Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adam Serwer: Herman Cain winning the anti-Muslim primary hands down

In the fine tradition of last summer’s months long nontroversy over a proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain has declared his opposition to a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

With no trace of irony, Cain said he thought building the mosque was “an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion,” declaring that “this isn’t an innocent mosque”:

”It is another example of why I believe in American laws and American courts,” Cain said. “This is just another way to try to gradually sneak Shariah law into our laws, and I absolutely object to that.”

A little background: The proposed mosque in Tennessee became a target of arson and vandalism in September of last year, not long after the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” became the freak show story of the summer. A local group tried to block construction, claiming that Islam wasn’t actually a religion. The plaintiffs’ attorney argued that Muslims aren’t entitled to the same rights as others because “these are the same people who flew jets into the World Trade Center on 9/11,” and said the whole thing was an effort to bring Tennessee under Taliban-style Islamic law. The whole controversy prompted the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to file a brief noting that Islam is in fact, a religion.

As with Cain’s unconstitutional religious test however, the problem for him and other mosque opponents is not sharia law. It’s U.S. law. There are both federal and state laws on the books that prevent local zoning laws from being used to block construction of religious institutions, which is why opponents argue that Islam isn’t a religion. At both the federal and the state level, those bills were the work of Republicans — it just didn’t occur to them at the time that “religious freedom” applied to Muslims. The judge, not surprisingly, agreed that Islam is a religion and let construction go forward.

More broadly, Cain has spent the last few months fibbing about declaring he’d exclude Muslims from his cabinet or from the judiciary if he were elected. Cain later tried to walk back his unconstitutional religious test for public service, complaining that “I’ve been asked that same question 18,000 times.”

Of course, the reason why Cain keeps getting asked about his anti-Muslim views is that no other 2012 GOPer has matched his extensive use of anti-Muslim rhetoric to win over the Islamophobic wing of the Republican base. Cain may not be doing too well in the polls, but if there’s an anti-Muslim primary underway, he is the clear frontrunner. With people like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the race, that’s no small achievement, although I’m not sure it’s one to be proud of.

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Jonathan Bernstein: Why reaching a debt deal is so hard

What does it mean to be "anti-deficit"? One thing the current impasse has made crystal clear is that the two parties mean something entirely different when they use that phrase.

And this is an overlooked reason a deal is so hard to reach.

Republicans appear to be entirely indifferent to budget deficits as conventionally defined by comparing federal government revenue to expenditures — but they are adamantly opposed to deficits on a symbolic level. Democrats, on the other hand, oppose budget deficits and actually do support substantive policies to shrink or eliminate them.

For Democrats, this represents the triumph of Kent Conrad, the senator from North Dakota who has long made budget-balancing his top priority. Now, all Democrats are like Kent Conrad. Barack Obama made health-care reform a lot harder by insisting that it reduce the deficit, and now he's willing to give up other Democratic priorities to get a large deficit deal. But it’s not just him. The (very liberal) Congressional Progressive Caucus budget this year was a fiscally conservative, deficit-busting document.

Republicans were once serious about deficit reduction — until supply-siders persuaded Ronald Reagan to join them in placing a higher priority on tax cuts and economic growth than on balanced budgets. The deficit has only receded as a concern since then, as supply-siders have now been displaced by anti-tax absolutists. Republicans then adopted a war on budgeting along with a very strong symbolic war on deficits, complete with symbolic policies — such as opposing increases in the debt limit and supporting a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Sure, some Republican policies – namely spending cuts for programs Republicans oppose – would contribute to smaller deficits. But in reality, when faced with a choice, mainstream Republicans almost always prefer larger deficits to tax increases or spending cuts on programs they support.

Three comments are in order. First: There are dissenters on both sides. There are still quite a few Democrats who don’t really care about deficits, and a few Republicans (Tom Coburn is, I believe, one) are real deficit cutters.

Second: For whatever reason, professional deficit hawks have chosen to remain neutral between the two approaches, acting as if each is equally legitimate. In practice, that tends to reinforce a situation in which deficits are nominally seen as very important, but are also hard to actually solve.

Third: Compromise between the two positions is difficult. The two sides are frequently talking past each other, because Democrats and Republicans both see themselves as anti-deficit but mean completely different things by that. Worse, symbolic anti-deficit ideas typically floated by Republicans (balanced-budget amendments, failing to raise the debt limit) often would have the effect of actually increasing the federal budget deficit.

Of course, there are many other reasons the parties find it hard to reach agreements on budget matters. But one key reason not to lose sight of is that they simply mean different things when they say they're anti-deficit.

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Greg Sargent: Happy Hour Roundup

* John Boehner tweets that Obama was wrong to say the public is “sold” on solving the deficit through a mix of revenue hikes and spending cuts, claiming that “Americans would beg to differ.”

And it’s true that the 80 percent figure Obama cited at today’s presser is inflated. But polls from Pew, Quinnipiac, Gallup, and the Washington Post all find that large majorities do in fact favor a mix of increases and cuts. So while Obama overstated the case, the plain fact is that on the question of whether revenue hikes should be part of the deficit compromise, Americans don’t “beg to differ” at all.

* A Dem poll finds that Wisconsin GOP state senator Alberta Darling is in a dead heat with her recall challenger. If accurate, that’s big: She was considered less vulnerable and this would make it more likely Dems will take back the senate.

* Atrios responds to Obama’s response to the left: No, you can’t take the deficit off the table as an issue.

* Joan Walsh says that when Clinton tried cutting first to spend more later, it didn’t work, because you can never kill the GOP’s “big spending liberal” zombie.

* Word leaks that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are set to unveil the new debt ceiling escape hatch proposal next week, another clear sign that this is emerging as the only way out of the impasse.

* Joan McCarter finds one reason for optimism about the McConnell scheme’s plan to target entitlements later: “it puts the onus on members of Congress to actually vote to cut Social Security and Medicare, which they hate to do.”

* Obama is now officially open to “modifications” in Medicare and Social Security benefits, opening the door to cost-shifting to seniors.

* The Progressive Change Campaign Committee responds:

“Today, for the first time, President Obama made clear that he’s considering benefit cuts even for Americans who currently depend on Social Security and Medicare. This is something Paul Ryan didn’t even embrace publicly. ”

* Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton becomes the first Rupert Murdoch executive in the United States to resign, and the phone-hacking scandal only seems to be growing by the day.

* Nate Silver leans towards thinking Republicans will take the blame for default and economic calamity, but concludes ominously that this is all unprecedented and a big unknown.

* Nearly 250 “bundlers” have raised $50,000 or more for Obama in the campaign’s first three months, with more than two dozen raising over half a million, signaling that the bad economy and low approval numbers are not slowing what’s already shaping up as an astonishingly successful fundraising juggernaut.

* Jonathan Cohn says Eric Cantor’s opposition to a proposal to force drug companies to discount drugs for poor Medicare recipients shows he’s prioritizing the drug industry over deficit reduction.

* Interesting Rachel Maddow segment on how the Wisconsin recall wars are prompting a state-level revival of the bare-knuckled populism national Dems tend to avoid. (Starts at the 7:20 mark.)

* And Andy Kroll reports that Michele Bachmann is winning the Koch primary — she’s the first 2012 GOPer to haul in Koch brothers cash.

What else is going on?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Greg Sargent: The Morning Plum

* Are senior Democrats on board with McConnell’s debt ceiling punt proposal?

Have we stumbled on a way out of the debt ceiling impasse? It’s too early to tell, but in a key revelation, Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane report that Harry Reid and top Dems privately see the Mitch McConnell proposal to transfer control of the debt ceiling to the president as a way to get out of the current crisis if it can be made acceptable to angry conservatives:

Privately, Reid has consulted with McConnell about making the proposal more palatable to reluctant Republicans by creating a joint committee to draft an enforceable debt-reduction plan, according to senior sources in both parties. Details are still being worked out, but the new committee would be stocked with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and their budget-cutting plan could be fast-tracked to a vote in each chamber.

This likely has the tacit approval of the White House. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that any tweak can make the proposal more acceptable to conservatives who have made their opposition to raising the debt ceiling their number one defining ideological cause celebre of the moment. But could it pass the House anyway? It’s unclear at best, but if most Dems support the proposal, it wouldn’t require the backing of too many House GOPers to become law.

* Will House Dems support McConnell proposal? Steny Hoyer said this morning that Obama should not take McConnell’s offer, though this could be just posturing that reflects Dem reluctance to give the GOP an exit strategy.

* McConnell will continue pushing plan: Jennifer Rubin reports that McConnell will take to talk radio and the Senate floor today to keep pushing his idea. Key takeaway: The right’s temper tantrum over the McConnell proposal is not stopping him from moving forward.

* GOP establishment sees writing on the wall: The key here, I think, is that some in the GOP establishment have decided not to let unrealistic and ideologically rigid conservative expectations hijack this debate to the severe detriment of the party. They know full well that not raising the debt ceiling will be substantively and politically disastrous; they know that the GOP is on the defensive and is dangerously close to getting branded as ideologically intransigent; and they want a way out. Now.

Indeed, in another sign of this, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has now endorsed McConnell’s plan, arguing that the debt ceiling will be raised one way or another and in effect conceding that Obama is outmaneuvering Republicans in the standoff.

* Boehner on McConnell’s proposal: Despite what you may have read elsewhere, John Boehner did not say McConnell’s plan has no chance of passing the House. On Fox News last night he actually said that he didn’t know if it could, and that if the impasse drags on Republicans will be open to alternative ways out of the mess.

* McConnell proposal has elite support: The New York Times editorial board makes a good case that the House of Representatives should agree to go along with McConnell’s plan.

Key takeaway: Though some are concerned that the proposal would mean Obama gets blamed for hiking the debt ceiling, the paper points out that Republicans always planned to blame him for it in any case.

* Public still opposes raising the debt ceiling: Gallup finds that a majority of those following the debate very closely still oppose raising the debt ceiling, which could encourage House conservatives to hang tough against McConnell’s plan.

* GOP Senator urges Republicans to accept revenue increases: In another sign of worry among GOP elites, Senator Lindsey Graham says it’s time Republicans agreed to some form of revenue increases in order to avert disaster.

* Grassroots kicking into gear for Obama? The President hauled in a record breaking $86 million this quarter, almost all of it from donations under $250, a potential sign that worries that the grassroots wouldn’t activate for Obama may have been overstated.

Also: The haul highlights the fact that the GOP candidates have been badly lagging in fundraising, raising the possibility that the enthusiasm gap is now operating in Dems’ favor.

And: If the disparity persists, the GOP will be relying even more heavily this time on massive amounts of undisclosed outside spending.

* 2012 reality check of the day: White House officials are happy with the way Obama had handled the debt ceiling standoff, but they also recognize that there’s no room for moral victories here: If we default, it would wreck the economy and likely mean no second term.

* Mitt Romney rejects gay marriage pledge: Though he strongly supports “traditional marriage,” Romney announces that he won’t sign the pledge to denounce gay marriage that Michele Bachmann has championed. The fact that he had to respond to this insanity at all indicates how far to the right Bachmann is yanking the 2012 primary.

* And Wisconsin GOP shenanigans are a big bust: Yesterday real Dems swept all six of the primaries that were made necessary by the GOP’s costly scheme to run fake Dems to delay the real recall elections.

Kelly Steele of the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin emails: “Now that self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives have set $500,000 of taxpayer money on fire in fake primaries that served no purpose beyond their ‘do-anything’ quest to maintain power, voters will have a chance to put the brakes on Scott Walker and his extreme agenda in legitimate elections on August 9th.” Indeed.

What else is going on?

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Adam Serwer: Laughably bogus poll tries to `prove’ Obama is losing Jewish support

Republicans are touting yet another poll that purports to predict the end of the Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party. Citing a new poll by Republican John McLaughlin and Pat Caddell, the GOP’s favorite “Democrat,” they have convinced themselves that this time, Obama really is in trouble among Jewish voters.

At National Review, Tevi Troy exults that “only 43 percent of Jews plan to vote to reelect Obama in 2012.” Terrible! Except a plurality (48 percent) say they’d “consider” voting for someone else, not that they’d vote for his opponent or that they refuse to vote for him.

McLaughlin’s and Caddell’s poll is laughably bogus. Not only does their sample skew conservative, (only 64 percent of respondents voted for Obama, as opposed to the 77 percent of Jewish votes he actually got) but many questions in the poll are phrased in as leading a manner as possible. Indeed, given the wording of the questions, it’s actually surprising that 63 percent of respondents overall approved of Obama.

Here’s their phrasing for a question on Obama’s policy on Israel:

Considering what President Obama has proposed for Israel just over a year before his 2012 re-election campaign — a return to the 1967 borders, dividing Jerusalem, and allowing the right of return for Palestinian Arabs to Israel — how concerned would you be about President Obama’s policies towards Israel if he were re-elected and did not have to worry about another election?

Prior to being asked this question, respondents were primed by the query: “Should Israel be forced to return to its pre-1967 borders which were susceptible to attack at points where the country was only 8 miles wide?”

Again: Obama hasn’t proposed “a return to the 1967 borders.” He proposed that negotiations begin along those lines with “agreed upon land swaps,” which by definition does not mean a return to the 1967 borders. It’s a position the administration and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had agreed upon months before Netanyahu manufactured a fake controversy over it.

What’s surprisnig is that only 67 percent of Jewish voters in the poll said they were concerned about Obama’s policy towards Israel should he be reelected — this, even though McLaughlin and Caddell invented out of thin air the idea that Obama supports a “right of return” for Palestinian Arabs. Supporters of Israel oppose right of return for Palestinians because they believe that would lead to Israel ceasing to be a Jewish state as a result of demographic changes. This question seems to have been designed to elicit panic about Obama among the poll’s staunchly pro-Israel respondents, but even that wasn’t enough to do it.

The phrasing in this poll is comically skewed towards eliciting the most negative responses possible. As always, the game is to perpetuate the sad conservative meme that this time, really this time, American Jews are going to abandon their liberalism and vote Republican because Obama is a huge anti-Semite. The only thing this poll reveals is how badly some want to keep this storyline going.

Update from Greg Sargent: I asked Washington Post polling manager Peyton Craighill to assess the value of this poll. His answer was unequivocal:

“This is a clear example of advocacy polling. They’ve generated leading questions to elicit a desired result to prove a point. In no way does this represent neutral, independent research.”

The only thing this poll reveals is the lengths some folks will go to in order to keep alive the storyline that Obama is forever on the verge of losing Jewish support — a claim they evidently hope will become a self-fulfilling prophesy if they repeat it often enough.

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Greg Sargent: Happy Hour Roundup

* So far 40 House Dems and counting have signed that letter from last week drawing a hard line against any entitlements benefits cuts, a House Dem source tells me. More signers equals more leverage.

* Mitch McConnell’s new debt ceiling proposal seems designed to force Dems to repeatedly vote to raise it in the run-up to Election Day 2012.

* One wonders if the timing of McConnell’s proposal has anything to do with the fact that a slew of powerful business groups today issued their sternest demand yet that the debt ceiling be hiked.

* Could McConnell’s blink mean that Dems -- gasp! — have the upper hand on taxes?

* David Corn boils down the proposal: “McConnell to Obama: You drive, we’ll carp.”

* Markos Moulitsas on why the McConnell proposal represents capitulation.

* Good point from Taegan Goddard: “Doesn’t it seem the McConnell proposal angers the GOP base more than closing tax loopholes to raise revenue?”

* Now that John Boehner is claiming the debt ceiling is Obama’s problem, Steve Benen wraps up all the times Boehner previously admitted not raising it could cause national catastrophe.

* Atrios, on the folly of the debt ceiling grand bargain:

Governing by crisis is an undemocratic way for our overlords to try to avoid accountability.

* Obama goes there, warning that he can’t guarantee retirees their Social Security checks if the debt ceiling standoff remains unresolved.

* DCCC chair Steve Israel, in an interview, previewing the Dem argument about GOP extremism heading into 2012: “These guys want to close down government as an ideology, as a theocracy, and that’s what so dangerous here.”

* Paul Krugman demolishes David Brooks’s chin-stroking claim that believing government can help turn the economy around is “magical thinking.”

* And the Wisconsin recall primaries today are the first step in a process that will signal which way the political winds are blowing in a key swing state with major national implications for 2012.

What else is going on?

UPDATE: Interestingly, Chuck Todd is now reporting that the White House considers the McConnell plan as an “active” fallback option.

UPDATE II: White House press secretary Jay Carney responds to McConnell’s proposal with an insistence that the parties must continue trying to reach a deal, quasi-rejecting the idea, but not ruling it out entirely:

Senator McConnell’s proposal today reaffirmed what leaders of both parties have stated clearly, that defaulting on America’s past due bills is not an option. The President continues to believe that our focus must remain on seizing this unique opportunity to come to agreement on significant, balanced deficit reduction. As the President has said, “If not now, when?” It is time for our leaders to find common ground and reduce our deficit in a way that will strengthen our economy.
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Eric Cantor’s slick upper lip

“How in the world can you even accept that notion?”

And, “That is laughable on its face.”

And, “That doesn’t make sense. .?.?. That again is just nonsensical.”

And, “Come on — let us think about this.”

Cantor, who is establishing himself as the lead GOP negotiator with the White House as the Aug. 2 default deadline approaches, is answering calls for compromise with contempt. He shook his fist during a news conference Tuesday and said that Obama’s thinking is “unfathomable to me.” To Obama’s complaint that the wealthy are not sharing in the budget sacrifice, he scoffed: “There is plenty of so-called shared sacrifice.” Asked about Obama’s belief that people like him should pay more in taxes, Cantor retorts: “You know what? He can write a check any time he wants.”

He draws out the vowels in a style that is part southern, part smarty-pants. Had young Cantor spoken like this at his prep school in Richmond, the bigger boys may well have wiped that sneer off his face. Yet even then, Cantor was accustomed to having things his way. According to Cantor’s hometown Richmond Times-Dispatch, the quotation he chose to accompany his yearbook photo was “I want what I want when I want it.”

What Cantor wants now is power — and he is prepared to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to get it. In a primacy struggle with House Speaker John Boehner, he has done a deft job of aligning himself with Tea Party House members in opposition to any meaningful deal to resolve the debt. If the U.S. government defaults, it will have much to do with Cantor.

He pulled out of debt-limit talks with Vice President Biden. He shot down the outline of a compromise that Boehner attempted to negotiate. Now Cantor has essentially taken over talks with the White House, and he has tamped down any hint of conciliation.

On Monday, Boehner hinted that he could accept a tax-reform deal that brought “additional revenues to the federal government” — and his spokesman confirmed that the proposal would be “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office as increasing tax revenue. But Cantor was having none of it: “We are not raising taxes, so it has to be net revenue neutral.”

Cantor’s aides say he is merely reflecting his caucus. But Cantor, a veteran of a decade in the Capitol, surely knows that he is jettisoning the last chance in the next couple of years to make a serious dent in the national debt. The White House has so far offered up a tantalizing array of concessions — $4 trillion in budget cuts and overhauls of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – but Cantor has yet to offer anything but sneers.

He flashed the trademark facial expression even before taking his seat at a Monday news conference. Asked whether he would offer any concessions, Cantor responded by saying that the cuts he demanded from the White House were in fact concessions by him, too. “Nobody relishes the opportunity to go and cut these programs,” said the creator of the YouCut Web site that made budget-cutting into an online game. Cantor further said that it was a concession merely to avoid a government default.

The search for a Cantor concession continued. “In terms of shared sacrifice across the country, do you see that one as necessary?”

Cantor swung his arm over his chair back and raised his upper lip. “I think behind this notion of ‘We want shared sacrifice’ that they continue to say means, ‘We want to raise taxes,’?” he said.

Claiming that there have been “concessions made already” by his side, Cantor was pressed to name some of them. “I don’t want to get into specifics now,” he said.

Leaving a House Republican caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Cantor approached the microphones, flashed the cameras a good-morning sneer and demanded to know “why in the world” Obama wants to increase taxes.

NBC’s Luke Russert asked what “sacred cows” Cantor would be willing to sacrifice. Cantor repeated his denunciation of Obama’s tax policy.

“Where do the Republicans feel pain here, though?” Russert persisted.

After a long and contemptuous day, the majority leader probably feels it most in his upper lip.

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