• Rob Spectre
  • 15
  • Dec
  • 09

As the final year of this decade of fail draws to a close, everyone with a keyboard is making a list and checking it twice.  It’s the hour for picking the winners and picking the losers; the snoozer season when writers can phone it in for a few weeks with top ten drivel and self-serving ratings.  For those with an eye on Washington, we are producing a familiar name on lists both favorable and failing:  Joe Lieberman.

Photo: US Senate

Photo: US Senate

He kicked off the 21st century as the base play on the Democratic ticket – the guy who was supposed to solidify the Democratic diehards behind former veep Al Gore during his impossible run against the red state calculus that had tilted in strong favor of George W. Bush.  He was the guy to whip Clinton’s old guard behind the less charismatic, but no less thoughtful, leader of a new Democratic party.  Neither he nor his commander-in-chief-to-be succeeded in either task, little match against a decade of gerrymandered districts and Karl Rove’s timely tactics.

Just under ten years ago, Joe Lieberman was the guy you went to if you needed Democrats on your side.  Now, they can barely speak his name without spitting it.  Particularly as we near the endgame for Barack Obama’s healthcare initiative, Lieberman (I-CT)  may be a pariah in cocktail party circles but his careful manipulation of the letter beside his home state has assured his spot as a power broker in the United States Congress.

This week was one where his handiwork was particularly characteristic.  With a single press conference he catapulted himself from the annoying periphery of voices regurgitating talking points to the place where he always seems to end up – the center of the action.  No sooner was a compromised healthcare package announced by Harry Reid’s Democratic caucus that was it torpedoed effortlessly by a short public statement of opposition by Lieberman.  Within hours of his remarks, party leaders were hurriedly meeting and scurrying about, with Joe’s smug smile to greet them across the table.

A few days later, the public option is out.  Early Medicare buy-in is out.  And several previously core provisions of a healthcare reform bill already neutered in committee now seem to be on the table.  Lieberman is playing coy, saying he is “moving towards a yes vote.”   The store might be sold outright by the time the deal is done, leading some on the progressive side of the supposed Democratic supermajority to squeal.  Even some used to the pariah label themselves are calling for an outright revolt, with former DNC chairman (and real-life doctor) Howard Dean calling for the Senate bill to be killed.

Indeed it would seem that Lieberman holds all the cards in Washington and by the masterful straddling of the aisle until the last possible second, he has usurped even the President of the United States as the sole man in America who says what will or will not happen.

If only Lieberman were that man.

But behind the eye popping headlines is the truth that Lieberman is just an instrument of a larger machine, a pawn in a game with stakes so high the odds are always certain.  Were his stand against the Medicare buy-in the principled stance of a deficit hawk holding firm, Democrats would have great cause for concern with Joe Lieberman.  The problem is, he doesn’t believe a bit of it.  Just this past September – three months ago – he said straight into a rolling camera that he believed that people should be able to buy into Medicare at the age of 55.

What caused the flip-flop?  In September, public universal healthcare looked like it could really happen.  Now with the negotiations dragged on by Republicans and Reid’s ineffective caucus coming up short in the red zone, the public option is thoroughly defeated.  With that obstacle down, Lieberman is free to turn on the firehose to water down the bill even more.  While Obama takes a bath in the negotiating room, the bill soaks up the excess until it poses little danger at all to the status quo.

How did the status quo effect such a dramatic change of heart in Joe Lieberman?  Through over $1 million in donations from health insurance in this decade.    During his last campaign in 2006, he ranked second in the Senate for health insurance donations.  And his home state is headquarters to many of the nation’s leading insurance companies, employing 22,000 in Connecticut.  The private health insurance system that raked in billions keeping America sick during the last ten years paid for Lieberman’s independent run.

And this year, that investment is looking awfully sound.

But before Joe Lieberman is vilified as the Judas Big Healthcare bought to kill the public option, before he makes the tops of the movers and the bottoms of the shakers, we should consider his company.

He’s not the only one on the payroll.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Nov
  • 09

It’s been a while since the Democratic Party tasted win.  Outplayed since March by a small, but clever Republican opposition, the only tangible political victory the Obama-led Dems has been the gimme-election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.  That contest – more a product of GOP self-destruction than strong Democratic campaigning – still leaves the landslide Democratic government rapidly closing out its first year solidly in the red, scuttled more by their own dissension than their opponent’s unity.

But in the clutch vote for cloture for Obama’s number one legislative priority, Harry Reid’s supposed supermajority Senate is coming through.  Securing the last vote mere hours before the roll call, Reid disproved the smart money that he could deliver the votes when it really mattered.  Undoubtedly, the votes of Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu, the last holdouts over the cloture motion, came at some significant cost to the more liberal elements of healthcare reform, but early indications suggest the store was not sold to bring healthcare to the floor.

For the more jaded observers among us, that cloture was ever in doubt is further evidence of our decline.  In the incomprehensibly meta game of the modern American legislative process, just getting to talk about a bill is a landmark victory.  Just getting a bill to a floor debate has, for a decade through the disruptive work of both sides of the aisle, become dental work; a thoroughly unpleasant grind that barely staves off the inevitable loss of its subject.

It is unlikely the modern model of passing law is what our Founding Fathers had in mind.  Passing laws should be this difficult, debating them should not particularly with a electoral mandate this large.  That a supermajority has to perform this many roots canal in order to get its primary objective accomplished suggests a procedural perversion of the original intent of the Constitution.  It’s a status quo for which both political parties should be rightly blamed; a condition where writing law is like making a Hollywood blockbuster – one phone call can kill everything.

But if tonight’s roll call reflects today’s dealmaking, it would seem that a supermajority is worth something after all, if it is an advantage that can only be leveraged once a year.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Oct
  • 09

Barely a heartbeat after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate healthcare reform bill would include the public option, the odds on his gamble started to look longer and longer.  The White House quietly pulled back its support of Reid’s state-level opt-out provision.  The early nose counts from the press said Reid was still shy of the 60 votes needs for a cloture motion.  It didn’t take long then for a certain Connecticut independent to exploit his former colleague’s weakness.

The buzz in Washington all morning was whether or not Joe Lieberman was going to filibuster healthcare reform.  He kicked off the day announcing that he intended to filibuster the bill due to Reid’s inclusion of the public option.  His aides would confirm such throughout the day, saying the former Democrat would vote against cloture.   By the end of the day, Lieberman had returned to his usual wishy-washiness.  Talking Points Memo had the direct word:

I told Senator Reid that I’m strongly inclined–i haven’t totally decided, but I’m strongly inclined–to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don’t support the bill that he’s bringing together because it’s important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.

Source: Talk Radio News Service

Photo: Talk Radio News Service

So by the close of Congressional business, all we know is that Lieberman may or may not be inclined to filibuster a bill he may or may not end up voting for, depending on “where things end up.”

What caused Lieberman to waffle after such a strong public statement earlier in the day?  Undoubtedly the immediate furious outrage on the Internet helped tilt his notoriously flaky barometer.

Joe Lieberman has been drifting in and out of trending topics on Twitter all day and little of it has been praise.  He is despised on the left for his opportunism and disdained by the right for his inconsistency.    Despite pledging to support universal healthcare just three years ago, Lieberman’s recent change of heart generated the kind of rebuke only Hell’s own Internet can spew:

Joe Lieberman is a joke… wrinkled-faced bastardo!

Joe Lieberman:  Huge douchebag, or hugest douchebag ever?

Joe Lieberman deserves a punch in the dick.

Though not as colorful, mainstream press was similarly skeptical with many talking heads observing that the senator’s flip-flop came at an awfully convenient moment politically.  Though it cannot be denied that this vote is going to be close, it is hard for many to see Lieberman’s move as anything more than a play to stay in the spotlight as Congress’s most important independent.

Many are joining the White House with a reaction decidedly unimpressed.  If an afternoon’s outrage is enough to make Lieberman waffle, his participation in the healthcare bill is unlikely to have any significance.  I think we’ve seen this picture before and know how it ends.

Joe Lieberman’s headlines today just highlight what we’ve known for a while – he’s all hat and no cowboy.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 07
  • May
  • 09

The title on the docket read “The Future of Journalism” and if the U.S. Senate Subcommittee for Communications, Technology and the Internet is an accurate barometer, the forecast for print is poor indeed.  Those testifying at the hearing included a high-profile Google exec, a television producer, and the head of a non-profit investing in new media for local communities.  In fact, only one representative of the current print media was present and he – James Moroney of the Dallas Morning News – is renown for his push of that paper onto the web.

Joining them was the hearing’s headline act, Arianna Huffington, a noted liberal public voice, onetime gubernatorial candidate and co-founder of lefty news blog The Huffington Post.    Having experienced no small success at the head of one possible manifestation of journalism’s future, Huffington had this to say about traditional media and its stifling effect on keeping the public informed.

They are far too quick to drop a story-even a good one, in their eagerness to move on to the Next Big Thing.  [Online journalists] chomp down on a story and stay with it, refusing to move off it until they’ve gotten down to the marrow.

Huffington’s got it right in the sense that online journalists, with their virtually unlimited print space and dramatically lower content costs, do lack the constraints of their traditional counterparts.  The luxury of living without word limits or column inches lends online work to invest the kind of time in smaller stories magazines and newspapers often must let go in favor of breaking news.  But does luxury mean the format change will produce higher quality news?  Will bloggers beat world-class newsrooms?

Let’s look at two small, but significant stories from the past week neglected by mainstream media outlets.  Last week the Justice Department dismissed its case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists employed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  A case of true sedition and espionage, a pair of lobbyists were accused of covert back-channel communications of national security secrets with a wide swath of the US government, funneling that information back to Israel.  The four-year legal battle involving the wiretapping of a congresswoman, the possible testimony of Condoleeza Rice and a number of Bush administration insiders and a complex web of business and political interests that almost certainly compromised classified information to a foreign government.  A foreign government not only armed with nuclear weapons, but also in the middle of a sweeping political change and fresh from armed conflict just months before the case was dismissed.

The story was dumped in Friday’s trash and largely ignored since by outlets more concerned with swine flu, Specter’s switch and a SCOTUS opening.  The Huffington Post did hold on to it, though to what effacacy?  HuffPo has only run two stories on the AIPAC case since the dismissal, both op-eds by David Bromwich and Harry Moroz.

The latter focused on Obama’s promise of freeing the White House from lobbyist influence and the former focused on an out-of-context quotation from the New York Times and a related 2004 investigation of Ahmed Chalabi.  While both of course are valid, neither could be rightly considered getting any closer to the marrow of the Fed’s bone with the Israel lobby.  Neither had any previously unreported perspectives or new primary sources.  This is reporting through Lexis-Nexis; obviously accurate but hardly insightful.  The AIPAC story needs a Bob Woodward grade breakthrough gained through an extensive set of relationships and penetrating access, not further exposition by someone adept with search engine skills.  Deft Googling is not going to expose those pulling the levers of these grand machines.

The second is the story of Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA and the plastic paragon of the anti-gay movement.  The artificial and inarticulate blonde made headlines after she voiced her support for California’s Proposition 8, bringing the culture wars to the otherwise banal Miss USA beauty pageant.  After the queen publicly opposed gay marriage, the Huffington Post has run 19 separate stories focused on her and her views.  MSNBC, by comparison, blessfully has run four.

One story died because someone powerful wanted it to; the second died because it should have.  But in neither case did Huffington’s vision of online journalism exceed the quality of her traditional competition.  Indeed, in both cases, they could only offer less restraint on editorial excess, with the simpler of the two stories getting radically more attention.

The Senate Subcommittee does have it right – traditional journalism is dying and its future is online.  But, the public needs more than the charge people like Arianna Huffington are leading.  While creative non-fiction and editorial perspective – the kind this website offers that you are reading right now – has a place in the broad body of American journalism, it is not a replacement for real reporting.

The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, and Dream Not Of Today are all valuable contributors to a free society.  But how free would our society be if they replaced the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post and Time Magazine?

  • Rob Spectre
  • 30
  • Apr
  • 09

In a week packed with apocalyptic headlines, none held the Geiger-counter-crazy-nuclear-mushroom-cloud kick  of Tuesday’s party affiliation switch by the senior senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter.  Pushed to the left by philosophical differences and a curiously well-funded primary challenge, Specter keeps not only his seat, but the dealmaker clout he snagged during the stimulus bill.  Further, he flies a solid prime-time middle finger to the party that planned on lynching him for going off the reservation so early in the Congressional session.

Though the balance in the Senate tips closer to the magic filibuster proof sixty seats, the switch is not an unqualified victory for the Democrats.  In his very first day as a Dem, Specter voted against the President’s budget, signaling his intention to remain an independent – dare I say, maverick – mind in this Congress.

While Arlen Specter switching parties may not be a magic wand for the Blue, it is nothing but fail for the Red who in one news cycle saw an already upset apple cart get shit on by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  For both sides of the aisle, Arlen Specter wiped all the bets at the bookies and blanked every Washington forecast.  Here’s the five big ways the Pennsylvanian senator changed the game for Obama’s first term.

Photo: U.S. Senate

Photo: U.S. Senate

1) Michael Steele Gets Neutered

The already embattled RNC chair is out of the driver seat for this election cycle.  It was primarily his buddies in the Club for Growth which funded Pat Toomey’s primary challenge to Specter’s incumbency and it was the leaks from his office that suggested the push was coming from a GOP establishment upset over the deals Specter was making with the White House.

The problem now is what to do with him.  Keeping him would admit impotence and ousting him would invite savage infighting.  The national GOP is going to be marginalized until after the next election.

2) 2010 Is The Democrats’ To Lose

With a compromised national office and a publicly undermined fundraising network, the Republicans are looking at a Sisyphean climb next fall.  Specter’s switch is a loud no-confidence vote by the GOP’s moderate majority in its neo-con leaders.  Without their money and full throated support, the best Republicans can hope for is a non-fatal loss.

Democrats, on the other hand, need to deliver some economic win.  Change needs to be real by the summer of 2010 or Republicans will have something to run on besides teabags.

3) Ideology Takes A Back Seat To Pragmatism

The biggest win for the country is that Specter’s switch makes political moderates the most precious commodity in this government.  The more Specters and Snowes and Landrieus and Pryors that get pampered in policy meetings, the closer we are to real solutions.  Toomey’s campaign said to elected Republicans that they must stay true to the talking points or expire.

Specter’s switch gave the keys back to the moderates.on both sides of the aisle.  Nays on principle aren’t going to be enough to get elected in this next decade.  Results are back in style.

4) Do or Die for Neo-Conservatism

Arlen Specter leaving the Republican Party is not a sign of its death, though it may be a sign of the death of its neo-conservative element.  Less a wakeup call for the party as a whole as the fanatics that drove it into the dumpster, Neo-Cons are on the cliff.  Specter sent a real message that as long as the Rush Limbaugh crowd is setting the agenda, the party as a whole is going to suffer.

Republicans will survive, but the teabaggers got to go.

5) Health Care Happens This Year

Whether or not it is the sweeping reform Obama promised remains to be seen, but the Democrats didn’t let Specter keep his job for free.  He may not vote for the bill, but he will vote for cloture and finally bring healthcare reform to the floor for an up-or-down vote.

And if healthcare and the economy shows dramatic improvement by 2011, Specter will have assured a second Obama term and, perhaps, a better nation.