Unless there is a dramatic change of course, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid is likely to move forward today with the "nuclear option," changing the rules of the Senate to permit the approval of Executive Branch appointments by a simple majority vote.
After four and a half years of unprecedented obstruction -- encouraged by an incentive structure in which the media has rewarded Republicans for helping to stall the workings of our federal government -- this turn might have been inevitable.
Formally, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell articulated the principle that these appointments, except in rare circumstances, should be confirmed without delay. The Kentucky Republican has previously said that for "over 200 years," the president's selections were given "up-or-down votes" regardless of "who the president is, no matter who's in control of the Senate," adding, "That's the way we need to operate."
During the presidencies of Harry Truman through George W. Bush, executive appointments faced cloture in the Senate on only 20 occasions. During the Obama administration, the Senate has been forced to take 16 such cloture votes, unduly holding up nominations.
By blocking nominees to run vital federal agencies, Republicans not only disrupt the careers of these public servants, but they interfere with the president's ability to effectively govern. Very often, though, that is their goal. Sen. Lindsey Graham once issued a press release declaring that an "inoperable" National Labor Relations Board "could be considered progress." Indeed, the Republican filibuster of NLRB nominees has meant the lack of a quorum, eliminating the board's ability to enforce labor standards.
Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano summed up this strategy on the July 11 edition of Fox's Special Report, telling host Bret Baier: "From my worldview, it means fewer nominees, fewer laws passed, and that's a good thing."
So far in 2013, the conservative media have cheered on the obstruction, or attempted obstruction, of numerous Obama nominees including Tom Perez at the Department of Labor, Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.
The rewards and punishments for Republican senators are clear: Toe the conservative media's line and gain access to a base willing to provide funding and on the ground support for your campaigns; stray and you just might end up with a primary opponent, dooming your chances at re-election.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson made this transaction clear, writing on his RedState website to demand that the GOP filibuster Hagel and accusing Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham of "going wobbly," asking his readers to "Call your Senator. Tell him or her to join the Republicans in their filibuster of Chuck Hagel."
Fox's Sean Hannity described a first vote that temporarily blocked Hagel's nomination as "the first time a filibuster of a cabinet nominee has been used, and needless to say, this marks a major win for the GOP."
And while a partisan media rewards those disrupting the system with adulation, non-ideological publications do their best to put a pox on both houses in their reporting.
During Hagel's confirmation fight, Politico suggested even bringing the former senator up for a vote "could damage the [Armed Services] committee's longtime bipartisan spirit." Hagel was eventually confirmed with 58 votes.
Others have simply ignored Republican intransigence to blame the president for not magically forcing a change in the opposition party.
The rare exception this brand of reporting include Michael Grunwald at Time magazine, who has extensively reported on GOP attempts to disrupt the Obama administration; Greg Sargent of The Washington Post; and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, whose Washington Post op-ed "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem" and related book It's Even Worse Than It Looks squarely place the blame where it belongs. But most of the media seemed uninterested in Ornstein and Mann's thesis.
With the conservative media cheerleading for obstruction and the nonpartisan media adamantly refusing to place any accountability on the responsible parties, Republican senators are being rewarded for obstruction and punished for constructive engagement.
This perverse incentive structure leaves Harry Reid no choice other than to try and change the Senate's rules.
Erick Erickson distorted a statement made by President Obama on the need for new energy solutions to claim he said African nations "must remain poor" to avoid the negative effects of climate change.
On June 30, President Obama discussed "youth empowerment and leaderships with young African leaders" in Johannesburg, South Africa in a town hall. During the town hall president Obama expressed the need to address climate change by exploring new energy sources as the standard of living increases on the continent of Africa:
Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over -- unless we find new ways of producing energy.
In a post on Redstate.com, titled "Africa Must Remain Poor With No Power or the World Will Boil Over," Fox News contributor Erickson claimed that Obama's remarks meant that "Africa must remain in the third world poor and without power for the good of the world." Erickson called the comments "socialism pure and simple":
The President is telling a group of young African leaders that if things improve too quickly in Africa, before new ways of producing energy can be discovered, the world will boil over. But taken with the paragraph before it, the President seems to suggest that in order for the standard of living to rise in Africa, the west must see its standard of living come down.
This is socialism pure and simple. The free market shows time and time again that people can be lifted out of poverty while we all, in some way, benefit. There need not be a game of winners and losers. But socialists believe if some see improvements, others must see declines.
Most troubling is the President of the United States telling the Africans that he supports improvements in their lives, just not too quickly because he truly believes the world will get too hot. So Africa must remain in the third world poor and without power for the good of the world.
Fox News' Erick Erickson, a terrible pundit who is often hilariously wrong, has figured out what's wrong with America. The problem, Erickson wrote on RedState.com, is that there is "a massive disconnect between the chattering classes and politicos of Washington and New York and the rest of America," as evidenced by "the price of a gallon of milk and loaf of bread that keep [sic] going up though Ben Bernanke tells them there is no inflation."
Erickson, of course, is very much a member of the "chattering class" he disdains, though he'd have us believe that being paid to natter about politics on cable news has not frayed his connection to the people. Paul Krugman, however, fisked Erickson's "gallon of milk" punditry on his New York Times blog and pointed out that, contrary to Erickson's hoi polloi divinations of soaring inflation, prices for milk and bread haven't really budged. But Erickson is unmoved, allowing that he is wrong on the facts but insisting that it's more important to cater to the misperception of rising milk and bread prices than to actually be correct.
In an email to Politico's Dylan Byers, Erickson said as much:
Not everything is academic or chartable and sometimes the accuracy of the chart isn't as real to people as the perception they have that their grocery store bills are getting more expensive though their shopping habits haven't changed.
Seriously, Paul's point is correct, but it is an issue of perception of people versus the reality of his chart. He can certainly go tell people milk prices haven't gone up, but good luck getting them to believe him.
The facts say one thing, but the perception is otherwise, and since Erickson prefers the perception to the reality, he'll disregard the facts.
Did I mention Erickson works for Fox News?
As of this writing, there is no indication that the IRS's inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups has any connection whatsoever to the White House. And some conservative talking heads are even acknowledging as much. But they're not letting that stop them from naming Barack Obama as the culpable party, arguing that the president is responsible due to his preternatural ability to bend the average bureaucrat to his maleficent will from afar.
It all started with RedState founder Erick Erickson, who wrote on May 15 that "Barack Obama never specifically asked that tea party groups and conservatives be targeted." But...
But by both his language and the "always campaigning" attitude of his White House, he certainly sent clear signals to Democrats with the power and ability to fight conservatives to engage as they could. Given his rhetoric against his political opponents, it is no wonder sympathetic Democrats in the Internal Revenue Service harassed and stymied conservative groups and, though little mentioned, pro-Israel Jewish groups and evangelical groups.
"President Obama did not have to tell the IRS specifically to harass conservative, evangelical, and Jewish groups who might oppose him," Erickson observed. "His rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the permanent campaign of the White House operations made clear what he wanted."
Right-wing media are trying to downplay a confrontation over gun sale background checks between a woman who lost her mother in the Newtown, CT, shooting and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) by promoting a report from an Ayotte donor whose wife is the former chair of the New Hampshire GOP.
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, asked Ayotte during an April 30 town hall meeting in Warren, New Hampshire, "why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't more important" than Ayotte's claim that conducting background checks would be burdensome for gun store owners. According to NBC News, the meeting "drew more than 100 people who came to condemn or support Ayotte's vote."
Reacting to news reports of the confrontation between Lafferty and Ayotte, Shawn Millerick, editor of the conservative New Hampshire Journal, complained of "liberal media bias" and wrote that reports of Ayotte being confronted over her failure to support expanded background checks were exaggerated by the national media. Millerick also posted photographs of cars with out-of-state license plates that he says belonged to the individuals who opposed Ayotte's background check vote.
Breitbart.com, The Daily Caller, The Blaze, RedState and NewsBusters are all promoting Millerick's report as evidence that the media was dishonest in its coverage of Ayotte's town hall meeting while also characterizing Millerick's online newspaper as a "local" media source and not mentioning its partisan slant. According to Breitbart.com's John Nolte, Millerick's report "expose[d] the leftist national media for the liars they are." The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas framed the issue as a discrepancy between "local" and "national" media:
Conservatives in media gloated and launched political attacks in reaction to a coalition of largely Senate Republicans blocking a package of stronger gun laws, including compromise legislation on expanded background checks for gun sales -- a legislative proposal supported by roughly 90 percent of Americans.
Before, during, and after President Obama delivered a speech from the Rose Garden on April 17 vowing to continue the dialogue on gun laws, conservatives in media offered triumphal comments and launched vicious attacks on advocates for gun violence prevention, including family members of Newtown victims and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
As Politico noted, conservative bloggers "claimed victory ... saying that their ideology and principles were the keys to their success." The right-wing reaction, however, went beyond basic policy arguments:
In an op-ed for The Washington Times, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro opined that family members of Newtown victims -- many of whom advocated for the passage of stronger gun laws -- did not deserve to be heard because of his apparent belief that background checks infringe on the Second Amendment. Shapiro previously accused Obama of attempting to implement socialism in a piece for The New American, the magazine publication of the far-right John Birch Society. From Shapiro's April 18 op-ed:
I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the greatest tragedies are not a valid reason to disregard the Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States. If they were, our free speech and our rights against unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination would have all been abolished long ago amid every crime wave in American history.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, making it clear that guns in "common use" were constitutionally protected. Nevertheless, President Obama recently flew several family members of Sandy Hook victims to Washington on Air Force One to pressure congressional legislators to enact new gun laws.
Right-wing media are encouraging Republican senators to filibuster gun violence prevention legislation, continuing a long history of trying to influence GOP politics through recommended obstructionism.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson hyped the claim that legalizing same-sex marriage would pave the way for same-sex incestuous marriages, claiming that "many, many, many" marriage equality supporters will support incest and polygamy once "they can shift public opinion further."
In an April 5 blog post on RedState, Erickson echoed controversial comments made by actor Jeremy Irons, who criticized marriage equality by suggesting fathers would marry their sons in order to avoid paying estate taxes. Erickson agreed, arguing that "there is little moral difference" between loving, committed gay couples and incestuous relationships:
Seriously. Why not incest.
If love and commitment are the justification for marriage, why exempt this?
So why not fathers marrying sons and moms marrying daughters? Is it because of the "ick" factor? Why should that preclude it?
If life comes down to who you love and who loves you back, if a father and son love each other so much they want to get married, there is little moral difference between two people of the same sex getting married who are not related and want to be and two people of the same sex who already are related becoming closer.
The truth is, many, many, many of the same people who are now in support of gay marriage, but would oppose this or polygamy will, once the next step is advanced, support these things too. They just have to lie about it for now until they can shift public opinion further.
Erickson's argument is riddled with the same flaws that have always plagued the conservative slippery slope argument against marriage equality.
1. It's Empirically False - In the states and countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, there's been no evidence of a rush to legalize or destigmatize incest. In fact, most of the states that allow for marriages between first cousins are conservative-leaning states with explicit bans on same-sex marriage.
2. Incest Causes Real Harm To Children - Unlike in the case of same-sex marriage, there are persuasive reasons for banning incestuous marriages. Romantic relationships between parents and their children are typically exploitative and psychologically damaging. As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick wrote:
The problem with the slippery slope argument is that it depends on inexact, and sometimes hysterical, comparisons. Most of us can agree, for instance, that all the shriekings about gay marriage opening the door to incest with children and pedophilia are inapposite. These things are illegal because they cause irreversible harms.
There are plenty of compelling arguments for opposing marriages between parents and their children. "Gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry, either!" isn't one of them.
President Obama's reelection has prompted more than a few conservative pundits and journalists to look inward and contemplate the weaknesses of the right-wing media model that obsesses over partisan minutia, eagerly chases phantom scandals, nosedives down ideological rabbit holes, and excludes dissenting voices. It's an interesting discussion, but it's hampered by the fact that the same people calling for change are themselves backsliding into the behaviors they want to correct.
Commentary editor and columnist John Podhoretz offers a pure distillation of this recidivist phenomenon. "Time To Get Serious," writes Podhoretz for the April issue of Commentary, arguing that after 6 years of treating Obama as alternately a "lightweight" political incompetent and a power-mad would-be dictator, and with nothing but two electoral drubbings to show for it, conservatives have to "come to grips" with Obama's political skill:
It's not just the comforting delusion that he's a golf-mad dilettante, but also the reverse-negative image of that delusion--that Obama is a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power. That caricature makes it far too easy for Obama to laugh off the legitimate criticisms of the kind of political leader he really is: a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever "more" might mean at any given moment.
Podhoretz's very next paragraph, however, shows that he's not quite ready to take his own advice, as he casts the Obama presidency as a vehicle for "disaster" at home and "nihilistic chaos" globally -- precisely the sort of extremist caricature he says isn't helpful for conservatives:
The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment -- making the case that Obama's social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.
Daniel Larison of the American Conservative observes:
Of course, warning about global "nihilistic chaos" being unleashed by an "anti-exceptionalist foreign policy" is just another example of excessive alarmism that produces the same effects as the attacks Podhoretz wants conservatives to reject. No one outside the bubble of movement conservatives and hard-liners believes that Obama's foreign policy is "anti-exceptionalist" in any sense, much less in the tendentious way that it is being applied here.
Conservative media are in the middle of a concerted push to claim that a government report confirms their longstanding claim that the federal government wastes tax money on employees whose sole duty is "union work," but ignore key content of the report in question that undermines their misleading narrative.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney made that claim on the February 28 edition of Fox & Friends. But Varney's oversimplified version of the conservative case ignores the content of the report in question, and the more sophisticated version of the case made elsewhere falls apart under minimal scrutiny of the evidence these outlets offer.
During a discussion on federal expenditures for union activity, Varney said that the recipients "worked full-time on union business," and "did not work for the taxpayer." When host Steve Doocy noted that's not how private-sector unions tend to work, Varney replied "Well I don't want to be cynical, Steve, but you've never worked for the federal government, now have you?" Watch:
The report Varney cites from the Office of Personnel and Management directly contradicts his blanket assertion that this money goes to full-time union reps in the introduction. OPM explains that "voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents." In the next paragraph, OPM adds that these hours of pay go to "Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. It allows unions to satisfy their duty of fair representation to members and non-members alike."
Varney's presentation of this misinformation on a flagship Fox News program may prove an inflection point for a piece of misinformation that's percolated through other, smaller conservative media outlets since the OPM report came out in mid-February. On February 19, Fox Nation hyped a Washington Post story that noted some of the contextual information OPM provided. That same day, a Washington Examiner editorial writer highlighted the report. RedState.com put its own write-up on the front page on February 21, beneath an image of brass knuckles atop a pile of cash. On the February 27 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox Business' Liz MacDonald made the same set of claims, and numerous other op-eds and blog posts from conservatives have accused the government of this same misspending of taxpayer dollars. Conservative gripes about "official time" expenditures are not new, however, as this 2011 Heritage Foundation testimony on the subject indicates.
Many of these other instances cite Freedom of Information Act requests by the conservative Americans for Limited Government to back their claims. According to ALGFOIAFiles.com, the group requested information from four departments on employees who perform "official time" labor representation work full-time. All four -- the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board, Small Business Administration, and the Department of Transportation -- responded between September and November of 2012. While conservatives like Trey Kovacs, a labor analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, point to the EPA (which found 17 full-time union reps) and DOT (which found 38) responses as proof of a widespread "problem" whereby taxpayers fund work that does not benefit them, the reality of these four FOIA responses is not nearly so convenient for conservatives.
The data expose this claim for what it is: ideology masquerading as empiricism. As the table below shows, according to the most recent data available the four departments ALG successfully FOIA'd have as many as 0.19 percent of their employees doing union representation work full-time. And those employees do not account for all of the billed "official time" hours in any department, confirming that there are indeed many public servants (in the conservative sense of the phrase) who pitch in to bargaining and other representational efforts as needed.
Right-wing media have inconsistently responded to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) failed attempt to pass his proposed "Plan B" to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff" standoff, including praising conservative Republicans who opposed the measure, expressing regret that the measure didn't pass, questioning the viability of Boehner's speakership, and blaming President Obama for the plan's failure, despite Obama's concessions to the GOP.
Conservative media outlets pushed at least eleven misleading attacks on President Obama's energy policies that have become talking points used by Mitt Romney's campaign. The conservative media bubble has largely prevented voters from hearing the facts about clean energy programs, fossil fuel production and environmental regulation under the Obama administration.
Conservative media figures and outlets have sent out to their email lists numerous paid fundraising solicitations from "scam PACs" whose directors are apparently looking to cash in on the election season.
Politico reports today that a new "cottage industry" has sprung up during the presidential race in which vaguely-named super PACs have used major Republican national campaigns like Rep. Allen West's re-election bid in Florida to "raise money for themselves and build their email lists."
The groups have been sending out fundraising pitches promising to help West or defeat Obama in November, but "those chunks of $25 and $50 don't often find their way to any serious campaigns to beat Obama or boost West." The article quotes West's campaign attorney saying that the "vast majority of the groups that we know are engaged in this have done nothing for West."
As explained by Politico, "political operatives can create a PAC and corresponding website on the cheap, drop some cash to rent an email list and, voilà-- in come the small-dollar contributions from grass-roots Republicans."
Conservative outlets like RedState and Townhall and media figures like Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee have been enabling these so-called "scam PACs" by renting out their email lists for these fundraising pitches.
After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she's responsible for State Department personnel, right-wing media quickly claimed that President Obama was dodging responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But Clinton was actually pointing out that the State Department, not the White House, is responsible for diplomatic security while Obama has said that he is ultimately responsible for national security.
Usually Erick Erickson does you the courtesy of getting past the headline before lying, but now that we're less than a month from Election Day he's apparently decided to dispense with pleasantries.
"I Donated to Barack Obama," declares the headline to Erickson's latest blog post, wherein the CNN contributor documents his attempt to demonstrate that President Obama's campaign is committing some sort of fraud through an "illegal donor loophole" that allows them to accept contributions from overseas (a right-wing meme that's actually a bit of warmed-over nonsense from 2008). Not until the 13th paragraph do we learn that Erickson, after attempting to donate to Obama as a Russian with a made-up passport number, actually had his contribution rejected by the campaign.
So he didn't donate to Barack Obama. Nor did he document any evidence of fraud (in fact he demonstrated that the campaign's anti-fraud measures are working, as he would have known had he read the Obama campaign's statement after John Hinderaker tried this same exact stunt in April). But he had to write something, right? He went to all that effort. Just for us.