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Posts Tagged ‘Frank Rich’



Know Nothings and the Death of Political Compromise

Monday, February 28th, 2011

President Ronald Reagan often compared leaders of the Soviet Union to the movie producers against whom he once bargained as president of the Screen Actors Guild. That early experience, Reagan told serial biographer Lou Cannon, was where he “learned to negotiate.”

“The purpose of a negotiation,” Reagan added, “is to get an agreement.”

What a quaint notion.

The conversation, related by Cannon during a forum sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project last week, illuminates a fundamental difference in the Manichaeistic politics of millennial conservative leaders, who endlessly exalted the former president during recent celebrations of his centennial, and the real-life record of Reagan himself.

From his days as California’s governor, when he backed what was then the largest tax increase in state history as part of a bipartisan budget agreement, to the world-changing agreements on nuclear arms reduction he forged with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan managed to maintain his commitment to his  conservative principles while finding ways to cut acceptable deals with Democrats in the Legislature and the Congress.

His approach contrasts with the current crop of ideologues, from Washington to Wisconsin and Sacramento, who sneer at the concept of compromise and dismiss the idea of negotiation, the twin foundations of governance that have long made representative democracy work.

“While Reagan tried to stuff everything he heard or read into the view of the world he had brought with him to Washington, he appreciated the value of compromise and negotiation,” Cannon wrote in “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” his seminal biography.

“And on nearly all issues, Reagan was simultaneously an ideologue and a pragmatist. He complained to aides that true believers on the Republican right…preferred to ‘go off the cliff with all flags flying,’ rather than take half a loaf and come back for more, as Reagan believed liberals had been doing since the days of the New Deal.”

The Wisconsin con: Compare this attitude to that of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who’s become an instant hero to the mossback crowd with his political jihad against the right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining. In a taped conversation with a person he believed to be his right-wing patron David Koch (who was actually an alternative newspaper editor who punked the governor and his staff), Walker offered a candid look at his crude and autocratic theory idea of governing.

At one point, for example, he expressed contempt for the moderate Democratic leader of the Wisconsin senate, who has reached out to Walker in an attempt to settle the partisan deadlock over unions, saying the senator is “pretty reasonable, but he’s not one of us…He’s just trying to get something done. . . .He’s just a pragmatist.” Perish the thought.

“I don’t budge,” Walker then told the liberal journalist posing as Koch; he added, in what he believed was a private conversation, that while he might publicly pretend to be open to compromise discussions with Democrats, he would do so only as a way to con them: “I’m not negotiating,” he said.

A Capitol caucus of sheep: These rabid sentiments echo in Sacramento, where 30 Republican legislators last week announced a so-called “Taxpayers Caucus.” At a time when even Republican-tilted business organizations in the state back Jerry Brown’s deficit plan to allow voters to decide whether to extend $12 billion in temporary higher taxes and fees, membership in this Know Nothing caucus requires a blood oath to obstruct all bids to put the measure on the ballot.

It is instructive that the leader of this cadre is right-wing senator Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark.

Running in one of the few competitive districts in the state, Strickland in 2008 defeated Hannah Beth Jackson, an extremely liberal former Assembly member, by exactly 857 votes out of more 415,000 cast; rather than moderating his personal ideology to reflect the broad range of views held by his constituents, however, Landslide Tony chooses to grovel at the feet of Grover Norquist, the Washington-based anti-government extremist who threatens with retribution any Republican who votes to put Brown’s tax plan before voters.

While Strickland and his reckless brethren try to gussy up their stance as a matter of conservative principle, it rests instead on a set of intellectually dishonest and purely partisan canards and deceits.

Decrying Brown’s budget plan, GOP legislators refuse to put forth one of their own, placing partisan gamesmanship ahead of governance in the full knowledge that attaching numbers and detail to their worn-out rhetoric would prove the absurdity of their call for an all-cuts budget.

Rejecting reality, the poseurs pretend that the $85 billion budget is filled with vast amounts of wasteful discretionary spending, knowing that the state’s money overwhelmingly goes to K-12 schools, higher education and health programs, expenditures that enjoy widespread public support and which they lack the courage to openly and specifically oppose.

Putting ideology over rational debate, they fear California’s voters, mindful that an election testing the popularity of their no-taxes-ever policies may  reveal the emptiness of their politics. Chronicler John Diaz offers a trenchant summary of their puerility:

The governor, who relishes intellectual interchange, confronted Republicans last week in a highly unusual appearance before a budget conference committee. As is often the case with Brown, he mixed humor and in-your-face persuasion in searching for common ground with his adversaries.

“Pledges are interesting, they make good theater,” Brown told legislators. “But the fact is we have to have a plan, we need a solution, and for those who say they don’t want to vote, then why are you here?”

Good question: Why are they here, collecting their nearly six-figure salaries plus per diem, if they consider the state’s predicament the other party’s problem and none of their concern?

The great exception, again: In a recent national poll, the Pew Research Center reported results that at first glance seem to give an edge to kneejerk hardliners. By 49-42%, the findings showed, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their position without compromise” over those “who make compromises with someone they disagree with.”

But in this matter, as in many others, California goes its own way, as gauged by a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll taken during last fall’s campaign for governor. As we reported then, the survey:

…offers a glimmer of hope for California, finding that voters by a 2-1 margin say they’d prefer a governor “who can work effectively with others across party lines” to one who “is single-minded and will fight for what he or she thinks is correct.”

Democrats, moderates and liberals are most in favor of a governor who works with the opposition, but even Republicans and conservatives would rather have a governor who can work effectively across party lines.

The problem in Sacramento, however, has not been finding a governor who will work across party lines; the problem is finding enough legislators who will work with the governor.

How Brown is like Reagan: At a time when Brown is offering to compromise with Republicans on big issues they purport to care about, from pension reform to business regulation and a state spending cap, it defies common sense for the GOP to turn away from Reagan-style negotiated agreements. Cannon again:

Reagan did not fit the neat ideological stereotype that was presented in alternative forms by movement conservatives and liberal activists…

“He liked to see the people around him work towards an acceptable compromise, said White House cabinet secretary Craig Fuller. “Both words are important. Acceptable in a sense that it met his criteria, narrow as they might be. Compromise in that nobody got exactly what they wanted, but nobody lost.”

Like Reagan, Brown is at heart a traditionalist, embracing the old-school belief that politics is the art of the possible, fueled by negotiations in the service of finding agreement. That is why Brown keeps expecting Republicans to want to negotiate for things they want in exchange for things he wants. But the vast majority of the GOP minority doesn’t want to negotiate, because they don’t want an agreement.

Brown’s focused and patient efforts to craft a budget deal belie the  decades-old rap on him as too heedless and flaky for the painstakingly hard work of governing. He can only hope, however, that amid all the posing, grandstanding and strutting in the Republican caucus, there are at least a couple of grown-ups with the backbone to stand up and help him do the job.

Recommended reading:

Timesman Frank Rich offers a national perspective on the rejection of compromise and negotiation.

Dana Milbank of the Washpost looks more deeply at the Khaddafi-like views of Scott Walker. 

Dan Morain has an excellent take on the goofball Taxpayers Caucus.

Steve Harmon exposes the urban legend of Republicans being politically destroyed for backing tax increases.

How Sacto Is Like Cairo: Why Difi Rivals Are Doomed

Monday, February 7th, 2011

One of the inherent strengths of local news operations, way too rarely exercised (see: newspapers, death of) is the daily opportunity to report how and why big global events matter to readers and viewers on the home front.

Tom Meyer, the blogosphere’s incarnation of  Thomas Nast, ofers a bit of this type of journalistic service with his latest take today, showing how the dramatic events in Egypt are a kind of real time Rorschach test which provide folks all along the political spectrum a chance to indulge in reassuring themselves, and insisting to others, that they’ve been right, right, right all along.

Underscoring the point, Frank Rich, the Pauline Kael of American politics, batted out a stinging indictment of the MSM this week, for its incessant braying of the clichéd claim that the crucial post hoc ergo propter hoc about the Egyptian populist revolt, which people there foolishly think is about their nation’s authoritarianism, economy and political corruption, is the role played in the events by…Twitter.

“Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

“War,” Ambrose Pierce famously said, “is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” But it’s hard to escape the sad conclusion that the corporate organs of the MSM have failed to do much educating about events in the Mideast; those in search of more serious and substantial information could do worse than to check out the live streaming reportage of Al Jazeera’s English coverage.

Thanks to the cowardice of broadcast and cable executives everywhere, this news service currently is all but unavailable anywhere in the country, a state of affairs that the organization is trying to address with its February 10 “Meet-up to demand Al Jazeera on your TV,” an online campaign which,  paradoxically, mirrors the very demands for the free flow of ideas now being sounded in Egypt.

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Difi and the GOP: Since Calbuzz launched, our Department of Mission Statements and Corporate Branding Jive has churned out any number of cheesy memorable slogans in a pitiful attempt to justify our existence to help you, our loyal readers, understand who we are and what we do.

Shooting the Wounded,” of course, reflects the historical role of sofa-bound political writers and editorialists everywhere, while “Burning Our Bridges One at a Time,” reflects our own deep and abiding belief in the solemn constitutional responsibility of the press to hurl brickbats, cheap shots and childish insults wildly and randomly, without regard to race, creed, color, sexual orientation, partisan belief or political persuasion.

Another great ideal in which Our Founders believed deeply is this:  “Politics is the greatest spectator sport of all.”

So it was that we began trying to drum up interest in the 2012 Senate race before the ink was even dry on the statement of vote from the 2010 elections. In furtherance of this goal, we specifically have encouraged Republican gov race loser Meg Whitman to take a crack at venerable Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein next year.

Alas, however, our project has now been dealt a severe blow, with the release of a survey by Public Policy Polling that shows Feinstein crushing Whitman 55-35% in a simulated contest among voters – the same margin she holds over former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who got stomped by Difi’s sister Senator-for-life, Barbara Boxer.

Other matchups: Feinstein over former Congressman Tom Campbell 51-37%; Herself over former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner 52-34%, and  Our Dianne smacking Darrell Issa (R-Car Alarm) by 54-33%, and crunching former Gov. Arnold Schwarzmuscle 59-25%.

(Weed whacking methodology alert) The only consolation for the potential GOP challengers (and for Calbuzz) is that PPP’s survey is an interactive voice response (IVR) poll, commonly known as a robopoll – in which a computer interacts with a respondent (like polls run by Survey USA and Rasmussen). And, heaven help us, Dean Debnam of PPP tells Calbuzz that their sample was taken from voter records (which would be fine if you were doing live calls and asking for that person) but the computer doesn’t know whether it’s interacting with the actual voter from the sample or someone else in the household. Sheesh.

Still, the numbers are of a consistency and magnitude that they’re likely to discourage potential GOP contenders pretty quickly, particularly those pondering the wisdom of tossing $1 billion or so large into a rat hole.

To which Calbuzz says: Take heart eMeg. After spending just shy of $180 million to lose the governor’s race, why not pop for a real survey and find out if you’d have any shot against Queen Mum?

Because. let’s face it, this whole in-between-elections, public policy thing ain’t much except a guaranteed cure for insomnia, and we’d be willing to pay to cover a cage match between you and Difi. We’d even give you a second chance to go to dinner with us.

Reagan Agonistes: Amid the orgy of commentary and political posturing accompanying the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, here’s the half-dozen items atop our recommended reading list:

1-Most intriguing op-ed was penned for the Orange County Register under the byline of the aforementioned Difi . We’re not sure we buy her argument that RR’s greatest strength was his “bipartisanship,” but she’s been going on about the importance of “governing from the center” for four decades, so you’ve at least got to hand it to her for consistency.

2- The most authoritative source on all things Reagan remains the canon of  Lou Cannon, who started covering him as a Sacto correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News.

3-Best quickly assembled, 60-second guide to memorable Reagan quotes is found over at Huffpost.

4-Most interesting observations on what made Reagan a first-rate politician come from Ken Khachigian, who turned in a workmanlike job of first person reporting about the great man’s speechifying tradecraft. (H/T Flashreport).

5-Most stomach-churning self-serving effort to identify with Reagan comes from, who else, Sarah Palin. Sorry, Lady Sled Dog, “we’re on the road to ruin,” is just about as far from his politics as it’s possible to be.

6-Best single quote comes from Richard Reeves, via Joel Fox“Ronald Reagan is still president,” he said, meaning the country is living with a political philosophy set out by Reagan. True, true, true, unfortunately.

Bonus read on Reagan: ThinkProgress has a little gem of a piece that will set conservatives’ hair on fire, including factoids on Reagan’s record as a serial tax-raiser.

Taxes and Taxidermists: Your Money At Work

Friday, January 21st, 2011

A Google search of the words “taxes” and “quotations” yields 2.3 million results, and a wide-ranging, scrupulously sketchy scientific survey shows that 95% of them fall into one of two categories: 1) traditional, if tired, sentiments of the garden variety kvetching and caterwauling mode; 2) traditional, if tired, cheap one-liners, some of which still retain their zip.

“Taxes grow without rain,” goes the Jewish proverb, which set the template for several centuries worth of bellyaching jokes by public wits, from Mark Twain (“What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector?  The taxidermist takes only your skin”) to Will Rogers (“Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even”) and the late, great Arthur Godfrey (“I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is, I could be just as proud for half of the money”).

Digging deeper into this trove of popular wisdom, however, intrepid Calbuzz researchers also discovered a handful of famous comments that posit a contrary, and now quaint, community-minded notion:

“Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society,” said Franklin Roosevelt, a belief concisely seconded by Oliver Wendell Holmes – “I like to pay taxes – with them I buy civilization” –and thirded much more loquaciously (quite naturally, since he was French) the 18th century economist and statesman Turgot: “The expenses of government, having for their object the interest of all, should be borne by everyone, and the more a man enjoys the advantages of society, the more he ought to hold himself honored in contributing to those expenses.”

All this comes to mind as new/old Gov. Jerry Brown has stirred up a very basic, and crucially important, statewide public policy debate, namely: exactly what kind of government do Californians want and expect, and exactly how much are they willing to pay for it?

Behind all the in-the-weeds arguments about IHSS caregiver rates, CSU per-unit fees and gas tax swap extension legislation lurks the fundamental contradiction, disclosed in countless opinion surveys, that Golden State residents demand and desire a deep level of public services, while fiercely rejecting the laws of arithmetic requiring them to dig deep to finance them.

Argumentum ad populum.

As Tom Meyer illustrates today, the good citizens of Arizona have recently endured a pragmatic and painful lesson in the consequences of having a raging psychotic walking freely in their midst, not to mention brazenly buying high-powered weapons.

As recriminations and debate about who is at fault for the horror and slaughter inflicted on innocent families by Jared Loughener – Rush Limbaugh! Karl Marx! Bad parents! – taxpayer-funded government services (the kind no doubt administered by lazy, loafing bureaucrats), which once might have responded to the clear, numerous and public warning signs that the killer was mentally melting down, are scarce and getting scarcer.

“It’s a perfect storm here in Arizona,” Matt Heinz, a Tucson physician, state legislator and friend of the gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, told the WashPost.  “Services are being slashed and burned. Potentially in the next few months we’ll be releasing thousands of folks from their relative stability. Our community resources are strapped beyond belief. And the state, which you’d think would be the safety net – we’ve lit the net on fire.”

Taxidermists, indeed.

You, too, can win big prizes: Issue driven and solution oriented, Calbuzz always aims to do our part. So today we’re presenting the first of what we hope is a series of innovative ideas from you, Our Loyal Readers, to help ease California’s fiscal woes.

Got an original idea for cutting state expenses or raising revenues? Email it to calbuzzer@gmail.com and win two – count ‘em, two! – free Calbuzz buttons with our famous redheaded-guy-with-his-finger-in-the-socket logo.

Our first Big Idea from Capitol employee Sarah Weaver:

I work a few floors above where former GAS had his smoking tent.  Now that it’s gone, I respectfully suggest that GJB should put a Zen garden down there.  The Astroturf looks weird, and I think we’d all be entertained watching him draw lines in the sand.

Entertained, hell. Let’s charge admission and rake in big bucks for the general fund!

Top honors for Sacramento scribblers: Sacbee’s Kevin Yamamura, whose daily budget coverage is a must-read, offers a good look at how some special interests are still doing well…The hypocrisy-puncturing Dan Morain calls out lawmakers who constantly bray about cutting taxes but never stop shoveling it into their pie holes with both hands while feeding at the public trough (Warning: contains large dosage of Actual Reporting)…Nice piece by Cap Weekly’s John Howard on how the Silver Fox is changing Capitol  atmospherics…Timm Herdt provides all you need to know to follow the brain-numbing debate about de-funding redevelopment agencies…Last word on the importance, or lack of same, to the Arizona massacre of Palin-style face-ripping political speech goes to Frank Rich …When nothing else will do but a good reader on the history of U.S. adventurism in Africa: Adam Hochschild on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

No F*&%ing Way! That’s the title and the point in a sharp new ad about the GOP attack on health care by Move On. Might not be a big hit in the heartland, but then again, maybe it strikes a chord.

Dr. H. Secret Decoder Ring Memo to Flash: Some free management advice:  Never contract out your wet work - always do it yourself. “Bet you won’t say that to my face!” Really? Seriously? Where do you find these guys – Miss Joslin’s Ding Dong School? Next up: “Wah! He hit me!”

Calbuzz picks: Steelers and Packers (pained as we are — Buckeyes — to pick either of these evil empires).

eMeg Invades Libraries; Commish Escapes Bondage

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Let’s hear another chorus of  “No Motherland Without You” Not content to road block the state’s airwaves, Meg Whitman has now opened another communications channel to force feed her campaign talking points to all Californians. According to Team eMeg:

Meg Whitman has mailed two copies of her plan, “Building A New California”, to about 1,400 public libraries throughout the state. The 48-page policy magazine concentrates on her three priorities: creating jobs, cutting government spending and fixing education.

“In an effort to provide California voters with the information they need to make an informed decision about which candidate has the right experience and leadership skills to be the next Governor of our state, I’ve mailed my plan for ‘Building A New California’ to our state’s public libraries,” said Whitman. “I encourage the libraries to display my magazine in their periodicals section so voters can gain a clear understanding of how I will govern, if elected in November.”

Such a deal. What’s next – framed oil portraits of Her Megness in every K-12 classroom? “Thanks Dear Leader, for all you do for us” signs erected by Cal Trans on every freeway exit? eMeg loyalty oaths sworn and signed by every faculty member at UC?

First Amendment sluts that we are, Calbuzz is all for widespread dissemination of information. But the idea of using taxpayer-funded institutions as distribution points for political propaganda strikes us as kinda’ creepy, and just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Poizner’s Eyes Wide Shut: Steve Poizner’s flack, Jarrod Agen, couldn’t put enough distance between his boss and Erik Brown, owner of  Dynamic Marketing Inc., whom Poizner’s campaign paid more than $10,000 for literature and mailings last May.

That’s ’cause Brown is the galoot who was reimbursed by the Republican National Committee for almost $2,000 in charges at Voyeur West Hollywood, a risqué, bondage-themed nightclub in Hollywood.

All the news about this, btw, was broken unflinchingly  by The Daily Caller,  conservative TV yakker Tucker Carlson’s DC online political site.

Records show Brown charged Poizner for more than $10,000 in services in May 2009, but a Poizner spokesman immediately distanced the candidate from Brown, the DC reported. Spokesman Jarrod Agen said Brown is merely a “direct mail vendor” and is not a consultant to the Poizner campaign. He says Brown hasn’t worked for them since June. “You can’t call someone a ‘Poizner consultant’ who we haven’t dealt with in nearly a year,” Agen said in an e-mail to the DC.

Catch up with the story, including RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s role, here and  here.

More guilty pleasures: Check out The Daily Beast’s close comparative analysis of Democrat and Republican sex scandals, which includes a ranking of the top 58 of the last 20 years, featuring three Californians – Kevin Shelley (#29); Gary Condit (#43) and Gavin Newsom (#53) – as well as Andy Borowitz’s blindingly insightful look at what l’affaire de Voyeur means for the RNC’s stance on gay marriage.

How about naming rights for the Wednesday edition? Our Department of Newspaper Credibility and On-Time Driveway Delivery has long found problematic the Chronicle’s practice of running Willie Brown’s column in its news pages.

We have nothing against the Sunday Mr. Speaker feature – in fact we’re often entertained or informed by one of his self-serving items. Given Brown’s impenetrable tangle of political, financial and legal interests and conflicts in San Francisco and California, however, prudent editorial  judgment would seem to err on the side of running the column on the op-ed page, where readers would understand up front that what they were getting wasn’t “news” in any sense of the word.

Now comes the Bay Guardian to report that Chronicle columnist Brown has been representing PG&E’s political interests before the state Public Utilities Commission, with nary a word of disclosure to readers. When the Guardian’s Tim Redmond called up editor Ward Bushee to ask WTF, he offered this see-no-evil response:

Our readers like his column to a large degree because he’s the Willie Brown with a long and colorful political history and many connections…Willie is not an employee or a member of the Chronicle staff but his columns go through standard editing procedures. He understands conflict of interest as well as anyone. I’m confident that he would not use his column to promote or benefit outside interests or clients. But if you feel differently, why don’t you contact him and ask him these questions directly.

Huh? In other words, the ethical standards of the San Francisco Chronicle are now left to the journalistic judgment and best intentions of Willie L. Brown Jr. to determine. And you wonder why newspapers are in the dumper.

And don’t call me chief: “The Wrap” is one of our favorite Hollywood news sites, but not necessarily the first place we look for serious media criticism. But Dylan Stableford delivered a well-deserved smack on the snout to the 15 dead tree newspapers in the nation whose editors decided that passage of health care reform did not merit play on the front page.

Among the papers that put the story inside, and the yarns they featured on the front instead:

Palm Beach Daily News, Palm Beach, Florida
“Census Forms Arriving in the Mail.”

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Florida
A story on Hollywood’s suddenly feeble leading men pegged to Ben Stiller’s “Greenberg” character.

Commercial-News, Danville, Illinois
Photos of a maple syrup open house.

Don’t stop the presses!

Calling all wingnuts: Frank Rich nailed it with Sunday’s column in which he loudly called out the racism and sexism of the Arayan Nation Tea Party legions, noting correctly that their complaints about health care are nothing more than a gauzy curtain for their bottom line concern: there’s a black guy in the White House:

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play…When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Patriots, indeed.