Cutting Medicare is bad, unless our guy does it

The Democratic establishment is out guns blazing today. Is it in response to the Washington Post report yesterday that President Obama would still take a deal that exchanged some modest (and imaginary) revenue increases for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

No, of course not.

Predictably, it’s about Congressman Paul Ryan’s Version 2.0 budget. As with the last version, this one promises to gut Medicare and the rest of the social safety net, while providing massive tax cuts to the 1%.

Don’t get me wrong – the Ryan budget is a monstrosity and easily worse than any cuts proposed by President Obama, the Gang of Six in the Senate, or conservative House Democrats like Steny Hoyer and Heath Shuler.

But the notion that it’s a cataclysmic event when one major political party proposes destructive cuts to Medicare, but completely kosher for the other major political party to propose destructive cuts to Medicare is partisan absurdity. The reality is it’s a huge issue that both political parties agree in austerity and gutting the social safety net. The only difference is one of magnitude.

Keep in mind, Heath Shuler is working with House Republicans on a new “grand bargain” which would be put forward after the November election, so as to avoid public scrutiny. Elites in Washington want to embrace austerity, even as it’s clearly unpopular. It’s not clear that they will succeed, but obviously we’re heading back into deficit hysteria. Hopefully along the way, the White House, DNC, DSCC and DCCC figure out whether or not they support austerity so there can be honesty and consistency in their public messaging.

Super Tuesday!

As if the Gods of Excitement hadn’t done enough already with this month Chevy Truck Month and the beginning of the March Madness tournament, today is Super Tuesday. Ten states will primary or caucus today, accounting for nearly 20% of the delegates.

Up for grabs are Georgia, Massachusetts, Idaho, North Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, and Ohio. Nate Silver is projecting a strong night for Romney, one which he will come out with the most delegates in almost any scenario:

This scenario assumes that Mr. Romney will win Massachusetts and Virginia very easily, and Vermont and Idaho fairly easily (winning all 32 delegates in Idaho because of the way the state’s rules are structured). It assumes a narrow Romney win in Ohio and a narrow loss in Tennessee, and that Mr. Romney wins either the Alaska or North Dakota caucuses, but probably not both. Mr. Gingrich wins Georgia only, although by a big margin; Mr. Santorum wins Tennessee and Oklahoma, although by smaller margins than were expected a few days ago.

Silver goes on to note that because of increased media expectations and the intense focus on Ohio, Georgia and Tennessee, Romney might not walk away with a performance that is sufficiently impressive. Additionally, with Kansas, Mississippi, and Alabama holding their contests within the next week, Romney will continue to face scrutiny in regards to his ability to win Southern states.

The “Can Romney win in the South?” line of criticism seems about as reasonable as the “Will woman and Hispanics turn out for Obama?” criticism of the 2008 primary. These core Democratic constituencies broke heavily for Hillary Clinton, but came home and turned out for Obama at historic levels in the general election. Whether Romney wins Mississippi or Alabama in the primary has no real relevance. If he gets the nomination, he will have a near-lock on the Deep South and this is true even if base enthusiasm for him is tepid. Much of this line seems to be aimed at continuing the primary. That isn’t to say that the fact that Romney likely isn’t drawing strong support in the Deep South during the primary is irrelevant, but it’s unlikely to be a factor that prevents him from getting the nomination.

Romney holds off the white knight for now

Originally posted at AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field

Jonathan Karl, ABC News, February 17, 2012:

A prominent Republican senator just told me that if Romney can’t win in Michigan, the Republican Party needs to go back to the drawing board and convince somebody new to get into the race.

“If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate,” said the senator, who has not endorsed anyone and requested anonymity.

George Stephanopolous, ABC News, February 28, 2012:

“What [Romney’s performance] tonight has done, I think, is kill any talk in Republican circles of finding another white knight to come into the campaign.”

At least for the moment, that is. Losing his home state of Michigan would have been devastating for Romney. But as it is, he only barely won and Rick Santorum will take home the same number of delegates as Romney. To the extent that Romney has killed the talk of a new “white knight,” it is just barely and just for the moment. He certainly hasn’t suddenly created a popular groundswell in the Republican base for his candidacy. Super Tuesday is a week away and it will be a major test that could produce wins for Romney, Gingrich and Santorum. If Romney gets his clock cleaned next Tuesday, watch for the talk of the white knight to reemerge.

Things Rick Santorum Used to Say

It’s debate day – today the remaining major candidates will debate in Arizona, days before the Arizona and Michigan primaries. There hasn’t been a debate in a while, something that one could rarely write before this month, and the landscape has shifted dramatically since Santorum swept Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. He is now the front-runner and the cash is flowing into his coffers, while Romney is spending down his reserves at a fast rate which should scare both his supporters now and hurt his ability to run a strong campaign if he is the nominee.

But with a new debate and his new status as front runner, the research books are opening up on Rick Santorum. Huffington Post reported yesterday that Santorum was pro-choice before he entered politics.

In a December 1995 Philadelphia Magazine article — which the Huffington Post pulled from Temple University archives — Santorum conceded that he “was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress… But it had never been something I thought about.” Asked why he changed his mind, he said that he “sat down and read the literature. Scientific literature,” only to correct himself and note that religion was a part of it too.

Huffington Post also reported on campaign statements from 1990 which showed Santorum as what would today amount to being a moderate Republican on abortion. This is fairly surprising given Santorum’s culture warrior bonafides. As a result, we can expect this line of attack to be raised in tonight’s debate.

In a slightly more bizarre edition of “Thinks Rick Santorum Used to Say,” the Drudge Report is quoting Santorum more recently at the far other end of the culture war. The quote allegedly comes from a 2008 speech at a college in Florida:

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America!” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has declared.

“Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

This sounds a lot more like the Santorum that we now know, so I don’t know that it would do much to turn off the Republican voters who are trending his way. But this sort of rhetoric is exactly the type of thing that would likely ensure that nominee Santorum would lose in historic fashion, which is, incidentally, the elite Republican critique of him.

Daily Caller: Fox News is the head of the GOP

Tucker Carlson’s online rag, The Daily Caller, is doing a series of hit pieces on Media Matters for America. Based on anonymous sources and conspiracy-minded dreck, the whole series is a hot mess. Today’s feature piece is an attempt to discredit Media Matter’s non-profit tax status, with the dramatic sounding headline of Media Matters tax-exempt status may face new scrutiny from Congress. They may face congressional scrutiny! Maybe!

My favorite line in the whole mess is notable in that The Daily Caller concedes that Media Matter’s criticism of Fox News as not just an arm, but a leadership element, of the Republican Party amounts to Media Matters engaging in partisan, political activities which are prohibited by their 501(c)3 status:

Because Brock has referred to Fox News as a political organization and the “de facto” leader of the GOP, Gray and other critics have argued that Media Matters is engaged in the kind of direct political activity forbidden by IRS regulations.

The Daily Caller is trying so hard to kick-start a Republican Congressional investigation into Media Matter’s tax status that they concede Media Matter’s core criticism of Fox News as a Republican propaganda outlet!

Politics is serious business and progressives should be concerned that a major piece of progressive infrastructure is under concerted attack from the right. But if this sort of nonsense from The Daily Caller doesn’t make you laugh out loud, you’re missing one hell of a comedic performance…

De Boer on Paul

Freddie De Boer:

I could never vote for Ron Paul, for a thousand reasons. I have been arguing against many of his policies and the worldview that generated them for the entirety of my adult life. But I have to value his voice in the national debate because almost no other national political figures will raise these issues at all. I would love if these issues were being expressed by politicians and pundits who combined them with righteous views on domestic policy. But here, too, mainstream progressivism deserves a great deal of blame. Left wing politicians like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich have embraced discussion of foreign policy and civil liberties, and for their trouble they have been dismissed as unserious by the self-same progressives who now dismiss Ron Paul’s ideas. For far too long, mainstream progressives have signaled their “seriousness” precisely by denying the validity of people like Kucinich or Sanders, so taken with some bizarre definition of the reasonable that they effectively silence the leftist non-interventionists they say they want. If you want left wing criticism of our militarism and surveillance state, stop ridiculing those who express it.

The notion that there is something less disqualifying about support for murder and oppression than support for regressive and racist policies cannot stand scrutiny. The right to not be killed precedes all other rights. It is the foundation on which all other rights rest. What value can any rights have if they are not protected by a right to not be killed? Freedom of expression is no solace to a corpse. Likewise, what value do other rights have if those rights are not protected by rights of the accused? There is no value in freedom of assembly or religion if you can be thrown into a cage without a trial where you can invoke those rights. The right to protest has no meaning if the executive can respond to that protest by killing you without accountability, legal challenge, or review. Civil liberties are not merely right on principle. They are the necessary bedrock on which all conduct in a free society must rest.

I think this is right, though it’s worth noting that freedom to eat in restaurants regardless of race or freedom to make choices about one’s own body or freedom to marry whoever one is in love with are also questions of civil liberty. But yes, it’s hard to enjoy these liberties if you’re dead.

De Boer expands on the question of propriety of criticism, which I have looked at throughout this debate.

The whole argument has revealed American progressives at their absolute worst: incurious about the bad consequences of their positions; totally convinced that righteousness in intent can only lead to righteousness in effect; preemptively contemptuous of criticism from the left; dismissive of arguments that they themselves made under the last administration; and ultimately just as partisan as the conservatives they railed against three short years ago.

I want those who profess belief in liberalism and egalitarianism to recognize that they are failing those principles every time they ignore our conduct overseas, or ridicule those who criticize it. What I will settle for is an answer to the question: what would they have us do? If you can’t find it in you to accept our premises, at least consider what you would do if you did. For those of us who oppose our country’s destructive behavior, there is no place to turn that does not result in ridicule. Every conceivable political option has not only been denied by establishment progressives, but entirely dismissed. The idea that one should criticize the President from the left is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. The notion of primarying President Obama is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. The idea of supporting a candidate from a different party is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. Every conceivable path forward, for those of us who demand change in our conduct overseas, is preemptively denied. I want my country to stop killing innocent people. What am I supposed to do?

This earnestness of this objection to the two party straightjacket that many progressives find themselves in is powerful. There are strong pressures from conservatives of both parties to make their ideas normative and marginalize actual liberal politicians. Sadly this is often adopted by ostensible liberals as well (as De Boer reminds us with reference to Sanders and Kucinich). In the eyes of political partisans, there is just no appropriate way for objections to be noted, outside of the Democratic Party’s own processes (excluding primaries) or private, off-the-record meetings with administration officials.

This is the heart of the tension within the American left today. I see it as very much tied to the duel problems of the Democratic Party being the sole instantiation for affecting progressive change and the failure of the Democratic Party and its leaders to map their ideological goals onto liberalism. In the absence of a political party which can stop us from killing innocent people, as De Boer asks, what options are there? What is appropriate? Or will the desire to confront these policies and the leaders who enact them meant to fail to find any outlet, as something which must be forced back into the closet where we can wear its shame in private? I don’t have a solution to the incuriousness of our citizenry, let alone of Democratic partisans. But I don’t see an alternative to continuing to raise these issues over the objections of pearl clutchers who want to silence criticism from the left.

Once more on Paul and Greenwald

Tim Wise is one of the most dynamic and smart anti-racism theorists out there. I deeply respect his work, which is why I have a lot of trouble with his latest post, going after Glenn Greenwald and others on the liberal side of the aisle for discussing the positive aspects of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

Wise frames his piece by describing an anti-war, anti-Wall Street national politician who also has problematic views about race. While many people familiar with the Ron Paul debate would assume that’s who Wise is describing, Wise reveals he’s actually been talking about David Duke all along. Wise sees this point as a striking victory against liberals who think Ron Paul’s policies on war and peace, civil liberties, and torture are laudable.

Yes, that David Duke: former head of the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan group and lifelong neo-Nazi, who once said Jews should go into the ashbin of history, and that it would be possible to do what Hitler did, even in America, if white supremacists could just “put the right package together.”

But ya know that whole racist thing doesn’t matter, right? Because he’s against wiretapping.

Make no mistake, Wise offers up truly devastating arguments against the straw men he’s set up to deconstruct. The problem is, no one of any note, particularly not Glenn Greenwald, have taken the positions that Wise is arguing against.

First, the relevance of Ron Paul as a foil to current American policies regarding who we go to war with, who we drop bombs on, who we imprison and torture indefinitely, who we spy on and who we throw in jail is not that he opposes current US policies in these areas. No, Paul’s relevance is that as a candidate for President, he is talking about them and influencing national debate through the microphone afforded by his candidacy.

David Duke, on the other hand, is not a presidential candidate. It’s not as if the liberals discussing Paul set out to proactively find a racist, homophobic politician who wants to destroy social services but is good on civil liberties and ended up landing on Ron Paul arbitrarily. Ron Paul is relevant because of his candidacy. David Duke is no more relevant in the context of these policies than Cornel West or Rachel Maddow. This is not about a search for a dream presidential candidate, it’s about looking at what the existing presidential candidates are saying and assessing them accordingly. To wit, Jon Huntsman wants to break up the too big to fail banks, investigate robosigning, and punish banks for foreclosure fraud. Huntsman is wrong on lots of other issues, but his stance as it relates to Wall Street is notably to the left of not only his Republican opponents, but President Obama. This has been observed by many of the people who are favorably discussing aspects of Ron Paul’s candidacy (see Matt Stoller at Naked Capitalism for one example).

The other relevant point is the continued insistence by critics of those on the left who say good things about parts of Ron Paul’s platform that such criticism is tantamount to endorsing Ron Paul for President. Wise unfortunately falls squarely in the absolutist camp here too:

And please, Glenn Greenwald, spare me the tired shtick about how Paul “raises important issues” that no one on the left is raising, and so even though you’re not endorsing him, it is still helpful to a progressive narrative that his voice be heard. Bullshit. The stronger Paul gets the stronger Paul gets, period. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger libertarianism gets, and thus, the Libertarian Party as a potential third party: not the Greens, mind you, but the Libertarians. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger become those voices who worship the free market as though it were an invisible fairy godparent, capable of dispensing all good things to all comers — people like Paul Ryan, for instance, or Scott Walker. In a nation where the dominant narrative has long been anti-tax, anti-regulation, poor-people-bashing and God-bless-capitalism, it would be precisely those aspects of Paul’s ideological grab bag that would become more prominent. And if you don’t know that, you are a fool of such Herculean proportions as to suggest that Salon might wish to consider administering some kind of political-movement-related-cognitive skills test for its columnists, and the setting of a minimum cutoff score, below which you would, for this one stroke of asininity alone, most assuredly fall.

Obviously this is just getting nasty at this point. Like many critics of Greenwald, Wise is setting out his own boundaries for what acceptable debate for liberals is and isn’t shy about refereeing the boundary lines. Saying anything nice about any Republican, let alone a libertarian with crazy followers, is tantamount to being one of those crazies. The lack of willingness to discuss the issues at hand is truly startling. It’s almost as if this is an area where honest debate and honest listening is impossible.

What’s most frustrating, again, is that the discussion Greenwald and Stoller are trying to have is about real policies held by real presidential candidates. Neither have endorsed Paul. They’re discussing what is actually happening now and the policy debate that these candidacies raise. The scorn which is thrown their way is monumental and a sign of the incapacity of some people to actually listen to what’s being written.

Wise closes with a rejoinder that if you’re not happy with Obama, it’s because the left has insufficiently organized to produce good results. Presumably this is meant to inoculate the President from criticism from the left, as it’s all our fault that he’s using drones to kill children in Pakistan and Afghanistan or start wars without congressional approval in North Africa.  While I certainly agree that progressives and populists need to be in the street creating change through organizing and through protest, I’m not sure what Wise thinks these critics of Obama are responding to. Greenwald and Stoller and many others who are discussing aspects of Paul were some of the earliest and strongest supporters of Occupy Wall Street, as well as some of the most consistent advocates for continued resistance to American policies of indefinite detention, surveillance, and war — policies which were widely protested when Bush did them, but are now only rarely organized against by the left as there is a Democrat in the White House. That is, the people Wise thinks he is attacking are the ones who have been consistently doing exactly what he is urging them to do.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t support Ron Paul’s candidacy. I won’t vote for him or any other Republican. But with no primary challenger to the President raising questions about American policies of war and peace, civil liberties, the rule of law or drug policy, I’m glad that Ron Paul is raising these issues. It’s a stain on American liberalism that we are in a position where the purported political party of the left is getting out-shined by a racist, homophobic radical on values that should be core to liberalism. In a dream world, someone like Cornel West or Rachel Maddow or Stephen Lerner or any number of truly liberal figures would be running for President and could be raising these issues. But that’s not the world we live in, any more than the one where David Duke is currently a candidate is.