The Appearance of … Well, Something

George Washington BridgeIs it fair to say that by the time the key players lawyer up, as such, we can start taking what should have been the silliest political conspiracy theory of the year seriously?

Even worse … well, the transition from silly to serious seems nearly obligatory, doesn’t it?

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A New View of Austerity?

When it comes to things that bear repeating, thankfully there are bloggers to do the job. After all, if the point doesn’t communicate the first few times, only saturation will suffice. What? Okay, not exactly, but still, there are some things that shouldn’t require such repetition. To wit, Steve Benen:

When a nation tries to recover from an economic downturn, there are a variety of things policymakers have no control over. After the Great Recessions, for example, neither the White House nor Congress could control the Eurozone crisis, a natural disaster in Japan, or unrest in the Middle East.

It’s an unpredictable world with inter-connected economies and volatility often lurking just out of sight. But this realizations only reinforces a lesson congressional Republicans have forgotten: U.S. policymakers should, at a minimum, not make matters worse.

Consider, for example, what unemployment would be if government weren’t trying to create jobs and lay off public-sector workers at the same time.

He’s actually pointing to Phil Izzo’s blog post for The Wall Street Journal, which makes a point that ought to be familiar to all by now:

Federal, state and local governments have shed nearly 750,000 jobs since June 2009, according to the Labor Department‘s establishment survey of employers. No other sector comes close to those job losses over the same period. Construction is in second worst place, but its 225,000 cuts are less than a third of the government reductions. To be sure, construction and other sectors performed worse during the depths of the recession, but no area has had a worse recovery.

A separate tally of job losses looks even worse. According to the household survey, which is where the unemployment rate comes from, there are nearly 950,000 fewer people employed by the government than there were when the recovery started in mid-2009. If none of those people were counted as unemployed, the jobless rate would be 7.1%, compared with the 7.7% rate reported on Friday.

What’s that? Well, it’s one of those weird issues that stays in the background no matter how important it actually is, regardless of how often it is actually thrust into the spotlight.

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Notes On the Health Care Battle: Dust and Smoke

Only vague first impressions; it’s difficult to get any real perspective while so much dust and smoke hangs in the air after the conflagration.

Paul Krugman, before the vote:

Adam Zyglis via CagleSo what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Republican David Frum on the political fallout:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Kirk Walters via CagleCould a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

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Post post-racial? (Popora?)

Say what?

A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

That lede, via the Associated Press, seems a product of fifty years ago, although one might rightfully doubt if such a story would make headlines around the world back then. Arguably not, since one of the extraordinary notions about the tale is that it comes from the here and now. Here? Well, obviously, America; in this case it’s Hammond, Louisiana. Now? October 15, 2009, by the time stamp.

And looking to Hammond, we find Don Elizey telling us the unfortunate news:

A justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple last week because of concern for the children who might be born of that relationship.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish’s 8th Ward, also said it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“I’m not a racist,” Bardwell said. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”

Beth Humphrey, 30, said she and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond, intend to consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

The story is true. One Keith Bardwell, explaining that he’s not a racist, acknowledged to Hammond Star that his concerns about biracial children compel him to refuse marriage licenses to couples of mixed ethnicity.

But, of course, he’s not racist.

How can he be? This is a post-racial America. Or is it?

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Thoughts on the improbable

As the dust settles in Iowa and the field of contenders begins to dwindle, Jeff Zeleny offers this analysis for the New York Times:

Whether it was because they were eager to leave behind the bitter divides of the last two decades or because they wanted to send a message that a small white state could transcend the issue of race, Iowa voters handed Senator Barack Obama a victory here Thursday and supported his improbable candidacy in defiance of those who warned he was too inexperienced in world affairs.

Now, I admit there is a good feeling about Obama’s Iowa victory, in no small part because Hillary Clinton is, essentially, my bottom-shelf candidate. I’ll support her in the general election without doubt, but I would prefer the Democratic Party put up almost any other candidate. I have my reasons. Some of them have to do with her womanhood. Some have to do with her name. And some have to do with the fact that I can barely tell she’s a Democrat.

But this isn’t about Hillary Clinton. This is about Barack Obama and his “improbable candidacy”.

Those two words—improbable candidacy—strike me oddly, because it was after the rising star from Illinois delivered his now-famous “Audacity of Hope” speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention that I first started hearing about the idea of Barack Obama for president. His election to the U.S. Senate seemed a mere stepping stone, a prerequisite to satisfy those who wanted a candidate with federal experience. Indeed, we can take a strange sort of comfort in John Kerry’s befuddling defeat in 2004 because it brings us the Obama run this year, instead of in 2012.

The idea seems almost silly, but the truth is that the party has been grooming Obama for this run, and Democratic supporters have been nearly salivating over the last four years at the thought of being able to send a black man to the White House.

And the press has played along. As the conservative shills over at mourned in the wake of the 2004 convention, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews exclaimed that he had just seen the first black President.

And perhaps we did. Perhaps it was our misplaced confidence in the Kerry campaign that pushed away those thoughts of President Obama. Foolishly thinking there was no way the country could possibly endorse a second term for George W. Bush, the idea of President Obama seemed something to talk about for the 2012 election.

But a second Bush term is what we ended up with, and what we have suffered through, and while there is certainly a list of suspects to blame—very few of whom are Muslim, foreign, or classified as terrorists—in the end the People can only blame themselves. Democrats and liberals can complain all they want about whether or not Ohio was stolen, but the truth of the matter is that it never should have been so close in the first place. Iowa Caucus turnoutMr. Zeleny credits the Obama candidacy with nearly doubling the turnout at this year’s Iowa caucuses, although a graphic accompanying the story reminds that the 2004 election also saw a doubling of the prior cycle. So while Obama fever is an impossible phenomenon to deny, we might also look to the suggestion of the first female president as contributing to the increased enthusiasm.

And what of the real improbability here, which is not a candidacy but the ongoing disaster of the Bush administration? I do not know how Iowans regard our northern neighbors, but reports of parity between American and Canadian currency and the subsequent woes of Canadian booksellers unsettled more than a few in some border states where transnational commerce is almost second nature. It seems fair to wonder if the state of the union, as such, contributed any to the Iowa turnout. The Bush debacle has been such that the economy has moved to the fore, and more than the war in Iraq presidential candidates seem to be playing to voters’ concerns about health care.

Indeed, the Bush Wars, once a vital theme of GOP discourse, has begun to cost the party dearly. Jackie Calmes and Michael M. Phillips reported last month, for the Wall Street Journal:

For months, Dale Albright, a 30-year-old Tampa, Fla., bankruptcy lawyer, has watched as his clients buckle under mortgage and credit-card debts. After an expensive recent hospital stay, he’s worried that a run of bad luck could leave him in financial straits, too.

“I care about bringing our troops home…and for the most part, I believe as far as domestic terrorism goes, I think we’ve got that pretty much under control,” Mr. Albright says. “But the economy really scares me.” A longtime Republican, this election he says he’s voting Democrat ….

…. Fifty-two percent of Americans say the economy and health care are most important to them in choosing a president, compared with 34% who cite terrorism and social and moral issues, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. That is the reverse of the percentages recorded just before the 2004 election. The poll also shows that voters see health care eclipsing the Iraq war for the first time as the issue most urgently requiring a new approach.

The figures partly reflect the better news from Iraq, where security has improved since the U.S. added troops and cut deals with Sunni Muslim tribal leaders. Some voters link the issues of the economy and Iraq. Richard Scown, a 61-year-old equipment-lease broker in Las Vegas, frets about “all the money we’re spending there, and all the issues we have here.”

Mr. Scown, a lifelong Republican, says he and his wife probably will vote for the Democratic nominee. “The Republicans haven’t shown anything yet to suggest they’ve got a clue about the direction we’re going with the economy,” he says.

The United States is enduring a precipitous slide many would have thought improbable at the start of the Bush years. Indeed, even those who sneered that Gore would have handled the Enron collapse better did not seriously predict we could find the nation in such a slump six years later. Politically, there is only so much ill will one can wish upon the opposition. Those of us who shrugged at the 2004 outcome and said, “This is what the people want,” did not imagine they asked for this.

While there is much focus on sex and skin color, and the question of the Boomer generation hangs over the cycle, it seems difficult to justify the focus on any one candidate. In this case it’s Obama, and if one doubts how skewed that focus has become in the wake of the Iowa caucuses, simply check in with Mr. Zeleny’s New York Times colleague David Brooks, whose Redfernesque analysis will bring a smile to the faces of regular Doonesbury readers.

Is Obama the Democratic nominee? It is far too early to tell. Polls showed Obama leading Iowa, but Hillary Clinton leading in New Hampshire (Jan. 8), and dominating Michigan (Jan. 15) and Nevada (Jan. 19). South Carolina (Jan. 26) is close, but the numbers in Florida (Jan. 29) suggest a Clinton win in the panhandle. Theoretically, we could see Mega-Tuesday arrive with Hillary Clinton having won four states to Obama’s two. Maybe if Obama rides Iowa to a New Hampshire win, it will be time to talk of earthquakes, but for now the man who was, in 2004, anointed by many to be the next Democratic nominee faces steep challenges through the rest of the month. He poll strongest in South Carolina, and just as his win in Iowa might upset the balance in New Hampshire, a string of second-place finishes behind Clinton could just as easily weaken his position among Palmetto voters.

Congratulations to Senator Obama for his Iowa win. I wish him and his colleagues only the best. But if we wish to give him all the credit that is his due, it is simply too early for some of the praise being poured upon him. In truth, the rush to melodrama does a disservice to everyone involved. Mr. Obama is an excellent candidate; the voters are as awake and aware as they have been in years; and the press simply ought to know better. Let us remember that this election about the people of the United States and their future. It is not about advert revenues or nifty awards that look good on a journalist’s curriculum vitae.