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Reader mail...Josh--Everything you say

Reader mail...


Everything you say about the Schiavo fiasco is true except your conclusion. The Democrats, for once, did exactly the right thing. By letting the Republicans do what they wanted, they have give the American public, at a very crucial time, the opportunity to see the Republicans in all their sleazy glory. The unspoken backdrop of political debate in the country will now be "Look what you get when the Republicans get to do what they want." No one will point to the Democrats to say they were in it too, but if they'd have kept the vote from taking place, some would have pointed to them as against life and none would have seen the courts' utter rejection of Republican over-reaching. Republican pronouncements from authority will e crippled by the obviously manipulative and mistaken pronouncements by Republican doctors in congress on Schiavo's condition. Even conservative Republicans are upset with Delay now. With outcomes so good, why Monday morning quarterback the Democratic leadership? What better result could you hope for?


I actually don't think I necessarily disagree with this. It's not an issue for Dems to whip votes on. <$NoAd$>And the Republicans are in the majority. They can do what they want. But any Democrat should feel entirely comfortable saying they respect the legal process and don't believe Congress should intervene in family matters of life and death (notwithstanding the anguished decisions involved) to score political points.

Simple and honest.

Surprise. Surprise. For years

Surprise. Surprise.

For years, every Social Security Trustees report has put the insolvency numbers further out than they were the year before.

Until this year.

Late Update: Atrios, an economist, has and, I suspect, will continue to have the best details on the precise methods of cookery involved.

I havent had my

I haven't had my eye as closely on developments as I had been. But it seems now that the Senate's Fainthearted Faction may have to go out of business entirely or at least nearly so. Once I've read all the tea leaves, I'll be updating as appropriate.

Theres another lesson for

There's another lesson for Democrats in this whole sad and sometimes ugly Schiavo affair. It has nothing to do with the politics of end-of-life care or the particulars of this tragic case. It concerns how Democrats present their views to the nation, how they act politically.

The recent national political phase of this case began with Republicans seeing a political opportunity to mobilize the electorate against Democrats -- an especially inviting opportunity given the turn of other political news of late. Most of the national press bought into this storyline. And most Democrats seem to have done so as well.

That doesn't mean they agreed with the underlying viewpoint advanced by Republicans. But they did buy into the political storyline. And that set into motion the standard drama, with cowering Democrats put to flight and fear by grinning Republicans, with national reporters occasionally aghast but mainly enthralled, as our baser natures might be by a gloveless boxing match.

(From childhood, most of us remember that there is a certain bully character type. But it is seldom an accident just who gets bullied. Bullies, in their very nature, perhaps their deepest nature, know how to sense and seek out people who are afraid to defend themselves. That's an instructive lesson here too.)

Yet now we see, quite in contrast to the conventional wisdom, that what the Washington Republicans have done here is quite unpopular with the public. Narrow majorities think the court decision is the right one; and overwhelming majorities believe Congress shouldn't be getting involved in this at all.

But those polls shouldn't have been necessary for Democrats to know how to act in this case. Anybody watching this could see what the Republican majority was doing was a cheap political stunt. We have laws in this country and courts enforce them. This is a case where there is not even a credible argument that there is any question of legitimate interpretation. That's all another way of saying that the Democrats should have been more confident that the majority of the public would have been more supportive of living under the law of the land in this case, or put another way, of their being the grown-up party.

I consider myself very much a political pragmatist -- what's right has to contend with what's doable, and all that. There are also a number of us who've been saying for years that the Democrats have a problem on national security and that much of it is not so much a question of policy as an ingrained habit of approaching defense policy issues through a prism of politics rather than policy. But this last year has brought home to me the belief that this basic problem extends far beyond national security policy.

I think the record now shows that Democrats have reaped ample political rewards by beginning the Social Security debate with a clear and emphatic statement of their support for the Social Security system as it now exists in advance of the public's reaction. And this is one example among many.

For my part at least, this doesn't mean I'm ditching pragmatism in favor of a come-what-will idealism. Not at all. Far from it. I simply think that we are now operating in a political context in which clarity and candor about where Democrats stand makes for good politics -- much better certainly than the tacking back and forth that has become second nature after such a long time sailing against an adverse wind.

Just as is the case with Republicans, there are things that Democrats believe that a majority of the public does not. That's life. And I'm not naive enough not to recognize that there are some issues of such controversy that they may still require delicate handling. But these two examples above show that Democrats are often inclined to move immediately to the defensive in instances where the public actually supports their viewpoint. And even where that is not the case, I think the Democrats will end up, on balance, in better standing with the public that knows just where they stand and that they're willing to stand for it.

I would be remiss

I would be remiss if I didn't quickly offer a hearty thank you to the three guest bloggers who generously took time to keep the commentary coming in my absence: Jon Chait, Harry Shearer and Ed Kilgore. A very sincere thank you to each of them. I hope you enjoyed their posts as much as I did. Remember that you can keep reading Jon in The New Republic, Harry in all sorts of different venues described here and Ed at NewDonkey.com.

One other short note. A number of folks have already written in to ask why I'm back already, why such a short honeymoon? Actually, we're taking our honeymoon in May. Thus my (relatively) early reappearance.

Despite being away for

Despite being away for several days, I've kept one eye on the Schiavo story. And a couple echoes or reminders keep coming into my head. One is the Elian Gonzales episode from 2000; another is Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities -- only now in a different locale, a different worldview or ideology aflame, and with a new lead character: Tom DeLay.

Another part of this story, which seems hard to miss, is the increasing frequency of one-off legislation -- laws intended to obstruct the normal course of law and explicitly intended to have no value as precedent. All of this, of course, is precisely inimical to the rule of law and puts legislatures and, in other cases, courts (Bush v. Gore) in the paradoxical position of overturning the law, albeit using the procedures of either creating or interpreting it.

And Tom DeLay, this is truly the last refuge for this man. The cable networks seem not quite to have caught on to the fact that almost every tentacle of the political machine this man has created is now careening toward federal or state indictments. So here he is wrapping himself in the cloth of this family tragedy, in an effort to whip up the most whippable of his supporters in his defense, and in so doing finding the hand of God working in this woman's hospice care and in his own exposure as one of the most corrupt congressional leaders in American history. Like I said, Bonfire of the Vanities.

The Bridegroom as the

The Bridegroom, as the last post indicates, is beginning to reconnect with terrestrial matters, but he's asked me to keep up the content for a few more hours. This gives me an opportunity to recommend an article by Matt Yglesias, which has finally been posted online by The American Prospect, about the roots of Democratic weakness on national security issues.

His basic thesis, which echoes the seminal New Democrat analysis by Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck back in 1989, The Politics of Evasion, is that the Democratic "security gap" is less a matter of policy differences than of a persistent belief that national security issues are "enemy turf" which Democrats should try to avoid or simply neutralize, while changing the subject back to more congenial domestic issues.

Yglesias argues strenuously that there is a robust and relatively united point of view on national security among wonks and shadow-cabinet experts (such as the Progressive Internationalism manifesto midwifed by the Progressive Policy Institute last year), which is more important than the increasingly-moot differences of opinion on the decision to invade Iraq. But this consensus Democratic wisdom never quite makes it into Democratic presidential or congressional campaigns.

Despite a reasonably broad consensus among left-of-center security hands about what should be done, the party’s political operatives are unable to turn that consensus into a compelling political narrative. Democrats are reluctant to address security issues except when forced to do so, and, as a result, they discover that when they are so forced, they aren’t very good at it. Political failure breeds further reluctance, which breeds further failure -- no one develops the relevant ability to spin security for partisan gain, and because no one can win on security, no one learns how to campaign on it.

The Kerry campaign, he suggests, was a prime example of this disconnect. Democrats had in 2004 a candidate with a strong national security record, supported by a strong personal biography, but in the end, he was perceived as weak on the very set of issues that made so many primary voters believe he was "electable." Why? Because he never had a real national security message, and his campaign made sure of that.

Polls showed that voters were concerned that things were going badly in Iraq, so Kerry talked about it. They showed that voters were concerned about America’s relations with its allies, so he talked about that. This approach may work well enough on domestic issues where the goodies -- tax credits, Social Security checks, new schools, lower insurance premiums -- are concrete and separable.

The best example of this disconnect was on the subject of nuclear terrorism, which, as Yglesias notes, has been an obsessive concern, and a common critique of Bush, shared by virtually all Democrats. Kerry's record on this issue was unimpeachable, consistent, and moreover, the centerpiece of his argument that unilateralism in foreign policy threatened our national security. But you didn't hear much about it on the campaign trail, because Kerry's political wizards didn't think it was a "voting issue."

But Yglesias doesn't blame the consulting class as the sole source of the problem: he also score party activists who simply aren't interested in national security.

New initiatives under way to train a new generation of progressive activists often offer civil liberties as a potential area of interest, but not national security or foreign policy. Of course civil liberties are important, but a strategy to ensure that the government doesn’t go too far in combating terrorism only makes sense as part of a strategy that will ensure that the government also goes far enough. Liberals may think it should go without saying that we, too, want to keep America safe, but in practice it doesn’t go without saying. A movement interested in preparing to defend the United States from its own security apparatus but not against terrorism is inviting the attack that it cares more about protecting terrorists than their victims. Worse, it deprives itself of the ability to cultivate people who will be able to articulate a progressive message on national security in the future.

Most provocatively, Yglesias suggests that the fundamental cause of the "politics of evasion" among Democrats on national security is this: we don't have any recognized constituency group that cares about it!

The upshot is that no one is charged with looking after a topic, like national security, that concerns everyone, rather than anyone in particular. There exists no major group in Washington that defines itself as both progressive and primarily concerned with the topics of foreign policy and security. Until this is changed, it will be hard for Democrats to engage with the subject as they must -- at every level, and not merely in presidential campaigns. It will also be all but impossible to build a broad, thematic case on security policy -- one that raises the way in which the right’s tax-cut jihad at home starves the government of resources needed to fight the real one around the world, and questions the fitness of a movement with an ambivalent view toward theocracy at home to combat it abroad -- rather than a laundry list of narrow, technocratic criticisms.

I rarely use the term "must-read," but I recommend Yglesias' piece to all Democrats, and especially to those Democrats who have been unhappy with the more abrasive argument of Peter Beinart about the urgency of making the Democratic Party's position on national security unambiguous. Matt is not endorsing--indeed, he is rejecting--any intra-party fight or "purge;" but he is arguing that Democratic antipathy to the whole subject of national security is making us all susceptible to the GOP claim that we ultimately just don't give a damn.

Take a look at

Take a look at this Media Matters report on CNN's skewed presentation of polling data about the Schiavo case.

It's a textbook example and, I suspect, no accident.

Late Update: As of early this evening, CNN has now revised the graph in question.

Having disrespected a David

Having disrespected a David Brooks column in a weekend post, I have to say that today's offering on the greater meaning of the ever-burgeoning Abramoff/Scanlon/Reed Casino Shakedown Scandal pretty much balances the weekly ledger in my book. Aside from writing a quick and acerbic summary of the scandal and its many ironies, Brooks does not shrink from the connection between the Republican Revolution of 1995 and its increasingly nauseating Thermidor. Indeed, Brooks says you can't understand one without the other:

Back in 1995, when Republicans took over Congress, a new cadre of daring and original thinkers arose. These bold innovators had a key insight: that you no longer had to choose between being an activist and a lobbyist. You could be both. You could harness the power of K Street to promote the goals of Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich. And best of all, you could get rich while doing it!

So far most GOPers and conservative opinion-leaders are ignoring the whole mess, in part because it's not getting much play in the mainstream media other than in the Washington Post. But this story ain't going away, and soon enough we'll start hearing the splashing sound of Abramoff and Reed's fellow crewmen tossing them over the side with sad, damage-controlling comments about how ol' Jack and ol' Ralph lost their minds along with their principles.

Given his partisan loyalties, I'm glad to see that Brooks isn't buying it:

Abramoff's and Scanlon's Indian-gaming scandal will go down as the movement's crowning achievement, more shameless than anything the others would do, but still the culmination of the trends building since 1995. It perfectly embodied their creed and philosophy: "I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!" as Abramoff wrote to Reed.

They made at least $66 million.

This is a major accomplishment. And remember: Abramoff didn't do it on his own.

It took a village. The sleazo-cons thought they could take over K Street to advance their agenda. As it transpired, K Street took over them.