Lots of hysterical, right-wing hand-wringing this week regarding the pending passage of health care reform, and specifically lots of wild GOP media charges that Democrats bought off members of Congress. Not literally paid them money, of course, but offered politicians legislative sweeteners to secure their votes.
For anybody who's spent more than three weeks inside the Beltway, the allegations of legislative arm-twisting certainly sound naive, since that's how the D.C. game has been played for going on two centuries now. But nonetheless, conservatives insist Democrats have stooped to some kind of historic low.
But I can't help wondering what Nick Smith thinks about those claims. Because back in late 2003, when was serving as a Republican member of Congress from Michigan, Smith opposed the Bush White House's attempt to revamp Medicare when the issue came up for a vote in November. Republican leaders quickly realized that night that they didn't have the votes and started leaning on their own members [emphasis added]:
The Medicare-related bribe allegation is all the more startling -- and credible -- because it was raised by an angry Republican member who claimed his own leadership team dangled a $100,000 campaign contribution in front of him in return for his Medicare vote. When that didn't work, according to Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., a fiscal conservative and former dairy farmer, party leaders then threatened to derail Smith's son's upcoming campaign to succeed him in Congress.
Appearing on a Kalamazoo radio station Dec. 1, Smith explained, "The prestige of leadership is partially at stake if the vote doesn't succeed for the majority. And that's what happened in this case. They didn't have the votes ... They started out by offering the carrot, and they know what's important to every member, and what's important to me is my family and my kids."
Smith held firm and voted no on Medicare.
The GOP reaction at the time?
And Republicans were mounting a defense, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich telling C-SPAN on Friday that Smith was "a disgruntled retiring member" who was the victim of nothing more than the usual treatment in a close vote.
"I just think this is one of those occasional Washington mountains that's being built out of less than a molehill," Gingrich said.
Yesterday, Matthew Yglesias offered up a list of the ten "Worst Washington Post Columnists of the Zeroes." It's a testament to the atrociousness of the Post's roster of columnists that Howard Kurtz didn't make the cut, though he continues to demonstrate his worthiness.
Today, Kurtz writes more than 1,000 words about the filibuster, leading off with typical both-sides-are-equally-guilty nonsense:
Both parties have dirty hands. So do most liberal and conservative commentators.
When Democrats are in power, they complain that Republicans are abusing the filibuster and ruining democracy. When Republicans are in power, they complain that Democrats are abusing the filibuster and ruining democracy.
Nowhere in his 1,000-plus words about the filibuster does Kurtz make clear that the GOP's use of the filibuster in recent years is unprecedented. The closest Kurtz comes is a grudging acknowledgement that "some are more abusive than others":
I'm not saying every instance is the same. Some are more abusive than others. The Republicans this year seem determined not to provide President Obama any votes on anything -- with the possible exception of more war funding, and they even tried to filibuster that to slow down health care.
But it is a tool that both sides have used, and that neither side, foreseeing a future in the minority, wants to relinquish. I'd be happy to see it go, but the chances seem extremely dim -- not least because the Senate can filibuster an attempt to change the rules. It's a wonder the Senate once reduced the number of votes required for cloture from 67 to 60.
But it isn't just Kurtz's unwillingness to clearly and unambiguously state the basic fact that Republican use of the filibuster in recent years is completely different from the way both parties used the tactic in the past that illustrates his failings as a columnist. He gets basic facts wrong, too. Check out this portion of Kurtz's reminiscences of filibusters past:
Remember when the Dems were going to use the tool - -the so-called nuclear option -- to block some of President Bush's judicial nominees, and the GOP went, well, nuclear?
That isn't what the "so-called nuclear option" was. The nuclear option was the Republicans' threat to eliminate the filibuster in response to the Democrats' threat to use the filibuster. But that was only one of the fiercest political battles of the past five years; there's no reason to expect a Washington Post columnist to know the most basic facts about it, is there?
Then there's Kurtz's statement that "I'd be happy to see it [the filibuster] go, but the chances seem extremely dim -- not least because the Senate can filibuster an attempt to change the rules."
Well, if that were true, the Republicans would never have been able to threaten the "nuclear option" in 2005. But since Kurtz doesn't know what the nuclear option was, I guess we can't expect him to recognize that his mention of it undermines his claim that the Senate can filibuster an attempt to get rid of the filibuster.
You know the drill. Inside the Beltway, only polling trends that show Obama's popularity declining are considered newsy and important and worthy of trend stories. Polls that show Obama gaining support? Not so much.
In other words, good news is no news.
And that's why you haven't heard much about the latest CNN poll that has Obama's approval rating spiking six points in just the last two weeks. Heck, even CNN didn't think that was the news hook for the polling data, which is why in its online write-up, CNN didn't mention Obama's approval bump until two-thirds through the article.
Question: If CNN's poll, on the eve of controversial health care reform passing, showed that Obama's approval rating had dropped six points since early December, do you think that would qualify as 'news'?
Yeah, me too.
How's this for a loaded "question"?
Do we need more Joe Liebermans?
Last week, one senator avoided partisanship and ideological rigidity and successfully leveraged his vote to win what he believed were necessary changes in key piece of legislation. So why was Sen. Joe Lieberman so bitterly criticized rather than praised for his leadership on health care?
That's today's "On Leadership" question from the Washington Post -- and Lieberman couldn't have asked for a more friendly description of his role in health care reform.
"Avoided partisanship"? Even Lieberman defenders concede he was motivated by anger at the Democrats.
And saying Lieberman avoided "ideological rigidity" is an awfully polite way of saying he opposed things he had recently supported, once he saw that Antony Weiner liked them.
Finally, "what he believed were necessary changes" is a kind way of saying "Lieberman's stated concerns with the public option were false."
In deciding whether to make a radio, television or Internet appearances, a staff member should consider its probable tone and content to make sure they are consistent with Times standards. Staff members should avoid strident, theatrical forums that emphasize punditry and reckless opinion-mongering. Instead we should offer thoughtful and retrospective analysis. Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times.
Yet on Monday, Harwood, appearing on MSNBC, derided liberal critics of the proposed health care legislation as "insane," claimed they should have "their heads examined," and mocked their commentary posted online as being naive and "really idiotic."
Question: Were those comments that Harwood would likely make under his New York Times byline? No. Were Harwood's attacks "strident"? Yes? Did he engage in "reckless opinion-mongering" Yes.
Like I said, Harwood might want to re-read the newspaper's Ethical Journalism handbook before his next TV appearance.
UPDATED: It's interesting that Harwood became so angry at liberal bloggers over a policy difference. It's telling because I don't recall Harwood taking to the airwaves this year and denouncing right-wing bloggers as they peddled incessant Obama-is-a-racist-socialist-communist-Nazi attacks. That kind of commentary apparently did not anger Harwood. But when libs online took issue with legislative policy, Harwood could hardly see straight.
UPDATED: FYI, The Times' guidelines cover both staff writers and "nonstaff contributors."
From Howard Kurtz's December 21 Washington Post column:
To the untrained eye, Mike Huckabee appears to be running for president again.
Looking into the camera, he unloads on President Obama: "He's never done this kind of work before. He's never run a state or a private company, or as best we can tell even a Sno-Cone stand. So running the whole country, that's a big leap from community organizer."
But the former Arkansas governor is just doing his Fox News show -- and, what's more, insists he may pass up the 2012 race. Although if he were plotting another White House campaign, what better route than by pounding home a conservative message on television?
Huckabee hasn't exactly abandoned Republican politics, either. On Sunday, he headlined a Nebraska rally staged to oppose the Democrats' health care bill. His HuckPAC has been involved in local races, raising $305,000 in this campaign cycle. His Web site urges followers to "Vote No Against Senate Health Care Bill" and invites fans to join him and his wife, Janet (for just $3,999!), on a tour of Israel next month. Fox executives told Huckabee to stop plugging the Web site on the air after learning that it linked to his political action committee, which the network deemed a conflict of interest.
Eighty advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his December 21 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
The right-wing media have spent the year BEGGING for progressive leaders to call them Nazis.
Back in April, media conservatives freaked out over declassified Department of Homeland Security report detailing potential increases in right-wing extremism. Ignoring the possibility that the election of a black president could have an actual effect on the radicalism and recruitment of actual hate groups - like, for instance, the Klan - the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world were convinced that the report was actually aimed at them.
Then in August, Nancy Pelosi commented that protestors are "carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care." Sure enough, swastikas and other Nazi icons had appeared on signs carried by those protestors, who were suggesting that the Democrats' health care reform plans were reminiscent of Hitler's Germany. But the right-wing was sure that Pelosi was talking about them, and had been calling the protestors or opponents of health care reform "Nazis."
Now, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is getting the same treatment. In a floor speech yesterday, Whitehouse criticized Senate Republicans' rampant obstructionism of health care reform efforts, specifically their refusal to support cloture on a defense appropriations bill in hopes of slowing down attempts to move to a vote on health care. Whitehouse stated that Senate Republicans were "desperate to break this president," adding "They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist."
From Whitehouse's December 20 floor speech (about 115 minutes in):
The lowest of the low was the Republican vote against funding and supporting our troops in the field in a time of war. As a devise to stop health care, they tried to stop the appropriation of funds for our soldiers. There is no excuse for that. From that, there is no return. Every single Republican member was willing to vote against cloture for funding our troops, and they admitted it was a tactic to obstruct health care reform. The Secretary of Defense warned us all that a "no" vote would immediately create "a serious disruption in the worldwide activities of the Department of Defense," end quote, and yet every one of them was willing to vote "no."
Almost all of them did vote no. Some stayed away, but that's the same as "no" when you need 60 "yes" votes to proceed. Voting "no" and hiding from the vote are the same result. Those of us on the floor see it was clear. The three of them who did not cast their yes votes until all 60 Senate votes had been tallied and it was clear that the result was a foregone conclusion. And why? Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new young president.
They are desperate to break this president. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason. It is not the only one.
Rather then assess the validity of Whitehouse's claims - do such people exist, and do they support Republcian senators? - the right-wing started screaming about how Whitehouse was accusing them all of membership in hate groups.
Washington Times blogger Kerry Picket got the ball rolling, providing Whitehouse's full comment but doing so under the headline, "Sen. Whitehouse: foes of health care bill are birthers, right-wing militias, aryan groups." RedState's Erick Erickson took over from there, claiming that Whitehouse said that "If you oppose health care deform, you are a racist, hate-spouting, Aryan who roots for the assassination of Barack Obama" and "labeled everyone opposed to the legislation as racist hatemongers rooting for bullets against the President." The claim spread through the right-wing blogosphere from there, and just made the jump to Lou Dobbs' radio show.
What seems oddest about the right-wing media's obsessive claims that progressives are calling them Nazis is the implication that comparing your political opponents to Hitler and company is out of bounds. If the right really believes that such comparisons are beyond the pale, maybe its time for them to stop informing us how much Obama and his politics remind them of Hitler.
This is quite telling, courtesy of the WashPost's Chris Cillizza as he toast the ultimate political "winners" of the health care reform showdown [emphasis added]:
-- John McCain: The Mac was back during the health-care debate, a feisty presence on the Senate floor and in front of the television cameras, leading the GOP opposition to the bill. McCain's performance over the past several weeks proved that he is and will continue to be a major force in the chamber. His stalwart opposition to the plan is also good politics, making it harder for former representative J.D. Hayworth to challenge him from the ideological right in a primary next year.
What exactly did McCain do in recent weeks in terms of the health care debate to emerge as a clear "winner"? (As a "major force"?) He maintained a "presence" on the Senate floor. He also showed up on TV on a lot and opposed Obama's initiative. Wow, I mean what more could a political leader do during an historic legislative showdown?
The truth is if you strip away the Beltway media's obsessive, McCain's-our-man-coverage, the Arizona senator, like virtually every Republican member of Congress, was a spectator during the health care legislative process. Without the votes to stop anything, and having adopted a strategy to uniformly oppose everything Democrats offered up, Republicans assigned themselves to permanent bystander status.
Meanwhile, McCain himself is not considered to be a health care expert and his opposition to the White House plan was telegraphed months ago. Meaning, McCain brought nothing of substance to the debate. Yet lo and behold, looking back on the legislative process which Republicans lost, the WashPost tips its cap to McCain for emerging as a health debate "winner."