial appointments but also long terms for the president and Senators, imply that the Framers intended at least some of our past decisions to govern the present and the future.  But again, at some point a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind.

More Sides:

After my post, Andy and then Matt Yglesias took issue. Let me respond briefly. (NB: All of this debate necessarily entails the willing suspension of disbelief: we’re not enacting term limits for Supreme Court justices any time soon. But it’s still fruitful to debate the idea on its merits.)

Andy’s got 4 points. The first is on the Crowe and Karpowitz finding that it’s the short-term justices who have disappeared. Andy writes:

That’s fine, but it doesn’t at all counter the argument that term limits will reduce the long terms.

Actually, it does counter the argument, if the proposal is rotating eighteen-year terms.

Only his fourth point really represents a disagreement with anything I wrote. Andy suggests that age could be a useful proxy for mental acuity:

Yes, mental decline could strike even at a younger age. But there’s a correlation with age, no? It seems silly to dismiss this argument just because the correlation isn’t 100%.

It just seems to me that term limits are a pretty blunt instrument for ensuring mental acuity. See also Frank Cross’s comment.

Yglesias suggests these reasons for supporting term limits:

…a less-random relationship between election outcomes and the composition of the judiciary.

…the current system creates too many incentives for a physically or mentally incapacitated justice to try to hang on to his seat until someone more ideologically congenial gets into the White House.

Conversely, the current system causes the age of a nominee to loom too large in the decision-making calculus.

Let’s tackle these in reverse order. This concern about the emphasis on young nominees is ubiquitous — see also Jon Bernstein and commenter Zorro for the Common Good. But the average age of the nominees isn’t really any different now than in the past. Go to p.801 of the Calabresi and Lindgren piece that James Fallows cites in his post on this subject. The average age of nominees was lower in the initial years of the Republic (about 48), but since then it’s varied between 52 and 57. The average in the period from 1971-2006 is 53 — down a little bit from the first half of the 20th century, but no different than it was for most of the 19th century. I doubt it can go much lower. It’s hard for potential nominees to be seen as sufficiently qualified for the Court otherwise.

Life tenure could create an incentive to nominate younger people, but it doesn’t seem to be happening in a real significant way. An average of 53 certainly doesn’t strike me as “too young.”

On the incentives for an incapacitated judge to hang on. It seems likely that this happens every once in a while. How serious a problem this is, I really don’t know.

More Gelman:

In my previous entry I framed John’s skepticism about term limits as an example of a more general pattern of political scientists being all too ready to dismiss proposed reforms, perhaps in reaction to the overselling of such proposals by activists. I see political scientists, as a group, as often being too committed to whatever the current system is, for example pooh-poohing campaign finance reform because it can be evaded or dismissing open primaries because there’s no convincing evidence that they will get rid of partisan polarization.

In contrast, I often feel that a reform can be a good idea, even if it doesn’t solve all the problems.it’s intended to address. For example, I think gerrymandering is way overrated as a political problem—in 1994, Gary and I even wrote a paper called Enhancing Democracy Through Legislative Redistricting in which we showed that existing redistricting (gerrymandering and all) led to more competitive elections—but I’d still support a move toward nonpartisan redistricting.

From the other direction, though, it can make sense to ask why a particular reform is being suggested at a particular time. In some cases, it’s clear: for example, the recent proposals to change Senate rules are a direct response to the sharp increase in the use of the filibuster in recent years. I’m not sure if there’s anything so topical motivating the Supreme Court discussion; maybe it’s just an issue that comes up from time to time. In any case, in response to my generic reaction that John is being a typical political scientist by reflexively dismissing a reform proposal, John might well respond that I am showing the generic reaction of naive reformers to give a default positive view to whatever flavor-of-the-month reform happens to be talked about by pundits right now.

As I noted above, my differences with John on this issue seem more of a matter of emphasis than anything else. Are lifetime appointments and long terms basically OK, given that this system has been in place for more than two centuries (as John says), or would it make sense to change the rules (as I’m inclined to think)? In any case, the data that John and others bring to the table help us to understand these arguments.

UPDATE: Andrew Gelman at FrumForum

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