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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson won’t seek reelection to the Senate next year

From The Washington Post:

Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who built an image as a moderating influence on his party, announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in 2012, improving Republican chances of winning the seat and taking control of the Senate in 2013.

The two-term senator and former governor said in a Web video that he wanted to spend more time with his family and look for other ways to serve the country.

While Nelson has often differed with his party’s position, he delivered the deciding vote for the health measure, Obama’s signature piece of legislation. Nelson negotiated some Nebraska-specific provisions into the law before he would agree to support it. Critics of the law have referred pejoratively to the deal that Nelson cut as the “Cornhusker Kickback.”

Early GOP advertising efforts have focused heavily on this arrangement, which included exempting his home state from paying billions in Medicaid expansion costs.

That vote was expected to make Nelson’s reelection a tough proposition, but questions remain about whether the GOP would have been able to field a candidate strong enough to defeat Nelson.
The Nebraskan is the sixth Senate Democrat to announce his retirement. Two Republicans are retiring, along with independent and former Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.).

Monday, December 26, 2011

A real keeper by Bob Woodward, and what goes around, comes around: In his debut in Washington’s power struggles, Gingrich threw a bomb

Bob Woodward writes in The Washington Post:

On the evening of Oct. 4, 1990, Newt Gingrich and his then-wife, Marianne, were enjoying a VIP reception at a Republican fundraiser when they were suddenly hustled over to have their picture taken with President George H.W. Bush.

“I thought it was a bad idea,” Gingrich said in a series of interviews in 1992 that have not been previously published.

Days earlier, Gingrich had dramatically walked out of the White House and was leading a very public rebellion against a deficit reduction and tax increase deal that Bush and top congressional leaders of both parties — including, they thought, Gingrich — had signed off on after months of tedious negotiations. The House was to vote on the deal the very next day.

“We went over and I said [to Bush], ‘I’m really sorry that this is happening,’ and he said with as much pain as I’ve heard from a politician, ‘You’re killing us, you are just killing us.’ ”

The photo was snapped, Gingrich and his wife took their seats for dinner, “and both of us just felt like crying,” he said.

Gingrich’s revolt highlighted a rift that persists to this day within the Republican Party, between a pragmatic establishment open to deal­making and a more rigid conservative base that prefers purity over compromise.

That split has benefited Gingrich at times during his political career, including in his current bid for president, as he is tied at the top of the Republican field with Mitt Romney, the establishment choice.

The party divide also played out on Capitol Hill last week, when a group of conservatives in the House attempted to torpedo a deal struck between Senate Republicans and the White House over payroll taxes. In that case, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) backed down in the face of political pressure. In 1990, Gingrich did not.

Gingrich’s actions both before and after his encounter with Bush showed a man willing, if not eager, to weaken the president and, as he put it, “to dismantle the old order.”

Gingrich, then the party whip and No. 2 Republican in the House, and his followers took down the deal the next day, severely undercutting Bush and highlighting the betrayal of his famous “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge. In some key respects, Gingrich’s revolt set the stage for Bush’s demise and eventual defeat — as well as the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 that catapulted Gingrich to the speakership.

Gingrich’s defiance and high-visibility debut as provocateur in 1990 was a decisive moment for him. It was the first chance he had to exercise real political power, providing an early glimpse of the complexity and the contradictions that he has displayed since.

Bush’s budget director, the late Richard G. Darman, said that the White House was not given serious notice that Gingrich would balk at the deal and that his revolt was “an act of political sabotage.” In one 1992 memo, Darman wrote in capital letters of the “1990 GINGRICH STAB IN THE BACK.”

Gingrich was unrepentant, arguing that he had a higher purpose. “It was destructive,” he acknowledged, but necessary to stop Bush and others from making deals with Democrats.

Gingrich said that he was seeking to make such an approach “so unbelievably expensive that you couldn’t sustain it.”

Warming to his rebel role, he declared, “I am the leader, insider-revolutionary in this country,” adding that “if you’re writing the history of modern conservatism, I’m at least in one of the chapters.”

He defined the budget revolt as “a major turning point for the whole society” because it “deepened people’s anger.”

R.C. Hammond, the Gingrich campaign spokesman, said Saturday that he has discussed past actions such as the 1990 budget deal with Gingrich. “Don’t think because he did it one way in the past that is the way he would do it again. He learned things, and you figure out how to do it better,” Hammond said.

This account of the 1990 budget deal is based on a series of interviews conducted in 1992 with Gingrich, Darman and Vin Weber, then a House member from Minnesota who is now a high-profile supporter of Romney.

In the early 1990s, they were three of the most visible men in Washington — Gingrich, the leader of a bold, new brand of conservatism; Darman, the savvy insider who shaped tax policy in the Reagan and Bush administrations; and Weber, a young and trusted Gingrich lieutenant who was eventually called on to try to repair the fractured relationship between Darman and Gingrich.

The 1990 budget deal has also reemerged as a point of contention in this year’s presidential campaign after one of the key players involved, former White House chief of staff John H. Sununu, said earlier this month that Gingrich’s erratic actions back then were disqualifying now.

Bush himself raised Gingrich’s role in the budget deal when he announced his backing last week for Romney, whom he described as “mature and reasonable — not a bomb thrower.”

“I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders,” Bush told the Houston Chronicle about that day in 1990. “The plan was we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, ‘Where’s Gingrich?’ Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing.”

“I’m not his biggest advocate,” Bush added.

Gingrich insisted in 1992 that the real problem wasn’t his revolt, but that the Bush White House was not tough enough and did not know how to negotiate.

“I believe there are a lot of things you can make work if you’re always willing to walk out of the room,” Gingrich said. “You can’t make anything work negotiating with your opponents if you have to have a deal.”

After a lengthy interview on Dec. 11, 1992, he sent a reporter a memo trying to explain the budget communications problem. It is a classic of Gingrich paradox.

“I was telling precisely the truth but by Washington standards I was lying,” he wrote. “They were lying but by Washington standards they were telling the truth. I thought I was being very precise in setting standards, they thought I was outlining a negotiating position. I knew I could and would walk. They knew I had to stay.”

In 1990, the country faced many of the same problems it faces now — a declining economy, rising deficits and a Washington at odds over what to do about it.

Then as now, Republicans wanted to make major spending cuts, particularly in entitlement programs. And, then as now, Democrats, who at the time controlled both the House and Senate, refused to do so without also raising taxes.

Darman, among others, pushed Bush to seek a compromise, even at the cost of breaking his 1988 no-new-taxes pledge, and in June the president announced that he was willing to raise taxes.

The initial deal included nearly $300 billion in Medicare and other spending cuts along with increases in gasoline, alcohol and other taxes that totaled $133 billion. Significantly, it did not include an income tax rate increase, often the red line for conservative Republicans.

Gingrich even agreed with this, saying, “I thought what the president’s pledge clearly meant in the end was [an] income tax rate increase.”
Darman believed that the impact of Gingrich’s revolt could barely be overstated, offering several reasons why it had an immense impact on Bush, the Republican Party and the broader spectrum of American politics.

First, after Gingrich’s opposition but before the House vote, Bush made a nationally televised appeal for support, citing “fears of economic chaos that would follow if we fail to reduce the deficit.” Nonetheless, the House rejected the deal, the federal government shut down briefly and a state of political turmoil ensued.

The defeat gave the Democrats significantly more leverage, and a second version was negotiated between Congress and the White House, again over Gingrich’s opposition. This time it included an income tax rate increase in the top bracket from 28 percent to 31 percent. It passed, and Bush signed it into law.

According to Darman, the whole psychology changed,with “the president not only presiding over a failure, but a revolt in his own party.” The White House strategy had been to make Bush seem like former president Ronald Reagan. Although Reagan had gone along with raising business taxes in 1982 and several other times, he was able to protest that he had been dragged kicking and screaming by Democrats. Instead, Bush was now exposed as a tax-increasing president.

Darman also said that the Gingrich revolt helped launch the primary challenge of former Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan in 1992. With the economy stalled, Buchanan jumped into the race, aiming his harshest rhetoric at Bush for abandoning his no-new-taxes pledge.

Robert Teeter, Bush’s pollster, produced data showing that the 1990 deal had dramatically damaged Bush’s credibility with voters. In March 1992, while running for reelection, Bush declared publicly that the deal had been a “mistake.” Darman, as much as anyone the author of the deal, was upset and offered to resign, an offer Bush refused.

And Darman concluded that the entire debate undermined Bush, creating a public confidence problem, and a sense that the institutions of government had failed.

“I don’t know if [Bush] thought I’d betrayed him or not . . . others have said he does not trust me,” Gingrich said in 1992, while Bush was still president. “But I think that’s reasonable. I think in their world it was so inconceivable (a) that I would walk, and (b) that I would fight actively and (c) that I would fight publicly. . . . they [the Bush White House] just go, ‘That son of a bitch.’ ”

In a long interview on May 4, 1992, devoted almost exclusively to the topic of Gingrich, Darman concluded that Gingrich was “an unstable personality” who talks about four or five great people in history, including Pericles and himself. “Psychologically, he has got to go against the reigning establishment . . . . The establishment has to fail visibly.

“No matter what you’re going to do, he’s going to bomb it,” Darman said. “He will find his way to the most inflammatory part of anything.”

In 1992, Darman said that Gingrich’s ambition was limitless. “Newt is on a path for himself to be president of the United States, not just speaker of the House.”

Just 21 / 2 years later, after the Gingrich-planned and led Republican takeover of the House succeeded, he was elected speaker. And now, nearly two decades later, he is trying to become the Republican nominee for president.

Gingrich was elected minority whip just a year before he took on Bush, winning an 87 to 85 vote on his promise to undertake a more confrontational brand of conservatism.

“I’d been whip for about a year,” he said, “and it was a heady experience and this was my first chance to see how it worked.”

In hindsight, he acknowledged, “I may have been too passive all the way through, again because I was still learning.” He said that when Bush first agreed publicly to renege on the no-new-taxes pledge, “at that point I should have blown up. I should have walked.”

Instead he sent memos indicating he would go along. Three months before he bolted, in a July 20, 1990, memo to his Republican colleagues, he said, “I believe House Republicans will consider appropriate revenue increases.” He also went further, telling budget negotiators that he was “prepared to sponsor and support” modest tax increases, according to news accounts at the time. (“Rep. Gingrich ‘Prepared’ to Back Increase in Taxes” was the headline in The Washington Post on July 20, 1990.)

Gingrich said he made one thing clear, telling the White House that he would go along only with a deal that included a cut in the capital gains tax.

On Sept. 28, just two days before the initial version of a budget deal had been worked out, Gingrich wrote the White House asking for a commitment that House Republicans would get “a detailed summary of the agreement at least 12 hours before you expect a public commitment from the Republican leadership to support a package.”

He added, “With a good agreement, and full partnership in the decision process on the other items, the Republican leadership and membership will work hard.”

On the eve of a deal, the clear implication was that Gingrich was going to support it.

Gingrich had been warned about this moment. He said that a group of senior Republicans who had served in previous administrations told him he would have to cave in when a deal was struck.

“They all said, ‘Well [the White House and the congressional Democrats] will in the end cut a deal and they will in the end call you in a room and they will tell you, you have to agree.’ And I said, ‘Boys, there’s not a chance in hell I’m going to agree . . .’ And they all said, ‘Yes, you will, you just don’t understand, yes, you will.’ ”

But Gingrich was moving in another direction — his own. He said he checked out a copy of “Advise and Consent,” the novel by Allen Drury about a Senate confirmation battle with a president. “I thought the odds were better than even money I was going to end up fighting the president, and I wanted to go through the drill of thinking about what it’s like to fight a president who you like a lot and who’s very powerful.”

Gingrich said that on Sept. 29, he was told that an agreement had been reached. “They told me the deal they’d cut. I called my daughter, and my wife talked to her mother. Both my daughter and mother-in-law thought it was nuts.”
The next day he went to the White House, where the deal was laid out to Republican leaders. Everyone went along except Gingrich. “They walked into the Rose Garden, I walked the other way” — a public act of defiance that was captured live on CNN.

Weber said that Bush later said that it was Gingrich’s revolt, and not the deal itself, that cost him. Without the high-profile rebellion, Bush concluded, “he would have paid no political price for it.”

Gingrich said that immediately after he walked out, key anti-tax conservative Republicans who had served in the House and were then holding some of the highest positions in the Bush administration called him with private words of encouragement, secretly cheering him on.

According to Gingrich, the first call was from Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense. “ ‘Richard,’ I said, ‘I can’t tell you how much it helped me to go back and look at the courage you showed in 1982 when you opposed [Reagan’s business tax increase]. And that one of the things that strengthened me in this decision was knowing that I’d have your firm moral leadership.’ ”

Cheney chuckled and said he had promised Bush he would make a pro forma call to criticize Gingrich, but he indicated that his heart was not in it. “I’ve made the phone call,” Gingrich quoted Cheney as saying, “how are you doing?”

Jack Kemp, Bush’s housing secretary, also called. According to Gingrich, Kemp said, he was “calling to say that you really shouldn’t be doing the heroic and exactly correct thing you’re doing, which I’m very proud of you for doing, but as a member of the Cabinet I do want to check in with you and say I hope you’ll do it in a positive way and not be too hostile.”

Then it was Vice President Dan Quayle’s turn: “Newter, just sort of thought I’d check in here. . . . I want to keep the bridges open, when this thing’s over, we’re all on the same side.”

Quayle later said that he also told Gingrich he didn’t have to vote with Bush, “but I do think it’s an act of irresponsibility to openly criticize and lead the revolt against the president on something this fundamental.”

Gingrich and Darman, two of the most cerebral, outspoken and ego-driven figures in Washington at the time, had a deeply complicated relationship, particularly after the Gingrich revolt.

In November 1990, after Bush signed the second budget deal, Gingrich called for Darman’s resignation if he didn’t recant an attack on some new conservative thinking.

The next morning, Darman called Gingrich. Darman made notes of the conversation, in which Gingrich told Darman “you’ve got to go” and said that he wanted Bush to be defeated.

Gingrich did not dispute Darman’s version of the conversation, but he said he later told him that he had changed his position and did not want to knock off Bush. “I am a loyalist,” Gingrich said, adding that he worked hard for Bush’s reelection in 1992.

Darman was not impressed. He called Gingrich a “neo-media-pop-opportunist” who is “interested in personal power, media attention, aggrandizement.”

The split between the two was so great that Darman asked Weber to mediate. At about 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 3, 1990, Gingrich and Darman were sitting on separate couches in Weber’s office in the Cannon House Office Building.

“It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life,” Weber said, “because I never intended to be either a psychiatrist or marriage counselor. And the sessions were very much of that magnitude. They both should have been laying down!

“I had this very strong sense that I was dealing with a couple of people that had grown up without any friends . . . a couple of kids that were the smartest kids in their school class but nobody liked them.”

Weber said the two did not have real discussions or disagreements about policy. Instead, Gingrich and Darman spent the whole session, along with other meetings, talking about their personal relationship. “I got pretty bored with it all, to be candid, sitting there listening to these guys talk about, you know, ‘Well I thought you liked me, if you liked me, why did you say that about me?’ ” Weber said.

The meeting ended just as he knew it would, Weber said, with the two agreeing to more meetings and a closer relationship.

“I know Newt didn’t want Dick Darman to resign,” Weber said. “Newt wanted Dick Darman to sit down and spend hours and hours talking with him. And set up a process of communication that would make sure that everybody knew that, you know, Newt had Darman on the phone any time he wanted him and had his ear on anything he wanted to.”

Weber portrayed Gingrich in various ways throughout the 1992 interview, at one point calling him “a high-maintenance friend and ally, needy” and at another saying that “Newt, as you know, views himself as the leader of a vast, national interplanetary movement.”

But, in the end, Weber concluded that Gingrich was not as he often appeared.

“Gingrich is viewed as this hard, tough ideologue, and he’s not an ideologue, but beyond that he’s the easiest guy in the world, if you understand him, for people to buy off.”

Payroll tax fight leaves Hill Republicans divided and angry

From The Washington Post:

Congressional Republicans leave Washington for the holidays divided and embittered over the last round of December’s payroll-tax fight, and their lingering unhappiness could complicate negotiations starting in January on a deal for a full-year tax holiday.

Some House Republicans say they feel sold out by their counterparts in the Senate. For their part, Senate Republicans had worried that their House colleagues were harming the GOP’s chances of winning back their chamber by risking a tax increase if House members didn’t get concessions they wanted.

In the House, some rank-and-file House conservatives are deeply disappointed in their own leaders, who in the face of intense political pressure Thursday accepted a two-month deal that House Republicans had almost unanimously rejected just days earlier.

Perhaps no one was more dismayed at the outcome than the nearly 90 freshmen Republicans who came to Washington in January on a tea party wave promising to change the town. Many felt that the year ended with a temporary tax fix that was the epitome of business as usual.

“The House Republicans made a firm, sound point. And when push came to shove, we lost our way,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a freshman. He said Republicans missed the opportunity to use their new House majority this year to force major entitlement changes, overhaul the tax code and shrink government dramatically.

The tax fix, he said, “was bitterly consistent with what happened all year long.”

Though approved on a bipartisan 89 to 10 vote in the Senate, the 60-day tax deal had been crafted behind closed doors largely by two men: Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

It was a fallback solution brokered because Reid and McConnell couldn’t agree on how to pay for extending the tax cut for a full year. Twin deadlines were fast approaching: the expiration of the one-year measure that had cut the payroll-tax rate from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent and the start of lawmakers’ holiday recess.

The temporary deal extended a tax cut many freshmen believe had been embraced by President Obama and Republican leaders merely because it was popular. Opponents argued that it would not stimulate the economy as Obama had maintained. They also said it could harm Social Security funding over time.

“When you start making decisions based on elections, then you run the risk of having the mess we just did,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.)

Congressional Democrats on Friday reveled in their success in forcing Republicans to yield on tax cuts, one of that party’s signature issues.

“I hope this Congress has had a very good learning experience, especially those who are newer to this body,” Reid said after the Senate voted Friday to approve the deal. “Everything we do around here does not have to wind up in a fight.”

Instead, a number of newer members said Friday the message they had gotten was that they must fight even harder in 2012 — and encourage their leaders to stand beside them.

“Here’s my lesson learned: Clearly it demonstrates that common sense doesn’t get in the way of political necessity,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.). He said the two-month agreement makes no sense for businesses that prepare payrolls on a quarterly basis. “We’re again seeing the lack of an ability to make hard decisions about long-term issues.”

To get a full-year deal on the payroll tax — as well as to extend unemployment benefits and avert cuts in Medicare rates, which are in the same package — Democrats and Republicans will have to bridge a deep divide over whether such items should be funded through cuts in spending or higher taxes on wealthy people.

It’s the same kind of split that bedeviled the 12-member deficit “supercommittee,” which disbanded in failure last month.

Republicans will likely try to eke out concessions from Democrats, knowing that Obama has made the continuation of the tax cut a top priority. In the deal approved Friday, Republicans already got one major win — a requirement that the administration make a speedy decision on whether to allow construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

But their bargaining hand will not be strong, because a deal is now more important for the GOP. That’s because party leaders have spent the past week insisting that a full-year cut is necessary for the economy. And they have gotten a taste of the political consequences of letting Obama portray them as willing to let taxes rise for 160 million workers, as he has in recent days.

The $33 billion package was approved Friday in voice votes in the House and Senate, each lasting only a couple of minutes, and signed into law immediately by Obama.

In brief remarks after the bill’s passage Friday, Obama praised Congress for ensuring that Americans’ payroll taxes will not rise next month. And he said lawmakers should move quickly in January to extend the tax cut for a full year.

“When Congress returns, I urge them to keep working, without drama, without delay, to reach an agreement that extends this tax cut, as well as unemployment insurance, through all of 2012,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do because more money spent by more Americans means more businesses hiring more workers. That’s a boost for everybody, and it’s a boost we very much need right now.”

“Aloha,” he concluded, departing the White House to join his family in Hawaii for a Christmas vacation he had delayed because of the tax fight.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who stood alone at the microphones Thursday night to announce that he would accept the two-month deal in exchange for a promise from Reid to immediately begin negotiations over a full-year deal in January, presided over the brief House session.

And then he left the Capitol, without offering further comment.

This month’s debate revealed a deep division among Republicans about whether the payroll-tax cut has been a good idea. Those voices are likely to grow stronger in January because of unhappiness with how leaders handled the fight this month. In particular, many House Republicans say they feel betrayed by colleagues in the Senate.

As the week wore on, a steady stream of Republican senators came forward to say the House should abandon its demand for further negotiations to get a full-year deal that might include elements such as a continued pay freeze for federal employees.

Boehner’s hand was ultimately forced by McConnell, who after days of silence emerged Thursday to urge the House to back the 60-day fix in exchange for Reid appointing negotiators to start new talks in January.

“I feel really let down by the Senate Republicans,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “We were under the impression that we were strengthening the Senate’s hands and that by passing this tough bill it would give Mitch McConnell more room to negotiate.”

Instead, he said, McConnell “just rolled over to get his belly itched.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Click on this link to Doonesbury to read this better.

I worry about this also: In Islamic Law, Gingrich Sees a Mortal Threat to U.S.

From The New York Times:

Long before he announced his presidential run this year, Newt Gingrich had become the most prominent American politician to embrace an alarming premise: that Shariah, or Islamic law, poses a threat to the United States as grave as or graver than terrorism.  

“I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it,” Mr. Gingrich said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in July 2010 devoted to what he suggested were the hidden dangers of Islamic radicalism. “I think it’s that straightforward and that real.”  
Mr. Gingrich was articulating a much-disputed thesis in vogue with some conservative thinkers but roundly rejected by many American Muslims, scholars of Islam and counterterrorism officials. The anti-Shariah theorists say that just as communism posed an ideological and moral threat to America separate from the menace of Soviet missiles, so today radical Islamists are working to impose Shariah in a “stealth jihad” that is no less dangerous than the violent jihad of Al Qaeda.
“Stealth jihadis use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools; violent jihadis use violence,” Mr. Gingrich said in the speech. “But in fact they’re both engaged in jihad, and they’re both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Shariah.”       

Shariah (literally, “the path to the watering place”) is a central concept in Islam. It is God’s law, as derived from the Koran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad, and has far wider application than secular law. It is popularly associated with its most extreme application in societies like Afghanistan under the Taliban, including chopping off a hand as punishment for thievery.    

For Democrats in Hawaii, Unease in an Oasis

From The New York Times:

Hawaii should be a happy outpost for the Democratic Party. It has a Democratic governor. Democrats overwhelmingly control the Legislature. It has Barack Obama in the White House and all the prestige that brings, most recently an Asia-Pacific economic summit meeting with the president as its host, packing this city’s streets, restaurants and hotels with international leaders.

Yet these are hardly happy days for Hawaii Democrats. The governor, Neil Abercrombie, is ending his first year under a storm of criticism; he referred to himself the other evening as “the most unpopular governor in America.” Mr. Obama’s struggles in Washington have cast a bit of a pall here.

And the Republican Party suddenly has a shot of picking up a United States Senate seat that has been in Democratic hands for more than 30 years, with the announcement by Linda Lingle, a Republican former governor, that she will seek the seat held by Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the retiring Democrat. A Republican victory here would be a serious embarrassment to Mr. Obama (though that could be the least of his problems on election night) and would make it that much more likely that Republicans take back the Senate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ron Paul becoming serious contender in Republican presidential race

From The Washington Post:

As the first votes in the Republican presidential race approach, Rep. Ron Paul has become a serious force with the potential to upend the nomination fight and remain a factor throughout next year’s general-election campaign.

Although few think the congressman from Texas has a realistic shot at winning the GOP nod, he has built a strong enough base of support that he could be a spoiler — or a kingmaker.

In a muddled field, Paul could win the Iowa caucuses. While other candidates have been hesitant to commit to the state or have had trouble sustaining their initial bursts of support, Paul has been methodically building an organization and a growing corps of followers.

Perhaps most fearsome to Republican leaders is Paul’s refusal to rule out a third-party presidential bid that would steal votes from the Republican nominee and make President Obama’s path to reelection considerably easier.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, for instance, indicates that Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would be locked in a dead heat in a one-on-one contest. But in a three-way race with Paul, Obama would hold a wide advantage. The survey also suggests that Paul on his own would pose at least as much danger to Obama as Gingrich would.

“The reality is Ron Paul is poised to become a major figure in the Republican Party if his momentum continues and he’s able to win in Iowa,” said GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who managed the campaign of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the party’s 2008 nominee. “The open question is: How much durability does he have over the balance of the race?”
The congressman’s libertarian views and longtime opposition to increased federal spending and government interference have inspired a committed following of activist supporters who turn out for rallies and organize online.

Until now, though, rival candidates and Republican leaders have largely ignored Paul, considering him more of a political eccentric than a viable opinion leader, much less a credible presidential candidate.

Many Republicans have long been uneasy with Paul’s views on foreign policy, which fall far outside the GOP mainstream. He opposed the Iraq war, wants to pull the military out of Afghanistan and says conservatives are overstating the nuclear threat from Iran to start a war in the region. He opposes foreign aid, including support for Israel — a point of particular concern within the party — and has said that U.S. actions overseas helped spur the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

After his 2008 presidential bid, Paul wasn’t even granted a spot at the Republican National Convention. He held his own shadow gathering instead.

Now, party officials and other candidates are being forced to reckon with him as a purveyor of policy and, in some respects, the leader of a political movement that the GOP would like to harness.

A major factor is Paul’s relative strength with younger voters, who make up the core of his energetic and growing activist base. In the new Post-ABC survey, Paul is best positioned to cut into Obama’s support among young voters, with 44 percent of registered voters who are younger than 40 backing him in a hypothetical matchup against Obama, while Romney wins 41 percent and Gingrich gets 37 percent.

“Ron Paul is the most consequential guy running for president,” said Grover Norquist, an anti-tax activist and Republican organizer. “All the other guys are basically saying the same things, and one gets to be the nominee. But Ron Paul has changed the nature of the modern Republican Party and brought into it discussions not only of non-interventionist overseas policy but monetary policy.”

Norquist addressed Paul’s alternative 2008 convention and calls it “one of the McCain era’s tactical errors” not to embrace the congressman and his supporter base that year — in effect discounting a potentially energized group of campaign volunteers. He said Paul, unlike his rivals, was drawing new people to the GOP, just as Pat Robertson helped lure millions of evangelical voters into the party with his 1988 presidential bid and the tea party movement attracted more activists in 2010.

Paul’s organization is expected to be a key advantage in dealing with a new set of Republican Party rules that allow for proportional awarding of convention delegates in many states.

The Paul rise underscores the volatile nature of today’s Republican Party, which through its presidential nominating contest is struggling to balance the ideological views of its newly energized tea-party base with a deep desire to find the best candidate to defeat Obama.

If Romney is the pragmatic choice for voters who are worried about electability, Paul is the pick of a certain breed of ideological purists who have grown skeptical of both parties. And other contenders who might have tapped into that strain — Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann, for instance — have fallen back or stepped aside.

In the short term, Paul’s presence seems most beneficial to Romney.

Tom Friedman on Iraq: The End, for Now

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

With the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Iraq, we’re finally going to get the answer to the core question about that country: Was Iraq the way Iraq was because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq is the way Iraq is — a collection of sects and tribes unable to live together except under an iron fist. Now we’re going to get the answer because both the internal iron fist that held Iraq together (Saddam Hussein) and the external iron fist (the U.S. armed forces) have been removed. Now we will see whether Iraqis can govern themselves in a decent manner that will enable their society to progress — or end up with a new iron fist. You have to hope for the best because so much is riding on it, but the early signs are worrying.

Iraq was always a war of choice. As I never bought the argument that Saddam had nukes that had to be taken out, the decision to go to war stemmed, for me, from a different choice: Could we collaborate with the people of Iraq to change the political trajectory of this pivotal state in the heart of the Arab world and help tilt it and the region onto a democratizing track? After 9/11, the idea of helping to change the context of Arab politics and address the root causes of Arab state dysfunction and Islamist terrorism — which were identified in the 2002 Arab Human Development Report as a deficit of freedom, a deficit of knowledge and a deficit of women’s empowerment — seemed to me to be a legitimate strategic choice. But was it a wise choice?

My answer is twofold: “No” and “Maybe, sort of, we’ll see.”

I say “no” because whatever happens in Iraq, even if it becomes Switzerland, we overpaid for it. And, for that, I have nothing but regrets. We overpaid in lives, in the wounded, in tarnished values, in dollars and in the lost focus on America’s development. Iraqis, of course, paid dearly as well.

One reason the costs were so high is because the project was so difficult. Another was the incompetence of George W. Bush’s team in prosecuting the war. The other reason, though, was the nature of the enemy. Iran, the Arab dictators and, most of all, Al Qaeda did not want a democracy in the heart of the Arab world, and they tried everything they could — in Al Qaeda’s case, hundreds of suicide bombers financed by Arab oil money — to sow enough fear and sectarian discord to make this democracy project fail.

So no matter the original reasons for the war, in the end, it came down to this: Were America and its Iraqi allies going to defeat Al Qaeda and its allies in the heart of the Arab world or were Al Qaeda and its allies going to defeat them? Thanks to the Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq, and the surge, America and its allies defeated them and laid the groundwork for the most important product of the Iraq war: the first ever voluntary social contract between Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites for how to share power and resources in an Arab country and to govern themselves in a democratic fashion. America helped to midwife that contract in Iraq, and now every other Arab democracy movement is trying to replicate it — without an American midwife. You see how hard it is.

Which leads to the “maybe, sort of, we’ll see.” It is possible to overpay for something that is still transformational. Iraq had its strategic benefits: the removal of a genocidal dictator; the defeat of Al Qaeda there, which diminished its capacity to attack us; the intimidation of Libya, which prompted its dictator to surrender his nuclear program (and helped expose the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear network); the birth in Kurdistan of an island of civility and free markets and the birth in Iraq of a diverse free press. But Iraq will only be transformational if it truly becomes a model where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, the secular and religious, Muslims and non-Muslims, can live together and share power.

As you can see in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, this is the issue that will determine the fate of all the Arab awakenings. Can the Arab world develop pluralistic, consensual politics, with regular rotations in power, where people can live as citizens and not feel that their tribe, sect or party has to rule or die? This will not happen overnight in Iraq, but if it happens over time it would be transformational, because it is the necessary condition for democracy to take root in that region. Without it, the Arab world will be a dangerous boiling pot for a long, long time.

The best-case scenario for Iraq is that it will be another Russia — an imperfect, corrupt, oil democracy that still holds together long enough so that the real agent of change — a new generation, which takes nine months and 21 years to develop — comes of age in a much more open, pluralistic society. The current Iraqi leaders are holdovers from the old era, just like Vladimir Putin in Russia. They will always be weighed down by the past. But as Putin is discovering — some 21 years after Russia’s democratic awakening began — that new generation thinks differently. I don’t know if Iraq will make it. The odds are really long, but creating this opportunity was an important endeavor, and I have nothing but respect for the Americans, Brits and Iraqis who paid the price to make it possible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lawmakers Deadlock Over Tax Cut. Many - including the Cracker Squire - don't believe that the payroll tax cut is an effective way to spur economic growth anyway. What we see now is a stalling action on the part of those who were never for a payroll tax cut in the first place. Dyfuction is returning and some might argue working.

Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.) criticized the Senate's legislation Monday.

From The Wall Street Journal:

At issue is a bill that would extend for two months the lower payroll-tax rate that workers currently pay to fund Social Security, as well as federal jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a measure to extend current Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.

If Congress doesn't reach a deal by the end of the year, workers will see their payroll taxes revert to 6.2% of earnings, from the current 4.2% rate.

At the core of the Republican opposition was the cadre of tea-party-backed freshmen who have made it hard all year for Mr. Boehner to steer his party to compromises dictated by divided government.

"This freshman phenomenon that happened in 2010 is beginning to flex its muscle and let its voice be heard," said one member of the group.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Healing Medicare - Unfortunately, instead of welcoming the effort reflected in the Wyden-Ryan plan, the White House chose to stomp on it.

From the Editorial Board of The Washington Post:

IN THE MAELSTROM of dysfunction and partisanship better known as the 112th Congress, it is always surprising and gratifying when lawmakers from opposing parties manage to work together. That is particularly true when their collaboration involves an issue as politically charged and substantively complex as Medicare. So we begin by congratulating Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for having the tenacity to try again, with a revamped version of Medicare reform unveiled last week.

Some will read the last sentence and chuckle knowingly about its seeming naivete. After all, Mr. Ryan’s more radical Medicare plan exposed him and his party to devastating attacks from Democrats who warned of “ending Medicare as we know it.” Is the new and much more improved model an effort to defang those attacks and use Mr. Wyden as political cover? Perhaps, but the unavoidable fact is that “Medicare as we know it” — with an exploding population of aging beneficiaries and inadequate controls on growth — cannot continue if the government is to perform the rest of its functions and avoid being saddled with ever more growth-inhibiting debt. Mr. Wyden and Mr. Ryan are under no illusions that their approach will be enacted anytime soon. But they deserve praise for trying to jump-start the conversation.

The essence of the Wyden-Ryan plan — and a similar proposal unveiled Friday by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici — involves a concept known as “premium support.” Rather than the current, open-ended entitlement, seniors and those with disabilities would be entitled to a benefit worth a fixed amount and could use it to buy insurance from private providers. There are major differences between Mr. Ryan’s old approach and the new version. First, beneficiaries who want to stick with traditional fee-for-service Medicare would be allowed to do so — although, if the costs of that program rise disproportionately, better-off seniors might have to pay higher premiums. Second, rather than limiting the growth of the government-provided benefit to inflation, which would have quickly made the amount inadequate to purchase reasonable coverage, the Wyden-Ryan plan would let the amount rise at the growth in gross domestic product per person plus 1 percent — a target already embedded in the new health-care law. Third, seniors would not be left to the vagaries of the market but would choose among competing plans in regulated exchanges like those in the new health-care law.

There are legitimate questions about the proposal, even if, as we have said, premium support is a promising part of the reform debate. Would sicker seniors flock to traditional Medicare, driving up its costs? Does requiring that private plans offer “actuarially equivalent” packages — rather than a set of specific benefits — guarantee seniors necessary care? Are poor seniors adequately protected? Would promised savings materialize?

Unfortunately, instead of welcoming the effort, the White House chose to stomp on it. Invoking a phrase used by Newt Gingrich during the 1990s, communications director Dan Pfeiffer warned that the “Wyden-Ryan scheme”could let traditional Medicare “wither on the vine,” hiking premiums and forcing seniors onto private plans. This is not a constructive or adequate response to a serious proposal.

Des Moines Register endorses Mitt Romney

The Des Moines Register, the largest and most influential newspaper in Iowa endorsed the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney Saturday evening.

In endorsing Romney, the Register also had harsh words for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who it called “an undisciplined partisan who would alienate, not unite, if he reverts to mean-spirited attacks on display as House speaker.”

When magazine covers attack

For those who have yet to see it, the conservative National Review magazine is out Thursday with a damning, multi-article takedown of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign

Perhaps more importantly, though, it is paired with an equally damning cover of the former House speaker.
The National Review’s illustration of Gingrich as Marvin the Martian, like so many memorable political magazine covers before it, crystallizes what’s already on everyone’s mind with the assistance of no — or relatively few — words to accompany it. The words say one thing — “Newt’s World” — but the message is essentially this: This guy is out there.

Remember Mitt Romney’s attack at Saturday’s debate criticizing Gingrich for wanting to mine the moon for minerals? Remember when Romney called Gingrich “zany” on Wednesday? The National Review essentially caricatures that very argument.

And the fact that this review is coming from a conservative publication makes it even more damning in a GOP presidential primary.

All of this combines to make the Gingrich cover one of the more memorable magazine covers of the 2012 election, and potentially one that could actually affect the race.

So what are some examples of other magazine covers that have defined politicians, and what do they have in common?

Gingrich, of course, has been fodder for this kind of thing before. In fact this isn’t even the first time he has been portrayed as a popular evil fictional character. Time magazine once drew him as Uncle Scrooge, which Newsweek matched by turning him into the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Those marked the early years of a speakership that eventually turned bad in part because of Gingrich’s abrasive leadership style.

The Marvin the Martian caricature is very much along the same lines. By drawing Gingrich as any of these characters, he is being de-humanized and held up as somewhat of a bumbling, unsavory character. Which is pretty close to how his enemies see him.

The same ability to make a picture worth a thousand words is also a big reason why Newsweek’s cover picture of Rep. Michele Bachmann earlier this year was such a big deal. The magazine drew criticism for using a photo of a wide-eyed (crazy-looking?) Bachmann and labeling her the “Queen of Rage.” A week later, she won the Iowa straw poll, and ever since then, her campaign has fallen off a cliff.

[The Cracker Squire's 8-10-11 post on this cover noted showed the cover along with a more conventional shot, and noted: "Although the woman is a lightning rod, the Newsweek photograph might be a bit over the top."]

Similarly, before the 2008 election, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover photo of now-Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that many thought made the former governor look deliberately … well … ugly. Warner was thought to be a presidential contender at that point, but wound up seeking a Senate seat.

A sampling of some other memorable covers:

* Time labeling President George H.W. Bush the “Incredible Shrinking President” in 1992 after his approval rating plummeted fast.

* A 2000 Esquire cover photo of Bill Clintontaken at crotch level with the outgoing president beaming down, which to many evoked the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

* Time’s “Man of the Year” photo of a two-faced George H.W. Bush, suggesting the duality of the president.

* The New Yorker’s cartoon of President Obama in Muslim garb and his wife with a rifle strapped to her back as both do the so-called “terrorist fist jab.” This poked fun at the increasingly ridiculous rumors floating around about the Obamas in a way that seemed to mitigate their effect.

* Newsweek’s cover of Sarah Palinin her running gear seemed to trivialize her as not a serious politician — a portrait of her that has stuck to this day.

* The Nation ran a cover photo of George W. Bush as Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman during the 2000 recount, with a button on his jacket that said “Worry” rather than Neuman’s usual “What, me worry?” The caricature seemed to stick over the next eight-plus years, with Bush often being caricatured as a buffoonish character.

All of these magazines captured the moment — or at least a suspicion held by many — in a very succinct way, which is precisely why the National Review’s cover of Gingrich’s works.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I have always admired his intellect, but after this, I must say: he is way too risky & maybe even dangerous to ever have any power again. - Gingrich Takes Aim at Legal System.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich came out swinging Saturday against the nation's legal system, pledging if elected to defy Supreme Court rulings with which he disagrees and declaring that a 200-year-old principle of American government, judicial review to ensure that the political branches obey the Constitution, had been "grossly overstated."

Politicians often attack the judiciary for decisions they perceive as unpopular, a relatively painless tactic because judges, unlike electoral opponents, don't fight back. But Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, has gone further than any major candidate in recent memory, with scalding rhetoric rarely seen since the 1950s and '60s, when Southern politicians excoriated the Supreme Court for ordering the end to racial segregation, something many then argued exceeded the judiciary's constitutional power.

Mr. Gingrich referred to that era in campaign literature declaring that the Supreme Court's rationale for ordering states to obey its Brown v. Board of Education ruling to desegregate public schools was "factually and historically false."

If a President Gingrich were to follow through with his plans, he would almost certainly provoke a constitutional conflict with the head of the federal judiciary—Chief Justice John Roberts, who, as it happens, Mr. Gingrich has cited as one of his favorite justices. It already has divided him from leaders of the conservative legal movement, including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who told Fox News that some of Mr. Gingrich's ideas are "dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, off-the-wall and would reduce the entire judicial system to a spectacle."

Regardless of their approach to constitutional interpretation, Supreme Court justices have jealously guarded their prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government, particularly a foundational ruling that Mr. Gingrich sought to diminish, Marbury v. Madison.

Stemming from a constitutional conflict during the presidential transition from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, the 1803 decision by Chief Justice John Marshall clarified the federal judiciary's function in the constitutional system. The ruling's famous holding, that "it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is," is carved in marble on the wall of the Supreme Court.

Rather than follow the Marbury precedent, Mr. Gingrich said Saturday he proposes "a floating, three-way constitutional system" in which any two of the three branches of federal power—the executive, legislative and judicial—could effectively overrule the other.


This is from Monday's Wall Street Journal.

Thanks, I needed that: Romney picks up one of most coveted endorsements in the GOP race.

From The Washington Post:

Mitt Romney swooped into South Carolina on Friday to pick up the endorsement of Gov. Nikki Haley, a tea party star whose backing was intended to signal growing acceptance of Romney among conservative Republicans.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newt Gingrich: The GOP’s eccentric big thinker and bomb-thrower

A long article from The Washington Post begins:

He’s the smart one.

That’s what Newt Gingrich has been hearing since he was little Newtie, the boy who, his stepfather said, had read much of the Encyclopedia Americana by age 12. He’s the smartest guy in the room, the professor-pol, the eccentric big thinker of the Republican Party with the near-textbook recall and the lawn-sprinkler spray of ideas.

Huntsman Backers Bank on Dogfight

From The Wall Street Journal:

Margaret Brodhead came to hear Jon Huntsman Jr. on Sunday night at her local high school and decided she liked him. "He sounded non-ideological," she said, "like he really understands the problems."

But Ms. Brodhead, a 55-year-old secretary from nearby Keene, wasn't ready to commit to voting for the former Utah governor. "I'm not convinced," she said.

So it goes with Mr. Huntsman. The former ambassador to China has staked his candidacy on New Hampshire, where he has held 120 campaign events and built a significant statewide organization. Still, polls show him hovering at just under 10% support.

But some Huntsman supporters argue that their candidate is positioned to ride a wave created by intensified tussling between the top two candidates in the GOP field, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Huntsman's supporters say he is the kind of even-keeled candidate who will draw new attention from voters, especially if Messrs. Romney and Gingrich spend the next few weeks tearing each other down.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Court to Weigh Arizona Statute on Immigration

From The New York Times:

In the space of a month, the Supreme Court has thrust itself into the center of American political life, agreeing to hear three major cases that could help determine which party controls the House of Representatives and whether President Obama wins a second term.

The court announced Monday that it would decide whether Arizona was entitled to impose tough anti-immigration measures over the Obama administration’s objections. The case joined a crowded docket that already included challenges to Mr. Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the 2010 health care overhaul law, and a momentous case on how Texas will conduct its elections.

The Texas case, which on Friday the court agreed to hear, could cause as many as four seats in the United States House of Representatives to change party control.

“It’s not just that these are big cases, but these are big cases that echo in the political arena,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law and political science at Columbia University. “There is now a judicial forum for airing these political disputes.”

The health care and immigration decisions are likely to land in June, in the heat of the presidential campaign.

The court must act much faster in the Texas case, where its decision on Friday to stay the use of a set of election maps, created by federal judges, has thrown election planning there into disarray. Political observers believe that the new maps would increase the influence of Hispanic voters and thereby increase the number of Democrats in the House.

The court’s precedents point both ways in the health care case, and it is hard to say what the outcome will be. In the Arizona and Texas cases, recent decisions suggest that a majority of justices may look favorably on the positions of state officials, which would entail upholding the Arizona immigration law and rejecting at least a part of the court-drawn maps in Texas.

In May, the court upheld a different Arizona law, one that imposed harsh penalties on businesses that employed illegal immigrants. In a 2009 decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, expressed skepticism about the continuing vitality of a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the court in Texas relied on in substituting its own maps for ones drawn by the Legislature.