Saturday, October 7, 2017

Frum on Gun Debate

David Frum comments on how we undermine the gun debate in The Atlantic.

But once you have accepted that it’s reasonable for citizens to accumulate firearms at the rate of 24 a year, it’s hard to imagine that there is really anything else you can do that will prevent a lot of gun deaths. Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides, more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.

There are subtle, sophisticated, and nuanced approaches to the gun problem that balance the rights of gun owners against the imperatives of gun safety. They may well even make some difference at the margin. But they are unlikely to make any significant difference. Americans debate these approaches not because they are likely to be effective, but because the methods that will work—that have worked in every other advanced society—are here politically taboo.

Was there one legal change that could have thwarted Stephen Paddock? Probably not. But the reason crimes like his are so common here, and so rare in western Europe, is not that we are afflicted with more Stephen Paddocks than they, but because their Stephen Paddocks find it so much more difficult to obtain guns, and especially large quantities of guns. 

As Melinda Wenner Moyer writes in the current issue of Scientific American: “The research on guns is not uniform, and we could certainly use more of it. But when all but a few studies point in the same direction, we can feel confident that the arrow is aiming at the truth—which is, in this case, that guns do not inhibit crime and violence but instead make it worse.”

And the surest sign that gun advocates know how lethal the science is for their cause is their determination to suppress it: since the mid-1990s, Republicans in Congress have successfully cut off federal funding for non-industry gun-safety research.  That’s not what you do when the facts are on your side.

Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are endangering themselves and their loved ones.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trump Will Never Pivot

Ezra Klein explains that Donald Trump is beloved by the Republican base because he is one of them on

It’s become a joke on politics Twitter that Trump’s pivot is always around the corner, that the media can’t stop announcing that this is the moment Trump finally became president. But there will be no pivot. There will be no moment Trump suddenly and permanently grows into the job. Kelly can stanch Trump’s paper flow all he wants: Trump can still read Twitter, and click over to Breitbart, and watch Fox & Friends, and he does all those things.

What confuses the media about Trump is that he defies Washington’s categories. It’s true that he’s not a typical elected Republican, and that he feels little love for the GOP’s congressional leadership. But that doesn’t make him an independent. That makes him a very typical base Republican. He’s the kind of Republican who hangs out in the Breitbart comments section, who listens to Sean Hannity on the radio — not the type of Republican who donates to fundraisers for Paul Ryan.

If Trump’s policy preferences sometimes come out scrambled or inconsistent, well, that’s how most people’s policy preferences come out. If there are plenty of Republican elected officials he doesn’t like, well, that’s also true for most Republican voters. If he appears more enthusiastic about abstract border security than about deporting actual DREAMers, well, that’s what most people’s immigration preferences look like. But Trump’s tribal loyalties are fierce, his worldview is shaped by conservative media, and he never forgets who his true allies are.

This has always been Trump’s secret advantage. His connection with the GOP base runs so deep because he authentically is a member of the GOP base — he’s just the rare base Republican who had the money, celebrity, and media skills to successfully run for president despite never having held elected office.

And Trump continues to be that guy. For all his frustrations with elected Republicans, and for all Kelly’s efforts to bury him in professionalized “decision memos,” Trump still gets his news from Fox News and Breitbart and his own Twitter followers. He still hears about how Obamacare is failing and Democrats are conspiring. Like many voters, Trump often seems less motivated by love of his party than by fear and loathing of the other party. Negative partisanship is the tie that binds. It’s why Trump always comes back to his core politics: He may not love Republicans, but his worldview, and his information sources, is built around fighting Democrats.

Trump has been in the presidency for nine months now, and if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that he is who he has always shown himself to be. He’s not changing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cassidy-Graham and GOP Hypocrisy

Matthew Yglesias details the dishonesty and hypocrisy of Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on

Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator holding a safe seat in Louisiana, could easily have spent the past six months imitating his state’s other senator by basically lying low and voting for whichever health care bills leadership puts in front of him. But Cassidy was a medical doctor before he was a politician, his state has gained enormously from Medicaid expansion, and in the early days of the Affordable Care Act repeal process he made a name for himself as a rare GOP coverage hawk.

The legislation he co-authored with Maine Republican Susan Collins would essentially have allowed state governments that like their Obamacare to keep it. And he vocally touted what he termed the “Jimmy Kimmel test” for health care policy.

“Coverage does not have to have bells and whistles,” he told Business Insider’s Bob Bryan on May 14, “but does the coverage cover a tragedy that could occur in someone's health or to a loved one?”

Around this time, his colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was expressing concern about the rushed process and hasty drafting of Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act. Four months later, Cassidy and Graham are the lead authors of what’s become the GOP’s final stab at repealing Obamacare. Their bill brazenly casts aside all of their previous doubts, featuring the most slipshod legislative process yet and no guarantees of adequate coverage whatsoever. And neither of them has bothered to explain to anyone why they changed their minds.

The Congressional Budget Office has done no analysis at all of Cassidy-Graham, and it’s entirely the fault of Graham and Cassidy personally, who didn’t bother to turn their half-baked policy idea into legislative text until it was way too late. Now the Senate will vote on legislation without “estimates of the effects on the deficit, health insurance coverage, or premiums.”

But it gets worse. House members told reporters back in May that they were voting to move the process forward but counting on the Senate to improve the bill. That was a fairly lame excuse. But at least they had an excuse. Because the Senate’s reconciliation instructions expire on September 30, whatever they pass will be set in stone when it’s sent over to the House for an up-or-down vote in which there will be enormous pressure on House Republicans to vote yes. There’s no chance to amend or fix any aspect of a bill that’s had no real committee hearings, markup, or formal analysis.

All we know is people will get less health care.

Neither Cassidy nor Graham nor a few dozen other Senate Republicans appear to have given this any thought or bothered to do any analysis of how it will play out. And for the few dozen, that’s not surprising even if it is shocking. Replacement-level Senate Republicans have never taken an interest in health policy or cared much about process. This bill repeals Obamacare and cuts spending, and that’s all they need to know.

But Cassidy and Graham both went out of their way to brand themselves as more concerned about such matters.

They didn’t need to do that. They aren’t representing purple states or otherwise facing electoral vulnerability. Unlike Dean Heller or Jeff Flake or many of their House colleagues, they won’t personally pay an electoral price for destabilizing the American health care system. They just used to believe it would be a mistake to do so — that it would be wrong, morally speaking, to massively imperil Americans’ health insurance coverage via a slipshod legislative process. So they said so.

And then, for some reason, they changed their minds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lessons of GOP Failure

Former Reagan staffer Bruce Bartlett takes stock of the failure of Republicans to govern in the New York Daily News.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, whereby politicians negotiate the issues of the day and arrive at compromises. Neither party gets all that they want, but each gets something.

In America, that ideal has been dead for some time. I’m not sure when it died, but it is indisputably dead today. The parties are extremely polarized, bipartisanship is a distant dream, moderates in both parties are alienated from their party’s base and pressing national problems fester.

The conventional wisdom says both sides are to blame. This is a fallacy. Everyone knows that the Republican Party started us down this road when it won control of Congress in 1994. That said, in politics as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So Republican extremism has tended to force Democrats to become more extreme in the process.

President Obama often said that he thought that Republican extremism would burn itself out eventually; the fever would break. But first Republicans must be convinced that they had a fair chance to implement their policies, otherwise they will continue to insist that if only we had followed their advice, we would be living in Utopia — with rapid economic growth, a greatly reduced terror threat, minimal illegal immigration, low inflation, low unemployment, two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot.

These are precisely the kinds of promises Donald Trump routinely made when he ran for President. You remember: We’ll win so much, you’ll get tired of winning.

Well, it’s put up or shut up time. Republicans control both houses of Congress and, arguably, the Supreme Court as well. Despite sometimes talking like an independent, Trump is the most right-wing President in our history — and I say that as someone who worked for Ronald Reagan.

The GOP has been telling us for years that Obama’s veto pen was the only thing standing in the way of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that would improve access and lower costs; tax reform that will improve fairness and juice growth; an impenetrable wall across the Mexican border, and a proud and consistent foreign policy that will defeat terrorism.

It’s now obvious that these were lies. Republicans have no idea how to accomplish those things, and the media gave them a pass for years by not forcing them to produce detailed plans for how to achieve them. This fact has not yet fully penetrated the public consciousness, but is slowly sinking in even among the Republican base. Many Republicans simply cannot understand why, with complete control of the federal government, all of their leaders’ promises are still unfulfilled.

The reality is that Republicans cannot govern. The party functions best in opposition, with no responsibility for its actions. In their heart of hearts, every Republican in Congress would much rather be investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails, Benghazi and a dozen other “scandals.”

Trump would much rather be on Trump TV blasting away at “Crooked Hillary” and insisting that he had great plans, the best plans ever conceived for fixing the problems of the day. The last thing any Republican wants to be doing is raising the debt limit.

So as painful as it may be, the Trump-led Republican government is something we must endure at least until the next Congress convenes in 2019. I’m not predicting Democrats will get control of the House or Senate, but at least it is within the realm of possibility. Another 14 months like the last eight could give them both at the rate Trump’s and the GOP’s polls are collapsing.

I think in 2018 and 2020, enough Americans may be fed up with the Republican clown show to put adults back in charge. And even many hard-core conservatives may conclude that if they can’t implement their program with Trump and both houses of Congress, then it is hopeless. Best to stock up on supplies for the inevitable collapse than waste their time on a system that makes the achievement of their goals impossible, many may conclude as they walk away from any political involvement at all, including voting.

It would be nice to think that this process could have been avoided, but sometimes only real-world experience will teach people the lessons in life they must learn. Failure is a brutal but effective teacher. Republicans are learning that the hard way.