Author Archives: Luke Brinker

Peter Thiel Fudges Facts on JFK

By Luke Brinker

In his latest Newsweek column, Niall Ferguson extols billionaire PayPal founder and prominent libertarian Peter Thiel as “one of the most interesting and original thinkers in America today.”

Like most libertarians, Thiel’s opposition to big government comes with a “but” appended to it. In Thiel’s case, he supports massive government investment in research and development, which has significantly benefited tech entrepreneurs like Thiel himself. This particular line — which calls Ferguson’s praise for Thiel’s great mind into question — is particularly noteworthy:

However, when it comes to questions about health care, nuclear power, and education, Thiel readily concedes that government has a role to play—just not the one it plays today. As he puts it: “If Einstein sent a letter to the White House today, it would get lost in the mailroom and be treated as a joke. In the late 1960s, Kennedy focused on the space program and didn’t dedicate money to health care. Can you imagine the government doing that today?”

Set aside the fact that JFK was dead in 1963, so he didn’t do anything related to space “in the late 1960s.” What’s most appalling about Thiel’s remark is his suggestion that the 35th president emphasized space at the expense of health care. In fact, JFK pushed for the Medicare program that his vice president and successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed into law in 1965. (Faced with a more conservative Congress than Johnson dealt with, JFK had had difficulty passing much of his domestic program.) As this clip from one a 1962 speech at Madison Square Garden demonstrates, JFK was an impassioned advocate for universal health care:

With all that praise for Europe’s advances in the field of health, the JFK of Madison Square Garden would surely be labelled a radical Marxist by the Tea Party. Perhaps that’s why the right loathed Kennedy when he was in the Oval Office.

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Americans: Please Raise Our Taxes!

By Luke Brinker

This Sunday’s New York Times features results from a poll addressing issues related to the social safety net and the size of government. Unsurprisingly, the poll found that 85 percent of respondents supported increasing taxes on the wealthy as part of a deficit-reduction strategy. Much more striking, however, is that a substantial majority of respondents- 70 percent – endorsed increased taxation on everybody, not just the wealthy.

In late 2010, President Barack Obama extended the Bush-era tax cuts for an additional two years as part of a compromise with congressional Republicans. In exchange for increased stimulus (including the much-ballyhooed payroll tax cut), Obama agreed to renege on his 2008 campaign pledged to raise the rate of taxation for households earning above $250,000 annually. Obama has consistently supported maintaining the reduced rates for all other Americans, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that allowing the tax cuts for all income groups to expire would reduce the federal deficit by $3.9 trillion over ten years. As Ezra Klein has written, four-fifths of the total cost of the tax cuts went toward cuts for those earning less than $250,000. The Obama proposal to only extend most of the tax cuts would reduce the deficit more than the GOP proposal to extend all of them, but having everybody return to Clinton-era tax rates would do far more to put a hole in the deficit. Come December 31, 2012 – the date of the Bush tax cuts’ expiration – the best thing Congress and President Obama can do to reduce the deficit is simply to do nothing.

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Obama Plays Hardball

By Luke Brinker

When Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, announced this week that the Obama campaign would encourage donors to support Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC, observers couldn’t help noting what a significant U-turn the move signified.

Super PACs, which emerged from the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, can accept unlimited donations from their contributors. While not permitted to coordinate with the candidates they support, the groups are often staffed by former aides to those very candidates. Former Obama spokesman Bill Burton, for instance, now works for Priorities USA. Shortly after the Court’s decision, Obama pronounced super PACs a “threat to democracy.”

After witnessing Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS lavish millions on defeating Democratic candidates in 2010, and faced with a repeat in 2012, Obama decided against unilateral disarmament on super PACs. The president would still prefer to see Citizens United overturned, but as long as it’s on the books, he won’t be content to serve as a pure martyr.

The decision puts the lie to a criticism often lobbed against Obama, from the earliest days of his time on the national stage – that the president is effete, aloof, and looks upon the nitty-gritty of politics with disdain. (Of course, no president afraid of playing political hardball would have persisted in pushing for passage of health care reform long after polls showed the public had soured on it and many Democratic politicians were running scared.) But some members of the Democratic Self-Flagellation Caucus are outraged at Obama’s decision.

“It is a dumb approach. … It will lead to scandal, and there are going to be a lot of people having corrupt conversations about huge amounts of money,” former Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat defeated in 2010, said.

Feingold’s own experience is instructive. For much of 2010, political observers assumed that the liberal three-term senator was a shoo-in for re-election. But when millionaire businessman Ron Johnson, Feingold’s Republican opponent, contributed millions of his own funds to his campaign, the race tightened. (In total, Johnson gave his campaign $8.2 million.) Panicked, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee offered to help Feingold, but the cosponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law maintained his opposition to accepting outside campaign money and advertising. That decision probably played a significant role in Feingold’s narrow loss in November.

Had Obama gone the Feingold route, newspaper editorial boards and good government groups like Democracy 21 and Common Cause would have lauded him for sticking to principle. But he’d have risked an unnecessary defeat in the face of his adversaries’ onslaught. Obama’s super PAC flip-flop may be inconsistent with his earlier stance on the issue, but it’s pure reformist fantasy that campaign finance will significantly influence voters’ decision in the fall. If unemployment continues its downward trend and the economy grows at a healthy clip, few voters will enter the polling booth and say, “I sure do think I’m better off than I was four years ago, but I can’t abide a president who accepts super PAC support.”


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Is Obama’s Boost in the Polls Only Temporary?

By Luke Brinker

Two new polls give President Obama healthy leads over likely GOP challenger Mitt Romney. A Washington Post-ABC News poll puts the president at 51 percent against Romney’s 45 percent, while Rasmussen Reports gives Obama a seven point lead over Romney, 49 percent to 42 percent. RealClearPolitics’s poll of polls has put Obama ahead of Romney since the fall, what’s notable is the size of Obama’s lead, which is now outside the margin of error. But will Obama’s advantage fade once Romney wraps up the GOP nomination and the media focuses on the general election, rather than the damaging daily squabbles among the GOP candidates?

Romney strategists would have us believe that the president’s polling lead is merely a function of his not being enmeshed in a drawn-out fight for his party’s nomination. Once Republicans rally behind Romney, their narrative goes, he’ll give Obama a real run for his money. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to predict where the polls will be nine days – let alone nine months – from now, but the argument that Obama is only ahead because of the brutal GOP contest isn’t particularly persuasive. (As is wont to happen in presidential campaigns, however, Obama’s numbers are virtually certain to wax and wane throughout the year.) On this point, a bit of not-so-distant political history is instructive.

Four years ago, Obama, for all intents and purposes, wrapped up the Democratic nomination in February. He and Hillary Clinton essentially split the Super Tuesday contest on February 5, but after that, Obama won a string of primaries and caucuses, leaving Clinton badly damaged and without another win in February. Clinton eked out narrow victories in Ohio and Texas on March 4, but the delegate math by that point was decidedly stacked against her. Still, Clinton persisted in her campaign, and as the Jeremiah Wright scandal erupted in mid-March, Obama looked newly vulnerable – if not necessarily to Clinton, then certainly in an election against GOP candidate John McCain. Then came Bittergate and renewed questions about Obama’s ability to relate to blue-collar voters, and Clinton scored a substantial win in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. Until Obama nearly beat Clinton in Indiana (where she had been favored) and easily won North Carolina on May 6, the Democratic nomination fight remained spirited. After Clinton’s near-loss in Indiana, key supporters like George McGovern urged her to drop out of the race. Although Clinton didn’t leave the race until June 7, after all states had had their say, she refrained from attacking Obama and looked mostly interested in leaving the race on her own terms.

Of 48 polls taken between the immediate aftermath of Obama’s losses in Ohio and Texas and early June, when Clinton exited the race, Obama either tied or led McCain in all but ten of them. A Pew poll taken after Obama’s ten-point loss in Pennsylvania gave the then-Illinois senator a healthy six-point lead over John McCain, despite Clinton’s pointed questions over whether Obama could “seal the deal” in the general election. Obama didn’t continue to poll well against McCain because, as is often asserted, his hard-fought primary campaign made him a stronger candidate. Instead, Obama polled ahead of McCain because the fundamentals – discontent with the war in Iraq, Bush fatigue, and a plummeting economy –  favored the Democratic Party in 2008. It’s still too early to pronounce definitely on whom the fundamentals will benefit in 2012. As Ezra Klein wrote this morning, it’s conceivable that the European debt crisis could spawn another global downturn and dash Obama’s reelection hopes. But if the nation continues to receive monthly jobs reports like the one last Friday, the fundamentals will favor Obama. The fact that Romney won’t have Newt Gingrich on his hands anymore won’t matter.

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McDonnell: Obama is Only Responsible for Bad Jobs Numbers

By Luke Brinker

In 2010, recently elected Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, seen as a GOP rising star, gave his party’s response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. He tore into what he depicted as the president’s dismal record on job creation, arguing that the Obama administration was pursuing policies that hindered a robust economic recovery.

“Many of us [in Virginia], and many of you watching, have family or friends who have lost their jobs,” McDonnell said. Later, he said that government’s role was to “spur economic growth, and strengthen the private sector’s ability to create new jobs.” McDonnell went on to offer standard GOP boilerplate on the alleged failure of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

So what does McDonnell say now that the US has experienced 23 consecutive months of private sector job growth (including far-better-than-expected jobs numbers last month) – the very kind of employment he argued it was government’s role to foster?

“I’m glad the economy is starting to recover, but I think it’s because of what Republican governors are doing in their states, not because of the president,”  McDonnell told CNN’s Candy Crowley yesterday.

While this information may not reach the bubble – where Nobama is to blame for everything that goes wrong and has nothing to do with anything that goes right – it’s worth noting that the public sector has lost an estimated 500,000 jobs in the Obama presidency, even as the private sector continues to gain steam. The overwhelming majority of those jobs lost were at the state and local level, the result of budget cuts by statehouses and municipalities. Of course, every state except Vermont is required by its constitution to balance its budget each year, making cost reductions inevitable, but it’s the GOP that has stonewalled the president’s efforts to support states and localities in hiring more public sector workers like teachers and firefighters. It appears, however, that stubborn things like facts won’t get in the way of the GOP’s determined effort to defeat President Obama this November.

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