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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.

So Bush comes home

So, Bush comes home from his big European trip, and what's the first thing out of his mouth? You got it: time to push forward on Social Security! He stated his intentions with the air of a guy who's just picking up the first thing in his inbox after being away from the office a few days.

This is, of course, the immutable M.O. of this particular politician. Going back to his career in Texas, his approach to any big issue is to stake out his maximum position, and then repeat it endlessly until it's time to count the votes. Then he'll cut a deal, flip-flop shamelessly, or change the subject, depending on what he can and can't get.

Down south where I'm from, this tactic is known as the Redneck Theory of Seduction. It involves repeating one's demands tirelessly, in hopes that the victim will succumb out of sheer fatigue. It's a subtle as a hammerhead shark.

I really hate to

I really hate to start this guest-blog gig with bad news, but in case you missed it, Iraqi insurgents just pulled off their deadliest suicide bombing yet, killing at least 125, in an attack apparently aimed at police recruits.

Im gonna turn over

I'm gonna turn over the keys to this operation for a couple days. So this is a sign-off post. But before I go, a few points.

First off, every sign I see tells me that Sen. Lieberman is looking to cut a deal of some sort with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina and thus with the White House. It would be a kinder, gentler phase-out. But phase-out just the same.

Individually, Lieberman's vote isn't that consequential. At present I don't think the White House could get majority votes for a phase-out bill in either chamber. But give the president and the congressional leadership that bipartisan cover they've been hunting for and things could change very, very quickly. Lieberman would probably put a few more Senate Dems in play and also firm up the whole Republican caucus. Same thing in the House.

As I said, I think the probable deal involves raising the cap and using those new funds for private accounts, thus getting around the idea that it's a 'carve-out'. Of course, you can imagine other permutations. And there's no limit to the policy creativity of a truly faint heart. Whether such a compromise would ever fly or not is another question. But I suspect it's largely beside the point because once you're to that point you're into a process of legislative horse-trading and conference committees. And whether or not some people on the hill realize it, the Republicans control both houses of congress and the White House. So at that point they can pretty much do what they want.

You do have to wonder -- really, really wonder -- about the roots of the urge to split the difference on phase-out seeing as the public is against it and turning more against with time. The policy and the politics are both lined up on one side of the ledger on this one. This isn't about garnering lots of press as the dealmaker, invites to the chat shows or the yearned-for plaudits of an increasingly right-leaning dinner-party centrism. And it shouldn't be about angling for mentions in the Post's increasingly fatuous Social Security editorials. This is about saving Social Security and now about preserving it for a long time to come.

So, Lieberman's the weakpoint in the wall against Social Security phase-out. Sen. Carper too -- but, my gut tells me, not as much as Joe. So if there's a time to pull out all the stops to save Social Security, to mobilize pressure and exert coercive persuasion, now's the time and Lieberman's the guy.

If anything, the press coverage has understated just had badly the Republicans got hammered out in those townhalls last week. So I'm going to be really curious to see if there are any more shake-ups in the Conscience Caucus as a result. I've gotten a partial transcript of some of the stuff Rep. Chris Chocola (R) of Indiana said at his townhall meeting back in South Bend. So there's more of his funny-business to be discussed. Even more though, watch for signs of lots of them wanting to cut a deal and get out.

So, that's it for me for now. I'm going to be turning over the keys to Ed Kilgore of NewDonkey.com and the Democratic Leadership Council. (And for those of you who are most accustomed to thinking of the DLC as a topic in theodicy, be nice.) Ed's a good friend. I'm a big fan of his site. And he's an extremely shrewd observer of American politics in all its facets, both high and low. I'm looking forward to reading what he has to say.