For months top Democrats in Washington, including President Obama, have seemed tone-deaf to the unhappiness their spending and policy agenda have created across much of the country, manifest in last summer’s raucous town hall meetings and the emergence of the Tea Party. The Tea Party has its fringe elements — as do all political parties — but it mainly reflects anger over deficit spending, expanded reach of the federal government and distrust for Washington’s collective judgment. As these sentiments coalesced into the Tea Party last year, Obama and leading Democrats were dismissive.
They’re still at it. This week the Democratic National Committee unveiled an ad campaign that claims the Republican Party and Tea Party have become one — the “Republican Tea Party” — and that returning the GOP to power will open the doors to a mostly fruitcake policy agenda. Repealing Obamacare and the just-passed financial reform bill head the list, and probably most Republicans would say they’re down with that, as are most Americans. Then there’s a handful of other, shall we say, less-than-mainstream ideas: privatizing Social Security, eliminating Medicare and ending the direct election of U.S. senators. The DNC’s “Contract On America” is classic warp-and-attack politics. Shuttering the departments of education and energy and the Environmental Protection Agency? Those are moldy, abandoned ideas from a couple decades ago.
It’s a risky strategy. Republicans have been accused of far worse things than being sympathetic to the Tea Party’s main tenets. Makes you wonder if leading Democrats really understand where the political center of gravity lies in this country.
Thursday looks to be the big day for U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., accused of violations by the House Ethics Committee. Barring some kind of deal between Rangel and the committee, a public hearing of the specific charges is scheduled. Rangel reportedly is being pressured to do something — accept the charges or resign — to avoid a public trial that could drag into the fall campaigning season and hurt Democrats.
There is symmetry in politics. Rangel has been a member of Congress since 1971. His predecessor representing the Harlem-area district was Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a powerful, suave but controversial figure who was weakened by ethics charges when Rangel beat him in the 1970 Democratic primary. Rangel has served more than 39 years but now has obvious problems of his own. Should Rangel survive them and seek re-election, he’d first have to get past the Democratic primary in September against … Adam Clayton Powell IV, the former congressman’s son.
What is it with Democrats and capitalism? They sound like they don’t understand or like America’s economic system, as though the free market is infected with cooties. From there they argue raising taxes on people who own small businesses (and create most of the new jobs in this country) is sound policy and besides, they can afford it. U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., was on “Hardball” with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, talking about how wealthier Americans should pay more in taxes simply for living in such a wonderful country. Yes, it is a wonderful land, but how is that a reason for one group of people to pay a higher tax rate than others? Other Dems say similar things — the rich won’t miss the extra they pay in taxes, they’ve been luckier than everyone else and should pay more, etc.
On another show Democratic Whip Chris Van Hollen basically argued keeping taxes lower (vs. higher) for top income earners doesn’t foster economic growth. Just look at the recession at the end of the Bush years, Van Hollen said. Tax cuts didn’t stop that downturn. Of course, Van Hollen omits mention of the cost of two wars, the burst of the housing bubble and high spending (first by Republicans and then Democrats) — all of which is quite a tide to be neutralized by folks in the 35 percent (39.6 percent if the Democrats get their way).
It’s been pretty hot in Washington, D.C., and along the East Coast this summer, so it’s not surprising global warming — sorry, climate change! — enthusiasts use the higher temps to argue their view. One of the leaders of the pack is The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, who cites hot weather here and in Russia in a column headlined, “We’re Gonna Be Sorry.” Friedman mourns the failure of climate change legislation in the Senate (forecast for months by Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma) and the continued greenhouse-gas assault on Mother Nature. Friedman notes the Russians are suffering their worst drought in 130 years and that Moscow had a high temp recently of 93 degrees, well above the city’s average July reading of 76. Yes, it’s been a hot one there and here. But recall that when Washington and other cities were weathering record snowfalls last winter, people like Friedman argued one cold, snowy winter was irrelevant to the global warming trend line (It’s about climate, stupid, not weather!). Well, they were right last winter, not now: Temperature readings in Washington, Moscow or anywhere on a given day, week, month or year are a tiny blip compared to the span of a century or several millenniums — truer increments in a climate discussion.
Hard to know which is stranger: a modern-era White House, with all the technology in the world at its disposal, assenting to (orchestrating, perhaps) the firing of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod before it knew all the pertinent facts, or the pundits at MSNBC wringing their hands over the ills of 24/7 punditry on stories like Sherrod’s. It’s a jump ball.
For whatever reason the Obama administration swallowed the initial, distorted view of video in which Sherrod, who is black, appeared to be telling an audience about discriminating against a white farmer 24 years ago. Sherrod was summarily cashiered, even as the administration stews over dwindling support from independents and whites. Turns out, the video (initially circulated by a conservative blogger) was badly edited. Sherrod actually told the story from her past to illustrate the need for equal treatment for all. Oops.
So that’s pretty crazy, but maybe not as crazy as a group of political gadflies talking about the risks inherent in round-the-clock gadfly-ery. In the midst of the Sherrod story there was considerable harrumphing from the furrowed brows on Joe Scarborough’s “Morning Joe” show. Which is ironic, since panels like that eat political scandal for breakfast, baked or half-baked. The moral of the story: Everyone should be more careful, especially those who hire and fire, as well as folks who covet ratings off juicy controversy.
After two years of investigating, the Justice Department says there will be no charges in the Bush administration’s firing of a handful of U.S. attorneys in 2006. You remember the episode, right? Bush foes cried scandal when nine USA’s were cashiered for “performance-related” reasons. All federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president. But it was alleged Karl Rove and the White House ousted the nine for political reasons and that administration officials misled Congress about it. The kerfuffle contributed to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007. Yet the two-year probe apparently didn’t turn up anything prosecutable, which, of course, isn’t the same thing as a blanket exoneration. U.S. attorney-gate thus joins other Washington scandals that raised a ruckus for a time but didn’t amount to too much once the dust settled.
During the Bush administration just about everyone in Washington chalked up a dearth of regular presidential news conferences to George W.’s inarticulateness. “Dubya” was a gaffe machine with his fractured phrasing, made-up words and gunslinger cockiness. With such an easy act to follow, what’s the deal with President Obama? You’d think he would be holding regular press conferences to emphasize his strengths — sounding brainy, looking sharp, making sense — in front of a press corps that mostly has been in his corner. Instead, Obama has mostly kept away from off-the-cuff encounters with reporters, holding zero press conferences between July 2009 and May 2010.
The problem is Obama’s policies are unpopular, and getting grilled by a not-so-pliant press would underscore the point. So the Obama Team is doing what others have done when the going gets tough: play keep-away with the POTUS. He’ll do the occasional one-on-one deal with a reporter, which he can dominate, and stay away from the media pack. Crazy, though, to think that Obama would draw comparisons with George W. when it comes to press accessibility.
It’s not often you get a peek behind the curtain, to see what top politicians are saying to each other in moments of unrestrained candor. Thus, the emerging spat between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is both illuminating and entertaining. On Sunday, Gibbs had the gall to say what everyone in Washington knows — that there are enough seats in play for Democrats to lose control of the House of Representatives in November. Everyone knows it, but for the president’s spokesman to say it in public is heretical, especially to Madame Speaker. Pelosi reportedly ripped into Gibbs during a closed-door meeting of Democrats at the Capitol Tuesday night, dressing down the top White House staffer in attendance, arguing that Gibbs doesn’t know much about races in individual districts. The obvious question, writes National Review Online’s Jim Geraghty, is how much Pelosi knows about individual races. Seasoned political prognosticators like Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook have detailed lists showing a number of Democratic incumbents in big trouble just four months from the election. Speaker Pelosi isn’t one of them, so maybe it’s hard for her to see the peril her unpopular agenda has created for Democrats in districts that aren’t as lopsidedly liberal as hers. For speaking truth to the country (and the speaker), Gibbs is catching Pelosi’s full wrath. Stay tuned.
In a 1998 interview with The New York Times, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner summed up the outlook that drove him throughout life — especially as leader of professional sports’ most iconic franchise: “I hate to lose,” he said. “Hate, hate, hate to lose.” Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday at the age of 80, reportedly had mellowed a great deal from the raucous years when he spent millions on free-agent ballplayers while impulsively firing and hiring field managers to run his team. He wept on Opening Day in 2009, when the crowd in the Yankees’ new ballpark gave him an ovation, and failing health the past few years mostly confined him to his Florida home. The Yanks won seven World Series championships for “the Boss,” including the ’09 crown, in large part because Steinbrenner embraced the new era of high-dollar free agency, the money-making power of cable television and the impact of brand-name recognition. He was blustery and prone to brag, befitting his Bronx-based baseball team. He was parodied on the television sitcom “Seinfeld,” though it wasn’t that much of a parody. The Yankees — beloved by millions but also the team millions love to hate — almost demanded a larger-than-life personality at the helm, which George Steinbrenner gladly supplied.
There’s a reason White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sounded unusually glum Sunday about Democratic election chances in the fall mid-terms this November — especially in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Real Clear Politics Web site shows Republicans and Democrats dead level at 200 seats each (safe seats plus leaners), with 35 seats considered toss-ups. Of the toss-ups, 34 seats currently are held by Democrats, which means practically all of the battleground races are potential GOP pickups. Put another way, if the parties split those races, you’d be looking at a 218-217 balance of power in the House, one way or the other — a radical shift from the current 256-178 (with one vacancy) advantage Democrats now hold. Actually, that view is fairly optimistic for Democrats. Stu Rothenberg’s generally respected forecast is more ominous. “Overall, substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen,” he writes. “At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible.” Gibbs acknowledged the grim outlook, saying there is “no doubt” enough seats are in play to cost Democrats control of the House and an end to Nancy Pelosi’s speakership. Something to watch: the number of Democrats in toss-up races that ask President Obama to campaign in their districts.