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

Lets all take a

Let's all take a deep breath, appreciate the gravity of the moment, and then burst out laughing at the hapless representative from the 4th district of Louisiana, Rep. Jim McCrery (R).

Since it garnered a lot of media attention, you probably saw that the Campaign for America's Future -- one of the lead pro-Social Security advocacy groups -- started running ads in McCrery's district knocking him for being in the pocket of Wall Street interests set to gain from privatization.

It was a tough ad. But in the day of Swift Boats and the gay-loving AARP, it hardly charted any new territory in aggressive political speech. And it had the added benefit of being pretty undeniably factual.

So what does our man McCrery do? He's threatening to bring the courts in to enforce the Social Security speech code and get the ad pulled off the air.

According to an AP story which ran mid-evening on Tuesday, Rep. McCrery had his lawyer write a letter to the stations running the ad claiming that the ad is false and defamatory and threatening that running it "exposes you to possible legal liability."

And what was the defamatory claim, exactly?

The letter says what's defamatory is the ad's claim "U.S. Rep. McCrery wants to privatize Social Security and cut our guaranteed benefits."

This one really shoots McCrery to the top of the list of arch-social security bamboozlers. Republicans don't have to call privatization 'privatization' anymore. And they can try to jawbone reporters out of using the term. But presumably the word itself has yet to become itself a cause of action. And cut your guaranteed benefits? Can't we hit McCrery's dingbat lawyer for threatening like a frivolous lawsuit or something? No one denies that the president's plan will cut guaranteed benefits. The claim is only that private accounts might make up the shortfall.

I mean, it's hard to know how much to belabor this man's ridiculousness. But perhaps it is enough to see it as a sign of the low ebb to which phase-out has arrived that a representative who has already flip-flopped on this issue twice in the last six weeks is now responding to a hostile political ad by threatening legal action for making claims that are demonstrably factual.

There he goes again.

There he goes again.

Shortly after the second former high official in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives charged the administration with basic indifference to the much-ballyhooed idea of empowering people of faith to deal with entrenched social problems, George W. Bush went out again today and made a speech on the subject. And again, he acted as though there wasn't a whole lot he could do about inaction in the Congress, which his party controls top-to-bottom.

The bigger issue, of course, is that Bush did not bother to include the simplest and least controversial part of his original faith-based initiative--a charitable contribution deduction for non-itemizers--in his latest budget. As in past years, this tax cut got bumped from the menu of revenue goodies in favor of tax cuts aimed at high earners--you know, those folks of whom Jesus Christ said: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24).

Now I don't know how the 250 "religious leaders" who heard Bush's pithy remarks today felt about them. But given the administration's consistent unwillingness to support a relatively small tax break that could help religious charities--even as it piles up debt into the many trillions, including an end to the federal inheritence tax, which will hurt religious charities--I hope someone in the audience remembered what Jesus said just before the passage cited above. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 19:21).

Thus endeth the evening lesson.

The re-redistrictng Power Grab

The re-redistrictng Power Grab isn't the only mischief being cooked up by the Republicans in my home state of Georgia. Interestingly enough, there's a big fight underway over GOP-sponsored legislation that would shield public incentives for corporate relocations from public scrutiny.

If this sounds obscure and parochial to you, think again. One of the most destructive habits in state economic development strategies is the chronic battle between states to attract business investment by giving away the store in the form of tax rebates, free property, exemptions from regulations, and other corporate subsidies that create hidden, long-term costs in exchange for tangible, short-term announcements of new jobs and investment. And in turn, this is the basic approach to economic development--a race to the bottom in which all public priorities are sacrificed to the goal of lavishing money and power on "job creaters"--that Bush-era Republicans have made our national strategy for growth.

The rationale for the Georgia legislation, of course, is that it's designed to keep smokestack chasers from rival states from identifying and sweetening the deal being offered to fidgety corporate leaders. But it obviously makes it a lot easier for state wheeler-dealers to keep those taxpayers who are underwriting the deals from finding out about the price tag, or in some cases, the less tangible cost of new development in terms of environmental resources, traffic, housing, schools and the overall quality of life.

The GOP bill has already passed the Georgia House, but is in trouble in the Senate, where all 22 Democrats are opposed, and some Republicans, especially from high-growth areas, as getting jumpy. They should be jumpy, and Democrats should hang tough.

Compared to some states, Georgia has been relatively reluctant over the years to trade away its resources and revenues in corporate subsidies. In fact, as it happens, I once wrote a speech for a Georgia Governor who said Georgians should stop thinking of development as something that was delivered to them "on the wings of a pinstriped angel from Atlanta with a prospect in his hip pocket," and should instead focus on building growth from within, through better education, a skilled workforce, a strong quality of life, and a good atmosphere for home-grown business startups.

That healthy tradition is under attack in Georgia right now, in many other states, and in Washington, and it's good to see Democrats fighting back.

My last sunnily optimistic

My last, sunnily optimistic post about Bush's likely defeat on Social Security has already been interpreted by Matt Yglesias and Atrios as an effort to provide "political cover" for Joe Lieberman's reported effort to cut a bogus "deal" with Lindsay Graham. Wrong-o, folks.

What I actually said, not very ambiguously, is that one of two Dems ain't going to save Bush's bacon on this. After acknowledging that I might be right (or wrong) about that, Matt argues that the possible irrelevance of Lieberman's deal-sniffing is "no excuse for doing it." I agree entirely.

Let me be clear about this: I see no political or substantive justification for Lieberman offering to reach agreement with GOPers on Social Security, particularly at this moment. It's a very bad idea. And this pains me far more, I am sure, than it pains guys like Atrios who've probably wanted to throw Joe off a cliff for years now. And if the reports are true, it represents the sort of pattern of misjudgment (e.g., the framing of the homeland security debate, and, in tandem with Dick Gephardt, the quick embrace of Bush's version of the Iraq war resolution) that led a sizeable number of New Dems to support other candidates for president (some for Edwards, some for Clark, some for Dean, some, like me, for Kerry) in the 2004 primaries.

Having said that, I'd be lying to you if I got on the bandwagon and said I believed a Lieberman step towards a "deal" on Social Security was something to panic about, or, as Matt put it, "exactly the thing [the Bushies] need to regain momentum on this issue." Worst-case scenario is that Lieberman gets a press conference with a couple of Republican Senators, after which the Right howls down the idea of a payroll tax increase and Democrats disassociate themselves in masse from Lieberman's position. It's still a really bad idea, but it will be Lieberman, not Democrats or Social Security itself, who will be the loser.

Look, I've tried to be a Party Unity Eagle Scout since starting my own blog, despite a lot of provocation to get into fights over stereotypes about the DLC held by people who aren't much interested in reading what I have to say unless it reinforces those stereotypes. So I understand the need for unity on Social Security and other topics right now. But unity is a means to an end--beating Bush on the dangerous things he's trying to do to our country, and working towards a strong, alternative progressive message for Democrats that expands our base. It shouldn't become a complete end in itself.

Right now the blogosphere is full of talk about litmus tests and purges, whether or not they contribute to either of those goals. And if the email I'm getting about Lieberman is any indication, we're getting close to litmus tests and purges about litmus tests and purges ("Are you now, or have you ever been, opposed to kicking Joe Lieberman out of the party?").

So let's keep a little perspective about what's primary and secondary in the fights just ahead. Maybe the hellish pressure on Lieberman to step back from a bogus deal will work, maybe not. If he goes ahead, let's make it clear he does not speak for other Democrats, and minimize the potential damage instead of acting like Bush has already won. And after we win, there will be plenty of time to play back the tapes and pin the tail on errant donkeys, in a calmer climate.

Yesterday Senate Finance Committee

Yesterday Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley said Bush's Social Security plan ain't going anywhere unless there is a significant shift in public opinion. This morning's Washington Post reports the White House is telling its allies they have at most six weeks to turn public opinion around.

How big a shift will be necessary to produce a turnaround for Bush? Well, Ruy Teixeira has usefully summarized the latest polls on the subject, and (1) Bush's support level on Social Security is clearly in the high 30s at best, and (2) support for his "plan" drops the more voters hear about it.

I might add that on big changes in American government--and even American life--like this, opposition tends to harden over time, barring some particular change in the environment.

Sure, no one should misunderestimate the ability of the White House to push this thing right up to the gates of delerium, but let's also remember Bush's M.O.--he'll act like he's headed for victory right up to the minute he suddenly decides tax reform or the budget or some other element of the "ownership society" is suddenly more urgent. He's going to lose this fight, folks, whether or not one or two Democrats in the House or the Senate give him "cover" by offering some sort of deal that neither party will accept.

From the Post The

From the Post: "The Treasury Department yesterday announced the formation of a Social Security 'war room' ... The war room, which the administration is calling the Social Security Information Center, will track lawmakers' remarks to their local news outlets, to help the White House detect signs of Republican concern or Democratic compromise."

Gone for a day and someone tries to poach my gig?

Alright I'm outta here ... Back to Ed.

This may surprise some

This may surprise some of you, but I rarely if ever get any email from Republicans. But TPM gets email from the whole world, and today I received quite a few from people wanting to know why I wasn't posting anything about Lebanon. Not having any particular thing to say about the happy contingency of the apparent collapse of the pro-Syrian government there, I didn't worry about it much, until I got an email referring to this event as part of a "democracy domino." And then I got it: those insistent correspondents were suggesting that I, as a Democrat, was indifferent to the latest triumph of Bush administration foreign policy.

Now I am aware the State Department made the appropriate noises, as its predecessors would have done, after the Hariri assassination, about Syrian dominance of Lebanon, and I also know the Bush administration has been generally hostile towards the Syrian government, as has been U.S. policy for as long as I can remember. But it literally never crossed my mind that Bush's fans would credit him with for this positive event, as though his pro-democracy speeches exercise some sort of rhetorical enchantment.

This is the kind of thinking, of course, that has convinced God knows how many people that Ronald Reagan personally won the Cold War. It's the old post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) logical fallacy. This is a president and an administration that chronically refuse to accept responsibility for the bad things that have happened on their watch--even things like the insurgency in Iraq that are directly attributable to its policies. Barring any specific evidence (provided, say, by Lebanese pro-democracy leaders)that Bush had anything in particular to do with Syria's setbacks in Lebanon, I see no particular reason to high-five him for being in office when they happened.

Let us congratulate the Lebanese, not those in Washington who would take credit for their accomplishments.

One of the temptations

One of the temptations of guest-blogging on a battleship site like TPM is linking to your own tugboat site. I've avoided this temptation in terms of my past nuggets of wisdom on the subjects addressed in today's TPM, but since there's fresh copy of potential interest to readers on the other site, I'll just say this: for those of you interested in the slow-motion coup underway in the Georgia re-redistricting scam, check out the latest from that obsessive cracker over at NewWhatchamacallit.

What is it they

What is it they say about the five questions every journalist should answer in every news report? Who, what, when, why, where, right?

The intriguing David Kirkpatrick piece in today's New York Times about a group of Hollywood celebrities intervening in the Rhode Island Senate race kinda flunks that test.

Yeah, the "what" is explained pretty thoroughly: the letter blasts the likely Senate candidacy of Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, for his "radically anti-choice" views. And it endorses the candidacy of Langevin's potential Democratic rival, R.I. Secretary of State Matt Brown.

But the "who" and "where" part gets kinda murky. While the identity of the group's leader, Victoria Hopper (His Infernal Majesty Dennis' spouse), is clear, you have to read down seven graphs to infer they are all women. And you never learn the name of the letter's addressee. Is it an open letter? A letter to the Democrats of Rhode Island? A letter to the alleged ringleader of the conspiracy to tap Langevin, Democratic Senatorital Campaign Committee chair Sen. Chuck Schumer? (If it was addressed to Shumer, I'm sure he was surprised to see himself described as a "conservative Democrat.")

I obviously don't know the answer to that question, but it raises another one: What did the signatories to this missive hope to accomplish?

I have no particular brief for Langevin, and I do have a favorable impression of Matt Brown. Moreover, I do not think you have to nominate pro-life candidates to convey a more inclusive message on abortion or other cultural issues. And finally, I fully acknowledge that any group of Democratic women, of whatever size or provenance, has the moral standing to address the issue of their own right to choose in whatever forum they prefer.

But given current perceptions of the Democratic Party, I can't see it does a lot of good for Hollywood muckety-mucks to instruct Democrats on the other side of the country about the candidates they are permitted to run for office, even the day after Oscar Night. Let the Democratic voters of Rhode Island sort this one out.

One of the most

One of the most amusing features of the Bush presidency has been W.'s frequent pretence that he has no influence at all over his party in Congress. Here's a guy who's been relentlessly marketed as a World-Historical Figure, a veritable Collossus astride the currents of world affairs, who has terrified al Qaeda into inaction and is now busily extending freedom and democracy to the benighted corners of the globe. Yet when it suits his purposes, Bush acts like a ninny-faced weakling in terms of his clout with GOPers on the Hill.

Usually he peforms this act when he wants to endorse a popular initiative without running the risk that it will actually be written into law, such as the extension of the Assault Weapons Ban or the tougher provisions of Intelligence Reform. According to Connolly and Balz in today's Washington Post, however, he's using a variation of this pose in negotiations with the nation's governors over the future of Medicaid: do it my way, or those Bad Elephants in Congress will do Bad Things to you.

The Budget Budget, as you may recall, proposed $60 billion in Medicaid "savings" through action on ill-defined "loopholes" in the program. In the run-up to Bush's personal meeting with the governors, his HHS Secretary, Mike Leavitt, suggested that the states should cut a deal with the administration lest Congress find some really hurtful ways to come up with the "savings." This is probably a thinly veiled reference to that hardy perennial of GOP budgeting, a Medicaid "cap" that would just arbitrarily limit federal spending on the program and let states cut services or eligibility to make ends meet. Indeed, the administration itself embraced the "cap" blame-shift as recently as last year.

Reading beetween the lines, the "deal" Bush and Leavitt seem to want is an agreement to crack down on states that are allegedly gaming the program for extra dollars, and to crack down on middle-class families who are allegedly gaming the program by shifting assets around to qualify for long-term nursing home care under Medicaid. To be sure, the administration will offer states plenty of new "flexibility" in exchange for helping Bush deal with his deliberately engineered budget crisis, but it will be flexibility to cut benefits, not to improve health services. Indeed, the other weapon the administration has in its quiver is to go hog wild with Medicaid waivers to let Republican governors like Haley Barbour and Jeb Bush do their worst.

Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be any big impetus among the govs--especically Democratic govs--to cut a deal. And the best comment on the whole Bush gambit was by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano: "What I'm worried about is this is all about the budget and not about health care reform."

Since we are talking about the country's main health care safety net program, which is the last line of support keeping millions of low-income families from joining the already-obscene levels of the uninsured, that's the heart of the matter.