By 1968, Walter Lippmann, the dean of liberal columnists, had concluded that liberalism had reached the end of its tether.
In that liberal epoch, the 1960s, the Democratic Party had marched us into an endless war that was tearing America apart.
Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society had produced four “long, hot summers” of racial riots and a national crime rate that had doubled in a decade. The young were alienated, the campuses aflame.
Lippmann endorsed Richard Nixon.
For forty years, no unabashed liberal would be elected president.
Jimmy Carter won one term by presenting himself as a born-again Christian from Georgia, a peanut farmer, Naval Academy graduate and nuclear engineer. Bill Clinton ran as a centrist.
So toxic had the term “liberal” become that liberals dropped it and had themselves rebaptized as “progressives.”
Barack Obama, however, ran unapologetically as a man of the left. An opponent of the Iraq war, he had compiled a voting record to the left of Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont.
And Obama proudly placed his signature achievement, Obamacare, right alongside, and in the tradition of, liberal giants FDR and LBJ.
This is the new progressivism of the 21st century, Obama was saying, and I the transformational figure who will usher in the post-Reagan era. Where Clinton failed, I will succeed.
But now that Obamacare is coming to be perceived as a political catastrophe, not only does it threaten Obama’s place in history, it could invalidate, indeed, eviscerate the defining idea of the Democratic Party itself.
In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) authored the Patriot Act in order to expand the government’s surveillance powers in an effort to protect against the threat of terrorism in the 21st century. Twelve years later, he is preparing a new bill, the USA Freedom Act, to reign those surveillance powers back in.
National Journal is reporting that Sensenbrenner plans to introduce the new legislation next week with around 60 co-sponsors, including several who had voted against the attempt by Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) to defund parts of the NSA’s activities earlier this spring. “‘Six members who voted no and two who didn’t vote on the Amash amendment are original cosponsors of the USA Freedom Act,’ Sensenbrenner spokesman Ben Miller told National Journal. ‘Had they voted for the amendment, it would have passed 213 to 211.’”
In a previous discussion about the bill, Sensenbrenner told the Washington Post‘s “The Fix” blog:
I can say that if Congress knew what the NSA had in mind in the future immediately after 9/11, the Patriot Act never would have passed, and I never would have supported it. We have to have a balance of security and civil liberties. What the NSA has done, with the concurrence of both the Bush and Obama administrations, is completely forgotten about the guarantees of civil liberties that those of us who helped write the Patriot Act in 2001 and the reauthorization in 2005 and 2006 had written the law to prevent from happening.
In that same conversation, Sensenbrenner described the outlines of the bill:
Andrea Peterson: What is the USA Freedom Act?
Sensenbrenner: It does several things. First of all, it stops the collection of metadata by the NSA and has some restrictions on section 215 of the Patriot Act — essentially, the suggestions made by Senator Leahy in the 2005/2006 reauthorization act which were rejected during the negotiations. It restricts section 215 to bring it back to the original intent, which was that the Justice Department would identify a non-U.S. person who is engaged in a terrorist organization, get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order to be able to find out who that person was in contact with, and be able to try to spread that spiderweb to see who was involved in a plot that might target people either domestically or internationally.
And it also deals with reforming the FISA Court?
The two other things are that we are proposing reform of the FISA Court, where we recognize there are things that have got to be classified. But if the FISA Court changes policy or attempts to reinterpret the law, we require the publication of that so it is not a secret decision when basically the FISA Court allows the NSA to shift gears. The other thing we do is create an office of public advocate to represent the public and privacy interests in particular — and also give the public advocate authority to appeal a decision of the FISA court the advocate feels does not comport with the law or comport with policies.
National Journal also reported that
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also expected to vote Tuesday behind closed doors on legislation brought by committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to appease surveillance critics by increasing transparency and accountability of FISA.
While a closed door vote on legislation authored by prominent defenders of the NSA could be the transparency critics are seeking, it seems more likely that the bill being prepared by the Patriot Act’s outraged author will be the most promising path to the first genuine surveillance reform in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations.
While the stories emerging from Snowden’s materials have veered further and further from exposing illegal and/or unconstitutional activities here at home over the past months, Sensenbrenner’s words are a reminder of just how vital his earlier leaks have been to restoring the rule of law and democratic accountability to our surveillance system.
Reasonably enough, the House committee with appropriate oversight responsibilities wanted to bring in an expert to “guide our oversight and review of” the Healthcare.gov debacle, even as the shutdown showdown was in full swing.
Per CNBC, they chose John McAfee. McAfee has many positive qualities as a website consultant, not least of which being his creation of the eponymous web security software that made him a tech giant. He also has been spending the past few years of his life living an increasingly paranoid and bizarre life in the Latin American country of Belize that included hiring gang members he thought were trying to kill him, and procuring a 17 year-old girlfriend.
Then last fall, he became a “person of interest” in the murder of his fellow American expat neighbor, and went on the run deep into the Latin American jungle. Unable to resist his own desire for attention, he allowed the rugged reporters of Vice to come down and interview him, reporters who then posted a photo from their iPhone that included the precise poolside coordinates of McAfee’s hideout, apparently in Guatemala. He was soon arrested and deported.
All this is to say, John McAfee shouldn’t be getting anywhere near the Capitol of the United States to advise members of Congress, and it’s more than a little concerning that he would be House Republicans’ go-to tech guru. For one thing, it casts doubt on the judgment of their staff. More broadly concerning, it might suggest that the GOP tech gap is even worse than suspected.
The Obama campaign has famously tight relations with the pick of the Silicon Valley litter, including close personal consultations with Google executive Eric Schmidt. Access to the best and brightest the tech industry has to offer is thought to have helped pad Obama’s comfortable margin of victory, and has been contrasted sharply with the Romney campaign’s ORCA get-out-the-vote software that crashed on, rather inconveniently, Election Day.
However, if the House GOP is reaching out to a paranoid eccentric with a questionable history with the truth for their consultation, one very well may wonder if they simply didn’t know anyone else. A source on the committee told CNBC that “In an effort to better understand the technology concerns, we reached out to a few of the experts who have been featured in media reports on the health care exchange ‘glitches.’”
In the Year of Our Lord 2013, website design and management is an enormous industry with countless companies across the country engaged in designing similar projects; there should be plenty right in Congress’s backyard that are familiar with building the projects within the arcane maze of federal contracting regulations. Moreover, this should be an industry anyone with oversight responsibility should be quite familiar enough with to rattle off half a dozen executives who would be able to provide reasoned, reliable insight.
That they went for a guy recently returned from a gun-packing jungle escape from Belize’s law enforcement just about says it all.
While much aspersion has been cast upon some of the leading villains who have engineered the latest imbroglio in Washington, D.C.—Ted Cruz, the Tea Party, the Republicans, among those most often named—it is at least instructive to stand back from the current moment and consider the curious status of representation itself in today’s political circumstance. For we have neither of the two proposed forms of representation that were debated at the creation of America, but instead a hybrid that, arguably, combines the worst of both without the virtues of either.
Mostly forgotten today is that a major source of debate during the original ratification debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the very nature of representation, and in particular, the role that would be played by elected officials along with their relationship to the citizenry. The debate especially touched on respective views of the organization of the House of Representatives, but more broadly implicated the very nature of representation itself. According to the Federalists—those who sought ratification and eventually carried the day—the Constitution aimed at the creation of fairly large districts with numerous constituents, better to decrease the likelihood of passionate political expressions and participation by the electorate. Larger districts would, they hoped, make it more likely that only the most successful and visible people would be sufficiently identifiable by a larger electorate, ensuring the election of “fit characters” to office who, they also hoped, would better be able to discern the public good than if the entire body of the people had been gathered for that purpose.
The Anti-Federalists, by contrast, argued for relatively small and homogenous districts in which there would be frequent rotation in office and shorter terms (a year, at most), thereby ensuring that representatives would be drawn from the body of the citizens, and that there would be a close bond between constituents and their representatives. Rather than hoping for representatives who would be prominent, visible and “fit,” instead they hoped representatives would be drawn from the “middling” part of society, whom they believed would be less prone toward vices of the “great,” such as luxury and empire, and more likely instead to be people of “ordinary” virtue.
In short, the Federalists subscribed to a “filter” theory of representation, which they hoped would lead to political leaders who would be able to make decisions in the “public good” rather than constrained by the narrow parochial interests of their constituents. They sought to encourage the formation of private-minded citizens who would pay relatively little attention to political matters, leaving it to competent “fit characters.” The Anti-Federalists advanced a “mirror” theory of representation, instead hoping that representatives would reflect the modest virtues of the yeomanry. They hoped to foster high degree of deliberation and political discussion among the whole of the citizenry, favoring more local and deliberative forms of self-government.
The Federalists hoped that representatives, drawn from among the ambitious, would—whatever the differences of their regions and constituencies—all share an ambition for American greatness, and put aside differences in favor of crafting policies toward that end. The Anti-Federalists hoped for a numerous lower chamber of considerable contention, one likely to thwart the ambitions of the elite and instead keep the central government relatively ineffectual, while fostering strong local forms of political self-rule. The Federalists believed in a strong division of labor, in which “fit” elected officials would do the “work” of politics; the Anti-Federalists defended the role of “amateurs” in politics, believing that citizenship consisted in that ancient practice of “ruling and being ruled in turn.”
The Federalists—particularly Madison in the justly celebrated Federalist 10—argued that this form of representation, combined with a large geographic scale, would constitute the best means of combating the formation of “majority factions.” Their overarching fear was of a portion of the polity using the levers of government to effect its narrow ends.
The Anti-Federalists insisted that their version of representation would forestall the creation of a “consolidated” government, making frequent agreement at the federal level unlikely, while also fostering civic virtues and practices that would keep governance close to home. Their overarching fear was a powerful central government commandeered by the wealthy and powerful.
Today, we have combined parts of each theory and arrived at a highly unpalatable and even toxic mix.
I’m beginning to notice a pattern among the anti-crony-capitalist set.
They’ve adopted a view of the interaction between government and business that is manichean at best, New Leftism in conservative drag at worst.
National Review’s Jonathan Strong passed on this thought from Rep. Raul Labrador:
Great pt from Labrador that media has derided tea party for not being under Wall St’s thumb while normally they fret about $ in politics
— Jonathan Strong (@j_strong) October 16, 2013
Now there’s no middle ground between being in the pocket of big business and not blowing up the global financial system.
And yesterday, Forbes’s James Poulos mused that Sen. Ted Cruz was waging a quixotic battle against both Big Finance and Big Government:
Orderly non-default would go a long way to prove to Americans that our complex financial-political system does not need to run things. Who needs the Fed? We don’t even need to raise the debt limit! You can imagine the fallout. It seems impossible to me that Wall Street and the world’s key money elites would ever even consider throwing in the towel on this level. If the financial elite loses the popular perception that they and their ways are essential to basic economic order, the jig is up. And if you can bet on one thing, it’s that the financial elite isn’t going to opt for the jig to be up.
That’s why I rate it extraordinarily likely Cruz and Company will be whipped and the debt limit raised. They thought they could take on big government and big business without any radical-left allies. My expectation is that, come the end of this non-crisis, that was their only miscalculation that mattered.
Again, this notion that preventing a default on our national debt is some kind of sop to Wall Street. By all means, let’s have a debate about the financialization of the American economy. But let’s do so without bringing the system to ruin and hurting millions of ordinary participants of the real economy, shall we?
The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, bless his conflicted heart, wrote a column recently lamenting that a repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax was the only concession Republicans would win in the shutdown/debt ceiling standoff. He acknowledges that the tax is “bad,” and that “Congress is correct to repeal it”—but then spends the rest of the column making a nearly airtight case for why the tax should remain in effect. (Read the piece from the sixth paragraph on, and tell me I’m exaggerating.)
The libertarian-populist take on the medical device tax was shared by enough Republicans that language to repeal it was actually stripped out of the House leadership’s final attempt at a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Finally, this morning I made it about a fourth of the way through Kevin D. Williamson’s piece on the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy over the closing of national monuments during the shutdown. He writes, jauntily, “Every American has a little sedition in his soul, and this is a very good time to give it free rein.” To be charitable, Williamson has in mind Thoreauvian civil disobedience here, not outright sedition, but all the same, I find the whole tone utterly disturbing.
RedState’s Erick Erickson actually wrote the following sentence with a straight face: “Mitch McConnell is the single obstacle we have this week to taking our country back from the death spiral instigated by Obama and his merry band of community organizers.”
This talk of death spirals, storming barricades, of cleaning the Augean Stables of K Street, of exposing the naked emperors of Wall Street, of constitutional conventions—it seems painfully apparent to me that many folks on the right are suffering from radicalism envy. They are drama queens of the apocalypse.
Movement conservatism has always been half-crazy.
Lately it’s more like three-quarters crazy.
I’m now old enough to remember two federal government shutdowns.
Both turned out poorly for Republicans.
The difference this time was that every sane observer strongly suspected it was going to work out poorly for Republicans.
In the end, they won’t even get peanuts. They’ll get the discarded shells of peanuts.
The most infuriating, tear-out-your-hair reaction to the House GOP implosion came from Reps. Thomas Massie and Joe Barton, Republicans of Kentucky and Texas respectively: that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” No deal? Seriously? Ponder that for a moment: A faction of House Republicans, at the not-so-secret urging of Sen. Ted Cruz, noisily insisted on a foolish confrontation with Senate Democrats and the White House. Once that confrontation ended fruitlessly—as critics predicted it would—this faction skulked away and left its leadership dangling and embarrassed.
This is akin to goading a friend into a bar fight and then watching helplessly as he’s kneed in the crotch.
Make no mistake, though: the GOP leadership isn’t completely blameless. It had planned, too, on a dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling. There is little reason, now, to believe that such an effort would have ended differently than this one.
Another round of negotiations over long-term budgeting, to be held between now and Dec. 13, will commence once this deal is enacted. Is there any hope for it? It’s hard not to be pessimistic. The eternal snag is as it always has been: there is no appetite within the GOP for exchanging higher tax revenues for entitlement reform. And contrary to Fox News pundit George Will, I think there’s little chance that President Obama will trade entitlement reform for sequester relief. As Jonathan Chait has noted, Democrats are unlikely to accept permanent cuts to mandatory spending in order to temporarily increase discretionary spending.
So we’re left the question, Can this divided government live with the status quo at least until the midterm elections?
Can it agree simply to do no more harm?
Pending catastrophe, the jig is just about up.
Having made one last demonstration of the fighting spirit in front of his caucus, declaring that he would “rather throw a grenade than catch a grenade,” John Boehner watched his coalition melt away. By relatively early in the evening last night, once it became clear that there were no votes for his way of going down swinging, the Speaker cancelled his planned debt limit response.
Brian Beutler reported that Boehner will be sending over a “clean message” to ease the path of any Senate deal. We will approach the debt ceiling again sooner than anyone would like, but the full faith and credit of the United States of America shall remain unquestioned for a while longer.
Perhaps now that the Republican-triggered crisis that has consumed the past two weeks will soon be past, focus can eventually turn to the full-scale disaster that has been the official launch of Obamacare. As you may remember, that is the “sugar” Ted Cruz warned would sap Americans of their will to resist socialism once the bells rang in October 1st.
President Obama has already indicated that reviving immigration reform will be at the top of his priority list once global catastrophe has been delayed. Immigration is perhaps second only to Obamacare in its ability to rally the Tea Party faithful in exerting pressure on Washington leadership, so we will see if they have any gas left in the tank to make a productive contribution to the debate.
In the meantime, and while the last parts of the debt ceiling puzzle fall into place, it is perhaps worth revisiting once more the sagacious advice of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, on how an opposition party should conduct itself:
they who engage in opposition are under as great obligations, to prepare themselves to control, as they who serve the crown are under, to prepare themselves to carry on the administration: and that a party formed for this purpose, do not act like good citizens nor honest men, unless they propose true, as well as oppose false measures of government. Sure I am they do not act like wise men unless they act systematically, and unless they contrast, on every occasion, that scheme of policy which the public interest requires to be followed, with that which is suited to no interest but the private interest of the prince or his ministers.
Cunning men (several such there are among you) will dislike this consequence, and object, that such a conduct would support, under the appearance of opposing, a weak and even a wicked administration; and that to proceed in this manner would be to give good counsel to a bad minister, and to extricate him out of distresses that ought to be improved to his ruin. But cunning pays no regard to virtue, and is but the low mimic of wisdom. It were easy to demonstrate what I have asserted concerning the duty of an opposing party, and I presume there is no need of labouring to prove, that a party who opposed, systematically, a wise to a silly, an honest to an iniquitous, scheme of government, would acquire greater reputation and strength, and arrive more surely at their end, than a party who opposed occasionally, as it were, without any common system, without any general concert, with little uniformity, little preparation, little perseverance, and as little knowledge or political capacity.
As the United States continues its inexorable approach to the date it defaults on its debt, the House and the Senate have assembled their own respective deals in the hopes of leaving the other holding the bag at zero hour. Yesterday Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell spent their day assembling a deal that would include, roughly:
- Opening and funding the government through January 15
- Raising the debt ceiling through February 7
- Income verification of those receiving Obamacare subsidies
- A delay of an Obamacare reinsurance tax that had been requested by unions
- A budget committee to report back by December 13
Then they went home.
Instead of selling the plan to the Senate Republican conference, McConnell decided to wait until 11 a.m. today in order to get all his senators back into town and, possibly, to run out more of the clock so that the House would not have a chance to amend the Senate’s bill and send it back.
This morning, Robert Costa reported that
Conservatives are revolting this morning in the House, will not accept Senate deal, decisions/calls in 6-8am range sealed fate among 50 Bloc
— Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013
Instead, House Republicans are planning to pass their own proposal, including, roughly:
- Opening and funding the government through January 15
- Raising the debt ceiling through February 7
- Income verification of those receiving Obamacare subsidies
- A budget committee to report back by December 13
- The medical device tax component of Obamacare would be delayed 2 years
- Obamacare exchange subsidies would be stripped from members of Congress and cabinet members, but not staff (Vitter amendment-lite)
- The Treasury would be barred from exercising “extraordinary measures” to stave off default, as it has been since this spring
- The reinsurance tax would not be delayed
Michael Tackett of Bloomberg reports that
GOP lawmakers say Boehner described senate bill as a hand grenade coming at the House, and the House had to send one first @MichaelCBender
— Michael Tackett (@tackettdc) October 15, 2013
The consequences of crossing the debt ceiling and failing to repay US Treasury bonds would be, by all reasonable accounts, catastrophic.
As Brian Beutler reported at Salon this morning,
If three months ago I had told you that the debt-limit fight would end not with Democrats offering a concession to Republicans but with Republicans teaming up with Democrats to provide a concession to dreaded labor unions, you would’ve laughed me out of my job, and rightly so.
But here we are.
It is far too early to know where things will ultimately land, but Beutler subsequently reported that Senate Democrats are scrapping the pro-union measure after the House reaction. It derived from Reid and Obama stance, set out at the beginning, that “any policy ransom, no matter how small, is too large a price to pay for increasing the debt limit,” as they sought to amend that hard-line position with “Consensus items are fine. So are mutually agreeable swaps.”
The Reid-Obama intransigence has been a fine leverage position up to the present moment, as they have reaped the rewards of “standing strong” with their base while simultaneously watching Republicans tear their party to pieces and reverse everything they hoped to achieve.
But now that Boehner and the House are proceeding with a deal that leaves Obamacare largely intact, it is time for principled stands to yield to pragmatic agreement. The union giveaway was Reid trying to keep his theoretical point of negotiation sound to the last, taking advantage of Republican weakness to induce full capitulation. Today he took to the Senate floor to insist that the House proposal will not pass the Senate.
The stakes for the millions of innocent people of this country are too high, however, to risk economic catastrophe for one last turn of the screw.
CNN reports on a potential thaw in the fiscal standoff:
On Wednesday, GOP leaders appeared to shift their focus from efforts to dismantle Obama’s signature health care reform, the initial driving force behind the shutdown, to securing spending cuts elsewhere. …
Meanwhile, GOP leaders were distancing themselves from demands by tea party conservatives to also make dismantling Obamacare a condition for agreement.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Republican negotiators secure actual spending cuts or, rather, some kind of a framework in which subsequent negotiations will take place. But the tabling of Obamacare represents half the battle for the Obama administration.
It’s worth stepping back to look at the Spinal Tap sandwich that Republicans—because they could not agree on tactics—have put Obama in: The House leadership, plus Rep. Paul Ryan, now seek nonmaximal budget concessions from the administration. But all along, they’ve eyed the most dangerous hostage—the debt ceiling. The kami-cons, meanwhile, sought a maximal concession—the defunding or delay or Obamacare—but eyed a lower-value target: the continuing resolution to keep the government open.
Obama won’t bargain on the debt ceiling.
And he won’t bargain on Obamacare.
Two separate factions of Republicans tried to make him do both—and for different reasons.
Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right.
There is a deal to be had now that Obamacare is again on the backburner and a short-term debt ceiling increase is apparently in play. The mismatch of demands and leverage points is coming back into balance. And so we’re left to wonder what House Republicans could have accomplished had they retained a sense of proportion and sought reasonable concessions without attempting to seize the highest-value hostage. A repeal of the medical device tax, plus sequester-level budget caps? The Keystone pipeline? More?
Instead they’ll get peanuts, and an even more badly damaged national brand.
The measure of a party’s commitment to limiting government is what it does in power. In opposition a party can do a few things, but obviously not as much as when it wields both executive and legislative authority.
By that criterion, what is one to make of the Republican Party?
With one house of one branch of government under its control, the GOP is fighting desperately to stop an expansion of social insurance—Obamacare—and might like to cut non-defense spending as well. Because holding the House of Representatives is not enough to repeal legislation, the GOP has to resort to more drastic steps—refusing to pass a continuing resolution to fund government if Obamacare is part of the CR. And now the party is signaling a refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless it gets something in return. Without a debt-ceiling hike, the federal government begins to default in about a week.
But no problem: shouldn’t a small-government party be happy to close the government for a while, showing everyone just which employees are “essential”? And isn’t the national debt something a small-government party wants to see capped and paid down, not constantly raised? Read More…