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Jul 19 2010

Punting the Pundits

Joan Walsh discusses the Tea Party Federation leader’s expulsion of racist Mark Williams But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t denounce him. Plus: “What if the Tea Party was black?”

Credit where it’s due: Just days after insisting there are no racists in the Tea Party movement, Tea Party Federation leader David Webb told CBS’s “Face the Nation” today that Mark Williams and his Tea Party Express had been expelled from the group. Last seen trying to start a sponsors’ boycott of MSNBC’s “Hardball” because of Chris Matthews’s tough reporting on the Tea Party, Webb was apparently appalled by Williams’s blatantly racist Letter to President Lincoln from “Colored People” signed by “Precious Ben Jealous,” asking Lincoln to repeal emancipation because “coloreds” had it better under slavery, not having to look for a job and such. Webb called the letter “offensive.”

You know what’s sad, though? On CNN, also this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell couldn’t even muster the judgment that Webb showed. “I am not interested in getting into that debate,” McConnell told Candy Crowley. What a wuss. Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you the GOP is the party of Lincoln.

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Finally, I sent this video around Friday night. You may already have seen it. A lot of people, including author Tim Wise, have asked the interesting question: What if the Tea Party was black? At minimum, it’s pretty clear that its gun-toting and violent rhetoric against the president would probably not be going over terribly well, especially with law enforcement (think the Old Black Panthers carrying guns into the State Capitol in Sacramento). It’s an interesting argument, but this video puts images and music behind it, and, well, I think it’s powerful. Probably not going to change the minds of hardened Tea Partiers or Obama haters, but it should find a wider audience:

Hmmmm Paul Krugman this morning on Pundit Delusion

The latest hot political topic is the “Obama paradox” – the supposedly mysterious disconnect between the president’s achievements and his numbers. The line goes like this: The administration has had multiple big victories in Congress, most notably on health reform, yet President Obama’s approval rating is weak. What follows is speculation about what’s holding his numbers down: He’s too liberal for a center-right nation. No, he’s too intellectual, too Mr. Spock, for voters who want more passion. And so on.

But the only real puzzle here is the persistence of the pundit delusion, the belief that the stuff of daily political reporting – who won the news cycle, who had the snappiest comeback – actually matters.

This delusion is, of course, most prevalent among pundits themselves, but it’s also widespread among political operatives. And I’d argue that susceptibility to the pundit delusion is part of the Obama administration’s problem.

Roger C. Altman on Obama’s Business Plan

JUST as Congress finally passed its sweeping financial reform bill last week, a chorus of high-profile chief executives and business lobbying groups were criticizing President Obama and what they see as a new era of big, stifling government and heavy regulation. Ivan Seidenberg, the chief executive of Verizon, delivered a particularly stinging rebuke: In remarks to the Economic Club of Washington, he blamed President Obama for “an increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation” and lambasted an administration that is “reaching into every sector of American life” and “making it harder to raise capital and create new businesses.”

After the United States Chamber of Commerce then complained that the administration “vilified industries,” the White House advisers Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett responded with a letter clearly meant for the business community as a whole. They wrote: “The stakes are far too high for us to be working against one another. That is why we were surprised and disappointed at the rhetoric we have heard from some in the business community – rhetoric that fails to acknowledge the important steps this administration has taken every single day to meet our shared objectives.”

Glen Greenwald talks about The Real U.S. Government

The Washington Post’s Dana Priest demonstrates once again why she’s easily one of the best investigative journalists in the nation — if not the best — with the publication of Part I of her series, co-written with William Arkin, detailing the sprawling, unaccountable, inexorably growing secret U.S. Government:  what the article calls “Top Secret America.”  To the extent the series receives much substantive attention (and I doubt it will), the focus will likely be on the bureaucratic problems it documents:  the massive redundancies, overlap, waste, and inefficiencies which plague this “hidden world, growing beyond control” — as though everything would better if Top Secret America just functioned a bit more effectively.   But the far more significant fact so compellingly illustrated by this first installment is the one I described last week when writing about the Obama administration’s escalating war on whistle blowers:

Most of what the U.S. Government does of any significance — literally — occurs behind a vast wall of secrecy, completely unknown to the citizenry. . . . Secrecy is the religion of the political class, and the prime enabler of its corruption. That’s why whistle blowers are among the most hated heretics. They’re one of the very few classes of people able to shed a small amount of light on what actually takes place.

Virtually every fact Priest and Arkin disclose underscores this point.   Here is their first sentence:  “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”  This all “amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.”  We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

E. J. Dionne Jr redefines “Obamism”

The titans of the private sector say President Obama is anti-business. Many progressives say he coddles business. How does the administration manage to pull that off?

The “center” is said to be the most comfortable place in American politics. But this assumes that the center is stable, that most people on either end of the philosophical continuum give would-be centrist politicians the benefit of the doubt and that voters actually care whether someone is “centrist.”

Not one of these assumptions works. The political center is a strange and wild place because many who fall into it have vastly different combinations of beliefs. No politician gets the benefit of the doubt these days. And the people who care passionately about a politician’s ideology are not in the center but fall to its left or right.

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And as long as Obama doesn’t define “Obamaism,” his critics will do the defining for him. Right now, it’s a collection of real achievements without a strong underlying rationale. It’s an expansion of government without an explanation for how this modestly larger government will enhance both private well-being and private-sector growth.

If Obama doesn’t want to be seen as a socialist who coddles business, he needs to be more persuasive in telling Americans who he actually is.

Robert J. Samuelson compares what went wrong with the Massachusetts health care reform and what could go wrong with President’s Obama’s health care bill.

If you want a preview of President Obama’s health-care “reform,” take a look at Massachusetts. In 2006, it enacted a “reform” that became a model for Obama. What’s happened since isn’t encouraging. The state did the easy part: expanding state-subsidized insurance coverage. It evaded the hard part: controlling costs and ensuring that spending improves people’s health. Unfortunately, Obama has done the same.

Like Obama, Massachusetts requires most individuals to have health insurance (the “individual mandate”). To aid middle-class families too well-off to qualify for Medicaid — government insurance for the poor — the state subsidizes insurance for people with incomes up to three times the federal poverty line (about $66,000 in 2008 for a family of four). Together, the mandate and subsidies have raised insurance coverage from 87.5 percent of the non-elderly population in 2006 to 95.2 percent in the fall of 2009, report Sharon Long and Karen Stockley of the Urban Institute.

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Obama dodged the tough issues in favor of grandstanding. Imitating Patrick, he’s already denouncing insurers’ rates, as if that would solve the spending problem. What’s occurring in Massachusetts is the plausible future: Unchecked health spending shapes government priorities and inflates budget deficits and taxes, with small health gains. And they call this “reform”?

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