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CONTRADICTIONS AND LOBBYISTS! Obama’s slight problem began way back when, in that Cordelia campaign: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2009

The growing kingdom of Hackistan: How will the stimulus package end up in the Senate? We don’t have the slightest idea. But we couldn’t help noting one amendment which passed yesterday, as described in this morning’s Post:

MURRAY (2/4/09): Later, the Senate turned away legislation to reduce the tax rate on multinational corporations that are returning earnings from overseas, as opponents argued that it was a giveaway to industry. But some new spending programs proved too politically attractive to the Senate. In a 71 to 26 vote, the Senate approved a new incentive for car buyers, at an estimated cost of $11 billion over 10 years. According to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the amendment's sponsor, buyers could deduct the cost of sales tax for new cars purchased between last Nov. 12 and Dec. 31, 2009. Individuals with incomes of up to $125,000 would qualify.

Obviously, that amendment got a bunch of Republican votes. We noticed this amendment because we’d seen such suggestions advanced several times in recent weeks—by Republicans and conservatives. For example, here was Republican congressman Donald Manzullo on The Rachel Maddow Show:

MANZULLO (1/28/09): Rachel, here's the problem. How do you prime the pump to restart, for example, manufacturing? I've got a Chrysler facility in my district. The big problem is lack of orders. So here's what you do, something very, very simple: You take a $5000 voucher. You go to your Chrysler dealer or the dealer of your choice. You buy the car. You knock 25 percent off that car. And you could buy a nice Jeep Patriot for less than $300 a month. We have to restart the channels of the supply line in manufacturing, and—

MADDOW: Well, but honestly, just to be economically cogent here, though, one of the ways that you sell more Chryslers from that plant in your district is that you get people jobs doing stuff like shoring up the retaining walls around the monuments and the National Mall. Then people get—you give contracts to do that or you hire people directly, either way. You spend money to do that. Those people get jobs. They then have paychecks they didn't have before and they can spend them to buy a beautiful Chrysler.

MANZULLO: Rachel, you don't make jobs when jobs already exist, save for the lack of orders. There are enough people working in this country today that would like to buy new cars. We went from 17 million new cars down to 10 million new cars. If we could get up to 15 million new cars—that's $75 billion in vouchers—that would trigger over a trillion dollars. And that way people go back to work. There is nothing in this bill that puts people back to work.

“There's a very small amount that puts people back to work,” Manzullo quickly said, correcting himself.

Was Manzullo’s idea a good one? We weren’t sure (still aren’t), and it got no further discussion, ever, on Maddow’s program. We did notice that Maddow ran quickly to dogma, improbably connecting Manzullo’s suggestion to work on the National Mall. She was just trying to be “economically cogent,” she said—but we got a different impression. Our impression? She didn’t know squat about Manzullo’s proposal, any more than we did.

In the past week, we’ve seen at least two conservative-leaning columnists make proposals similar to Manzullo’s. And omigod! Yesterday, a liberal Democrat sponsored a similar (if smaller) proposal, and it ginormously passed. That was strange, because all across the wild lands of Liberal Blogistan, we’d been reading fiery claims about what Republicans do and don’t want/will and won’t propose. In particular, we kept reading that Republicans don’t want to spend any money at all. Yesterday, for example, Eric Kleefeld wrote this at TPM, misstating what John McCain had just said:

KLEEFELD (2/3/09): The Republican position here is now clear: They say that government spending during an economic crisis does not prop up the economy.

But that’s obviously not what McCain’s dispatch said—unless you live in the wild tribal lands of Outer Hackistan. Speaking of that growing kingdom, we found our way to Kleefeld’s post via this rube-running piffle.

For the record, Hackistan’s a rapidly growing kingdom, with rapidly changing demographics. For decades, it was a land of the pseudo-right; in that kingdom, hacks misled conservative rubes while liberals stared off into space. (Essentially, there was no liberal discourse then.) We’ve been stunned, in recent weeks, to see the way this kingdom has spread through the world of the liberal web. Hackistan is becoming a kingdom of pseudo-libs too—of silly-bill claims from the “left.”

For decades, pseudo-cons dumbed your country down. This practice is now spreading widely.

Contradictions and lobbyists: Even Maureen Dowd gets a few things right today—after getting a few things semi-comically wrong. Wrong things? Let’s start as she grandly thunders about that stimulus package:

DOWD (2/4/09): Mr. Obama protested to Brian Williams that the programs denounced as “wasteful” by Republicans “amount to less than 1 percent of the entire package.” All the more reason to cut them and create a lean, clean bill tailored to creating jobs.

In that passage, Dowd comes perilously close to affirming the notion that the current bill is 99 percent “clean.” If so, that would likely set a world record; why then would she waste her breath complaining about the need to make the package even more “lean andclean?” And why would she have thundered like this, just two paragraphs earlier?

DOWD: Mr. Obama should have taken a red pencil to the $819 billion stimulus bill and slashed all the provisions that looked like caricatures of Democratic drunken-sailor spending.

As Senator Kit Bond, a Republican, put it, there were so many good targets that he felt “like a mosquito in a nudist colony.”

“All the provisions that looked like caricatures of Democratic drunken-sailor spending?” If the bill is anything like 99 percent clean, how many such caricatures could there be? But then, such niceties rarely distinguish Dowd’s work, and today is no exception. In her opening paragraph, she compares the “disaster” of 9/11 to the “disaster” of Daschle’s withdrawal. And a few grafs later, she helps us peer straight into Tom Daschle’s soul:

DOWD: [Obama] told the anchors that the man who helped make him president, Tom Daschle, had made “a serious mistake” by not paying taxes on a car and driver. (It should have been a harbinger of doom when Daschle began sporting those determined-to-be-hip round red glasses.)

What a shame—that Dowd didn’t explain what those red glasses meant when her insight could have done us some good!

So yes, Dowd plays the fool today, as she persistently does. But even Dowd gets something right about Obama’s setbacks. “Arrogant” is a fairly tough word, one we won’t be endorsing today. But aside from that, we largely agree with what follows—though we think Dowd has left something out:

DOWD: Mr. Obama admitted that “ultimately it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”

It took Daschle’s resignation to shake the president out of his arrogant attitude that his charmed circle doesn’t have to abide by the lofty standards he lectured the rest of us about for two years.

Dana Milbank, the Post’s Dowd knock-off, expresses this problem even more clearly. Consider two different passages:

MILBANK (2/4/09): Some of Obama's most fervent supporters are angry that he hired a Raytheon lobbyist to be the Pentagon's No. 2. His Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, was technically not a lobbyist but, like Daschle, made millions in the influence business. A former Goldman Sachs lobbyist will be chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner...

[...]

With the economy collapsed, the contretemps over personnel and taxes are hardly the nation's most pressing business. But Obama has been hoisted by the high expectations he set on the campaign trail, when he promised an administration without lobbyists and a new era of responsibility. The contradiction between such promises and his early hires led to some tense exchanges in the briefing room yesterday.

Alas! Even people as dim as Dowd can see these “contradictions.” But she failed to specify where they began, out on the campaign trail—more specifically, out on the primary campaign trail, as Obama sought the Dem nomination.

Duh. It never made sense to thunder against lobbyists quite as loudly as Obama did—with Tom Daschle virtually running his campaign. For ourselves, we have no particular negative views about Daschle—and no, he wasn’t technically a lobbyist. But he was plainly everything but—and his wife, Linda Daschle, had long been one of Washington’s biggest lobbyists. Our question: Did it really make sense to thunder about this breed, with Daschle playing such a key role in Obama’s campaign? This posture always struck us as a bit silly. But do you remember that fateful Netroots convention in 2007? When Hillary Clinton refused to make the stirring promises made by her rival (about accepting donations from lobbyists), she was assailed for her vile, thoughtless words—and everyone pretended to think that Obama’s high-minded claims made absolute sense. “Everyone” included people like Dowd, in the mainstream press.

This is part of why we sometimes called the Dem nomination fight a “Cordelia campaign.” As with King Lear’s one truthful daughter: In several episodes in the Dem primary, the person who wouldn’t offer BS got widely slimed for such conduct. By way of contrast, the guy who did seem to be BSing slightly got praised for his high-minded ways. Milbank is basically right in one statement: “Some of Obama's most fervent supporters are angry” today (or something like it) because of the way Obama used “waivers” to sidestep his own lofty rules. But for us, the contradiction began at that Netroots event—and people like Dowd agreed not to notice. You see, people like Dowd were still involved in their long-running wars against the Clintons and Gore. And many liberals bought the whole package; in some cases, they had internalized the press corps’ long-standing anti-Clinton campaigns.

For ourselves, we’re not “angry” at Obama, nor have we ever pretended to know whether he or Clinton is the more perfect human. Others did think they knew such things—and Dowd’s brigade had been pushing their views about Clinton’s vile character for many years. Dowd said nothing, back in the day, about the slight oddness of Obama’s pronouncements about the evil ways of lobbyists. In our view, Clinton was being a bit more honest in what she said about this subject. But given the wars of the past sixteen years, observations like that weren’t allowed.

Regarding that flap about Washington lobbyists, we always thought Clinton made a bit more sense; many such people are perfectly OK, just as the lady said. Unlike Dowd, we said so then. Dowd knew the rules, and kept quiet—just as she later kept her trap shut about what those weird eyeglasses said.

Special report: Snorter McWhorter!

Tomorrow—part 3: A tale of three cities.