Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Clinton really, really needs to kill her incoherent “When women are [fill in the blank], families are [same word; slightly different meaning] slogan. Really.

When women are strong, families are strong.

Hillary Clinton, repeatedly

When women are healthy, families are healthy.

Hillary Clinton, a few days ago

Good news.  According to National Journal journalist Molly Mirhashem and h/t’d by Anna North of the New York Times, the Clinton campaign is no longer taking women’s support as a given.  So Clinton’s been demonstrating her commitment to racial and economic equality.  By mentioning that the gender wage gap is wider is wider for women of color (presumably meaning black and Hispanic women, not Asian or Middle Eastern women) than it is for white women.

In other words, the news is not all that good, after all.  It’s just okay.  Progress, but not much.

Mirhashem’s article is titled “What young feminists think of Hillary Clinton” and subtitled “It’s not quite what you’d expect.”  That, though, depends on who the “you” is, since it’s exactly what I expected.

The above-quoted sing-song slogans marry two of Clinton’s hallmarks: First, her belief that simply using the word “women” constantly is her ticket to victory—after all, isn’t that what matters to baby boomer feminists?  Well, that, and the fact of her gender itself?  Second, her preference for incoherent slogans intended just to indicate generic policy positions.  Shorthand.  Because, well, this is after all, the age of Twitter.  And all that matters is that Clinton lets us know, generically, which side of a policy issue she’s on.  The ones she wants us to know, anyway.

My reaction to her slogan, “When women are strong, families are strong,” each time I’ve heard or read it, is to think of the millions of women who hold down two low-paying jobs, some of them traveling to and from the jobs using uncomfortable and sporadic public transportation.  By definition, at least by the usual definition, of the word, these women are strong.  But some of them have families that are not strong.

And women who are seriously ill, say with cancer, may have strong families.

Taken at face value, the two slogans are incoherent.  They’re non sequiturs.  You get the general idea of what she means, but why doesn’t she just say what she means?  Sound-bite slogans are useful when they’re coherent and state something specific.  Clinton has borrowed Elizabeth Warren’s very effective slogan that the game is rigged, changing it to “The deck is stacked,” which means the same thing of course.  Both phrasings are effective because they say something clear and pointed; they don’t need to be translated into a coherent statement.  They’re not sing-song-y, they don’t use a play on a word, and they don’t mention gender or any such trigger. They tie together two things into cause-and-effect: The tiny handful of people who pay for political campaigns are the ones who write public policy; their politician benefactors are just their proxies, their puppets.

I’m no longer as hostile as I was to Clinton and her commandeering of the nomination process; the Democratic Party and the potentially strong but demurring progressive candidates such as Sherrod Brown have acceded to it.  And she’s clearly decided to become the non-Hillary-Clinton candidate that we progressives have wanted to see enter the race.

But she and her political and policy advisers and spokespeople need to stop condescending to progressives and to the public in general.  I don’t understand how a candidate who has so very many highly paid message strategists believes that nonsensical and pandering slogans and statements is the way to victory in the general election.  She really, really doesn’t have to preface the word “potential”—as in, having the chance to live up to his or her potential—with the word “God-given.”  She can just say that she and her husband are “going to fight to make sure that everybody has the same chances to live up to his or her own potential.”  She may think it’s politically necessary for her to insert “God-given” before “potential”.  But it just sounds like what it is: gratuitous and patronizing.*

Someone who isn’t paid vast sums to advise her should tell her that.  Because none of the folks who are paid vast sums to advise her will tell her that.  But she, of all candidates, should studiously avoid pandering. At least that sort of pandering.

In truth, the way to victory for her in the general election is to run against a Republican.  And since that’s what she will be doing, she should start, now, being a candidate who appears to have the moral strength to walk away from the 1980s and ‘90s political obsessions.  We Democrats are entitled to a standard bearer who has that.  We are.  Really.

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*The full quote is:

Bill and I have been blessed, and we’re very grateful for the opportunities we had.  But we’ve never forgotten where we came from, and we’ve never forgotten the kind of country we want to see for our granddaughter, and that means that we’re going to fight to make sure that everybody has the same chances to live up to his or her own God-given potential.

Added 5/20 at 10:41 p.m.

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Why, Yes! Of Course! The Voters Will Vote to End Social Security, Medicare, Dodd-Frank and the EPA Because the IRS Improperly Hassled Political “Social Welfare” Organizations and the DOJ Issued Sweeping Subpoenas of AP Phone Lines!

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

It began yesterday morning, with a Politico article by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, and an accompanying video by Allen, suggesting improper actions of the IRS resulting from its inability to adequately handle the tsunami of exempt-organizations applications, coupled with the DOJ’s overly aggressive use of its subpoena powers in trying to ferret out the source of a national-security leak to an AP reporter, might cause voters to conclude that what is needed is more Republicans in high office.

Apparently that would be because voters can’t distinguish between economic libertarianism and civil rights libertarianism of the First Amendment and Due Process variety.  And this must be so, because within just 24 hours after the Politico folks asserted it, there’s been another tsunami, this one in the form of a slew of mainstream pundits repeating the claim.  John Dickerson of Slate.  Reid Wilson of the National Journal.  To name two.*

Dickerson argues that the Obama administration “is doing a far better job making the case for conservatism than Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner ever did.” He says this is because “[s]howing is always better than telling, and when the government overreaches in so many ways it gives support to the conservative argument about the inherently rapacious nature of government.”

Yup.  I don’t know about you all, but the fact that the IRS mishandled some exempt-organizations applications in the wake of Citizens United, and that the Justice Department has been crazily overzealous in its handling of national security leakers, partly in order to hush the criticism from, um, conservatives that there has been insufficient investigation into the leaks, sure as heck makes me think Paul Krugman is spouting dangerous nonsense by arguing so forcefully for more fiscal stimulus, as opposed to ever more fiscal austerity. It’s not surprising that Boston Federal Reserve chief executive Eric Rosengren is pleading for a turn away from further budget cuts; he does, after all, work for the federal government in an unelected position, and so of course he wants the federal government to be ever more inherently rapacious.

No matter that the most inherently rapacious unelected federal officials sit on the federal bench, and in the name of conservatism pathologically gut Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  And I won’t even mention the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 9, Clause 2.  “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Or unless when the conservative Supreme Court majority privileges state courts’ rights over the Supremacy clause.  As it does regularly.

What we need to secure our individual civil rights is more Samuel Alitos and Antonin Scalias on the Supreme court and on the lower federal courts, in order to ensure the continuation and expansion of the inherently rapacious federal and state criminal and civil justice system against non-corporate persons. The voters surely will look at the dual scandals of this week and draw that conclusion. In addition to the obvious conclusion that financial-services regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other Dodd-Frank provisions should be gutted along with the social safety net, taxes should be lowered for the likes of the Romneys, and that we need to kill the EPA.

To hell with climate change!  Pun intended.  And let hungry children and seniors eat cake and pay for their own healthcare!  After all, the IRS mishandled the post-Citizens United influx of exempt-organizations applications. So what we need is more Citizens United.  The court opinion; not actual citizens united.

Greg Sargent says of Wilson’s article in the National Journal that he “makes the case that 2014 will look more like 2006” than 1998, when the public was so disgusted with Republican scandal-mongering and the Clinton impeachment thing that Democrats routed Republicans in that year’s midterm election even though it was the sixth year of the Clinton presidency, thus countering historical trends.  Wilson argues the case, but unsuccessfully.  “The beginning of Bush’s second term bears the most resemblance to the current predicament in which Obama finds himself,” Wilson says.  “ The war in Iraq had grown unpopular during 2005, and the government’s bungling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina gave voters the sense that Washington was inept.”

Yes, it gave voters the sense that the Bush administration was inept.  The concern was that FEMA did not do enough for Katrina victims, precisely because conservatism is against having the government provide assistance to people in need.  The Bush administration got us into a war in Iraq under false pretenses, precisely because that was what conservatives wanted, and then bungled the war itself.

And curiously absent from Wilson’s analysis is that Bush spent the first year of his second term campaigning to privatize Social Security.  Does Wilson think that the public changed its mind about the wisdom of privatizing Social Security, or, for that matter, privatizing or ending the social safety net–or FEMA!–by November 2006?   Does Dickerson?  Really?  What about Allen?  (Okay, maybe Allen does.)

A surprisingly common characteristic of current political punditry is the presumption that what matters to voters is policy semantics rather than actual policy.  And the more generic, sweeping, and ill-defined, the better.  Actual policy and specifics of ideology don’t matter.  What matters is such generic phrases as “big government,” “small government,” and “conservative,” however unrelated to one big/small-government issue another big/small-government issue is.

Another problem with mainstream pundits is their mindless custom of incessant analogy based upon some tenuous or tangential common fact between the earlier and the current or future situation.  I realize that it is their job to say something about big political stories, and that, at least for most of them, they don’t have the option of adhering to the wise adage of not saying anything at all if you don’t have anything worth saying.  But this nonsense becomes viral.  Really quickly.  As though it’s actual wisdom rather than the simplistic, formulaic vapidity that it is.

The danger right now is that Democratic politicians will cower in the face of it.  Politically sensitive IRS error and DOJ subpoena overreach = we should lower taxes on the wealthy and gut the social safety net and environmental and financial regulatory authority; that’s an odd mathematical equation.  Except maybe in Washington, a town not known for Einstein protégés.

Wilson, in his National Journal article, acknowledges that “[t]he mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the various troubles Obama is answering for now are completely different types of scandals.”  He just doesn’t think the voting public will recognize the difference.  He thinks that the “message” the IRS and DOJ matters “send to voters about the aptitude of governing is remarkably similar” to the Bush administration’s mishandling of Katrina and Iraq.  “Once voters lost confidence in Bush’s ability to manage government, the Republican brand began to suffer…If voters begin to believe that Obama is similarly ill-equipped to govern, it will be the Democrats in Congress who bear the brunt of the political punishment.”

Unless, of course, the voters conclude that what happened to those applicant nonprofit organizations in the hands of the IRS–that they were temporarily denied tax-exempt status and asked to identify their donors, and that the DOJ issued sweeping subpoenas for the AP’s phone records in a national-security-leak investigation–really does not actually mean that we should privatize Social Security and Medicare. That is, that they conclude that those former things don’t just naturally lead to the latter ones, even though these political analysts think they do.  That they conclude that linking the two is bizarre and outright crazy.  Which is a real possibility, since it is.

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*CORRECTION: This post initially and incorrectly included Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post among the political analysts who are making this argument.  Actually, Tumulty’s piece says that others–specifically, Republicans–are pushing this claim.  Also, this post has been edited slightly for clarity after its initial posting. 5/16 at 9:20 p.m.

 

 

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Ron Fournier Says Abraham Lincoln Wasn’t a Great President

Great presidents rise above circumstance. Not Obama, at least not yet. At a news conference Tuesday marking the 100th day of his second and final term, the president seemed unwilling or unable to overcome stubborn GOP opposition.

— Ron Fournier, National Journal, yesterday (h/t Jonathan Chait, New York magazine, today)

Fournier’s right, of course. About Abraham Lincoln, that is.  Lincoln was unwilling or unable to overcome stubborn Southern opposition to his agenda of ending slavery and keeping the Union whole.

Personally, I think it was the former.  Unless you count that declaration-of-war thing.  Although if you do, then you also have to count that victory at Appomattox.  Which would mean Lincoln was able to overcome stubborn Southern opposition to his agenda of ending slavery and keeping the Union whole, after all.  And that would mean that he must have been willing to do so, unless that victory was an accident.

Although, under the new definition of the word leadership, that kind of thing doesn’t count, because persuasion just didn’t work in that case.

Take me to your leader, Mr. Fournier.  Once you find one who isn’t a hypnotist or the head of a parliamentarian government. Unless, of course, by rising above circumstance, you mean military coup de tat.

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Oh, Dear. The David Brooksification of the Washington Post Editorial Board. And Brooks Doesn’t Even Write For The Washington Post. (But he does still write for the New York Times.) – UPDATED

As Greg Sargent pointed out this morning, the new “it” gimmick of the pox-on-both-houses punditry is to borrow National Journal editorial something-or-other Ron Fournier’s tac of pretending that Obama can order the military to invade the House of Representatives and hold its members at assault-weapon-point until they agree to a grand bargain.  Or at least to a less-grand one that includes additional tax revenue mainly through the closing of loopholes for the wealthy.  

Sargent doesn’t give credit where it’s due, though; he fails to identify Fournier as the etymoligcal source for this.  But, best as I can tell, he is; he just forgot to copyright it.

The key to this particular gimmick is a slight variation on the Orwellian redefinition of the word “lead” offered, repeatedly now, by John Boehner. In that original form, lead actually means follow.  Or, capitulate.  As in: The president needs to show leadership by delegating policymaking to the Republicans.  But in the slightly morphed from being employed by the punditry, it means–seriously–using actual force to compel the House to agree to a compromise that includes raising more tax revenue from the wealthy.

And surely this will resonate with the public.  After all, doesn’t everyone want a president who leads?  And isn’t all that matters simply the use of the word lead–regardless of how closely that use corresponds to the actual common English-language meaning of the word?

Well, obviously, the answer to that question is yes, because today the Washington Post features an editorial called “Sequester offers President Obama a time to lead,” which suggests that Obama offer a grand bargain that includes … additional tax revenues from the wealthy.

Call up the Army, Mr. President. And a Marine unit or two.  

Actually, apparently the purpose of the editorial–its purported purpose, anyway–is to try to goad Obama into proposing a grand bargain that would cut Social Security and Medicare benefit and that would include additional tax revenue.  So editorial writer casually segues from “leader” as someone who forces an actual agreement to “leader” who proposes a bold, sweeping, grand solution that the other side will reject out-of-hand and that therefore doesn’t resolve the sequester issue that the writer insists Obama is obligated to force a resolution of.  

But the actual purpose of the editorial–at least one actual purpose–is to support and subtly reiterate Bob Woodward’s false and baldly silly claim in that paper last weekend that in Aug. 2011 Obama agreed to a deal that forbade him and the Senate Democrats from bargaining to replace the sequester with any agreement except one that was even more abhorrent to the Dems’ position than the sequester.  According to Woodward, Obama agreed as part of the sequester itself that the Repubs were free to try to replace the sequester with a deal that removed Defense Department cuts and replaced those cuts with draconian cuts to social safety net programs and to other agencies and programs that the Dems support.  (The EPA!  The SEC! The Consumer Product Safety Commission!)  But, Obama agreed, the Dems would not be entitled to try to replace some of the cuts with additional tax revenue. 

Uh-uh.  No, sir.  This train runs in only one direction: Republican.

Sounds to me like a deal that Obama could have just cut to the chase and taken right then and there, in Aug. 2011 rather than waiting 18 months.  But it doesn’t sound that way to Woodward. Or to the editorial’s author, who writes:

The Republicans are right when they say that the sequester was Mr. Obama’s idea, in the summer of 2011, and that he agreed to a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax hikes.

Yup. I guess that if you’re a Washington Post editorial writer, you can try to get away with saying that Obama “agreed to a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax hikes,” and not identify which deal you’re talking about–the sequester deal, which indeed was all spending cuts, or instead a deal to replace the sequester, which has yet to be made and therefore includes no deal that is all spending cuts.  At least if you don’t give a damn about your paper’s credibility.  

And if you don’t care that you’re playing with fire.  Words have actual meanings, and these semantics sleights of hand are matches.

But the editorial is dangerous in a substantive, rather than only a semantics, respect as well, because it bases its grand-bargain argument upon a claim that we must agree now to cut Social Security and Medicare in the future in order to pay for things like increases in education funding and guaranteed quality preschool now.  At least I think that’s what it’s saying.  

Ben Bernake, by the way, made clear today under questioning before the Senate Banking Committee, that he begs to differ with the assessment that this is a grand idea. The Washington Post’s economics and finance reporter who covered the hearing will report accurately on what transpired. The Washington Post’s editorial board won’t even understand it. Or won’t admit that they do.

Meanwhile, never to be outdone in recommending policies to Obama so that Obama can lead, without offering an iota of explanation or support for them, David Brooks weighed in this morning with another leadership-as-a-double-entendre column.  This time, fresh from his mea culpa about his last column, and in fact reiterating the walk-back, Brooks acknowledges that inequality has spiraled out of control since the Clinton era, and agrees that Obama should propose policies to address this.  Like a consumption tax to offset an elimination of income taxes on incomes up to $100,000 and a reduction of corporate tax rates to 15%.  

Brooks doesn’t explain the policy reasons for the two offsets he suggests.  But he doesn’t have to.  Everyone knows that the less progressive the tax code, the less inequality in wealth we will have, and that record corporate profits and record corporate hoarding of those profits leads to more equality of income.  After all, they’ve read past Brooks columns.

As for the Washington Post editorial board, when they consider important people who should lead, but aren’t, they might want to look in the mirror.  They emphasize that the Republicans are right that the sequester was Mr. Obama’s idea, in the summer of 2011.  But they don’t mention that the alternative was the default by the United States on all of its already-incurred financial obligations, including its Treasury bonds. Nor that that, by absolutely all accounts, would have destabilized the entire world economy.

This is important stuff. And as the editorial board of one this country’s emanant general-news publications, they’re important people. They should take that responsibility seriously. They should lead.


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UPDATE:  Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes, in a column posted this afternoon:

Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore; it’s an addiction.

Excuse me, Mr. Ignatius, but given that you acknowledge that the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling, isn’t it a bit–oh, I don’t know–odd for you to imply that that was unconnected to, y’know, Obama’s sequester? Since, without* Obama’s sequester, the government would in fact have shut down, and the damage the national credit rating would have been, um, significant–so, this is what Obama’s sequester avoided?

Or was Obama’s sequest really just proposed in a vacuum, as you suggest? I forget. Or you do.

Or maybe you just pretend to.

*Typo-corrected. Originally, it said “with” rather than “without.” Oops.

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Why You Don’t Want Ron Fournier to Be a Journalist – (Mainstream-journalism gimmickry) [Post republished after editing]

I was wrong.  It turns out that National Journal editorial director Ron Fournier wasn’t out sick the day his eighth-grade civics class learned about the separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, after all.  He was present and learned about it.  But he missed a class a few weeks later explaining that the president lacks the authority to order a military invasion of the House of Representatives and sequestration–the literal kind, not the budgetary kind.  

I know, I know; the president is the commander in chief. But it’s Congress that must formally declare war, and Congress probably wouldn’t declare war on itself. One house might declare war on the other, but that wouldn’t meet the Constitution’s requirement that both houses vote to declare war on the same target.

There is, of course, the option of CIA renditions.  Which, after reading Fournier’s new blog post [h/t Greg Sargent] responding to the critics of a blog post in which he blamed Obama for the sequester because in “any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure”–any enterprise, even one in which the chief executive isn’t actually the chief executive, but instead is the chief of the executive branch–I’m presuming is what Fournier has in mind.

Originally, I’d thought he meant that he wanted Obama to simply capitulate to the House Republicans and let them gut discretionary spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  In other words, delegate federal fiscal policy to the Tea Party.  Others thought that, too, among them an unidentified senior White House official, who wrote to Fournier to complain.  But Fournier says he doesn’t understand what he calls this defensive reaction.*  He quotes part of the defensive reaction:

“Your point … in this piece and in a bunch of others in between seems to be that, because he’s president, Obama is obligated to do all the compromising himself,” wrote a senior White House official, whom I agreed not to identify. “Essentially what you’re saying is that he should respond to the GOP’s absolute refusal to compromise by giving in to them entirely.”

But Fournier says the White House official misunderstood him.  Fournier explains:

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying. Ignore the straw man. My point is this: Unlike presidential aides and liberal allies, I don’t think the president is politically impotent. I think he has the personal skills and power to lead, to fix this crazy mess.

It would require compromise, something the president has expressed a willingness to do. True problem-solving leadership also would require making tough choices that would anger his liberal base far more than the president is doing now; imposing sacrifice on all voters, including the middle class; and risking his high approval ratings. And, yes, he can’t do it without Republicans.

Actually, though, the White House official’s description was exactly what Fournier was saying,  Because although Fournier wants the president to act like a CEO, he knows that in this particular enterprise there is no CEO, and one branch of the enterprise is controlled by the Tea Party.

Fournier titles his new post, “Why You Don’t Want Me to Be President.”  The answer to that question is that he has no idea how the president could get the House to compromise.  But Fournier reminds that, unlike Obama, he didn’t run for president in 2008 promising to lead.  And Fournier says he wants the president to lead.  

Except that actually he makes clear that what he wants the president to do is follow.  

The subtitle of his post is “The White House is waving the white flag on working with a hardheaded GOP.”  It should read “The White House should wave the white flag on working with a hardheaded GOP.”  That would be an accurate description of the contents of the post.  

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*This post is an edited version of one I posted at about 6 p.m. on Friday.  The asterisked sentence is one of three that I edited.  I’ve also added the final two sentences.  The post is a followup to a post from earlier Friday. I’ve also created an additional label: mainstream-journalism gimmickry. I’ve left the original rather than delete it, because of the comments posted to that post.

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Why You Don’t Want Ron Fournier to Be a Journalist

I was wrong.  It turns out that National Journal editorial director Ron Fournier wasn’t out sick the day his eighth-grade civics class learned about the separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, after all.  He was present and learned about it.  But he missed a class a few weeks later explaining that the president lacks the authority to order a military invasion of the House of Representatives and sequestration–the literal kind, not the budgetary kind.  

I know, I know; the president is the commander in chief. But it’s Congress that must formally declare war, and Congress probably wouldn’t declare war on itself. One house might declare war on the other, but that wouldn’t meet the Constitution’s requirement that both houses vote to declare war on the same target.

There is, of course, the option of CIA renditions.  Which, after reading Fournier’s new blog post [h/t Greg Sargent] responding to the critics of a blog post in which he blamed Obama for the sequester because in “any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure”–any enterprise, even one in which the chief executive isn’t actually the chief executive, but instead is the chief of the executive branch–I’m presuming is what Fournier has in mind.

Originally, I’d thought he meant that he wanted Obama to simply capitulate to the House Republicans and let them gut discretionary spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  In other words, delegate federal fiscal policy to the Tea Party.  Others thought that, too, among them an unidentified senior White House official, who wrote to Fournier to complain.  And Fournier says he doesn’t understand what he calls this defensive reaction.  He quotes part of the defensive reaction:

“Your point … in this piece and in a bunch of others in between seems to be that, because he’s president, Obama is obligated to do all the compromising himself,” wrote a senior White House official, whom I agreed not to identify. “Essentially what you’re saying is that he should respond to the GOP’s absolute refusal to compromise by giving in to them entirely.”

But Fournier says the White House official misunderstood him.  Fournier explains:

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying. Ignore the straw man. My point is this: Unlike presidential aides and liberal allies, I don’t think the president is politically impotent. I think he has the personal skills and power to lead, to fix this crazy mess.

It would require compromise, something the president has expressed a willingness to do. True problem-solving leadership also would require making tough choices that would anger his liberal base far more than the president is doing now; imposing sacrifice on all voters, including the middle class; and risking his high approval ratings. And, yes, he can’t do it without Republicans.

Actually, the White House official’s description was exactly what Fournier was saying,  Because although Fournier wants the president to act like a CEO, he knows that in this particular enterprise there is no CEO, and one branch of the enterprise is controlled by the Tea Party.

Fournier titles this post, “Why You Don’t Want Me to Be President.”  The answer to that question is that he has no idea how the president could get the House to compromise.  But Fournier reminds that, unlike Obama, he didn’t run for president in 2008 promising to lead.  And Fournier says he wants the president to lead.  

Except that actually he makes clear that what he wants the president to do is follow.  The subtitle of his post is “The White House is waving the white flag on working with a hardheaded GOP.”

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National Journal Editorial Director* Ron Fournier Missed Eighth-Grade Civics Class the Day They Discussed the Separation-of-Powers Thing. He Should Now Get a Tutor.

It’s hard to know who will end up taking the biggest political hit if the latest Washington-induced crisis moves from theoretical to real — but the answer may well lie in which side can get the public to buy into its finger-pointing at the other side.
That’s why the excuses matter: Polls show Obama has the upper hand now over unpopular lawmakers, but much can change if sequestration upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services.

Sequestration: Excuses, excuses, excuses, Darren Samuelsohn and Scott Wong, Politico, yesterday

I agree.  If the sequester upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services because of its deep cuts in federal spending, the public  may well rage against Obama for refusing to accede to the Republicans’ demand that federal spending be cut much more dramatically (except for the Defense Department’s spending, which would not be cut at all)–therefore costing at least as many Americans their jobs and further denying access to those popular government services and to additional ones.  They may well be livid with Obama that he wanted to lessen the number of job losses and the loss of access to popular government services by claiming more tax revenues from wealthy individuals and corporations.  

Especially since about three-fourths of the public supports Obama’s proposed route.  The public may be marching in the streets, demanding impeachment.   And demanding further deep spending cuts in order to cut more jobs and popular services, and lower taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. At least if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services.

It isn’t a certainty that they will, though, even if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services. Which is why the Politico piece says only that it’s hard to tell whether or not they will.  Such things just can’t be predicted with reasonable accuracy.

One thing John Boehner is right about: The public does understand–his word, not mine–that tax increases are off the table, because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

They also understand exactly why further tax revenue from the very wealthy is off the table. And they know that it’s not actually because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

The Politico piece, which I’m betting was not the idea of the two reporters but was instead an assignment handed to them, along with an opening script, by top management there–it is not a reporting piece at all–is an interesting variation on the highly-in-vogue-this-season pseudo-journalism pox-on-both-their-houses sequestration/fiscal-cliff/debt-ceiling/shut-down-the-government routine.  It passes for journalism.  But it is not journalism.  It is propaganda.  

The Politico piece subtlely varies the usual technique. Instead of saying, as most of the genre’s pieces do, that these crises really are the fault of both sides–equally, of course–this article says the public probably can’t distinguish between suddenly and dramatically cutting federal spending, causing substantial job losses and gutting popular government services, and cutting federal spending less and more slowly and helping to reduce the budget deficit by raising more tax revenue from the wealthy individuals and corporations.  

But most members of this Lewis-Carroll-as-journalists crowd do the straight from of it.  In fact, a few of them seem more like the Mad Hatter than like the Mad Hatter’s creator.  Ron Fournier appears to be among them.

For those of you who don’t know, and there probably are few of you who don’t, Ron Fournier is a Republican-leaning, somewhat controversial Washington political journalist who a few years ago was himself major news in journalism circles when he was appointed the Associated Press’s acting Washington bureau chief.  (Until I read his Wikipedia page a few minutes ago, I wasn’t aware that it was intended as just a temporary appointment.)  The Wikipedia paragraph about this explains the controversy:

In May 2008, Fournier was named the acting Washington bureau chief, replacing his “mentor” Sandy Johnson. Since taking over the position, Fournier has led a dramatic shift in the AP’s policy, moving it away from the neutral and objective tone it had become known for and toward a more opinionated style that would make judgments when conflicting opinions were presented in a story.

The judgments Fournier favored were ones that the Republican Party favored as well, if I remember right.  It wasn’t a hit with Fournier’s AP colleagues, nor apparently with many of the AP’s news media clients.  So he left the AP to become editor at the venerable National Journal, which, for those of you who don’t know, and there probably are a few of you who don’t, is a (mainly) print journal that at least in recent years quietly leans Republican but that clothes itself as neutral.  

Sort of like Politico.  Except that, unlike Politico, no one outside Washington reads it and no one outside Washington cares about it.  Which is understandable, since no one outside Washington has ever heard of it. (Except me, but I do qualify as someone who doesn’t read it and someone who doesn’t care about it.)

Anyway, Greg Sargent, who is inside Washington and who does read the National Journal, writes this morning:

To summarize, Fournier and Pfeiffer argued over who is to blame for the sequester. Pfeiffer criticized David Brooks’ “pox on both houses” column this morning and noted that only one side (the GOP) is not willing to compromise to avoid the sequester. Fournier, who also tweeted a link to Brooks’ column, replied with several tweets arguing that it’s on the President to secure compromise from the opposition, such as this one: “only one side is president. Both sides should be ashamed.”

This echoes Fournier’s recent column arguing that while Republicans have adopted a fundamentally uncompromising position (which to Fournier’s credit he’s been willing to acknowledge), “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure.” Brooks’s column, meanwhile, argues that both sides are to blame, because Obama doesn’t have a plan to avert the sequester (which is false). So, some questions for the “blame it on both sides” crowd:

1) Let’s grant Fournier’s premise that a president should do all he can to secure cooperation from the other side. What more, if anything, could Obama actually do to win cooperation from today’s Republican Party on averting the sequester, short of giving in to the GOP demand that we replace it only with spending cuts? Republicans say no compromise to avert the sequester is acceptable. That’s not an exaggeration: It’s the party’s explicit, publicly stated position. What more specifically could Obama do to change this? If the answer is “nothing,” then why are both sides equally to blame?

Okay, look.  The president can be appropriately analogized to the CEO of the executive branch of the federal government.  It’s not a perfect analogy; obviously, there are laws that limit the president’s control over the executive branch–the Federalist Society’s silly Reagan-era “unitary executive” theory of law (don’t ask) to the contrary, notwithstanding.  But it’s a useful analogy nonetheless.  

But unless you recognize that Congress is not the president’s subordinate, whose membership he can hire and fire, and that federal fiscal policy is not established by fiat of top management, or unless you realize this but aren’t astute enough to understand that these are, to use a favorite word of lawyers, “material” differences between corporate CEOs and the president of the United States, you do know that it is deeply stupid to say that “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure,” and not realize that some enterprises actually don’t have a chief executive and that the federal government is among those enterprises that do not.

I guess this is confusing, because, after all, the president is the chief of the executive branch of the federal government.  You have to know that this particular enterprise has three separate branches that, as per the Constitution, operate independent of one another, in order to understand the difference between being the chief of the executive branch and being the chief executive.  And Fournier apparently does not.

Greg Sargent, Paul Krugman, The New Yorker’s Jonathan Chait, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, and a few other political writers have been sounding sirens of alarm and utter dismay at this increasingly dangerous and perverted juggernaut by so many self-styled neutral mainstream political journalists, including two days ago a Washington Post editorial writer, to engage in a campaign of deceit and propaganda in reporting on these sequential Republican-orchestrated federal fiscal crises.  

In my opinion, the very best of the deconstruction-of-the-pretzel-positions pieces–and one of the most piercing and quietly eloquent political opinion pieces I’ve ever read–is this one, from Wednesday, by Chait, which Yglesias linked to on Wednesday and which Sargent links to today. Yglesias’s excellent posts are here and here.

I think we’re about to reach an epiphany point, at which enough important journalists become genuinely scared of what is by now creepily similar to a government-controlled mainstream press in totalitarian countries that this will cease.  No, not by the stupid Ron Fournier or by the silly, robotic David Brooks.  But maybe at least by the Washington Post’s editorial writers and by reporters who certainly need their current jobs but who also are young enough to need reputations as credible and intelligent journalists, going forward.

And once that happens, maybe mainstream journalism will have a similar epiphany about the austerity juggernaut. Or, as Ezra Klein points out, mainstream journalism’s really weird role in it.

As for Fournier, according to Wikipedia, he’s won several prestigious journalism awards. But never one for commentary. Maybe this year.

*Originally, this post said Fournier was the National Journal’s title was editor.


POSTSCRIPT: I hadn’t seen this post of Paul Krugman’s from yesterday until just now. Talk about cutting to–cutting into, really–the heart of something slimy yet seemingly ever-evading analysis and puncture!

Enough. Enough. Time now to end it. Psychiatrists are standing by to offer withdrawal counseling.

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