Kevin Drum

RED 3: Mitt Romney May Be Retired, But Still Extremely Dangerous

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 11:00 AM EDT

Byron York says that Mitt Romney aspires to be the Harold Stassen of the 21st century:

Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging '16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn't mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

....A significant number of Romney's top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself.

....If Romney did run, one thing the loyalists expect is a change in his top strategists. Recently one veteran Republican operative who was not involved in the Romney campaign said, "All his people want him to run again because they made so much money off it the last time." Now, Romney supporters say that if he mounts another campaign, they would demand that Romney not employ Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, the Republican strategists who played key roles in the 2012 campaign. Who would take their place is an open question.

I know that Romney doesn't want my advice, but here it is anyway: Just pay all these guys a bunch of money to go away and stop dreaming about a chance to light more of your money on fire. It will be cheaper in the long run, and your eventual job description will be the same too.

But as long as we're supposedly taking this seriously, let's put on our analytical hats and ask: could Romney beat Hillary Clinton if they both ran? On the plus side, Hillary's not as good a campaigner as Barack Obama and 2016 is likely to be a Republican-friendly year after eight years of Democratic rule. On the minus side, Romney has already run twice, and the American public isn't usually very kind to second chances in political life, let alone third chances. Plus—and this is the real killer—Romney still has all the problems he had in 2012. In the public eye, he remains the 47 percent guy who seems more like the Romneytron 3000 than a real human being.

Still, snark aside, if you put all this together I guess it means Romney really would have a shot at winning if he ran. We still live in a 50-50 nation, after all, and for the foreseeable future I suspect that pretty much every presidential election is going to be fairly close. And Romney certainly has a decent chance of winning the Republican nomination, since he'd be competing against pretty much the same clown show as last time.

So sure: Run, Mitt! I hear that Eric Cantor is available to be your vice president.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bill Clinton Is Right: Storyline Reporting Has Poisoned the Political Press

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:45 AM EDT

Today brings a remarkable column from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. It's about the Clinton family's adversarial relationship with the press:

Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

“If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. "And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, every thing that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.”

That's an interesting comment from Bill Clinton. Is it true? Well, check this out from the start of Cillizza's column:

Amy Chozick is the reporter tasked with covering the Clintons — and the runup to the now-almost-inevitable Hillary Clinton presidential bid — for the New York Times. Sounds like a plum gig, right? Until, that is, a press aide for the Clinton Global Initiative follows you into the bathroom.

Chozick describes a "friendly 20-something press aide who the Clinton Global Initiative tasked with escorting me to the restroom," adding: "She waited outside the stall in the ladies’ room at the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference is held each year."

Yes, this may be an extreme example. And, yes, the press strictures at the Clinton Global Initiative are the stuff of legend. But, the episode also reflects the dark and, frankly, paranoid view the Clintons have toward the national media. Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

Here's what makes this fascinating. If you click the link and read Chozick's piece, you'll learn that every reporter at the CGI is "cloistered in a basement at the Sheraton" and that an escort is required wherever they go, "lest one of us with our yellow press badges wind up somewhere where attendants with an esteemed blue badge are milling around." It's entirely fair to argue that this is absurdly restrictive. It's not fair to imply that this is special treatment that Chozick got because she's the beat reporter covering the Clintons. Every other reporter at the event got the same treatment.

But that's what Cillizza did. In other words, he had already settled on a storyline, so he shoehorned the Chozick anecdote into his column to support that storyline. Which was exactly Clinton's complaint in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I don't actually have any doubt that the Clintons do, in fact, have a pretty tortured relationship with the press. After the way the press treated them in the 90s, it would be remarkable if they didn't. It might even be "dark and paranoid." That wouldn't surprise me too much either.

Nonetheless, I wish Cillizza would at least try to analyze his own tribe's behavior with the same care that he analyzes the Clintons'. In any fair reading, the press has legitimate grievances about its treatment by the Clintons, but the Clintons have some legitimate grievances about the obsessive shiny-toy-feeding-frenzy nature of modern political press coverage too. Unfortunately, all Cillizza manages to say about the hostile atmosphere of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign is that reporters weren't "entirely innocent in the whole thing."

Nobody should take this as a defense of the Clintons. High-profile politicians have always gotten klieg-light treatment, and they have to be able to handle it. At the same time, there ought to be at least a few mainstream reporters who also recognize some of the pathologies on their own side—those specific to the Clintons as well as those that affect presidential candidates of all stripes. How about an honest appraisal—complete with biting anecdotes—of how the political press has evolved over the past few decades and how storyline reporting has poisoned practically everything they do?

The Rich Are Getting Richer, Part the Millionth

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 9:59 PM EDT

It's not easy finding new and interesting ways to illustrate the growth of income inequality over the past few decades. But here are a couple of related ones. The first is from "Survival of the Richest" in the current issue of Mother Jones, and it shows how much of our total national income growth gets hoovered up by the top 1 percent during economic recoveries. The super-rich got 45 percent of total income growth during the dotcom years; 65 percent during the housing bubble years; and a stunning 95 percent during the current recovery. It's good to be rich.

But there's more! The next chart, via Ryan Cooper, shows this trend even more explicitly. It comes from Pavlina Tcherneva, an economics professor at Bard College, and it also shows the distribution of national income growth during economic expansions. The difference is that it shows the share of the top 10 percent, and it shows it for every single expansion since World War II.

It's a pretty stunning chart. The precise numbers (from Piketty and Saez) can always be argued with, but the basic trend is hard to deny. After the end of each recession, the well-off have pocketed an ever greater share of the income growth from the subsequent expansion. Unsurprisingly, there's an especially big bump after 1975, but this is basically a secular trend that's been showing a steady rise toward nosebleed territory for more than half a century. Welcome to the 21st century.

Pat Roberts Is Apparently Too Dumb to Realize He Called Obama a Nazi

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 4:42 PM EDT

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said this on the campaign trail a couple of days ago:

There's a palpable fear among Kansans all across this state that the America that we love and cherish and honor will not be the same America for our kids and grandkids....We have to change course because our country is heading for national socialism.

What do you think? Should we treat this charitably and assume Roberts is too dim to realize that national socialism is Nazism? I guess so. According to a piece today from WaPo's Philip Rucker, Roberts explains that (a) President Obama is leading the country in the direction of a "European socialistic state," and (b) "You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize." So there you have it.

Aside from the fact that Obama hasn't tried to nationalize so much as a coal mine, which suggests Roberts doesn't know what that word means either, I'm pretty sure no one in history has put those two terms together and called it "national socialism" unless they're explicitly talking about the Third Reich. But there's a first time for everything. So congratulations, Senator Roberts! I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you managed to violate Godwin's law through stupidity, not malice. Not everyone can claim that.

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Emails (Non-IRS Version)

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

In the famous case of Lois Lerner's missing IRS emails, it really does appear that the whole affair was the result of nothing more than a genuine hard drive crash combined with outdated IT procedures for saving backup tapes. Needless to say, this hasn't stopped Republicans from yelling endlessly about conspiracy theories and the deliberate erasure of damning messages.

So let's see. How do you think they'll react to a case in which it appears that emails really were deliberately erased and hard drives really were destroyed? Before you take a guess, it's only fair to let you know that this case involves a pair of Republicans: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who was the DA of the state's Third Judicial district before her election, and Amy Orlando, a close friend of Martinez's who was her chief deputy DA and then briefly succeeded her as DA. Andy Kroll tells the rest of the story:

On Tuesday, Mark D'Antonio, the current DA in New Mexico's Third Judicial district, released the findings of an internal investigation that concluded that large amounts of emails—potentially including those sought by the Democrats—had been "deleted and/or removed" during the period when the office was briefly run by Orlando, Martinez's onetime deputy. Two of the four hard drives used by Orlando's administration—hard drives that might have contained the requested emails—were missing. And investigators noted that all emails in the DA's office were supposed to be backed up by a "special tape drive" in the office, but the back-up tapes were "blank and appear to have been erased."

The report also noted that, under Orlando, the DA's office misled a reporter who'd made his own request for similar records. The DA's office told the reporter that the records he wanted didn't exist because the office's server "is routinely cleaned." But after interviewing IT staffers, investigators concluded this statement "was inaccurate because IT personnel stated that servers were not routinely 'cleaned' and that the data should exist on a server."

You may now submit your guesses about how conservatives will respond to all this. I'm predicting crickets at best, a smear campaign against D'Antonio at worst.

Does Congress Ever Turn Down a Request for War?

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 12:38 PM EDT

Plenty of people think Congress should be called back into session to conduct a vote on the bombing campaign in Syria. John Boehner disagrees:

Boehner’s office deferred to the White House when asked about the issue.

“As the Speaker has said, he thinks it would be good for the country to have a new authorization for the use of military force covering our actions against ISIL, but traditionally such an authorization is requested and written by the commander-in-chief — and President Obama has not done that,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said via email.

One of these days Boehner is going to have to make up his mind whether President Obama does too much or too little. It's getting a little hard to keep up with him.

But this raises a question. Has Congress ever turned down a president who asked for authorization to use military force? Sure, there was Ford's last-ditch aid request for Vietnam in 1975, but that was for the end of a war, not the start of one. Anything else? Do the fights over funding for the contras count? I feel like I'm going to be embarrassed when someone points out some famous congressional refusal that I've forgotten about, but I sure can't dredge anything up.

Obviously Obama has philosophical reasons for insisting that he can go to war on his own, and he also has political reasons for not forcing fellow Democrats to take a tough vote. But does he have even the slightest chance of Congress actually turning him down?

UPDATE: OK, I'm already embarrassed. I guess you could count the non-vote on Syria last year, couldn't you? After all, Obama did ask for permission to bomb Syria, and Congress did let it die without any real debate. On the other hand, I'd say that Obama mostly asked for authorization in the hopes of being turned down. He didn't exactly put on a full-court press, did he?

Any other examples?

UPDATE 2: There have been a few other suggestions. (1) Congressional hindrance of FDR before Pearl Harbor. That was a mixed bag, and anyway, I guess I was thinking of more recent (postwar) history. (2) Kosovo and Libya. Interesting cases, but more of a muddle than an outright loss for the president. Congress approved some funding bills and denied others.

Still, there's enough here to suggest that presidents often have to fight with Congress over military action. Especially Democratic presidents.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Rich Have Always Been Obnoxious and Entitled

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 10:40 AM EDT

I'm not sure what's going on with David Brooks. It's something, obviously, but I can't put my finger on it. In any case, he thinks we should all cheer up because America's cities are safer and more interesting than ever; poverty is down; and our global enemies are mostly just a "bunch of barbarians riding around in pickup trucks." Despite this, there was a lot of "despondency and passivity and talk of unraveling" floating around this summer. We have a leadership crisis:

This leadership crisis is eminently solvable. First, we need to get over the childish notion that we don’t need a responsible leadership class, that power can be wielded directly by the people. America was governed best when it was governed by a porous, self-conscious and responsible elite....Second, the elite we do have has to acknowledge that privilege imposes duties. Wealthy people have an obligation to try to follow a code of seemliness. No luxury cars for college-age kids. No private jet/ski weekends. Live a lifestyle that is more integrated into middle-class America than the one you can actually afford. Strike a blow for social cohesion.

I've never understood people who talk this way. I mean, sure, I'd very much agree that rich parents should avoid giving their teenage kids Ferraris for Christmas. But does anyone seriously think this is anything new? Stories of young swells out on the town are as old as stories of young swells. How many Victorian novels turn on the plot device of a young heir borrowing against his expectations and blowing it all on gambling and grand tours? Does the ruling class of Dickens seem like a group of people striking a blow for social cohesion? (Other than by main force, that is.) And by the time the Gilded Age rolled around, things weren't much different in America. We just hadn't had centuries to perfect quite the same easy tone of entitlement and snottiness.

The excesses of the rich are indeed unseemly. I'm perfectly happy to see Brooks try to shame this behavior away. But pretending that it was different in the past? Get real.

State Department: Iraqi Ground Troops Not Going To Be Ready Any Time Soon

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 12:53 AM EDT

From a New York Times piece about today's bombing campaign against ISIS targets in eastern Syria:

In Iraq, American advisers need to train the 26 Iraqi brigades that the Pentagon says are still intact and loyal to the government and help the Iraqis establish new national guard units, which would have the primary responsibility for defending Sunni-dominated provinces and would be recruited largely from Iraqi tribes.

A senior State Department official said that the new Iraqi government had a plan to establish the national guard units but acknowledged that doing so would not be easy. “It is not going to be soon,” said the official, who could not be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.

If ground troops are the only way to destroy ISIS—and they are—it's easy to see why Pentagon officials are talking about this campaign taking "years." Assuming it can be done at all, it will take at least that long to recruit and train the national guard units that are critical to success. That's a long war.

I admit that my blogging today about the ISIS campaign has been a little bit cavalier. This is because it's hard to take any of the operational details very seriously. We're getting a bit of pro forma support from some Arab countries, and while this is useful from a PR standpoint it's really not meaningful from a military standpoint. We're pretty much alone out there. And details aside, this means that we're going to spend years on an aerial campaign in Iraq and Syria while we desperately try once again to figure out how to succeed at a training mission that we've already failed at in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And we're going to do it all by ourselves. I'd sure like to know what we're going to be doing differently this time around that makes us think we finally have it right.

Quote of the Day: Marco Rubio Thinks US Troops Would Have Intimidated Nouri al-Maliki

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 6:54 PM EDT

From Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.), explaining why he'd keep a big slug of troops somewhere in the Middle East if he were president:

If the U.S. had had a presence [in Iraq], we would have had more leverage over how Maliki conducted his affairs, you would have had a more stable region, but also a place where you could conduct operations against other threats in the region.

This kind of stuff is crazy. We had troops in Iraq for a decade. During that time, which spanned two different US presidents, we had virtually no success at getting Nouri al-Maliki to form an inclusive government that didn't gratuitously piss off Sunnis as a routine element of policy. Hell, Maliki didn't even take advantage of the Sunni Awakening, which was the best opportunity ever likely to come along to forge a Sunni-Shia alliance, to change his stripes. If that didn't do the trick, along with a hundred thousand American troops and near-daily calls with President Bush, what possible hope is there that a small residual force would have had any leverage at all?

This is the kind of thing that drives me batty. I get that Republicans want to criticize Obama. That's pretty much the job description of the opposition party. I also get that the default Republican response to any national security initiative from President Obama is a reflexive "Do more." That's how they keep their hawkish reputation intact. But this kind of thing just flatly makes no sense. Does Rubio really believe this nonsense, or does he just spout it on Fox News because he figures it sounds plausible?

The Heartwarming Story of Arab Support for Our Bombing Campaign

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 12:29 PM EDT

Speaking of things to remain skeptical of, the very top of the list certainly has to include the news that our staunch allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan participated in yesterday's airstrikes in Syria:

A U.S. official said that all five Arab countries were believed to have joined U.S. warplanes, although it is still unclear how many countries dropped bombs during the operation. The official asked not to be identified to discuss sensitive operational details.

Dempsey said that the first Arab government told U.S. officials that it would participate in attacks on Syria “within the last 72 hours” and that once that occurred, the other four soon promised to participate. He would not identify which country was the first to back the U.S. airstrikes.

....There are still major questions about how committed governments in the region are to helping the U.S. and Iraq, whose government is dominated by Shia Arabs, against the well-armed militants, who have claimed large areas of eastern Syria and western and northern Iraq over the last year.

Here's the nickel version: After months of bellyaching about America's commitment to fighting ISIS, one single Arab country finally agreed to help out. Only then did anyone else also agree to pitch in. But the extent of their involvement can't be revealed because it's a "sensitive operational detail."

Can you guess just how extensive that involvement is? Or do you need a hint?