Thursday, October 31, 2013

The forest, the trees and Obamacare


THE RED SOX were back home to prep for their dismissal of the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series, but that wasn’t the only big deal in Boston on Wednesday.

President Obama was in Beantown to visit Faneuil Hall, the same place where Mitt Romney, then the Republican governor of Massachusetts, signed the state’s comprehensive health-care measure into law, thereby creating the DNA for the national law shorthanded as Obamacare. The optics of the location did double duty, of course. It was an oblique dig at Romney, and by extension the Republicans now dead set against a health-care program one of their own helped to create.

But it was also the president’s first real opportunity to respond to a growing chorus of critics whose impatience and duplicity about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has ushered in a downbeat vibe across the ideological spectrum. Obama made the most of it, spelling out the stakes, taking responsibility for the problems with the law’s implementation, and otherwise offering a perfectly reasonable caution: Transformation takes time. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius managed to fall on the same sword from two different locations Wednesday, taking the blame and accepting responsibility for the technology fail of the federal health exchange Web site, healthcare.gov.

Sebelius was guest of honor at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. “I apologize. I'm accountable to you,” Sebelius said. “I am committed to earning your confidence back.” House Republicans wanted nothing to do with such anodyne overtures. Tennessee GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn was one of the more reliable belligerents.

Blackburn leaned hard on Sebelius about why some people with individual health-care plans — about 5 percent of the total — would lose those plans under Obamacare, despite the president’s seeming assurances to the contrary before the law’s rollout on Oct. 1. The secretary did her best to explain that insurance companies retain a certain autonomy about cancellation of policies.

Before long, though, Blackburn was doing her best to lecture Sebelius in culture-coded language meant to play big in red-state Tennessee. “Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari. Some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem," Blackburn said. “You're taking away their choice.”

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THE PRESIDENT’S audience was a lot more receptive. At Faneuil Hall, Obama gave them, and the soundbite hunters in the media, what they needed or wanted: a mea culpa from the top. “Let’s face it, we’ve had a problem,” he said. “The Web site hasn’t worked the way it’s supposed to ... there’s no denying it, right now the Web site is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck ... and I’m not happy about it, and neither are Americans who need health care ... I take full responsibility.”

And Obama said in no uncertain terms what we already knew: that the problems would be corrected, that doing it is a When proposition, not an If proposition. “All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true,” he said. “They’re the same arguments that you’re hearing now.”

“We’re in this together and we are gonna see it through,” he said, before saying it again, the president channeling his inner Samuel L. Jackson, his eyes taking on that glint-fire we’ve seen in the past. “We are going to see this through!

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Obama’s message was clear: the myriad complexity of the nation’s health-care system has met its match — or its evil twin — in the complexity of the computer code needed to get the federal exchange site up and running. But this is a process, not an event, and if we fail to get that, we’ll keep being disappointed by the failure of the process to give us the expected immediate gratification of an event.

Conservatives are generally in no mood for thinking like that now. But some of the same congressmen sat at earlier House hearings, in more congenial judgment of President George W. Bush’s glitch-prone rollout of Medicare Part D in 2006.

Back in the day, Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton said “This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. The committee will work closely to get problems noticed and solved.”

Back then, Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey was as gooey as RC cola and a moon pie: “I delivered 5,200 babies, but this may be the best delivery that I have ever been a part of, Mr. Speaker, and that is delivering, as I say, on a promise made by former Congresses and other Presidents over the 45-year history of the Medicare program ... what we have done here is add part D, the ‘D’ for ‘drug’ or, if you want, the ‘delivery’ that we have finally provided to our American seniors.”

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PENNSYLVANIA GOP Rep. Tim Murphy got downright personal about Medicare Plan D: “Any time something is new, there is going to be some glitches. All of us, when our children were new, well, we knew as parents we didn’t exactly know everything we were doing and we had a foul-up or two, but we persevered and our children turned out well. No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment.”

Fast forward to now, and these former policy gradualists have no patience for Obamacare’s technological challenges.

Indeed, it’s become the game of the week on Capitol HIll: Find the ways that the rollouts of Obamacare and Medicare Part D dovetail and where they differ.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blackface: A Halloween tragedy in three actions


HALLOWEEN, ECONOMISTS tell us, has become another more or less official American holiday. Not a federally recognized holiday, mind you, but an observance with a proven history of burnishing the country’s fiscal bottom line. According to the Halloween Spending and Intentions report, conducted every year for the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending has increased from about $3.3 billion in 2005, to $8 billion last year. This year’s loot is expected to be about $1 billion less, but that’s already being blamed on the real-life ghosts and goblins of the shutdown on Capitol Hill.

But even with the growing big-money participation of adults, there’s a reason why Halloween should be left to children, who haven’t learned how to pollute their fantasies with their fears.

This Halloween season, there’s actually three reasons. At least.

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On Friday, actress Julianne Hough, apparently channeling her inner TV fangirl into a vaguely adulatory Halloween getup, appeared at a Los Angeles Halloween party promoting Casamigos Tequila, wearing a costume she no doubt thought was right on point with its implied reference to a popular TV show. Hough showed up in blackface with her blond locks knotted up and wearing a prison-orange jumpsuit, just like Crazy Eyes, her favorite character from the hit Netflix television series “Orange Is the New Black.” She also darkened her hair and eyebrows to better fit the, uh, role.

Instagram and social media took care of the rest. A photo of Hough, and other shots of some of her girl friends (who played other members in the cast sans blackface) hit the Internet, and that was that.

Hough knew pretty much immediately that she’d stepped in it, big time. On Saturday morning, as photos circulated around the world, Hough tweeted all apologies: “I am a huge fan of the show Orange is the New Black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created,” she tweeted. “It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize.”

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LET THE BLOWBACK begin. Since Saturday, Hough’s Twitter page has been alive with reactions, pro and con.

Amanda Kendl: “You shouldn’t have to apologize! Halloween is to pretend to be someone you’re not. I don’t get what’s so offensive. Loved it!”

Only4RM: “You must be quite sheltered not to have anticipated offense ... But KUDOS for an apology w/o using the word ‘if.’

NotSo Silent Majority: “Too bad you’re not a bigger fan of history. As an artist, you should have known better. Shame on you.”

JIA: “Really don’t even understand why you’d think that’d be cool or overlooked. Since when was Black face cool?”

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Or check out the story at Global Grind. Offensiveness had a field day elsewhere in America this weekend.

The Global Grind piece shows what looks like a scene at another Halloween party somewhere in America: a photo of a white guy in blackface wearing a hoodie spattered with fake blood ... to his left, a friend wearing a NEIGHBORHOO WATCH T-shirt, pointing a finger gun at the hoodie guy’s head — all of it a deeply insensitive take on the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

The picture of William Filene and Greg Cimeno was posted to Caitlin Cimeno’s Instagram account, and from there to Facebook and from there to every social-media platform and news Web site in the country — a kind of corrosive posterity. A sadly reflective corrosive posterity.

And racial insensitivity in disguise isn’t a water’s edge experience. The same weekend in Milan, Italian fashion heavyweights threw a posh, Halloween-themed “Disco Africa” party, complete with — you know where we’re going — slaves in shackles, women in banana skirts, partygoers as safari animals, and various people adorned in blackface.

The designer Allesandro Dell’Acqua did the full idiot monty in a blackface-and-formal wear costume that was straight 19th-century minstrel show. The photograph by Russian photographer Zhanna Romashka tells the story of an event that perpetuated a long fashion-industry history of objectifying people of color in rqually demeaning ways.

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EXPLORING THE psychology of disguise, Bruce Poulsen, Ph.D., of the University of Utah School of Medicine and Department of Educational Psychology, observed this in an October 2012 piece in Psychology Today.

“Shakespeare anticipated some of what Freud would fully develop: We are divided, contradictory creatures with an uncanny capacity, not only to disguise ourselves from other people, but to masquerade our own wishes and desires from ourselves. ...

“Besides the obvious pleasures associated with Halloween, our donning of disguises may be a way of enjoying the possibility of being someone that we didn’t know we were or could be.”

The scholar Izalina Tavares is less automatically charitable when race enters the picture. In a thoroughly brilliant essay at the Humanity in Action Web site, she flips the script on the minimizers of the impact of blackface.

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In her piece, from 2004, Tavares writes about the persistence of Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), a racialized Christmas tradition in the outwardly progressive nation of the Netherlands, a practice still deeply cemented in Dutch culture and identity.

She may as well have been writing about what an actress did at a party in L.A. last weekend, what a grosso buffo fashion designer did at another party in Milan on the same weekend ... and what, guaranteed, any number of people will do between now and next weekend with no understanding of — or total indifference to — what such actions say about us, our sense of empathy, and how far we’ve really come down the road to something like social justice.

“For some people, ‘racism’ means explicit, intentional, and out-loud hatred or dislike of a group of people. Those who have a deeper understanding, however, know that "racism" represents a state of mind that supports or creates means of causing harm to one or more specific racial groups. ...

“What happens when one is so concerned with not being something that the people refuse to look at themselves critically in fear of finding what they don’t like, and in many cases greatly oppose? What we get is denial of the experience of the peoples we are trying to avoid being prejudiced against, which gives birth to a new form of prejudice of its own. The protection of our own egos and comfort, at the expense of the dismissal of an oppressed people’s reality, becomes a judgment of their condition that is completely out of context.

“This brings further harm to marginalized people. We create a new form of racism as we tell ourselves that their oppression is not as bad as they say. They attribute their condition to something within them as opposed to coming from without. Those who pride themselves on being so free from prejudice often suffer the most from it.”

Also published at Medium.com. Hough: via TheWrap. Martin-Zimmerman parody photo: Cimeno Instagram account (since taken private). Dell'Acqua and friends: © 2013 Zhanna Romashka. Tweets by their creators. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

‘Up Late’: A new Friday night light


WE HELD our collective breath with the news about “Up Late With Alec Baldwin,” the new MSNBC show on Friday nights and hosted by the celebrated actor and paparazzi bĂȘte noire. Would this talk show be set in a boxing ring? Would the set be large enough to accommodate a duel at twenty paces? Were there personal-injury lawyers sequestered just out of public view?

We needn’t have worried. “Up Late,” which debuted last Friday in its regular 10 p.m. ET time slot, is an intelligent refreshing counter to the news-and-politics content of MSNBC’s main program diet, and (God knows) an oasis of uplift and wit compared to the “Lockup” prison-documentary series that’s been MSNBC’s weekend staple food for way too long.

Baldwin, interviewing some of his favorite people on a set designed to look like a booth at a homey waterfront diner, displays a range of both passions and interests that’s thoroughly reflected in a thoughtful choice of guests, and an equally thoughtful line of inquiry. This may be Alec Baldwin on his really best behavior, brandishing a restless intellect and a fearless interview style. Two shows in and it’s already clear that he’s good at this. Sometimes, very good.

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The first program, an in-depth interview with New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, showed Baldwin alternating his questions to the possible next mayor of New York, from inquiries about policy (the stop-and-frisk NYPD, housing, pre-K education) to others about New York in the Bloomberg era, romance and the prospect of working with Albany (another kind of romance altogether).

Baldwin has the chops of a good interviewer. For example: De Blasio tried to get slippery when Baldwin tried to lock him down on his position on legalization of marijuana; the candidate finally retreated to a modified-hangout support of decriminalization for small amounts of pot, but nothing more.

It was the kind of disclosure that the man most likely to be the next mayor of New York City probably wouldn’t have been pressed to make by another reporter, smitten with the candidate’s deeply communicable charm. And it might have been the kind of question de Blasio thought he could duck given Baldwin’s support for de Blasio (widely known since last year). The fact that Baldwin didn’t let his choice for mayor off the hook points to a gloves-off approach that gives this actor real bona fides as a reporter.

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THE DE BLASIO performance wasn’t a one-off. In Friday night’s sitdown in the banquette confessional, Baldwin talked with Debra Winger, the three-time Oscar nominated actress who basically turned her back on Hollywood, opting out of the business to concentrate on family, to pursue a sidelight as an anti-fracking activist, and because parts she was offered were “so small” compared to the more expansive dramas of her own real life.

Baldwin pushes her in the interview about her choice — goads her not with prosecutorial malice, but with exactly the same kind of emotional detachment a good interviewer needs to have from the guests.

Winger volunteered that she’s contemplating a return to the business. “I see young filmmakers that I really, really want to work with,” she said. “I think there’s a world that I want to play in.” Who knew?

Later, Baldwin relates one how unnamed famous actor told him that the Internet “represents the death of forgetting.”

Winger begs to differ. “I don’t think it’s the death of forgetting,” she said. “I think it’s the birth of forgetting, because we don’t have to remember anything.” It’s broad, big-picture discussions like this that you don’t encounter often on television.


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


YOU CAN see Baldwin’s talents on the surface of the table he sits at with his guests. It’s not crowded with papers filled with questions prepared beforehand. He’s not afraid, in a way, to wing it, to keep the questions in his head, firing genially at will across the leather banquette in a way that defines “off-the-cuff.”

Baldwin holds his subjects’ attention with his intense gaze, and with a curiosity apparently grounded in the belief that one good question elicits a good answer that often leads to another good question. This is the stuff of the best interviews: a probing serve-and-volley, a charitable jousting that’s ultimately not so much an interview as it is a conversation — one of his stated objectives

Like so many other talk-show hosts, Baldwin sometimes steps on his own questions by jumping in halfway through his guests’ answers, prodding unnecessarily, not quite satisfied with letting their responses emerge organically from his questions. He won’t get out of his own way. But let’s face it: when you’re playing your first games in the majors, you tend to swing for the fences every time up. In a talk-show format, a certain amount of interrogative aggression is expected. Baldwin should find that right balance of attack and repose before long.

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Baldwin established a mission statement after his first show: “I want to find out what drives people, what inspires artists and performers to pursue truth and beauty in their work, why smart, ambitious people devote their lives to seemingly impossible causes ...”

His first programs show he’s off on the right foot in achieving this, and in helping MSNBC advance the program format taking hold in its weekend programming.

Baldwin’s show, “Disrupt With Karen Finney” (featuring the former Democratic National Committee communications director) and “Up With Steve Kornacki” (hosted by the Salon senior editor), have a style that runs counter to much of MSNBC’s Monday-Friday daytime and prime-time programming — rhetorical rugby scrums, split-screen shouting matches, everybody jumping in at once and nobody saying anything that anybody can understand.

 If MSNBC decides to import more of the weekend philosophy into the Mon-Fri shows, the “Lean Forward” network might actually commit some news of its own: by leaning outside the frame of frantic, breathless convention, by investing in more programming that changes the temperature of the national tele-conversation. We’d stay up late, and get up early, for more of that.

Image credits: All images: From “Up Late With Alec Baldwin”: © 2013 MSNBC.

The Booker prize: Mr. Newark goes to Washington


ON ANY other day but Wednesday, Government Deliverance Day, it would have made the news as a top story — maybe the top story — in its own right. As it is, though, it’s still a milestone in American government. Cory Booker, for seven years the Democratic mayor of Newark, has parlayed a broad populist appeal, a magnetic telegenic presence and a grassroots campaign run on couch-cushion money into a winning bid to be the next United States senator from New Jersey.

Late Wednesday, Booker defeated his Republican challenger, Steve Lonegan, by double digits (11 points). His win comes with big historical dividends: Booker becomes the first black senator from New Jersey in the state’s history, as well as the ninth black senator in American history and only the fourth to win a Senate seat by popular vote. Edward Brooke, Carole Moseley-Braun, and some guy named Obama came before he did.

“It would have been easy to listen to this frustrating negativity and stay home today. But here in New Jersey, more than a million people rejected cynicism and came out on a Wednesday, in the middle of October, three weeks before we have another election, to fight the cynicism,” he said. “You didn't just vote, you believed that your vote and choice mattered.”

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The news was icing on the cake for Democrats, flush with good feelings about the resolution of the government shutdown and the debt-ceiling crisis. Booker’s election will punch up Democrats’ numbers in the Senate, taking the Dem advantage in that chamber back to the +10 bulge they enjoyed before Frank Lautenberg, revered in New Jersey, died in June at the age of 89.

But to maintain the 55-45 Democratic majority, Booker has to stand for election again next year (in order to win a full six-year term).

A year’s not a lot of time to make an impression in a gig like that, but Booker can do it if anyone can. A Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School graduate, Booker gave a big assist to the Obama 2012 campaign, and has been viewed as a rising star in the Democratic party since well before then.

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BOOKER ATTAINED a quasi-superhero status for a variety of populist actions as mayor. In a principled attempt to stay close to the constituents who elected him, Booker for a time kept living in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. During the Christmas Blizzard of 2010, which buried much of the Eastern Seaboard, Booker grabbed a shovel and paved sidewalks alongside everyday people.

In April 2012, the Newark mayor ran into a burning home to help rescue a woman who was trapped inside. He suffered some minor burns on his superskin, but they healed almost immediately.

Later that year, after the impact of Superstorm Sandy again wrought devastation on the Jersey shore and elsewhere, Booker let some Garden State residents crash at his home.

And he got in the face of an angry tweeter who opposed subsidized school lunches for children, and challenged the tweeter to live on food stamps for a week. Booker wasn’t blowing smoke: he followed through on arrangements to live on $33 a week for food, subsisting on beans, cauliflower, olive oil, broccoli, salad and sweet potatoes. This was putting populism where his mouth was.

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We can expect the Legend of Cory Booker to grow even more. In the wake of his win on Wednesday, Booker has announced he’ll conduct same-sex marriages in New Jersey at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, the first day that gay marriages will be officially recognized in the Garden State.

The state Supreme Court ruled on Friday that same-sex marriages could go forward. This after a Mercer County Superior Court judge that gay couples can marry. That judge rebuffed a request from Gov. Chris Christie to delay the start of gay marriage until after an appeal runs its course.

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IN SOME meaningful ways, he’s already made a lot happen. Booker’s election to the Senate by popular vote highlights both the expansion of African Americans in Congress, and the relative absence of their number in the Senate. There were five black members of Congress in 1963, Fast forward 50 years: 41 African Americans are in Congress now.

Booker’s ascendancy to the Senate is the latest proof of the tireless advance of minorities in the full Congress; the 2012 election results saw a record number of women were elected to the United States Senate – part of the demographic mosaic (43 African Americans, 31 Latinos, 12 Asians, seven LGBT Americans, 16 veterans from the Iraq or Afghan wars, and the first Hindu) that makes the 113th Congress the most diverse in American history.

For African Americans, the Senate has been that mountain successfully climbed less often. Right now, Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican appointed to replace Jim DeMint, is currently the only black senator. Massachusetts Democrat Mo Cowan was there long enough to have a cup of coffee, appointed as he was to temporarily fill the vacant seat of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Like Booker, Scott has to run for a full term in office. It’s a fairly safe bet, at this point, that Republicans won’t walk away from a black Republican senator in a deep Southern state. In that department, they need all the help they can get.

Scott’s likely to win next year. And if Booker wins in November 2014, we’re looking at a breakthrough of truly historic dimensions: the first time two African-American senators were elected through the popular vote.

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We’ll see if Booker can drive up the turnout a year from November; off-year elections are notorious for low numbers compared to turnouts in presidential years.

But Booker starts his short-term tenure in the Senate with name recognition any freshman senator would kill for. And from the perspective of New Jerseyans, he starts his senatorial career with a generous, hands-on, fix-the-potholes approach to problem-solving that, writ large from the Senate chambers, should reflect well on his state, and his own prospects for being its Senator on a long-term basis.

The voting in New Jersey in November 2014 should pretty well take care of itself. People like being a part of history. There’s been a lot of that from the American voting booth lately.

Image credits: 113th Congress: Mark Wilson/Getty Images. All other images: Cory Booker for Senate Web site.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rebel whimper: Default-shutdown crisis ends



GAME, SET, MATCH. It’s over. All done. With next to no time on the clock, the crisis of a looming debt-ceiling default ended tonight with the United States Senate effectively superseding the House of Representatives as the fiscal adults in the room, and also ending the 16-day government shutdown. A bipartisan agreement, following on the one hammered out earlier by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was passed in the Senate, 81-18. Later, the House (with the most Pantone-red Republicans holding their noses) voted for passage, 285-144.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us, including our need to earn back the trust of the American people that has been lost over the last few weeks,” President Obama said in a short speech from the White House.

The deal’s short-term duration could lead to another such confrontation next year, but House Republicans, having just had their asses handed to them, have bigger problems facing them. With the GOP in the House scrambling to find a voice, much less an identity, there are real questions about the leverage they can hope to gain in any future negotiations, if they stay on their present course.


Under the agreement, the borrowing authority of the U.S. government is extended until Feb. 7; the government itself is open again and fully funded until Jan. 15; and both Democrats and Republicans will appoint negotiators to confer on a federal budget, with a report expected by Dec. 13.

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Ever defiant, House Speaker John Boehner managed to raise his fist and the white flag of surrender at the same time.

“The House has fought with everything it has to convince the president of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations aimed at addressing our country's debt and providing fairness for the American people under Obamacare. That fight will continue,” he said today in a statement. “But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us.”

Boehner boiled that down to something shorter in an interview with WLW-AM in Cincinnati. “We fought the good fight, we just didn't win.”

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WHERE WE ARE: President Obama gets the clean continuing resolution he wanted from the beginning, with no impact on the Affordable Care Act that is his signature domestic legislative achievement. The wasted time, dilatory tactics and bellicose rhetoric over the last 16 days will be blamed on the Republicans, whose brand is even more tarnished than it was before.

Once again, like before all this even happened, the American economy is on another short leash, with the potential of having to go through some of this all over again starting in January.

And the resolution of this mess with no meaningful contribution from House Republicans and the Tea Party faction that holds them hostage indicates how, by even the most charitable assessment, the Republican Party is a party adrift, wandering from wilderness to wilderness wearing the sackcloth of the Gadsden flag.

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White House press secretary Jay Carney was the soul of diplomacy at a news conference today. ”There are no winners here,” he said to reporters at the White House. “I think it’s fair to say that the experience that we’ve all had demonstrates that the kind of hyper-partisanship that was a problem in the past, especially in one House, continues to be a challenge,” he said.

”What odds do we set on cooperation and bipartisan compromise in the future? I don’t think we would put odds on that. We would simply hope that this experience, if and when it’s over, would remind all of us here that these kinds of crises only create harm to the American people and to the American economy. There are costs that have already been incurred because of shutdown, because of the flirtation with default, and they’re not retrievable.”

Having been burned before, the White House was understandably cautious about any public dances in the end zone before everything was finalized. But by any political metric, the bipartisan agreement can be truthfully defined as a thundering victory for the Obama administration. There is a winner here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Waiting for the default that’s already here


THE GRAND Guignol performance we’ve been seeing on Capitol Hill recently is apparently set to go on for a few more acts. On the edge of resolution of the debt-default impasse, House Republicans revealed their addiction to chaos on Tuesday, when the House Republican conference submitted a bill that would end the government shutdown and resume the government borrowing authority but hamstring certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act — a nonstarter in the Democratic Senate.

This instead of moving forward on a bipartisan Senate proposal hammered out in recent days by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The House plan funds the government through Jan. 15, raise the nation's borrowing authority through Feb. 7, postpone Obamacare's medical device tax by two years, and eliminate federal health care subsidies for members of Congress.

Reid was blunt about its prospects this morning in the Senate: “This bill that they're sending over here is doomed to failure.”

House Speaker John Boehner said pretty much the same thing, in more roundabout language. “There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do,” he said at a press conference. “We are going to continue to work with our members on both sides of the aisle to try and make sure there is no issue of default and to get our government reopened.”

NBC News reported what House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said this morning, exposing just how empty the House effort is.

“What you saw here earlier ... was a Speaker who did not have the votes for his proposal,” she said. “This Republican habit of sabotaging any effort to move forward is a luxury our country cannot afford.”

This latest in the kabuki madness attending what could be the most serious financial crisis in modern American history seems mostly motivated by House Republicans looking for a trophy, an ear from the bull, something to take home to the most conservative members of the base, something more symbol than substance to show for an effort at governmental obstruction that was a fool’s errand from the jump.

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But all of this may be rearranging the deck chairs on a target ship. To go by the assessment of one veteran financial writer, Felix Salmon, financial writer for Reuters, the real-world impacts of a United States debt default are not a future-tense proposition. They’re underway right now.

“The U.S. government is already in default on its obligations,” Salmon wrote on Monday.

“Right now, with the shutdown, we’ve already reached the point at which the government is breaking very important promises indeed: we promised to pay hundreds of thousands of government employees a certain amount on certain dates, in return for their honest work. We have broken that promise. Indeed, by Treasury’s own definition, it’s reasonable to say that we have already defaulted: surely, by any sensible conception, the salaries of government employees constitute “legal obligations of the U.S.”

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SALMON CONTINUES: “The harm done to the global financial system by a Treasury debt default would not be caused by cash losses to bond investors. If you needed that interest payment, you could always just sell your Treasury bill instead, for an amount extremely close to the total principal and interest due. Rather, the harm done would be a function of the way in which the Treasury market is the risk-free [V]aseline which greases the entire financial system.

“If Treasury payments can’t be trusted entirely, then not only do all risk instruments need to be repriced, but so does the most basic counterparty risk of all. The U.S. government, in one form or another, is a counterparty to every single financial player in the world. Its payments have to be certain, or else the whole house of cards risks collapsing — starting with the multi-trillion-dollar interest-rate derivatives market, and moving rapidly from there.”

Salmon cites one of the two more widely known examples of institutional abandonments of U.S. short-term debt — he only mentions Fidelity’s sale of its short-term T-bills, but JP Morgan Chase did much the same thing last week —and adds a third one, quoting from the Wall Street Journal:

“Reich & Tang, which oversees $35 billion, including $17 billion in money-market funds, said that the firm isn’t holding any U.S. securities that pay interest at the end of October through mid-November...”

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Salmon again: “The [V]aseline, in other words, already has sand in it. The global faith in U.S. institutions has already been undermined. The mechanism by which catastrophe would arise has already been set into motion. And as a result, economic growth in both the U.S. and the rest of the world will be lower than it should be. Unemployment will be higher. Social unrest will be more destructive. ...

“The Republicans in the House have already managed to inflict significant, lasting damage to the U.S. and the global economy — even if they were to pass a completely clean bill tomorrow morning, which they won’t. The default has already started, and is already causing real harm. The only question is how much worse it’s going to get.”

You can see for yourself how bad it is right now. Time.com has put together a sadly handy interactive that shows where the money’s going in near real-time. Click here for a glimpse at the only countdown clock that matters.

Image credits: Boehner: Associated Press. Pelosi: via MSNBC. Fidelity logo: © 2013 Fidelity Investments. Reich & Tang nameplate: © 2013 Reich & Tang Asset Management.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fridays with Alec: MSNBC really pushes the envelope



AT FIRST or second blush, it looks like a win-win for all concerned: Alec Baldwin, the veteran actor best known for his television role in NBC’s “30 Rock,” and his real-life role as short-fused hellraiser and sworn enemy of the paparazzi, was looking for a new challenge. After all, an Oscar-nominated actor can’t go on being a pitchman for Capital One forever.

MSNBC, the cable network always in the process of reinventing itself, was eager to continue the rescue of its weekend lineup from the wasteland of repurposed doc-style tours of America’s prisons.

Tonight at 10 p.m. eastern time, we’ll see what happens when idleness meets opportunity. That’s when MSNBC debuts “Up Late With Alec Baldwin,” a talk show hosted by Baldwin and set to feature interviews with a variety of newsmakers.

MSNBC has been teasing the show for the last few weeks. In the first promo spot announcing the show, Ed Schultz, host of “The Ed Show” (and a man with his own pugnacious reputation) announces that the network, “responding to criticism,” had hired Baldwin, “a man who will address the great issues of our time while keeping his emotions in check, a man who values reason over passion and provides a soothing voice for these troubled times.”

The camera pans over to an effusive Baldwin, grinning like a madman and gripping Schultz’s shoulder.

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That ad was a sly, tongue-in-cheek allusion to Baldwin’s reputation as a man with a serious temper. On Sunday, MSNBC followed that promo with another one, this one featuring Baldwin clearly intended to downplay the outrageous in his biography — Baldwin playing it straight.

“My career began in 1980 right here at 30 Rock, on an NBC soap opera,” Baldwin says, straight-faced, no-nonsense. “And now I have my own show on MSNBC where I talk to newsmakers about issues that matter to me, as well as cultural icons about their lives and careers. I hope you’ll join me.”

That’s it. No snark, no foaming at the mouth. But “keeping his emotions in check”? Baldwin in circumspect mode is a far cry from the Alec Baldwin who apologized after he used homophobic slurs to violently threaten a British reporter who said his wife Hilaria Thomas had tweeted about wedding presents and TV appearances during James Gandolfini's funeral in June.

“If put my foot up your f**king ass, George Stark, but I'm sure you'd dig it too much,” one tweet read. “I'm gonna find you George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I'm gonna f**k you... up,” he added.

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AND THERE’S the Alec Baldwin involved in a Feburary dustup with a New York post photographer, Baldwin reportedly made racist remarks, calling him a “coon” and a “crackhead.” “He was saying some serious racist stuff,” New York Post photographer G.N. Miller said.

And don’t forget the Alec Baldwin who went off on a photographer in August in University Place, in lower Manhattan, days after his wife gave birth to their daughter.

Or the Alec Baldwin who shoved a New York Daily News photographer outside Manhattan's Marriage License Bureau in June 2012.

Or the Alec Baldwin thrown off an American Airlines flight in December 2011 for refusing to turn his phone off while playing Words With Friends.

Or the Alec Baldwin who called Ireland, his then 11-year-old daughter by Kim Basinger, a “rude and thoughtless little pig” in 2007.

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With this and other personnel changes, schedule shifts, special events and indicators of programming style, MSNBC has clearly cast its lot with a younger, more progressive and diverse demographic. Throughout the network schedule, from morning to evening, weekdays to weekends, the mix of anchors, show guests and analysts is a testament to MSNBC’s faith in the end of the white male news anchor template.

“Disrupt With Karen Finney,” featuring the former Democratic National Committee official, was recently added to the Saturday and Sunday lineup, joining “Melissa Harris-Perry,” a news analysis program hosted by its namesake, a columnist for The Nation; and “Up With Steve Kornacki,” hosted by the Salon senior political writer, in the weekend programming stable.

The Baldwin show is the most recent of MSNBC’s two years of schedule shifts meant to build its weekend bona fides, as it moves away from the “Lockup” prison-life series and its “Caught on Camera” programs documenting the exploits of everyday people, well, caught on camera.

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Baldwin, who briefly considered running for mayor of New York (what a campaign that woulda been) and who reportedly backs progressive candidate Bill de Blasio (a guest on tonight’s premiere), will likely bring more of the liberal perspective that is MSNBC’s stock in trade.

“Up Late” is the network’s new bid to “Lean Forward.” But given Baldwin’s proven reputation for going off the rails, it’ll be curious to see whether this latest MSNBC programming move pushes the envelope — or rips it wide open. Stay tuned. And brace yourselves.

Image credits: Schultz and Baldwin, Up Late title card and MSNBC logo: © 2013 MSNBC. Baldwin and photographers (both images): New York Daily News.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

House Republicans and the standoff that’s not


IF YOU run a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., tonight was probably very good for doing business with the folks on Capitol Hill.

The New York Times reported this afternoon that President Obama, at a meeting with House Republicans at the White House today, rejected a short-term plan from House Republicans to extend the debt ceiling by six weeks ... but without ending the government shutdown.

Oh, it wasn’t written in that straightforward a fashion. The thrust of the story was concealed in language of an anodyne event. The president wasn’t described as rejecting anything.

The Times reported: “In statements afterward that struck the most positive tone in weeks of acrimony, House Republicans described their hour-and-a-half-long meeting with Mr. Obama as “a useful and productive conversation,” while the White House described “a good meeting,” though “no specific determination was made” about the Republicans’ offer. Both agreed to continue talks through the night.”

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But look closer. What seems to be a pleasant stalemate, its description choked with upbeat adjectives, is realistically anything but. The bottom line is this: The president rejected the House Republicans’ offer, kicking to the curb their hope of releasing the hostage United States government separate from a deal to extend the nation’s borrowing authority beyond the deadline of Oct. 17.

With the nation’s business groups and corporate leaders exerting more pressure on House Republicans not to pursue brinkmanship on the debt ceiling, as public opinion polls turn more dramatically against the GOP’s gambit, and with everyday Americans beginning to endure the non-theoretical pain of the government shutdown, House Republicans left the White House meeting knowing they’d ultimately have to make a concession to those irresistible forces —  and by extension, to the president. Eager to save face and loathe to admit anything like a defeat, they couched today’s meeting in largely conciliatory terms. And the team in the White House, willing to be good sports, has acquiesced in what will prove to be a political fiction.

Consider the non-statement statement made by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor after the meet: “We had a very useful meeting; it was clarifying, I think, for both sides as to where we are ...” Now consider the statement after the meeting made by House Speaker John Boehner. Oh wait, that’s right — Boehner didn’t make a statement after the meeting. Left there walking past reporters without a mumblin’ word.

The House Republicans are playing for time; today they pretended for the cameras that a losing hand was a winner. Tonight, spinmeisters in the Republican House leadership will be up late working on the “clarifying” language, figuring out how to put a victorious rhetorical face on getting ready to give President Obama exactly what he asked for all along: a clean continuing resolution to resume running the government of the United States.

And that’s where the pizzas come in.

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OF ALL the various forces now aligning against the Republicans in Congress, there may be none harder to ignore, on a retail-politics basis, than the people in the country. They’re being heard more loudly, every day. The news for Republicans was bad enough already: According to a new Gallup poll, released on Wednesday, only 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, a drop of 10 percentage points in a month.

What a difference a day makes. On Thursday, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 24 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Republicans, the worst showing for the GOP since that poll began in 1990.

A full 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the Republicans; 53 percent blame them for the government shutdown; and in a provocative finding, the survey determined that 47 percent would prefer to have Democrats in control of Congress.

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Of course the folks on Wall Street will be hard to ignore too. When Fidelity Investments, the nation’s biggest mutual fund manager, and JPMorgan Chase sell all of their short-term government debt loads two days apart, it has a way of concentrating the mind wonderfully.

All of this underscores the fact that’s more and more inescapable every day: As the talks of negotiations continue, the House Republicans — bound by constitutional responsibility, chastened by scathing opinion polls, chastised by their own donor class, and internally fractionated in what defines their own identity — have little, if not nothing, to negotiate.

It’s like they’re holding guns to their own heads and telling their adversaries, “Now we’ve got you right where we want you!”

What’s next? Expect more meetings between House Republicans and the White House. There’s talk that House Republican moderates are working on an agreement that would resolve the impasse quickly. Also, “Senate Democrats and Republicans are quietly talking about potential agreements,” a Democratic aide told The Huffington Post.

We’ll see if any of this resolves the standoff that’s becoming less of a standoff every day.

Image credits: John Boehner: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press. GOP-Democratic favorables graph: © 2013 Gallup. 

DEFCON jam: Red alert
for the U.S. economy and the GOP


WELL, IT’S come to this: The impasse over the United States borrowing-authority debt ceiling has gotten so critical that economists at one major financial concern has taken to putting things in military terms. On Wednesday, Morgan Stanley economists Vincent Reinhart and Ellen Zentner announced their decision to characterize the American economy as being at "DEFCON 3," borrowing from the defense readiness condition acronym used by the U.S. military (and popularized in more movies than we can count).

“"Conditions in Washington, D.C. are not improving; we see nascent signs of financial stress, and jitters are on the rise," the economists reported in a research report excerpted in Business Insider.

In the Morgan Stanley DEFCON scenario, just like the military’s, the lower the number, the higher the risk of catastrophe. The economists write: “It seemed appropriate to borrow from another arbitrary risk assessment of cataclysm – NORAD's DEFCON. In our Econ DEFCON, a reading of 5 suggests everyone remains complacent about the outlook as there will be no meaningful fallout from the stand-off. The warning level then ratchets up to 1, which signals our expectation of a significant disruption to the U.S. economy.”

To go by that metric, then, we’re halfway to some unprecedented economic meltdown creating real damage, and real pain. And as the risk of global calamity ratchets higher, what’s in straits more dire is the Republican Party, in the throes of an identity default that’s been going on for years, one that now threatens its own existence and the financial well-being of the United States.

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The mainstream media has lately taken to cultivating a false equivalence in the matter, using tortured populist logic and a thoroughly misguided sense of journalistic balance to pin the blame for the standoff on Democrats and Republicans equally. Thankfully, the public knows better, and has said as much in various opinion polls in recent days.

According to a new Gallup poll, only 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, a drop of 10 percentage points in a month. The current crisis is terra incognita in more ways than one: Gallup said the showing for Republicans was a “record low” in its polling. “[T]his is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.”

The Democratic Party has had its detractors too; according to Gallup, 43 percent of Americans support its role in the crisis, down just 4 points from last month.

But the Gallup survey offered a striking example of what it looks like when Republicans turn on their own: “Self-identified Republicans are more than twice as likely to view their own party unfavorably (27%) as Democrats are to see their own party unfavorably (13%),” Gallup reported.

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THE GOP's unfavorable rating among Republicans is up eight points from September, compared with a one-point rise in Democratic Party unfavorables among Democrats. These findings may be consistent with the widely circulated narrative that the Republican Party is internally splintered on how best to handle the budgetary negotiations,” Gallup said.

And in a memorandum released on Sunday, Public Policy Polling reported that 24 new polls, conducted by PPP and commissioned by MoveOn.org, concluded that, “[I]f the 2014 elections were held today, Republicans would be in grave danger of losing control of the House of Representatives.”

What makes this such a potentially huge deal is the circumstances surrounding such a loss of the House. “The surveys challenge conventional wisdom that gerrymandering has put the House out of reach for Democrats and indicate the shutdown has significant electoral implications,” wrote Ilya Sheyman, at the MoveOn Web site.

◊ ◊ ◊

The reasons for this implosion of Republican fortune have a lot to do with a Republican Party at odds with itself. “It’s very hard to negotiate with Republicans when they can’t negotiate with themselves.” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday.

The GOP’s perverse penchant for brinkmanship seems to have at its core a fundamental confidence in the American economy to bounce back from any crisis — even one that’s thoroughly contrived. There’s a faith in the notion that the U.S. economy will have a “nick of time” event, some deus ex machina scenario that rescues it from disaster at the 11th hour.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is less than confident of that. “As we saw two years ago, prolonged uncertainty over whether our nation will pay its bills in full and on time hurts our economy,” Lew said in a statement last week. “Postponing a debt ceiling increase to the very last minute is exactly what our economy does not need — a self-inflicted wound harming families and businesses.”

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THERE’S A TRIAGE process that’s been in the works for the last three weeks – going back to when the White House Budget Office first told agencies to prepare for the worst.

Now, there’s real damage being done. On Tuesday, the Veterans Administration furloughed 7,000 employees and shut regional offices. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said Wednesday that 433,000 fully disabled veterans may not receive disability payments starting in November if the shutdown isn’t shut down, and fast.

The shutdown forced the temporary closing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency tasked with preventing the nation’s 100 nuclear power plants from having a Homer Simpson moment. In a Wednesday press release, NRC chairman Alison Macfarlane said that “[d]espite our best hopes, the NRC on Thursday will be joining the rest of the federal government in shutting down due to a lapse in appropriations.”

USA Today reports today that the national park system is losing $76 million a day due to the shutdown. And the government coma has had a ripple effect that includes other agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, the nation’s first recourse in accident investigation, and the Pentagon, which was forced to suspend the $100,000 death benefits paid to the families of servicemembers killed in the war in Afghanistan. Charities have stepped up to fill that shortfall, but still ... it should never have gone that far. Never.

Clearly, for Americans, the impact of the shutdown ain’t theoretical no more.

◊ ◊ ◊

So it’s no wonder that Americans are reacting unfavorably to Republican tactics. Reacting in a way that suggests there will be hell to pay down the road.

George W in The New York Post writes: “I can see Obamacare for what it is: deeply flawed, but better than nothing. And NOTHING is exactly what we got during the first 6 years of Bush II, when Republicans controlled everything. I firmly believe that this whole Republican panic has come about because there are enough bright souls involved with the party that they have figured out that a LOT of their base, perhaps even a majority of it, is going to figure out that they are far better off under ‘Obamacare’ than they were before, and THAT will be the very end of the ‘Republican Brand.’ ”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brooks Brothers steaks out new business


BROOKS BROTHERS, clothier of choice for upscale professional men for 195 years, apparently has designs on breaking into a new line of work. Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post reported on Monday that “the famed American apparel chain aims to open a 15,000 square-foot eatery next summer at 11 E. 44th St., around the corner from its 346 Madison Ave. flagship.

“Brooks Brothers has never been in the restaurant business. But the currently vacant venue, which the company previously used for its women’s line, is to be the prototype for what sources said would be a nationwide rollout of Makers and Merchants eateries.”

Cuozzo reported that “the East 44th Street location might be ideal for the clothing giant’s culinary debut. The blocks around Grand Central Terminal teem with high-spending executives craving classic American food.

“Plus, proximity to Brooks Brothers’ history-steeped flagship thematically links the restaurant to its smartly woven, conservatively tailored men’s suits, shirts and ties.”

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It’s early yet; development plans haven’t even been filed with the New York City Buildings Department or — the really important threshold — the State Liquor Authority. But some parts of the concept are farther along than others.

We recently obtained a photo of a test version of part of a menu being considered for the restaurant. It’s not finalized, of course, but if the first draft is an indication of what’s to come, fans of steak and Brooks Brothers’ classic mens’ wear styles should find much to celebrate:


Image credit: Brooks Brothers plaque: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The tragedy of John Boehner


IN THE TWO days since the United States government was put into operational life support by the Tea Party ideologues of the Republican Party, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has made several appearances on Capitol Hill, going before the cameras to double down on the GOP’s position and his own refusal to bring a clean continuing resolution on the government funding bull before the House of Representatives — ending the impasse that has shuttered much of the government’s operation, furloughed more than 800,000 federal workers, and imposed immediate hardships on millions of Americans.

When he’s before the cameras, Boehner is the picture of a burly, robust defender of his party’s plans and objectives. But watching him as he moves between appearances, before he's fully composed, you see another Boehner. Someone who  moves with the deliberateness of a man going through the motions, fulfilling a role laid out for him, a reluctant actor spouting lines that are hardly his own. At times his eyes look glassy or watery, perhaps the evidence of the congressman’s affection for merlot. But it’s his overall physical countenance away from the microphones that’s revelatory: To go by news videos in the recent days, John Boehner moves about Washington with the doomed automaticity of a man approaching the gallows.

The early results are in, and they’re not good for Republicans. In a new CBS News poll, 72 percent of respondents disapprove of linking the Affordable Care Act to the government shutdown; that includes 49 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents. Among the survey respondents against the ACA, 59 percent oppose powering down the government to stop it. More Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown (44 percent) than blame the Democrats (35 percent).

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It’s been said more than once this week: Boehner could end this impasse with one statement. But he could also resolve a critical national issue, and put a Republican brand on that resolution. His refusal to do so is what’s quickly moving this episode of American life from farce to tragedy.

Dee Dee Myers, President Clinton’s press secretary and now a writer for Vanity Fair, was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning. She noted how Boehner, in Congress for 22 years, “understands that the regular incentives that shape the behavior of his caucus are all skewed all over the place.”

She was referring to Boehner’s experience as a Republican “lifer,” a man with time in the trenches of politics, someone in the arena long enough to know what’s what. It was with some dismay that Myers, recalling the Speaker’s Wednesday news conference in front of the White House, said “he almost looked like he was a hostage, saying words he had to say when he knew it was nuts.”

True enough. And that’s where leadership is supposed to kick in. Sometimes being a leader is all about telling someone to go to hell and making them take the trip there, whether they look forward to it or not. It means acting on behalf of the greater good, the wider agency, the broader constituency that has a lot to do with leaders being leaders in the first place.

In this, John Boehner has utterly, spectacularly failed.

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MUCH OF Boehner’s current behavior is pure and simple aroused by the instinct for political survival, by just about any means necessary. He dodged a bullet back in January, narrowly surviving a House voice vote on his tenure as Speaker — with some members openly expressing a preference for House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Boehner’s bĂȘte noire.

So the Speaker’s actions since Tuesday — offering full-throated defenses of the GOP position — are the political version of fight or flight. Boehner took to the opinion pages on Wednesday, writing a boilerplate defense in an op-ed in USA Today: “As for House Republicans, we will continue our efforts to keep the government running and deal honestly with the problems we face. We hope that Senate Democrats — and President Obama — change course and start working with us on behalf of the American people.”

Such language indicates Boehner is digging in, hunkering down and engaging in the siege mentality that he and his caucus have made a default posture since before this started on Tuesday. This embattled, Fort Apache-on-the-Hill perspective has everything to do with Boehner keeping his job as Speaker, job insurance secured by doing the bidding of the Tea Party irregulars that form the most obstreperous core of his caucus.

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But tragically, in the current impasse, Boehner fails to realize that what he thinks he can hold on to — his real authority as Speaker, his leadership role in “the People’s House,” the respect of fellow Republicans — he’s already lost.

Some of Boehner’s various congressional colleagues have lately called him a “good” man or a “decent” man, generally characterizing him as a movement conservative victimized by the reliably irrational members of his own party. If that’s true, those real, deep philosophical convictions need to be in evidence now. It’s necessary for the country to see Boehner brandish those principles now, for all the right reasons, and Boehner won’t do it.

His long status as a Washington pol has aroused a deep distrust on the part of Tea Partiers, the very people whose water Boehner carries in the current debate. As a consequence of that mistrust, Boehner's reluctance to engage the yahoo winglet of his party reveals a House Speaker animated by fear of political retribution more than anything else.

Boehner could make himself a hero of pragmatism by breaking ranks with the know-nothings and know-damn-near-nothings in his party, introducing the clean CR to the full House, and accepting the thanks of a grateful nation. He doesn’t see that such a bold action would at least briefly define leadership to the American people in Republican terms, burnish his leadership in particular — and throw down a challenge to detractors in his own party.

Few things would fortify Boehner’s bona fides more. Few actions would make Cantor’s tireless angling and machinations matter less. Vote Boehner out of the Speaker’s chair after favorably galvanizing disaffected moderate Republicans, and much of the nation? The Tea Party crew wouldn’t dare (not least of all because they’ve got no one who’d stand a chance of replacing him).

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BUT BY upholding the dictates of the Tea Party obstructionists and refusing to introduce the uncluttered continuing resolution needed to end the government shutdown, Boehner reveals the nakedly elitist mindset of the party extremists holding sway over the House, and over him. He shows the House and the nation something you wouldn’t expect from a congressman of long standing: a preference for the short game over the long game, the tactic over the strategy.

And by appearing to defend the prerogative of the congressional minority to monkey-wrench the American government for its own ends — even as he denies calls for a vote to officially determine what the view of the House majority is — Boehner has subscribed to a style of governance as outrageous as it is outdated.

Students of American history recognize this. It’s a modern nullification strategy, one that, ironically enough, is already working against Boehner. Because of his reticence to lead; because of his cynical wielding of power on behalf of his Tea Party masters; because those Tea Party masters don’t trust him no matter what he does; because of his public insistence that the minority rules, despite the fact that he knows better, Boehner has ushered in his own irrelevance. He has effectively nullified himself.

Today, the Speaker of the House of Representatives isn’t just John Boehner. He shares the job with the ghost of John Calhoun.

Image credits: Boehner: AP/Evan Vucci. "House of Turds" front page: New York Daily News, Oct. 1. Boehner and gavel: C-SPAN.
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