So there were all along three possible ways out of the Government Shutdown and Debt Ceiling Crises, at least from a legislative standpoint.  (After all, remember that any bill would actually have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President.)

  1. The Senate Bipartisan Plan.  This is what happened.  The Senate Leadership from both sides gets together, makes a deal that funds the government and extends the debt ceiling, and includes very little concessions to the GOP (because they have little influence in the Senate).  This is what Obama wanted all along.  It gets through the House with all the Democrats and a minority of the most moderate Republicans.
  2. The Tea Party Pipe Dream.  Obama agrees to sign a bill with large concessions on the Affordable Health Care Act and/or an array of other conservative priorities.  This passes the House with a unified GOP caucus, and squeaks through the Senate because there is enough popular pressure on moderate Democrats to force them to vote for it.
  3. Conference Committee.  The Senate passes their plan.  The unified GOP caucus passes their unified pipe dream.  It goes to conference committee, and something comes out that is palatable enough that it can pass both Houses of Congress and be signed by the President.  No one is happy.
We’ve spent the last 16 days… well, really the last month… with a huge portion of the Right convinced that the #2 was a viable legislative strategy.  Of course, most people with any Washington acumen at all–including such liberals as Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and the Wall St. Journal Opinion Page–thought that it was a dumb idea.  After all, you have to be pretty delusional to believe that President Obama and something like 10 Senate Democrats are going to agree to renegotiate their signature policy victory of the last decade when poll after poll told them that if they held firm, the GOP would take the brunt of the blame.
But it wasn’t actually that particular delusion that did in the plan.  It was a much more subtle, but insidious delusion that ultimately caused the GOP to cave in.  After all, notice that both #2 and #3 require a unified GOP caucus.  In other words, all of the House Republicans have to agree on a single bill that would reopen the federal government, extend the debt ceiling, and otherwise be better than the status quo.  This is why the House GOP caucus met two days ago; to come up with such a plan.
And they failed.  They failed spectacularly.  It turns out that the House GOP caucus can’t even agree on whether or not we ought to extend the debt ceiling or reopen government.
Which means that Plans #2 and #3 were non-starters.  The only viable plan left was the one that could have been implemented a month ago.
In other words, hundreds of thousands of people were out of a job for 16 days because the GOP leadership couldn’t admit to the world three weeks ago that the House GOP caucus was too fractured to agree on a compromise with Obama, even if by some miracle he did actually agree to one.
That’s truly amazing.

The Merits of Inaction

 Posted by  Foreign Policy, Israel and Palestine, Middle East, Obama Administration, Terrorism  Comments Off on The Merits of Inaction
Jun 182013

There is a certain arrogance with being the world’s only superpower.  The United States can project military power anywhere on the globe in a way that no other country can.  That power is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that we are able to defend American interests (both economic and strategic) and stop human rights violations wherever and whenever we need to.  The curse is that we are constantly tempted to do so… and often the best thing we can do is nothing at all.

Syria is, I believe, one such case.  In particular, in Syria there are basically four options on the table: Continue reading »


There are three “scandals” supposedly “rocking” the White House this week.  Really, I think it just goes to show how silly we all are.

The first, and oldest, of these scandals is Benghazi.  Four Americans were killed, including the Ambassador to Libya, when an Al Qaeda affiliate attacked a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya in September, 2012.  Since then, the conservative media has been pushing two separate lines of inquiry, seemingly in the hopes of embarrassing the president.  The first, and the legitimate one, is whether or not those lives could have been saved.  There have been numerous hearings on this, focusing on why various troops or planes were not called into Benghazi to assist that outpost during the attack; and while questions remain, it seems that the worst story that can be told is one of a lack of communication between the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon.

The second line of inquiry regarding Benghazi, and this one is just plain silly, is about the evolution of a set of talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice and others used in the days after the attacks to describe what was happening in public interviews to the American people.  The first version of those talking points speculated that while there might have been some connection to the ongoing protests in Cairo and Yemen over an anti-Muslim YouTube video, that it was likely that the attack in Benghazi was carried out by an Al Qaeda affiliate.  By the 12th and final version, all mention of Al Qaeda had been dropped–but not the mention of the ongoing protests.  And of course, it eventually turned out that the Cairo protests had nothing to do with it, and that Al Qaeda had been planning the attack for months–which means that Susan Rice and others gave wrong information in those first few post-attack interviews.

Continue reading »


People have already started pondering who will run for president in 2016.  And why not?  It’s a great parlor game.  But any game needs rules; and in this case, history has provided us with a lot ton of precedent to determine who actually has a legitimate shot at becoming the next commander-in-chief, and who is just a much-ballyhooed pretender.  So what are those rules?

Rule #1: You don’t become president if you’ve completed a full term in the senate.  Only one man has ever done it: LBJ, and he had to become Vice President, and then only became president because JFK was assassinated.  A few have served less than a full term: Obama and JFK most recently.  But complete that first term, and you’re done for.  Many, many, many have tried.  None have succeeded.  Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Rob Portman will all be finishing up their first term in 2016; if any of them actually wins election, they will be the longest serving Senator to ever be directly elected from the Senate to the presidency, although only by a couple of years so it’s not completely out of the question.  Still, it’s doubtful.  This rule also casts serious doubt on both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden on the Democratic side: both have completed full terms, but one could argue that since both have more recently served in the administration that perhaps they are more like LBJ than John McCain, John Kerry or Bob Dole, just to name the last three senators to win their party nomination and lose the presidency.  Of course, serving in the administration didn’t help Walter Mondale in 1984, so I wouldn’t bet the house on either of them.

Rule #2: It’s good to be from a Big State, or a Democrat from the South.  Obama is from the 5th most populous state (Illinois). The Bushes were from Texas, which moved from third to second during W.’s tenure, as was LBJ.  Clinton and Carter were the Southern Democrats (and LBJ, of course).  Reagan and Nixon were from California, the most populous state.  Ford was from Michigan, which was a top 5 most populous state at the time.  You have to go all the way back to JFK to find an exception to this rule.  This rule favors people like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and anyone that the Democrats can find with a southern accent.

Rule #3: Don’t nominate people from Massachusetts or Minnesota.  People from Massachusetts or Minnesota who won the nomination but lost the election since JFK: Mitt Romney, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey.  And that’s not counting the many people from both of those states who never made it through the primary process (including Ted Kennedy and Tim Pawlenty).   None of the current contenders are from either of those states, but I thought it bore repeating.

Rule #4: It’s good to be governor or Vice President.  Obama came from the Senate.  Before him?  George W. was Governor of Texas.  Clinton was Governor of Arkansas.  Bush the Elder was VP.  Reagan was Governor of California.  Carter was Governor of Georgia.  Ford was VP.  Nixon was VP.  LBJ was VP.  JFK was Senator.  Truman was VP.  FDR was Governor of New York.  You get the idea.  (Yes, I skipped Eisenhower: if you win a World War, you get to be president without being governor or Vice President.)  The list of surviving former VPs seems a little thin: Joe Biden might want the job; Dick Cheney is about about as popular a root canal; Al Gore seems out of politics for good, and Dan Quayle… uh, yeah, right.  So if I were a betting man, I’d start looking around at the governor’s offices for our next president.  Or maybe former governors.

Put it all together?  Of all the candidates people have talked about, there’s only one that I can think of who fits all of the rules: a former governor from a big state that isn’t Massachusetts or Minnesota and he’s never served a day in the Senate.  That would be Jeb Bush of Florida.  At least until someone else comes along.


The recent filibusters of the Chuck Hagel (for Secretary of Defense) and John Brennan (for Director of Central Intelligence) have got me thinking about the Senate’s duty to “advise and consent” to the president’s nominees.  Obviously a senator has the power to vote against the confirmation of anyone for any reason.  But it seems to me that some reasons are clearly more legitimate than others, especially when we talk about cabinet nominations.  (Judicial nominations are more complicated because of the lifetime tenure of the posts and because, unlike cabinet posts, judges do not directly answer to an elected official.)

In particular, Senators should only ever vote against a nominee because they believe that the nominee is unfit to hold the post to which he or she has been nominated.

So let’s start with what’s expected of a cabinet secretary.  A cabinet secretary has three jobs:

  1. To advise the president.
  2. To administer his or her respective department.
  3. To perform certain other duties that are incumbent upon that particular secretary (e.g. the Secretary of State is expected to serve as a diplomat; the Attorney General is expected to perform certain legal duties; etc.)

As far as the first of those duties go, there isn’t really anything that the Senate can do.  Sure, the senate can “advise” the president that a particular nominee is unlikely to be a good adviser, but at the end of the day the president can, will, and should be able to take advice from whosoever the president wants to.  Voting against a nominee because they will provide bad advice is impractical, at best.

So that just leaves the other two.  If there is reason to believe that a nominee is incapable of administering a federal bureaucracy, then it is perfectly reasonable to vote against them.  If a senator believes that a nominee is not qualified to fill the other duties that will be expected of them, then it is perfectly reasonable to vote against them.  This, by the way, was why I personally opposed the nomination of John Bolton as Bush’s Secretary of State a few years ago.  His record as UN Ambassador was poor, and there was plenty of reason to doubt whether he was a skilled enough diplomat.

So what does that leave?  What are bad reasons to vote against a nominee?  Just to name a few that have been in the news lately: Continue reading »

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