Stupid Amendments

Steve Benen, writing on the Republican strategy to slow health care reform legislation through amendments, notes:

Ordinarily, amendments are proposed to improve the bill. It’s what makes the Republican amendments pointless — even if their measures pass, they’ll still oppose reform. But the GOP caucus is nevertheless lining up hundreds of possible proposals. They’re also strategizing about having amendments read word for word to slow the process down even further.

Of course this is largely the strategy that was used by conservative Democrats in the House as well. To wit, the Stupak amendment made the House health care bill markedly worse and twenty-three Democrats who voted for it still opposed the whole bill.

The Republican Senate amendment strategy sucks, just like the House Blue Dog amendment strategy sucked. The challenge for Democrats will be to make sure that the press and the public understands that the Republicans, like these 23 House Democrats, are not legislating in good faith when it comes to health care reform and, as such, there amendments should be given no attention.

NYT on Ai Weiwei

Saturday’s New York Times had a must-read article on Chinese artist and political dissident, Ai Weiwei. Ai was the primary architect of China’s Olympic Birds Nest stadium, yet became an outspoken critic of the Chinese government leading up to the Olympics in response to the government’s repression of petitioners and rights advocates. Ai has faced increasing efforts to silence him and censor his artwork, which the piece boy Michael Wines reveals. So far the efforts by the Chinese government to shut their most famous artist up have not worked. If anything, Ai seems emboldend.

In a 90-minute interview in his minimalist studio in north Beijing, Mr. Ai called the government unimaginative, prevaricating, suspicious of its own people and utterly focused on self-preservation.

“They don’t believe in liberty. They don’t believe in China before the Communists,” he said. “There is only one simple, clear task: to protect their control, to maintain their governing. Which is such a pity.”

All of this he has said many times before. China’s nationalists often accuse him of shilling for the West, and in fact, Mr. Ai ended his chat with a plea to President Obama to call for greater freedom in China, saying “we still need the moral support of the Western leaders” to press for more uncontrolled space in a still-closed society.

All together it is an amazing piece of reporting on an artist-dissident whose publication will clearly anger the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Michael Wines of the Times provides detailed reporting on the ways the government is trying to intimidate him into silence. Give it a read.

Taibbi on the Marginalizing of the Republican Base

Matt Taibbi, writing at True/Slant, has a must-read analysis of the mainstream media Village culture, as it pertains to Sarah Palin. Or, more specifically, how groupthink by Beltway journalists regarding when to promote a politician and when to aim for their head has coalesced behind further marginalizing Palin and by extension her Teabag supporters.

While Taibbi does provide a stinging and pointed analysis of how Beltway Conventional Wisdom is made in the journalist clubhouse, he really shines through in his take on what this means for the Tea Party “movement.”

What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s “winnability.”

And do you know what that means? That means that just as the antiwar crowd spent years being painted by the national press as weepy, unpatriotic pussies whose enthusiastic support is toxic to any serious presidential aspirant, so too will all of you afternoon-radio ignoramuses who seem bent on spending the next three years kicking and screaming your way up the eternal asshole of white resentment now find yourself and your political champions painted as knee-jerk loonies whose rabid irrationality is undeserving of the political center. And yes, that’s me saying that, but I’ve always been saying that, not just about Palin but about George Bush and all your other moron-heroes.

What’s different now is who else is saying it. You had these people eating out of the palms of your hands (remember what it was like in the Dixie Chicks days?). Now they’re all drawing horns and Groucho mustaches on your heroes, and rapidly transitioning you from your previous political kingmaking role in the real world to a new role as a giant captive entertainment demographic that exists solely to be manipulated for ratings and ad revenue. What you should be asking yourself is why this is happening to you. Even I don’t know the answer to that question, but honestly, I don’t really care. All I know is that I find it extremely funny.

I certainly agree with Taibbi that there is a delightfully comic side to the shift to discredit the rabid Republican base as…rabid.  Of course I think he sells his understanding of the situation a bit short. Just because the analysis by Beltway journalists on the danger posed by the anti-war left to Democratic electoral hopes was fundamentally wrong (and conclusively proven so in 2006 and 2008) doesn’t mean that the analysis of Teabaggers as a group who can cost the Republican Party elections is wrong. Take NY-23 — a seat that Democrats hadn’t won since Reconstruction was won by a conservative Democrat after an independent Teabagger candidate forced the GOP nominee out of the race. Teabaggers cost the GOP that seat. While one race is by no means determinative of a political movement, this is certainly not a time to sell your Teabagger stock.

As it relates to Palin, she has thrown herself into the Teabagger mix with all her energy. She came out strongly for Hoffman in NY-23 and is building a brand running in support of these radical rightwing candidates. When she put herself all-in on NY-23, she also took on some of the consequences from that loss. The most notable one, obviously, being that Teabaggers didn’t win.

It’s also important to note that Taibbi isn’t saying that Democrats or liberal pundits shouldn’t help push the Beltway journalist stone down hill onto the Teabaggers. There is real value in this group being marginalized as a decisive voice in American politics. It was the influence of the Republican base that helped win George W. Bush and Dick Cheney two terms in office, along with quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, a massive recession, and an assault on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights unseen in the last two hundred years of American history. If any group deserves to have their influence marginalized in American politics, it is the base of the Republican Party (well, them and the Beltway journalistic set).

Watching this cohort of angry Americans fail at political success, while being treated for what they are by the establishment press, is satisfying on many levels. Sure, part of this is schadenfreude, but a good portion of it is watching the politically privileged group in American politics other than the super rich live life like the rest of us DFHs for the first time. The result is one of the leaders of their political movement, Sarah Palin, turning offense into a cottage industry and the other, Glenn Beck, making on camera tears book-ended by conspiracy theories of persecution into the path to gold advertising glory. As Taibbi said, it’s funny stuff.

A Retiring Blue Dog

Blue Dog Democrat Dennis Moore (KS-03) is retiring. Naturally, Chuck Todd thinks this is apocalyptic for Democrats:

The Moore retirement is one that should have some House Dem leaders nervous (as well as the WH), the party can’t afford more like Moore.

One reason why 2010 doesn’t look like 1994 is that Dems haven’t had many retirements. GOPers might not have won ’94 w/o open seats.

I’d actually be very curious to see a coherent argument for how having fewer seats in the House, but a smaller number of Blue Dogs, is bad news for leadership and the White House. Blue Dogs have opposed the leadership and the WH about as much as Republicans have. Or, more precisely, Blue Dogs have been more effective than Republicans have been in their opposition. Republican opposition hasn’t caused legislation to change one bit, while Blue Dog obstructionism has forced Democratic legislation to the right. What, exactly, do the Blue Dogs add when the size of their caucus is only used as a lever to push Congress to the right?

Oh Really?

Carl Hulse of the New York Times, reporting on Democratic efforts to get moderate Republicans to support health care reform, writes:

While the two women are the main focus of Democrats at the moment, officials said they would seek opportunities to appeal to others. They also hope any final joint House-Senate proposal could attract at least a few Republicans in each chamber.

Really? While we don’t know what the final Senate bill will look like, we can assume that it will be more conservative than the House bill that passed last weekend. When you merge the more liberal house bill with the more conservative Senate bill, what you’re likely to get is something in the middle. That is, a bill that is more conservative than the House bill but also more liberal than the Senate bill.

While it may be possible that the conference committee report moves to the right enough that more House Republicans will vote for it, I don’t see how any commentator or operative can realistically expect that the conference committee report will draw more Senate Republican support than whatever the bill currently under consideration gathers in the end. The Senate bill will be the rightward end for health care reform legislation, but as we’re currently going, it is unlikely that a single Republican will support it. When that bill is made somewhat more liberal in conference, it will not bring any more Republicans to the table in the Senate. In fact, there’s a distinct chance that even if Snowe or Collins supports the current Senate bill, the conference process will move the bill too far to the left and result in less GOP support for the merged bill.

So, in short, either Hulse is fundamentally misunderstanding the process as it’s being described to him or these anonymous Democratic sources are not being realistic about what the melding of these two bills will look like from a substantive standpoint. Of course, there is a third option: that these anonymous Democratic officials plan on using the conference committee as a means of producing a bill more conservative than both the House and the Senate in order to win the patina of bipartisanship. I hope that’s not the case, though, as it would be one of the most cynically political moves I can recall in recent history.

Senate Health Care Bill

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that, on first blush, the Senate health care reform bill isn’t as good as the House health care reform bill. That said, I think the bill — again, on first blush — is far better than what I had expected from Senator Reid. There is an opt-out public option, which is better than most of the last year’s discussion of what conservative Democrats in the Senate would have suggested. There’s also better provisions, though not great, on providing coverage for abortion. It won’t exist in the Senate public option, but there isn’t the punitive, Stupak-like measure of limiting it from being in private plans in the exchange.

I want to see where the wonks shake out on this before I really know what this bill does and does not do.

The best thing about the Senate bill, though is that it comes with a huge process advantage for progressives.

If the consensus is that this is a generally good bill and something that moves the ball forward for health care reform, the way the Senate works makes further changes unlikely. Essentially anything that is controversial and subject to amendments on the floor will require 60 votes to pass. That is, if there is an effort to make the bill either substantially more progressive or more conservative, a super majority will be required. Contrast this to most non-controversial amendments, which will likely require a simple majority.

This means it is unlikely that the Senate will do worse than an opt-out. It is unlikely that anti-choice senators will be able to do the same damage as Rep. Stupak. It is also unlikely that the public option will be improved or affordability dramatically increased or employer responsibility increased.

In essence, what we see now with the Senate bill is the opportunity to move the ball forward to conference with the House bill. The two bills are going to end up being closer together than a lot of us had thought. Proximity likely makes movement more possible, but less impactful. This will hopefully mean that the final product is better than the Senate bill and not significantly worse than the House bill.

There’s still a long way to go, but at least for now, this is a victory in the path towards health care reform.

Schrei’s Open Letter to Obama

Josh Schrei has written an open letter to President Obama following his trip to China. It’s powerful, honest and true. Here’s a passage:

As a lifelong Tibet supporter, I have endured 15 years of meetings with Senators, Representatives, and Chiefs of Staff and have been told roughly the same thing in every single meeting. We have to engage. We have to give them what they want. We can’t upset them.

Suppose for a minute that on the occasion of my first meeting I had a newborn son. And suppose that child had been raised solely according to the philosophy of those meetings. “We can’t upset him. We can’t offend him. His feelings get hurt when we ask him if he’s cleaned his room….”  What would I have now? A 15-year-old, overly-entitled, spoiled rotten, immature, selfish, brutal bully with the keys to the car. Beijing’s leaders deserve none of the leeway we have given them. None of it.

Today, I saw the statement you gave after the meeting you had with China’s Hu Jintao. To call it a statement would be to give you far too much credit.  Sir, they invoked your ethnic heritage and your love and study of one of the greatest men in modern history and used it to justify one of the greatest abominations of the modern era. Where is the outrage?

You are more than that tepid diplomacy. You are MORE than the man who stands idly by while lovers of truth and justice are slaughtered. You are meant to be their champion. And if not you, in this rapidly declining world, then who? Who???