Tag Archives: Tom Maguire

Subterranean Agenda Blues

Kenneth T. Walsh at US News:

On March 12, 2010, President Obama welcomed me into the Oval Office for an interview for this book. Dressed in an elegant dark blue business suit and tie with an American flag pin in his left lapel, he was serene and confident. Behind him was the portrait of George Washington that has hung in the Oval Office for many years. Flanking that portrait were two busts added by Obama, reflecting his own values and heroes—behind him on his right was a likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., and on his left was one of Abraham Lincoln.

Obama was in a reflective mood. He began the interview by saying he had been “fully briefed” on my topic and was ready for me to “dive in.” He proceeded to methodically defend his effort to build a race-neutral administration. “Americans, since the victories of the civil rights movement, I think, have broadly come to accept the notion that everybody has to be treated equally; everybody has to be treated fairly,” the president told me. “And I think that the whole debate about how do you make up for past history creates a complicated wrinkle in that principle of equality.”

[…]

But Obama, in his most candid moments, acknowledged that race was still a problem. In May 2010, he told guests at a private White House dinner that race was probably a key component in the rising opposition to his presidency from conservatives, especially right-wing activists in the anti-incumbent “Tea Party” movement that was then surging across the country. Many middle-class and working-class whites felt aggrieved and resentful that the federal government was helping other groups, including bankers, automakers, irresponsible people who had defaulted on their mortgages, and the poor, but wasn’t helping them nearly enough, he said.

A guest suggested that when Tea Party activists said they wanted to “take back” their country, their real motivation was to stir up anger and anxiety at having a black president, and Obama didn’t dispute the idea. He agreed that there was a “subterranean agenda” in the anti-Obama movement—a racially biased one—that was unfortunate. But he sadly conceded that there was little he could do about it.

His goal, he said, was to be as effective and empathetic a president as possible for all Americans. If he could accomplish that, it would advance racial progress for blacks more than anything else he could do.

Mike Riggs at Daily Caller:

Pres. Obama has successfully avoided reducing the complex populist outrage of the Tea Party to racial anxiety–in public, that is. Behind closed doors, however, he allegedly has no problem distorting the motivations of anti-government types.

Roger L. Simon at Pajamas Media:

That was May 2010, according to Walsh. Ironically, only a few days before, on April 29, 2010, your humble scribe wrote the following:

The real reason liberals accuse Tea Partiers of racism is that contemporary America-style liberalism is in rigor mortis. Liberals have nothing else to say or do. Accusations of racism are their last resort.

The European debt crisis — first Greece, then Portugal and now Spain (and Belgium, Ireland and Italy, evidently) — has shown the welfare state to be an unsustainable economic system. The US, UK and Japan, according to the same Financial Times report, are also on similar paths of impoverishment through entitlements.

Many of us have known this for a long time, just from simple math. Entitlements are in essence a Ponzi scheme. Now we have to face that and do something serious about it or our economy (the world economy) will fall apart.

Liberals, leftists or progressives — whatever they choose to call themselves — have a great deal of trouble accepting this. To do so they would have to question a host of positions they have not examined for years, if ever, not to mention have to engage in discussions that could threaten their livelihood and jeopardize their personal and family associations.

Thus the traditional wish to kill the messenger who brings the bad news: the Tea Partiers. And the easiest way to kill them — the most obvious and hoariest of methods – is to accuse them of racism.

When I wrote that, it was a month after Andrew Breitbart issued his as yet unanswered $100,000 challenge for evidence of racism at a Tea Party demonstration. So this is now already a relatively old debate. And the same arguments keep coming up again and again. The left keeps accusing the right of racism and the right keeps denying it, demanding evidence, which is never forthcoming. Not once. But that doesn’t stop the left. They continue the accusations — and the president, at least according to Walsh, believes them.

Bryan Preston at PJ Tatler:

There was, of course, no evidence at all that the Tea Parties had any racial motive whatsoever, and there still isn’t. None. They’re not motivated by race, but by policy. They consider Obama’s policies to be dangerous and destructive, and they’re right on both counts.

But this president, and the people he hires (think Eric “nation of cowards,” “my people” Holder, Van Jones, etc) can’t seem to abide opposition based on policy. Either that, or they’re using race cynically as a way to freeze the shallower thinkers around them and try to put legitimate critics out into the political outer darkness. Charges of racism do both quite nicely.

Tom Maguire:

I think (hope?!?) he was being polite to some fat-cat donors rather than describing his own convictions (and I am bitterly clinging to the notion that he has some convictions).  Huckabee going on about Obama’s Kenyan attitudes would be an example from the right of pandering to the nutters rather than challenging them.

Obviously, your mileage may vary.

THEN AGAIN:  The First Panderer is also the First Condescender, so he might very well believe the worst of these lowly Tea Partiers…

Patterico at Patterico’s Pontification:

Of course, it’s difficult to know what he said and how he said it from this report, as it is admittedly full of paraphrases, and lacks the clarifying aids of a recording or even direct quotes longer than two words. Depending on what he said, he may have been accurate — there clearly is a racial component to some of the opposition to Obama. The issue is how widespread he portrayed this aspect of his opposition to be. Because most of us really don’t care about the color of his skin. The color we’re worried about is red — all the red ink required to document the effects of his disastrous policies on our national balance sheet. (Look at it as a stimulus program: Obama will save or create thousands of jobs at the manufacturers of the red ink hues!)

Given how uncertain it is what he said, how’s about a journalist asks him at his next press conference? Let’s get some clarification on just how racist he thinks Tea Partiers really are.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

What a horrible disappointment this man has been as president.
2012 cannot get here soon enough.

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Filed under Political Figures, Politics, Race

We Got Them Pech Valley Blues

C. J. Chivers, Alissa J. Rubin and Wesley Morgan in NYT:

After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Matt Cantor at Newser:

Military leaders say the valley ate up more resources than was appropriate considering its importance, that troops can be better used elsewhere, and that there aren’t enough troops for a clear victory in the region even if they did stay. “What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-US or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” notes an official. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.” But insurgents will likely see this as a victory for their side, the Times notes. As for the Afghan troops that will remain behind, “It will be a suicidal mission,” says a former Afghan battalion leader.

Joshua Foust at Registan:

In a way, this will be more than a test. Our ultimate goal for every part of the country, whether Panjshir or Marjah, is to leave competent Afghan forces in our wake so we can withdraw responsibly. It is, in many ways, the only real strategy we have left, since the state-building that should be accompanying it remains embarrassingly negligent. Pech also isn’t the only place we’re pondering this. The French are trying this in Sarobi district of Kabul provinceᾹan area of acute emotional reaction in France because of all the casualties they’ve taken in the area. Sarobi, however, has been relatively calm as of late, so there is something of a push to declare it a success and hand over responsibility to the Afghans.

Sarobi hasn’t seen much violence in the last six months. There are appropriate concerns over why that is, including the political savvy of local militants who might just want to wait out the French until the area is open again. It is also a short drive from both Kabul and Bagram, meaning if something does go wrong help is very close by. There is a sense that the area has been “won” by the French, so therefore it is an appropriate time to handover the area to the Afghans, who will maintain that win.

Pech is a harder decision to make. It is remote and difficult to get to, either by land or air. There hasn’t been a reduction of violence in recent months. In fact, the network of river valleys centered on Pech are probably the most violent in the country: the Waigal Valley (where the Want base was attacked), the Korengal, Watapor. The only area nearby that’s been worse is Kamdesh, in Eastern Nuristan.

Tom Maguire:

The WaPo covered the action in the Pech Valley late last year:

U.S. troops battle to hand off a valley resistant to Afghan governance

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2010; 12:00 AM

IN PECH VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN — Earlier this year, Lt. Col. Joseph Ryan concluded that his 800-soldier battalion was locked in an endless war for an irrelevant valley.

“There is nothing strategically important about this terrain,” said Ryan, 41, a blunt commander who has spent much of the past decade in combat. “We fight here because the enemy is here. The enemy fights here because we are here.”

Ryan’s challenge for the past several months has been to figure out a way to leave the Pech Valley, home to about 100,000 Afghans, without handing the insurgents a victory. This fall he launched a series of offensives into the mountains to smash Taliban sanctuaries. His goal is to turn the valley over to Afghan army and police units who would work out their own accommodation with bloodied insurgents.

“The best thing we can do is to pull back,” he said, “and let the Afghans figure this place out.”

So it is all going according to the latest revised plan and there may be a bit of hype in the current Times headline

Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy:

So how can you or I tell if the war is going well or not? For that matter, how can Barack Obama be sure that he’s getting the straight scoop from his commanders in the field? Even if the military was initially skeptical about a decision to go to war, once committed to the field its job is to deliver a victory. No dedicated military organization wants to admit it can’t win, especially when it is facing a much smaller, less well-armed, and objectively “inferior” foe like the Taliban. Troops in the field also need to believe in the mission, and to be convinced that success is possible.

To the extent that they need to keep civilian authorities and the public on board, therefore, we can expect military commanders to tell an upbeat story, even when things aren’t going especially well. I am not saying that they lie; I’m saying that they have an incentive to “accentuate the positive” in order to convince politicians, the press, and the public that success will be ours if we just persevere. Indeed, this was one of the key “lessons” that the U.S. military took from Vietnam: Success in modern war — and especially counterinsurgency — depends on more effective “information management” on the home front. And this tendency is not unique to the United States or even to democracies; one sees the same phenomenon in most wars, no matter who is fighting.

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Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT

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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Filed under Middle East

Tucson II

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up of reacts.

David Frum at FrumForum:

What a terrible assignment, especially for a father of young daughters. The president did the job he needed to do, struck the appropriate notes in the appropriate way. He conspicuously forbore to make political points, quite the contrary: he urged against finger-pointing, in this sense agreeing with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. “But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.”

The president’s challenge, as so often, was to make a human connection. In that, he succeeded tonight. He paid tribute to the individuality of the lost, honored the pain of the bereaved, and was crucial in bringing together the collective community acknowledgement of grief that is the only available comfort to those who mourn.
Rich Lowry at The Corner:

The pep-rally atmosphere was inappropriate and disconcerting, but President Obama turned in a magnificent performance. This was a non-accusatory, genuinely civil, case for civility, in stark contrast to what we’ve read and heard over the last few days. He subtly rebuked the Left’s finger-pointing, and rose above the rancor of both sides, exactly as a president should. Tonight, he re-captured some of the tone of his famous 2004 convention speech. Well done.

Michelle Malkin:

Bottom line:

Speeches and leadership are not the same thing.

Obama delivered one tonight, but failed at the other over the past three days as Pima County Sheriff Dupnik, Democrat Party leaders, and media abettors poisoned the public square with the very vitriol the president now condemns.

Right speech. Too late. Awful, awful venue.

Obama gets some goodreviews for hisspeech in the NY Times (and the sun rose in the east…).  Having read the speech, I am a bit of a non-believer – as with his condemnation of both Jeremiah Wright and his own grandmother or the criticism of left-winger Bill Ayers and offsetting righty Tom Coburn, Obama took his normal conciliatory tack of rebuking both sides and presenting himself as the calm man in the middle.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Barack Obama spoke to the city of Tucson, and to the United States of America, not so much as our President tonight, but as a member of our family. He spoke as a son–I couldn’t help but think of his personal regret over not being by his mother’s side when she passed as he said, “Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder.” You could see the devastation insinuate itself onto, and then be quietly willed away from, his face. He spoke as a brother to his fellow public servants, killed and wounded in the events–an eager brother bringing the glad tidings the Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes. He repeated it, joyously, three times. But most of all, he spoke as a father–rising to a glorious peak describing the departed 9-year-old, Christine Taylor Green, a girl near the age of his daughters, whose own deaths, perhaps in the line of fire, he had so clearly been thinking about. And he spoke, more broadly, as the head of our national family, comforting, uplifting, scolding a little, nudging us toward our better angels.

Some of my friends may criticize Obama for not defending Palin specifically, or for waiting until the memorial to have rebuked those attempting to exploit the deaths for political gain.  On the first point, though, this was a memorial service and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to name other names than the dead, the wounded, and the heros who helped save lives.  The second point may be germane criticism of the previous couple of days, but even if it came late, Obama stepped up and led last night.

So kudos to President Obama for what may be the finest moment of his presidency.  I disagree with his policies and many of his tactics, and I will have no problem getting back to work in opposing them after this post publishes.  But he deserves credit and gratitude for his leadership at a point in time where the nation needed it, and I’m happy to give him both.

James Fallows:

The standard comparisons of the past four days have been to Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster and Bill Clinton after Oklahoma City. Tonight’s speech matched those as a demonstration of “head of state” presence, and far exceeded them as oratory — while being completely different in tone and nature. They, in retrospect, were mainly — and effectively — designed to note tragic loss. Obama turned this into a celebration — of the people who were killed, of the values they lived by, and of the way their example could bring out the better in all of us and in our country.

That is to Obama’s imaginative credit. (Even as the event began, I was wondering how he would find a way to match to somber tone of Reagan and Clinton.) More later, but a performance to remember — this will be, along with his 2004 Convention speech and his March, 2008 “meaning of race” speech in Philadelphia, one of the speeches he is lastingly known for — and to add to the list of daunting political/oratorical challenges Obama has not merely met but mastered.

David Weigel:

Last night, there arose a chorus of mostly-conservatives on Twitter attacking the tone of the memorial service in Tucson. There was some coverage on Fox News — there’s some more today — of this, but it didn’t define coverage. Nonetheless, Glenn Thrush reports that Robert Gibbs was asked about it, and surmised that the 13,000-odd people in attendance were “celebrating the miracle of those who survived” when they cheered.

We have a point of reference for all of this. In 2002, conservatives and Republicans complained that the tone of a memorial for Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) was too political, too cheery. Wellstone’s sons explicitly asked the crowd — which included Republicans like Trent Lott — to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.”

Is that going to happen to the Tucson memorial? It shouldn’t. There was no partisan political message, although I suppose you could say that the president’s criticism of “cynicism or vitriol” buttressed what Democrats had been saying recently. I’d also argue that the tone in Tucson was more like the tone at the impromptu rally in New York City on September 13, 2001 —  the “bullhorn moment.” Wellstone was killed in an airplane accident. The Tucson victims were killed by a gunman who is awaiting trial and whose creepy smiling face has been made famous since Saturday. Thousands of New Yorkers — people didn’t know how many at the time — were killed by terrorists who committed suicide, but were led by terrorists still on the loose. (“The people who did this,” in Bush’s phrase.)

It isn’t up to anyone else how somebody grieves a local tragedy. And the tone at Tucson was understandable if you understand what, exactly, they were grieving or angry about.

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Filed under Political Figures

Tucson

James Fallows:

After this horrible news from Tucson….

… let me amplify something I said half-coherently in a live conversation with Guy Raz on All Things Considered a little while ago. My intended point was:

Shootings of political figures are by definition “political.” That’s how the target came to public notice; it is why we say “assassination” rather than plain murder.

But it is striking how rarely the “politics” of an assassination (or attempt) match up cleanly with the main issues for which a public figure has stood. Some killings reflect “pure” politics: John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln, the German officers who tried to kill Hitler and derail his war plans. We don’t know exactly why James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but it must have had a lot to do with civil rights.

There is a longer list of odder or murkier motives:
– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.

– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

So the train of logic is:
1) anything that can be called an “assassination” is inherently political;
2) very often the “politics” are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than “normal” political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow “responsible” for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)

That’s the further political ramification here. We don’t know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we’ll never “understand.” But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac’s famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about “eliminating” opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say “don’t retreat, reload.”

Jack Shafer at Slate:

The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six innocents outside a Tucson Safeway has bolstered the ongoing argument that when speaking of things political, we should all avoid using inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery.

“Shooting Throws Spotlight on State of U.S. Political Rhetoric,” reports CNN. “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics,” states the New York Times. Keith Olbermann clocked overtime on Saturday to deliver a commentary subtitled “The political rhetoric of the country must be changed to prevent acts of domestic terrorism.” The home page of the Washington Post offered this headline to its story about the shooting: “Rampage Casts Grim Light on U.S. Political Discord.”

The lead spokesman for the anti-inflammatory movement, however, was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose jurisdiction includes Tucson. Said Dupnik at a Jan. 8 press conference in answer to questions about the criminal investigation:

I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.

And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.

Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.

For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

Alex Massie:

So apparently a pretty stupid Sarah Palin poster from last year in which gunsights were slapped over 20 districts carried by John McCain from which the Democratic incumbent had voted for Obamacare, is now to be considered the inspiration for this atrocity. Mrs Palin has some influence, but let’s not get carried away. For what it’s worth – and readers know that I’m hardly her greatest fan – I do not think she is very much more responsible for this abomination than Jodie Foster was for John Hinckley’s attempt to murder Ronald Reagan. In any case, Palin’s poster was only a souped-up version of a campaign trope that both parties have been happy to employ in the past. (That said, Palin Presidential Futures, already worth shorting, took another dive yesterday.)

But the sordid temptations of politics are such that people who argue there’s little sensible connection between Hollywood “violence” and real-world violence now suddenly insist that it just takes a silly poster and plenty of over-heated rhetoric to inspire America’s Top Kooks to come out of the closet, all guns blazing. And of course the reverse is also true: people happy to blame Grand Theft Auto for just about anything now insist there’s no connection at all between the tone of political discourse (“Second Amendment Solutions!”) and some nut taking these notions just a little bit too seriously.

Clearly, things are a little more complicated than that. While you cannot legislate for lunatics there’s also little need to give them any encouragement. But the more we learn about Jared Loughner the more it seems probable – at this stage – that he’s the kind of mentally unstable person who neither needed nor took any inspiration from Palin or the Tea Party or anything other than powerful fantasies that were his own creation.

And this too is normal. Political violence of this type is almost definitionally unhinged but it’s striking how rare it turns out to be the case that the perpetrators can be fitted into one neat political profile or another. And even when they can their targets are frequently so at odds with the meaning of their supposed “philosophy” that trying to “make sense” of such matters becomes an even more frustrating task.

Anyway, we may think these are unusually turbulent times, fanned by unusual quantities of cheap and phoney populism, scaremongering and hysteria but this is not in fact the case. ‘Twas ever thus and the 1960s offer a perspective that might be worth looking at if only, despite all the huffing and puffing, to appreciate how calm and at peace America is these days. Remember McKinley and Garfield too, if you want to go still further back. America ain’t tearing itself apart these days, no matter how much Paul Krugman tries to persuade you it must be. The paranoid style has rarely lacked followers and, just as significantly, the centre has also always had a healthy paranoia of its own. Sometimes, as is the case today or in the aftermath of any other act of grim violence, this will seem unusually plausible.

Most of the time, however, the scare stories about a new era of Militiamen or whatever are seriously over-cooked. The temper of these American  times – despite what you will read everywhere today and tomorrow – is not unusually rebarbative or even uncommonly obtuse. (What might be said, mind you, is that the level of rhetoric is out of proportion to the stakes involved in the political game these days.)

The fact of the matter is that a country of 300 million people cannot help but be generously larded with oddballs, freaks, paranoids and assorted other nutters. Couple that with the American genius for self-realization and you soon begin to wonder why there isn’t more politically-themed violence than is actually the case

Radley Balko:

We’re going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about putting an end to anti-government rhetoric. I’ve been listening to it all morning on the Sunday talk shows. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.

But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence you see in these videos is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)

I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

Michelle Malkin

Jonathan Martin in Politico

Keach Hagey in Politico

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

There’s no question that the GOP and its proponents are more than ready to play a similar game. Any moral lapse by a Democrat, for instance, is an ethical rot that stems directly from the malefactor’s stance on the minimum wage or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, say, while hypocrites such as Sen. Larry Craig and Tom DeLay are ethical one-offs. The most-unbelievable response in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was longterm GOP activist Jerry Falwell’s announcement on Pat Robertson’s TV network that gays and women wearing pants etc. were responsible for radical Islamists killing 3,000 people (even more sadly, years after Falwell apologized for his self-evidently retarded statement, conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza blew out the thesis into a full-length book). I’m not trying to be “fair and balanced” here by bringing up GOP stupidity; I’m trying to point out that we’re in a decade of this sort craptastic instantaneous spin that latches on to everything in its path. I say this as someone who was fingered as broadly responsible for the culture that produced “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.

Readers of this site know I’m no Sarah Palin fan, but to accuse her of complicity in the murderous spree of a clearly insane person is one of the main reasons that partisan political parties are losing market share. I had myself tweeted that blaming Palin for Jared Loughner’s mass killing would be like blaming J.D. Salinger for Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon (and as Jesse Walker pointed out, in Chapman’s case, at least we could be sure Chapman had read Salinger). Given Loughner’s fixation on grammar and the supposed lack of literacy evinced by most Americans, maybe William Safire and S.I. Hayakawa should be held responsible.

Like Matt Welch and Jack Shafer, I don’t think that today’s political rhetoric is particularly overheated or vitriolic and, even if it were, I don’t think that would be a problem. I suspect that most people are like me in that they respond to folks who actually believe something and are willing to fight for it when it comes to a particular political issue. I don’t like bipartisanship, which usually means that all of us get screwed, but it’s easy enough to respect someone you virulently disagree with if you think they are arguing in good faith.

The problem isn’t with the current moment’s rhetoric, it’s with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there’s a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.

That sort of clearly calculated punditry helps explain one of last week’s other big stories, which is how both the Dems and the GOP have really bad brand loyalty these days. In its most recent survey of political self-identification, Gallup found that the Dems were at their lowest point in 22 years and that the GOP remains stuck below the one-third mark. The affiliation that has the highest marks for the past couple of decades on average and is growing now is independent. Faced with the way that the major parties and their partisans try to bend every news story, trend, box office hit or bomb, you name it, whether truly horrific (as Saturday’s shooting was) or totally banal, is it any wonder that fewer people want to be affiliated with the Dems and Reps? This is a long-term trend. Indeed, Harris Poll numbers that stretch back to the late ’60s show the same trend: Fewer and few folks want to view themselves as Democrats and the GOP has never been popular (even though far more people consider themselves “conservative” than “liberal”). And note what Gallup are Harris are talking about there is not party registration. It’s identification and self-affiliation; how you see yourself. It’s a cultural identity.

Paul Krugman at The New York Times

Ross Douthat at The New York Times

Tom Maguire on Krugman

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

At 2:00 a.m. on Saturday—about eight hours before he allegedly killed six people and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in Tucson—Jared Lee Loughner phoned an old and close friend with whom he had gone to high school and college. The friend, Bryce Tierney, was up late watching TV, but he didn’t answer the call. When he later checked his voice mail, he heard a simple message from Loughner: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later.”

That was it. But later in the day, when Tierney first heard about the Tucson massacre, he had a sickening feeling: “They hadn’t released the name, but I said, ‘Holy shit, I think it’s Jared that did it.'” Tierney tells Mother Jones in an exclusive interview that Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a “fake.” Loughner’s animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says. He also describes Loughner as being obsessed with “lucid dreaming”—that is, the idea that conscious dreams are an alternative reality that a person can inhabit and control—and says Loughner became “more interested in this world than our reality.” Tierney adds, “I saw his dream journal once. That’s the golden piece of evidence. You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner’s mind, there’s a dream journal that will tell you everything.”

Peter Beinart at Daily Beast:

Liberals should stop acting like the Tea Party is guilty of inciting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting until proven innocent. That’s unfair. If someone finds evidence that violent anti-government, or anti-democratic, rhetoric helped trigger Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree, then the people making those statements should pay with their political careers. But so far, at least, there is no such evidence. Of course, Sarah Palin should stop using hunting metaphors to discuss her political opponents. She should stop doing that, and a dozen other idiotic things. But just as Tea Partiers are wrong to promiscuously throw around terms like “communist” and “death panels,” liberals should avoid promiscuously accusing people of being accessories to attempted murder. That’s too serious a charge to throw around unless you have the goods. I want Barack Obama to derail the congressional Republicans as much as anyone. But not this way.

The Giffords shooting doesn’t prove that Sarah Palin has blood on her hands. What it does prove is that when it comes to terrorism, people like Sarah Palin have a serious blind spot. On the political right, and at times even the political center, there is a casual assumption—so taken for granted that it is rarely even spoken—that the only terrorist threat America faces is from jihadist Islam. There was a lot of talk a couple of weeks back, you’ll remember, about a terrorist attack during the holiday season. And there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the threat of homegrown terrorists. Well, we’ve just experienced a terrorist attack over the holiday season, and it was indeed homegrown. Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah? There’s a tradition here. Historically, American elites, especially conservative American elites, have tended to reserve the term “terrorism” for political violence committed by foreigners. In the early 20th century, for instance, there was enormous fear, even hysteria, about the terrorist threat from anarchist and communist immigrants from Eastern or Southern Europe, people like Sacco and Vanzetti. In the aftermath of World War I, large numbers of immigrant radicals were arrested and deported. Nothing similar happened to members of the white, protestant Ku Klux Klan, even though its violence was more widespread.

Similarly today, the media spends the Christmas season worrying how another attack by radical Muslims might undermine President Obama’s national-security credentials. But when Jared Lee Loughner shoots 20 people at a Safeway, barely anyone even comments on what it says about the president’s anti-terror bona fides. And yet Loughner’s attack is, to a significant degree, what American terror looks like. Obviously, jihadists have committed their share of terrorism on American soil in the last couple of decades—from the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to the 9/11 attacks to Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. But there have been at least as many attacks by white Americans angry at their own government or society. For almost two decades, culminating in 1995, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski sent mail bombs to people he considered complicit in industrial America’s assault on nature. (A surprising amount of recent American terrorism comes from militant environmentalists.) That same year, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the second-largest recent terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11. In 1996, Eric Rudolph bombed the Atlanta Olympics to protest abortion and international socialism. According to the FBI, opposition to abortion also played a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks (you know, the ones Dick Cheney were sure had been masterminded by Saddam Hussein). In 2009, Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered. (He had already been shot once, and his clinic had been bombed.) That same year octogenarian neo-Nazi James Wenneker von Brunn shot a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Last February, a man angry at the federal government flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.

Instapundit at The Wall Street Journal

Ezra Klein:

None of this, of course, will ease the suffering of Giffords or her family, nor of any of the other individuals and families directly affected by this morning’s slaughter. For them, the process of grieving and recovering has barely begun. Loughner’s shooting might’ve been motivated by mental illness, but the people in that parking lot were motivated by democracy: It was a meeting between a congressional representative and those she represents. They were attacked for being good citizens, and nothing can ever put that right.

But one way that people might pay tribute is to follow their example and attend the next meeting held by their representative. It is so easy and safe to participate in the American political system that we sometimes take doing so for granted. Today was a horrifying look into a world in which that isn’t so, and it should leave us with renewed appreciation for, and determination to protect, the world we have. On this, Giffords was way ahead of us: When the 112th session of the House of Representatives convened to read the Constitution earlier this week, she chose to read the section guaranteeing Americans the right “peaceably to assemble.”

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Filed under Crime, Political Figures, Politics

And The Last Unemployment Report Of 2010 Says…

Jared Keller at The Atlantic:

The national unemployment rate dropped from 9.8% to 9.4% in December, its lowest level in nearly nine months. The Labor Department reported that the economy added 103,000 jobs, while the agency also revised estimates from the two earlier months, reporting that 210,000 jobs were created in October instead of 172,000, and 71,000 in November, instead of 39,000.

Ross Kaminsky at The American Spectator:

Interestingly, the unemployment rate dropped for adult men and for whites, but not substantially for adult women (already doing far better than adult men, at 8.1 percent unemployment versus 9.4 percent for men), teenagers (an astounding 25.4 percent), blacks (15.8 percent), and Hispanics (13 percent).

According to BLS, “Employment rose in leisure and hospitality and in health care but changed little in other major industries. Since December 2009, total payroll employment has increased by 1.1 million, or an average of 94,000 per month.” There was a small gain in retail employment after a surprise loss in November. The goods-producing sector was essentially unchanged in December, down 2,000 jobs after being down 5,000 jobs in November. There were small gains in mining and manufacturing, offset by losses in construction, including civil engineering and residential building

Steve Benen:

For much of 2010, this was important because of the sharp differences we’ve seen between the private and public sectors. Most notably, the rise and fall of Census Bureau jobs can offer a skewed picture — some months, such as May 2010, look better than they should, because the monthly total is exaggerated by hundreds of thousands of Census jobs. Other months, such as June 2010, are distorted in the other direction, looking worse than they should.

But that period is just about over. In December, while the public sector lost 10,000 jobs, the private sector added 113,000 jobs, the 12th consecutive month of private-sector growth, which is nice, but not as nice as more robust job creation. The totals for both October and November, however, were revised upwards and appeared more at least slightly more encouraging.

Doug Mataconis:

It’s impossible to say we’re even anywhere close to recovery in the jobs market until the number of new jobs created, net of jobs eliminated, is at the 150,000 per month level and above. And that rate is going to have to be sustained for many, many, many months before the long impact of the Great Recession is really behind us.

So, yea, this is good news, but let’s not fool ourselves here. The jury is still out when it comes to jobs.

Update: Over at his own place, Dave Schuler is puzzled about the new jobs numbers:

Riddle me this. How can the U-3 unemployment rate fall sharply, the U-6 unemployment rate fall sharply, the number of long-term unemployed remain essentially the same and the economy only create 100K jobs? Inquiring minds want to know.

Indeed, and this was one of the first questions that went through my mind when I saw the figures this morning. It’s actually the second month in a row that we’ve had an odd jobs report. Back in December, the November jobs report initially came in with only 39,000 jobs created. That number was revised today to a net job creation of 71,000, nearly double the amount first reported. It leads one to wonder if there isn’t something odd going on at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Felix Salmon:

There’s no doubt that the headline payrolls number is a disappointment. The economy just doesn’t seem to be creating jobs: we need to see 150,000 new jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth. But is there some good news, at least, on the unemployment front?

I’m not sure. While unemployment is down from both December 2009 and December 2010, it’s down only for those who have been out of work for less than 26 weeks. The ranks of the long-term unemployed are still rising

Tom Maguire:

So, Team Obama gets a good headline today, probably borrowed against subsequent reports in which job creation will improve (we hope!) but the unemployment rate will stall or even rise (as discouraged workers find hope and look for change in their status).

Ezra Klein:

The fine folks at the Hamilton Project sent me this (frankly terrifying) graph showing how long it would take to reverse our job losses at various rates of payroll growth. Note that every line on here is showing vastly more job growth than we’ve seen for any sustained period thus far in the downturn:

image001.gif

 

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Filed under Economics, The Crisis

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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