The politics of civility

Hours after her swearing-in as the new representative of Michigan’s 13th congressional district, Rashida Tlaib said the following to a crowd at a MoveOn event:

And when you’re son looks at you and says ‘mama, look you won, bullies don’t win.’ And I say ‘baby, they don’t’ because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.”

No sooner had these remarks gone viral that the Beltway pundit class’ brains oozed into their smoothies.  Continue reading

Blame everything on Newt

I read an insightful comment on Lawyers, Guns & Money this morning. To what degree, the reader asks, did the GOP’s victory in 1994 strengthen its radicalism? The comment:

The fact that they went for 40 years without ever holding it meant that they had to compromise on budgets and a vast range of measures. It’s interesting that the critical political function that the GOP excels at, obsessively focusing on judges, is one that doesn’t go through the House. It’s also interesting that a lot of their current anti-democratic focus has its strongest effect in the House. I might be wrong, but I bet the GOP remembers that 40-year run in the wilderness more strongly than Democrats do.

Imagine how Democratic policies would be affected if we couldn’t, for election after election after election, win the House? It would push us towards the centre, and this argument of whether we should compromise and accommodate the racists wouldn’t even be an argument — we’d have to.

During this postwar period of great strife and acrimony the Republicans controlled twice: 1946 to 1948, and as a result of the Ike landslide 1952-1954. They suffered devastating losses in the 1958 midterms. The Democrats lost few seats in 1962. The only significant setback for Democrats until Ronald Reagan ushered in a GOP-controlled Senate for the next six years were the 1966 midterms, the reaction against the Great Society. The insufferable encomia to George H.W. Bush and his putative moderateness failed to mention that to have any seat at the table Republicans had to compromise.

As the two parties sorted themselves in the nineties into voting blocs similar to parliamentary systems, turnover accelerated, which means that the GOP has even less reason to stabilize and why the Democrats have only in the last election cycle paid more than lip service to their left flank. Democrats, however, have a few years to go before they approximate the GOP’s inexorable purism. This won’t stop Beltway types from both-sides-ism, though.

Nancy Pelosi should stay

Instinctively obsessed with parity, the Washington press corps turns to classic boilerplate both-sidesism when covering what it thinks is a internecine bloodbath between House Democrats who ran against Nancy Pelosi as speaker and senescent reactionaries. Josh Marshall has the stakes exactly right:

First, I’m ambivalent about Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker again. Turnovers in leadership are good. The dozens of new House Democrats converging on Capitol Hill this week visibly shows the power of generational succession. The Democrats’ current House leadership has been in place for more than 15 years, an extraordinary length of time by historical standards.


There’s a separate matter. Somewhat like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi has been so consistently vilified and caricatured by national Republicans that she has become, objectively, a highly charged figure as the face of national Democrats. We can lament that, think it’s the product of things that are vicious and unfair. I do. But that doesn’t make it not true.


At the same time, there are very few people who understand the inner workings of the House, what caucus leaders do and what she managed to get done between 2007 and 2011 who don’t think she’s a legislative leader of extraordinary ability. She also has critical support from a broad array of the parties different factions, in and out of Congress. As important as anything, Pelosi is tough, something particularly important facing Donald Trump for the next two years.

From my vantage point in a moneyed suburb in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, it’s the fault of Pelosi, Hoyer, et. al. for not promoting a new generation of leaders who’ll replace their septuagenarian asses,a point also raised in Marshall’s essay. Otherwise the argument that Pelosi Must Go makes no sense. At this moment she’s irreplaceable. The smarter young guns who ran on replacing her should follow the lead of Alexandra Ocasio-Sanchez, who staged a protest at the minority leader’s office that strengthened her young-fresh cred.

So keep Nancy Pelosi. The most effective speaker since John W. McCormack is the only person tactically shrewd enough to exploit the awed contempt in which she’s held by the GOP (Paul Ryan and the rest attack her precisely because they understand how good she is at her job), not to mention the skills to pass legislation and reduce talking points to essentials. Let her serve one term as speaker with the promise of letting a younger replacement shadow her — I don’t care. But the moment requires a leader who understands the stakes.

Joe Biden as nominee: a terrible f—— deal

“Morning” Joe and partner “Mika” Brzezinski is have evolved since the days when their MSNBC morning show turned into a Donald J. Trump telecenter in 2015-2016. They acknowledge the impacts of gerrymandering and James Comey’s FBI announcement on the 2016 election; they accept that the new Democratic coalition comprises women and people of color; they pay lip service to the environment; Scarborough gels his hair, keeps the sides shaved, and wears the occasionally chic sweater. Willie Geist, who looks like Michael Shannon playing Jason Isbell, has a quiet, mordant wit. Continue reading

Reflections of a Political Man, Part II

He had worse hair than any president since Nixon. “Worse” as in natural – a man with other things on his mind (John Updike, in his classist way, would go further: “closely modeled on the opossum fur of his beloved Arkansas”). He had a low rumbling laugh that suggested an acquaintance with mirth. Most impressively, he stank of sex; it was obvious to anyone with a cerebellum. Continue reading

Reflections of a Political Man

Besides chastisement in front of the class, Alex wasn’t allowed to Go Out and Play, my fourth grade class’ term for recess. Drawing a mustache on the vice president was an act of disrespect; that the Groucho face drag appeared on a Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign poster turned the defilement into an act of treason as perfidious as Alger Hiss’. Continue reading

The stale myth of Robert Kennedy’s invincibility

We hate strongmen like Donald Trump and wish them overthrown with our own strongmen. MSNBC’s long cry over the memory of Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy in the last two days is an example of rare bipartisan comity; even Joe Scarborough admits that RFK inspired him to run for Congress and fight to cut deficits, eliminate the Department of Education, and cut the growth of Medicare – the things on which Democratic Leadership Council types based elections for years.

I appreciate Michael Cohen‘s puncturing of the hagiographic balloons inflated, with decent intentions:

Yet, the myth of Kennedy’s so-called black-blue coalition endures. Just this past March, the New York Times ran an op-ed arguing that Kennedy’s 82-day campaign in 1968 was one of “liberalism without elitism and a populism without racism” and boasted that he “was able to forge a powerful coalition of working-class whites and blacks . . . at a time when whites were far more bigoted than they are today.”

In reality, it was precisely Kennedy’s identification with black voters that hurt him among some whites. In polling done in California, the campaign found that the candidate’s greatest vulnerability with white voters is that they saw him as, in his own words, “the Negro candidate.”

Kennedy’s ’68 campaign, rather than offering an inspiring model for bringing white and black voters together, would instead provide a depressing preview of 50 years of racial politics in America. Most white voters supported civil rights legislation, but when the practical impact of these laws began to infringe on their privileges, they pushed back. As schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces were integrated, whites responded with palpable fear that advances for blacks meant less for them — and voted accordingly. Politics came to be seen as a zero-sum game, in which increasing government services and resources for one group meant taking it away from someone else. This became an effective fear-based message utilized by generations of Republican politicians, and it played out in almost identical terms during the 2016 campaign.

Evidence shows that Kennedy “evolved,” insofar as anyone does and when ‘evolution’ isn’t the realization that we can put our strengths and foibles in the service of noticing other people. But even if hadn’t wrested the 1968 nomination from Hubert Humphrey he would’ve lost against Nixon. Whether ratfucking would have sunk an RFK campaign in 1972 like it did George McGovern’s I don’t know; Nixon looked unbeatable then too, although perhaps Kennedy would not have made it such a landslide. White Americans had accepted the bullshit that liberals had Pushed Too Far with civil rights; they would have to deal with the cynical gestures of a Nixon signing the EPA into existence.

A win in Trump Country: Conor Lamb and PA-18

The person above is shooting an AR-15. He is Conor Lamb, congressman-elect for PA-18, a district soon to vanish under new redistricting. No doubt the GOP will go to court, but if the latest facts hold Lamb has beat Rick Saccone by a few hundred votes in a district that went for Trump by more than twenty points. He will oppose Nancy Pelosi for speaker. He opposes abortion but respects Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing the right. He likes his guns. He was a federal prosecutor and a Marine. For weeks he swatted aside every attempt to make him an extremist. Thirty years ago, PA-18 comfortably voted for Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis, which is why the AFL-CIO’s endorsement of Lamb makes sense.

I remember 2006 when former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean took the congressional election national that year’s wave brought the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, who eventually became pains in the ass for the Obama administration. But enough — a victory after living through The Best of Times is tasty pudding.

Pour yourself a scotch, Rex

Farewell, Rex Tillerson, he of the formidable mane and the courtly baritone of a plantation manager. Other than gutting the State Department – the dream of every Republican going back to Senator Richard Nixon’s fulminations against the “striped pants set” and “Dean Acheson’s College of Cowardly Communist Containment” – you accomplished less than any of your predecessors, which considering the flatulent imbecile under whom he served might be an advantage. A Mike Pompeo or Gina Haspel might’ve been worse – oh wait!

Even more troubling, she “had run a secret prison in Thailand” — part of the CIA’s network of “black sites” — “where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques.” The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture also detailed the central role she played in the particularly gruesome torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah.

Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as “obstruction” by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. A special prosecutor and grand jury investigated those actions but ultimately chose not to prosecute.

The first woman to head the CIA is a torture enthusiast whom Jessica Chasten will play in a Donald Trump biopic directed by Paul Greengrass.

Yet now that we’ve started the Least Effective game I’ll mention, not for the first time, how we value effectiveness as an end in itself. Historians rate James Polk highly as president for invading Mexico on flimsy pretexts and annexing the Oregon Territory and serving one term; and Henry Kissinger destroyed Indochina, East Timor, and fucked the Kurds for a generation while serving as national security advisor, secretary of state, bootlicker to power, and beloved Beltway paladin. Until the White House accumulated more power around the FDR administration the secretary of state was the second in command, much more assistant president than the vice president, in large part because party conventions chose the vice president while the secretary of state was the president’s man. Think Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren; only John Adams and Andrew Jackson hadn’t served as secretary of state (stints in France and England during the war certainly qualified Adams). Think Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun, the so-called Great Triumvirate, neither one of whom became president but worked at State and, in the case of Calhoun, ccontributed in the briefest of tenures to the chasm between North and South. Think William Seward, immortalized in Gore Vidal’s Lincoln as the president’s invaluable consigliere. To imagine Eisenhower without John Foster Dulles’ mephitic breath blowing covert destruction on Iran and Guatemala is unthinkable, or Ronald Reagan without George Schultz, one of the more estimable recent seat warmers but on whose watch Marines were killed in Lebanon for the sake of projecting American strength or something. We’re still paying for Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton’s tenures.

So, congrats, Rex. You leave office with the least amount of blood on your hands since the days of Elihu Washburne. Take a vacation, pour yourself a scotch, and put your feet up. You’ve landed much more safely than your ex-boss will.

The Democratic disgraces who voted for the banking bill

Elizabeth Warren is angry:

“Just this week we lost the first round in the battle of a bad banking bill — a bill that would take the reins off of Wall Street’s most reckless actors and put as greater risk of another financial crisis. When I saw a handful of my Democratic colleagues vote for it, it felt like a stab in the heart. Not for me, but for all the homeowners who were cheated and all the taxpayers who bailed out those banks. That is wrong.”

Wrong morally, yes, and wrong politically. How on earth did Koons, King, Carper, and so on hope to “position” themselves with voters? Reading about the so-called minor fixes to Dodd-Frank, readers might think this crew of cowards were saving Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan? Are they not aware that next week is the tenth anniversary of the run on Bear Stearns? On Tuesday, the revered Congressional Budget Office warned that the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act would, to quote the report, would “increase deficits by $671 million over the 2018-2027 period; that increase in the deficit represents an increase in direct spending of $233 million and a decrease in revenues of $439 million.

Scott Lemieux grinds his teeth:

But this is the case where Dems has the ability to stop something, and a substantial majority of their caucus didn’t although they should have, which is bad.

I understand that marginal Dem votes sometimes need some leeway. I’m far from convinced that this is one of those issues. But I will say that the Dems facing re-election this November in states Trump carried big, while not without culpability, are the least culpable.

There is no possible defense for the blue and purple state Dems — Bennet, Carper, Coons, Hassan, Kaine, King, Peters, Shaheen, Stabenow, and Warner — who voted for this. They acted disgracefully, period, and if they’re upset about Warren calling them out boo-hoo-hoo. And this is yet another reminder that Kaine was a bad VP pick.

Note that Booker was not one of the yea votes. He’s said some foolish things about Wall Street and I would rank him below Gillibrand, Warren and Harris as 2020 nominees, but he has a very sold liberal record and would also be infinitely preferable to someone like Biden or Kaine.

A gift to the corporate donors contributing to both parties, the bill is the sort of excrescence that makes voters think maybe the system is rigged after all. Then the Clinton-ites wonder why Bernie Sanders was popular.

On to the House!