Mojo - January 2010

Green Group Launches Last-Ditch Effort Against Scott Brown

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 4:39 PM EST

The League of Conservation Voters on Thursday launched a $350,000 ad blitz for the Massachusetts special election that accuses Republican candidate Scott Brown of supporting "Bush-Cheney policies" on energy. The League is backing Democrat Martha Coakley in the race on Tuesday, as are the Sierra Club and Environment Massachusetts.

The group says the six-figure sum—to be deployed over just six days—is the most it has ever spent on an ad campaign of such a short duration. This shows just how concerned progressive groups have become that Brown could win the election and put the Democrats' entire legislative agenda in peril. The SEIU, for instance, has spent $665,000 on ads in the state. Health care is, of course, the issue where the loss of one vote could immediately cripple reform. But an anticipated vote on climate change legislation later this year is also expected to come down to a very tight margin.

"Just being down one more vote on a clean energy and climate bill is just going to make it so much more difficult to get to the 60 we're going need," Tony Massaro, the League's senior vice president for political affairs and public education, told Mother Jones while en route to the airport to fly to Massachusetts for the election. "We have no margin to spare."

Of course, the other side is spending big too. The Chamber of Commerce, a notable foe of both health care and climate legislation, has spent $500,000 on ads in support of the Republican.

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

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 4:25 PM EST

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 2:37 PM EST

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?

Issues Don't Matter, Apparently

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 1:47 PM EST

Flickr/rachelpasch (Creative Commons).Flickr/rachelpasch (Creative Commons).It never ceases to amaze me how little elections have to do with actual issues. It's widely acknowleged that the Democrat, Martha Coakley, is in big trouble in the Massachusetts special election race to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. But her troubles seem to have very little to do with her actual positions on the issues.

Even if Scott Brown, the conservative Republican candidate, wins on Tuesday, Massachusetts will still be a very liberal state. Coakley's issue positions will be far closer than Brown's to the state's median voter. And yet he would be the senator—not because more Bay Staters agree with him, but simply because he proved to be much, much better at politics than she is. Politics isn't about being right, or even about having people think you're right. It's more about making people like you. And as Christina Bellantoni reports here, people—even partisan Dems—don't seem to like Coakley very much. (And it certainly doesn't hurt Brown that he's tall and good-looking.)

If Brown wins, a lot of normally left-leaning folks will probably have voted for him. That's their right. But voting for members of Congress based on likability doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Now more than ever, you're really voting for a party, not an individual. If you prefer the Republicans' approach to the issues, you should vote for the Republican. If you prefer the Democrats' approach, you should vote for the Democrat. No one should be under any illusions that Brown is likely to be anything more than a partisan Republican—or that Coakley will be anything more than a partisan Democrat. That's the real choice on Tuesday.

Election 2010: Dem Disaster?

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 1:15 PM EST

It's generally a bad idea to publish your election predictions on the internet unless you're Nate Silver. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say this much: right now, the 2010 midterms are looking really bad for Democrats.

In the Massachusetts special election scheduled for Tuesday, Scott Brown, a conservative Republican, has all the momentum, leads in the most recent poll, and looks set to win the seat once held by Ted Kennedy. This is in Massachusetts, people. If Brown beats Martha Coakley (who has run perhaps the worst campaign in recent memory), the state attorney general, health care reform probably won't happen. The Democrats will have held a 60-vote majority for just four months, and the Republicans' strategy of obstruction and delay will be vindicated. It will be their model going forward. Democrats will struggle to pass much of anything.

Even if Coakley pulls it out, the Dems have real problems. If you look at Silver's list of the top fifteen Senate seats that are up-for-grabs in November, at least six Democrats appear to be in big trouble. North Dakota and Delaware seem to be in the bag for Republicans (unless Beau Biden gets in the Delaware race—and even if he did I think Mike Castle would still be the favorite.) Harry Reid in Nevada and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas are deeply unpopular incumbents in purple states. They might hold on in a big Democratic year, but 2010 won't be one. Mike Bennet looks to be struggling in Colorado. And party-switcher Arlen Specter could easily lose in Pennsylvania (which, after all, elected Rick Santorum just ten years ago). In the states where Republicans are playing defense, most of their candidates currently lead in the polls. Even Missouri—once thought to be the Democrats' best chance for a pickup—seems eminently winnable for the GOP. And things just get better for them from there.

This looks to me like a miniature wave election, in which Democrats could lose six or so Senate seats (and Lieberman might switch) and 20 to 30 in the House. No governing party fares well while the economy is in the dumps, but with Democrats holding the presidency and both houses of Congress, they bear all the burden for the country's economic woes. People are deeply resentful of the bank bailouts, and the establishment (read: incumbents) will feel the brunt of their wrath.  And if you think the media narrative favors conservatives now, just wait until after the Republicans romp to a midterm victory.

Of course, there are many variables here, and a lot could happen between now and November. Maybe I'll look back on this day from November and marvel at how wrong I was. But time is ticking away. Get ready for a bumpy 2010.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 15, 2010

Fri Jan. 15, 2010 6:33 AM EST

US Army Spc. Agapito Reyes repairs a uniform on Contingency Operating Location Q-West, Iraq, Jan. 8, 2010. Reyes is a shower, laundry, and clothing repair specialist assigned to the 263rd Quartermaster Company. (US Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Cooley.)

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Need To Read: January 15, 2010

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 6:30 AM EST

The must reads from around the web and in today's papers:

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A Crash Course on the Financial Meltdown

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 6:21 AM EST

The 10 members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the modern heir to the famous Pecora Commission convened in the wake of Wall Street's 1929 crash, kicked off a marathon set of hearings on Wednesday and Thursday by grilling some of Wall Street's most powerful executives, the regulators supposedly tasked with reining them in, and outside experts who watched the collapse. What they heard amounted to something of a crash course in the roots of the financial meltdown.

The FCIC is charged with issuing a report on the causes of the crisis—something that the Obama administration has been slow to do. That's meant probing people like Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who both appeared in the FCIC's first hearing, on what caused the meltdown and what role their banks played in the process. The bankers and officials such as SEC chair Mary Schapiro pointed to a decline in underwriting standards and staggering housing bubble that combined, Dimon said, to help "fuel asset appreciation, excessive speculation, and far higher credit losses."

One outstanding question about the financial meltdown has been how the subprime collapse spread to the broader economy. Back in 2007, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke didn't expect any spillover from the housing crisis at all. Yet as the four Wall Street execs explained at the hearing, the mortgage securitization process—which took people's actual mortgages and tried to make them behave like fungible assets you could trade just like stocks and bonds—led to vast amounts of Lehman Brothers-like speculation and leverage. The evaluators of these mortgage-backed securities, the credit rating agencies, only fueled the gambling by stamping their highest imprimatur on these shoddy loans. And when people stopped making their mortgage payments and the securities backed by those mortgages went sour, all these overleveraged institutions suffered huge losses that caused some to fail and others to survive only with government help. "In hindsight," Dimon said, "it's apparent that excess speculation and dishonesty on the part of both brokers and consumers further contributed to the problem."

White House Slams Limbaugh and Robertson on Haiti

| Thu Jan. 14, 2010 3:57 PM EST

You can really judge a right-wing leader by how he or she reacts to a humanitarian crisis. As Haitians were coping with the hellish earthquake, Pat Robertson claimed  that the island nation was hit by this disaster because it is "cursed." And it is "cursed," according to Robertson, because its people "swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'" (Note to self: after every natural disaster, tune immediately to the 700 Club.) And Rush Limbaugh actually discouraged his listeners from contributing to relief for Haiti and pounded Obama for exploiting the tragedy in order to present himself as a humanitarian.

At Thursday's White House press briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked to react to Robertson's reading of history. He didn't hesitate. He remarked, "It never ceases to amaze in times of amazing human suffering somebody says something that could be so utterly stupid." As Gibbs was about to expand on that answer, several reporters in the room interrupted with questions on other issues. Gibbs didn't come back to Robertson—and he said nothing about Limbaugh.

After Gibbs had taken the last question and was moving away from the podium, I shouted out a query about Limbaugh, asking what Gibbs thought about the conservative host trash-talking donations for Haitian relief. Referring to his earlier remark about Robertson, Gibbs called Limbaugh's comment "really stupid." He continued:

I don't know how anybody could sit where he does, having enjoyed the success that he has, and not feel some measure of sorrow for what has happened in Haiti.  I think to use the power of your pulpit to try to convince those not to help their brothers and sisters is sad.

Fortunately, Gibbs added, "most people won't listen, and instead will seek to help those that they know, because through no fault of their own, have suffered an unspeakable tragedy."

After blaming Haitians' past deal with the devil for their current misery, Robertson did try to back off—slightly. A Robertson spokesperson contended that Robertson had not said the earthquake was God's revenge. (No, he had only suggested why God would want to take revenge.) Limbaugh, though, will likely not bother spinning his original comments, but he will certainly be tempted to respond to Gibbs' admonition. Is it possible that Limbaugh sees the Haiti nightmare as just another front for his very profitable crusade against Obama?

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

Stern: Copenhagen Neared Complete Collapse

| Thu Jan. 14, 2010 3:06 PM EST

The agreement reached at the Copenhagen summit last month might not have been the successful deal on climate that many had hoped for. But it was a victory in the sense that the climate talks "came within a hair's breadth of collapse," climate envoy Todd Stern said on Thursday.

In his first public remarks since the conclusion of the summit, Stern said that late as Wednesday evening, "it looked as though we were headed for failure." It was apparently so bad that the State Department drafted a failure speech for President Obama to use on the final day, as fellow negotiator Jonathan Pershing noted earlier this week. Stern described a meeting starting at 11:30 on Thursday night—literally the 11th hour, as the summit was supposed to conclude on Friday—between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minster Kevin Rudd, Mexican President Felipe Calderone, South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva, and others "sitting around a table and trying to not let this negotiation go down." The leaders adjourned at 2:30 a.m. without reaching any significant breakthrough.

In the conference's final hours, leaders were "personally rolling up their sleeves and taking over the process of negotiation," Stern said. "It was just really a refusal on the part of these leaders to have a non-result." But there was little progress until the final, "fairly dramatic" meeting between Obama, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil late on Friday night, he said. Stern played up Obama's personal participation in those final meetings. "I don’t think there would have been an agreement without his personal intervention," he said. (Stern cited this intervention as evidence of Obama's commitment to the issue domestically as well, promising a "significant effort on the part of all in the administration to press forward.")

Of course, those final meetings at Copenhagen prompted some developing countries to charge that the final deal was shoved on them—which is why the assembled nations merely "noted" the accord rather than formally adopted it. Stern said it will become evident in the next few weeks whether or not Copenhagen really acheived anything meaningful, as countries are expected to sign on to the final document and list their respective commitments by Jan. 31. "The accord is lumbering down the runway," Stern concluded. "We need to get enough speed for it to take off."