Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

Are powerful women likable?

OK, a lot of people found Hillary Clinton hard to like. But three more women gained the spotlight this week, and guess what? They’re unlikable too. Maybe there’s a problem here we need to look at.


Maybe there really was some unique I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it thing about Hillary Clinton that put people off. Sure, she was whip-smart, had a boatload of executive and legislative experience, could stand up to 11 hours of hostile questioning, and had put forward an impressive collection of policies she wanted to implement if she got elected, but … you know. There was just something about her that made voters uncomfortable.

Maybe it was her voice, or her hair, or the way she dressed. She was just too … something. If that many people had said that many bad things about her over the years, there must have been some fire under all that smoke, right? And behind closed doors, she was supposed to have a temper. I know, John McCain’s temper was part of his charm — he was fiery and passionate sometimes, you know — but Hillary’s temper was so … we can’t say bitchy any more, can we? But you know what I mean. It was different.

OK, let’s give people a mulligan for Hillary. And let’s give another mulligan to the people who couldn’t possibly be racist, but some ineffable something about Barack Obama just felt wrong to them. He just wasn’t like the rest of us — not because he was black, of course. Lots of people are black. But … you know. And if he claimed to be an American-born Christian, didn’t that seem kind of fishy somehow? How could we trust somebody like … well, like that, whatever “that” means.

Honestly, I’m starting to get my own ideas about what sounds fishy here, but let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s talk about now. Let’s talk about Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. All three of them have been making news lately, and they’ve all been running into unusual levels of hostility. Each of them, in her own way, has some indescribable quality that raises a lot of people’s ire.

What could it possibly be?

It’s not incompetence. Nancy Pelosi is the most talented legislator of our time. She has no real competition for that title.

When she was Speaker before, the House got stuff done. Appropriations bills got passed on time. She not only saved ObamaCare, but passed a bunch of Obama’s other progressive proposals (most of which died in the Senate).

As soon as the Democrats lost their majority in the House, everybody suddenly realized that the Speakership is a hard job. Even if you lead a partisan majority, holding it together well enough to pass an agenda takes real skill. John Boehner couldn’t do it. Paul Ryan couldn’t go it. Again and again, they would fail to get a proposal to the floor, or miscount votes and see a bill fail unexpectedly. (To this day, a Republican healthcare bill with positive content hasn’t even been drafted, much less voted on or passed.) Deals they thought they had negotiated fell apart at the last minute. Boehner just barely avoided pushing the United States into a self-inflicted financial disaster.

The Speakership is hard, unless you do it backwards and in heels like Pelosi does. Then it looks easy.

When LBJ and Sam Rayburn were the masters of Congress, their skills were appreciated even by many who disagreed with their goals. Phrases like “wheeler-dealer” and “arm-twister” got used with a certain amount of admiration. But it’s hard to imagine applying descriptors like that to a woman. Instead, she (and not Chuck Schumer) was the villain of GOP campaign ads across the country. Her own party seriously discussed not letting her be Speaker again if they regained the majority. (Schumer, meanwhile, lost seats in the Senate and was not challenged.)

It’s not inauthenticity. One complaint about Hillary Clinton was that she just wanted to be president and didn’t stand for anything. But Elizabeth Warren’s political career has a definite theme: Capitalism needs to be regulated to keep big corporations from running over ordinary people.

After the crash of 2008, Warren left a cushy position at Harvard Law School and entered public life because she wanted to protect consumers from the predations of the big banks. She ran for the Senate in 2012 because Republican opposition in the Senate made it impossible to get the job she had wanted: head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (whose creation she had overseen). In the Senate, she has been a leading voice against the concentration of corporate power.

She has the working-class biography to back up her sympathies with ordinary people. Rather than being tracked for high positions early in life (like, say, Brett Kavanaugh), she came from a working-class family and her career developed slowly: She left college to get married, then followed her husband as his career took him to Houston and New Jersey. She finished a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology and  taught public-school children with learning disabilities. She interrupted that career to be an at-home mother, then later went back to school in law. She started out doing legal services from her home, then started teaching, and rose in academic ranks as an expert in laws related to bankruptcy. Eventually she got to the top of the academic heap: tenure at Harvard.

When Clinton, a centrist woman, seemed like the inevitable nominee in 2016, there was a groundswell among progressives for Warren to challenge her. Only after she refused to run did Bernie Sanders get into the race and lead progressive Democrats.

So announcing her presidential candidacy for the 2020 nomination raises one obvious question of substance: Just how much regulation does capitalism need? If you’d rather talk politics, you still have a number of interesting questions to choose from: Can she recover the support of the progressives who turned to Sanders in 2016? Can the Sanders/Warren wing of the party win this time? Can she get more support from blacks and centrists than Bernie got in 2016? And so on.

Instead, Politico raised this question:

How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?

Politically, it’s hard to see much resemblance between Warren and Clinton, except for this: Both of them are women who saw their unfavorability ratings spike when they started to look like serious candidates. Clinton herself explained it this way:

It’s always amusing to me that when I have a job, I have really high approval ratings; when I’m actually doing the work, I get reelected with 67 percent of the vote running for reelection in the Senate. When I’m secretary of state, I have [a] 66 percent approval rating. And then I seek a job, I run for a job, and all of the discredited negativity comes out again, and all of these arguments and attacks start up.

It’s not a lack of passion and vitality. Another criticism of Clinton (which sometimes also gets said about Warren, though I don’t understand why) was that she seemed cold. But if you want a politician who is the opposite of cold, I’ve got one for you: new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But strangely, she also has been a target of public ire.

Since upsetting a member of the House Democratic leadership in a primary and then winning his seat in the general election, Ocasio-Cortez has been targeted both for being too poor and for not being as poor as she’s supposed to be. Predictably, the too-rich criticism was based on her clothes: “That jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.”

When Paul Ryan came to Congress, he was a “young gun”; his youth was evidence of how extraordinary he must be, to get so far so fast. But AOC’s youth just points to her being a lightweight, because there’s no female equivalent of a “young gun”.

This week, we learned of a new AOC outrage: She and her friends made a dance video in college. Unlike, say, Melania Trump or Scott Brown, she kept her clothes on, but still the video is supposed to be embarrassing for some reason. My main reaction is that this video is a trivial thing that shouldn’t evoke anything more than a trivial response; mine is that college-age Alexandria looks like somebody college-age me would have wanted to go out with (assuming away the time-travel problem). But you can judge for yourself.

Somehow, though, conservatives looked at that video and saw something scandalous. I think this tells us more about them than about AOC. As Paul Krugman put it: “The mere thought of having a young, articulate, telegenic nonwhite woman serve is driving many on the right mad.”

If just being young and nonwhite were the problem, that would be one thing. But in the context of Clinton, Pelosi, and Warren, we see that being older and white doesn’t protect a woman either. The specifics of a woman’s life and character may shape how she gets disparaged, but her unique characteristics are not why she gets disparaged.

People are starting to notice. Robby Mook may have exaggerated a little about the reaction to Warren’s announcement video, but he wasn’t exactly making this up, either.

Last 24 hours shows Trump’s 2020 path to victory:
-Dem candidate releases video that explains her background, values, vision and policies
-it never mentions Trump;
-Trump responds with childish insult;
-Media only covers insult.
All process, all on Trump’s terms. No Dem message.

Maybe Trump and the press will do that with every Democratic candidate. But I also think it works better, and the media is more complicit, against women.

Peter Beinart, I think, has this right: The facts that an article cites about Warren may be true, but still contribute to a false narrative.

Mentioning the right’s attacks on Warren plus her low approval ratings while citing her “very liberal record” and the controversy surrounding her alleged Native American heritage implies a causal relationship between these facts. Warren is a lefty who has made controversial ancestral claims. Ergo, Republicans attack her, and many Americans don’t like her very much. But that equation is misleading. …

There’s nothing wrong with journalists discussing public perceptions of a candidate. The problem is that when journalists ignore what academic research and recent history teach us about gender’s role in shaping those perceptions, they imply—whether they mean to or not—that Warren’s unpopularity can be explained by factors unique to her. They start with the puzzle of her low approval ratings and then, working backward, end up suggesting that her policy views or (pseudo) scandals explain them.

… Journalists shouldn’t ignore electability. Elizabeth Warren’s comparatively low approval ratings are a legitimate news story. But the bigger story is that Americans still judge women politicians far more harshly than they judge their male competitors. Unless journalists name that unfairness, they risk perpetuating it.

“I would have voted for the woman who isn’t running.” As the 2020 campaign proceeds, other women are likely to emerge as serious candidates. (Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, perhaps.) We can hope that the sheer multiplicity of targets will disperse the misogynistic fire. But here’s a wild guess on my part: Whichever one is polling last will get the most favorable coverage. In 2004, when she wasn’t running, many voices pined for Hillary Clinton, only to turn against her in 2008 and 2016, when she was actually on the ballot. Likewise in 2016, people who were voting against Clinton often claimed they could have supported Warren, if only she had run. But where are they now?

The Republican Party has a similar dynamic around blacks. At some point in the process, there’s a boomlet for a black candidate like Colin Powell, Herman Cain, or Ben Carson. But these waves always fade before any votes get cast. Having given cover to people who will never actually vote for a black, the candidacies have served their purpose.

We can’t let that happen in 2020. “I would have voted for a woman” isn’t an excuse any more. Do or don’t, but what you would have done in some alternate reality doesn’t matter.

For the most part, this kind of prejudice is structural and unconscious. “Woman politician” has become a category in people’s heads; it seems natural to treat them differently than male politicians, as if a political office changes when a woman holds it. (There has been a similar phenomenon in sports: For a long time “black quarterback” seemed to be a category of its own. Any new black quarterback would invariably draw comparisons to previous black quarterbacks, and be judged accordingly. Cam Newton came into the NFL as a tall, strong quarterback with speed and a powerful arm, but somehow John Elway was never the comparison that popped into commentators’ minds.)

As Pelosi’s speakership, Ocasio-Cortez’ congressional service, and the 2020 campaign continue, we’re going to have to monitor this constantly, both in the media and in our own minds.

Elizabeth Warren stakes out her message

Two of Warren’s recent proposals could shift the public debate in a positive direction — but only if she’s willing to push them with a presidential campaign.


I have been one of the people predicting that Elizabeth Warren wouldn’t run for president in 2020, or ever. It seemed to me that the door was wide open for her to challenge Hillary from the left in 2016, and that Bernie Sanders only entered the race after realizing that she wouldn’t. Since then, I have believed her claims that she’s happy being a senator and isn’t interested in seeking a promotion.

I’m going to stop doing that.

In the last two weeks she has put forward two major pieces of legislation that won’t go anywhere in Mitch McConnell’s Senate, but which lay out clear themes for a national run. You don’t have to be a presidential candidate to take a big-picture view and lay out your best visions for the country, and actually I wish more senators would. But these two proposals really look to me like a foundation on which to build a presidential platform, so I’m going to stop denying that Warren is interested in the White House.

The proposals are the Accountable Capitalism Act and the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Together, they point to a different strategy for reaching those voters who feel that economic growth has passed them by.

The Great Divergence. The reasons Americans might feel discouraged about economic growth are well known, and I’ve covered them in this blog many times. Between the end of World War II and the mid-1970s, wages and productivity increased together; as technology and capital formation led to more efficient ways of producing goods and services, the workers who produced those goods and services benefited. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” the adage went.

But since then, wages and productivity have diverged. Productivity kept increasing while wages stayed flat. The economy kept growing, but the people who made stuff didn’t wind up with more. Instead, just about all the new wealth accumulated at the very top. It went to the people who own companies rather than the people who work at them.

The difference that trend makes from one year to the next doesn’t amount to much compared to the fluctuations of the business cycle; whether or not you can find a job counts for much more than whether or not wages in general are increasing. But over the course of a generation it makes a huge difference. My parents’ generation (born in the 1920s) lived like kings compared to their parents. What had been luxuries when they were young — cars, houses with more rooms than people, meals at restaurants — became commonplace in middle age.

For my generation (born in the 1950s) it’s been more hit-and-miss. If you moved up the educational ladder and got into a more lucrative profession than your parents, you did better than they had. But if you stayed on the same level — say if you tried to follow your Dad into the factories or mines — you did much worse.

The generation born in the 1990s may eventually come out well, but right now things look hard: Unless they were born into at least the upper middle class, a college degree leaves them deep in debt, while not getting a degree leaves them with many fewer options than I would have had. Either way, they enter adulthood with more headaches than my generation had.

Political responses. The Republican message ignores the Great Divergence, and claims that more GDP growth will solve everybody’s problems, as if the rising tide still lifted all boats. But it doesn’t any more. More economic growth might just mean that Jeff Bezos is worth $200 billion instead of $100 billion. In the expanding part of the business cycle (like now) ordinary people may find it easier to get jobs. But they still may not find it easier to get jobs that pay more than their parents made at the same age. A full generation’s worth of growth in the national economy may not have touched them at all.

The Democratic message has mostly been that people need help from government. Depending on where you are on the economic scale, you may need help paying for food and housing, or for health care, or for education. And so there are proposals like Medicare for All, free college, or even a basic income.

But redistributive proposals — taxing the rich and spending the money on everybody else — just mitigate the effects of stagnant wages. They make it easier to live in an economy that channels all of its productivity increases to the rich, but they don’t fundamentally change that economy.

Redistribution of power. Something the Trump campaign understood and took advantage of in 2016 was that Americans are frustrated by something deeper than just the fact that they aren’t winning the game financially. They’re angry about playing a game that they feel is rigged against them. “Make America Great Again” did have all sorts of racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic (in a single word, deplorable) implications, but it also evoked a well-deserved nostalgia for that pre-Divergence world, when the game felt winnable (at least for straight white men).

Just redistributing money doesn’t fix that. If you run a race with weights around your ankles, and somebody who doesn’t carry those weights gets a big head start, giving everybody a participation trophy at the end won’t make you feel much better about losing. No, to really fix the problem we need to redistribute power.

Promoting unions would help some, for reasons Trae Crowder explains in this video.

In this country, you’re not paid for the skills you have. If that were true the Kardashians wouldn’t have a fleet of Maseratis. No, in America you’re paid based on what you can bargain for.

Those factory-and-mining jobs that Trump keeps claiming (mostly falsely) that he’s bringing back — it’s not that they’re inherently good jobs. (In the 19th century they were terrible jobs. They paid starvation wages and you stood a good chance of getting killed.) It’s that unionized miners and factory workers had the power to force the owners to give them a fair share of the industry’s profits.

Warren’s insight is that we don’t just need to give workers better tools to channel power. We also need to weaken the corporations and wealthy individuals that they bargain against.

The corporate/government power loop. In this era of corporate personhood, we take for granted that corporations are immortal sociopaths. As I noted in 2010:

Diagnostic criteria for sociopathy include symptoms like: persistent lying or stealing, apparent lack of remorse or empathy, cruelty to animals, recurring difficulties with the law, disregard for right and wrong, tendency to violate the boundaries and rights of others, irresponsible work behavior, and disregard for safety. [1]

Any of that sound familiar?

We take for granted that (within the law and occasionally outside of it) corporations will do whatever they can to increase their profits. We fault a poor person for taking advantage of a loophole in the Food Stamp program, and Trump rails against desperate immigrants who take advantage of our asylum laws. But if a corporation takes a subsidy or tax cut that was supposed to encourage it to create jobs, and then it destroys jobs instead … well, that’s just how they are; it was our own fault for not negotiating a tighter agreement. If a corporation moves its headquarters to the Cayman Islands to escape taxes, what did you expect? Corporations aren’t patriotic. If a health insurance company finds a loophole that lets it kick sick people to the curb, it’s just doing a good job for its stockholders.

We forget that corporations were not always this way. In the era of the Founders, corporations were rare and were chartered for specific purposes like building a canal or running a college. The Founders themselves recalled the British East India Company as a bad example they didn’t want to recreate.

Corporations are not a natural species that we have discovered and integrated into our society. They are created by law, and they should be what we need them to be. Maybe it doesn’t serve our purposes to give enormous economic and political power to immortal sociopaths. [2]

The obvious answer is to regulate them tightly. President Grover Cleveland — how often does his name come up? — said in his 1888 State of the Union that corporations “should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people” but that they “are fast becoming the people’s masters.”

Already in Cleveland’s day, the problem was that corporations corrupt the regulating process. Not only do they have the time and money to find the weak points in whatever system we construct, but they also influence how those systems are set up in the first place. Often the laws regulating corporations are written by corporate lobbyists, and then applied by bureaucrats who hope to make a lot of money as corporate lobbyists in the future. And now that the Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to unlimited corporate political spending, a lot of politicians are either afraid to oppose them or unable to beat them.

So there’s a power loop: corporations control the government that is supposed to protect us from corporations. It’s no wonder ordinary people can’t win.

Vox looks back at the seminal Milton Friedman article “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits” from 1970.

Friedman allows that executives are obligated to follow the law — an important caveat — establishing a conceptual framework in which policy goals should be pursued by the government, while businesses pursue the prime business directive of profitability.

One important real-world complication that Friedman’s article largely neglects is that business lobbying does a great deal to determine what the laws are. It’s all well and good, in other words, to say that businesses should follow the rules and leave worrying about environmental externalities up to the regulators. But in reality, polluting companies invest heavily in making sure that regulators underregulate — and it seems to follow from the doctrine of shareholder supremacy that if lobbying to create bad laws is profitable for shareholders, corporate executives are required to do it.

Warren’s proposals. Taken together, Warren’s two proposals are aimed at attacking that corporate/government power loop from both sides. The Accountable Capitalism Act focuses on the corporate side. Vox explains:

Warren wants to create an Office of United States Corporations inside the Department of Commerce and require any corporation with revenue over $1 billion — only a few thousand companies, but a large share of overall employment and economic activity — to obtain a federal charter of corporate citizenship.

The charter tells company directors to consider the interests of all relevant stakeholders — shareholders, but also customers, employees, and the communities in which the company operates — when making decisions. That could concretely shift the outcome of some shareholder lawsuits but is aimed more broadly at shifting American business culture out of its current shareholders-first framework and back toward something more like the broad ethic of social responsibility that took hold during WWII and continued for several decades.

That sounds kind of idealistic, but there are some very practical enforcement mechanisms: Workers would elect 40% of the corporate board of directors: not enough to give the workers control, but more than enough to settle any internal disputes among the stockholders. And then, the bill would “require corporate political activity to be authorized specifically by both 75 percent of shareholders and 75 percent of board members”.

Think about what that means: The board members elected by the workers could veto any corporate political contributions or lobbying efforts. So if corporate management wants something out of the government that benefits the whole company, it could still fund that. But if it wants government help breaking its union or killing government healthcare programs or generally tilting the economy in a pro-business direction, that’s probably not going to go through.

This is a way to limit corporate political spending that gets around John Roberts’ corporations-have-free-speech notions. They still have free speech, but the process by which they decide what to say has been fuzzed up a little.

The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act hits the government side of the power loop. A different Vox article:

The bill would institute a lifetime ban on the president, vice president, Cabinet members, and congressional lawmakers becoming lobbyists after they leave office. It would give other federal workers restrictions — albeit less severe — on entering lobbying firms. The act would also bar federal judges from owning individual stocks or accepting gifts or payments that could potentially influence the outcome of their rulings.

Warren’s bill would also mandate presidential and vice presidential candidates to, by law, disclose eight years’ worth of tax returns and place any assets that could present a conflict of interest into a blind trust to be sold off (neither of which President Donald Trump has done). Members of Congress would have to do the same with two years of tax returns.

Critics say this law would make it hard to recruit people into government jobs, but it looks to me like it would just weed out people who want government jobs for the wrong reasons. If you want to work for the FDA because you care about public health, you’ll still want to work for the FDA. But if you want to work for the FDA because you hope for a big payday from the drug industry after you leave government, you won’t.

Where this goes. Immediately, it goes nowhere. Mitch McConnell controls what bills come up for a vote, and the GOP has the votes to kill anything its corporate masters don’t like. I don’t even know how many Democratic senators would line up behind this.

What Warren has done, though, is drive a stake into the ground, and say “We need to build something here.” I haven’t read either bill in its entirety, and I suspect there will be considerable room for debate about the details. She may not have them right.

But she has the big picture right. We do need to regulate corporate activity more tightly, especially in the ways that it incestuously influences its own regulation. We need to restrain the power of corporate money in our elections. We need to make it less tempting for politicians and bureaucrats to sell out the public interest.

In the near term, the significance of these proposals is that they can shift a stagnant public debate. The right forum for that debate to get started, though, is the 2020 presidential campaign. Unless some major presidential candidate picks these ideas up and carries them into the televised debates, they’ll fade into the background.

So what do you think, Senator Warren? Will some major candidate pick these ideas up?


[1] Several of those links had rotted in the last 8 years, so I updated them.

[2] I often wonder if all the vampires who show up in our novels, TV shows, and movies are some kind of collective unconscious response to the immortal sociopaths we have to deal with every day. Don’t you ever feel like your cable or credit-card company would like to suck your blood?

Seven Key Points About the Shutdown

1. This is not a pox-on-both-your-houses situation. The Republicans planned this shutdown and carried it out.

Last Monday, on the eve of the shutdown, Rachel Maddow showed the tapes of one Republican candidate after another making campaign speeches about shutting down the government and being cheered for it. That never happens on the Democratic side. No Democratic candidate for Congress tells his crowds he’s going to shut down the government and expects to get a cheer. Rachel summarized:

What is happening tonight is happening tonight because this is what Republicans want to do. This is what they promised to do. … Elect Republicans and they will burn the place down and they will laugh while they do it and have a great time.

The Daily Beast’s David Freedlander talked to a number of Republican donors from the banking industry, who said Rep. Walden (chair of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, which wants their money) told them “We have to do this because of the Tea Party.” (An NRCC spokesman denies Walden said that.)

Jonathan Chait traces the Republicans’ post-2012-defeat strategy to a meeting in January.

If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.

The first element of the strategy is a kind of legislative strike. Initially, House Republicans decided to boycott all direct negotiations with President Obama, and then subsequently extended that boycott to negotiations with the Democratic Senate. (Senate Democrats have spent months pleading with House Republicans to negotiate with them, to no avail.) This kind of refusal to even enter negotiations is highly unusual. The way to make sense of it is that Republicans have planned since January to force Obama to accede to large chunks of the Republican agenda, without Republicans having to offer any policy concessions of their own.

2. This “budget” showdown has nothing to do with the budget. Both sides agree on the spending number that should be in the continuing resolution.

That’s because Democrats agreed to the Republicans’ number. In other words, the only genuine concession in this process has come from the Democrats. John Boehner could have taken that concession, passed a continuing resolution to avoid the shutdown, and then called a press conference to declare victory. Instead he shut down the government.

3. The threat not to raise the debt ceiling is unprecedented, except for when these same Republicans made the same threat in 2011.

Posturing about the debt ceiling is perennial: “Look how profligate the party in power is. They’ve run up so much debt we have to raise the ceiling.” But making a credible threat not to raise the debt ceiling unless your legislative demands are met? No. That is an absolutely new tactic in American politics.

Slate’s David Weigel goes through all the alleged examples of the Democrats threatening the debt ceiling. In 1981, Tip O’Neil tried to get President Reagan to promise that Republicans wouldn’t use a debt-ceiling vote against incumbent Democrats in the next election cycle (i.e., no policy demands), but passed it in plenty of time. In 1984, a Democratic committee chair blocked a debt ceiling bill for one day, seeking defense spending cuts. He was roundly criticized for “brinksmanship” and backed down.

That’s it. Dozens of other times Democratic majorities in Congress have passed debt-ceiling increases proposed by Republican presidents without making an issue of it.

If Democrats accepted the tactic Republicans are using, the September, 2007 debt-ceiling increase would have been an opportunity for Nancy Pelosi to demand deficit-reducing changes like a repeal of the Bush tax cuts or an end to Iraq War. But that didn’t happen, because Democrats don’t operate by extortion.

4. Republicans have redefined he words negotiate and compromise.

ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum summed up the Republican “negotiation”:

Can I burn down your house?
No
Just the 2nd floor?
No
Garage?
No
Let’s talk about what I can burn down.
No
YOU AREN’T COMPROMISING!

In a real compromise, both sides give something and both sides get something. So far, the Democrats have been offered nothing.

In the 2011 crisis, President Obama repeatedly tried to negotiate a “grand bargain” with Speaker Boehner that would knock trillions off the long-term deficit. That failed, and the “supercommitte” negotiations that were supposed to replace the sequester failed, on the same point: Republicans insisted there could be no tax increases in the deficit reduction plan. Zero. During one Republican presidential debate, the candidates were asked whether they would accept a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. All said no.

Since April, Harry Reid has been trying to form a conference committee so that the House and Senate can work out a budget compromise. The Republicans have refused to appoint their conferees, preferring to wait until they had the “leverage” of a government shutdown and debt default. The point here is exactly what Chait said above: to extort concessions out of the Democrats without offering any concessions of their own. “OK then, half the ransom” is not a concession, no matter what Ted Cruz says.

5. The principle at stake is majority rule.

I talked about this in detail last week. Speaker Boehner wants to tell the story that the shutdown represents a disagreement between two branches of government that have conflicting popular mandates: The public elected President Obama, but it also elected a Republican House of Representatives.

That’s not what this is about at all. If it were, Boehner could bring the Senate’s clean continuing resolution to the House floor for a vote and defeat it. He can’t do that, because given the chance the people’s representatives would pass it. In blocking that resolution, Boehner does not represent the majority of the House, he only represents “the majority of the majority”, i.e. a minority.

The entire give-us-what-we-want-or-we’ll-burn-the-house-down strategy is against all American ideals of democracy. The constitutional way to pass a law (or repeal a law you don’t like) is to do what the Democrats did to pass ObamaCare in the first place: Win not just a majority in the House, but also a substantial majority in the Senate (to overcome a filibuster, which the Founders never envisioned), and win the White House (to avoid a veto). The Republicans can’t do that, because they are a minority. (Even their House candidates collectively got a million fewer votes than the Democrats in 2012.)

6. Don’t believe the leak that John Boehner won’t allow a debt-ceiling default.

Thursday the NYT quoted multiple anonymous Republican congressmen saying that Boehner had told them he wouldn’t allow a default. But Matt Yglesias points out that Boehner has been saying such things all along, while also saying the opposite.

Boehner’s position, dating back to 2011, has been twofold. On the one hand he says that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic and that he favors avoiding catastrophe. On the other hand he says that he requires unrelated public policy concessions in order to agree to a measure that he himself says he supports.

It is, in other words, the classic suicide hostage strategy: Do what I want or I’ll detonate the bomb strapped to my chest. This has always been Boehner’s position.

For example, on Friday Boehner said:

I don’t believe that we should default on our debt. It’s not good for our country. But after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed. I think the American people expect if we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country.

In other words, he wants concessions. And notice: Boehner doesn’t suggest doing something about the deficit, which has a revenue side. He only wants to discuss “our spending problem”. So he’s seeking spending cuts with no tax increases, the same no-compromise position that doomed the budget negotiations in 2011.

And then Sunday he reiterated:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So under no circumstances will you pass a clean debt limit?

BOEHNER: We’re not going down that path.

Stephanopoulos’ question: “So you sit down with the president. What would you offer him in that conversation?” got no answer. And when pushed on the tax issue Boehner said: “Very simple. We’re not raising taxes.”

He described Harry Reid’s proposal to negotiate about the budget after the shutdown and debt ceiling had been dealt with as

My way or the highway. That’s what he’s saying. Complete surrender and then we’ll talk to you.

So he wants concessions and won’t give anything in return. Without his extortion demand, he has nothing to talk about, so giving it up is “complete surrender”.

7. The clearest head in the room belongs to Elizabeth Warren.

The boogeyman government is like the Boogyman under the bed. It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. What is real, what does exist are all those specific important things that we as Americans have chosen to do together through our government. In our democracy, government is not some make-believe thing that has an independent will of its own. In our democracy, government is just how we describe the things that We the People have already decided to do together.

What Senate Candidates Deserve Your Support?

Last week a Sift-reading friend told me she had set aside some money to contribute to Senate candidates, and wondered where I thought it would be best spent.

We agreed that this is a good time to contribute. In general, early money is more valuable than late money, but (if you’re like me) you’d usually rather see your money spent in the general election than during the primary. So one of best times to contribute is right after the primaries bring the race down to a Democrat vs a Republican.

There are 33 Senate races this year, but a few simple criteria will narrow down the candidates worth contributing to or volunteering for.

I’ve never claimed to be non-partisan. (I try hard to keep the Sift honest, but I’m not trying to be neutral. I write what I believe, not just what I want you to believe.) So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that my first criterion is that I’m only considering candidates who will caucus with the Democrats. (That would include independents like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and probably Angus King of Maine.) Anybody committed to vote for Mitch McConnell as majority leader is off my list.

Second, the race should be close. I love Bernie Sanders, but I expect him to win with or without me. Real Clear Politics currently rates 8 races as toss-ups: Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Whether that’s your serious-support list or not depends on how optimistic/pessimistic you are about what will happen between now and November. If you expect a big Democratic surge that isn’t showing up in the polls yet, then you might want to reach for one of RCP’s “leans Republican” seats, like Arizona, where Richard Carmona currently trails by about 11%. If you expect the opposite, you might want to defend one of the “leans Democratic” candidates, like Sherrod Brown in Ohio, ahead by 8%.

I don’t really have a hunch about the trend, so I’ll stick with the toss-ups. Next, I want strong progressive voices in the Senate. I want somebody who’s going to make me proud, not just be slightly better than a Republican. That takes Bill Nelson of Florida (not to be confused with Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who is worse) off my list. He has a history of joining Republicans on issues like eliminating the estate tax, and he’s generally one of the last Democrats to get on board for things like raising the debt ceiling. So, Bill, I’ll be rooting for you on election night, but I can think of people more deserving of my time and money.

Elizabeth Warren

Two candidates that jump right out at me are Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. Both of them will face an avalanche of out-of-state money, Warren from the financial industry and Baldwin from the religious right.

Elizabeth Warren. Warren you’ve probably heard of, even if you’re not from Massachusetts. I first noticed her when she was chair of the Senate’s TARP Oversight Committee. She did several very plain-spoken, hard-hitting interviews on Rachel Maddow’s show where she laid out exactly how opaque the program was and how few of the underlying problems were being fixed.

The best argument for putting Warren in the Senate was the Jamie Dimon testimony to the Senate Banking Committee. (More about that in the Nuggets.) Warren is exactly the person who should have been in that room.

She’s a Harvard law professor, so her opponent Sen. Scott Brown is trying to tar her with the Harvard elitist label. But she wasn’t born into the Harvard strata of society, she started in the working class and climbed the ladder. She understands ordinary people and wants to be in a position to watch their backs.

Current polls are about as close as polls can be: Brown 43.8%, Warren 43.5%. I expect Warren to win a close race for three reasons: Undecideds have a tendency to break against the incumbent, Massachusetts is a blue state, and Warren’s supporters are genuinely enthusiastic about her. But Wall Street really hates Warren, so Brown will have a lot of money to spend.

Tammy Baldwin. Unless you live in Wisconsin, you may not know much about Tammy Baldwin. She’s been in Congress for 14 years, and is the only openly lesbian congresswoman. (She was already out of the closet when she ran in 1998. Up until that time, the only gay representatives had come out while in office.) In 2010, National Journal’s ratings had her tied for being the most liberal member of the House.

Now, my first thought on hearing those facts would be: She’s going to get crushed. But so far that’s not happening. The Republican primary isn’t until August, and the RCP average has her trailing former Governor Tommy Thompson by 8.7%. But that average is skewed by a Rasmussen poll with a huge Republican bias (Thompson ahead 52%-36%).  The other two polls have her behind Thompson by manageable numbers: 4% and 6%, which could just be name recognition. Marquette University’s poll has her ahead of the other two likely Republican candidates.

There’s also no guarantee Thompson wins the primary, or gets through unscathed with the Club for Growth gunning for him. Chuck Todd sums up the race and interviews Baldwin:

Other toss-up Democrats. Claire McCaskill isn’t exactly an inspiring progressive voice. (National Journal rates her exactly in the middle as the 50th most liberal senator.) But this is Missouri we’re talking about; what did you expect? I think she’s doing as much as the voters will allow, and that holding this seat is key to holding the Senate. Polls: Rasmussen has her behind by double digits, but PPP says the race is tied.

Jon Tester in Montana is another incumbent Democrat in a Republican state. Don’t expect his support on, say, gun control. But his heart is in the right place when it comes to keeping Wall Street in check. PPP and Rasmussen disagree about who is ahead.

Immigration is likely to be a huge issue in the Nevada race. Shelley Berkley is challenging the incumbent Dean Heller, who was appointed when John Ensign resigned in disgrace. Nevada is a swing state that’s been trending blue as the Hispanic vote increases, but Republicans keep offering far-right candidates. Heller is a typical senate Republican, rated the 73rd most liberal senator. Berkley supports the DREAM Act; Heller wants to build a bigger border fence. The non-Rasmussen polls have this as a neck-and-neck race.

In Virginia, Tim Kaine vs. George Allen is a marquee match-up. Kaine has been governor and Allen senator. (Allen famously lost to Jim Webb in 2006 after the Macaca gaffe.) So far, I haven’t found anything thrilling on Kaine’s web site, and he seems to be running a vague I-was-a-good-governor campaign. But he’s narrowly ahead in the swingiest of swing states.

I confess I had never heard of North Dakota candidate Heidi Heitkamp until this morning. She’s running in a red state as a former state attorney general who fights for the people. Her web site is focused on local North Dakota issues, and I really have no idea how progressive she’d be. (She favors the Keystone Pipeline that environmentalists oppose.) Polls have her neck-and-neck with Rep. Rick Berg.

The Return of Death Panels and other short notes

Recently this topic showed up on my church’s email discussion list, so I know it’s making the rounds: An anonymous “brain surgeon” called into Mark Levin’s radio show in November, claiming to have seen a unpublished document from HHS describing “what the Obama health care plan would be for advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70.” He said:

Basically what the document stated was that if you were over 70 and you’d come into an emergency room and you’re on government supported health care, that you’d get “comfort care”.

When Levin responds “So Sarah Palin was right. We’re going to have these death panels, aren’t we?” the caller says “Oh, absolutely.”

Tuesday morning, Mariefla on Daily Kos went looking for details after she heard an outraged doctor raise the issue in a hospital staff meeting. She found this letter on the web site of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The AANS notes “factual inaccuracies” and says the caller was not a neurosurgeon, they are not aware of any such document, and the AANS conference in which the caller supposedly saw this document never happened. They’ve asked Levin to remove the podcast from his web site, which he hasn’t.

HHS unequivocally told rumor-investigating Snopes.com: “No such document exists and no such presentation took place.”

It’s unsettling to realize how easy this kind of fraud is. Anybody can call into a radio show claiming to be anything and to have seen anything. (“I’m a retired Air Force captain and I used to work at Area 51 with the wrecked alien spaceships.”) If their story supports somebody’s propaganda, a well-oiled machine sends it rocketing around the country.


Alejandrina Cabrera was running for City Council in the Arizona border town of San Luis when her ability to speak English became an issue — not a political issue, a legal issue. The mayor filed a lawsuit remove her from the ballot.

The Enabling Act that set up Arizona’s government in 1910 says:

ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language sufficiently well to conduct the duties of the office without the aid of an interpreter shall be a necessary qualification for all state officers and members of the state legislature.

And Arizona voters declared English the official language in in 2006. However, 90% of San Luis residents speak mainly Spanish. Cabrera is running to represent them, even though she speaks only “survival level English” according to a linguistics professor appointed by a Yuma county judge to test her. Wednesday, the judge ordered her name removed from the ballot.

Reader comments on the various news stories fall into two camps: Those supporting the lawsuit go on to indict local high schools for allowing her to graduate with such poor command of English, while those opposing it want the voters, not the courts, to judge candidates’ qualifications for office.


Fox News psychologist/consultant Keith Ablow explains to us why Newt Gingrich’s infidelities will make him “a strong president“. Steven Colbert observes: “Somebody without Dr. Ablow’s psychiatric insight might misdiagnose Newt as a sociopathic pussyhound.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.


I can’t predict how practical the Hiriko electric car will be, but it’s got an off-the-scale cute factor. If I were 3 feet tall, I’d really want this half-size prototype.


Until this week, I’ve been having trouble explaining exactly what bugs me about Mitt Romney’s corporate-raider career at Bain Capital. Sure, it looks bad to walk away with a pile of money from deals that leave so many other people unemployed or otherwise holding the bag, but wasn’t he serving the overall cause of efficiency? Doesn’t the profit come from re-purposing assets to more productive uses?

Then a Chris Hayes tweet pointed me to this 1988 paper co-authored by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Starting with the idea that a corporation is a “nexus of contracts, some implicit, between shareholders and stakeholders”, the paper argues that hostile corporate takeovers are profitable because the new owners can renege on the corporation’s implicit commitments to workers, suppliers, retirees, and the surrounding community. The process is “wealth redistributing, not wealth creating”.

It goes on to argue that corporations’ ability to make trustworthy implicit commitments has real economic value. But corporate raids destroyed that trust for all corporations, because now all parties know that managers who try to keep such commitments when they become unprofitable are likely to be raided and replaced.

So Romney’s profit at Bain comes not just from efficiency, but also from selling the social capital of the entire corporate system.


Romney bristles whenever anyone mentions the 99% and the 1%. That’s “dividing America,” he says.

Privileged classes always blame social divisions on the people who call attention to them, rather than the people who cause them and benefit from them. The Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings are honored after they are safely dead, but while they are alive they are denounced as troublemakers. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” is his response to those who accused him of creating “tension” between the races.


So, did dead people really vote in South Carolina? No.


And finally, because I never get tired of listening to Elizabeth Warren:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Blood and Teeth on the Floor and other short notes

Whenever I listen to Elizabeth Warren and then try to repeat what she said to somebody else, it always comes out sounding like this parody:

The current Vanity Fair article about Warren is well worth reading, and it recalls a statement she made to Huffington Post a year and a half ago:

My first choice is a strong consumer agency. My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.

I think that’s the only attitude that’s going to get anywhere as the middle class battles to preserve itself against the plutocracy. Trying to play nice hasn’t worked so well.


Hunter on Daily Kos explains why Herman Cain’s healthcare experience as a multi-millionaire CEO has nothing to do with your healthcare — and why his most famous line about it is false:

Cain has said on numerous occasions that he would not have survived cancer had the Obama health care plan been in effect. He got excellent care, you see, and supposedly the new health care plan would have fouled that up in some unspecified way, probably involving “death panels” or the like. … There’s nothing in the health care plan that would affect Herman Cain’s ability to buy exceptional insurance, or to pay untold gobs of money towards his own care. Not a damn thing.  As a wealthy American, he will continue to receive substantially better care than other people simply because he can afford it


Cenk Uygur takes apart a right-wing group’s charge that Occupy Wall Street is anti-Semitic.


Another smear that I’m sure we’ll hear more and more often: the charge that George Soros is “behind” Occupy Wall Street. With standards of proof this loose, there is hardly anything that can’t be tied to Soros.


I tried to watch Wednesday’s Republican debate, but I didn’t have the stomach for it. As soon as Michele Bachmann started blaming the economic crash on affordable housing, and Newt Gingrich joined in with the claim that if anyone should go to jail for the crash, it’s Barney Frank, I couldn’t take it any more.

I leave you with fact checks from The Washington Post (which covers many falsehoods, including Bachmann’s, which it says has been “roundly discredited”) and PolitiFact.

I don’t mind watching people who disagree with me. I watched Ronald Reagan’s State of the Unions and read the transcripts of George W. Bush’s. But the 2012 Republican campaign has gone way beyond spin into a complete fantasy world.

As an aside, this is why I don’t expect the Herman Cain boom to last. The most advantageous position to be in right now is to have no one take you seriously enough to check your nonsense. That way you can say whatever sounds good to the base without worrying about whether it is true or matches what you said last month.

Once you reach the top of the polls, people look at you harder, and that has skewered one Republican after another. Here, Lawrence O’Donnell takes apart Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, which is so simple that Cain can’t understand it himself.


While we’re fact checking, Media Matters lists Fox News’ ten biggest lies about the EPA.


Robert Reich exposes seven popular economic lies.


James Fallows describes exactly what happens when your cloud-based email account gets hacked.


Topeka really did it: They repealed their domestic battery law. But wife-beating is still a state offense, so they claim the cases will still get prosecuted. Unless they don’t. Whatever. It’s somebody else’s problem now.


If you think in terms of charts, this collection explains our economic inequality really well.


More charts: Mother Jones explains who the 1% are and what they own.