2011 - %3, September

Rick Perry on Pakistan....Or Something

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 10:24 PM PDT

Holy cats. When I wrote earlier about Rick Perry "sounding like a schoolboy" during tonight's debate, I hadn't even seen this clip. I must have stepped out of the room for a minute or something. But he was obviously caught off guard when Bret Baier asked him about Pakistan, stumbled through a positively Palinesque bit of word salad, and then burbled something about the answer being better relations with India. What a train wreck. I humbly apologize to schoolboys everywhere.

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Quote of the Day: No Sex Please, We're in the Army

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 10:10 PM PDT

From Rick Santorum, answering a question about allowing gays in the armed forces:

I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military .

Hmmm. Something tells me Santorum hasn't spent a whole lot of time around soldiers. Also of note: this exchange came right after the audience booed a soldier serving in Iraq because he was gay. Classy bunch.

John Boehner and the Lunatic Fringe

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 9:17 PM PDT

Susan Davis and Major Garrett describe John Boehner's reaction after losing a floor vote because 48 Republicans refused to vote for it:

Boehner was described as "spitting nails" during a closed-door member meeting on Wednesday, and his harsh talk demonstrated that the usually unflappable speaker is reaching something close to a breaking point with his internally divided conference.

Those close to Boehner said there is a growing anger in the leadership that some in the freshman class and other intractable conservatives pay no mind to the legislative dangers of abandoning leadership—especially at a time when Democrats feel as if they and President Obama are fighting for their political lives.

....In private, Boehner has grown tired of what he dismissively calls the "know-it-alls who have all the right answers." Boehner knew what a defeat would mean—a more costly spending bill, one that provides more emergency disaster relief and contains fewer budget offsets.

It was all kind of fun back when these guys were threatening the financial reputation of the country over the debt ceiling, wasn't it? Of course, that's because it seemed like President Obama might get the blame, and wrecking our credit rating was well worth it as long as it cost Obama a few points in the polls. But guess what? People with that kind of glassy-eyed fervor aren't especially reliable allies. I guess Boehner is finally figuring that out.

Michele Bachmann's GOP Debate Whopper

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 8:48 PM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann.

During Thursday's Google/Fox News debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) continued her pattern of making factually suspect statements. At one point, she claimed that "President Obama has the lowest public approval ratings of any president in modern times." Granted, it might all depend on how one defines "modern times." But if we are to interpret "modern times" as including the presidencies of any one other than Barack Obama, then we have to consider the following:

George W. Bush clocked in at a low-point of 25 percent; Truman sank to 22 percent in a 1952 Gallup poll; Nixon hit a low of 24 percent just days before his resignation; and Carter sank to 28 percent.

President Obama has thus far experienced a Gallup low of 38 percent. By the laws of first-grade basic math, Obama has sixteen points to go before tying the lowest presidential approval rating Gallup has on record.

Has the Worm Turned for Rick Perry?

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 8:17 PM PDT

In one sense, the Republican debate tonight wasn't too interesting: most of the candidates repeated pretty much the same talking points as before. But Perry really stuck to his talking points. He remains completely unable to say anything really substantive, and stumbles badly when he's trying to dredge up a new talking point from the depths of his brain. I know that deep policy expertise isn't his big selling point, but he's really starting to sound like a schoolboy who memorized a few index cards ten minutes before show time, delivers them haltingly when the teacher calls on him, and then tries to joke and grin his way into a passing grade.

So what was interesting was listening to Frank Luntz's focus group after the debate. There were a ton of defectors from Perry to Romney. I don't know if this means anything, but if it does it means that even the Republican base may be getting a little weary of Perry's audio-animatronic good ol' boy schtick. Plus a lot of the focus groupers really bought in to Romney's criticism of Perry's policy of letting illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition at Texas universities, and they were really upset at Perry's defense. They did not — not not not — appreciate his suggestion that anyone who disagreed with him about this was heartless. That's the kind of thing they hear from liberals, and they're sick of it.

Perry now has the base firmly upset with him over both immigration and the HPV vaccine; he was unable to really defend himself on either Social Security or the number of uninsured in Texas; and his lack of policy seriousness is starting to go beyond winsome and edging instead into not-ready-for-prime-time territory. So we'll see. I keep thinking that Perry's smugness and lack of depth is eventually going to wear thin even among the faithful, and maybe tonight was the night where that started to happen. Maybe.

GOP Contenders Get a Pass on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 8:07 PM PDT

For the third consecutive GOP presidential debate, the audience stole the show. At the Reagan Library debate in California, attendees memorably broke into a spontaneous round of applause in support of Rick Perry's record on the death penalty. At last week's debate in Tampa, a handful of audience members cheered the prospect of a man without health insurance being left to die. And on Thursday in Orlando, a chorus of boos erupted when a gay Army veteran asked former Sen. Rick Santorum if he should still be allowed to serve the country in Iraq.

Watch:

Santorum's answer was characteristic: Looking uncomfortable and stammering slightly, he said that the military was practicing "social engineering" by allowing gays to serve openly. He also effectively suggested that service-members should practice abstinence, stating that, "any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." He declined to thank the questioner for his service, normally standard operating procedure for an American politician.

More disappointing than Santorum's answer was the fact that he was the only candidate forced to come up with one. Fox News' Chris Wallace grilled Santorum and then moved on to a new subject. But DADT is in the news right now, and it is a tangible policy that the next president, as commander in chief, will be in a position to act on. It speaks not just to social issues, but also national security. Will President Perry block gay soldiers from receiving benefits? Will President Romney move to re-implement DADT? Will President Cain (kidding) move to to create separate housing for gay soldiers and straight soldiers (as some social conservatives have suggested)? If the candidates don't like the current policy, what exactly are they going to do to change it?

Santorum got pegged with the question because he's considered a "social issues" candidate. But this question really deserved to be asked of everyone.

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Perry Defends In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrants

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 7:19 PM PDT

At Thursday night's Fox News/Google debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry stood firm on his decision to allow in-state tuition for undocumented students at state universities, despite harsh criticism from his rivals. 

At this point, all of Perry's opponents have recognized that he's vulnerable to attacks from the right on immigration, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) took a swipe at Perry immediately when the topic of immigration was brought up. Bachmann said she would build a border fence on "every mile, every inch" of the southern border, and said "illegal aliens" shouldn't get any government assistance. Both were veiled swipes at Perry, who has also dismissed the idea of a border fence as unworkable. 

When it came time to respond however, Perry defended his decision, saying, "we need to be educating these children because [otherwise] they will be a drag on our society," adding that if you don't sympathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants brought here as children, "you don't have a heart."

Perry's answer got a decidedly mixed response from the audience, some of whom clapped, some of whom booed loudly. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum took the bait, accusing Perry of being "soft" on illegal immigration, and saying it was wrong to give undocumented immigrant students "preferential treatment." Mitt Romney seconded Bachmann on the border fence, and said it was wrong for Perry to grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant students. This is the one issue where Romney is on Perry's right—he vetoed a similar proposal as governor of Massachusetts. 

The problem for Perry is that despite his stated opposition to the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the moral arguments he uses to defend his actions in Texas double as justifications for policies he says he opposes. And the GOP primary audience knows it.

Herman Cain Repeats EPA Dust Myth

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 7:07 PM PDT

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is worried that the EPA is going to regulate farm dust. So worried, in fact, that he pledged to eliminate the EPA during Thursday's presidential debate.

"It's out of control," Cain said. "The fact that they have a regulation…to regulate dust…says they've gone too far."

Cain's not alone in this (mistaken) belief that the Obama EPA is going to issue fines on dirt. It's one of the tea party-right's favorite EPA conspiracy theory. Sadly, it's not true. Despite much outrage on this subject in Congress, the agency has said repeatedly that it isn't issuing new rules on dust.

Yes, the EPA is revisiting its dust standards—but those standards have been in place since 1987. In April, the EPA issued an evaluation of particulate matter pollution standards, because the report is a requirement under the Clean Air Act. And while the report suggested that dust standards should be tightened, the EPA has no plans to "regulate" dust any time soon.

The EPA certainly isn't going to do so by January 2012, as Cain falsely claimed. Even if they intended to, the rule-making process would take a lot longer than that. And, for whatever it's worth, the Bush administration EPA actually did issue dust regulations.

Park51 Mosque Opens, No One Cares

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 4:04 PM PDT

Mark Jacobson notes that the Ground Zero Mosque opened yesterday and....nothing happened. No protests, no Fox News cameras, not even so much as an outraged blog post from Pamela Geller:

Standing there, two blocks away from the crews working on the Freedom Tower, it left you wondering what all that business last year was truly about. Was it because finally, after nine years of shock, we had a concrete issue to focus all those pent up 9/11 feelings on? Was it just last year’s version of the Casey Anthony story? Standing amid those pictures of children who managed to smile no matter the odds against them, it was hard to imagine there was ever a problem at all.

I'm hoping this is a rhetorical question, because, I mean, come on. We all know what this was about, don't we? The mosque was introduced to the public in December 2009, Pamela Geller shrieked about it, and no one cared. In May 2010 the project was approved, Pamela Geller shrieked about it, and no one cared. A week later, a New York Post columnist wrote a piece called "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero," Pamela Geller continued shrieking about it, and —

And suddenly Rupert Murdoch's other New York-based news operation took notice. After all, there was an election coming in November, and what better way to rally the troops? It was just one more log for Fox to toss onto its Bonfire of Xenophobia last summer. As I said in August:

You'd have to literally be blind not to notice that the Fox/Rush/Drudge axis has been pushing racial hot buttons with abandon all summer. There's all the stuff Hitchens mentions [Arizona's immigration law, the Ground Zero mosque, and the anchor baby fracas], and you can add to that the Shirley Sherrod affair, the continuing salience of the birther conspiracy theories, the New Black Panthers, and Beck's obsession with Barack Obama's supposed sympathy with "liberation theology." Are we supposed to simply pretend that it's just a coincidence that virtually every week brings another new faux controversy that just happens to appeal to the widespread, inchoate fear of a non-white country that Hitchens writes about?

Anyway, that's all it was about. It was a convenient foil for Fox News during a long, hot, pre-election summer. Now that the election is over, they don't care anymore.

Poll: Half of All Government is Wasted

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 3:10 PM PDT

Matt Yglesias takes a look at a recent Gallup poll about perceptions of government waste and says, "I infer from the fact that state/local government is seen as less wasteful than the federal government and that older people have a much higher waste-perception than younger people that this is driven by the fact that people don’t understand Social Security and Medicare." I thought I might write a post about why older people perceive so much waste, but I changed my mind when I clicked through and found this summary table of responses.

First, on the young-old thing: there's actually surprisingly little difference. 30-somethings think 52 cents of every dollar is wasted while seniors think 56 cents of every dollar is wasted. Meh.

In fact, it's pretty surprising how similar everyone's views are. Democrats say 47 cents, Republicans say 52 cents. High school grads say 52 cents, PhDs say 45 cents. Etc.

What I'd really like to know about this is what people are thinking when they hear the word "waste." Are they thinking about conventional waste, money that's just flatly going down a rathole and not doing what it's supposed to be doing? Or are they applying the term to spending they just don't like? Is this a matter of pacifists calling the entire Pentagon budget waste and libertarians calling the entire Medicare budget waste?

There's no telling, but either way this number is astonishingly large, and it's another demonstration of the overwhelming success conservative messaging has had over the past three decades. Perception of waste has gone up slowly but steadily since 1980 (which means the latest numbers aren't due to stimulus spending or anything like that), but the truth is that nothing much has actually changed on the waste front since then: the federal budget looks about the same now as it did in 1980, it's roughly the same size, and the amount of bad management is probably pretty similar. There are really only two big things that have changed: (1) a huge slowdown in income growth, which probably makes people begrudge their taxes more, and (2) three decades of scorched-earth conservative warfare against the very idea of government.

And it's worked. Hell, if I thought 50 cents of every dollar was wasted, I wouldn't support another dime in taxes either. It's insane that people think this, though, and it's a sign of the massive failure of liberal imagination that we've allowed it to happen.