Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

Get my RSS |

Ross Douthat and Jonathan Rauch

| Mon Jan. 25, 2010 6:21 PM EST

In his New York Times column from Monday, Ross Douthat argues that President Barack Obama overreached by pushing for comprehensive health care reform. (Mark Oppenheimer profiles the conservative wunderkind in the latest issue of Mother Jones.) Douthat says that liberals should blame their heroes—FDR, for example—for creating a state so large that it's impossible to reform:

Under Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, liberals created a federal leviathan that taxes, regulates and redistributes across every walk of American life. In the process, though, they bound the hands of future generations of reformers. Programs became entrenched. Bureaucracies proliferated. Subsidies became “entitlements,” tax breaks became part of the informal social contract. And our government was transformed, slowly but irreversibly, into a “large, incoherent, often incomprehensible mass that is solicitous of its clients but impervious to any broad, coherent program of reform.”

That’s a quote from Jonathan Rauch’s “Government’s End: Why Washington Stopped Working,” a book that should be required reading for Democrats as they contemplate their predicament this week. First published amid the collapse of Clintoncare, and then reissued after the failure of the Gingrich Revolution, Rauch’s analysis makes mincemeat of the popular theory that sinister “special interests” are to blame for derailing reforms the common man wholeheartedly supports.

Instead, he suggests that sweeping reforms are difficult because we’re all special interests, in one sense or another. We all benefit from something (or many things) the government does, and so we all have an incentive to resist dramatic changes to the way Washington spends money.

What's missing from Douthat's analysis of Rauch is the fact that on Saturday (two days before Douthat's column appeared), Rauch offered a guarded endorsement of the Senate's health care reform bill. "It could be much better," he says (true), and "there is plenty to worry about," (also true), but "Taken together, [the bill's] measures could set in motion a virtuous cycle." (You can read Rauch's column and judge for yourself whether that's true.) On Monday, Douthat took to his blog to note Rauch's endorsement of the Senate bill. "[I]t’s only fair to note that Rauch himself thinks the legislation is worth saving," Douthat wrote. But he didn't explain why he didn't mention it in his print column. If the endorsement wasn't mentioned because Douthat didn't see it until after his column went to press, then Douthat should say that. If Douthat knew about Rauch's position but decided not to mention it in print, he should explain why he came around to the idea that "it's only fair" to mention it.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Make Campaign Contributions?

| Mon Jan. 25, 2010 3:08 PM EST

In the video below, Linda McMahon, the WWE CEO who is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Connecticut, offers a remarkably candid explanation for her history of political contributions to Democrats:

In the video, McMahon explains that she donated to Democrats not because she supported their political agenda, but because she wanted to promote the interests of her business. Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of candidates accepting donations made out of pure self-interest, because we tend to want campaign contributions to be premised on genuine support for a politician and/or his or her political positions. This also gets at the heart of the problem with the recent Supreme Court decision opening up elections to unlimited amounts of corporate money.

Unopinionated Media

| Mon Jan. 25, 2010 1:33 PM EST

One of my pet peeves is the idea that the news reporting of the New York Times, the Washington Post, et. al. is utterly free of bias or opinion. That attitude—which you saw in Times reporter Peter Baker's complaints about the addition of Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post to the White House print pool—is just infuriating. Even a casual perusal of the Times or the Post (or, for that matter, the more right-leaning Wall Street Journal) will turn up examples of reporters and/or editors injecting their own thoughts or opinions into stories. And even the cleanest of stories is still affected by the reporter's decisions: who to talk to, how to describe events, and what kind of credibility to give to different sources. Anyway, today's example is a story in the Times about Obama's plans for his State of the Union address, which is scheduled for Wednesday. Describing the administration's new economic recovery proposals, the reporter writes:

Such programs are, notably, much less far-reaching than Mr. Obama’s expansive first-year agenda of passing an economic recovery package, bailing out the auto industry, overhauling the health care system, passing energy legislation and imposing tough new restrictions on banks. That agenda has left him vulnerable to criticism that he is using the government to remake every aspect of American society.

I added the emphasis there, but that sentence sticks out anyway. It's hilariously broad—"every" aspect of American society? It's totally unattached to any sourcing or evidence. Who are these critics? Do they have names? If "Republicans" or "Tea Party activists" are claiming that Obama is using government to remake American society, readers should know that. Just saying that Obama is "vulnerable to criticism" without saying where that criticism is coming from gives the claim a credibility it doesn't deserve. Does America society seem "remade" to you?

The entire article is problematic as "straight news" because the reporter is arguing that Obama is moderating his policy positions to appeal to the political center. Never mind that White House officials explicitly deny this premise. (White House officials have been known to lie, of course.) The bottom line is that the reporter is making a call about what the truth of the matter is. Breaking news: that's an opinion. Just because I happen to think it's a correct opinion doesn't make it a fact. The article should have had an "analysis" tag. Or maybe the Times should drop the act and just admit that it's doing the same thing that TPM is—just with a centrist bias instead of a liberal one.

November Looms

| Mon Jan. 25, 2010 12:14 PM EST

Imagine that nine months from now, all of your neighbors got to vote on whether you should keep your job. Even if you thought you would win that vote, it would definitely be on your mind—a lot.

That's how members of Congress—especially Democrats—are feeling right now. In nine months, they could be out of a job. Fear is one reason that Dems are balking at the prospect of pushing through health care reform. And the way the November elections are shaping up, it looks like Dems are right to be worried. The big election news today is that Beau Biden, Delaware's attorney general (and the son of Vice President Joe Biden) won't run for his Dad's old Senate seat. That means Mike Castle will probably win the seat. Castle is a Republican member of the House who is the state's most popular politician. Castle has been winning statewide elections in the First State since the Reagan era, and he'll be a heavy favorite to win in November.

The other big election-related news for today is a Rasmussen poll out of Indiana that shows Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) leading Evan Bayh, the incumbent Democratic Senator, by 3. The race is already on election expert Nate Silver's takeover radar, even though Pence hasn't announced he will run.

Between the Bayh and Biden news, the Democrats look increasingly likely to risk losing control of the Senate. North Dakota, where Sen. Byron Dorgan is retiring, looks like a near-lock for GOP Governor John Hoeven. Delaware looks like a lock for Castle. Democratic incumbents are also in serious trouble in Nevada (Harry Reid), Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln), Pennsylvania (onetime GOPer Arlen Specter), and Colorado (appointed Sen. Michael Bennet). If Republicans can sweep those four races, win the two near-locks, pick up the open seat in Illinois (where popular Rep. Mark Kirk is running), beat Bayh in Indiana, and beat Barbara Boxer in California and get Joe Lieberman to switch allegiances, they'll have control of the Senate. Right now, all of those tasks look achievable. But even in the best cycles, it's hard to get everything to go your party's way. Nate Silver puts the odds of the Republicans getting to 50-50 or beyond at a bit less than 15 percent. That seems about right. But unless the national environment changes, the Dems are definitely set to lose a bunch of seats—and we haven't even talked about the House of Representatives yet.

So is there any hope for the Democrats and President Barack Obama's agenda? Tom Jensen of PPP, a polling firm, thinks they might have a shot at salvaging a few seats if they run anti-establishment candidates in the open-seat races:

ACLU Sues for Torture Memos Report

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 4:25 PM EST

Remember in June, when I told you the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report on the authors of the "torture memos" was due out soon? It was going to be released in "a matter of weeks," Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate committee. Then, in November, Holder told another Senate panel that the report would come out "by the end of the month." While, it's January now, and the OPR report is nowhere to be found. The American Civil Liberties Union is tired of waiting, so today it filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the release of the report. Maybe that will finally get the Justice Department to keep its promises. Don't count on it, though.

Mon Jul. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 4, 2013 11:23 AM EST
Tue Nov. 6, 2012 9:47 PM EST
Fri Sep. 21, 2012 5:40 PM EDT
Sun Aug. 19, 2012 6:21 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 30, 2012 11:16 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 9, 2012 10:04 AM EDT
Thu Jun. 28, 2012 12:40 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:30 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 11, 2012 10:32 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 4, 2012 9:43 AM EDT
Wed May. 9, 2012 3:01 AM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 11:15 AM EDT
Fri Feb. 10, 2012 1:56 PM EST