Monthly Archives: July 2011

Statesman oped: Texas Democrats’ conservatism widespread outside of Austin

This oped was published in the Austin American-Statesman on July 28, 2010.

Shortly after the 2006 gubernatorial election, a young Democratic activist invited me out for coffee to tell me how I screwed up as the campaign manager for Democrat Chris Bell. And such was my fragile state after the grueling, two-year campaign that I accepted.

It wasn’t that the Democratic donor base had abandoned its party’s nominee in favor of Comptroller Carole Strayhorn, who had abandoned her own Republican Party to run against Rick Perry.

And it wasn’t that satirist Kinky Friedman had made cynicism cool and captured thousands of disaffected white Democrats.

It was that he thought Chris Bell wasn’t liberal enough.

“You should have had Chris Bell be for gay marriage. I just think Chris Bell could have really gotten Democrats excited if he had come out for legalizing gay marriage,” this guy told me.

I certainly made mistakes as Bell’s manager in 2006, but to cast Bell as the standard-bearer for gay marriage a year after Texans voted a ban on same-sex unions into the state Constitution by a 3-to-1 margin would have been a huge political mistake. But when you live in Austin, it’s an easy one to make.

Democratic primaries in Austin can be as humorless and judgmental as telling a bride that she doesn’t deserve to wear white.

We inflict purity tests on one another’s partisan fidelity that Barack Obama couldn’t pass. But in a city where every other car on MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) has an Obama bumper sticker, it’s easy to forget that all Democrats in Texas aren’t as liberal as we are.

They’re not even all Democrats. I did a statewide campaign in 2008 that polled Democratic Primary voters and found that only 73 percent of them were actually Democrats.

Texas Democrats are more conservative than anyone in Austin might imagine.

Bryan Dooley, a Democratic pollster with Hamilton Campaigns out of Florida, says that Texas Democrats are more conservative than Democrats in Georgia, but more moderate than Democrats in Alabama and Mississippi.

Yet most Austin Democrats have no problem demanding that their statewide candidates take positions to the left of Nancy Pelosi and think the reason we don’t win is that we didn’t yell loudly enough.

You can rally at the Capitol on a sunny day and think the blue skies go all the way from El Paso to Texarkana, but Texans get pretty conservative when you leave Austin’s city limits.

As much as we might hate to admit it, Austin Democrats might have more in common with our moderate Republican neighbors than with our partisan brothers from out of town.

Here in Austin, we all know Republicans who are pro-choice. But in Texas, 43 percent of Democratic primary voters are anti-abortion rights. In Austin, we get excited when we discover that our new carpet was made from recycled two-liter bottles and get angry at the thought that the Forumla One racetrack might pollute our air.

Yet 30 percent of Texas Democrats think environmental regulations hurt the economy.

Despite what my friend said, 45 percent of Texas Democrats in 2008 would choose a candidate who opposes gay marriage and favors civil unions over one who supports gay marriage.

Dooley, the Democratic pollster, says Texas Democrats continue to fit the mold of Southern conservatives because socially conservative Hispanics and blacks replaced the Dixiecrats.

The conservatism of Hispanics is clearest — and most surprising — when you look at the immigration questions in that 2008 poll.

It found that a third of Hispanics supported building a border wall, and that was the good news for liberals.

Fully 35 percent of Hispanics voting in the Texas Democratic primary opposed giving preventive health care to illegal immigrants because it could provide an “incentive for illegals to have children here.”

That’s right. More than a third of Texas Hispanic Democrats were worried about anchor babies.

“Texas is an example of why it is a myth that Southern conservative Democrats are disappearing,” Dooley said. “They exist. They are just becoming more brown and less white.”

You can’t fix all the problems of Texas Democrats in one column, but a good place to start would for Team Blue — and this includes me — to be as accepting of ideological diversity as we are of racial diversity.

 

Más for the blog:  It’s really quite stunning when you look at a poll of Texas Democrats just how conservative Texans are.  In the 2008 statewide Democratic Primary poll I referenced in the oped, voters were given several choices about which kind of candidate they would prefer.  Here’s what I couldn’t fit into the column:

 

54% “Lawsuits are a necessary protection for people who are harmed by corporations and powerful interests.”

33% “We need to make it harder for people to sue corporations with lawsuits when they think they have been harmed.”

 

55% “A candidate who supports universal health care.”

37% “A candidate who supports increasing access to health care and reducing costs but says universal health care is too expensive.”

 

54% “A candidate who thinks Congress should end America’s involvement in Iraq by cutting off spending except for money to help troops defend themselves while the U.S. withdraws.”

37% “A candidate who does not think Congress should cut off spending for war in Iraq since the president is the commander-in-chief and Congress voted to give him the authority to go to Iraq in this first place.”

 

51% “A Democratic candidate with smart progressive ideas and a record of successfully fighting for what he believes in who has supported a few Republican candidates in the past.”

34% “A Democratic candidate with an impressive personal story who has consistently worked to promote Democratic Party policies and candidates.”

 

45% “A candidate who opposes gay marriage, but favors civil unions for gay couples.”

34% “A candidate who supports gay marriage.”

 

Update: Greg Wythe over at Greg’s Opinion offers his personal experiences on the theme of ideological diversity within the Democratic Party.

One snippet doesn’t do it justice, so stop whatever you’re doing and go read. Jason’s observations obviously track with my own in this instance. And in full disclosure, I count Jason as a friend, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’d agree with at least a few comments he makes. But the takeaway from this is obvious: the Democratic Party of the purest liberal variety (or at least as envisioned by some) does not encompass the entirety of the Democratic Party coalition that exists in reality.

Thanks, Greg.

Hell yeah, I’m partisan

My wife’s cousin is a smart fella, and funny too. If I had to round up all the smartest people I know whom I’d want to repopulate the world after another flood, he’d be on the ark despite the fact that he’s a libertarian. The reason I’m saying all these nice things about him is not because he’s related to me by marriage. I’m complimenting him because it’s what I believe.

This cousin read my blog the other day, something I was worried about since he’s a libertarian, and I didn’t want him to be offended.  But instead of me making him upset, it was the other way around.  He commented that he agreed with some of what I had written but concluded that I defended Democrats because I worked for them, making a comparison to the loyalty that is expected of the head coach to the Green Bay Packers. It’s actually the other way around.  You can read the whole exchange here, but the crux of my response was this:

The coach of the Green Bay Packers does have to be loyal to his team, but it doesn’t work that way in politics, or at least it doesn’t with me, and it certainly doesn’t on this blog. I am a Democrat and have made it my professional life because it’s what I believe is the right thing to do to achieve progress. I am not a Democrat because they pay me. Often, they don’t. Strangely, I am still a Democrat. And as for this blog, you can rest assured that I believe every damn word because there’s no money in writing this.

I’m not a partisan Democrat because I get the honor of working for egos in pants who truly think that it’s an honor for me to work for them. I’m a Democrat because we’re right and they’re wrong.  Both sides are not equally to blame, and they are not making proposals that are equally valid.  But we’re not allowed to say this, because it would be partisan. That must end.

Despite Obama having created more jobs than in both terms of the W administration and despite the utter lack of credibility remaining in Republican economic theories (deregulation? trickle-down economics?), Republicans can preach the evils of government spending without censure, but Obama’s not allowed to say they’re wrong without being called “partisan.”   Like the dutiful daughter, Democrats aren’t allowed to make the indolent son look bad by pointing out that a clear majority of Americans–not to mention Nobel Prize-winning economists, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Warren Buffett–agree with the President’s position, because that would be partisan. Barfing up Republican talking points on CNN that “Democrats want to create new taxes while Republicans want to create new taxpayers” is considered as valid as saying the sun rises because the rooster crows.  The paradox that by deeming partisan views unfair and treating both sides equally, we have ended up with a discussion that is distinctly unfair when it comes to figuring out right from wrong, or truth from Republican talking points.

Yesterday Paul Krugman said this aversion to favoring balance over partisanship is preventing the media from accurately portraying events.   Krugman said it’s “destroying America,” and I couldn’t agree more.

…the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.

Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.

House Republicans would make lousy kidnappers.  The President is offering to pay their ransom by putting Social Security and Medicare on the table but not demanding an end to the Bush tax cuts.  The House Republicans refuse to accept the ransom payment and seem eager to kill the hostage in order to prove that he’s in no danger whatsoever.  As someone else wrote more eloquently recently, the Republicans seem willing to burn down their own house to prove that fire departments are socialist.  We’re negotiating with children here, except they are holding our breath and threatening to make us pass out if they don’t get their way.

Republicans are wrong on just about everything involving the debt ceiling.  And if they allow our country to sink into another recession, then they’re dead wrong.  I’m not saying this because I’m a partisan Democrat.  I’m saying that I am a partisan Democrat because Republicans are so often thunderously wrong on just about everything.  So hell yeah, I’m partisan.

 

 

 

 

Why Rick Perry’s a Genius. Srsly

Thanh Tan of the Texas Tribune was kind enough to interview me for her piece on what we can learn about Rick Perry by looking at his TV commercials.  It’s flattering when reporters call to ask you about your career.  It’s less flattering when they call about that time you got your butt kicked by perhaps the worst Governor in Texas history.  I took the loss as the campaign manager for Chris Bell in 2006 and continue to regret not figuring out how to beat Rick Perry when he was at his most vulnerable.  As I told Tan, ”Rick Perry is a phenomenally bad governor and he keeps kicking our butts. It does tend to make you question your manhood.”  But while Tan liked that line, she didn’t put it into the story because it wasn’t the point.  The point, as she quoted me saying below, is that Rick Perry’s TV ads show that Perry’s team has committed to a winning strategy when Texas Democrats are still pouring over crosstabs.

“When he does an attack ad, he’s like the godfather. It’s never personal; it’s always business. He does exactly what he needs to do to win. There’s no extraneous effort.”

The 2006 campaign was a good example.  We faced two colorful independents–Comptroller Carol Strayhorn and novelist Kinky Friedman–who sucked up all the media oxygen and most of the Democratic money.  Bell could have won had he consolidated the Democratic base, but with the well-funded and over-covered independents, our campaign became conventional wisdom’s whipping boy.  Perry’s three-ring circus of an opposition drew so much attention that few stopped to notice that Rick Perry was facing re-election with an approval rating in the 30s.

The first ad he aired  was the often-mocked “Proud of Texas.”  It was perhaps Rick Perry’s only mistake of his political career.  It continues to be mocked, and rightly so.  But with Perry struggling to boost his job approval ratings over 40%, maybe what he was trying to do was to change the subject from his stewardship to Texas’ steadfastness.  Anyway, you decide. (Note him bragging about increasing school funding.)

I just played that again.  Overhearing it from the next room, the wife mutters, “What a tool.”  Pretty sure she’s talking about Rick Perry.

But when the general election rolled around, he had it all figured out.  In a year in which illegal immigration was the top issue, Perry had to hold together a conservative coalition that included angry Anglos who complained that illegal immigrants were sucking up public resources, libertarian Republicans who considered an undocumented worker mowing their lawn just another benefit of free trade, and Hispanic Republicans who could stand neither racism nor a crime-ridden border.  It was like he was driving a station wagon full of angry 14-year-old girls to the Grand Canyon and having to talk to them about the birds & bees at the same time.  There’s going to be some screaming sooner or later.

Except there wasn’t, and this is the clearest evidence of his political genius I can find.  Jumping on the Tea Party bandwagon early was smart, but threading the immigration needle in 2006 when he couldn’t afford to blow up his coalition on a heated issue took more strategic brilliance, foresight and discipline.  What he figured out better and sooner than any other major politician in the country is that real people see a division between illegal immigration and border security.  In other words, when Texans hear RPGs explode in Mexico, they don’t blame their maid.

When Rick Perry put up this ad, the campaign was effectively over:

There’s Rick Perry standing with his Hispanic friends to keep the bad element out.  Left unsaid is that Rick Perry would not prosecute you for hiring a dishwasher with sketchy paperwork or getting the housekeeper who doesn’t speak English.  It wasn’t jingoistic enough to piss off the third of Texas Hispanics who have been voting Republican since George W. Bush was Governor, but it reassured the “hang ‘em high crowd” that he was going to something about those Meskins.

Just to show you how early Perry had figured out the political calculation necessary to talk about border security and have conservatives hear “illegal immigration,” I dug up this old Houston Chronicle piece that gigged Perry on using stimulus money to fund law enforcement.  It also revealed for the first time that as early as 2005 he was funneling state money into the coffers of border sheriffs, many of whom endorsed the Governor for re-election despite being Democrats.

Perry in 2005 gave $6 million in funds to the counties participating in the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition “to deter illegal immigration and prevent border-related crime.” Days before Perry’s 2006 re-election victory, the sheriffs made a high-profile trip to Washington with the governor to discuss border crime, and most endorsed Perry.

“I don’t think it was a coincidence that the grants roughly correlated with those endorsements,” said Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford, who managed the gubernatorial campaign of party nominee Chris Bell.

Scott Henson, former director of the ACLU Police Accountability Project, said some of the Byrne money in Texas is used for prison diversion programs and drug courts in urban counties. But Henson, who blogs about criminal justice, said some of the money Perry gave to the border sheriffs did nothing to deter crime.

“Some of the people he gave the money to turned out to be on the drug lords’ payroll,” Henson said, referring to former Starr County Sheriff Rey Guerra, who recently was sentenced to 64 months in prison for leaking sensitive law enforcement information to Mexican drug traffickers.

Of course, in 2006 we didn’t know Sheriff Guerra was collaborating with Mexican drug gangs.  We were just mad that he’d endorsed Perry.  And luckily for Perry, he didn’t put Guerra into his next TV ad:

By decoding the political algorithm of immigration, Perry had locked down his vote share and then only had to worry that the Bell campaign would consolidate Democrats.  When Bell started to move, Perry was waiting with a few ads to define Bell as a liberal beholden to trial lawyers.  (In fact, it was only one trial lawyer.  Most of them stuck with Strayhorn all the way to her distant third-place finish in the teens, right where we said she’d be all along.  Not that I’m bitter.)  Oh, and lest we forget, there was this radio ad.

It seems easier to see in retrospect, but nuancing immigration by buying off border sheriffs and emphasizing border security so as not to piss of his Hispanic and pro-immigration, free-market support wasn’t a story I remember reading in the newspapers that year, and I sure as heck didn’t understand what he’d done until years later.  Regardless, it stands as clear evidence that when it comes to campaign strategy, Rick Perry’s team is playing three-level Spock chess when the rest of us in Texas are playing checkers.

Update: I’m right.  Or at least that’s what I infer from Evan Smith’s interview with NPR:

Halloran: How might he match up on the trail against President Obama?

Smith: Arguably, the governor and the president have nothing in common except for this: they’re extraordinary politicians and campaigners. This governor connects with voters of all sorts around Texas better than just about anybody I’ve seen running at that level here. He can be antic, he can be manic. But it has been a mistake over his career to underestimate him, and it will be a mistake for either Republicans in the primary, or the president, to underestimate his abilities as a campaigner.

Update: Wayne Slater quotes from this blog in his column today about Rick Perry’s vulnerability on the DREAM Act.  Worth a read, not just because Wayne offers me more chances to dump on Perry:

Texas Democratic consultant Jason Stanford said Perry’s immigration record, especially tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants, could damage him among some conservatives.

“It won’t be hard for Mitt Romney to get up and say that because of Rick Perry, kids from Mexico have a better deal in Texas than kids from New Mexico,” Stanford said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Libertarians: America’s Commies

I’m so done with libertarians.  Actually, that’s not fair.  After all, some of my best friends are libertarians.  But I’ve had it with the credibility libertarians receive because they espouse the false dogma of Gimme Gimme & Go Screw Yourself.  It’s a political religion with zero basis in reality that forces the rest of us to make grown-up decisions while they play make believe.  I am so sick of pseudo intellectuals dressing up their selfishness in Ayn Rand’s dress and acting superior to anyone who deigns to challenge their infantile sloganeering.  The people who say “government can’t do anything right” are wrong, and it’s time to stop treating these self-indulgent political adolescents like adults at the big table on Thanksgiving. Libertarians believe in a false economic theory that wreaks havoc in the real world.  Faith in this dogma requires its advocates to deny the truth in service of the way they wish the world were. It’s time to call them what they are.

Libertarians are America’s Communists.

Maybe I should tell you where all this is coming from. Yesterday I watched a documentary about one of my favorite comedians, the late Bill Hicks.  Called the Nietzsche of comedy, Hicks died in 1993 at the age of 32 of cancer.  He delivered Lenny Bruce satire with a Sam Kinison scream and achieved his greatest fame abroad because he was as likely to scare an American audience as he was to make it laugh.  His hatred of the crass commercialism in our society formed the bulk of his comedic legacy.

“Supreme Court says pornography is anything without artistic merit that causes sexual thoughts. No artistic merit, causes sexual thoughts. Hmmm . . . sounds like every commercial on TV doesn’t it?”

He also didn’t have much patience with the Christian conservatives he was raised among in Houston.

But the reason I’m bringing him up here is how Hicks spoke of the Branch Davidian fiasco in Waco in 1993.  Late in his life–if you can say anything in a 32-year-long life was late–Hicks’ criticism of American politicians took on a lefty anti-government vibe most often found on public access television stations.  The documentary featured the following screed by Hicks on the subject of Waco, and keep in mind that he was performing in a comedy club.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have some very shocking news for you.  I have seen footage that you’ve probably never seen, some of you never have because it’s never aired on network television, footage of a Bradley tank shooting fire into the compound.  The Branch Davidians did not start the fire.  They were murdered in cold blood by the pussies, the liars, the scumbags at the ATF. And the meaning of it all, the reason you didn’t see it, and the reason they said, “The Branch Davidians started the fire”…  No they didn’t, because they know now that David Koresh was trying to finish that fucking seven seals or whatever horse shit he was doing–they know that–they burn these people alive because the message they want to convey to you is “State power will always win.”

Loudly braying your cynical paranoia strikes a cool note. I get it. It makes people feel less bewildered about the modern world to suppose that the government is concealing the truth about Area 51, the Kennedy assassination, fluoride, AIDS, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and where Obama was really born.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard to correctly punctuate the transcript of a madman’s rant.  This wasn’t the social commentary of a Chris Rock who suggested combating gun violence by making bullets ridiculously expensive or David Cross mocking the fact that Texas outlawed same-sex sodomy while bestiality remained legal. It’s also not Bill Hicks observing that America knew what weapons Saddam Hussein had because we kept the receipts. Hicks’ diatribe about a government willing to burn critics alive to preserve its power depends upon secret facts that “they” don’t want you to know. Like the belief systems he mocked for much of his career, Hicks’ paranoia relies upon a faith in things not known.

A different paranoid faith is at work in Congress.  The libertarians who are driving this country to the brink of a debt default aren’t trying to impose fiscal sanity.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  They’re trying to impose the imaginary libertarian dream world upon the real world.  In effect, they’re trying to force reality to correspond to their slogans, the worst of which is this little bit of policy sewage from Milton Friedman:

“I am favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.”

How about when it’s the wrong idea? How about when every single citizen wants to levy a tax to pay for a military to defend itself against genocide? In this hypothetical, Friedman would thwart self preservation in the service of libertarianism.  Taken to its logical conclusion, the basis of libertarianism is “Because I said so.”

It was cute when libertarians were the nitwits who voted for Ron Paul for President in 1988 because he wanted to legalize drugs and didn’t like war. The problem is that too many of those idiots read “Fountainhead” and got themselves elected to Congress. (Rep. Paul Ryan, in fact, makes his staff read Ayn Rand’s works.)  This is how we got ourselves to a point in which House Republicans are denying reality in order to impose their dogma on us all.  First these jack wagons, typified as they so often are by Texas’ own Louie Gohmert, insist that defaulting on our credit won’t hurt the economy, because admitting this would mean that their precious ideology does not correspond to reality.

“The Speaker is getting bad advice,” Republican Representative Louie Gohmert said at a news conference on Wednesday. “I would encourage our Speaker, quit believing the president when he uses these scare tactics.”

This is the fiscal equivalent of Stalin’s socialist realism, except this time it won’t be kitschy paintings of a bountiful harvest while the populace starves.  It’ll be a lot like when you miss a credit card payment.  Serving our debt will become more expensive, utterly subverting our common goal of reducing the federal deficit as Nick Paumgarten cogently pointed out in the New Yorker.

It will be very hard to spend less if the government doesn’t raise the debt ceiling. The United States will be in default, and it will have to spend more, since interest rates rise as creditworthiness falls (among other things), just to make up for that. It is, for the moment, not cost-efficient to try to live within our means.

It wasn’t too long ago that both parties could accept that if we want to spend less money, we need to attack the problem pragmatically, but that was before most Congressional Republicans started subscribing to Libertarian Vogue. Failing to raise the debt ceiling will cause us to spend more money than we are now. This is a fact supported by expert testimony, industry leaders, and mere logic. But this fact contradicts libertarian philosophy, and so it may not be thus because they wish it not. This would all be a lot easier if they would just commission artists to paint propaganda instead of angrily denying reality while our situation becomes more dire.

UPDATE: This post spurred what has become a surprisingly interesting discussion over on my Facebook page about the merits of libertarians.   The discussion has reached a level of consideration and thoughtfulness that gives me hope for the future.  I, of course, am not participating in it, seeing no role for gratuitous political attacks in their informed discussion.

I should have known, because one of my oldest friends in the world is a libertarian.  In fact, I can’t think of an older friend. His name is Dave, and he lives in Los Angeles with his family.  We were in marching band together in high school, and he taught me to shave in a gymnasium bathroom while we were on a band trip.  His mom drove us to our first rock concert, too.  It was Nirvana’s first show in a coffee shop in Seattle.  And by that I mean it was Huey Lewis & the News in the Tacoma Dome.

And it was Dave who had the idea to start a Teenage Republican Club at our high school.  This was the height of Reagan’s popularity, and my family went to a fundamentalist Bible church, so it was a natural fit for me.  Dave, however, came from the libertarian wing of the party, and he was raised in the kind of politically active family that Sen. Slade Gorton would visit when we came to town.  Iran-Contra turned me into a Democrat, but Dave stayed a Republican, albeit one who pulled a stint at the Cato Institute and one who has contemplated switching sides lest he have to keep company with the birthers who now comprise a majority of the party of Lincoln.

I perhaps made that sound elitist, and that would be grossly unfair to Dave.  As you’ll see from his comments, he’s intellectually generous and a thoughtful friend.  I have no problem with saying that if all Republicans were like him, I might still be one.  And he deserves a thoughtful response, or at least as much as I can muster.

Dave took particular exception to what I said about Milton Friedman:

I’m pressed for time so I will zip past the Gohmert silliness (for he defines silliness) to deal with your slander of Milton Friedman. “Whenever possible” means just that. It really, really does. Ronald Reagan believed the same thing and he found it necessary to raise taxes plenty of times. The idea that the “logical conclusion” of this line of thought is that one would oppose taxes to fight genocide is not, in fact, logical. It’s like saying that the idea that taxes are good taken to its logical conclusion is North Korea. (Or, you know, “because I can.”) Ideologues on both sides say outlandish things like that, but sensible chaps like us should resist the temptation.

And just so you don’t have to scroll up, here’s the full quote he’s referring to:

“I am favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.”

Being from the Texas school of political rhetoric, I had to suppress my instinct to lash back, appending my response with “and the horse you rode in on, too!”  I wanted to make sure I understood him correctly about the phrase “logical conclusion.”

I went back and read Milton’s quote, Dave. Do you take “whenever possible” to be a qualifying clause in that statement?

Dave’s answer contains much of why I love the man.  He opens by finding common ground and then addresses the question:

I don’t think there is anything libertarian about destroying the credit of the United States (but then again, my libertarianism exists primarily in the social realm, so I don’t doubt that other disagree with me.) I do think “whenever possible” is a qualifying clause. MF wasn’t a “no stoplights and no military” libertarian - in fact I’ve never met one of those, unless they were trying out a provocative thought experiment at a conference or something. And I will take second place to no man in my passionate conviction that Louie Gohmert and all like him are asshats.

Dave also posted a comment that revealed the fault line he is straddling and puts the “whenever possible” clause into it’s proper context:

Also, I’m confused. Do you not want Republicans to share your views on important issues like the war on drugs, waging war on innocent people without Congressional authorization, and (in most cases) choice and marriage equality? Because you certainly don’t seem like you do. And shouldn’t you be inveighing against the President since he disagrees on three of those four issues? I get that you’re in the business of beating Republicans in elections (and these days I’m very sympathetic to that cause!) but still…

First of all, yes, I’m in the business of beating Republicans, and if Dave believes in the principals of individual liberty then he should be, too.  Because the political ethos contained in Dave’s brain might not yet exist in a Democratic White House, but it’s persona non grata in the Republican Party.  And the same goes for Dave’s coherent analysis of Milton’s “whenever possible” and its application to the fiscal policy he and I cheered in the 1980s. Yes, less government means fewer people telling you what to do, and lower taxes is the goal, but sometimes you have to put gas in the tank if you want to get to where you’re going.

The problem is that the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives want to drop a lit match into the gas tank to prove a point that we shouldn’t need cars, and who cares if we never get where we need to go? Louie Gohmert is certainly an asshat, but I included his quote in my post not because he’s a paper tiger, but because he’s a leader of the faction that believes “whenever possible” means doubling down on cutting taxes.  Gohmert and his ilk believe Milton’s quote means to cut taxes any time, anywhere and for any reason in any season.  They are Churchill and this is their war. Always, always, always, always cut taxes.

This believe comprises the core of their belief system perhaps best articulated by Grover Norquist, who said,  ”I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”  The faith that these Bathtub Republicans have in this belief system has more in common with the blind faith in a literal interpretation of Scripture that I was raised with or the deleterious determination with which Stalin pursued state control of the Soviet economy with his 5 Year Plans.

Dave’s interpretation of “whenever possible” is better because it allows for the ship of state to make course corrections, and his example of Reagan’s 1982 tax increase is well taken.  Nowadays, though, mentioning that 1982 tax increase is heresy among Congressional Republicans, which only goes to prove my point.

What I wish I would have written is that libertarianism isn’t a religion and shouldn’t be treated as such. But Congressional Republicans are doing just that.  They’d do much better to put my friend Dave in charge.  They could use a grown up around who’s actually read Milton Friedman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to grow up about the bailouts

He was right. We were wrong.

Is it time for Americans to grow up about the bailout? As much as we might not like it, we must face the fact that the bailouts not only saved the world economy but turned a profit for Americans in the process.  Polls show a majority of Americans disliked bailing out the financial institutions that tanked our economy, and Republicans have incorporated this into their fantastical notion that somehow the bailouts contributed to the recession instead of averted a depression. This is wrong and immature. It makes as much sense as saying chemotherapy makes cancer worse.

The debate on whether the bailouts’ financial chemo put our recession into remission is beyond debate. This weekend Forbes came out with a ground-breaking look at the bailouts and found that despite widespread assumptions, Americans made money.  A lot of money.

The bailout, by the numbers, clearly did work. Not only did it forestall a worldwide financial meltdown, but a Fortune analysis shows that U.S. taxpayers are coming out ahead on it — by at least $40 billion, and possibly by as much as $100 billion eventually. This is our count for the entire bailout, not just the 3% represented by the massively unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program. Yes, that’s right — TARP is only about 3% of the bailout, even though it gets about 97% of the attention.

There can be no debate among rational adults that the bailouts not only staved off a depression but turned a massive profit for American taxpayers. Unfortunately, we’re not debating with rational adults, but Republicans.  Our system of government actually requires us to endure the rantings of Republicans such as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who is the archdiocese of this particular false ideology.

“If there’s one thing Americans agree on when it comes to financial reform, it’s this,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Never again should taxpayers be expected to bail out Wall Street from its own mistakes. We cannot allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks.

Now comes Rick Perry, and like always, he’s got one eagle-eye trained on politics and a lazy one that should be minding government’s store.  He may have been against the bailout before he was against it, but he landed squarely in the libertarian camp from which he won re-election.  To give you an idea how early he started getting to the front of the parade against the bailouts, he co-wrote the Wall Street Journal op-ed excerpted below with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail).

In the process, the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction — toward a “bailout mentality” where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions. We’re asking other governors from both sides of the political aisle to join with us in opposing further federal bailout intervention for three reasons.

First, we’re crossing the Rubicon with regard to debt.

One fact that’s been continually glossed over in the bailout debate is that Washington doesn’t have money in hand for any of these proposals. Every penny would be borrowed. Estimates for what the government is willing to spend on bailouts and stimulus efforts for this year reach as much as $7.7 trillion according to Bloomberg.com — a full half of the United States’ yearly economic output.

With all the zeroes in the numbers, it’s no wonder Washington politicians have lost track. …

Second, the bailout mentality threatens Americans’ sense of personal responsibility.

In a free-market system, competition and one’s own personal stake motivate people to do their best. In this process, the winners create wealth, jobs and new investment, while others go back to the drawing board better prepared to try again.

To an unprecedented degree, government is currently picking winners and losers in the private marketplace, and throwing good money after bad. A prudent investor takes money from low-yield investments and puts them in those that yield better returns. Recent government intervention is doing the opposite — taking capital generated from productive activities and throwing it at enterprises that in many cases need to reorganize their business model.

Take for example the proposed Big Three auto-maker bailout. We think it’s very telling that each of the three CEO’s flew on their own private jets to Washington to ask for a taxpayer handout. No amount of taxpayer largess could fix a business culture so fundamentally flawed.

Third, we’d ask the federal government to stop believing it has all the answers.

Our Founding Fathers were clear and deliberate in setting up a system whereby the federal government would only step in for that which states cannot do themselves. An expansionist federal government of the last century has moved us light-years away from that model, but it doesn’t mean that Congress can’t learn from states that are coming up with solutions that work.

… We’d humbly suggest that Congress take a page from those playbooks by focusing on targeted tax relief paid for by cutting spending, not by borrowing.

In the rush to do “something” to help, federal leaders would be wise to take a line from the Hippocratic Oath, and pledge to do no (more) harm to our country’s finances. We can weather this storm if we commit to fiscal prudence and hold true to the values of individual freedom and responsibility that made our nation great.

It is true that a majority of Americans do not like the financial sector bailouts and don’t think they work.  I’ve got a long list of clients who lost their seats in Congress because of this widely shared opinion.

But we cannot succumb to the seductive amnesia Republicans are peddling about how the economy tanked in the first place.  In the fall of 2008, Rick Perry’s false gospel of personal responsibility would not have saved our financial sector. It’s almost as if we didn’t almost go back to the financial stone age, the Washington Post made yesterday.

We’ll get to the detailed numbers in a bit. But for now, we’d like to remind you why the bailout exists. The revisionist idea that the bailout is the problem — rather than excesses in the financial system — is simply stunning to those of us who watched the financial crisis surface in 2007, when two Bear Stearns hedge funds speculating in mortage securities collapsed, and reached a crescendo in September 2008, when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.  Many in the financial world applauded Washington’s decision to let Lehman go under — but that applause was quickly replaced by fear as unanticipated consequences of the bankruptcy surfaced.

This is ironic, because the Washington Post gave a poo-poo review to our culture’s most ambitious attempt to understand the crisis and the bailouts, HBO’s dramatization of those events in “Too Big To Fail.”  It’s too soon, the TV critic argues. It’s too complicated, he writes.

Though it tries valiantly to walk us through its narrative gravitas, “Too Big to Fail” is as daunting and depressing as its subject, a dreaded homework assignment for an audience who will mainly nod in assent when its real-life characters (fictional versions of Neel Kashkari, Henry Paulson, Warren Buffett) quip and soliloquize on the audacity of greedy investors and deluded homebuyers alike. The film is 98 minutes long and seems about 100 minutes longer; it is a denunciation of things already denounced to no lasting avail — mainly the American dream of McMansion ownership paired with the dream of barely regulated capitalism.

And, even if economists have declared the Great Recession theoretically behind us (now that CEOs are making more money than ever and the nation’s legal debt limit has been reached), it is still somehow Too Soon to Enjoy “Too Big to Fail.” The movie may do an adequate job of mining what’s left of our collective outrage, but it comes up short as an artistic expression of post-recession catharsis.

In other words, we just don’t feel like understanding why the economy sucks and why the solutions seem worse.   Grow up, America.

 

 

 

 

Why aren’t we targeting Ron Paul?

 

 

Why is this man still smiling?

Public Policy Polling is out with new Texas numbers today that bear the not-so-shocking news that Rick Perry would be the frontrunner in the presidential primary and David Dewhurst would lead the Senate primary.  And though it is unlikely to get any local coverage, PPP pointed out the startling news that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Pluto) is upside down among his fellow travelers.

 

One thing very clear in the Texas numbers- Republicans there don’t care for Ron Paul. Just 37% hold a favorable opinion of him to 45% with a negative one. It’s pretty much a given that Paul’s chances at the nomination are close to zero but the fact that his fellow GOP voters don’t even like him takes Paul’s troubles to a different level.

So why aren’t we targeting Ron Paul again?  The Texas legislature drew him the reapportionment equivalent of a target on his back.  They took away some of his red meat territory and gave him Galveston and Jefferson counties, something which failed to raise Kuff’s spirits.

Note the big change to CD14, which reflects the fact that it exchanged some of Brazoria and Chambers for Jefferson. I wouldn’t get too excited by this, since as we’ve discussed neither Jefferson nor Galveston (the other main component to CD14) are trending the right way. It does reflect the overall lack of respect that Ron Paul has from the GOP establishment, however, as they’d never do that to anyone else, at least not without that person’s express consent.

Kuff’s not the only one to think this is a non-starter.  Everyone in Austin is waiting for relief from the courts or from Obama’s DoJ, and rumor is that the DCCC doesn’t even consider targeting Ron Paul a remote possibility.  And yes, though unpopular Ron Paul does have name ID, and he can raise millions at the click of a mouse.  And Obama only got 42% in 2008 in this district.
I think all of the arguments against targeting Ron Paul can be chalked up to entrenched pessimism.  As I pointed out before, Democrats routinely win these kinds of seats nationwide.

But to really make a case, we’re going to have to see a path to victory in the numbers.  First, the placeholder Democrats.  Can your average numbnuts candidate do well?  Luckily, we have a healthy sample of those, and Kuff breaks down the numbers.

Toss out the 2010 results.  We can’t plan for a 100-year-flood every two years. And if 2010 is the new paradigm, we should all quit and sell gold.  Those results are pointless either way.  Moving on.

The apples to apples argument is statewide judicial candidate Sam Houston, who got 47.3% in the new CD14 in 2008, the last presidential year.  Houston didn’t have much cash, was working against years of salesmanship about tort reform, and suffered, at least in the new CD 14, of the effects of a hurricane in Galveston, and he still came pretty close.

The news gets even better, if a little less elegantly equivalent, if you go back two more years.  That’s when statewide judicial candidate Bill Moody actually won the district with 50.6%, and that was with a Libertarian taking 4%. Kuff remains unmoved:

I included Moody’s 2006 numbers because I wanted to show what things might look like in a year where Republican turnout isn’t crazy off-the-scale high. The comparison is a bit skewed because the 2008 and 2010 reports from the Texas Legislative Council include third-party candidate, but reports from before then do not. There was a Libertarian candidate in the Moody-Don Willett race in 2006, and that candidate got about 4%, so Moody’s numbers here are all a bit high. Still, you see that he won CD23, lost CD27 by a hair (less than 300 votes), and – surprise! – won CD14. I still believe that the underlying fundamentals of that district are going the wrong way, but who knows? The right candidate with the right message could make life interesting in 2014.

I don’t have a problem with Kuff.  He’s brilliant, steadfast in his Democratic faith, and optimistic in his outlook.   His only sin is writing articulately what everyone in Austin and DC says when you bring up the district: “Yeah, but…” And then they gloomily sip their beers.

The New CD14

Perhaps the problem is that Democrats aren’t going back far enough for their inspiration and analysis here.  In 2002, Sen. David Bernsen (D-Beaumont) ran for Land Commissioner.  For all the mocking that the 2002 Dream Team takes these days, it was a good slate, and Bernsen is the kind of candidate we’d love to have run for Governor these days.  But in CD 14, he was a god.  With local support and enough money to become known, Bernsen took a solid 54%.

A local elected official with financial resources and an ability to correctly pronounce Medicare could probably make this race a coin flip before you even start an argument with Dr. No about the government’s role in hurricane relief.

Is this easy? No.

But is there a well-founded reason not to look for a candidate who fits this profile? No.

 

 

 

 

WWJD, Tejas Style

What's Joe Straus' Response?

“The Response,” Rick Perry’s 7-hour-long revival of fasting and Christian prayer, is ludicrous on more points than the fact that they’re making a big deal out of not eating for an amount of time that would fit neatly between brunch and an early bird special at Luby’s.  ”The Response” intends to harness the power of prayer to fight the main threats facing America: debt, natural disasters, and terrorism.  I guess what they want is a financially solvent way to enjoy good weather after all our enemies have been killed or converted.  Endemic unemployment, I notice, doesn’t make their list.

The group pulling this shindig is the American Family Association, which the Sunday Statesman does a good job of expanding on the Texas Tribune’s earlier description of it as not just pro-Jesus, but anti-everything else. The Statesman missed the mark, however, when trying to reach for analysis of the political implications of Perry aligning himself with a group that appeals to Republican conservatives but might offend moderates, independents, and the sane.

Embracing the American Family Association will not hurt Perry’s standing with Republican voters who agree with the organization’s opposition to gay rights and abortion, said Williams, an associate professor of history at the University of West Georgia .

Moderates and independents, however, might be less likely to reward Perry for associating with an organization that equates homosexuality with perversion or believes gays and lesbians are “in the clasp of Satan,” as Buddy Smith, executive vice president of the association, has said.

But, Williams said, the lack of a leading social conservative among Republican presidential candidates provides a potential opening — and a base of voters — for Perry.

“It may be that a candidate who is very open about his appeal to social conservatives could pick up some votes,” Williams said.

In other words, duh. It’s a little obvious to say that appealing to people who believe the Earth is flat might offend those who believe the Earth is round.

What deserves more attention, however, is what Joe Straus, the Jewish Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, thinks about this. It’s easy to use Straus’ judaism for laughs as another segment in Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, but treating his religion as deserving respect escapes everyone in Texas so far.

According to D Magazine, the AFA’s antipathy towards Straus’ religion has already impacted Texas politics when the group joined with other like-minded sorts to try to drive him from the Speaker’s chair earlier this year by producing this ad. (Don’t worry about clicking on it. It’s crap.)  (See, told you.)

An anti-Straus group called Women On The Wall — which seems to be an ad hoc coalition of such right-wing groups as Concerned Women of America, American Family Association, and the Eagle Forum — is trying to raise money to air this video on television over Thanksgiving. It’s a very well executed commercial. I wonder who produced it. I especially like the Christmas-like jingle and the snowflakes. Nice touches.

By joining up with these nitwits, Rick Perry has basically said that Joe Straus is going to Hell, and no one this side of The American Independent (no, never heard of them either) thinks this is news, and they couldn’t get the Speaker to comment.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, whose Jewish faith became an issue among conservative Christian opponents during the speaker’s race before this year’s session, declined to comment on the issue. Likewise, state Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), who is also Jewish, chose not to comment as well.

Hochberg said, “I would not have a comment at this time. I do not have personal knowledge of the activities of AFA and generally don’t comment based on press reports.”

It’s one thing for Rick Perry to treat the House Speaker’s religion as if it doesn’t deserve any respect. It’s quite another for the capital press corps to decide that it doesn’t deserve any ink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GOP’s last gasp

Chris Rock Explains the GOP

Chris Rock said something in an interview in February’s edition of Esquire magazine that articulated something I’ve felt to be true for a while. The reason a majority of Republicans hold beliefs directly contradicted by documented fact is that their moral logic structure is falling apart. Their Reason Dieter is done.  They’ve fallen, and they can’t get up.

SR: Like many nice Caucasians, I cried the night Barack Obama was elected. It was one of the high points in American history. And all that’s happened since the election is just a shitstorm of hatred. You want to weigh in on that?

CR: I actually like it, in the sense that — you got kids? Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism’s almost over. Because this is the last — this is the act up before the sleep. They’re going crazy. They’re insane. You want to get rid of them — and the next thing you know, they’re fucking knocked out. And that’s what’s going on in the country right now.

When my kids were babies, I called it the Last Gasp.  In the middle ground between being sleepy and asleep, they often went through a loudly unreasonable phase during which the best you could hope for was that they didn’t hurt themselves by flailing their little arms wildly.  They wouldn’t take bottles, songs didn’t soothe them, and neither a mother or a father’s touch calmed them.  And in seconds that felt, admittedly, like agonizing years, they were asleep, innocent of the turmoil they had created.

That’s a little like what talking to Republicans is like these days, and what Obama must feel like when he’s trying to work with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.  He offered them exactly what they said they wanted, and they walk out of the room.  They flail wildly with blanket statements about tax cuts that sound like like incoherent screeching to the ears of most Americans.  And soon they might force the American government to default on our credit cards, sending us back into a deep recession.  After that, they’re done.  No matter what polls say about split blame for a credit default or what some dick says about the President, Barack Obama will be the only adult left in the room if the roof caves in as he showed in his speech this week.

“There’s no point in putting it off. We’ve got to get this done,” Obama said. “If by the end of this week, we have not seen substantial progress, then I think members of Congress need to understand we are going to start having to cancel things and stay here until we get it done.”

This morning Jesse Lee, the White House rapid response guy, tweeted a link to a Washington Post opinion piece by Cass Sunstein that told a story about, yet again, Obama succeeding against the grain of what passes for conservative conventional wisdom.  Apparently all of Obama’s regulations are benefitting Americans economically far more than they are costing us.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the source of unimpeachable balderdash, accuses That One of unleashing a “regulatory tsunami” on American businesses.  Sunstein, citing a White House report, calls foul, pointing out that George W. Bush issued more rules and imposed a higher regulatory cost than Obama has.  And thanks to the President’s focus on innovation, Obama’s making us money in the process:

Over the Obama administration’s first two years, the net benefits of regulations exceeded $35 billion — more than 10 times the net benefits from the first two years of the Bush administration.

Lee helpfully put me onto the original White House report and pointed me to page 55 for the bar graph showing the $35 billion in net economic benefit.  Most of the benefits come from the review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for sulphur dioxide (net $9.9 billion), the EPA’s notice of reconsideration for Portland Cement (net $9.4 billion), and higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks (net $8.6 billion).  And that annoying forced march away from regular light bulbs to fluorescent lights?  That’s making us a $1.4 billion.

But you can’t tell Republicans that, especially when it comes to the light bulbs.  Pretty soon, though, the lights will go out, and it’ll  be time for the Republican Party to go nite-nite so the grownups can get back to work.