Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today's Broder: Celebrating a Molehill, Missing the Obvious

Let's just quote Broder's introductory grafs:

If you were to ask Democrats Barney Frank and Chris Dodd -- the principal architects of the massive housing bill signed yesterday by President Bush -- which of its many features pleases them most, the answer would surprise you.

It is not the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the embattled mortgage giants, or the aid the bill provides for thousands of homeowners struggling to afford their subprime loans in a faltering real estate market.

Instead, it is the section creating the National Housing Trust Fund, a creative way of meeting the chronic shortage of affordable low-income rental units -- a huge problem in cities and rural areas across the country.

Broder goes on to laud this modest achievement, one that raises far more questions than it answers. Let me list some of them.

1. Isn't averting a major financial meltdown that could lead to a potentially deep recession, throwing millions out of work for years, more important than this modest program?

I don't know that that's what the Fannie/Freddie bailout does, but if that isn't the potential downside of inaction, presumably we wouldn't be bailing them out at all.

2. I'm not Mr. Free-Market Booster, but isn't the best way to make housing more affordable to remove restrictions in the way of building more housing where people want to live?

As people like Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent regularly mention, there could be a lot more housing in most cities other than NYC if zoning restrictions blocking or throwing barriers (e.g. parking requirements) in the way of higher-density housing were to be repealed. This would bring down urban housing costs, by increasing the ratio of supply to demand. This would also make our urban areas more compact, saving on transportation costs and reducing our carbon footprint - which also need doing. Why not just condition Federal transit aid on easing such restrictions?

3. This program would be funded through a guaranteed income stream via a tax on Fannie and Freddie's mortgage lending profits. That's nice for this program, but why does this program get a dedicated funding stream when so many worthwhile programs don't? Is there any rhyme or reason to which programs do or don't have dedicated funding?

And finally:

4. Broder titles his column, "When Congress Works," noting that "the bill had to survive several cloture votes and the threat of a presidential veto, later withdrawn." Seems there's a lesson in here about why Congress doesn't work most of the time. Like, say, the GOP's willingness to filibuster anything remotely important.

During the 2001-06 period, I don't recall a lot of talk about how the GOP needed 60 votes to pass most legislation - because they didn't. The Dems blocked cloture on a number of high-profile bills (e.g. estate tax repeal), but never turned 60 votes into anything resembling an iron rule.

But the GOP has pretty much done that, now that the Dems are in the majority. You think Broder might abandon his faux-evenhandedness of "both parties do it" and note the disparity in the extent to which they do it? Will elephants flap their ears and learn to fly?

It would be good if Congress routinely worked, and blocking cloture was a tool employed only to block the majority party's more egregious legislation. But if people aren't tuned in to why Congress usually doesn't work, because the people they rely on to explain this stuff to them don't bother doing so, then people won't know how to get Congress to work more often than it does.

There's also a Broder column today

It's kind of innocuous, but it's still worth making fun of. I'll try to say something about it during lunch. This 'job' thing occasionally gets in the way of posting.

Shorter Ignatius: When McCain Does Bad Things, That Isn't the *Real* McCain

Over at CogBlog the other day, Nick Beaudrot pointed out that McCain was lying about why Obama didn't visit wounded soldiers at a U.S. base in Germany. (A conclusion shared by much of the MSM, by the way.)

I couldn't resist responding, "But it's a straight-talking, mavericky lie. The poor guy's only saying things like this because that's what you've got to do to win elections in America; he didn't really mean it."

Today's David Ignatius column is exactly the sort of thing I was parodying in that response. Titled "McCain's True Voice," Ignatius takes a time trip back to McCain's "remarkable" 1999 autobiography, Faith of My Fathers, quoting and describing as much of the book as he could squeeze into one op-ed column, and concluding that that was the 'real' McCain, while the one we've seen in this campaign...well, let me just quote Ignatius:
What's damaging the McCain campaign now, I suspect, is that this fiercely independent man is trying to please other people -- especially a Republican leadership that doesn't really trust him. He should give that up and be the person whose voice shines through the pages of his life story.
Oh, gimme a break. When you see that someone you thought you knew turns out to be a two-faced fraud, the question that Ignatius is answering here - whether the face you liked better is the con man's real face - isn't the right question, and even considering it just sets you up to be conned again. The only question is, how long are you going to believe that either face is real?

For easy reference, here's Steve Benen's invaluable list of McCain flip-flops. He's documented 72 of them now. There ought to be some joke here about virgins and flipflops, but damned if I can come up with anything worth sharing.

Update: Kevin Drum points out that WaPo reporters Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes take the same line this morning:
As Election Day nears, McCain's campaign is adopting the aggressive, take-no-prisoners style of Karl Rove, the GOP operative who engineered victories for President Bush....But the sharp-edged approach is being orchestrated for an unpredictable candidate who often chafes at delivering the campaign's message of the day. It is that freewheeling style that has made him popular with voters and cemented his reputation for candor and straight talk.
Apparently the Cossacks don't work for the Czar, at least not in the eyes of these reporters. Poor John McCain - this straight-talking maverick has been kidnapped and brainwashed by a ruthless team of campaign operatives. It's like Patty Hearst all over again. If only someone could rescue him!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hiatt: Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson in a Vacuum

This morning, Fred Hiatt, from his editorial perch, delivers a blistering denunciation of Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson and their hiring practices at Justice, which involved asking applicants for nonpolitical Civil Service positions such questions as "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

That's good, right?

It might be, except that in Hiatt's world, Goodling, Sampson, and their screening techniques apparently lived in a bell jar, disconnected from the rest of the world.

First of all, Hiatt never raises the question of whether then-A.G. Alberto Gonzales, or anyone in the White House, knew anything about how Goodling and Sampson were filling vacancies. This is rather odd, since Sampson was Gonzo's chief of staff, and Goodling was DoJ's White House liaison.

Nor does he connect the dots to the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, which these two young idiots were up to their armpits in as well. Last year, Hiatt was only mildly suspicious that there might be anything political to the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys. Now it's pretty clear that hiring of career attorneys was extremely politicized, by two of the principals in the attorney firings.

One would think that the moment had finally come when Hiatt would demand that Congress dig into the politicization of DoJ as a whole, follow every lead wherever it goes, tell Bush that there are situations where Executive Privilege should be abandoned, and tell Congress to use all of its authority and not take 'no' for an answer. Better late than never, right?

Nah. Hiatt says some contradictions between the Inspector General's report and Goodling's 2007 testimony "should be investigated."

That's all, folks.

Gawd, what a lamer.

Outsourcing Richard Cohen

Or rather, outsourcing the slicing and dicing of his column this morning. Gawd, what an atrocity.

Sir Charles of the Cogitamus blog has his ginsu knives well-sharpened, as does Matt Yglesias.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This Morning's Broder: an Op-Ed of Quiet Desperation

It must be hard, these days, to find something positive to say about George W. Bush. This morning, Broder demonstrates exactly how far one must reach to do so - and he's still completely wrong.

Broder approvingly quotes some bozo who praises Bush for his management skills. He's serious. For the rest of us, there's nothing to do but laugh. Hence the blog title. Let's roll tape:
One of the things Patterson teaches is that George Bush has been a more creative manager than is generally recognized.
I suppose that's one way to put it. Heckuva job, Brownie, Rummy, Gonzo!

Broder continues:
He has added three significant offices to the White House structure -- the Homeland Security Council, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and the USA Freedom Corps.
Wow - Bush added some boxes to the White House org chart! How few Presidents must have ever done that before. Creativity in action!

According to Broder, Patterson "also credits Bush with improving the physical facilities of the White House in ways that will benefit the next presidents," such as the Situation Room and the Briefing Room.

That's great, but isn't there some Senior Executive Service-type person, several rungs down, who is in charge of the White House's and EOB's functions as office buildings? This isn't exactly Chief Executive stuff; this is more like Jimmy Carter approving the schedule for the White House tennis courts.

Broder then asks "[t]he obvious question []: If the presidency has been so well managed, how come so many things have gone awry?" and answers himself: "The choice of people and policies is a lot more crucial than tables of organization."

Well, yeah.

To summarize Broder:
  1. Bush was a good manager.
  2. Everything went wrong anyway.
  3. Because Bush screwed up the big things about being a manager.
I'm not even going to try to square that triangle. How does anyone write stuff like this and not know how ridiculous he is? Sheesh.

And even more perennially perplexing, how does someone write stuff like this, and still get hailed as the 'Dean' of the Washington press corps? Only thing I can figure is, they've all had lobotomies.

As a coda, Broder manages a backhanded slap at Bill Clinton:
Patterson says there are lessons to be learned. One of the most important is to understand that "Cabinet government" is a myth. The big issues and the tough choices inevitably come to the White House, so it behooves a new president to spend more time and thought on his White House staff than on his Cabinet -- exactly the opposite of what Bill Clinton did.
I have no idea whether that's true, and I expect it depends a lot on what one means by "Cabinet government,' but those Cabinet secretaries happen to oversee a great deal. The big decisions get made in the White House, but the lesser decisions that determine whether government is actually effective mostly get made in the Cabinet agencies.

And you know what? The government worked when Clinton was President. And it's a total embarrassment under Bush.

But Bush was a good manager, and Clinton wasn't. Only in Broderland.

Addendum: Broder's column was titled, "Management 101 for Senators," based on the notion that U.S. Senators are crappy managers, and shouldn't really become Presidents. Wonder if he complained about that when Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford (former Representative, but why would they be any different?) were President?

At any rate, Obama's clearly demonstrated he can run an organization way larger than his Senate office. His campaign has been brilliant thus far, in execution as well as concept. Meanwhile, on the McCain side, they can't even keep straight whether or not McCain speaks for the McCain campaign with respect to tax proposals. If Broder's test is which candidate needs to take Management 101, there's only one right answer.