Build A Larger Case

Greg Sargent is right:

All I’m saying is that raging against successful Republican efforts to block individual Dem initiatives isn’t enough. Raging about GOP obstructionism in general isn’t enough, either. The point is that Dems need to build an effective larger case that transcends individual issues and reckons more directly with the strategy underlying all the GOP obstructionism. That’s all I’m saying.

Blaming the GOP and obstructionism for failure to achieve your agenda is not effective. Passion, as demonstrated by Rep. Weiner, is refreshing. But beyond wonks in the blogosphere, I don’t see it as being adopted as part of the larger assessment of who each party is and what they do.


It’s pretty rare for me to find a blog post, let alone a full opinion column, that I agree with pretty much word for word. But today’s column by Paul Krugman is pretty much it for me. Krugman shows a magnificent understanding of the Obama administration’s behavior and how it has generated a disappointed base. But what makes Krugman’s column important isn’t that he adequately describes progressive pessimism about Obama, but that he sincerely tries to show the administration how their course of actions has been counterproductive and resulted in smaller achievements and more frequent defeats. Krugman is clearly a person who wants Obama and this administration to succeed; I hope the White House can view this column as being written in good faith and with the best of the country in mind.

It’s also worth pointing out Krugman’s endorsement of Elizabeth Warren to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He makes the case for Warren and also points out that if the administration does not nominate her to run the CFPB, it’s likely that it will serve as a microcosm for ways in which the administration has disappointed progressives.

It’s really interesting to watch the progressive online community pay this close attention to Warren and the CFPB. When I was working on Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign, in 2007 and early 2008, Tim Tagaris and I theorized that beyond ending the war in Iraq  and Bush’s attacks on civil liberties, the biggest issue that consistently drew blog outrage was the bankruptcy bills. Progressive blogs were able to watch and comment on fundamentally unfair and corporatist legislation. In many ways, progressive opposition to the bankruptcy bills of 2002-2005 is a perfect encapsulation of progressive values. Then the blogs were largely older, whiter, college educated and with incomes of over $70,000. And yet, economic legislation that would disproportionately hurt poor people and people of color was one of the most energizing issues in the blogs. I think a similar thing is happening now with the CFPB and Warren. It’s not just about appointing Warren, a proven advocate for the middle class; it’s about having government that works for the people. Separate from the specific policy and political implications of the CFPB fight, this is a great reminder to me of why I’m glad to be a member of the online progressive community.

Myth Busting Social Security Lies

Digby has posted an email from MoveOn wherein they bust up the top five myths conservatives are pushing about Social Security. Prometheus stealing fire is a myth. These are lies and should be treated as such.

Top 5 Social Security Myths

Rumors of Social Security’s demise are greatly exaggerated. But some powerful people keep spreading lies about the program to scare people into accepting benefit cuts. Can you check out this list of Social Security myths and share it with your friends, family and coworkers?

Myth: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a ‘T’). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it’ll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits–and again, that’s without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers retirement decades ago. Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than did 70 years ago.3 What’s more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly–since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half.4 But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn’t need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here’s a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income. But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn’t full of IOUs, it’s full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market–which would have been disastrous–but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth: Social Security adds to the deficit

Reality: It’s not just wrong — it’s impossible! By law, Social Security funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can’t add one penny to the deficit.

This is really good stuff, and important too. Good job, MoveOn.

Filibuster Reform

Chris Bowers is doing really interesting work tracking votes in the Senate for meaningful filibuster reform. The post he has up today looks at the appearance of Democratic opponents to reform. The list is an interesting one, ranging from conservatives who tend to oppose progressives regardless the issue (Nelson, Pryor) to senators who benefit from having out-sized vote based on their state’s population (Tester).

It’s really interesting to watch a real movement towards filibuster reform emerge on the left. Outside of a smaller leadership footprint than we’d hoped with control of the White House and both bodies of Congress, the structural challenges in the Senate are probably the most visible obstacle to actual progressive governance in America. To change the filibuster, there has to be efforts to educate the public about the problems it causes. People think Washington is “broke” but this is an assessment that doesn’t look at how conservatives ensure the government breaks. So education is obviously important.

But the actual whipping of the Senate is where progressive activism can make a meaningful difference. Bowers is right that the reform movement does not have to be grounded in specifics now – different reform options will, at this point,  close off support from certain members. Fifty-one votes may be the most equitable solution, but that doesn’t mean it is the absolutely necessary definition of reform. We just need to un-foul the works and make it so the Senate majority can get things done in absence of a super majority.

Filibuster reform is going to be hard. Likely harder than passing a healthcare bill. There’s a structural window at the start of the next session, but if that is not made, then change is going to take a monumental amount of work. It’s good to see people regularly writing about it now. That in itself is a sign that there is momentum for reform.

A loss of trust


Every time someone gets something thing wrong in a consequential way, the loss of trust should advance, ratcheting up with each such error detected, to the point where it becomes the safest default position to assume that someone — McArdle, for example — is always wrong till proven otherwise.

I think similar things could be said about Tom Friedman, Joe Lieberman, and Conventional Wisdom.

Thomas Levenson also points out that McArdle’s attack on Warren is of the Breitbart variety:

And that leads me back to the thought that got me going on this post. It seems to me that what we read in McArdle here is a genteel excursion into Andrew Breitbart territory. Like the Big Hollywood thug, she misleads by contraction, by the omission of necessary context, by simply making stuff up when she thinks no one will check (again, see the footnotes for examples). And like Breitbart, she does so here to achieve a more than on goal. The first is simply to damage Elizabeth Warren as an individual, to harm her career prospects.

As I said earlier, the actions of Breitbart are simply part of the basic toolkit deployed by rightwing pundits and operatives. Seeing it used by McArdle is no more surprising than seeing it used by Zuckerman or Breitbart.


Apparently it is no longer required in quotes printed by conservative columnists, just as it is not required for videos ran by conservative bloggers (let alone for them to be taken seriously by the administration).

Of course conservatives in the media or elected office attacking Democrats or progressives through an out-of-context-to-the-point-of-falsification quote is not new. Only recently, the targets picked by the right have been so absurd that they have fallen apart within themselves. But it’s not any different than finding a single user-submitted video out of tens of thousands and claiming that MoveOn ran ads comparing Bush to Hitler. Nor is it any different from the massive promotion of a couple of numb skulls who claim to be Black Panthers who tried to block voting at a predominantly black polling place on election day in 2008 (let alone then blaming the Obama administration for the Bush administration choosing not to prosecute them). Nor is it different from nut picking a crazed commenter on Daily Kos or Huffington Post who attacked Joe Lieberman along anti-Semitic lines and claiming that Ned Lamont’s supporters were all anti-Semitic.

Taking quotes out of context or finding non-representative individuals and promoting their views as representative of an entire political campaign or party is stock in trade for the conservative movement.

The only remarkable thing about the Breitbart/Sherrod and Zuckerman/Obama instances of missing context is that they are being called out as the dishonest smears that they are.