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Is Republican Concern About Middle-Class Wage Stagnation Just a Big Con?

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 4:10 PM EST

Over the past few weeks, Republicans have become oddly troubled about the state of the American economy. It's not just that recovery from the Great Recession has been slow. Their big concern is that income inequality is growing. Middle-class wages are stagnating. GDP growth is benefiting corporations and the rich, but no one else. The economy is becoming fundamentally unfair for the average joe.

This is certainly a sharp U-turn for a party that's traditionally been more concerned with cutting regulations on businesses and lowering taxes on the rich. Why the sudden unease with the fact that the rich are doing so well?

The cynical side of me says the answer is simple: Republicans don't really care about the growing unfairness of the economy any more than they ever have. They've just decided to attack Democrats on their strongest point, not their weakest. This was a favorite tactic of Karl Rove's, and over the past decade or two it's become a fairly conventional strategy. If Hillary Clinton thinks she can make hay by pointing out how the well the rich are doing at the expense of everyone else—well, let's just defuse that right from the start by agreeing with her. Thomas Edsall puts it like this:

The danger for Democrats is that they will lose ownership of the issues of stagnation, opportunity and fairness. But they also face what may be a deeper problem: What happens when their candidates are not the only ones who can harness the emotional power that stems from the anger many Americans feel as they helplessly watch the geyser of wealth shooting to the top?

The less cynical view is that the Republican Party is finally responding to the views of the "reformicons," a loose group of youngish thinkers who have urged the GOP to adopt a more populist, family-friendly economic agenda. This, goes the story, is pushing Republicans in a more centrist direction, and is responsible for their increasing attention to issues of economic fairness. As Edsall says, they have to move to the center if they want to win in 2016. However, Yuval Levin, one of the most prominent of the reformicons, says this is just flatly wrong:

A lot of [Edsall's] confusion would be resolved if he considered the possibility that we are actually trying to drag the party to the right, not the center—on the tax question that is his focus, and on the other issues we have taken up.

....Edsall’s treatment of the tax question as the one on which the reformers have stepped furthest from traditional conservative arguments is a good illustration of his failure to see this dynamic....The kind of proposals that “reform conservatives” tend to call for, and the sort that Lee and Marco Rubio have advanced in Congress, consist of the same basic components as most of the successful conservative tax reforms of the last three decades....[However,] it does emphasize the business tax code in pursuit of growth more....It does emphasize marginal rate reductions less....It does deliver more of its tax relief through payroll-tax cuts....It does prominently feature the over-taxation of parents among the distortions it seeks to correct.

....This approach to tax reform is precisely an application of longstanding conservative principles and goals to contemporary circumstances....So on taxes, the question between some reform conservatives and some other conservatives is how best to move Republicans to the right....At its core, at least as I see it, “reform conservatism” is just applied conservatism. In many areas of policy, we’re trying to move Republicans from merely saying no to the left, or worse yet saying “yes, but a little less,” to showing what the right would do instead.

I remain unsure what to think of this argument. In one sense, it just seems opportunistic. Reformicons have so far made little headway with a Republican Party that's been relentlessly moving to the right, so now they're trying to insist that their agenda is more conservative than even the tea party agenda. Honest. You just have to squint at it in the right way.

But in another sense, I buy Levin's pitch. Most of the reformicons really are trying to shrink the size of government and lower the overall tax take. The fact that their proposals are perhaps more likely to get adopted in the real world makes them, in a practical sense, more conservative than a firebrand who just wants to scream about taxes with no real chance of ever getting a conservative tax plan passed.

That said, I still think Levin underestimates some of the differences here. The reformicons, he admits, do emphasize marginal rate reductions less than traditional conservatives. But this is not just some minor point of tactics. Ever since Reagan, lowering marginal rates on the rich has been one of the two or three unshakeable Holy Grails of the conservative movement. You see this over and over again when Republicans actively oppose tax cuts if they don't include a rate cut at the top. They don't want to reduce payroll taxes. They don't want to increase child tax credits. What they want is to cut tax rates on the rich. The evidence on this point could hardly be more crystal clear.

Overall, then, I'd say Edsall has the better of this argument, and he's right to be a bit befuddled. The reformicons may say that their agenda is both more populist and more conservative than traditional Republicanism, but that's a hard argument to swallow. And when it comes to issues other than taxes, the problems get even worse. Reformicons mostly want to accept the welfare state but transform it into something more efficient. That's not a message that the modern Republican Party is open to. Ditto on social issues, where reformicons tend to simply stay quiet. But in real life, politicians don't get to stay quiet. They either toe the line on social issues or else they're drummed out of the movement.

The bottom line remains the same as it's always been. To the extent that reformicons are successful, it's because they aren't really reformers. To the extent that they're true reformers, they aren't successful. Maybe that will change in the future. But not yet.

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Scott Walker Would Be the Most Conservative GOP Presidential Candidate in 50 Years

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 12:07 PM EST

For those of us who are sort of fascinated by the rise of Scott Walker as a Republican presidential contender, here's an interesting chart from Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University. It shows the relative conservative-ness of GOP presidential nominees in the past six contested elections, and it demonstrates what an outlier Walker would be if he won next year's primary: He'd be the first candidate since Ronald Reagan who's more conservative than the average of the Republican field. And by McDaniel's measure,1 he'd actually be the most conservative recent nominee, period—even more right-wing than Reagan:

Walker is well to the right end of the conservative spectrum, residing in the ideological neighborhood of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul…It is not a stretch to argue that if nominated, Walker would be the most conservative Republican nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964.

…In contrast, Jeb Bush's ideological position closely resembles previous Republican nominees. Bush most closely resembles John McCain in 2008…In Scott Walker versus Jeb Bush, party elites and primary voters are presented with clearly contrasting visions of the future direction of the Republican party…If the recent history of Republican nomination contests is any guide, the party is likely to decide that Scott Walker is too ideologically extreme to be the Republican nominee in 2016.

Of course, the fact that this chart seems surprising is one of Walker's big strengths. He may be as conservative as, say, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, but he doesn't seem as conservative. He doesn't have Cruz's bombast and he doesn't go around hinting that we should go back to the gold standard, like Rand Paul. In practice, that may put him closer to the center of the field than his actual positions warrant.

Still, McDaniel's data is worth taking note of. If Walker remains hardnosed in his views, it may be hard to hide this from the voters. Eventually he's going to say something that will cause the Jeb Bushes and Chris Christies to pounce, and that might expose him as too much of an ideologue to win the mainstream Republican vote. It all depends on how well he learns to dog whistle and tap dance at the same time. But then, that's true of everyone running for president, isn't it?

1Using data from Adam Bonica, as McDaniel points out via Twitter.

Republicans Need to Speak Up About Alabama Gay Marriage Ruling

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 11:08 AM EST

Steve Benen has a question for Republican presidential candidates:

Last week, after Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made controversial comments about vaccines, almost immediately political leaders in both parties were asked to explain their own position on vaccinations. Within a day or two, every likely presidential candidate was on record, endorsing an anti-disease position.

It’d be nice if we saw similar scrutiny today about developments in Alabama. There are all kinds of political figures poised to launch presidential campaigns, and last week they told us what they think about vaccines. Maybe this week they can tell us whether they’re comfortable with Alabama counties ignoring the federal courts?

In case you missed it—not likely, but I guess you never know—earlier this week a federal judge struck down Alabama's law banning same-sex marriage. Alabama's chief justice then ordered local judges to ignore the federal ruling and refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A hearing to resolve the issue in federal court is scheduled for Thursday.

But tomorrow's hearing isn't really at issue. A federal court has made a ruling, and the Supreme Court has already declined to issue a stay. The court's decision is now good law. So the question is: should local judges follow the law, or should they continue to oppose same-sex marriage and refuse to issue licenses?

Like Benen, I'd sure like to hear what everyone has to say about this. The tap dancing would be entertaining. Chris Christie would probably pull his usual cowardly schtick and simply refuse to take a position. Jeb Bush might insist that it's strictly a matter for Alabama and it would be improper for him to take a position. Mike Huckabee would probably counsel civil disobedience. And Scott Walker? Good question. I don't know what he'd say. But I'd like to find out.

Jon Stewart Picked a Good Time to Retire From the Daily Show

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 10:49 AM EST

I guess I'm curious about something. How many of you think Jon Stewart made the right decision stepping down from the Daily Show? I'm reluctant to say this because I've long been such a pretty devoted follower, but the truth is that Marian and I gradually stopped watching him last year. It wasn't any single thing, or any big change in what he did. It was just a growing sense that we weren't really laughing as much as we used to. There were still good bits, and the correspondents still had their moments, but they were fewer and farther between than in the past.

Are there others who feel the same way? I don't want to turn this thread into a pile-on, especially if you happen to be someone who's never liked Stewart's brand of comedy. I've always been a big fan. But over the past year he seems to have lost a lot of his edge. Or is it just me?

Montana GOP Legislator Wants to Ban Yoga Pants

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 10:46 AM EST

Montana Republican state Rep. David Moore has a plan to guide America out of the darkness—ban yoga pants.

Moore, who is upset that group of naked bicyclists pedaled through Missoula last year, decided that what his state really needs right now is tighter regulations on trousers. His proposed bill, HB 365, would outlaw not just nudity, but also "any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region." Per the Billings Gazette:

The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal.

"Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway," Moore said after the hearing.

Moore said he wouldn’t have a problem with people being arrested for wearing provocative clothing but that he'd trust law enforcement officials to use their discretion. He couldn’t be sure whether police would act on that provision or if Montana residents would challenge it.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Moore said.

Merlin's pants! According to the Great Falls Tribune, Moore elaborated that he also believes Speedos should be illegal.

HB 365 continues a miraculous stretch for the Montana legislature. Just last December the Republican-controlled legislature issued new dress-code guidelines for the state capitol, advising women that they should "should be sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines."

Update: Moore's bill has been tabled.

Man Arrested for Fatal Shootings of Three Muslim Students Near University of North Carolina

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 10:27 AM EST
Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders near Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Update, February 11, 2015, 11:24 a.m.: In a statement, police say the shootings may have stemmed from a parking dispute. "Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking. Hicks is cooperating with investigators," a police spokesman said Wednesday.

A 46-year-old man was arrested for the fatal shootings of three Muslim students inside an apartment complex near the University of North Carolina on Tuesday. 

Police say Craig Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. The victims are Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. The sisters were reportedly enrolled at North Carolina State University; Barakat was a student at Chapel Hill's school of dentistry.

 

Spencer turned himself into police Tuesday night "without incident," according to Chatham County Sgt. Kevin Carey. While officials are still investigating a motive behind the murders, news of the students' deaths quickly sparked alarm over concerns of racial bias. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter was also created.

 

On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged police to investigate the murders as a possible hate crime. An official statement from the council specifically addressed Spencer's Facebook account, in which he allegedly called himself an "anti-theist" and spoke out against "radical Christians and radical Muslims."

"Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in the statement.

"Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the alleged shooter's name. This has since been corrected.

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Watch an Emotional Jon Stewart Announce He's Leaving "The Daily Show"

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 8:49 AM EST

During Tuesday's recording of "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart revealed to a rather shocked audience that after 16 years he would be exiting the show sometime later this year. Word of his notice quickly leaked on social media, which resulted in an official statement confirming the news from Comedy Central.

The episode aired in the evening and it was nothing short of the ever-earnest, personal message Stewart consistently provided for his viewers every night. His farewell sums up exactly why we'll miss him so much. Watch the announcement below:

Personal Health Update

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 12:46 AM EST

I got back my final lab results today. We were mainly looking for two things. First, the volume of the antibody that corresponds to the particular type of blood plasma cell that had become cancerous. In my case, that's the IgG antibody, and over the course of the chemotherapy its volume has fallen from 6200 to 1580. This puts it—barely!—within the normal range. Second, the level of a protein marker that tells us what percentage of my plasma cells are healthy vs. cancerous. This has gone down from 4.2 to 1.18. Ideally I think it would be closer to zero than that, but it's still a pretty good number.

Bottom line: the first stage of my chemotherapy has been successful and is now over. Hooray! The side effects are going to linger for a while, but hopefully not for more than a month or so. At that point, I'll be ready for stage 2, which is an autologous stem cell transplant—that is, a procedure in which they draw out stem cells from my blood and then transplant them back into my body later. You can google the gory details if you really want them.

That will all happen in about a month or so, and will probably put me out of commission for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I get several weeks of recovery time along with a whole bunch of pre-op workups. Should be loads of fun.

But the important thing is that stage 1 is over and I'm basically in remission. I'm now crossing my fingers and hoping that stage 2 is equally successful.

Elizabeth Warren Just Explained in One Tweet Why We'll Miss Jon Stewart So Much

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 8:34 PM EST

The senior senator from Massachusetts puts it better than most:

Hear, hear.

One Perfect Tweet Demonstrates How Utterly Ridiculous the World Is

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 8:13 PM EST

Brian Williams is being suspended without pay from NBC for 6 months. ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser summed it up perfectly: