In it, but not of it. TPM DC

During his appearance today on the Neil Cavuto show, potential presidential candidate Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) gave a dire warning about the mass nationalization of the economy under President Obama:

"But beyond just the money and the politics, just as a matter of philosophy and our country," said Pawlenty, "the nationalization of the auto industry, the likely partial or full nationalization of the health care industry, the energy industry -- this is gonna be a very different country 12 or 24 months from now."

He then added: "This is not the United States of America that we know and love and remember. This looks more like some sort of, you know, republic from South America circa 1970s."

Richard Kirsch, the national campaign director for Health Care for America Now, read Obama's letter to Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Max Baucus (D-MT), and liked what he saw.

We are thrilled to see President Obama's strong, unambiguous commitment to reform that includes the choice of keeping private health insurance or joining a new public health insurance option. The choice of a new public health insurance plan is the only way to control costs, guarantee coverage, ensure quality and transparency, and set a benchmark by which patients will know whether their private health insurance is truly giving them what they're paying for.

Taking issue with the Senate Finance Committee suggestion that a public insurance option can be instituted down the line by placing a trigger mechanism in the bill, HCAN says, "some Members of Congress have discussed the possibility of creating a public health insurance plan "trigger," suggesting the public health insurance option can wait. It cannot."

Obama didn't address that particular question in his letter, but he did reiterate his commitment to the public option. "I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)--often a key holdout on progressive aspects of Obama's agenda--has wavered on the question of a public insurance option. He originally called it a deal breaker, and sought to recruit centrist members of Congress to oppose the plan alongside him, but now says, without getting specific, that he's keeping an open mind.

This is the sort of thing that gets people wondering whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) will actually sign a certificate of election for Al Franken -- as he's said he would do -- once the Minnesota Supreme Court hands down its expected ruling in Al's favor.

Pawlenty appeared this afternoon on the Neil Cavuto show, and Cavuto observed that Pawlenty's decision to not run for a third term, which many people see as a possible lead-up to a presidential campaign in 2012, also frees him up to fight for Norm Coleman. Pawlenty denied that he would behave in such a manner -- but he did point out some possible circumstances that could hold things up further:

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Greg Sargent has discovered that Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" line from 2001 was not the only time Sotomayor said something like that -- back in 1994, she also expressed basically the same sentiment in relation to women: "I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion."

So what does this mean?

• Greg thinks that the fact that this was well known at the time of Sotomayor's confirmation to her current position on the appeals court would certainly seem to undercut the Republicans who are shocked -- shocked! -- to find out about this now.

• Michael Goldfarb, that great humanitarian from The Weekly Standard, says this really contradicts the White House for saying that Sotomayor would want to rephrase a poor choice of words.

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I've just heard back from New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin by phone and email. In a prepared statement, he walked back his comments on MSNBC considerably. "Boy did I touch the third rail! My off-handed comment was admittedly flip. I apologize for that. It was meant to provoke a conversation."

I did not mean to suggest that there are literally no successful companies that employ union workers. Of course there are! Your readers have provided a good list (though I might quibble with some of the names.)

I made the unscripted comment with my financial columnist hat on in the context of the problems at GM. That's what the discussion was about on the program. And when you look at some of the once great iconic American industries that have faltered -- automobiles, airlines, steel, apparel, etc -- there is a fair question worth asking about whether those industries were helped or hurt by their unions. But let's leave that debate for another day.

Not sure if that will placate his critics, who were pretty livid about the whole episode, but I guess we'll see.

Regarding the similarity between the question he posed the hosts of Morning Joe and a question former General Electric CEO Jack Welch posed to economist Joseph Stiglitz during a panel discussion Sorkin moderated, he said, "I'm afraid to say I hadn't remembered it until you sent me your post."

Sorkin said he hadn't expected such a strong response and even suggested he was sympathetic to the very people who were most upset by his words.

The New Hampshire state House has now passed a gay marriage bill after a misfire two weeks ago, putting this state on the road to full marriage equality.

So what has made the difference? Two weeks ago, I pointed out that this bill had become a case study in get-out-the-vote for a chamber of 400 members. The initial version passed by a 178-167 margin. But Gov. John Lynch (D) wouldn't sign it without expressly codified exemptions for religious institutions that didn't want to participate in gay marriage.

That new version then initially failed by a margin of 188-186 -- owing mainly to marriage opponents doing a better job this time of getting their people to the chamber.

But now the new version has passed 198-176. Marriage-equality supporters took another bite at the apple, ironed out some final language, and picked up those remaining votes they needed.

Late Update: Gov. Lynch has signed the bill, officially legalizing gay marriage in the state of New Hampshire. The new law will take effect January 1, 2010.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union answers Andrew Ross Sorkin's question with a question of his own. "Unionized companies are a driving force in our economy, from Kaiser Permanente to Securitas," Stern said in a statement to TPMDC.

The bigger question this country is really asking right now is how do we define a successful company? Is it a company that turns a profit by driving down employee wages successful? Is cutting off benefits or putting people out of work to improve the bottom line for shareholders a business model we as Americans want to embrace? Are we going to embrace the Wal-Mart model as the standard of success, or are we going to raise the bar and rebuild the middle class in this country?

We think it's time to have a serious national discussion about what we want the future of our economy to look like--and the voices of women and men who work are critical to that conversation. That's why we're supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill to help create an economy in which companies succeed based on the quality of their services, not on their willingness to exploit or silence workers.

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If you want more information than you'll ever need on the wealth of successful business employing unionized workers, you need look no farther than the group American Rights at Work. Every year they publish the Labor Day List, to "recognize successful partnerships between employers and their employees' labor unions that are working well in the global economy."

You can download the 2008 report here (PDF), and see a full list of past reports here.

(Note that because the most recent Labor Day List came out last year, the companies highlighted in it don't necessarily meet the criteria we've set up for our growing list of profitable, unionized companies.)

I asked Nikki Daruwala, who directs the Socially Responsible Business Program at the group American Rights at Work, why the perception that unions always hurt businesses persists if all this information is so easily accessible.

"I think it has to do with the fact that people have this knee-jerk reaction--that union and management are on the opposite poles," she said. "They're not open to the idea that there are very successful partnerships...helping the companies, helping society."

I just got off the phone with Nancy Mills, the Deputy Chief of Staff for AFL-CIO, who had some thoughts for us on the substance and the implication of Sorkin's statements on MSNBC.

"One of the things it points out is that the American public in general, and those who have an axe to grind, who are promoting this ignorance, don't seem to know who's in unions." Mills said.

She noted that there's no shortage of companies with successful worker-employer partnerships adding that "People think of these as good places, successful, interesting, and they don't stop and think that they might be unionized, because there hasn't been a picket line."

I asked her if unions, or the greater labor movement have any culpability for allowing this predominant line of thinking to go largely unchallenged. She noted that there's a long standing debate within the labor movement about the usefulness of spending dues dollars on messaging to non-union members, and that the big federations have spent the last several years fending off attacks from anti-union interests leaving little in the way of time or resources to promote a positive message.

Late update: You can read Sorkin's apology here.

The new SurveyUSA poll in Virginia finds former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe still ahead in this Tuesday's Democratic primary for governor -- contrary to a Public Policy Polling (D) survey yesterday that showed him slipping into second place behind state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

The numbers: McAuliffe 35%, Deeds 29%, and former state Del. Brian Moran 26%, with a ±4.4% margin of error. Two weeks ago, SurveyUSA had the race as McAuliffe 37%, Deeds 26%, and Moran 22%.

The pollster's analysis shows that this race remains volatile: "Half of SurveyUSA likely voters say they may yet change their mind. Among voters who say their mind is made-up, Deeds leads, with McAuliffe and Moran a half-dozen points back."

In the general election match-ups against Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell, the Dems currently all trail by varying margins: McDonnell edges Deeds 44%-43%, leads McAuliffe 47%-40%, and is ahead of Moran by 48%-37%.