With all of the talk among some Republicans in Congress about impeachment and shutting down the government to stop Obamacare or force entitlement-spending cuts, you’d think that they were living in another reality back in the 1990s. Republicans were pursuing similar missions then, and things didn’t work out so well for the GOP. For those in need of a quick history lesson, all you need to know is that Republicans managed to lose House seats in the midterm elections of 1998. It was the only time since World War II that the party in the White House (Democrats) gained seats in a second-term, midterm election. Talk about seizing defeat from the jaws of victory!
Obviously, the people and policy particulars are different now, but the similarities are obvious. At that time, the loathing of President Clinton was so great, the emotions were so high, and the belief was so firm that their cause was righteous that Republicans could not conceive their actions were ill-advised. Blind hatred is a dangerous thing.
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that every Republican in Congress today advocates scorched-earth strategies and tactics. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell don’t; not surprisingly, both men were in Congress during the 1990s. (Boehner was elected in 1990, McConnell in 1984.) They have experienced firsthand the danger of following the party’s right-wing base and congressional hotheads over a political cliff. Both leaders clearly take a less-than-favorable view of the more extreme GOP rhetoric today, but neither is quite in a position to make those feelings known and to publicly declare how stupid this talk is. Boehner lives on ice that’s not quite thick enough to support such boldness. McConnell, meanwhile, is threading a 2014 reelection needle in Kentucky: satisfying conservatives enough to avoid losing his primary to a tea-party opponent, but not veering too far right to jeopardize winning what is shaping up to be a tough general-election challenge.
Talking to Republicans around Capitol Hill these days is very interesting. Members of one group seem well aware that their brand is badly damaged and desperately needs rehabilitation. Maybe they noticed the Fox News poll in which “Republicans in Congress” scored approval ratings of 24 percent in March, and 23 percent in both June and August, with disapproval ratings of 69 percent, 67 percent, and 66 percent, respectively. (By comparison, the same Fox polling showed Democrats with bad, but not quite as horrible, numbers: 29 percent approval, 63 percent disapproval in March; and 32 percent approval, 60 percent disapproval in both the June and August polls.)
Republicans in the second group, however, seem oblivious to the fact that their party has a problem. The feeling among these members seems to be, “How can the Republican Party or Republicans in Congress have problems? I got elected (or reelected) easily.” Many don’t appear to realize they represent districts that Democrats are unlikely to win under any circumstances. They assume that because they got elected to the House of Representatives, their districts must be, more or less, representative of the country as a whole.
Unlike the second group, the first group gets the joke. These members fully understand their party has real problems with swing voters — more precisely, with self-identified moderates and young, female, and minority voters — and that these groups, taken together, represent an enormous majority of the electorate. Nationally, the GOP is underperforming among all of these groups. However, these head-in-the-sand Republicans fear that acknowledging the party’s electoral problems would incur the wrath of the GOP base, which considers such talk heretical.
The same toxic factors pervaded Washington in the years after the 1994 Republican wave election, culminating in the 1995-96 shutdowns of the federal government, the 1998 House impeachment of Clinton, and the ill-fated 1999 Senate impeachment trial. Republicans came out on the losing end of all of those catastrophes. Voters blamed them more than Democrats for the government shutdowns, and while the public didn’t think much of Clinton’s personal behavior, it wasn’t ready to throw him out of office.
That’s why these fiscal deadlines coming in October — the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 with no spending bills enacted into law and the need to raise the debt ceiling sometime that month — are scary. I have no doubt that if you strapped Boehner and McConnell down, injected them with Sodium Pentothal, and administered a polygraph test asking whether the hard-line strategies proposed by GOP true believers make sense, each would say, “Of course not,” and pass with flying colors. (For the chemistry majors out there, I know the actual name is sodium thiopental.)
But it’s not clear at all whether these leaders, particularly Boehner, can persuade some of their, say, “exotic” members to take a more pragmatic approach and work toward getting the best deal they can. My hunch is that eventually we will come to a deal, but the country could weather some very interesting and potentially traumatic days, particularly in the financial markets, in the meantime. That is not a good thing when we have a fragile economy and a lame-duck chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Maybe we should all go back on vacation.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."