Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Democrats looking to use reconciliation for health care bill

Okay, so it looks as though in light of Massachusetts having gotten stuck with a fringe radical senator following the tragically diffident campaign of Martha Coakley, last week, Congressional Democrats are going to try to push through the bill through reconciliation.

What does this mean? This means that health care reform isn't getting fully reformed. Reconciliation applies to budget matters, for the most part, and requires 51 votes to pass, unimpedable by filibuster. It's not everything the Democrats wanted, but it's something.

I'd say the bill the House has in its hands right now is subpar, but better than what we can accomplish through reconciliation. Still, we need to get something passed. If we don't, we'll face Republicans calling it a failure throughout the year, all the way up to the next election. Of course, they'll call anything the Democrats do a failure, even if it succeeds, so we can't pay much attention to what the Republicans have to say. Bipartisanship no longer exists in this country, so there's no sense in reaching out to the Republicans for compromise or for support. I've been saying that for years now. I don't know what the Obama administration was thinking when it calculated it could count on Republicans listening to anything the Democrats have to say, but at least now they know what's feasible and what isn't—I hope.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Andre Bauer defends his anti-poor comments

Sorry for spoiling the surprise, but Andre Bauer, who compared hungry poor people with hungry stray animals last week, defended his remarks today, still insisting that, well, hungry poor people are like hungry stray animals. Because they're depended on food, you see. Or, in the case of human beings, they're dependent on food, health care, mass transit, schools, and so forth.

Watch Lt. Governor Bauer get a good taste of his feet in the link below.

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South Carolina: Should we feed stray animals or poor people?

Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer of South Carolina, who is running to be the next governor of South Carolina this year, offered a conservative perspective on social programs. Last week, at a South Carolina town hall meeting, Bauer said

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better." (The State, "Needy 'owe something back' for aid," January 23, 2010)

Some might say it's fair to compare poor people with dumb animals, who eat and breed without heed to the consequences. I'm not a conservative, myself, so I'm not able to defend that take on things. However, this is emblematic on modern American conservatives' justification for killing social programs in this country. The thinking is that the only reason we have to spend money on poor people is because they're selfish enough to want to not die.

The logic is consistent. If you starve a stray animal, what happens? Either it dies or finds food for itself. Same with human beings: either they die or find food for themselves. Lt. Governor Bauer seems to think that all anyone needs to survive (not necessarily to succeed) is a push out the door, rather than a hand up. Because how can you expect the middle class to pay an extra $5.00 per year each in taxes in order to keep the poor from completely falling through the cracks? Of course, Lt. Governor Bauer might want to explain to us whom he expects to pay for the security guards surrounding the shantytowns of the future, as well as the disposal of the bodies of dead poor people. I look forward to hearing his enlightened leadership on this subject.

Seriously, in case anyone out there is wondering why Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina hasn't been impeached, it should be obvious. Impeachment of Sanford would have made Bauer governor. As bad as Sanford is, Bauer is far, far worse. Unless you really think that "culling the herd" is a good way to address poverty in this country.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why did Martha Coakley lose?

There's a narrative that Massachusetts is some kind of liberal bastion, full of neo-hippies who take great offense to American pastimes like eating meat, shooting guns and the internal combustion engine. While it's true that you're less likely to get harassed for disliking any of those three things in this state, we don't fit the stereotype. And anyway: meat, guns and cars are more social issues than philosophical ones, and last week's election was more philosophical than social.

That said, why did Scott Brown's philosophy win? Well, it didn't. Sure, he won the election fair and square, but he won it by calling for change, attacking incumbents in general, and by avoiding mentioning the fact that he's a Republican at all costs. Believe me, I live here, and I watched the commercials, listened to the speeches, watched the debates. While you're hearing a lot of Republican bellowing that this election was a repudiation of health care, the income tax, gay marriage, abortion rights, etc., the fact is that those issues were rarely mentioned during the campaign. Senator-Designate Brown might be talking about them now—and certainly the Republican pundits are—but that's not what Massachusetts voters had on their minds.

It was more about what Martha Coakley said—or failed to say—during the campaign. Martha Coakley was a terrible candidate who barely campaigned. She was scarcely visible, she ran very few TV spots, and made about twenty public campaign appearances compared to Scott Brown's 63. It's naïve to suggest that anyone can get elected in this state just by being a Democrat. You still have to work for your seat, which is something Coakley failed to do. Brown is a good politician but a bad fit for Massachusetts. Martha Coakley is a bad politician who—let's face it—would probably have been a bad fit for Massachusetts, too. Granted, she would have been better, since her vote in the Senate would have meant that health care legislation could be passed, as opposed to Scott Brown's campaign promise that he'd be the 41st vote against health care in the Senate. This electrified his supporters, who oppose health care. Coakley, on the other hand, would have been an obvious supporter of health care, and she even mentioned this now and again. And that was the problem: she only mentioned it now and again. She barely campaigned, and even took a vacation during her campaign. A vacation! Did she want this job or not?!?

When asked why she wasn't hitting the pavement campaigning, Coakley said, "You mean shaking hands outside Fenway? In the snow?" Hell YES that's what it means. A candidate who doesn't reach out to the voters is in trouble. Ted Kennedy treated every single election of his as if he were twenty points behind at any given moment. He did not take his seat for granted. Coakley did, and we're paying the price.

You hear a lot about how this is a national referendum on Barack Obama. This is just wishful conservative thinking. Barack Obama is still very popular in this state, as is health care and the stimulus. "Federal spending" might be an issue with traction if those who complain about it would ever say what they wanted to cut. The voters of Massachusetts did not view this election through the lens of the national Republican party, as much as they'd like the country to think that we did.

Look, I'm a true believer in health care. I believe that the government can and should be a force to help us all. I know that the Republican party is not interested in working to allow the government to do anything except cut taxes as close to zero as possible, and to slash all social programs back to the way things were in the 1830s, if not earlier. When the Coakley campaign finally realized it was in trouble, only then did it start campaigning. I volunteered that day, offering to drive people to the polls (though it turned out I needed only to drive one person there) and holding Coakley signs outside of polling places. I'd sent out emails and Facebook posts to friends and enemies in Massachusetts, reminding them how important it is to vote for Coakley this time. I had a problem when doing this, though. I couldn't honestly ask people to vote for Coakley, since I wasn't doing that, myself. Sure, I cast my vote for Coakley and asked others to do so, too, but I wanted everyone to do it to keep health care alive, and to prevent Congress from getting bogged down for another two (or more) years due to Republican obstruction. While that's enough of an argument to get me to the polls (as well as to get most of my friends there, too, thanks very much to them,) it's not enough to generate the enthusiasm needed to drive many voters to vote. That's the candidate's job: she's got to ask the voters to vote for her, and she didn't do it. And now we're paying the price.

Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, the popular and powerful Massachusetts congressman, once told a story about Election Day. As he was leaving his house he ran into his next-door neighbor whom he'd known for most of his life. They exchanged pleasantries, and O'Neill said, "Don't forget to vote!" His neighbor said, "Well, Tom, I don't know if I'm going to vote this time." O'Neill was stunned. "What! But you've known me all my life! We agree on nearly everything! Why on earth would you not vote for me?" The neighbor replied, "Well, you haven't asked me to yet."

That's what it comes down to. True believers like myself (and maybe you, too,) will vote every time, no matter what. But most people want the candidates to tell them that they want to get the votes. Most people want to see their candidates in public, pressing the flesh, speaking, kissing babies if they have to. This is politics 101; everyone who runs for office has to do it. How Martha Coakley missed that message is beyond me. Even in a heavily Democratic state like Massachusetts, you have to ask. Ted Kennedy, who never had a close election in his life, always asked voters for their support, even if the pollsters were telling him he needn't bother. You're going to hear the media try to spin this into a national narrative, that it's a repudiation of health care, it's anti-incumbent fever, it's the end of the Kennedy legacy—whatever. The truth, as usual, is not as exciting. Martha Coakley took the voters for granted, so many of them stayed home, and now Massachusetts has a senator who's pointedly out of touch with the majority of his constituents. Period.

Running a campaign is like driving a car: if you don't watch where you're going at all times, you're probably going to crash.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Why voting for Martha Coakley matters

You may have heard about how close the special Senate election coming up on January 19 is. It’s forgivable if you haven’t, since it’s only gotten press in recent days, and it’s unusual: Democratic candidate Martha Coakley is running neck and neck with Republican candidate Scott Brown. Few expected things to be this close, and the closeness of the election caught the Coakley campaign off guard.

You may wonder, “So what? What does this have to do with me? They’ll all go to Washington and spend money and do nothing for me. Why should I bother to vote?” Fair enough. Washington has let us down before, and as Americans, disparaging our government is something of a national pastime. And this country has seen quite a lot of debt piled up over the past decade, so how can we be sure anyone will spend our money wisely?

We can’t be sure of anything, of course. If you find yourself let down by the people you voted to send to Washington, well… it wouldn’t be the first time. Disappointment in leaders has been around for as long as leaders have. It’s nothing new. But one thing about democracy is that we have a say in electing our leaders, and this system, for all its flaws, actually works. Some would like for you to give up on it, to say, “My one vote doesn’t matter; I’ll just stay home.” But it does matter. Odds are your one single vote won’t swing an election one way or another, but your vote matters when it comes to how close an election is. If an election is close, the party you don’t like looks stronger. But strong turnout for the party that best represents what you believe in means that whoever gets elected will more feel that their job depends on what the voters think. That’s where you—and me, and everyone—make a difference.

Martha Coakley hasn’t done a whole lot to ask for our votes. Scott Brown hasn’t, either. Scott Brown has asked for your vote if you believe that insurance companies should be allowed to decide whether or not they feel like letting everyone in the country have health insurance. Scott Brown has asked for your vote if you believe that hospitals should be allowed to turn away rape victims if the hospitals want to. Scott Brown has asked for your vote if you believe that wealthy people’s taxes should be cut so we can cut services like mass transit, Social Security and public schools. If you haven’t heard much from Scott Brown, it’s probably because he has no reason to think you like his positions. And, if you’re from Massachusetts, you probably don’t.

So that was Martha Coakley’s miscalculation. Scott Brown is a good politician; Martha Coakley is not. However, we need to get someone in Washington who will work for us, even if they don’t look so good on TV. Scott Brown has vowed to vote against any health care reform in Congress, if he’s elected. Martha Coakley has vowed to vote for it. Do you care whether health care reform passes or not? Do you feel comfortable with the idea that if you or your family, friends and neighbors lose their jobs, health care suddenly dries up, too? Maybe you don’t—that’s your business. If you think health care doesn’t cost too much and is fine the way it is (as multimillionaire Rush Limbaugh recently said,) then Scott Brown’s your candidate. But if you want reform, vote for the candidate who will go to the Senate and work to make sure that health care reform passes. Because if it doesn’t pass, we probably won’t see anyone try to reform it for another ten or fifteen years, at least. That’s a lot of taxpayer-funded emergency room visits. Can you really afford to wait that long for health care?

Please vote for Martha Coakley on January 19. If you live in the Boston area, email me at trueorbetter@gmail.com and I will give you a free ride to the polls. Yes, this is that important.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Rudy Giuliani's terrorist memory lapse

"We had no domestic attacks under Bush; we've had one under Obama," said Rudolph Giuliani to George Stephanopoulos while talking about terrorist attacks.

Odd that the man who doesn't seem to be able to form a complete sentence without saying "9/11" managed to forget that the domestic attacks of September 11, 2001 (known colloquially as "9/11") happened, well, under Bush. And under a Republican mayor of New York City, a one Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Further: shame on George Stephanopoulos, who fashions himself to be some sort of journalist. Anyone with a mind that moves faster than a drunken three-toed sloth on novocane should have caught Giuliani's lie. Either Stephanopoulos is stupid, lazy or dishonest. I'm not going to speculate on which term applies in this case. Maybe they all do.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

2010 Congressional retirements: good news for whom?

If you waste as much of your life as I do reading and listening to American political news, you've surely heard that the number of retirements from Congress for the 2010 cycle are picking up. The elections are nine months away, and January is typically the most popular month to announce one's retirement from Congress. So far, of the 36 (possibly 37, depending on how the Texas gubernatorial primary turns out in March) seats up in November, ten senators have announced their retirements (including Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) and Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) who both announced they won't run again yesterday.) 24 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives have also thus far announced their retirements.

You hear a lot of talk about how this is bad news for Democrats. There's some logic to this—the party that controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress during the midterms, especially during the incumbent party's first term in office. These losses are not guaranteed, and most speculators who believe the Democrats will lose seats don't think they'll lose enough so that control of either chamber will pass to the Republicans again.

As a student of history, I say that the notion that history repeats itself is more of a warning than it is a fact. Though more bets are landing on some Republican gains in 2010, I'm not convinced it's going to happen. All things being equal, the Republicans might see a fair outcome in this year's midterms. But, as they say in the finance industry, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. What could go wrong for the Republicans, and why shouldn't they assume they've got nothing ahead but blue—er, sorry—red skies?

The numbers. It's almost certainly true that we're not done hearing about retirements yet, but so far, the Republicans are leading the Democrats in sheer numbers of retirements. Six Republican senators have announced their retirements while four Democratic senators have; fourteen Republican representatives have announced their retirements while ten Democratic representatives have. All things being equal, this makes for a tougher situation for the Republicans. But when you consider that the Democrats already outnumber the Republicans in both houses, it's even tougher still.

On the other hand, if you look at each of these races individually, at least in the House, a lot of them are not competitive. The vacancies of these incumbents likely points to a couple of pickups on the part of each party, thus nullifying any advantage they might get. The Democrats will probably lose control of Kansas's 3rd district and Louisiana's 3rd district, while the Republicans will probably lose control of Delaware's at-large district and Pennsylvania's 6th district, for example. There are competitive races in the House this year, but most of them involve incumbents' seats, like Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) and Anh Cao (R-Louisiana).

The Senate is a little different. Most of the ten open seats are likely to be competitive. In fact, at this point there are only three open Senate seats that we can safely write off as uncompetitive at this point: Kansas, where Sam Brownback's seat will stay Republican; Connecticut, where Chris Dodd's retirement has turned his seat from a tossup to a safe hold for the Democrats; and North Dakota, where Byron Dorgan's retirement has opened the door for a safe pickup by Republican Governor Joe Hoeven. The other seven, at this point, are still up in the air, and there are some incumbents who might (and some who will) face tough elections this year.

Money. So, all things being equal, the numbers point to moderate Republican gains this year. But, as I keep saying, all things are not equal. Republican fundraising has been low this year. Many big donors are disheartened that they can't get much done with a minority party, and the Republican base has shrunk. Funding reëlection efforts costs money, and while having fewer seats to defend does make things somewhat easier for them, their dwindling cash reserves do put them in a tight spot. Mounting takeovers of seats takes money, too, so the reality is that the cash that the Republicans need to do this might simply not be there.

Tea parties. As I said: the Republican base has shrunk, but there's no denying that its enthusiasm has not. While many of the Tea Party activists would be loathe to call themselves Republicans, well... they sure aren't Democrats. If the Tea Partiers vote at all this year, they're going to vote Republican if they want to pick up a seat; or, if they just want to make a point, with the Libertarian or Constitution parties. The Tea Party activists are arguably good news for the Republicans, but that good news is not a sure thing. The Tea Party movement is not a unified one, and its factions don't all agree on whether or not they should align themselves with the Republican party. Republican leaders have made clear overtures to them, but it's not clear they'll be able to count on most of them to vote Republican, or to vote at all.

The Tea Partiers could well backfire on the Republicans, too. For one, Tea Parties are festivals of anti-incumbent anger—not necessarily a desirable trait for the Republican party, which would like to oust Democratic incumbents, but also wants to protect its own incumbents. Possibly worse, the Tea Partiers might demonstrate plenty of enthusiasm, but enthusiasm for candidates who are not electable. Consider the Tea Party activism that took down DeDe Scozzafava in upstate New York. This was a district that should have been easy for the Republicans to retain, but instead the Tea Partiers rallied around an unelectable candidate, handing this House seat over to the Democrats for the first time since the 19th century. If the Tea Party activists get involved in primaries, they could potentially knock out moderate and moderate-seeming Republicans in favor of candidates that moderate Republican voters (and independents and Democrats) might not find palatable, which would cause headaches for an already bruised Republican party.

Also the style of Tea Party politics could put voters off. Your more moderate and mild-mannered voters are put off by the brash signs you see at Tea Party rallies, shrilly decrying socialism and gay marriage and the graduated income tax and the United Nations as if 50% of the American public were card-carrying members of the John Birch Society. It's not so much that many voters don't agree with the Tea Partiers' stances (they don't,) but incoherent bellowing about a secret socialist plot in the Oval Office is more likely than not going to turn them off.

Election Day is November 2—about ten months off. Two weeks is a long time in politics; ten months is an eternity. So who can say what the landscape is going to look like when voters head to the polls? This far ahead, it's rash to predict whether one party's going to come out ahead in the upcoming elections or the other will. But I think from the way things look, the Republicans have many more obstacles to overcome than do the Democrats. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to predict the outcome, I'd say that at this point it looks like the Republicans might gain a couple seats in the Senate and that we won't see more than a total gain of three or four House seats for one party or the other. The only problem that could hurt the Democrats in 2010 is a lack of enthusiasm among voters, which is a real concern. The Republicans could really benefit from the likely Democratic midterm diffidence, but that might not happen if they don't get over their problems of their own.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Limbaugh: Health care system works for me!

Limbaugh, who makes $40,000,000 a year, says the professionalism of the doctors at the Hawaiian hospital where he was recently laid up demonstrates that the American health care system doesn't need any reform. And I'm sure that's right: access to health care is no problem for Americans who make $40,000,000 a year. So that part of health care is all taken care of. Nothing more to worry about.

Watch the FoxNews [sic] video below. Limbaugh politicizes his situation, and then states that he's grateful that the reporters are respecting his request that his presser not be politicized.

Limbaugh is scum. I wish I could think of something cleverer to say there, but I think that sums him up nicely.

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