Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

More details about TPMCafe.com.As

More details about TPMCafe.com.

As I noted before I went away on vacation, TPMCafe will host a small number of individual, subject-specific blogs -- one of which will focus on foreign affairs and national security.

This will be a group blog with six contributors.

They are Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ivo Daalder of Brookings, John Ikenberry of Princeton University, James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations, George Packer of The New Yorker and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

(What I've listed here are just brief mentions of each contributor's institutional affiliation. You can find out more about them by clicking on the individual links.)

It's an exciting group of voices, not only because of the qualities each possesses individually, but because of the eclectic mix of perspectives -- as academics, policy practitioners and journalists -- they bring to the conversation.

More to follow ...

Duce Duce or Toadies

Duce! Duce! or Toadies on Parade!

DC conservatives hold tribute dinner to hail fearless (Majority) Leader DeLay, man of steel.

Where is the Chaplin for this dubious Duce, this tin-pot Tweed?

Amazing. When I left

Amazing. When I left a week ago, the Princeton Frist Filibuster site was still a hastily-thrown-together operation, mainly serving up a slow feed of some student filibustering Bill Frist. Now, it's a whole elaborate set-up, with a media archive, lists of upcoming speakers and events, links to filibusters at other campuses -- amazing.

They're even fundraising for something called "phase 2" of their filibuster, though I couldn't seem to figure out from the site what phase two was. Certainly, something quite worthy.

By now Professors Witten and Nappi should have their TPM T-Shirts they won for being the first two profs to get in on the action. Actually, that means that there's still a third T-Shirt waiting for whoever was the third professor to take a stand and filibuster Frist. But I'll let the organizers on the scene determine who that lucky T-Shirt recipient was.

Let me just get

Let me just get started with a note of thanks to my two guest bloggers, Matt Yglesias and Kenny Baer. It was a pleasure leaving the site in both of their hands over the last week.

My wife and I just flew into New York this evening after a week's honeymoon on the Yucatan peninsula. And thanks to all of you for the kind notes, written while I was away, about that.

More soon on several subjects.

My time at TPM

My time at TPM is almost up. Instead of leaving with a long post cataloguing how I think the world should be, I leave this little slice of cyberspace by saying thank you: to the more than 1500 readers who responded to my query of Friday; to friends and sources on both sides of the Atlantic; to the scores of readers who e-mailed me with thoughts, corrections, and a few choice criticisms; and -- most of all -- to Josh for entrusting me with this incredible platform.

The hype about blogs is only building in intensity (Exhibit A: the front page of the business section of the New York Times today). While others -- many with big names -- will be jumping on the bandwagon, they will have a high standard to meet. Josh -- and TPM readers -- have set the bar for intelligent, reasoned, and researched discourse. It's been an honor to contribute, and I hope that whether you liked or disliked my thoughts, I provoked you enough to read my column at the New Republic Online, and from there we can continue this conversation.

Josh, over to you...

Now no one tell

Now, no one tell Josh’s wife that he sneaked away to post during his honeymoon. While Josh was posting from an undisclosed, but sunny, location, I was reminded of a much colder time: the weeks after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Democrats were devastated; pundits were gabbing hysterically about the dawning of “prime ministerial” government in the US. That December, I returned from England and had a conversation with the historian Fred Siegel, a friend and mentor of mine. Fred said not to worry; he wished control of the House of Representatives on the GOP as, eventually, it would turn them into what the Democrats on the Hill had become by the late 1990’s -- an out-of-touch, Beltway party focused on the needs of the donors who fund their campaigns.

In Slate this week, Jacob Weisberg notes that this prediction has come true. “Interest-group conservatism,” he argues, has replaced interest-group liberalism -- with all its accompanying pathologies. Weisberg’s piece underscores what many across the party have argued: that Democrats must seize the mantle of reform. Embracing a reform agenda -- along with developing a forward-looking public philosophy -- will not only rid Democrats of the worst excesses of interest-group liberalism, but put us on track to do what the GOP did a decade ago: win.

ed.note Josh Marshall will

(ed.note: Josh Marshall will be back Sunday evening. But he couldn't resist this one post from abroad.)

In the context of Social Security, what exactly is ‘solvency’? And just what are we looking for when we say we want to find it? I pose these questions because the president's new ‘plan' has placed them in a much higher relief for the following reason. According the Social Security Trustees' rather pessimistic estimates, in 2041 or 2042, the Trust Fund will run out and benefits will have to be cut by just over 25%. President Bush calls that ‘bankruptcy’. On the other hand, President Bush's 'plan' cuts benefits by about the same amount. And he calls that ‘solvency’.

Same cuts: one is a looming disaster, the other is an act of statesmanship. Go figure.

Now, there are some details and caveats. The Bush cuts aren't quite as big. He cuts a bit of a break for the working poor while reserving the full brunt of the pain for the middle class. On top of that he includes a private accounts-based phase-out plan and a ton of new borrowing. But then, as even the President's budget wizards now concede, his plan only keeps the program 'solvent' for a few more years. So it's not like it accomplishes much of anything anyway.

Yet none of this changes the essential logic of the Bush plan. And that’s where our attention should focus. If the issue is simply making sure that benefits remain equal to payroll tax revenues, that's easy. Indeed, we've already got that since the way the Social Security system is set up, benefits are automatically cut to the level of revenue coming into Social Security form payroll taxes and the Trust Fund. Just leave the damn thing on auto-pilot and it will remain 'solvent', automatically, from now until the end of time.

All the president has done is take the problem -- steep benefit cuts -- and redefined it as the solution. That’s not a plan or a solution; it’s a word game. And if we're really setting such a feeble standard, there are an infinite number of similarly silly 'plans' folks can cook up.

The point, I think, is that when people worry about 'solvency', their concern is not about something so trivial as a book-keeping entry. Their worry is that people like Social Security as it is today. And they want it to be there for themselves or, depending on their age, their children or grandchildren. Only there's a problem. And that is that in the second half of this century potential funding shortfalls could require cuts that begin to make Social Security into something very different than what it is today and what it was for those in the past.

Now, not every thing we want is possible in this world. And perhaps at some point some level of cuts will be necessary. But, as I said, I think they are what most folks want to avoid rather than being the goal, as seems to be the case for President Bush.

But, if changes become necessary, they are far from the only lever that can be pulled to put things back into balance. We could remove or limit the high-income-earners’ payroll tax exemption, the so-called ‘cap’. We could supplement Social Security with funds from general revenue. We could invest a portion of the Trust Fund in something other than Treasury bonds. We could nudge the retirement age up another year. Perhaps most immediately we could forgo the new round of high-income tax breaks President Bush wants passed – those which would re-pass or make permanent those from his first term. That in itself would go a long way toward solving the whole problem. Various mixes of these possibilities would solve the whole problem. And it is important not to forget that it is not at all clear that the problem will ever even materialize, at least at this scope, given increased productivity and immigration.

The important point is that for President Bush there’s only one solution -- big middle class benefit cuts. (And, of course, on top of that, lots more borrowing and cutting to create that Write House Holy Grail, private accounts.)

For most folks, that’s the problem. For President Bush, it’s the solution.

It’s his goal.

And that shouldn’t surprise you, since phasing out Social Security has always been what the president is after.

I am off to

<$NoAd$>I am off to the family homestead in the wilds of South Jersey. I’ll be blogging a bit from there. Before I do, allow me to pose a question to the TPM collective that would help immeasurably with a debate I’ve been having with some folks in DC:

If you have to read a long magazine article (such as a New Yorker profile), do you prefer to read it: on a website, in a printed magazine, printed from a website from a printer, or not at all?

If you could e-mail me at kenbaer17@hotmail.com with your answer in the subject line, I would be most grateful.

The business of politics

The business of politics in the US has kept me from posting on the politics of the UK, and I have a lunch meeting in a half-hour. So, here’s a quick wrap-up of the British elections.

By now, you know that Tony Blair and the Labour Party have won a historic third term, but with a reduced majority of 66 seats. The Tories gained 33 seats to garner 197, and the Lib Dems increased their total by 11 seats to 62. This is a historic win for Labour -- and while a lot of attention has been focused on the reduced majority, they are still, by far, the dominant party of British politics. The Tories have picked themselves off of the mat and regained some natural Tory ground in the southeast and London to bring them closer to respectability. But to put it into perspective, the Conservatives are still worse off than Labour was after the disastrous Michael Foot-led campaign of 1983. The Liberal Democrats had a good night -- and now have more seats than at any point in their modern history -- but the Lib Dems have yet to break into prime time.

What the Lib Dems did do was provide an outlet for Labour rank-and-file anger toward Blair over Iraq. This Blair government takes power with the smallest percentage of the vote in history (about 36 percent). As the Prime Minister said today (which is, by the way, his birthday), “I have listened and learned.” What he heard was the British equivalent of a Bronx cheer.

While these elections are interesting for any political junkie, they are important for us as Americans. First, the UK is our strongest ally in the world -- and especially in the war in Iraq and in the war against terrorism. This election sent a very loud signal to the British leadership, across all parties, that there is very little upside in being such a staunch supporter of President Bush. I believe that Blair’s support of Bush is both in the strategic interest of his country and springs from his deeply-held beliefs about the threat jihadist Islam poses to the world (see Philip Stephens’ biography on Blair for more). Yet, with about 50 hard-core Labour rebels and a diminished majority, Blair will have to walk gingerly when it comes to foreign policy. And if, as expected, he gives way to Gordon Brown in a year or two, British support for Iraq – or similar adventures -- will not be anything close to automatic.

Second, there is a tradition of intellectual give-and-take between our two countries (Thatcher and Reagan; Clinton and Blair). Last night, Blair lost a good number of New Labour shock troops, and his diminished majority will tie his hands when it comes to pursuing innovation and reform in the NHS and other public services. Also, there are those who may interpret this election as a defeat for New Labour; they should not. Blair got hurt because of Iraq, nothing else. If Labour did not undergo the modernization project that Blair helped initiate in the 1990’s, it would not be in government today. As a Third Way fellow-traveler, I hope that this election and the eventual ascension of Brown to Number 10 will not dampen the intellectual ferment on the left in Britain. As we Democrats rebuild and do so in a rapidly-changing world, we need all the help we can get.

In Rochdale just outside

In Rochdale, just outside of Manchester, Lorna Fitzsimons -- a Labour MP looking for a third term -- was facing a tough challenge from the Lib Dems. So, who did the Labour high command send to help? Karen Hicks, Howard Dean’s campaign manager in the New Hampshire primary and the field director at the DNC in the general election. Fitzsimons, apparently not well-versed in recent American political history, told the New York Times that: "Karen is my ace in the hole."

Well, the Lib Dem candidate, Paul Rowen, must have had a royal flush because he’s the new MP from Rochdale.