Republican Asses.

Here’s the only that surprises me about the budget impasse.

I fully accept that most Republicans in the House of Representatives are from districts where most of the people are stupid; these constituents don’t understand the scale of the financial catastrophe that will result from failure to reach an agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, and, being relatively poor, don’t have much to lose if it happens, and so their congresspeople pander to them.

But a certain number of House Republicans — not a majority, but a not-negligible portion — come from suburban districts where most of the people have some education and a modicum of intelligence. And, more to the point, these constituents have money, and therefore stand to lose a lot of it when the market in every type of security collapses as a consequence of the U.S. defaulting on its debt. These Republican constituents, you would think, would be contacting their congresspeople and saying, “Look, you a-holes, do what it takes to come to some kind of agreement in time to prevent my portfolio from going down the toilet.” There ought to be enough Republicans from that kind of district to make a difference.

I still have faint optimism that the intelligent, monied, self-interested people in Republican congressional districts will exert this kind of pressure on their representatives, but I have to confess some head-scratching that it hasn’t happened yet.

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The Truth about NPR.

Just as I exposed the health care debate to the sunshine of obvious common sense—which resulted in passage of the law, because all the members of Congress and the President read my blog—let me do the same for the NPR federal funding crisis.

Let’s start with a fact. NPR is liberal—if liberal means “having an ounce of compassion for your fellow man.” This distinction ought not be something NPR is ashamed of. NPR carries news stories that examine in depth the impact of events on the less powerful—stories that by and large are not explored elsewhere on the radio.

It’s ridiculous for us liberals to pretend that NPR isn’t liberal. It makes us look as if we’ve got something to hide when we pretend this, and it makes us look foolish.

The point isn’t that NPR is liberal. It is that in many parts of the country, especially the more rural parts, the local NPR station is the only local liberal voice on the airwaves. All else is Limbaugh and Beck.

If the Republicans in the House succeed in defunding NPR, the local NPR stations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Seattle will be fine. Those places have enough people in them to come up with the scratch to keep their local stations going.

But the local NPR stations in places like Kansas and Nebraska, where not so many people live, won’t be fine.

And that’s exactly the point.

The Republicans in Congress come from places like Kansas and Nebraska. They’d be happy to see the lone opposition voice in their legislative districts silenced. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about killing NPR. It’s about killing rural NPR stations, congressional district by congressional district.

Clarence Page, to his credit, gets to the crux of the matter in his Chicago Tribune op-ed piece today. To his discredit, it takes him 400 words to get to the crux, and even then he phrases it coyly (“Of course, maybe those same lawmakers would just as soon see fewer alternatives to conservative radio talk shows”), but you can’t have everything.


Profile in Courage.

I’m proud of Obama for coming out and unequivocally speaking in favor of the proposed Islamist Center near the site of the World Trade Center bombing, as he did at a Ramadan dinner at the White House last night.

It seems a position he had to have particular guts to take. A George Bush could support the mosque without political penalty because there isn’t anybody out there who thinks George Bush is a secret Muslim agent taking his orders from Osama Bin Laden. But a lot of people think exactly that about Barack Hussein Obama. His unique vulnerability translates to zero political upside for him in the position, and a whole lot of downside. So he could have calculated the prudent thing, for which no one would blame him, to be to continue to treat the mosque controversy as a “local matter.” But he didn’t. He said, “Goddammit, for once I’m going to say what I believe and what’s right, even though I’ll pay a price for it.” I wish he would do that more–it’s one of the more disappointing things about his presidency that he hasn’t–but at least he did it this time. Maybe it’s a sign (along with his firing of Gen. McChrystal) that he’s finally growing a pair.

I’m not at all comfortable with the mosque in Lower Manhattan. I don’t dismiss as paranoia the suspicion that it could be a breeding ground for terrorism. But I also know that freedom of religion is a constitutional guarantee in our country, and there is no wiggle room in that. The right answer might not be the one we like, but that doesn’t make it less right. Thank you, President Obama, for being unafraid to stand up for it. May it become a habit.


Everyone Who Opposes Elena Kagan Is a Misogynistic Anti-Semite.

Let’s stop pussyfooting around this thing.

Does she hold political positions or have a judicial philosophy with which it’s possible to disagree? Of course she does. No one who has ever been up for this job hasn’t. It was certainly true of Bush’s Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, who was overwhelmingly confirmed.

Everything about Elena Kagan’s resumé says “qualified ten times over.” So the only real reason to want to see her denied is that you hate women, or you hate Jews.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the opposition just came clean?


Obama Mans Up.

Obama this afternoon, in his firing of General McChrystal and his naming of General Petraeus to replace him in Afghanistan, was everything he wasn’t last week in his BP speech.

If you didn’t hear either speech, you could know the difference between them just by comparing the picture above this blog post to the picture that leads the blog post immediately below.

He can build on this moment by taking control of the BP situation with the same command he showed today. And he should.


Too Small for the Desk?

There’s already a lot of disappointment being expressed about the substance of Obama’s Oval Office Oil speech last night. I’m not going to pile on about that. Instead, I thought I’d make one or two comments on the “atmospherics”—which, I think, contributed to the bad reception his speech has received.

The framing of the image was terrible. It made him appear physically small, which is the last impression we needed to get from our president in this crisis. The camera seemed to be shooting him from a position slightly higher than his head, which put unnecessary space above him in the composition, and forced him to tilt his head up ever so slightly. That air above him, combined with the slight upward tilt of the head, contributed to the subtextual impression that he was a child explaining himself to a parent, not a man leading a nation. I had to keep reminding myself, “The man is tall; I know he’s tall; I’ve seen him in enough other contexts to tell me he’s tall; why does this picture show me a figure who’s too small for his desk?” Of course, the real problem with the image is that “too small for the desk” is an all-too-clear metaphor for “not up to the job.”

And he couldn’t stop gesturing with his hands. Every phrase had another manual punctuation. That might work in a campaign speech. But in this context, the gestures said, “I’m not confident that my words are going to carry the day here. I think you’re going to see through the emptiness of the words. Better get the hands going.” What we needed was cool, calm, collected, composed. This was not that.

My wife listened to the speech on the kitchen radio while I watched it on television. As soon as it was over, we compared notes, and she thought it was a good speech. So this might be one of those “people who heard the Kennedy-Nixon debates on the radio thought that Nixon won” kind of things. In any case, I wasn’t heartened by what I saw on TV last night. I was frightened.


Sales Leak.

On June 4, I asked the question: “How much decline has occured in BP gas station sales since the leak in the Gulf started?”

As much as 20%, according to this from Crain’s Chicago Business yesterday.