The American Bear


Freedom Rider: What Ails the GOP | Margaret Kimberly

The plight of the Republican Party and its damaged brand are much in discussion recently. Republicans are in a state of despair over their loss in the 2012 presidential election and, as is always the case, debate among themselves about the reasons for their defeat. Despite the absence of polling or other data which might indicate a Mitt Romney victory, they had high hopes of defeating Barack Obama. They used every opportunity to undo and weaken his initiatives but they made the error of listening only to those within their bubble, and created needless enmity among enough white Americans to help Obama win convincingly.

Their meme of labeling 47% of Americans as deadbeats did not exclude white people, and sealed their doom among those voters they needed. The anti-immigrant “self deportation” plan turned Latino swing voters into a solid part of the democratic bloc. The gender gap won’t go away as long as Republican candidates outdo one another with sexist comments about birth control and abortion.

Yet there is another factor which spells, if not doom, bad omens for the Republicans. … [T]he Democrats have taken positions which were once the sole property of the GOP and in so doing have either held down their turnout or stolen voters away from them altogether.

Consider that the Democratic Party is now the party most representative of the American imperial imperative. Bush and Cheney may have begun making the fantasy of the New American Century a reality, but Barack Obama has perfected their doctrine and turned it into an electoral winner.

While George W. Bush claimed the right to name anyone an enemy combatant who immediately lost all due process rights, Obama has gone even further. He claims the right to name anyone a terrorist and have them killed. The victim need not be charged or tried in a court of law. Congress, the corporate media and, sadly, most Democrats have gone along with what ought to be an outrage, and allowed a Democrat to move to the right of Bush and Cheney.

The prison at Guantanamo is still open for business, holding as captives men who are clearly not “the worst of the worst” as Americans had been told. They are kept in conditions which are universally condemned as torture but there is no talk of their condition ending anytime soon.

On the domestic policy front, Obama has succeeded in putting the already frayed safety net on the budget cutting table. Social Security was once “the third rail of politics,” untouchable by any political means. It is now as touchable as anything else Americans once thought was sacrosanct, like the postal service and public schools whose existence are now endangered by Democrats in Washington and around the country.

Simply put, the Democratic Party is now the Republican Party. [++]

With last night’s results, one can choose to see things two ways: (1) emboldened by their success and the obvious movement of the electorate in their direction, liberals will resolve that this time things will be different, that their willingness to be Good Partisan Soldiers depends upon their core values not being ignored and stomped on, or (2) inebriated with love and gratitude for Obama for having vanquished the evil Republican villains, they will follow their beloved superhero wherever he goes with even more loyalty than before. One does not need to be Nate Silver to be able to use the available historical data to see which of those two courses is the far more likely one.

Obama and progressives: what will liberals do with their big election victory? | Glenn Greenwald

Read the whole piece for an outline of the “standard pattern of self-disempowerment” likely to be followed in the upcoming “Grand Bargain” cave-in.

Pastiche Without Purpose: Democrats and the Politics of Debt (2) | Alex Gourevitch

[…] Of course, the Democrats have in some sense always been a pragmatic, catch-all party. But the contemporary party is not the modern party. The modern Democratic Party was an extremely conflicted not-quite-fusion of progressive labor and Southern white racism. The rebellious North and Midwest jostling with the Solid South, lefties next to supremacists. During that period of its existence, its moderation was the product of resolving deep ideological contradictions inside the party – they kind of canceled out, or lead to spasms in both directions. Moreover, the Democratic Party had the political role of absorbing, co-opting and fragmenting actual left-wing tendencies in American politics. And one thing that came out of all that, from FDR to LBJ, was a kind of deformed welfare-state project.

Now, the Democratic Party is a mere pastiche without purpose. Republicans absorbed the racists and some conservative white workers just at the point that organized labor was weakening and Keynesianism dealt a series of blows by the fiscal crisis of the state. With no welfarist project, maintained by a contingent set of historical forces, what is left? The project of responsible government, of taxing mainly for the purpose of balancing budgets. Unlike with Eisenhower and Clinton, not even the economic situation nominally supports the push for balanced budgets – bond prices are at historic lows, and investors greet S&P downgrades not by pushing up yields but by gobbling up yet more T-bills. Even the Buffet Rule is not so much an invocation of a principle of social justice as it is an acknowledgement of indecency in the tax code. Only the party of Romney-Ryan can make that elemental act Mugwumpery look like more than what it is – an empty, election year gesture.

We’re Going To Tax Their Ass Off! | Corey Robin

[…] Just as the White House and Congress were wrapping up their negotiations on the health care bill in the early months of 2010, Obama announced that the great challenge of the age was debt reduction. Though it’s often argued that Obama was pushed into that position by the Republican takeover of the House in November 2010, the fact is that he created the Bowles-Simpson Commission in February 2010, with the declared purpose of balancing the budget by 2015 and reducing the debt. The committee’s membership, chosen by Obama, included on the Democratic side deficit hawks like Max Baucus and on the Republican side…Paul Ryan.

At every step, then, of the two major initiatives of his administration—the stimulus and health care bills—Obama shouldered the load of debt and deficits. Whether that was by default or design remains the subject of much debate. But what’s not in dispute is that the debt has become the Democrats’ burden and/or vocation, which the Republicans are free to flout at will.

This became especially clear during the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011 and since. Once the Republicans began to threaten a default in the spring of 2011, Obama made one concession after another in a desperate attempt to make a deal. He offered to cut Social Security benefits, raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67, increase premiums, and more. Thankfully, GOP intransigence saved those proposals from becoming part of the deal.

The final deal, announced at the end of July 2011, included $1 trillion in cuts, divided evenly between defense and non-defense spending. There would be no tax increase. Instead, the White House tellingly emphasized that the cuts would “reduce non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President.” The deal also created a bipartisan congressional super committee tasked with coming up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings. If the committee failed, an automatic process of savings measures would be triggered, which would include tax increases and spending cuts, with Social Security, Medicaid, and a few other programs exempted from the cuts.

Since the announcement of that deal, we’ve seen two developments. First, the congressional super committee tried—and failed—to come to an agreement. At each phase in the negotiations, which ended in November, the Democrats played the responsible adult, the Republicans the wild child. The Democrats came in with a proposal to raise taxes by $1.3 trillion and cut spending by $1.7 trillion (including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid). The Republican response: $2.2 trillion in cuts (not much more than the Democrats) and no tax increases. By the end of the negotiations, the Democrats had reduced their tax increase proposal to $400 billion and were offering nearly a $1 trillion in spending cuts; the Republicans tendered $640 billion in spending cuts and $3 billion in tax increases. In other words, not only were the Democrats promising to cut far more than were the Republicans, but they also promised to reduce the debt overwhelmingly through spending cuts rather than tax increases.

Second, now that that the super committee has failed, the GOP has predictably begun to balk at the defense cuts mandated by the deal. (I say predictably because just after the deal was announced, I got into a heated argument with a political scientist over that very issue. Where he was elated by the defense cuts, I warned that the Republicans would almost certainly renege on them.) Throughout this past summer, the GOP promised to make the so-called sequester a major issue in the election, and the 2012 Republican Party platform (see page 40) enshrines their opposition to it:

Sequestration—which is severe, automatic, across-the-board cuts in defense spending over the next decade—of the nation’s military budget would be a disaster for national security, imperiling the safety of our servicemen and women, accelerating the decline of our nation’s defense industrial base, and resulting in the layoff of more than 1 million skilled workers. Opposition to sequester is bipartisan; even the current Secretary of Defense has said the cuts will be “devastating” to America’s military. Yet the current President supported sequestration, signed it into law, and has threatened to veto Republican efforts to prevent it. If he allows an additional half trillion dollars to be cut from the defense budget, America will be left with the smallest ground force since 1940,the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history—at a time when our Nation faces a growing range of threats to our national security and a struggling economy that can ill afford to lose 1.5 million defense-related jobs.

So here we are, entering a campaign with Obama begging the media to recognize him and the Democrats as the party of austerity—for being willing to make difficult and deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security—and Republicans happily calling for a constitutional amendment requiring congressional super majorities for tax increases (see page 4).

Ironically, it was during the heyday of the New Deal that we first got a glimpse of the way we live now—from none other than John Kenneth Galbraith. As Bartlett shows, when Galbraith learned of Kennedy’s plans for a large tax cut in 1962, he shrewdly observed in his diary that “lower tax revenues will become a ceiling on spending.” Though the economics of the tax cut were impeccably Keynesian, Galbraith was far more concerned about the politics, which he thought were dangerous. As he explained in his testimony to Congress in 1965:

I was never as enthusiastic as many of my fellow economists over the tax reductions of last year. The case for it as an isolated action was undoubtedly good. But there was danger that conservatives, once introduced to the delights of tax reduction, would like it too much. Tax reduction would then become a substitute for increased outlays on urgent social needs. We would have a new and reactionary form of Keynesianism with which to contend.

What Galbraith could not have foreseen—ensconced in the New Deal consensus as he was—was that that the real ceiling on social spending would be set not merely by the Republicans but also, and perhaps more fatally, by the Democrats.

Once upon a time Republicans were tax collectors for the welfare state. Now Democrats are the austerians of reactionary Keynesianism.

GOP/Dem rhetorical convergence | Glenn Greenwald

In 2005, Karl Rove sparked widespread outrage by accusing liberal critics of President Bush’s Terrorism programs of sympathizing with and wanting to coddle The Terrorists:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.”

In response, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s spokesman called on Bush to “immediately repudiate Karl Rove’s offensive and outrageous comments.” Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer fumed: “When I heard his remarks, it turned my stomach,” while his Democratic colleague Frank Lautenberg said that Bush “can only have one reaction, and that is to ask Rove to get out of his office.” Leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry signed a letter denouncing Rove and demanding that he resign or be fired for his remarks.

Yesterday, Gene Lyons, the long-time Democrat and syndicated columnist, wrote a column defending Obama’s Terrorism policies — he’s merely doing what “what any bloody-minded pragmatist would” — and denounced what he called “the feebleness of [Obama’s] critics” (citing me as the left’s example). Here’s how Lyons, in the first paragraph, characterizes the position of Obama’s critics:

[A]nybody who thought Barack Obama was going to deal with terrorists by sending flowers and proposing group therapy is certainly naive enough to work for the Nobel Peace Prize committee.

So if you oppose Obama’s secret, lawless, civilian-killing militarism in numerous Muslim countries (as everyone from the ACLU to virtually the entire non-U.S. world does), then it means that you want to lavish The Terrorists with flowers and therapy: so sayeth Democratic Party loyalists. That’s lifted from Rove almost verbatim, except that Rove’s comment was more accurate and less incendiary. Rove at least acknowledged that liberals want to use legal process to punish Terrorists (“prepare indictments”), whereas Lyons ignores that entirely and substitutes it with the vile insinuation that critics of Obama’s actions actually love The Terrorists and thus want to send them flowers.

The way in which many Democratic partisans have adopted the lowliest and most repellent GOP demonizing rhetoric is almost as striking as the way in which they’ve embraced many of their defining policies. […]

Scorning critics of the U.S. Government’s militarism as law-obsessed, Enemy-enabling, Terrorist-coddling weaklings was once the defining rhetorical rot of America’s Right. As Lyons’ column reflects, that is precisely what is now routinely spewed by Democratic loyalists at those who criticize Obama’s militarism and civil liberties assaults. The notion that Terrorists should be treated the way accused Nazi war criminals were — with evidence presented of their guilt in a duly constituted tribunal, with oversight, transparency and in accordance with legal process — was once the standard mainstream Democratic view (the imperative of due process for accused Terrorists was once even Obama’s professed view). That view is now maligned by that same Party’s loyalists with precisely the smears that George Bush, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin so infamously perfected. That revealing shift is as vital a component of Obama’s legacy as anything else. [++]

Breaking ranks: The sidelining of two establishment giants | Paul Rosenberg

On April 27, two pillars of the American political establishment - Thomas E Mann and Norman J Ornstein, two of the most-quoted men in America - dared to break ranks with [beltway] dogma in a Washington Post op-ed, based on a book they’ve just published, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. Although the online response was unprecedented, generating more interest than for any other book they have written, the two have been entirely shut out of the Sunday talk show circuit and almost completely shut out of the top five national print outlets as well. The establishment they have been keystone members of, for going on four decades, has suddenly forgotten that they ever even existed.

Read this piece

The Silence of the Technocrats | Thomas Frank

It is easy to understand how Democrats evolved into this tongue-tied, expert-worshipping species. Their traditional Democratic solutions might well have solved our problems, but the ideology behind those solutions — as well as the solutions themselves, in many cases — are totally unacceptable to the people who increasingly fund Democratic campaigns. Instead, the Democrats try to have it both ways: to deliver the occasional liberal measure here and there while studiously avoiding traditional liberal rhetoric. President Obama tries to stay on the good side of companies like Goldman Sachs and BP even as he desperately drives his hook-and-ladder around a world they have set on fire.

The bailouts, the stimulus, the health-care debate: with each of these issues, the path of expertise led the Obama administration toward compromise with the power of wealth. And by the thinking of Washington, that is entirely as it should have been.

The nation, meanwhile, wanted to know: How did the Crash of 2008 happen? How did government miss the warning signs? What are our responsibilities to our neighbors in hard times? In response, Democrats offered technical explanations. They simply could not talk about the disasters in a way that was resonant or compelling. Only the idealists of the Right did that. What the Democrats held out to an outraged nation was a fastidiously detailed flowchart for how things might be reorganized.

No one among them seems to have wondered if bailouts might be done in a different way, or foreseen that Republicans might not play by the debt-ceiling rules. They try what Clinton tried; they are astonished to see it fail. And so they try it again. The Washington Democrats will no more acknowledge the possibilities of other tactics than they will abandon Georgetown and move en masse to some burned-out quarter of Baltimore. Instead they deride their liberal critics as impossible dreamers — or as “fucking retarded,” in Rahm Emanuel’s famous phrase — and try what worked for Clinton one more sorry time.

Read the whole thing →

The Tea Party’s “utopian market populism” | Jefferson Morley with Tom Frank

JM: With Obama the muscle memory of the Democratic Party is the Clintonian technocracy of the 1990s.

TF: That’s exactly right. Their message was: The technocratic way is going to solve our problems. Just leave it up to the experts who are going to figure a way out. [Obama and the Democrats] seemed to think they didn’t need to dirty their hands by making a populist appeal. They did a lot of good things — the stimulus package of 2008 was good thing — but they didn’t realize you have to sell something like that. They were like, “We know what the answer is: Keynesian stimulus. So let’s just do it.” They didn’t understand that this nation only adopted Keynesian stimulus spending back in the 1930s amidst this terrible wrenching experience, the Depression, and an enormous campaign [by FDR] to tell the nation why this was necessary.

If you don’t sell it — if you just do this spending — well, people have a lot of suspicion of government handouts. Government debt bothers people for very obvious reasons. [Obama] didn’t make any effort to make the argument. It was just “listen to the experts.” I have a quote from [Obama economic advisor] Christy Roemer where she says, “Things would be better if we listened to the experts.” And she’s one of the good guys, one of the best people in the Obama administration. That’s their view.

Should Liberals be Satisfied? | William Shaub

On Jonathan Chait’s view of politics as a team sport (loyalty to party, uber alles):

[…] Most liberals do not question their leader, although they should. One can only wish this were true from a historical perspective. When President Kennedy swiftly moved to begin bombing South Vietnam in 1962, or gave the orders to commence Operation Mongoose (covert military sabotage against Cuba), where was the New York Times editorial scrutiny? Liberal subservience to Democratic power extends broadly into domestic affairs as well. The liberal press was nowhere to be found when President Clinton began pushing NAFTA through Congress—ignoring the public complaints of unions and other progressive groups.

[Jonathan] Chait further profiles his point near his closing remarks: “Republican Reagan-worship is a product of a pro-authority mind-set that liberals, who inflate past heroes only to criticize their contemporaries, cannot match.” Not only is he misidentifying the problem, but it would be morally degenerate to make this argument. It would be outrageously Machiavellian for citizens to assume that power is self-justifying because they identify with their leader on one political level or another—in this case because the leader is a member of the Democratic Party. Commitment to maintaining Democratic power for such a reason is a strikingly irrational attitude. The fact that Republicans happen to have mastered it (which Chait notes in his Reagan parallel) is far from a good reason for liberals to subordinate themselves to Democratic power.

One could argue that the lack of liberal commitment to maintaining Democratic power (voting for Democrats) is detrimental to social change on pragmatic grounds, but to be clear, Chait doesn’t make that case. Instead, he argues that ungrateful liberals are consistently deceived by Democratic politicians who market their campaign on social reforms. Liberals then find the nerve to have some trouble accepting the small fraction of promised reforms that the leaders grant them.

Furthermore, these leaders should be worshipped.

via The Firebrand →

Democrats to push $60 billion for construction jobs | Reuters

Fresh from defeat over their latest economic stimulus plan, Democrats in the Senate pushed ahead on Friday with another proposal to create jobs — a $60 billion infusion to rebuild aging infrastructure.


The effort was already defeated once by Republicans, when they blocked it as part of a $447 billion job creation plan unveiled last month by President Barack Obama.


Republicans have complained that financing the new spending by raising taxes on the wealthy would actually kill jobs.


Under the Democrats’ latest plan, set for a Senate vote the first week of November, the construction projects would be paid for with a 0.7 percent surtax on people with incomes above $1 million a year, starting in 2013.

(Source: sarahlee310)

Dems Press Eric Holder To Investigate Banks For Colluding Over ATM Fees

“We urge you to immediately open an investigation to determine whether banking trade associations and/or individual banks have violated antitrust laws,” he (Rep. Peter Welch - D-VT) wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “Specifically, we are concerned that communications between banks and bank associations that may amount to price signaling or collusion have occurred in the wake of Congressional action to reform debit card swipe fees.”

(Source: joshsternberg)

The Meaning of ‘Ponzi scheme’ vs. The Consequences of ‘Privatization’


This may be the new reality in a politically polarized America, but for liberals who are expected to elevate political issues beyond the talking points and frameworks of Republican demagogues, they failed miserably – and I believe they will continue to fail for three reasons: First, because all ideologues are hard-headed, and the current “base” of the Republican Party is full of ideologues; secondly, because facts that don’t align with a party’s agenda aren’t facts at all; and lastly, because it takes only one liberal to admit publicly that there are similarities between a Ponzi scheme and Social Security, and when that liberal concedes, as Matthews did, it opens a small but fatal chink in the Left’s armor that conservatives will exploit until everyone knows that “Liberals agree,” in this case, “that it’s a Ponzi scheme.”

The Left missed the point – and a great opportunity to actually elevate the debate.

Comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, even if the comparison is intended to show how Social Security isn’t a Ponzi scheme, is still comparing Social Security to a fraudulent scam. It relies on a Republican framework – Perry’s framework – and it criminalizes Social Security from the start.

Who cares what Perry thinks?

How a Tea Partier defines Social Security is irrelevant. The future of the program is the issue. And that should be the framework.

Rather than battling over a definition coined by a crank, the Left needs to focus on what Social Security would become under a President Perry – or a President Romney. Despite the two candidates’ differences in rhetoric, both believe in “fixes” that lead to the program’s demise.


Rather than letting the Right frame the argument over Social Security by forcing the Left into a battle over semantics, the Left needs to refocus the issue to its core by asking the question, “Do you believe seniors living in gutters is the future of ‘social security’?”

Privatization is the one plan both GOP frontrunners have embraced as a long-term fix to Social Security.

And that’s an argument the Left can win.