The Trinity Of Turmoil And The End Of The Republican Party

tur·moila state of great commotion, confusion, or disturbance

by now everyone who cares has heard several prominent Republicans absorb their fiscal cliff “defeat” by telling themselves, and the public, that the real fight is yet to come:

♦ over the debt ceiling ($16.394 trillion), which we technically exceeded earlier this week;

♦ over the sequester, those automatic cuts in spending that “would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs,” according to the White House and others who know what’s at stake;

♦ and over what is known as a continuing budget resolution, which is a short-term, ad hoc way of funding the things government does (the current one is good until March 27).

Let’s call these things the Trinity of Turmoil.

Now, let me give you just one example of Republican rhetoric related to this unholiest of trinities. This one is from Sen. Lindsey Graham, talking a few weeks ago on a Sunday show on Fox and responding to President Obama’s statement that he will not play the debt-ceiling game:

GRAHAM: In February or March you have to raise the debt ceiling. And I can tell you this, there is a hardening on the Republican side. We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling. We’re not going to let Obama borrow any more money or any American Congress borrow any more money until we fix this country from becoming Greece. That requires significant entitlement reform to save Social Security from bankruptcy and Medicare from bankruptcy. Social Security is going bankrupt in about 20, 25 years. Medicare is going bankrupt in 15 or 20 years. […]

Yes, we will play that game, Mr. President, because it’s not a game. The game you’re playing is small ball. You’re talking about raising rates on the top 2% that would run the government for 11 days. You just got reelected. How about doing something big that is not liberal? How about doing something big that really is bipartisan? Every big idea he has is a liberal idea that drowns us in debt. How about manning up here, Mr. President and use your mandate to bring this country together to stop us from becoming Greece.

Forget that nonsense about “we will play the game…because it’s not a game.” (What the hell does that mean anyway?) But that Greece motif has become quite popular among Republicans. I hear them use it all the time. It sounds really scary. And it’s supposed to sound that way, since what Republicans are proposing to do to the country is much, much scarier and they want to camouflage as much of it as possible.

Let’s think really hard about what it is that Lindsey Graham said:

We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling.

He said that. He said that Republicans are not going to pay the nation’s bills, most of them being bills that Republicans have racked up over the years. He actually said that.

I watched Senator Pat Toomey on Morning Joe yesterday morning say this:

Our opportunity here is on the debt ceiling. The president’s made it very clear, he doesn’t even want to have a discussion about it because he knows this is where we have leverage.

Leverage? Ultimately the leverage he is talking about is the well-being of the economy, ours and perhaps the world. That’s his leverage. He is really saying that he will threaten at least the well-being of the nation, of you and me.

Toomey goes on:

We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown, which is what that could mean. And get off the road to Greece because that’s a road that we’re on right now. We can only solve this problem by getting spending under control and restructuring the entitlement programs. This president doesn’t want to go there. We’re going to have to force it, and we’re going to have to force it over the debt ceiling.

Ah, there’s that Greece thing again. As I said, Greece is meant to scare folks, what with all that Grecian rioting and turmoil we see once in awhile on our TVs. But what should really scare people is that Lindsey Graham and Pat Toomey and the other extremist Republicans who are talking this way really mean it. They aren’t kidding.

Toomey made it clear:

We absolutely have to have this fight over the debt limit.

I believe him. I believe that there is a contingent of Republicans in both the House and Senate who believe the thing to do to fix the country is to ruin it first.

I believe they will do it, if nothing else because they have to save face in front of their nutty electoral base, many of whom are pushing them to follow up the tough talk with action. Let me relate to you what one of those very influential wing-nut guys, Erick Erickson, wrote:

Have Republicans Boxed Themselves Into a Government Shutdown? First of all, I hope so…there are a number of Republicans who can expect primary challenges and need to show they have spines and will fight…Pat Toomey is already puffing his chest out in damage control to say the GOP must now be willing to shoot the hostage . . . er . . . shut it down for spending cuts…about the only thing the GOP can do to save face and look like they are serious is to be willing to shut it all down when Barack Obama refuses to negotiate.

See? “Save face.” I told ya. Nice stuff, no? But Erickson does say something important at the end:

The McConnell Tax Hike of 2013 has boxed the GOP in for the debt ceiling fight. If they can’t find a way to get real cuts without shutting the government down, there will be hell to pay if they cave without a shut down.

What’s important about that is this: In a weird way, Republicans agreeing to the deal on taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff has boxed them in for a fight over the debt ceiling. They don’t really have a choice, given what it is they currently stand for.

They claim, as Grover Norquist did yesterday, that they are all through with the revenue side of things. That only cutting remains. I heard Oklahoma Republican congressman Tom Cole say this morning that Democrats have had their dessert, now it’s time for the spinach.

But President Obama and the Democrats claim that the revenue side is still very much in play. That any deficit reduction will include additional revenues. So, unless Democrats are willing to slice the budget and entitlements without getting additional revenues, there is no place for Republicans to go but a shutdown of government and another downgrading of our credit rating and, well, fiscal chaos.

It’s important to understand what the Republican negotiating position is here. They are saying that in order for the country to avoid the Trinity of Turmoil, they have to get everything they want. Everything. And they are not going to give up anything to get it. Nothing. Democrats, they insist (as I heard Sen. Bob Corker insist this morning) must be willing to put on the table specific spending cuts, and spending cuts only. That’s it. That’s all they will listen to.

Thus, we all should prepare for the worst. And Democrats should be prepared, if it comes to it, to let Republicans self-destruct by trying to disrupt our economy and scare the bejesus out of people. As Erick Erickson suggested, this is a hostage situation, to be sure. Republicans are prepared, yet again, to hold the country’s well-being hostage and to shoot it if they have to. That’s what they mean by “leverage.” It can mean nothing else.

But this is a unique hostage situation. The hostage in this case cannot be killed, but only weakened. We will survive whatever it is that hostage-taking Republicans are prepared to do to us.

And through it all, we can be sure of one thing: we know the fate of every hostage taker in the end.

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A Short-Term Win For Democrats, A Long-Term Loss For Democrats?

We’re making permanent tax policies Republicans originally crafted.”

—Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans, at least those not completely ravaged by ideological stupidity, have finally been willing to embrace their substantial victory over Democrats, a victory represented by the last-minute deal to make the once-infamous Bush tax cuts permanent.

Early on New Year’s Day, Senate Republicans saw the light and accepted a Biden-engineered but Obama-blessed “compromise,” and later on New Year’s Day House Republicans—those 85 or so who for one reason or another realized they have won the tax debate—did the same.

All the while, most Senate and House Democrats couldn’t wait to get in line to vote to accept the deal (only 3 voted “no” in the Senate and only 16 voted “no” in the House), which, among other things, makes the Bush tax cuts, I’ll say it again, permanent.

Perhaps we should stop here and get Merriam-Webster‘s definition of the word permanent:

continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change.

That’s a lot of what happened on New Year’s Day.

I watched Grover Norquist, yes, Grover Bleeping Norquist, right in front of CNN, GOP Jesus, and everyone, bless his fellow Republicans as they were about to vote to do what conservatives a decade ago only dreamed of doing: making the Bush tax rate cuts permanent for 99.3% of taxpayers.*

Did you get that? Conservatives in 2001 and 2003 couldn’t even pull that off. When right-wingers passed the original Bush tax cuts, they were only for ten years. Obama extended them for two years just before they were due to expire at the end of 2010—under Republican threats to ruin the economic recovery—and now they have been made a part of the Democratic Party canon. Bragging rights for tax cuts now belong to Democrats, which they may eventually regret.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to extending the tax cuts for most Americans. We can’t afford to jeopardize the fragile economic recovery by removing almost $200 billion a year—that’s roughly the cost of extending the cuts for the 99.3%—from the mix.

But we also can’t afford to extend the full rate cuts for that entire 99.3% permanently—at a cost of $1.9 trillion over 10 years—as doing so will serve to support the “starve the beast” tactic that radical conservatives like Grover Norquist have employed as part of their strategy to turn the country into a 19th-century small-government, rich-man’s paradise.

As I see it, Democrats may have inadvertently aided the Norquistas in their quest to some day drown government, at least part of it, in Grover’s bathtub.

There are, of course, many good things in the package passed, including a five-year extension of the 2009 stimulus expansion of tax credits for the working poor and other tax credits for the needy, including families trying to get their kids in college.

Those on long-term unemployment will get an extension for another year; doctors who accept Medicare won’t get screwed in the next year; tax breaks for wind energy and corporate research are continuing for at least another year; the Alternative Minimum Tax will be permanently indexed to inflation; the Republican-stalled farm bill will get unstalled for nine months—enjoy your cheaper milk.

Most of what Democrats got they got without having to offer significant spending cuts, which would have hurt the economic recovery. All good.

But besides the permanence of the Bush tax cuts, there are other bad things in the deal. The estate tax, which beginning on January 1 returned to Clinton-era rates (estates valued at $1 million were exempted and estate transfers over that amount were taxed at 55%), is now permanently Republican-friendly: a $5 million ($10 million for a couple) estate exemption (indexed to inflation) and a top tax rate of 40%, which, as Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) said, is a “sweetheart giveaway to the wealthiest 7,200 estates in the country.”

Capital gains taxes, which enabled the Mitt Romneys of the world to enjoy millions of dollars in income and pay only 15% in taxes on it, will rise to a mere 20% (23.8% if Obamacare taxes are figured in) for those couples making more than $450,000 ($400,000 for individuals). So, if you are Mitt Romney, you will have to find a way to live without that extra dough. Somehow I think he’ll cope.

But he may not even have to worry about coping. Bloomberg Businessweek reported the following about the increased capital gains tax in the new bill:

Many households with incomes above $500,000 won’t face the higher rates at all, because deductions are subtracted from gross income before the rates are assessed.

Finally, the deal Joe Biden brokered with Mitch McConnell does nothing but delay a fight over the sequester and over the dreaded and fast-approaching fight over the debt ceiling that Republicans have pledged to use as a tool to force Democrats to cut entitlements. We are guaranteed to go through all this nonsense again, though this time it would threaten an economic crisis that would dwarf the one we just averted.

President Obama, in his statement after the House vote on Tuesday night, said this:

Now, one last point I want to make — while I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed. Let me repeat: We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.

Even though the President went to some trouble to explain that he will not negotiate with Congress over yet another stalemate over the debt ceiling, it is hard to see how he can avoid it, especially since Obama’s press secretary took the “constitution option” off the table recently:

This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling — period.

Section 4 of that amendment says,

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Now, it is true that the President himself has not actually ruled out such a thing, saying this summer only that,

I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.

That statement, obviously, assumes court involvement. But any judiciary action—and some smart people believe the courts would not even get involved in this political matter—would require time. And Mr. Obama may conclude that by educating the public on the dire consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, and given the extreme unpopularity of Republicans in Congress, that he will have plenty of latitude to do what needs to be do.

Additionally—and this may be the saving grace of this deal for Democrats—Obama said on Monday:

…if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that sort of after today we’re just going to try to shove…spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families, without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera — if they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve got another thing coming.  That’s not how it’s going to work.  We’ve got to do this in a balanced and responsible way.

That rather strong statement suggests that Obama has a definite strategy in mind for dealing with Republican threats to wreck the economy in order to get what they want.  If he does, and if his strategy is successful, the bad things in the fiscal cliff deal will not look so bad.

And let us hope that what Democrats have done—setting in stone tax cuts that have partly contributed to our fiscal problems—will not someday hinder them as they attempt to protect vital government programs from those who mean to drag the country back into the 18th century.

_____________________________

*For those couples earning between $250,000 and $450,000, less generous Clinton-era tax exemptions and deductions will return, which will increase their tax liability and likely satisfy President Obama’s insistence of tax increases for the “top 2 percent”; but the tax rate cuts themselves are permanent for those couples making under $450,000, which is less than 1% of taxpayers.

Why Republicans Get Away With It

Oddly, I will start this rather long and depressing critique of Sunday’s Meet the Press, hosted by Washington establishment journalist David Gregory, with something from another Sunday program, ABC’s This Week, which was hosted this morning by reporter Jonathan Karl.

At the every end of the program, Karl introduced the viewer-participation segment:

KARL: And finally, your voice this week. Today’s question comes from Christy Miller Johnson on Facebook, who says, “My 16-year-old has a Twitter account with 34,000-plus followers. Where do you see journalism heading in 15 years? What advice to the next generation of journalists would you give?”

Well, thank you for that question, Christy. I would say that regardless of what form Americans will get their news in 15 years or 20 years, my advice to the next generation of journalists is to remember the basics: Know your history, try to get your facts straight, always strive to be fair, and don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

That’s pretty good advice for anyone, especially journalists. But let’s look a little closer at that “always strive to be fair” admonition, as it applies to reporters reporting the news.

Is it fair to report “both sides” of the flat-earth controversy? Of the moon-landing controversy? Of the age-of-the-earth controversy? Of the Barack Obama birth-certificate controversy?

How about of the fiscal-cliff controversy? Or the upcoming Round Two of the debt-ceiling controversy?

Keep that in mind as we plod through a few excerpts from Meet the Press. First up was an interview with President Obama, who, naturally, was asked about the fiscal cliff. Part of the President’s response included this:

OBAMA: …so far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because Democrats in Congress don’t want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package.

Now, by all objective accounts, that is a fair assessment of the situation. The Democrats, much to the chagrin of folks like me, have been willing to give far too much at this stage just to get a “deal.” But David Gregory, because he subscribes to an embarrassingly false form of fairness, followed up with this unbelievably dumb question:

DAVID GREGORY: Well, you talk about dysfunction in Washington. You signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can’t get anything done and that we are at this deadline again?

That question is the equivalent of asking Mr. Obama how “accountable” he is for Donald Trump’s refusal to believe the President was born in Hawaii. It is an infuriating question because it ignores the reality that it was Republicans who held the country hostage in 2011, threatening to bring the whole economic house down over a phony debt ceiling “crisis,” if President Obama didn’t give them entitlement cuts.

At this point, because I’m afraid I’ll start using profane words, I’ll let the conversation continue with the President’s response:

OBAMA: Well, I have to tell you, David, if you look at my track record over the last two years, I cut spending by over a trillion dollars in 2011. I campaigned on the promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way, in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy while keeping middle class taxes low.

I put forward a very specific proposal to do that. I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain. I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue. I think anybody objectively who’s looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans.

GREGORY: But when they say–

OBAMA: And it’s–

GREGORY: –leadership falls on you, Mr. President, you don’t have a role here in–

OBAMA: Well–

GREGORY: –breaking this impasse? You’ve had a tough go with Congress.

OBAMA: David, at a certain point if folks can’t say yes to good offers, then I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare. I also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren’t carrying this burden entirely. I also have an obligation to middle class families to make sure that they’re not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes.

There is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing that the American people understand and they listened to an entire year’s debate about it. They made a clear decision about the approach they prefer, which is a balanced, responsible package.

They rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. And at a certain point it is very important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say, “We understand we’re not going to get 100%. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems,” as opposed to be worrying about the next election.

GREGORY: You said that Republicans have a hard time saying yes. Particularly to you.

OBAMA: Yeah.

GREGORY: What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?

I will interject here and point out how such a question muddles reality—not to mention demeans Mr. Obama—by placing the blame for reckless Republican rigidity on the President and not on recklessly rigid Republicans, which is how the recklessly rigid Republicans are able to get away with their recklessness.

It’s as if, in the birther context, Gregory had asked, “What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think makes some of your critics believe you’re not an American?”  It’s the kind of question that helps us understand what is wrong with high-profile journalists like David Gregory.

Here’s how the President responded:

OBAMA: That’s something you’re probably going to have to ask them, because David, you follow this stuff pretty carefully. The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me. I mean I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit.

I offered not only a trillion dollars in — over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.

And at some point I think what’s going to be important is that they listen to the American people.

Next, Gregory moved on to cover for Republicans in Congress on the issue of entitlements. As we all know, the GOP is hell-bent on cutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid benefits, but they want Democrats to do it for them, in some kind of “deal” that will shield the Republican Party from the electoral fallout.  Our Meet the Press host bravely ran offense for Republicans:

GREGORY: If this fight comes back– and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements. Medicare and Social Security. Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs? To go beyond the cuts you’ve suggested to benefits in Medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you’d have to do if you were really going to shore up Medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term?

OBAMA: What I’ve said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations.

DAVID GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors–

OBAMA: But–

GREGORY: –don’t you about this? And say, something’s got to give?

OBAMA: –but I already have, David, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called chained CPI, which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on Social Security. Highly unpopular among Democrats. Not something supported by AARP. But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long-term I’m willing to make those decisions.

What I’m not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. Those are the things that I’m not willing to do. And so–

GREGORY: Would you commit to that first year of your second term getting significant reform done? Telling Congress, “We’ve got to do it in–“

OBAMA: No, no, no–

GREGORY: –“the first year?”

OBAMA: –but, David, I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth.

That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach. To make sure that there’s shared sacrifice. That everybody is doing a little bit more. And it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, “You are going to have to do with less but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.” That’s not something that we’re–

GREGORY: Can I ask you about–

OBAMA: That’s not an approach that the American people think is right. And, by the way, historically that’s not how we grow an economy. We grow an economy when folks in the middle, folks who are striving to get in the middle class, when they do well.

Forget for a moment all that disappointing stuff the President said, like the reference to a chain-weighted CPI, a concession that sounds completely unwarranted to my ears, and notice Gregory’s aggressive questioning based on Republican talking points, especially this:

GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors, don’t you, about this? And say, something’s got to give?

What? It should be the President who has to “talk tough to seniors“? The President should tell seniors that “something’s got to give“? It seems to be that since a majority of seniors voted for Republican candidates in the last election (Romney won those over 65 by a 56-44 margin), it ought to fall upon the Republicans to talk tough to them and tell them something’s got to give.

But, no. In the mind of a wealthy, corporate-sponsored journalist like David Gregory, it should be the President and the Democrats who have to tell seniors, and other folks benefiting from social insurance and government programs, that they will have to cough up more so that Republicans can keep tax rates low on the wealthy.

Before I end this depressing critique, I want to note that the panelists on Meet the Press charged with talking head duties on this Sunday included no outspoken liberals. None. No one on the show was there to speak on behalf of progressive solutions to these problems. Not a single one.

Thus, I will end with a few excerpts from the roundtable discussion among the panelists, which included conservative columnist David Brooks, NBC News’ Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw, and presidential historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

David Gregory, unbelievably, made yet another ridiculous suggestion to the panel, based on his Obama interview:

GREGORY: My big take away, the president is setting a tone here with Republicans, putting them on notice that yes, taxes are going to go up, and that he’s going to drive a pretty hard bargain on a lot of different issues rather than try to bring them into the fold. He doesn’t feel like compromise is going to work at this point.

The President is “going to drive a pretty hard bargain“? Huh? Did Gregory even listen to Mr. Obama’s answers? Did he hear the words, “chained CP” ? Or, “I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit” ?

And Gregory said Obama “doesn’t feel like compromise is going to work at this point.” Can you see how the context of Gregory’s suggestion places Obama in the position of the obstinate one? Wow.

To his credit, and only to his partial credit because he went on to say something equally as ridiculous as Gregory’s suggestion, David Brooks included in his response the following:

BROOKS: Now I think most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans. They’ve had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don’t know what they want. And they haven’t decided what they want.

We can applaud Brooks for at least speaking a partial truth here. But then he goes on to utter the following nonsense that plays off Gregory’s blame-Obama theme:

BROOKS: But if I had to fault President Obama, I would say that sometimes he’s– governs like a– a visitor from a morally superior civilization. He comes in here and he will not– he– he’ll talk with Boehner, he won’t talk with the other Republicans. He hasn’t built the trust. Boehner actually made a pretty serious concession, 800 billion dollars in tax revenues, probably willing to go up on rates. But the trust wasn’t there to get that done. And if the president wants to get stuff done over the next four years, it’s got to be a lot more than making the intellectual concessions. It’s got– got to get to the place where Republicans say, okay, we’ll take a risk. This guy won’t screw us.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

Mm-Hm. Mm-bleeping-Hm. You get it? It’s not enough for this president to make “intellectual concessions.” Oh, no. That’s not enough. He’s got to somehow get this extremist group of Republicans to trust him! He’s got to have them over for lunch or, well, I’ll just let the wealthy journalist Tom Brokaw tell you:

BROKAW: To David’s point, I do really believe that the president doesn’t work hard enough at bringing everybody into the White House and rolling up his sleeves, having them in the living quarters, getting them around the table and saying how do we get this deal done. He didn’t talk downstream about tax reform, for example.

And I think it would have been helpful to him this morning to have said, look, we get this tax deal done, I’m here to help on Medicare and Social Security reforms. We’ve got to address those, instead of just saying I’m going to protect the seniors who are there and the Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Give a little something. Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and the entitlement programs.

Can you believe this stuff? Tom Brokaw actually said that President Obama should tell Republicans he is “here to help” them cut Social Security and Medicare. “Give a little something,” the renowned establishment journalist insisted. “Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and entitlement programs.” Are you kidding me? This is so outrageous it’s hard to write about it.

Again, the theme is that Obama is at fault. If he would only coddle this group of Republicans, give them the warm-and-fuzzy treatment, somehow a little Socratic deficit-reduction baby would be born, with most of the labor pains assigned to those who have born so much Bush-recession pain already.

This is what passes for “fairness” in much of the mainstream press. As I said, not an outspoken liberal in the bunch on Meet the Press this day. No one took the other side. The entire program, except for President Obama’s answers to Gregory’s questions, was designed around Republican themes and presented in Republican language.

It was an infuriating, and depressing, hour. Because on the horizon, as Senator Lindsey Graham said this morning on Fox, looms another fight over the debt ceiling, a fight Graham said will be where Republicans will have real leverage—meaning they will threaten the country again with default and economic ruin—and I fear that unless President Obama and the Democrats get extremely aggressive very soon, we will see the David Gregorys frame the issue as a failure of the President to stop them from wrecking the country.

President Obama Has To Tell Americans The Truth

Even HuffPo is guilty of the “both sides are guilty” plague infecting the news bidness.  Anyone paying attention the last couple of years knows that it is Republicans, particularly Tea Party Republicans in Congress, who have caused the legislative gridlock and dysfunction in our national government. Yet, we have this from a left-leaning news outlet:

dysfunctionalThe message here and throughout the journalistic world—from which most Americans get their news—is that Republicans and Democrats have essentially an equal share of the blame for the inability to govern the country, which, of course, gives Republicans some (limited) cover to continue to do their dirty work.

Personally, having given up on mainstream journalists to tell Americans what is really going on in Washington, I am beginning to blame President Obama, who alone can command the focused attention of the media, for not making it clear each and every day what it is that Republicans are willing to risk and the reason they are willing to risk it.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell routinely blast the President and Democrats, and rarely does the President respond in kind. Being Lincolnesque has its place, but now it is time to become the Lincoln who would not tolerate rebellion, even if in this case it is only the Republicans’ refusal to responsibly govern.

If necessary, he should execute a plan to visit John Boehner’s Ohio and Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky and all the congressional districts of the zany Republicans in the House who are most to blame for the dysfunction we see. Since reasoning doesn’t seem to have an effect on these Republicans, perhaps national embarrassment will.

Whatever the case, an aggressive Obama, who is willing to forcefully explain to the country the real dynamics behind that word “dysfunction,” and willing to defend popular entitlement programs against a Republican minority who feverishly want to cut the hell out of them, should tell Republicans today that he has offered his last “deal,” that he will stop giving in to their unreasonable demands and, in a word, tell them to take it or leave it.

And remind them that he will tell anyone who will listen just whose fault it is that the country will face yet another recession.

Americans Endorse Socialism, Again

A new ABC/Washington Post poll conducted recently has caused some pundits to focus on the reality that Republicans are having a terrible time convincing most non-Republicans (that’s about 75% of the country, according to this poll) that the GOP is looking out for middle-class interests.

Most folks know where the loyalties of the current  Republican Party lie, and it is not with most folks but mostly with folks with the most.

But as we start thinking about the year to come, and to put the ridiculousness that is the fiscal cliff in perspective, I want to focus on one part of the poll that I am sure will get overlooked by most popular media types: America, as I have argued many times before, has a jones for socialism.

The pollsters asked this question:

17. In order to strike a budget deal that avoids the so-called “fiscal cliff”, would you accept “cutting spending on Medicaid, which is the government health insurance program for the poor,” or is this something you would find unacceptable? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

Now, it might surprise some of you, I know it did me, that only 28% of the respondents said it would be “acceptable” to cut spending on health insurance for the poor. And only 13% felt “strongly” that such cuts were acceptable. A whopping  68% (53% “strongly”) found such cuts “unacceptable.”

Wow.  Think about that.  With all the doom-talk, with all the talk about falling off cliffs, there is still an overwhelming majority of folks in America who refuse to solve our fiscal problems on the backs of poor people.

This holiday season I find that inspiring.

And lest you think I am drawing an untenable conclusion from that datum, a conclusion that concludes America has embraced a rather robust form of socialism, I submit to you another question asked by the pollsters:

17. In order to strike a budget deal that avoids the so-called “fiscal cliff”, would you accept “raising taxes on Americans with incomes over 250-thousand dollars per year,” or is this something you would find unacceptable? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

A staggering 74% of respondents said it was acceptable—54% felt”strongly”about it—to raise taxes on affluent Americans while also saying that any fiscal cliff deal-making should not include the poor.

That, my friends, is an endorsement of income redistribution, of socialism, right here in what right-wingers think is a center-right America.

Fiscal Cliff Frustration

Watching cable news during this fiscal cliff flop can be frustrating.

I actually heard a talking head say on MSNBC this morning that he, a man who held political office as a Democrat but who now works for a Wall Street bank, that there is no way he should get Medicare when he is 65. He should have to wait until he is 67, he proudly said.

That is just part of the talk I have heard everywhere on TV about how Democrats need to cave on “entitlements,” finding some way to get Republicans to make a “deal” before The End of the World comes.

But, again, let’s quickly review what is going on here. From January 2001 until January of 2009, Republicans held the White House, and for a substantial part of that time had effective control of Congress. Thanks in part to Democrats responsibly raising taxes in 1993, Republicans inherited budget surpluses in 2001.

Then, Republicans cut taxes, initiated two wars, cut taxes some more, created a new entitlement program that was a sweet deal for their pharmaceutical industry campaign contributors, and then looked the other way while the economy was looted by reckless, greedy bankers who brought on the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. While all that was going on, the federal debt soared, and, thanks mostly to those past Republican policies, keeps soaring.

As if that wasn’t enough, when the public, sensibly, put Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, Republicans suddenly found Jesus on the issue of government spending, just when we needed the government to keep spending to save the economy and to keep Americans working.

After finding Austerity Jesus, Republicans decided that the best way to save the country from “big-spending” Democrats (!) was to sabotage the economic recovery and hold the country hostage over the debt ceiling (!) until Democrats gave them what they wanted.

Then, because Democrats wouldn’t give them everything they wanted, they decided to create a situation that eventually led to this fiscal cliff fiasco, which amounts to a job-killing sword of Damocles hanging over the economic recovery.

But before we had to face the fiscal cliff, the parties had to face an election. Republicans didn’t do very well. In fact, Democrats gained seats in Congress and the hated Barack Obama was reelected, substantially, it turns out, because he ran on restoring those 1993 tax rates on the wealthy, those to whom Republicans had handed a rather large gift when they were in charge, a gift about to run out at the end of this year.

So, here we are. The fiscal cliff, which we have because Republican hostage takers needed assurance that Democrats would cut our social insurance commitments and not take away that tax gift from wealthy folks, is getting closer. And after that, yet another debt ceiling fight awaits, as Republicans have threatened to hold the country hostage again.

And some chattering schlemiel on television, a former Democratic congressman who now works for a big bank, says Democrats should be willing to raise the eligibility age for old folks, essentially to pay for the profligacy that Republicans inflicted on the country, old folks and all, during their years of governance. The right-wing drowned us in debt via tax cuts and war spending and a new entitlement program, and they want Democrats to tell old people they will have to pay for it.

It is psychotropically frustrating is what it is.

Chuck Todd, host of MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, said this morning that “the pubic is craving a compromise.” He said that because of a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that found the following:

nbc poll

That poll supposedly indicates that people are beginning to blame “both sides” for the current impasse, which, if true, is a reflection of news coverage and not of reality.

But the poll did confirm a reality that journalists, and pundits on television, ought to pay attention to:

positive negative poll

As you can see, Democrats enjoy relatively strong public support. And look at the bottom of that list. Republicans are 15 points—15 points!—underwater. And looking deeper at those numbers, only 9% of respondents said they had a “Very Positive” view of Republicans, compared to 21% who viewed Democrats very positively.

The bottom line is that the public trusts Democrats to do the right thing during these fiscal cliff deliberations and any deal making that might come from them. And the right thing is not giving political cover to Republicans in Congress—who after recklessly running and ruining the economy, now feverishly want to cut social insurance benefits to rectify their malfeasance.

Journalism, Liberalism, And The Deal

There are very few liberal voices heard on television news, particularly cable television news. Very few. Oh, there are a few liberals here and there, but few liberal voices.

To support that assertion, and, more to the point, to demonstrate how mainstream journalists ignore the liberal voice, I give you an example related to the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations. I will excerpt a tiny part of the opening segment from this morning’s “Jansing and Company,” an MSNBC program hosted by award-winning journalist Chris Jansing.

The segment featured two of her regular guests, Dana Milbank, a liberalish columnist for The Washington Post, and Jackie Kucinich, a political reporter for USA Today, and the daughter of uber-liberal Dennis Kucinich. The topic, and title of the segment, was the “Fi$cal Cliffhanger,” and Jansing introduced a clip of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who had appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday:

JANSING: When it comes to cuts, especially on Medicare, you know that whole conversation has to be had. Here’s what Dick Durbin said on Meet the Press:

DURBIN: I do believe there should be means testing. And those of us with higher income in retirement should pay more. That could be part of the solution. But when you talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, there’s one key question–what happens to that early retiree? What about that gap in coverage between their workplace and Medicare?

JANSING: Jackie, are Democratic getting away with giving away less on this deal?

I’ll stop it right there because neither Jackie Kucinich, to whom this ridiculous question was addressed, nor Dana Milbank, bothered to point out how ridiculous a question it was, mainly because they, as Washington insiders, buy into its premise.

And that premise is that for people like Chris Jansing, it’s all about “this deal.” It’s all about the mechanics and politics of this deal. For her, and for most journalists covering this sorry episode in American history, what matters is who wins and loses the political game, not who wins and loses as part of what the political game is supposed to resolve.

In other words, few journalists are actually focused on what the wheeling and dealing is about, in terms of its potential effects on real people. And because journalists like Chris Jansing are fixated on the political deal-making mechanics (“are Democrats getting away with” ), they don’t see that they are perpetuating a false equivalence: that Republicans protecting wealthy constituents are morally on a par with Democrats protecting an old-age health insurance program that non-wealthy people depend on to live out their lives in relative security.

Go back and look at Jansing’s intro to Durbin’s argument against raising the retirement age for Medicare:

When it comes to cuts, especially on Medicare, you know that whole conversation has to be had.

Who says it has to be had? And, if it has to be had, who says it has to be had right now? You know who says that? Republicans, particularly Tea Party conservatives in Congress. The public isn’t clamoring for it. In fact, the latest poll from National Journal found,

a full 79 percent of those surveyed want the fiscal-cliff negotiators not to cut the program at all.

Do you know how hard it is to get almost 80% of the people to agree on anything? And it’s not just Democrats in that poll. It’s Republicans, too. So, it’s clear that the enthusiasm for cutting Medicare doesn’t come from the American people but from right-wing politicians and pundits.

And television journalists, because they like to cover a good fight (and perhaps because most of them don’t worry too much about what it would be like doing journalism in their old age), push as unquestioningly legitimate the Tea Party thirst for cutting Medicare (extending the eligibility age is most certainly a cut), as if quenching that thirst is the price Democrats have to pay to make any deal over the fiscal cliff a “fair” deal.

And the fact that some Democrats are stepping up to protect Medicare from some intolerable cuts is not morally equivalent to a demonstrated Republican willingness to protect rich constituencies by threatening the country with fiscal peril. That’s what we are talking about here. Republicans forced this fiscal cliff nonsense on Obama last year by holding the country hostage over the debt ceiling.

And even if they were to momentarily concede defeat on the issue of raising tax rates for the wealthy, it is only because they see another opportunity to force Democrats to help them do nasty things to Medicare: the debt ceiling will come up again in a couple of months and they have expressed willingness to hold the country hostage again to get what they want.

And what conservative Republicans actually want is for Democrats to get in bed with them as they do nasty things to Medicare. Republicans can read the polls. They know how unpopular what they want to do to Medicare is. And by playing the game the way they are playing it—which means journalists will cover the game (“this deal“) and not their motives—they hope to achieve a diminution in value of a program they have long hated and long wanted to reign in, if not outright kill. And they hope to achieve it with Democratic cover, as Democrats realize some changes need to be made to keep the program solvent.

Republicans, of course, claim they want to “save” Medicare. Hardly. That’s even laughable. Republicans have already demonstrated that they don’t want it to survive in its present form by voting en masse to voucherize the program (the first Ryan budget plan). And they have demonstrated that they want to dramatically shift Medicare costs to the less affluent (the second Ryan budget plan).

Thus, instead of focusing on the tactics or strategy in the political game, what Jansing and other journalists should be asking is this: What really motivates Republicans, as they appear so willing, so often, to hurt the financial and economic standing of the country?

Surreality

How surreal it all is:

♦ First, there was teapartier Sen. Jim DeMint’s announcement of his new gig as president of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. That’s “think” tank. You know, where real thinking is supposed to happen. DeMint, though, first publicly explained his new thinking job on Rush Limbaugh’s show, where thinking goes to die.

♦ Then there was Sen. Mitch McConnell, who tried to embarrass Democrats by proposing a vote—an up or down vote without a filibuster—on legislation that would allow President Obama to extend the debt limit all by himself, without first getting congressional approval. McConnell obviously thought Harry Reid would nix the idea. But Reid embraced it, which caused the creepy McConnell to have to essentially filibuster his own bill. Yes. He proposed something and then said he would filibuster his own proposal.

♦ All of which caused Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, who at the time was acting as Presiding Officer over the floor exchange between McConnell and Reid, to let slip from her astonished mouth: “Got whiplash!

♦ And speaking of Claire McCaskill, now it turns out that her election opponent, Todd Akin, actually received secret last-minute cash—$760,000—from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which had publicly pledged not to support the evangelical pseudo-gynecologist.

♦ Then there is the prospect that a Democratic administration, one led by a man who conservative Republicans have determined is a wildly radical leftist, is, in the words of The New York Times:

considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.

Yes, President Obama, Choomer-in-Chief, might actually put the kibosh on cannabis lovers.

♦ Then there was the distasteful Ann Coulter explaining to the even more distasteful Sean Hannity that Republicans lost the election and they should let taxes on the rich go up.

♦ Then, just when we thought Republicans were coming around to the idea that the rich would have to cough up more dough, The New York Times tells us that a significant number of rich folks will still be able to avoid them.

♦ Then there is today’s jobs report. While most experts expected the number of jobs created last month to be restrained, mainly due to Superstorm Sandy, the jobs were actually up. Up enough to drop the unemployment rate to 7.7%, its lowest mark in four years. There were 146,000 jobs added.

♦ In the mean time, right in the middle of all the muddle about fiscal cliff-diving, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says there is no “fiscal crisis,” only a “job crisis.” He says we should spend more not less:

So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.

♦ Finally, the guy who killed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin is, uh, suing NBC. George Zimmerman alleges,

NBC News saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain.

In the mean time, Trayvon Martin doesn’t get to sue anybody.

The Best (And Shortest) Explanation of the Fiscal Cliff You Will Ever Hear

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Mandate? Whose Mandate?

Someone told me we had an election on November 6, discernibly about increasing taxes on the wealthy. And, I was told, President Obama won.

Yet, I heard some of the chatter on Morning Joe this morning regarding the negotiations over the coming austerity crisis, also known as the fiscal cliff, and guess what? It’s mostly President Obama’s fault that nothing has been accomplished so far.

The consensus appeared to be, among those around the Morning Joe table, that President Obama should be like Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson and essentially purchase House Republican votes with some kind of patronage scheme or go up to Capitol Hill and cajole Republicans in some unspecified way. All to get a deal on taxes.

Joe Scarborough mentioned that those House Republicans won their races, too, some of them with “a much,much higher percentage of the vote in their districts than the President,” and that the President should understand that,

They won as well. And so they have a mandate as well…you’d think this president, as a state legislator, would understand those dynamics, but he doesn’t.

Hmm. “They have a mandate as well.” “Understand those dynamics.” Let me get this straight: An indiscernible mandate of a congressman from, say, Southwest Missouri, is somehow on a par with a clear mandate of the newly elected President of the United States? Let’s think about that as we quickly look at my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, and how many votes he got on November 6:

Billy Long, Republican:   203,565    63.9%
Jim Evans, Democrat:      98,498    30.9%

You can see that Scarborough is right in one sense. Billy Long got a whopping 64% of the vote here in the Ozarks. That’s definitely more than the President got. But you can also see that Long got just over 200,000 votes. I wonder how many votes Barack Obama got? Oh:

popular vote totals 2012

Now, let me do some ciphering:

OBAMA:    65,355,488
LONG:            203,565
__________________
                    65,151,923

So, the President got about 65 million more votes than Ozark Billy, but in Scarborough’s world—and he was not contradicted by anyone on the set—Long has a mandate that President Obama is compelled to respect enough to go down to Long’s office and, uh, what? What is he supposed to offer Ozark Billy? A signed copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate? A free lunch at the White’s House buffet? An all-expenses-paid trip to Larry Flynt’s Holiday Poker Classic? (Billy likes to gamble.) Huh? Would any of that bring Billy Long to the light?

Mika Brzezinski, who often drowns in conversations like this one, actually piped up and said in response to Scarborough’s suggestion that Obama doesn’t understand the dynamics at play:

But what is he supposed to do with those dynamics?

Good question. And Jon Meacham, the now bestselling historian (his latest book is on Thomas Jefferson), added to Scarborough’s play for Republican respect by responding to Brzezinski:

Understand what the other guy feels like…That’s a huge part of what politics is. Henry Kissinger’s great insight: If you’re ever going to win a negotiation, if you’re ever going to have a result, you have to give the other guy a way out.

You know, he’s right. You do have to give the other guy a way out, a fig leaf, something which he can point to and say, “I got something out of the deal.” But what if what the other guy wants is totally unreasonable? What if what the other guy wants is his way or no way? What if what the other guy wants is the same thing he wanted before November 6? Before the election that saw President Obama get more than 65 million votes campaigning against what the other guy wanted?

Once again Republicans believe they are holding the country’s economic health hostage for the sake of protecting their wealthy friends, and they are trying to pretend the election on November 6 didn’t mean all that much. The problem with the political chatterers on television, most of whom are Beltway types, is that some of them respect the hostage takers more than they respect those trying to rescue the hostages.

So, sadly, Republicans are being aided in their efforts by some in the professional pundit class who are suggesting that the President is to blame for failing to satisfy the demands of the kidnappers.

Scarborough, without being challenged, looked into the camera this morning and emphatically gave the following advice to House Republicans on how to handle negotiations with President Obama:scarborough and fiscal cliff advice

If he doesn’t come to you with a deal, do-not-vote-to-raise-taxes-a-cent! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! You’ll get beaten! And Washington will spend that money and they won’t cut again and the deficit will be 18 trillion a couple of years from now.

The problem with Scarborough’s thinking, the problem with his blustery advice for Republicans, is that Mr. Obama now understands that a deal that pleases the right-wing zealots in the House of Representatives is not a deal worth making. He needs to make a deal with reasonable Republicans, if there are any left in Congress.

And if he can’t find any reasonable Republicans, if the country plunges off the cliff, falls off the curb, or waddles down the slope, however one wants to define what will happen on a deal-less January 1, the President knows that Republicans—Republicans—will get most of the blame:

fiscal cliff poll results

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