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What Worries Me Most About Clinton: That she may not have the intellectual capacity to discern even critically important distinctions. Including glaring ones.

Update appended, 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.


“It should not take longer to start a business in America than it does in Canada or France. But that is the fact.”

— Hillary Clinton, during a small business discussion, Cedar Falls, Iowa, May 19, 2015 

Our antenna always goes up when a politician asserts a “fact.” Clinton made this remark in the midst of a discussion about the “perfect storm of crisis” that she said small businesses face in the United States.

She made a similar point in an article she posted on LinkedIn on May 21, but with an additional country added:  “It should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.”

Clinton’s claim that it takes longer to start a business in the U.S. than in Canada or France, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 22

My own antenna always goes up when I hear a politician assert as fact a generic statement that is intended to imply what I know is a falsity or that patently makes no sense.  In this instance, it was both, and, stunningly, was intended to imply a false fact that supports a key line in the Republican playbook: that federal regulation is keeping middle-class folks from starting or expanding a small business.

Marco Rubio claimed something similar in April—to which Martin O’Malley famously responded, when asked about it in an interview, “It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”  And Jeb Bush hinted at it a couple of months earlier.

When I read about Clinton’s statements before I read Kessler’s post (I didn’t see the post until about a week after it was posted), I was absolutely dumbfounded.  As Kessler notes, Clinton complains about “red tape” in starting small businesses and says that the length of time in starting a business, caused by red tape, keeps people from starting businesses.  The claim startled me; most red tape in starting businesses is state and local red tape, not federal, and the amount and type of red tape depends almost entirely upon the type of business and factors such as whether it requires a trade license of some sort (e.g., beautician), or a liquor license, and whether a permit of some sort must be obtained.

Opening a restaurant, for example, requires local health department permits and adherence to health department rules.  It also requires procuring a physical space in which to have the restaurant, and usually also means obtaining a business loan.  Starting a home-based web-design business requires none of those things.  The incorporation process involves filing a short filled-out form with the state Secretary of State’s office and paying a fee.

Clinton doesn’t know these things?  Really?

So the generic breadth of her statement was stupefying.  She holds a law degree from Yale, was a partner in a corporate law firm, an active First Lady of a state and then of the country.  Did she really not know that most red tape in starting a business does not touch upon anything that the federal government regulates?  Or did she have something accurate and specific in mind, but rather than identifying it, indulged her penchant for talking in incoherencies apparently in order to avoid ever saying anything specific about, well, anything?

Kessler’s post answered that question.  She did indeed have something specific in question: average statistics for businesses that employ between 10 and 50 people within one month, having five owners, using start-up capital equivalent to 10 times income per capita and being engaged in industrial or commercial activities and owning no real estate.  In Los Angeles, where it takes an average of eight days to start such a business.  Whereas in Paris it takes only 4.5 days and in Toronto five days.  In New York City, though, it takes only four days.

Clinton lives near New York City and represented New York state as a senator.  She knows that New York City is in this country.

This information was taken from the World Bank website, which, Kessler says, provides statistics that “lets you compare the individual cities to countries, so New York ends up tied for 6th place — with Belgium, Iceland, South Korea, the Netherlands and Sao Tome.”  Los Angeles, he says,  is in 15th place, tied with Cyprus, Egypt, Madagascar and the Kyrgyz Republic, among others. Oh, dear. But he points to another World Bank report that notes that “the differences are so large because, in the United States, ‘company law is under state jurisdiction and there are measurable differences between the California and New York company law.’”

I knew that!  I should run for president in the Democratic primary. Every small-business owner and aspiring small-business owner knows that, so I’d have a natural constituency.  And I have the advantage of actually recognizing problems that do affect many small businesses and that the federal government can address, by regulation.  Including ones that recent Democratic congresses, together with a Democratic president, actually enacted.

Kessler comments, “So what does data about starting a business in the largest city have to do with small businesses in Iowa? Beats us.”  It surely also beats small-business owners and people who are seriously considering becoming one.  Including those who are fairly recent immigrants to this country and who don’t hold a law degree from Yale.

Kessler notes that even if Clinton were accurate in her claim that it takes longer, on average, throughout this country than in the other countries she mentioned to start small businesses generally, the difference would be a matter of a day or two.  He writes:

The World Bank’s database lists 189 countries in terms of the time required to start a business. For 2014, in first place is New Zealand, with one day. In France and Canada, along with eight other countries, it takes five days. (South Korea, along with six other countries, is listed as four days.) The United States, with 12 other countries, is listed as six days.

First of all, one extra day does not seem like much of a hindrance — so much so that, as Clinton asserted in the LinkedIn article, the fact signified the “red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

This is crazy.  What, pray tell, is her point?  To show that she’s too dumb to recognize distinctions between state and federal regulation, and between one type of small business and another?  If you’ve seen one small business, you’ve seen ‘em all?  And if you’ve seen state or local regulation, you’ve seen federal regulation?

Elsewhere in her LinkedIn letter she says that it takes longer to complete small-business federal tax forms than it is to complete multi-national corporations’ federal tax forms. Maybe so, but is that because the multi-nationals keep PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte on retainer and the owners of the Thai food restaurant down the road probably don’t?  She doesn’t say. She thinks the ultimate in clever political rhetoric is to make some dramatic comparison; the accuracy and even the coherence of the comparison doesn’t matter to her.

Clinton does this conflation/sweeping-two-or-more-things-together-that-need-to-be-recognizated-as-separate-things thing regularly. In her brief comment in Iowa in April in which she said she would support a constitutional amendment, if necessary, to reverse Citizens United and get “unaccountable” money out of politics, she misrepresented that Citizens United bars election laws that would require super PACs to identify their donors, and corporations to report the recipients of their political largesse.  It doesn’t.  No constitutional amendment is needed to permit such statutes and SEC, IRS and FEC regulations.

I had planned to post on all this earlier but didn’t get around to it.  But two articles published in recent days, one in the Washington Post last weekend about the 2008 Clinton campaign’s gift of snow shovels to supporters in Iowa before the caucuses, the other a Washington Post column yesterday by Katrina vanden Heuvel, prompted this post.  The snow shovels article, by David Fahrenthold, begins:

AMES, Iowa — In Phyllis Peters’s garage, there is a snow shovel. A nice one: green, shiny, with an ergonomic steel handle. It came from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And it plays a part in a modern-day political legend, about some of the strangest money a candidate has ever spent.

Eight years ago, Peters was a volunteer for Clinton’s first presidential run. She had been an admirer of Clinton since her time as first lady. But just before Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses, her staffers did something odd: They bought shovels for Peters and the hundreds of other volunteers.

“If you’re in Iowa, you [already] have a snow shovel,” the article quotes Peters as saying.  But she accepted the gift so as not to be rude.  “For both those who gave out the shovels and those who received them,” the article says, “they came to symbolize a candidate who never quite got their home state.”

Clinton grew up in a suburb of Chicago, then spent four winters in Wellesley, MA.  That was decades ago.  But, geeez.  She didn’t get cold-climate folks?

Vanden Heuvel’s column, titled “A new definition of freedom in America,” argues that the term “freedom” has had different meanings in different political eras, and that it’s imperative now that the Democratic presidential nominee, presumably Clinton, move aggressively away from the Conservative Movement definition of freedom as economic laisse faire, and reinstitute and expand upon FDR’s famous Four Freedoms. She writes:

This is Hillary Clinton’s historic opportunity. The greatest threat to freedom now is posed by the entrenched few that use their resources and influence to rig the rules to protect their privileges. She would do a great service for the country — and for her own political prospects — by offering a far more expansive American view of what freedom requires, and what threatens it.

Clinton should make it clear to Americans that in a modern, globalized world, we are in the midst of a fierce struggle between economic royalists and a democratic citizenry. If we are to protect our freedoms, citizens must mobilize to take back government from the few, to clean out the corruption and to curb the oppressive power of the modern day economic royalists.

But this requires a candidate who is both mentally quick enough and willing to respond, accurately and in specifics, to the Republican anti-regulation, supply-side-economics nonsense.  Clinton doesn’t seem like she has either of these attributes.

Clinton appears to think that all that matters is the generic ideas people have about what she stands for, and a few specific policy proposals all in good time.  She’s wrong.  She needs to respond, in full oral statements, using clear fact-based arguments, to the anti-government policy cant of the Republican sheep herd, from which her opponent eventually will come.  But I don’t think she can.


ADDENDUM: I posted a comment in response to a comment by Mark Jamison that says in part:

One thing that comes through loud and clear from her attempt to Sister Souljah small-business owners and aspirants, Mark, is that she thinks Democrats NEED a Sister Souljah moment for small-business owners and aspirants. Dick Durbin could educate her on that, simply by referring her to what’s known as the Durbin Amendment.

Another thing that comes across is that, just as she didn’t realize in 2008 that Iowans all have snow shovels, she apparently doesn’t recognize that small-business owners and aspirants want solutions to problems that they actually have, and that that requires knowing the specifics of the problem, including the cause.

I want to make clear that I think the concerns of small-business owners are very much appropriate issues for progressive Democratic politicians to address. And that progressive Democratic elected officials do address them–the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act being an example.  What Democratic candidates and officeholders should not do is create straw men for them to swat down.

Added. 6/10 at 5:41 p.m.


UPDATE: Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith yesterday linked to this post (thanks, Yves!), and the link spawned a surprisingly long exchange of comments there, started by reader Carolinian, who noted and linked to a Harpers piece from last year that makes similar or complementary arguments.

Carolinian notes in one of her comments in that thread that Clinton’s campaign is hellbent on getting across the claim that Clinton is a wonk–something that I’d planned to post on here at AB.  A day or two after I read the articles about Clinton’s federal-red-tape-is-discouraging-people-from-starting-small-businesses tack, I read two articles, one by Peter Beinart on The Atlantic website (I can’t remember where I read the other, or who wrote it), assuring readers that Clinton is a wonk. I remember thinking, “OK, got it. Clinton is a wonk.  It’s just that she’s a wonk who thinks most small businesses need permits or licenses from the federal government in order to open.  And just this morning I read two more along that line, one of them (in Politico, I think), which says that her staff is pushing the “wonk” moniker because it’s accurate: that’s what she is.

The gist of these articles is that she really cares about policy–the nitty-gritty of policy, especially how best to achieve a policy goal.  One problem with that, though, is that she keeps making sing-songy soundbite statements that are either inaccurate or misleading or irrelevant or downright incoherent.

Clinton and her staff seem to be misconstruing the meaning of “wonk,” which does including within it the ability to understand the meaning and implications of the statistics and other facts–and recognize the actual sources of those facts, as distinguished from the cliches that the Republicans are selling.  The problems that people have in trying to start a business almost never involve federal red tape.  By saying otherwise, Clinton’s now made clear that she’s no wonk.

Updated 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.


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The Problem With O’Malley’s New-Generation Pitch: Elizabeth Warren is 65 and Bernie Sanders is 73

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley formally declared over the weekend that he will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In his speech and a subsequent interview with ABC News, he floated several themes: He has executive experience; the presidency is not a “crown” to be passed back and forth among royal families (i.e., the Clintons and the Bushes); and unlike either Jeb or Hillary, he won’t be beholden to Wall Street.

And O’Malley, 52, is also offering a fourth argument, which seems implicitly designed to draw a contrast with the 67-year-old Clinton: It’s time for a new generation of leaders.

— Martin O’Malley tests a generational argument against Hillary Clinton, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Marco Rubio is making the generational argument, too.  For Rubio, it’s patently ridiculous; his fiscal and regulatory policy proposals and soundbites are circa Reagan era.  O’Malley’s are decidedly 2015, which is great and is why he may (in my opinion) have an actual chance.  But Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ are even more so.  And they’re 65 and 73, respectively.

It’s clearly not accurate that Warren is unpopular among young people and that Sanders likely will be.  I don’t think anyone—young, middle-aged, old—cares about Warren’s age or which generation she’s part of.  And though Sanders’ age is noted in virtually every news report or commentary about him, and he looks his age, is it really likely that young voters would support O’Mallley over Sanders because of their age difference?  I doubt it.

O’Malley obviously is trying to target Clinton, not Sanders and certainly not Warren (whose policy positions he has adopted), with the “new generation” tack.  But if it refers to age and demographic generation, it makes as much sense as Clinton’s I’m-a-woman-and-a-grandmother pitch.  Which is to say, none.  Clinton obviously is a woman, and everyone knows that she’s now a grandmother.  Just as everyone can see that O’Malley is relatively youthful.  He doesn’t need to tell anyone that. And youth is as much a policy statement as is being a woman and a grandmother.  Which is to say, it’s not.

If O’Malley has a chance, it’s as a stand-in for Warren.  And not because he’s younger than Warren, but because he’s running and she’s not. And Warren, 65, indeed is part of a new generation of leadership, because her ideas, her arguments, her responses to Republican rote, are part of a new generation of ideas.

My advice to O’Malley would be to kill the younger-generation-of-leaders thing and replace it with a new-generation-of-policy argument.  He made a good start on that several weeks ago.  Bernie Sanders is doing exactly that, but age does matter here in that he will be 75 at the time of the next election. If progressive Democrats think O’Malley would be a true stand-in for Warren and Sanders, despite his own earlier-generation New Democrat pedigree, he could pull out a victory through some combination of his own and ultimately Sanders’ delegates.

But a prerequisite, I think, is an understanding that Sanders is blazing the trail.  And that Sanders, and Warren, aren’t spring chickens.


Edited slightly for clarity and typo-correction. 6/1 at 10:16 p.m.

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Jeb Bush discovers a hypothetical he’s willing to address—and assures us that he, unlike Obama, would have ensured a second Great Depression. Jeb for President!

Questioned by a voter inside a sports bar about whether there is “space” between himself and his older brother on any issues, Bush offered a clear critique.

“Are there differences? Yeah, I mean, sure,” Bush said. “I think that in Washington during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money. I think he could have used the veto power — he didn’t have line-item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C. That seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically. But having constraints on spending across the board during his time would have been a good thing.”

—  Jeb Bush: George W. spent too much money, Eli Stokols, Politico, yesterday

Okay, so Bush has now found a hypothetical that he wants to discuss.  Two hypotheticals, actually: (1) what his fiscal policies would have been between Jan. 2001 and Jan. 2009; and (2) what his fiscal policies would have been between Jan. 2009 and, oh—at what point did the federal budget deficit decline dramatically?  2013? And … what is the deficit now, as compared with the Bush years?  And what role did the Bush tax cuts play in that?

But really, since these are to separate hypotheticals, we—well, the people who actually can ask and maybe get an answer (i.e., the news media; Hillary Clinton)—should ask two sets of questions.

First, we (they) should ask what spending, specifically, Jeb Bush would not have authorized during his brother’s presidency that his brother authorized.  The military spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  The massive spending on increased security after 9/11?  The Medicare Part D prescription-drug law?  The frantic stopgap finance-industry bailout that George Bush’s Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, put together in the fall of 2008 in order to try to fend off a near-complete collapse of the banking system?

Or maybe the initial part of the auto-industry bailout, without which George Bush said the unemployment rate would have jumped to about 20%?

So, would Jeb Bush—knowing then what we know now, about the near-collapse of the banking system, and of the economy, late in his brother’s presidency, and the fact that the Iraq war went on and on and on—have supported his brother’s two massive tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, during his first term?

Just askin’.  Although I’d bet that’s a hypothetical that he’d take even longer to answer than the five days it took him to answer the infamous Iraq one.  Maybe even as long as 18 months.

Then, of course, there’s that second hypothetical that Bush answered yesterday—the one in which he said the budget deficits at the end of his brother’s term seem “kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically,” indicating that he (Jeb) thinks Obama, in the face of the collapsing economy and banking system, should have … what, exactly?

Cut funding for unemployment compensation, or capped it at its 2007 level?  Refused to allow extensions of it?  Cut funding for food stamp access, or capped it at its 2007 level?

Ended the financial industry bailout begun under his brother?

Let Detroit go bankrupt?  (That wasn’t such a winning tack for Mitt Romney.  But, I mean, ya never know. …)

Ah. Maybe he means the stimulus bill, which provided funding for job training and college for hundreds of thousands of people, especially in states hardest hit by the collapse of the economy.  States like Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, Florida.  And the direct spending from that bill, on infrastructure projects and such.  Y’know, the stuff that virtually all mainstream economists now say helped keep the unemployment rate from reaching Great Depression levels and helped start the recovery.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, that the political media played up Bush’s comments yesterday–at least in headlines and soundbites if not in the actual reportage itself by reporters who wrote full articles about the comments (see, e.g. the quote at the opening of this post, and the title given the article)–as Bush Brother v. Bush Brother.  Because of course it’s the family saga, not the specifics of the policies, that matter, right?*

And some mainstream political reporters, including a couple of them from Politico, where (unrelatedly) the above quotes were originally published, couldn’t analyze their way out of a paper bag.  And Clinton herself pretty clearly has settled on a campaign of mindless clichés, Republican soundbites about federal regulation, and cutesy gimmicks.  Does she really not understand that most small business red tape has nothing at all to do with federal regulations? Or does she just think that most people don’t know the difference between private-bank business-loan operations and federal regulation, and between state and local business regulations—a.k.a., red tape—and federal regulations?  And that no one will ask her what regulations, exactly, she thinks are holding back small-business owners and aspiring small-business owners?

On that last point, she may be right, since she has almost no direct contact with the press and no contact at all with everyday Americans who haven’t been prescreened as props.

So maybe Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley—or Elizabeth Warren—will question the specifics of Jeb Bush’s answers to those hypotheticals.  And the specifics of Clinton’s claim that federal regulations are hindering small business.  Like, which federal regulations, specifically?  And maybe, at least regarding Bush’s, a Dem SuperPAC that is not coordinating with Clinton and her silly campaign, will run web ads or TV ads eventually that do that.

And maybe Sanders, O’Malley, Warren, or a progressive Democratic SuperPAC will point out that the biggest hindrance to small business loan availability, by far, is not federal regulation, or even state or local regulation, but instead federal deregulation—of the banking system.  Specifically, the disastrous repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.  And mention the incessant Republican push to repeal the Dodd-Frank bank-regulation law, and their fight against instituting the Volker Rule.

Clinton is right that “[t]oo many regulatory and licensing requirements are uneven and uncertain” and that “[i]t should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.” But small-business regulation is mostly, and licensing is entirely, state and local, not federal.  So maybe she’ll get around to pointing that out and detailing what she, as president, would propose as a national fix.  In any event she should not further the Republican misrepresentation that small-business regulation and licensing is done by the federal government. With the exception of federal tax laws, including FICA tax laws, and environmental laws and worker-safety laws, “cutting the red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs” means tackling state and local, not federal, red tape.

As for my earlier dismay at Clinton’s senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan’s Fox News-ish claim that Democrats support obstacles for small businesses, and are against small businesses having easy access to loans—we don’t want them to compete with Walmart, see—I now get it.  Sadly. Blame imagined Democratic anti-small-business sentiment, and big federal gummint, rather than the deregulated banking industry, for the labyrinthine high-hurdle event that is the small-business loan situation now.

Clinton speaks of her father’s success in opening and running a very profitable small business. His business loans, though, weren’t from banks competing for profits with multinational hedge funds masquerading as JPMorgan Chase Bank, Citibank and Bank of America.

But, as for Jeb Bush, at least he’s honest.  He’s told us now that had he, instead of Obama, been president in the aftermath of his brother’s presidency, he’d have ensured a complete collapse of the economy.  Vote for Jeb!

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Clinton has a God-given right to refer to others’ God-given potential. And I have a right, God-given or otherwise, to find her decision to do that really annoying.

This post of mine yesterday deals mostly with Clinton’s annoying “When women are [fill in the blank], families are [same word; slightly different meaning] slogans.  But toward the end, it also discusses Clinton’s annoying references to people’s “God-given potential.”  References to people’s potential, without injecting religion (at least without some elaboration on the religion injection), would be much better, I said.

In the Comments thread to that post, reader Mike B. exchanged these comments:

Mike B.

May 21, 2015 10:49 am

I’m not religious, but I think that, publicly at least, Hillary is. So I don’t mind her putting “God-given” in there (or “blessed”). The GOP likes to pretend they are the religious party, which isn’t true – they’re the party of the religious right. There are a lot of liberal Christians out there, and I don’t think it’s bad for people to be reminded of that. It’s true that Hillary didn’t have to put those words in there, but I doubt if it’ll put off many people.

Beverly Mann

May 21, 2015 1:17 pm

Mike, you’re absolutely right that Clinton has been a practicing Methodist all her life. I don’t begrudge her her right to make that point and mention Methodist teachings as Methodist teachings. And it did occur to me that by inserting “God-given” there, she thinks it could help persuade religious Christians who don’t think of trying to make sure that everybody has the same chances to live up to his or her own potential as something that government should do.

But I actually listened to the video she put out on Mother’s Day, in which she used the line about “God-given potential.” Most of the video was about her own mother’s life, and was really poignant. Her mother was truly a pretty awesome person who had had a really sad childhood. Clinton didn’t detail it in the video, but the tone of her voice in referencing it was touching enough that I checked out her mother’s biography on Wikipedia.

But near the end of that otherwise un-phony, touching video, when Clinton used the line about “God-given potential,” the word “God-given” was emphasized in a way that sounded like she had recut the video to insert that word, at the suggestion of some political adviser. She didn’t say “God-given”; she said “GOD-GIVEN.”

I myself would love to hear her talk about Christian teachings about caring about others—but as Christian teachings that nonetheless aren’t the exclusive property of Christians, or of religious people.

My problem with Clinton is that she’s incessantly invoking her gender, her Christianity, her … hit-the-political-buttons, early and often.  I keep automatically comparing her in my mind to Warren, who never, ever highlights her gender and doesn’t incessantly (or ever) appear to base her support for, say, meaningfully increasing the minimum wage on the fact that about two-thirds of minimum-wage earners are women. And, yes, universal access to quality child-care, and reliable work schedules, and other tremendously important work issues that Clinton and Warren both discuss, would make a difference to far more women than men, but Warren recognizes that it is utterly unnecessary to point that out.

No one thinks of Warren as a woman politician; they think of her as a tremendously articulate politician who has deep policy knowledge about certain economic and financial issues, and who is leading a progressive political movement. So she’s the ultimate feminist politician. But neither does anyone think of Warren as a Christian, or non-Christian, or religious, or non-religious politician. Her statements are purely policy-related, and the fact that her policy positions fit nicely with certain Christian teachings is irrelevant. She doesn’t mention it, and she knows she doesn’t have to.

Last week, in a post of mine that I’d hoped would get some attention (it didn’t, best as I can tell), I discussed Martin O’Malley’s flag-pin-wearing.  And not in a favorable way.  I’m very, very, very tired of Democratic politicians’ craven playing on the Republican Party’s playing field by subtly acceding to their Democrats-aren’t-patriotic and Democrats aren’t-religious-enough characterizations.

Which is what they do when they adopt the Republican Party’s chosen symbols on such things. Wearing flag-lapel pins and inserting God-given here and there as obligatory are classic examples of it. This should stop.  It’s not, by any stretch, politically necessary.

It just should stop.

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What Martin O’Malley’s Flag Lapel Pin Says About Him. (And, no, it’s not that he’s really, really patriotic.)

Little John

April 28, 2015 4:53 pm

Yeah Bruce. Hillary is probably jumping out of her skin in joyous celebration.

Beverly Mann

April 28, 2015 11:33 pm

She should be, Little John. I’ve soured on O’Malley after reading a long article in the Washington Post a couple of days ago about his policing innovations–such as arresting teenagers for loitering and for trivial littering. What a great idea! I’m, suffice it to say, no Hillary Clinton fan, so me ditching my support for the only viable alternative to her is a good indicator, probably.

Exchange between reader Little John and me in the Comments thread to Bruce Webb’s April 27 post titled “Martin O’Malley was Mayor of Baltimore 1999-2007

Last month, in a post in which I called Hillary Clinton’s campaign-announcement video banal and incoherent, I mentioned a longstanding joke that my father and I had about a completely content-free television ad that Michael Dukakis ran late in the 1988 general election campaign.  Specifically, I wrote:

My late father (no less a politics junkie and frustrated liberal than is his daughter) and I had a longstanding joke dating back to the 1988 Michael Dukakis campaign.  The ad, a short one, 30 seconds, probably, shown late in the general-election campaign, began with the camera showing … something; I no longer recall what the video showed, but I think maybe it was just Dukakis speaking into the camera, and with Dukakis saying … something.  I don’t recall the specifics of what his first sentences were, other than that they were unspecific.  But the last three sentences were, if I remember right, “That’s not a Democratic concern.  That’s not a Republican concern.  That’s a father’s concern.”

Actually, I do remember, precisely, that final sentence, since it served as the punchline of our standing joke.  Which had to do with the fact that the ad gave no clue to what the “that” was.  The first time or two that you saw the ad, you thought you simply had missed what the “that” was.  But you had not missed what the “that” was.  Dukakis had missed including it.

I began to think about that ad again around the time last fall when most of the political reports about Clinton said she planned to run as a grandmother.  (“That’s a grandmother’s concern.”)

That campaign is infamous both for Dukakis’s campaign’s stunning ineptitude and George H.W. Bush’s hallmark soft-on-crime race-baiting and Democrats-are-unpatriotic themes.  The latter which reminds me, again, of my father, a good-humored, soft-spoken man who also was an Army combat veteran. And who watched in dismay as Bush methodically appropriated as Republican Party symbols the American flag and other superficial symbols of patriotism.  Watching the TV news with him one evening as Bush was shown once again standing on a stage next to his wife and the huge flag-scarf she wore as they both, right hands on their hearts, recited the Pledge of Allegiance*, my father said through gritted teeth that he hoped that the next time this country was at war the military assign only Republicans to combat zones, and that if the country ever reinstituted a draft, it exempt Democrats.

The male-politicians-must-wear flag-lapel-pins thing was born during that campaign, a brainchild of Lee Atwater, its purpose to demean Democratic politicians, and liberal Democrats, as un-American.  And its success is reflected on the suit jacket lapel of every Democratic politician who wears one. Including Martin O’Malley’s.

There is exactly one Democratic politician who wears one whom I exempt from my distain for the cravenness that wearing one of those things indicates, and it’s not Martin O’Malley.  It’s instead Barack Obama, because I happen to remember why and roughly when he began wearing one.  During his political career, up until either late in the 2008 campaign or shortly after the election (I can’t remember which), he made a point of rejecting the political fad, for the reasons that my father had expressed back in 1988.  But sometime late in the 2008 campaign, or shortly after the election, he was approached by an active Marine or a Marine veteran of the Iraq war (again, I can’t remember which), who handed him a flag lapel pin and asked that he wear it until all the troops were home from combat zones (in other words, until these wars, or America’s part in them, were over).  The Marine said he hoped the lapel pin would remind Obama every day of the Armed Forces members who are in combat zones.  Obama agreed to do that.

The problem, though, not with Obama’s acquiescence to that request but with the flag lapel pins themselves, is that as symbols they actually have no tie-in whatsoever with military service or any other actual act of patriotism. Anyone can wear a silly, cheap piece of jewelry.  Dick Cheney, who declined the invitation to serve in the military during the Vietnam War because, he said, there were other things he wanted to do, and who has worn a flag lapel pin for decades now, is no more a patriot than was my father, who wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing one.  And no more a patriot than was O’Malley’s father, a combat pilot during WWII and probably a lifelong Democrat, who also likely never wore a flag lapel pin.  Someone should ask O’Malley why the hell he began wearing one of those things—and why on earth he thinks that as he runs for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 he should wear one.

Those are two separate questions. The answer to the first is obvious: He thought it was obligatory in the ‘90s and G.W. Bush era for male politicians to wear one, even though—well, actually, precisely because—it’s subtly insulting to Democrats.  Presumably the answer to the second question is that he thinks it’s still obligatory for male politicians to wear one.

Which gets to what his decision to wear one while campaigning for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president says about him.  Which is that he thinks that, with a few exceptions here and there, it’s still, and forever will be, 1988.  It suggests in turn that he may well lack the mental agility to run successfully as a genuine progressive.  Maybe because he really is not one.  Or maybe because cravenness is intrinsic to his personality.  I don’t know enough about him to know which shoe fits, or whether either does.

My comment to Little John in that comments exchange I quoted at the opening of this post notwithstanding, I haven’t actually decided which of the two to support.  I actually care even more about issues concerning and related to the judicial system, criminal and civil, state and federal—police conduct; prosecutor conduct; criminal laws (including sentencing); outrageous traffic fines and court fees; the near-total nullification of the Constitution’s habeas corpus protection in state-court prosecutions; myriad other aspects of criminal and civil court proceedings; institutionalized brutality in American prisons; access to civil court; court-fabricated jurisdictional, quasi-jurisdictional, and other procedural and legal-immunity doctrines; the effective abolishment of the American Rule regarding payment of opposing counsel’s fees in civil lawsuits; and such—than I do about the more direct economic-policy issues.

Which is saying a lot, considering my strong feelings about direct economic-policy issues.

What will determine my candidate preference—and I’m sure, that of many, many other progressives—is the extent to which the respective candidate understands, I mean really understands, that this is a new political era.  And the degree to which the candidate is capable of using, and willing to use, specifics to refute Republican clichés. O’Malley seems more adept at the latter, at least partly because he is so much more spontaneous—far less packaged and scripted.  But he wears a flag lapel pin and he continues to sing the praises of his mayoral arrest-teens-for-littering-or-loitering policies.

So, yes, right now I’m leaning toward Clinton.  She may be craven, but at least she doesn’t wrap herself in a tin flag.

*Mitt Romney, who like Cheney found exemptions from the draft during the Vietnam War, liked to stand, hand on heart, and recite the Pledge during his 2012 general-election campaign appearances. Maybe O’Malley’s trying for all those votes the tactic got for Romney. 


Post edited slightly and typo-corrected. 5/15 at 9:31 p.m.

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Martin O’Malley was Mayor of Baltimore 1999-2007

Then Governor of Maryland from 2007-2015,i.e. less than 90 days ago.

Until a week ago most politically connected Americans knew Maryland as being a deep-blue State and Martin O’Malley as the only Progressive Democrat alternative to Hillary Clinton (Bernie S not being a Democrat, at least not yet). At what point, if ever does what seems to be some long-standing disfunctions in Baltimore policing begin to reflect back on O’Malley?

Baltimore is a literally Hot Topic tonight in a way that it wasn’t before. Does Martin need to fear the coals? Open Political Thread.

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Why Marco Rubio Reminds Me of Sarah Palin*

*This is a slightly edited version of a post I posted here yesterday afternoon and have removed.  There’s also an addendum about an op-ed piece by Martin O’Malley in today’s Washington Post.


Okay, so all you politics obsessives probably heard about a comment Martin O’Malley made to NPR’s Morning Edition host Steve Innskeep during an interview earlier this week, in response to a question about Marco Rubio’s claims about “active government.” Here’s the exchange:

Inskeep: “[Rubio] argues that an active government actually keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous. And if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system. Is there some truth to that? You were a big city mayor; you know how government works.”

O’Malley: “No, I don’t think there’s any truth to that.  It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”

Well, at least we know that O’Malley knows how to get news media attention, so big points for that.  And we also know that he’s ready, willing and able to respond appropriately and effectively to the incessant, generic big-gummint-is-the-problem trance-inducing mantra.  Even bigger points for that.

But while Innskeep wasn’t actually quoting Rubio and was instead paraphrasing, the exchange highlighted a notable, but not widely noticed, hallmark of Rubio as politician: He routinely says things that are incoherent or that are flatly false as a matter of underlying fact.

Such as that Iran, a Shiite society, and ISIS, a Sunni terrorist group, are in cahoots and Obama doesn’t want to stop Iran from developing a nuclear military capability because Obama doesn’t really want ISIS defeated.  (Something like that; I can’t remember the specifics from earlier this year, but that was the gist of it.)

And such as his federal-budget proposal that will cut, but (unlike the other presidential-nomination contestants’ proposals) won’t completely gut, programs that assist low-income families and individuals; that will significantly increase defense spending; that will eliminate the estate tax; that will lower capital gains and corporate taxes; that will impose no new or higher tax rates at all; and that will balance the budget in 10 years.  (President Houdini!)

And such as that an active government keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous. And if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system.

Yep.  It’s the EPA, the SEC, and the National Labor Relations Act that are keeping all those minimum-wage workers and their families from moving up the socioeconomic ladder!  Rubio, a son of blue-collar employees, succeeded despite having been forced by the federal government to go to public rather than private universities and to pay his tuition using the student loans he applied for at gunpoint. So it can be done, even in the face of active government.  It’s just much harder.  And more dangerous.

One thing I remember fondly about the nervous reactions of some conservative pundits during the fall 2008 campaign season when it became clear that Sarah Palin was not a wise choice as McCain’s running mate was a comment by a dismayed Peggy Noonan, a longtime Republican pundit who was George H.W. Bush’s chief speechwriter.  Noonan wrote about Palin (I believe these were her exact words): “She just … says things.”  (Ellipses Noonan’s.)

Rubio, too, just … says things.  He sort of … babbles.  He seems to have no filter—for coherence, for accuracy, for plausibility—through which he passes his thoughts before expressing them.

Yup.  Be sure to click that “for coherence” link.  The auto-industry bailout kept those auto-industry workers and their families from advancing because they couldn’t hire lawyers to help them navigate their continued employment in their auto-industry jobs.  Got it.

When I read about O’Malley’s response to Innskeep a couple days ago, and therefore also read Innskeep’s question to O’Malley, I wondered whatspecifically (assuming that Innskeep’s paraphrase or summary of Rubio’s statements were accurate reflections of those statements), Rubio was referring to.  What in heaven’s name is he talking about?  What federal statutes and regulations are keeping people who can’t afford fancy lawyers—or any lawyer at all—frozen at their economic status because they can’t maneuver through federal government regulations?

Well, I now have my answer, albeit not from Rubio.  By chance, I happened upon a three-day-old commentary this morning in the Los Angeles by winger columnist Jonah Goldberg, written in reaction to O’Malley’s comments to Innskeep, in which Goldberg purports to speak for Rubio. The column is titled “Martin O’Malley’s modern-day know-nothingness,” and its first several paragraphs recite the history of President Millard Fillmore’s party, the Know-Nothings.”  (Goldberg doesn’t mention Fillmore, but I happen to know that his party was the Know-Nothing Party.)  He throws in some stuff about the history of the original federal minimum-wage law, which he thinks kept people frozen at their economic status because they couldn’t afford lawyers to help them navigate the intricacies of that statute.  (Something like that.)

But then he gets down to brass tacks.  The tacks being that O’Malley is too ignorant to know that some professional and trade licensure education requirements unjustly and unjustifiably  keep lower-income people from entering those professions and trades and that even the application forms are obnoxiously long, complex and burdensome.  And that O’Malley is blind to the fact that small banks, which are the traditional lenders to small local businesses, are disappearing en masse, and that this is because of … huge Dodd-Frank compliance costs.

Well, at least the second of the two—the banking one—involves federal laws.  Of course, the real reason that small banks no longer are competitive with, say, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo is the deregulation of the finance industry, mainly the repeal in the 1990s of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 that prohibited commercial, federally insured banks from engaging in investment banking and other securities trading—including in derivatives.  Goldberg and Rubio may not have noticed, but the en masse demise of so much of the community banking industry began back then and continued as a result of the financial collapse of 2008-10.*  Y’know, the financial collapse precipitated by financial-industry deregulation and, regarding derivatives, no-regulation.  The financial collapse that caused the economy and, consequently, many, many, many small businesses to collapse.

Yeah, that one.  Some people who lost their jobs and therefore no longer could pay their nonsubprime mortgages (including to community banks), and many small-business owners whose businesses failed because of the crash of the economy no longer could repay their business loans. To community banks.

As for the first of Goldberg’s two big-gummint complaints—that some professional and trade licensure education requirements unjustly and unjustifiably  keep lower-income people from entering those professions and trades and that even the application forms are obnoxiously long, complex and burdensome—he’s spot-on that it’s an outrage.  He just needs to explain why, since these are state and local licensure requirements and applications, and are unrelated in any respect to federal regulation—and Rubio’s running for president, not state or local office—he thinks it’s O’Malley rather than, say, he who is a Know-Nothing.  Here’s betting that O’Malley, unlike Goldberg, does know that professional and trade licensure education requirements and applications are determined and administered not by the federal government but by state and local ones.

And here’s also betting that O’Malley knows that since the very purpose of these inappropriate bars to jump over and hoops to jump through is to keep competition in these professions to a minimum.  And that he knows that the obvious agitators for these mandated regulatory hoops are the beneficiaries of minimal competition—i.e., those already in these professions or trades or in ones that compete with the unduly restricted ones—and that Democratic officeholders are no more likely that Republican ones to push for these laws and regulations.  He  might have suggested to Goldberg that, before Goldberg demonstrated his ignorance, he check out who’s giving campaign contributions to whom.

But it’s Rubio, not Goldberg, who’s running for president.  So the next time that Rubio argues that an active government actually keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous–and if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system—he’s asked for, say, specifics.  As in: What in heaven’s name is he talking about? Maybe he’ll just refer the questioner to Sarah Palin for details. Or to Mitt Romney.


NOTE: O’Malley has a terrific op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post about the student-loan issue, in which he discusses the broader effects of the current situation on the economy and on American society and advocates for the solutions that Elizabeth Warren has been proposing. He also details his own actions as Maryland government regarding that state’s public university and community college costs.

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Why are so many Dem-leaning pundits so profoundly clueless? [Updated.]

Today, Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who has been talking about challenging Clinton from the left, was repeatedly asked by reporters to comment on Clinton’s emails, and he repeatedly refused. Not because he doesn’t think there are legitimate questions here, but because his advisers say raising them might reflect badly on him:

“His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clindeiton’s Republican critics.”

Well, I hope that isn’t the real rationale. I suspect most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails; in fact, such a debate among Democrats could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of her over it, which is likely to be polluted by overreach.

Maybe it’s time for a real Democratic presidential primary, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Of course!  I’ve been dying to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails! Because there’s obviously a lot of room for disagreement on whether or not it was a good idea for Clinton to set up a separate, private email server and commingle all her personal emails about her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral with her State Department-related emails.  And because this is, unquestionably, the issue I care most about.

So please, Mr. O’Malley, keep me and all of us Dems in suspense no longer: Would you, as president, require your Secretary of State to use the State Department email system for State Department-related emails?  And if not, would you require that your Secretary of State comply with the Federal Records Act and related laws?

Such a debate among Democrats absolutely could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of Clinton over it.  Which obviously is saying quite a lot.


Last weekend, O’Malley appeared at some Dem functions in New Hampshire and discussed the types of issues that Elizabeth Warren talks about, and even the types of issues that Paul Krugman talks about—and deigned to allude to the latest actions by Scott Walker and economic-policy statements from Jeb Bush.  Reading some of the specifics of his comments, I was delighted.  And I assumed that most Dems would be, too.  Maybe we’ll start gaining some traction on these things, instead of constantly having to settle for more Clinton silliness and more Clinton banalities, clichés and hints about the approximate month of her formal announcement, I thought.  Hurray! Hurray!

Then I read that some New Hampshire state senator and a few other attendees at one or another of the functions was disappointed that O’Malley effectively demurred when asked to comment on the Clinton email mess.  If he’s going to run, he has to comment on what the big issue of the moment is, the state senator said.

Which sure seems right if the big issue of the moment is, say, a substantivepolicy issue.  But best as I can tell, email policy for federal officials isn’t, really.

Then there was Dana Milbank’s comment a few days ago comparing O’Malley with the tooth fairy.  Or, more precisely, comparing people who think O’Malley could beat Clinton for the nomination with people who believe in the tooth fairy.  And this evening he has a more detailed follow-up, the thrust of which is that O’Malley was just a governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore.  As opposed to, say, Scott Walker, who is a governor and was, before that, a County Executive.  And as opposed to, say, Jeb Bush, who was a governor and, before that, a president’s son.

I certainly get that only the Republican Party is entitled to nominate such folks for president. Which, of course, they did, in 2012.  Minus the big-city-mayor/big-county-executive part.  I’m not sure what percentage of the public outside of Wisconsin knew anything about Walker until two months ago, but many more people sure do now. For better or for worse, but that’s beside the point.  Walker didn’t have to compete for the media’s notice with someone whom the press has been obsessed with for a quarter-century—the members of the press, that is, who were covering politics in the ‘90s.  Or who followed stuff like that when they were in elementary school.

But O’Malley does have to compete for the media’s attention with Hillary Clinton.  A political media, that is, whose members apparently almost universally believe that the minimum voting age is 42.  And so competing, it appears, is impossible.

I keep reading political commentary that “we” all have already made up our minds about Hillary Clinton. Each of us either loves her or hates her, having decided which one all the way back in the ‘90s.  When some of “us” were in the primary grades in school and others of “us” were adolescents or teenagers. And when a small percentage of “us” were still in diapers.

But some of us do remember the ‘90s, if not all the specifics.  I speak as someone who does remember ‘90s politics, but who had forgotten such specifics as that Clinton said during her “pink sweater” press conference in 1994 that she had thought that her husband’s and her own unusual financial pursuits that depended upon friendships and connections during her husband’s terms as governor should have been viewed as within a privacy zone.  She couldn’t distinguish then between land development deals and cattle-futures trading, on the one hand, and buying, say, Vanguard Index Fund shares, on the other.  And so her law firm’s billing records for the Whitewater land deal (or whatever) remained hidden for two years in a White House closet until things got wackily out-of-hand, politically.

What I, unlike Sargent, suspect is that most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about the subjects that we actually care about. Including a spirited response to Scott Walker’s and Jeb Bush’s economic’fiscal/regulatory policy positions and their counterfactual justifications for them, and Paul Ryan’s ahistorical claims about supply side economics, financial industry regulations, and federal budget deficits in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Some discussion of what’s happening with, say, Kansas’s budget and economic growth, and maybe even Wisconsin’s, and Europe’s—and why—would be very, very welcome.

There are only two reasons why most of us want a meaningful primary debate, forced by a meaningful candidacy—and neither of those reasons is to make Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate.  One reason is to have the option to vote for a genuine economic-policy progressive.  The other is to enable our party to actually put forward the arguments for progressive economic policy, and that means ending the constant focus on this silly woman, her huge “circle,” her incessant calculations and decisions-by-committee about absolutely everything, and waiting for the next shoe (and the next, and the next) to drop.

The very, very, very, very last thing most Democrats want is a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails.  We don’t want to debate Clinton’s emails.  We want to debate actual substantive-policy issues, especially but not solely economic/fiscal/regulatory policy issues.  Government email policy isn’t on our list.  If Warren were planning to run, would anyone claim that she needed to take a break from those economic-policy/bank-deregulation/policy-of-by-and-for-the-mega-campaign-donors things and talk about the more important issue of government officials’ email-procedure?  Really?

Look. Hillary Clinton should not run for president.  Her life, her husband’s life, her family’s foundation’s life, all are too complicated for her to be able even to concentrate on serious, specific policy issues other than the women’s-movement issues whose clichés she cites, mantra-like, and has for the past 40-plus years.  These are by no means trivial issues.  They are, though, by no means what most people think should be the end-all-and-be-all of the Democratic nominee’s concerns.

I myself agree with Bill Clinton’s comments a few days ago that, on balance, their family’s foundation has done more good than harm—thanks in large part to Chelsea Clinton’s efforts to make the foundation into what it should be: something far more important than just a Bill and Hillary Clinton ad and a well-paying landing place for their many hangers-on.  Hillary Clinton should put her time and effort into furthering the meaningful goals of that organization, and wind up her career with something truly special. She should not impose so upon those who need to have this election be about what it should be about. Which is to say, about things more important than her.

I can assure Dana Milbank, and Martin O’Malley, that I don’t believe in the tooth fairy.  Even though Clinton will of course run.



Probing, persistent questions like these from the political press corps at Tuesday’s news conference are the sort that rival candidates would be expected to ask on the campaign trail or in televised debates, as Barack Obama did against Mrs. Clinton in 2007 and 2008 over the Iraq war and other issues.

Unlike then, however, Mrs. Clinton is not expected to face comparably aggressive opponents for her party’s nomination. Among the possible Democratic field, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland has shown little taste for cutthroat tactics.

Early in 2016 Race, Clinton’s Toughest Foe Appears to be the News Media, Patrick Healy, New York Times, today

Uh-huh.  Can’t beat Clinton unless you use cutthroat tactics.  Talking just about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy issues hasn’t worked well at all for Elizabeth Warren.  Which is why, much as a huge swath of Democrats cares deeply about those issues, there’s no movement to draft Warren to run for the nomination, and why no one pays attention when she speaks, right? She doesn’t use cutthroat tactics against Clinton, instead using cutthroat tactics only against the Republicans.

Mr. Healy, talking about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy is a cutthroat tactic. It’s just that the political-news media hasn’t noticed.

Updated 3/12 at 12:12 p.m.

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