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.

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The Gitmo "Suicides"

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 10:25 AM PST

Kevin already addressed this on his blog, but if you haven't read Scott Horton's latest story on the Gitmo "suicides," you should. In December, I wrote about a Seton Hall report that hinted that three detainee suicides at Guantanamo Bay in 2006 weren't actually suicides. Now Horton has on-the-record sources suggesting that the detainees were killed in a previously undisclosed off-site facility called "Camp No," and the murders were covered-up. In any sane media environment, this would be front-page news everywhere, and a congressional investigation would already have been launched. Anyway, read it.

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What If Coakley Loses?

| Sun Jan. 17, 2010 4:02 PM PST

Democrats realized a while ago that Martha Coakley might actually lose the race to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate. That's why President Barack Obama was in Massachusetts today stumping for Coakley. The election in scheduled for Tuesday, and the GOP candidate, Scott Brown, leads in a lot of the polls. Some liberals seem to think this is a good thing. Digby paraphrases this theory in a wonderful post on this phenomonon:

[T]he only thing Democrats understand is pain and so the thing that will change this dynamic will be to deliver them a loss of their majority and perhaps the presidency to show the consequences of failure to fulfill the progressive agenda.

It's hard to see how crushing defeats for the more liberal party will somehow help liberals. The Democrats are the more-liberal party. If they're losing, the Republicans (the more conservative party) will be winning. Digby again:

[Y]ou can't ever know exactly what lesson will be taken from this sort of pain and if history is any guide, the likeliest one is the simplest and most obvious: they lost because people preferred what the other side had to offer. Obviously, that's not necessarily the case, but it isn't illogical for them to believe that. And the exit polls or whatever other data may be available rarely clearly show that it was base demobilization that caused a turnover. Often people don't even know why they failed to vote and you can't exit poll those who didn't bother.

I can't emphasize enough how right this is. I don't understand how liberals—including many people who helped develop the liberal critique of the news media—could fail to see how Republicans, conservative Democrats, and the media will spin Democratic defeats in Massachusetts on Tuesday and/or in the November midterms. It's as if people are ignoring their own beliefs about how the media operates. One last graph from digby:

[Y]ou have the ongoing, pernicious problem of the conservative Democrats who will always pimp the anti-liberal line and their friends in the media who pull the old "this is a conservative country" narrative off the shelf by reflex. Indeed, we can see it in its full glory already manifesting itself with this classic Adam Nagourney piece in today's NY Times.

If you're just arguing that the Democrats might need a wake-up call reminding them that they have to energize their base, that's perfectly reasonable. (I suggested as much on Friday.) The very fact that the race to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts with health care and everything else on the line is coming down to the wire should be wakeup call aplenty. Democrats don't need Coakley to lose in order to realize they have a base mobilization problem. If you're a liberal who's out there arguing that a Coakley loss will "help liberals," please go read the rest of digby's post right now. And remember what happened when too many liberals sat out the 2000 election (or voted for Nader).

Obama on Coakley: Issues Do Matter

| Sun Jan. 17, 2010 3:25 PM PST

President Barack Obama just finished up a speech in support of Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts special election set for Tuesday to determine who will fill out the remainder of Ted Kennedy's term in the Senate. Republican candidate Scott Brown spoke at his own rally today, too. The contrast was illuminating. Obama's speech focused on all the issues where Brown, being a Republican, will almost certainly vote with Senate Republicans: climate change legislation, financial regulatory reform ("He'll park his truck on Wall Street," Obama said), and, of course, health care reform. The president's message was clear: voters should looks past Coakley's flaws as a candidate (although he didn't acknowlege them, his very presence in the state spoke to her failings), forget about her gaffes, and focus on her issue positions. Coakley's positions prove that she would "be on your side," Obama said.

Brown's speech, by contrast, had little to do with the issues. There were few GOP dignitaries or officeholders by his side. Instead, sports stars like Curt Schilling and Doug Flutie and actor John Ratzenberger (Cliff from "Cheers") joined Brown on stage. The cast of characters mirrored the substance—or lack thereof—in Brown's speech. He spoke about his "underdog" status, his truck (Brown campaigned in a pickup—a tactic Obama repeatedly referenced in his own speech, asking voters to "look under the hood"), and sports.

It's pretty obvious what's going on here. Massachusetts voters don't like Martha Coakley too much. They like the tall, handsome, hangs-out-with-sports-stars Scott Brown. But most Bay Staters aren't as conservative as Scott Brown issues or beliefs-wise (unlike Brown, they certainly don't seem to think President Obama was born out of wedlock, for example). So Coakley, Obama, and the Democrats are trying to get voters to focus on the issues. Brown's trying to get them to focus on narrative: how he's the "underdog," he's cool, he drives a truck, etc. Issue positions are what actually matter when it comes to votes in Washington that affect peoples' lives. But, unfortunately for Coakley, too often it's narrative—political mythmaking—that matters most in electoral politics. Barack "Hope and Change" Obama knows that better than anyone. It will be interesting to see what matters most on Tuesday.

Dems Unleashing Full OFA List in Mass. Senate Race (Finally)

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 2:25 PM PST

Democrats will be using the full Organizing for America email list in an attempt to rescue Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley, a party official tells Mother Jones. Democrats hope that Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, will benefit from the energy of the activists on the massive email list President Barack Obama assembled during his campaign for the White House. In the wake of the White House's announcement that Obama himself will campaign for Coakley on Sunday, the move to fire up the full 13-million-person list is just the latest sign that national Democrats are panicked about Republican Scott Brown's momentum and polling leads. David Corn wrote about OFA—and journalist Ari Melber's 73-page report on it—yesterday:

So far, Obama has mostly stuck to familiar presidential pathways when it comes to using power, communicating with the public, and interacting with the citizenry and his supporters. (His use of electronic town halls and the like have been mostly gimmicks.) Though he entered the White House with a network unlike any amassed by a predecessor—both larger and more engaged—he has not tried to deploy it to reshape the operating system of Washington.

Republicans all over the country are phonebanking for the Massachusetts race (Democrats say they are, too), and Brown has reportedly been raising a million dollars a day online. Can the OFA list save Coakley? Can anything? The Dems are definitely pulling out all the stops.

Obama To Massachusetts

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 12:37 PM PST

White House photo/Pete Souza (Government Work).White House photo/Pete Souza (Government Work).President Barack Obama will campaign in Massachusetts on Sunday in a last-ditch effort to save Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate. The stakes couldn't be higher. If Scott Brown wins, health care reform is probably dead. The media will take the loss—in Massachusetts, of all places—as further evidence that the party is in huge trouble in the November midterms. Congressional Democrats could face a wave of retirements as vulnerable Democrats pass on tough reelection fights. Sure, if Obama goes in and Coakley still loses—a definite possibility—it will be painted as a major defeat for the president. But since the White House's agenda is finished anyway if Brown wins, the Obama team probably figured they have nothing to lose.

Needless to say, it would be truly crushing for Democrats to come so close to the goal they've been pushing towards for 60 years and fall short. Base enthusiasm would fall even further. The president's agenda would be permanently stalled by a rock-solid GOP filibuster in the Senate. The party might not recover for years. (It's ridiculous, of course, that a bill with 59 votes in the Senate can't pass. But that's the system we have.)

The only bright spot for liberals in all this is that maybe, deep in the recesses of Obama's brain, there is finally a twinkle of realization that he needs his base. As economist James Galbraith says in an email, "This could possibly be a watershed moment, when the President finally realizes that he has to have an army, if he wants to win the war." We can hope that's right. I'm a big believer in the importance of process and compromising to push things through a corrupt and dysfunctional Congress. But it's incredibly important to get people energized and excited about politics—to have them hoping and wanting. That was the magic Obama brought to his campaign, and he's definitely lost it in the White House. Can he get it back? Does he want to?

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