This post originally appeared at the Political Animal. We'll know soon enough what the midterm elections have in store for us, but it's interesting to see how political observers prepare for the likely outcome. Given the expected rancor and gridlock, it's not unreasonable to wonder just how bad things might get in 2011 and 2012. For some, there's no reason to be too worried. Over the last couple of decades, we've seen the White House change party hands more than once, and the same goes for fleeting congressional majorities. We've been pushed to the brink, and some constitutional crises have popped up, but we've generally weathered some unpleasant storms. For much of the '90s, we even enjoyed peace and prosperity. For others, the avoidable future poses a more a serious danger. Paul Krugman, expecting a GOP majority, noted yesterday that "this is going to be terrible." Worse, the Nobel laureate predicted that "future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness."
When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the U.S. economy had strong fundamentals. Household debt was much lower than it is today. Business investment was surging, in large part thanks to the new opportunities created by information technology -- opportunities that were much broader than the follies of the dot-com bubble. In this favorable environment, economic management was mainly a matter of putting the brakes on the boom, so as to keep the economy from overheating and head off potential inflation. And this was a job the Federal Reserve could do on its own by raising interest rates, without any help from Congress. Today's situation is completely different. The economy, weighed down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble, is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. And it's not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap. But we won't get those policies if Republicans control the House. In fact, if they get their way, we'll get the worst of both worlds: They'll refuse to do anything to boost the economy now, claiming to be worried about the deficit, while simultaneously increasing long-run deficits with irresponsible tax cuts -- cuts they have already announced won't have to be offset with spending cuts. So if the elections go as expected next week, here's my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
I'd feel slightly less horrified if Krugman didn't have such a good track record. What's more, his dire warning doesn't even touch on the likelihood of a government shutdown, the possibility of default if the GOP blocks a debt extension, the partisan witch-hunts, and the mind-numbing fight to keep the progress we've already made. Of course, there's still a little more time before the bulk of voters head to the polls, and who knows, maybe the "Rally for Sanity" will give a boost to voices of reason. More on that later.
This post originally appeared at Political Animal. In Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the campaign has unfolded exactly as the center-left feared -- the far-right former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) is cruising to a comfortable victory, as former Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) split the reasonable vote. To prevent a Rubio win, the only plausible scenario was to have Meek drop out, throw his support to Crist, or both. Publicly, Meek refused to even consider the possibility. Privately, it appears a deal very nearly came together, thanks to the intervention of Meek's most prominent advocate. Ben Smith had the scoop late yesterday.
Bill Clinton sought to persuade Rep. Kendrick Meek to drop out of the race for Senate during a trip to Florida last week -- and nearly succeeded. Meek agreed -- twice -- to drop out and endorse Gov. Charlie Crist's independent bid in a last-ditch effort to stop Marco Rubio, the Republican nominee who stands on the cusp of national stardom. Meek, a staunch Clinton ally from Miami, has failed to broaden his appeal around the state and is mired in third place in most public polls, with a survey today showing him with just 15 percent of the vote. His withdrawal, polls suggest, would throw core Democratic voters to the moderate governor, rocking a complicated three-way contest and likely throwing the election to Crist.
The Meek campaign is denying that any such deal was ever in place. But multiple reports from a variety of outlets note that the former president was involved in talks; Meek had expressed a willingness to consider dropping out; and Crist, who had originally reached out to the Clinton camp, was very much involved in the process. Indeed, the sources aren't exactly anonymous here. Clinton told CNN he'd talked with Meek about the possible arrangement; top Clinton aide Doug Band confirmed that Meek was open to the deal; and Crist told MSNBC that he was in direct talks with Clinton's team. Crist's campaign spokesperson even issued a statement describing the Politico report as "accurate." This is not, in other words, anonymously-sourced campaign gossip. Accounts vary on the timeline, but Clinton apparently believed he'd completed the deal last week, and an endorsement rally had been set for Tuesday, Oct. 26, in Miami. Meek, however, changed his mind this past weekend. So, what happens now? Given the intensity of the Meek campaign's response, I'd be surprised if the Democrat suddenly reversed course, just five days before Election Day. In fact, I'm not even sure if it would make much of a difference -- Meek's name would still be on the ballot, and many Meek backers have already participated in early voting. But the news itself, which I suspect will be a hot topic of conversation throughout the Sunshine State today, may also reinforce a not-so-subtle message to Florida Democrats: if defeating Rubio is the principal goal, Crist is the candidate better positioned to make that happen.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Even during an election cycle with some truly breathtaking Republican candidates, Ohio's Rich Iott seemed to stand out. Iott, recruited by the NRCC to take on Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) in Ohio's 9th district, hadn't made much of a name for himself, until we learned he spent years dressing up as a Nazi for recreational purposes. The story seemed to run its course a couple of weeks ago. The NRCC put some distance between Iott and the party, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) denounced Iott's recreational habits on national television. But House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the would-be Speaker, has a very different approach.
House Minority Leader John Boehner will campaign this weekend with Rich Iott, the Ohio Republican congressional candidate who found himself embroiled in controversy several weeks ago when photos surfaced of him dressed in a Nazi SS uniform. The Iott campaign confirmed to the Huffington Post that the two will appear together at the Lucas County Republican Party headquarters. It is, if nothing else, a risky stop for Boehner to make just days before the election. Iott's chances at winning the seat were seemingly downgraded after photos of him dressed in Nazi garb surfaced.
The Atlantic's Josh Green, who broke the Iott story in the first place, talked to Boehner's office, which had no qualms about Boehner's role at the campaign rally. Boehner just doesn't care anymore. He assumed that Republicans will thrive on Tuesday no matter how offensive their campaigns, and he may very well be right. The DCCC's Ryan Rudominer responded, "Not only has John Boehner recruited, embraced, and financed a disgraced Nazi enthusiast running for Congress, but now Boehner is pouring gasoline on the fire by holding a campaign rally with him. Unbelievably, this comes on the heels of John Boehner also embracing an Ohio congressional candidate being sued for attempted rape and sexual assault, and another who has ties to an organized crime syndicate that brands women like cattle. Thumbing his nose at our nation's veterans, women, and people of the Jewish faith, all the while refusing to stand up for basic American values in order to try and win an election, apparently this is what Boehner meant when he said, 'We're not going to be any different than what we've been.'" Josh Marshall added, "I don't surprise easily. But who exactly told Boehner or someone on Boehner's staff this would be a good move on the weekend before election day?" This is what overconfidence looks like.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Republican candidates' antipathy for constitutional principles has been on display quite a bit lately, but ThinkProgress flags another gem this morning, highlighting extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck's (R) approach to church-state separation.
"I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution. While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that's sanctioned by the government, it doesn't mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion. And so that, that concerns me a great deal. So I think there are cultural differences, I think there, we are as strong as we, our culture, our culture gives us our strength, I guess is the best way to put that. "And, and I am worried about the fact that we seem to be walking away from culture. And, and one thing that President Obama has done that I would certainly speak about is calling the Christmas tree, which has historically been called a Christmas tree in Washington DC, a holiday tree. It's just flat wrong in my mind."
The comments, made in Colorado late last year, are remarkably dumb, and the argument that President Obama re-named a Christmas tree is demonstrably false. Either Buck was lying, or was popping off on a subject he knew nothing about. Of course, if this sounds familiar, it's because we've seen and heard quite a few attacks these First Amendment principles lately. Delaware's Christine O'Donnell recently humiliated herself during a debate by rejecting the separation of church state as a constitutional principle, and Nevada's Sharron Angle recently made very similar remarks. Last week, Rush Limbaugh denounced the very idea of church-state separation, and in April, former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) rejected any notion that "God should be separated from the state." I just wrote up a lengthy item on the history here a few days ago, so I won't re-hash it again. Needless to say, the separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of the American system of government, and the foundation for the greatest experiment in religious liberty the world has ever known. But putting aside the fact that these unhinged Republicans simply have no idea what they're talking about, I have a related concern: what is it, exactly, they'd replace church-state separation with? What we're seeing is, to a certain extent, the rise of the Taliban wing of the Republican Party -- the Taliban rails against secularism, and insists that the law must mirror and be based on their interpretation of a religious text. Buck, O'Donnell, Angle, Limbaugh, and Palin have all argued something eerily similar. Thomas Jefferson said the First Amendment built "a wall of separation between church and state," and these Republicans are anxious to tear it down. Let's say, for the sake of conversation, they succeed. What then? Once the foundation for religious liberty in America is gone, what does Ken Buck suggest we replace it with? There are some countries that endorse Buck's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate. So what do Buck and his ilk have in store for us? A European-style official church? A theocracy along the lines of Saudi Arabia? Are conservatives who want the government to shrink also telling us they want the state to play a larger role in promoting and "helping" religious institutions? When the right denounces American the principles that have made us great, they stop being merely wrong, and start becoming even more dangerous.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Over the summer, there was a major egg recall, following at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer. The Washington Post reported in August that the outbreak highlights the need to fix "the holes in the country's food safety net." That truth was hard to deny, and even harder to ignore. As we learned more about the story, we saw that the salmonella problems stemmed from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. The need for better regulations and enforcement has been obvious for decades, but conservative, anti-regulatory lawmakers have consistently put industry profits above public safety. With this in mind, Zaid Jilani flags a story that's so astounding, it's almost hard to believe.
Although there are a diverse set of political beliefs in the United States, there are currently two major political philosophies clashing for control of the American body politic. One, the progressive view, believes in a society where a democratically elected government plays an active role in helping all people achieve the American Dream, no matter who they are. The other, the conservative vision, believes in the on-your-own-society that favors the wealthy, big corporations, and other privileged sectors of society. GOP House candidate Jesse Kelly, who is running in Arizona's 8th congressional district, championed this second vision a week ago at a campaign rally hosted by the Pima County Tea Party Patriots. During a question-and-answer period, a voter asked Kelly about the recent salmonella outbreak, which led to recall of more than half a billion eggs. The voter asked if Kelly, if elected, would he help pass a law that would allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies to shut down companies that have too many safety violations, such as the companies that allowed millions of eggs that sickened people to be sold to the public. Kelly responded that he doesn't "believe what we're lacking right now is more regulations on companies," complaining that "you could probably spit on the grass and get arrested by the federal government by now." When the voter followed up by asking, "Who's protecting us?" Kelly responded, "It's our job to protect ourselves." The exasperated voter asked once more, "Am I supposed to go to a chicken farmer and say I'd like you to close down because all of your birds are half dead?" Kelly once more answered, "There's a new thing that comes along every day. But I know this: Every part of our economy that is regulated by the government doesn't have fewer disasters, it has more."
If you're skeptical a congressional candidate could really be this crazy, all of this was captured on video. It really never occurred to me that right-wing Republicans would start running on a pro-salmonella platform, but Jesse Kelly and his Tea Party allies have a surprisingly twisted worldview. Kelly seriously seems to believe that laws to enforce food safety are unnecessary, and may ultimately make matters worse. Just let the free market work its magic, and everything will be fine. It's hard to overstate how radical this is. A lack of regulation is literally putting Americans who eat food in the hospital with life-threatening illnesses, but instead of wanting to improve safeguards, zealots like Kelly insist the FDA should stand aside and let us fend for ourselves. Usually, when an outbreak occurs, reasonable people notice the need for public safety and reject the anti-government crusade. This congressional candidate -- who stands a fairly strong chance of winning -- is doubling down. Jesse Kelly actually supports the notion of Americans playing Russian Roulette every time they go to the grocery store. A few years ago, Rick Perlstein even coined a phrase to capture this ideology: "E. Coli Conservatism." I can only assume the vast majority of the country has no idea what they're about the elect.
This post originally appeared at the Political Animal. With several recent youth suicides stemming from anti-gay bullying, an initiative like the It Gets Better Project has an opportunity to make an enormous difference. As part of the effort, created last month by Dan Savage, people from a variety of backgrounds submit videos reminding LGBT young people that in time, life really does get better, even if it's hard to imagine a better future now. Last night, the initiative received a major boost from the White House, with President Obama recording a video for the project. "You are not alone," the president explained. "You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything to deserve being bullied. And there is a whole world waiting for you, filled with possibilities. There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are. And so, if you ever feel like because of bullying, because of what people are saying, that you're getting down on yourself, you've got to make sure to reach out to people you trust. Whether it's your parents, teachers, folks that you know care about you just the way you are. You've got to reach out to them, don't feel like you're in this by yourself. "The other thing you need to know is, things will get better. And more than that, with time you're going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength. You'll look back on the struggles you've faced with compassion and wisdom." What's more, the White House posted an item from Brian Bond, the deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, who not only shared his own story about being taunted as a young person, and who also admits that he considered suicide. His piece on the White House blog also includes links and information on anti-bullying resources. All of this comes the same week as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also recording a video message for the It Gets Better project. I don't know what the response will be from the LGBT community about these efforts, and I suppose it's possible that some of the frustrations surrounding DADT and other issues will lead some to look askance at all of this. But if we put politics and motivations aside, if even just one young person who's feeling isolated and who's struggling right now sees President Obama's video and feels a little more hopeful about his or her future, then this will have been well worth it.
This post first appeared on the Washington Monthly. For a couple of weeks, a wide variety of pundits have said Democrats are making a mistake focusing on undisclosed contributions fueling Republicans in the midterms. Much of the political establishment has concluded that of all the issues on voters' minds, no one really cares about secret, possibly foreign, campaign donations. There's been at least some evidence to suggest the pundits are wrong, and more evidence continues to arrive. Take the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example.
So how has the White House/Democratic campaign against the GOP-leaning outside groups that have been spending so much on TV ads this midterm cycle fared? Per our poll, 74% say it's a concern that outside groups have their own agenda and care only about electing or defeating candidates based on their own issues; 72% say it's a concern that these groups don't have to disclose who's contributing to them; 71% say it's a concern that the candidates who are helped by these groups could be beholden to their interests; and 68% say they're concerned these groups are funded by unions or large corporations.
The poll noted, of course, that the "overall dynamics" of the cycle haven't necessarily changed as a result of these concerns, at least not yet, but the results nevertheless show that voters do care. Indeed, the same poll asked whether respondents believe the parties are more interested in the concerns of average Americans or the needs of large corporations. At this point, Dems have benefitted, as more of the public perceives them as being on the side of the public, while a large majority believe Republicans are beholden to big business. Greg Sargent, who's been following this as closely (and as well) as anyone in media, added:
Again: No one ever expected this attack line to produce an immediate and dramatic turnaround in Dem fortunes. And it very well may be that the above shifts in public attitudes aren't enough to substantially limit Dem losses in an environment where the economy trumps all. But every little bit helps, and it's very clear that the Dem attacks on secret money are resonating to some degree.
What's more, it's certainly resonating with Democratic donors -- as far-right entities collect secret cash hand over fist, rank-and-file Dems are grabbing their checkbooks to help their party compete in the campaign's final weeks. I suspect most pundits will continue to scoff, but there's every reason to believe this offensive against undisclosed contributions fueling the GOP has been entirely worthwhile.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Pundits continue to argue that Democrats are making a big mistake focusing on undisclosed contributions fueling Republican hopes in the midterms. The argument from the establishment, in a nutshell, is that no one really cares.
With at least some evidence that the pundits are wrong, the Democratic National Committee launched this new ad overnight, continuing to hammer the attack ads fueled by secret money. For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, a voice-over tells viewers, "You've seen the ads. Millions being spent by right wing groups to buy an election -- all from secret donors. What's not a secret is why. Republicans and their corporate buddies want to be back in charge. Wall Street writing its own rules again. Big oil and Insurance Companies calling the shots. More jobs shipped overseas. Millions in attack ads to put the corporate interests back in charge. "If they're in charge, what happens to you? Fight back." Describing the importance of the ad, DNC spokesperson Brad Woodhouse said, "The debate over the secret money Republican-aligned groups are spending to win the election and the economy is inextricably linked -- because if Republicans win -- they are going to reward this special interest backing by returning to the economic policies of the Bush era that cost eight million Americans their jobs." Pundit criticism notwithstanding, I continue to think this message has merit. For one thing, ads like these make the connection between secretly-financed attack ads and the issue foremost on voters' minds: economic policy. For another, Dems want to put a hint of doubt in voters' minds when it comes to these attack ads. Folks are bound to see the spots financed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and/or Karl Rove's hatchet-job operations. With the right blanketing the airwaves to destroy Democratic candidates, Dems are anxious to have voters ask themselves, "Who paid for that ad? What will they expect in return? And was foreign money involved?" The DNC's ad is set to begin airing on national cable outlets today.
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. Ken Buck has already made quite a name for himself as Colorado's right-wing Senate candidate. From extremist positions on the issues to inexplicable professional misjudgments, the Republican nominee stands out -- but not in a good way.
This morning on NBC's "Meet the Press," viewers got another opportunity to get to know Buck. Host David Gregory noted to the GOP challenger, "In a debate last month, you expressed your support for Don't Ask, Don't Tell [and] you alluded to 'lifestyle choices.' Do you believe being gay say choice?" Buck replied, "I do." Gregory followed up, asking, "Based on what?" After initially pretending not to understand the question, Buck added, "I guess you can choose who your partner is." Let's pause to note that Buck, if elected, wouldn't exactly be one of the towering intellects of the United States Senate. Before moving on, Gregory pressed further, asking, "You don't think it's something that's determined at birth?" Buck replied, "I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice." Sen. Michael Bennet (D) responded that he "absolutely" believes his right-wing rival is "outside the mainstream" on this. Bennet's right, but he's also understating the case. Buck's* views on human sexuality are evidence of a bizarre worldview. That he'd compare gays and lesbians to alcoholics -- dispassionately, as if this were a routine thing to say -- is a reminder that the leading U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado would be a voice of ignorance and intolerance in the chamber. It's also a reminder about a larger truth this campaign season. Like Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, and Florida's Marco Rubio, Buck has benefited greatly from the fact that he's been overshadowed by other extremist candidates. In a typical year, someone like Buck would be an almost cartoonish right-wing nut, and the subject of national ridicule. After all, the far-right candidate supports repealing the 17th Amendment, eliminating the Department of Education, scrapping the federal student loan program, banning certain forms of birth control and all abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest. He's said Americans he doesn't like are a bigger threat than terrorists, and is on record talking about privatizing Social Security, the V.A., and the Centers for Disease Control. And now Buck is insisting sexual orientation is a choice and gays are like alcoholics. I like to think Colorado is better than this, but I suppose we'll find out in 16 days. *Corrected
This post first appeared on Washington Monthly. The U.S. Senate race in Illinois is one of the most competitive contests in the country, with recent polls showing an extremely tight race between state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Tommy Flanagan impersonator, Rep. Mark Kirk (R). Ideally, with just 20 days to go, the campaigns would be doing everything possible to get their supporters ready to vote on Nov. 2. In Kirk's case, however, this is right about the time to work on preventing some voters from participating at all.
In a private phone conversation that was secretly recorded, Mark Kirk, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois, told state Republican leaders last week about his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to four predominately African American neighborhoods of Chicago "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat." Kirk's campaign confirmed the candidate was secretly taped last week as he was talking about his anti-voter fraud effort. [...] As TPMMuckraker has reported, accusations from conservatives that ineligible voters are fraudulently stealing elections for Democrats have continued to fly in the 2010 campaign cycle, despite the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud. "Voter fraud" has been the rally cry for conservative groups seeking to make it more difficult to cast ballots and suppress minority voter turnout.
The story was originally uncovered by the Illinois-based ArchPundit. Regrettably, this isn't new -- GOP efforts to combat non-existent "voter fraud" have been ongoing for years, but evidence of actual wrongdoing has remained elusive. The fear on the right isn't about anyone trying to "jigger the numbers"; it's about reducing the number of minorities who participate in an election. One can only wonder what it'd be like if candidates like Kirk spent as much energy trying to get these voters to support him as trying to keep them from casting a ballot.