Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
On Monday, I took a shot at Sarah Palin after she wrote, "To suggest that raising the debt limit doesn't incur more debt is laughably absurd. The very reason why you raise the debt limit is so that you can incur more debt. Otherwise what's the point?" In a tweet, I noted, "No, you do it so you can pay the debt you accrued." That is, the government's debt is not created by the extension of borrowing authority; it is created when Congress establishes entitlements or passes spending bills that require government borrowing. If you sign a tuition contract with a college for your kid and need to take out a loan to cover all or part of it, you assume a debt when you enter into that agreement, not when you go to the bank and ask for an extended line of credit. Put another way, raising the debt ceiling does not change the amount of money the US government owes.
Nevertheless, a mass of conservative trolls rushed to Palin's defense and howled about my tweet. Looking for further edification on this matter that I could share with the Palinites, I sent her quote to Mark Zandi, the prominent economist who was one of the policy advisers to the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008, and asked him to evaluate it. Zandi, who is now chief economist of Moody's Analytics, emailed back with a bigger message:
The point is that with each passing day the debt limit is not increased the more damage it will do to our economy. If lawmakers don’t raise the debt limit by November 1, the economy will fall back into recession. If they can't raise it by the end of November, we will be dooming our economy and the entire global economy to a wrenching economic downturn with implications for years if not decades to come.
Whoa. This is a rather dire prediction, suggesting the very real possibility of global economic catastrophe. While the email doesn't address Palin's description of the debt limit, it does undercut her charge that President Barack Obama is shamefully "scaremongering the markets with his talk of default." More important, Zandi's note is a reminder that all those tea partiers who have pooh-poohed the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling—including Palin—are risking the country's future by continuing their always-fervent crusade against Obama.
In March, the Republican Party released a 97-page report on its future prospects that chairman Reince Priebus had commissioned following the 2012 election. The party called the study its Growth and Opportunity Project report, but most members of the politerati referred to it as an autopsy. The hard-hitting study—authored by Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Bush II press secretary Ari Fleischer, and a few other prominent GOPers—fingered what had gone wrong for the Rs and provided a roadmap for the coming years. But the party's recent excursion into the government shutdown/debt ceiling quagmire shows that few members of its national wing absorbed the lessons the party's coroners had assembled.
After convening in-depth focus groups of voters in Iowa and Ohio who used to call themselves Republicans, polling Republican Hispanic voters, consulting assorted pollsters, and surveying political practitioners at the local and national level, the group made some obvious conclusions. Noting the nation's changing demographics, it maintained that the GOP had to reassess its relationship with Latinos: "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence." Ditto concerning young voters: "A post-election survey of voters ages 18-29 in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado found that Republicans have an almost 1:2 favorable/unfavorable rating. Democrats have an almost 2:1 favorable rating." And the members of the GOP's morgue brigade asserted that GOP governors had been doing a better job in promoting a positive image of the party than congressional Republicans. The party's "messaging," they observed, was hurting it.
Clearly, this point has been ignored by the Republicans who have pushed the party toward a government shutdown and a possible default. (Ted Cruz, this means you.) As Republican leaders on Capitol Hill—read: Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell—scurry to prevent a tea party-caused default if the debt ceiling is not lifted later this week, here's a look at five key passages of the report that have gone unheeded by the Republican radicals in the House and Senate who have positioned the GOP as the party of hostage-taking.
THEN: "The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future….Public perception of the Party is at record lows."
NOW: Since the report came out, these record lows have become lower. Last week, Gallup reported that the Republican Party was viewed favorably by only 28 percent of Americans, down 10 points from the previous month. The polling company noted, "This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992."
THEN: "At the federal level, much of what Republicans are doing is not working beyond the core constituencies that make up the Party."
NOW: While tea partiers have cheered on Cruz and House Republicans who have demanded ransom for funding the government or preventing default—be it thwarting Obamacare or insisting on more spending cuts—this strategy has not played well with the general public. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 24 percent approve of the performance of Republicans in Congress and 70 percent disapprove. (Democrats had a 36/59-percent split.)
THEN: "The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
"Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism."
NOW: The shutdown was pursued by the Republicans who consider themselves conservative purists—and who have been supported and encouraged by outside groups seeking more conservative purity within the GOP. This political crisis occurred because a faction of the GOP in Congress was reinforced by far-right activists and advocates.
THEN: "Our job as Republicans is to champion private growth so people will not turn to the government in the first place. But we must make sure that the government works for those truly in need, helping them so they can quickly get back on their feet. We should be driven by reform, eliminating, and fixing what is broken, while making sure the government’s safety net is a trampoline, not a trap.
"As Ada Fisher, the Republican National Committeewoman from North Carolina, told us, 'There are some people who need the government.'"
NOW: In recent weeks, several congressional Republicans pressing for a shutdown and for leveraging the debt ceiling have celebrated the shutdown and given the impression they see government as the enemy. That NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported that 52 percent of Americans believe government "should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people." Forty-four percent said government "is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals."
THEN: "As part of the Growth and Opportunity Project’s effort, focus groups were conducted in Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, to listen to voters who used to consider themselves Republicans. These are voters who recently left the Party.
"Asked to describe Republicans, they said that the Party is 'scary,' 'narrow minded,' and 'out of touch' and that we were a Party of 'stuffy old men.' This is consistent with the findings of other post-election surveys."
NOW: In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 53 percent blamed the GOPers for the shutdown. (Only 31 percent pointed the finger at Obama.) Seventy percent said they believed the Republicans were "putting their own political agenda ahead of what is good for the country." Given that most respondents believed the shutdown was causing harm to the nation, it's a fair bet that the actions of the GOP are seen by many as "narrow minded" or "out of touch."
When the GOP autopsy was released seven months ago, conservatives—especially those who oppose immigration reform—howled that Priebus and establishment Republicans (including Karl Rove) were trying to neuter right-wingers and dilute the core ideology of the Grand Old Party. But it turns out they had little reason to worry. The report that Priebus hailed at the time—and its primary message about messaging: Don't let extremists drive our bus—has had no discernible impact on House Speaker John Boehner, the tea partiers in his House Republican caucus, Sens. Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Rand Paul (R-Ken.), and other GOPers who have pressed for ideologically-fueled conflict. Yet given that the current polls show Republicans have fallen deeper into the Mariana Trench of public opinion, it seems that the morticians were right. It's too bad for them that their autopsy turned out to be DOA.
There was a fair bit of huffing when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, less than eight months after Obama had moved into the Oval Office. Too soon, declared critics and skeptics, who had a point. The president had not earned the award through any particular action. And he recognized that in his initial remarks about winning the prize: "Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize."
But Obama may well deserve a smidgen of credit for the Nobel Peace Prize that was handed out this week. The winner is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague-based body created to enforce the UN Chemical Weapons Convention that bans such arms. The OPCW is now busy overseeing the cataloging and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal. Hence, the Obama connection.
It seems fair to argue that the OPCW is destroying chemical weapons equipment in Syria because Obama took a stand after the regime of Bashar al-Assad presumably attacked a suburb of Damascus with chemical weapons in August and killed about 1,400 people. After Obama threatened to launch a retaliatory attack on Syria with the aim of deterring Assad from again using these horrific weapons—a threat that resulted in a political kerfuffle in Washington—Russian leader Vladimir Putin brokered a deal under which Assad acknowledged he possessed chemical weapons and agreed to place them under international control. The subsequent negotiations are still under way, but, at least for the time being, Obama did achieve his aim—preventing the further use of chemical weapons in Syria. Moreover, he placed Putin on the hook for Assad's chemical weapons.
Partly as a result of Obama's actions, Assad's use of chemical weapons became a top-line priority of the global community, and the work of the OPCW received far more notice. As Thorbjoern Jagland the chairman of the award committee, noted, "Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons."
In trying to build support for a strike on Syria, Obama cited the importance of supporting the global ban on chemical weapons and echoed his previous calls for steps toward nuclear disarmament. Recognizing the OPCW award is a boost for international disarmament endeavors. After it was announced, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute made this point:
SIPRI warmly welcomes the award of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW, an organization closely aligned with the aims and work of SIPRI. The world is a safer and more peaceful place as a result of the work of the OPCW.
Achieving disarmament is a long-term, incremental process and implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention has not always been a high-profile activity. Awarding the prize to the OPCW at this time is also a recognition of the hard work of chemical weapons inspectors now working in Syria under dangerous conditions.
The achievements of the OPCW show that, thanks to international cooperation, it is possible to rid the world of chemical weapons. Indeed, they demonstrate that a world free of weapons of mass destruction is politically and technically feasible.
This Nobel Peace Prize is hence a reminder that the reduction and abolition of nuclear weapons are possible, and that it must be tackled as well. And once states have completely abandoned all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, they must work together to prevent their re‑emergence, whether in the hands of states or non-state actors. The work of the OPCW—and its dedication to peace and security to help to form a safer world for all—will thus remain important for many years to come.
Don't expect Obama to claim any credit for this award. But perhaps the leaders of OPCW can send him a thank-you card.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Joy Reid this week about why President Obama won't paint House Speaker John Boehner as a government shutdown villain and what the chances are for a new supercommittee. Watch here:
How did the Republican Party become a kamikaze club guided by a small handful of hostage-taking radicals hell-bent on causing chaos to ruin the presidency of Barack Obama? It wasn't by the design of House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP congressional leadership. This came about because a small number of tea party back-benchers in the House and Senate, assisted by a well-financed network of right-wing organizations (some funded by the billionaire Koch brothers), pushed an issue that was red meat for the GOP's base—defunding Obamacare—and managed to hijack the party (even more than the tea party already had).
Let's look at how the Boehner-led GOPers began this latest round of political battle. After Obama won reelection and the Democrats picked up 11 seats in the House last November, Boehner appeared ready to accept political reality. He observed,
It's pretty clear that the president was re-elected. Obamacare is the law of the land. If we were to put Obamacare into the CR [the bill funding the government, known as a continuing resolution] and send it over to the Senate, we were risking shutting down the government. That is not our goal.
That is, Boehner had no desire to relitigate Obamacare through the budget process.