Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, May 08, 2021
America's Pathetic Herd Immunity Failure
Could today’s version of America have been able to win World War II? It hardly seems possible.
That victory required national cohesion, voluntary sacrifice for the common good and trust in institutions and each other. America’s response to Covid-19 suggests that we no longer have sufficient quantities of any of those things.In 2020 Americans failed to socially distance and test for the coronavirus and suffered among the highest infection and death rates in the developed world. Millions decided that wearing a mask infringed their individual liberty.
This week my Times colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reported that experts now believe that America will not achieve herd immunity anytime soon. Instead of being largely beaten, this disease could linger, as a more manageable threat, for generations. A major reason is that about 30 percent of the U.S. population is reluctant to get vaccinated.
We’re not asking you to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima; we’re asking you to walk into a damn CVS.
Americans have always been an individualistic people who don’t like being told what to do. But in times of crisis, they have historically still had the capacity to form what Alexis de Tocqueville called a “social body,” a coherent community capable of collective action. During World War I, for example, millions served at home and abroad to win a faraway war, responding to recruiting posters that read “I Want You” and “Americans All.”
That basic sense of peoplehood, of belonging to a common enterprise with a shared destiny, is exactly what’s lacking today. . . . They are reasoning mostly on a personal basis. They are thinking about what’s right for them as individuals more than what’s right for the nation and the most vulnerable people in it. It’s not that they are rebuking their responsibilities as citizens; it apparently never occurs to them that they might have any.
A lot of Americans have seceded from the cultural, political and social institutions of national life. As a result, the nation finds it hard to perform collective action. Our pathetic Covid response may not be the last or worst consequence of this condition.
Which brings us to Joe Biden. The Biden agenda would pour trillions of dollars into precisely those populations who have been left out and are most distrustful — the people who used to work in manufacturing and who might now get infrastructure jobs, or the ones who care for the elderly. This money would not only ease their financial stress, but it would also be a material display that someone sees them, that we are in this together. These measures, if passed, would be extraordinary tangible steps to reduce the sense of menace and threat that undergirds this whole psychology.
The New Deal was an act of social solidarity that created the national cohesion we needed to win World War II. I am not in the habit of supporting massive federal spending proposals. But in this specific context — in the midst of a distrust doom loop — this is our best shot of reversing the decline.
The Decline and Fall of Elise Stefanik
Ambition isn’t a demerit in politics — it’s a job requirement, along with its needier cousin, the instinct for self-preservation. The politician’s version of the Hippocratic oath is equally simple: “First, get elected.”
Still, the past five years — of Donald Trump’s alarming rise and regrettable persistence — have witnessed Republican lawmakers sublimating principle and decency to survival and advancement. Too many who know better have fallen meekly in line.
Meantime, as Trump has warped the Republican Party from belief system into loyalty test, the ordinary metrics of political measurement have given way. The primary axis on which to understand — and judge — party officials is no longer the spectrum of conservatism but the intensity of professed Trump devotion.
These realities offer the best frame for understanding the remarkable and depressing trajectory of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who appears poised to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as GOP House conference chair. Stefanik is far from the only Republican to sell her soul to Trump, but she has to be counted among the most disappointing. Her transformation from Trump doubter to Trump champion is another sign of the end of ideology as a defining feature of the GOP.
The Harvard graduate who worked in George W. Bush’s White House, who prepped vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan for his debate, who helped write the party’s 2012 platform, who backed John Kasich in the 2016 primary and opted out of attending the convention — that product of the GOP establishment dutifully appeared on pardoned Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast Thursday in her bid for the number three leadership post.
There she vowed to “fully support” the bogus audit of the Arizona presidential election results, and praised Trump as the “strongest supporter of any president when it comes to standing up for the Constitution.”
Whether out of conviction, belief that it was smart politics in a purplish district, or both, Stefanik at first distanced herself from Trump. During the 2016 campaign, she criticized his convention attack on a Gold Star military family, his “inappropriate, offensive comments” on the “Access Hollywood” tape, and his statements on NATO and Vladimir Putin. . . . and said it was a “mistake” to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Co-chair of the Tuesday Group of moderate House Republicans, Stefanik voted against Trump’s signature 2017 tax cut because its limitation on deductions for state and local taxes would hurt her constituents. She described herself as “an outspoken supporter” of the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and lamented Trump’s “attacks on law enforcement and the Department of Justice.”
Then came the first impeachment, and Stefanik’s overnight makeover into a Trump acolyte, lambasting the “Russia hoax” and assailing Democrats for pursuing the issue. “A new Republican star is born,” Trump tweeted — and the campaign contributions began pouring in, $13.3 million in the 2020 election cycle . . . . .
Longtime Stefanik observers suggest she understands that survival in this new GOP requires either making accommodations to the reality of Trumpism or consigning yourself to irrelevance in the party. . . . “Most people who know Elise say they don’t recognize her.”
The richest irony of Stefanik replacing Cheney is that Cheney is the real conservative of the two. Cheney’s voting record is not only more conservative than Stefanik’s, but also she has voted more often with Trump than Stefanik has.
It would be a gratifyingly Shakespearean finale if Stefanik ended up losing her soul and the House conference post. Don’t get your hopes up. He Who Must Be Obeyed has bestowed on Stefanik “my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement.”
In Trump’s GOP, that’s all that matters.
Stefanik is little better than an expensive whore. Her betrayal of decency and the truth mirrors that of those who jumped on Hitler's bandwagon and helped unleash horrors on the world. Nowadays, it is impossible to be a decent and moral person and be a Republican.
Friday, May 07, 2021
Trump's War on What's Left of the GOP Establishment
In the civil war between Donald Trump and the GOP’s waning establishment, no Republican has crossed the former president and come out ahead.
Yet as Rep. Liz Cheney’s likely ouster from House leadership lays bare, Trump has reserved a special fury for the scions of the GOP’s leading families in his attempt to exercise full dominion over the Republican Party.
Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee. Even Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain — who herself has never run for office — has been knocked down, censured by Trump allies who run the state Republican Party in Arizona.
It’s the clearest sign that the modern Republican Party hasn’t just broken with its traditionalist past. It’s shredding every vestige of it.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Arne Carlson, a former two-term Republican governor of Minnesota. “The problem with the revolution is they continue to get more and more extreme. Whereas Liz Cheney was on the right, she now finds herself being pushed into the middle and, ultimately, off the cliff.”
As a prominent link between the old GOP and the new party of Trump, Liz Cheney is more than just another name on Trump’s enemies list. If his supporters in the House ultimately oust the Wyoming Republican from her leadership post, as expected, it will mark the repudiation of decades of Cheney family influence on the Republican party, dating back to her father’s time in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in GOP House leadership and as vice president.
Trump’s erasure of the institutions of the pre-Trump GOP was, of course, the promise of his presidency — his anti-establishment fervor a feature of Trumpism, not a bug.
Trump’s feats of political engineering — his felling of family legacies that once defined the party — are remarkable. He has almost single-handedly managed to sever the Bush family line, brutalizing “low energy” Jeb Bush, then the Florida governor, in the 2016 primary and depriving the Bush dynasty of a third presidential nominee. Once in office, Trump even described himself as a “far greater” president than Reagan.
“He shits on everybody, even former presidents,” said Mark Graul, a Republican strategist in Wisconsin who oversaw George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign in the state.
Cheney, he said, just “happens to be the daughter of the [former] vice president.”
The party that was once grounded in tradition is, after four years of Trump, in the process of abandoning the modern pillars it’s built on.
Take Sen. Mitt Romney, the son of former Michigan Gov. and presidential contender George Romney, and himself the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee.
Prompted by Trump’s longstanding animus toward Romney, a measure by Utah Republicans to censure the senator failed over the weekend. But Republicans in his home state still booed him at their party convention.
There’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the daughter of Frank Murkowski, the former U.S. senator and governor of Alaska. After Murkowski voted with six other Republican senators to convict Trump at his impeachment trial — repeating Cheney’s sin in the House — Trump pledged to travel to Alaska ahead of the 2022 midterm elections to campaign against “a disloyal and very bad Senator.” The Alaska Republican Party censured her in March.
And then there’s George W. Bush, Bush’s former vice president, Dick Cheney, and Cheney’s daughter Liz. In his deconstruction of that lineage, Trump has not only ostracized Cheney for her impeachment vote, but repeatedly branded her as a “warmonger,” as he did again on Wednesday, revisiting the wounds of the Iraq War and capitalizing on the schism between the party’s non-interventionists and neocons.
Taking stock of the rift between Trump and the Cheneys, Richard George, a former Republican National Committee member from Wyoming said, “I think that family politics has made a mistake, and I think Liz made a mistake.”
“The undoing of political dynasties,” George said, “is a great thing.”
Trump himself, however, is not averse to dynastic politics — that is, if it involves his own family. The former president’s children are fixtures in the MAGA world and could have political futures. Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter-in-law, has considered running for a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina, and Donald Trump Jr. is liked by activists enough that he finished a distant third in a 2024 presidential straw poll run without his father’s name on the ballot at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
The old dynasties — the ones that were rooted in an ideological or governance brand, rather than in a style or personality — have been torched.
The scions of traditional political families who have survived have largely done so by choosing Trump when it came to a dispute between the former president and their families. . . . . Mitt Romney’s niece, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, is in Trump’s good graces. But she had to break with her uncle’s criticism of him — and jettison the family name — to stay there.
That’s a Republican landscape turned upside down from where it stood before Trump took office — so much so that some legacy Republicans who have not traded their moorings for Trump hardly recognize the party anymore.
“What [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] doesn’t realize is he may be the next one to go,” Carlson said. “The people who set the guillotines in motion ultimately have their necks under it, as they get into these endless battles about who’s more loyal, who’s more pure.”
Thursday, May 06, 2021
Why the GOP Is Desperate to Maintain "The Big Lie"
The biggest news in Washington continues to be Liz Cheney's ongoing refusal to bend the knee to the former president and formally repudiate her inexplicable fealty to the truth. It's one thing to be investigated by the FBI for paying for sex with minors or to be a blatant white supremacist — these are human foibles that can be forgiven — but to unapologetically assert that Donald Trump's insistence that the election was stolen is a Big Lie simply cannot be tolerated.
I've written before that I believe regardless of whether she is truly incapable of swallowing this election nonsense, Cheney also has a strategy. There is an open "lane" for a Republican woman, especially one with a pedigree like hers, to be the tough conservative who stood up to Trump in the event the magic veil ever falls from voters' eyes. So far that lane looks like it gets narrower every day, but kicking her out of the leadership for telling the truth in the face of massive dishonesty can only add to her heroic luster in the long haul. The worst thing that happens is she is remembered as the Margaret Chase Smith of her day, after the brave senator from Maine who denounced the Wisconsin demagogue Joseph McCarthy long before anyone else had the nerve. There are worse fates for a politician than that.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican establishment continues to run around in circles clucking furiously like a brood of barnyard hens, trying to keep Trump and his cultlike following happy. They appear to have decided that their voters require human sacrifices for the cause so Cheney must be thrown over the cliff. (And to think "Democrats are in disarray" used to be a perennial trope. They're amateurs compared to the GOP.)
But when I read Salon's Sophia Tesfaye's piece about former House speaker Paul Ryan, who reportedly really doesn't care for Donald Trump and his shenanigans yet remains glued to his chair in the Fox boardroom, unwilling to utter a peep about what's going on with his party, it occurred to me that it's giving them far too much credit to simply call them cowards. They are much more craven than that. It's not that they are afraid of their Trump-loving constituents who are metaphorically brandishing pitchforks and torches against anyone who dare call the Big Lie a big lie. It's that they are seeing the upside for them personally.
While Washington officials clutch their pearls about Liz Cheney's apostasy, consider all the anti-democratic activity that's taking place around the country which these people are either explicitly or tacitly endorsing.
The Republican Attorney Generals Association has been in turmoil since January 6th when some members objected to the group's sponsorship of the violent insurrection. The chairman resigned last month after being unable to handle the internal strife and is to be replaced this week by a hard-core Trump supporter who has promised to "take a blowtorch to Biden's agenda." In Florida, a state Trump won handily, they are nonetheless busily enacting voting restrictions which they belatedly realized might even suppress their own vote. They did it anyway. Ohio Republicans decided this week to censure Republican politicians who voted to impeach Donald Trump even though they are from other states. And the New York Times reports that the Texas GOP is now eating its own over "pandemic and voter-fraud conspiracy theories."
But the big story is in Arizona, where the state Senate has hired an untried company led by a man with a history of floating vote fraud conspiracy theories to "audit" last November's vote in Maricopa Country, which was won by Joe Biden. Despite the fact that the county was recounted twice by hand and found to match the machine count perfectly, Trump-supporting volunteers are laboriously examining the ballots without any proper monitoring, determined to prove that the election was stolen.
For his part, Trump is reportedly obsessed with this recount. He apparently believes it will prove the election there was stolen and that other states will follow. Here he is last week pontificating before his paying guests at Mar-a-lago:
What all these supposed successful "audits" would add up to is not immediately clear, but on Tuesday Trump did say, "I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement," so perhaps he believes having a bunch of his loyal fanatics falsely testify that they finally "found" the votes he wanted will somehow launch him back into the White House in 2024.
All of this may very well be why even the Republicans who obviously know this is nuts are all climbing on board that crazy train. If they can stage one of these "audit" pageants in a place like Georgia they might just juice their turnout for 2022 and take out newly-elected Democratic Sen. Rafael Warnock. And there are dozens of House districts where that dynamic could play itself out as well.
It isn't new for Republicans to say that Democrats are illegitimate. They used to say that President Clinton only won with a plurality in a three-way race, so his presidency wasn't really valid. And we all know that Trump himself pushed the grotesque Birther lie which claimed that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and was therefore not qualified to be president. But this is taking all that to a much higher level. Republicans no doubt realize that this flurry of anti-democratic activity in the states —ostensibly on behalf of Donald Trump and his Big Lie — is really going to pay off for them.
So the House GOP's leadership apparent decision to purge Liz Cheney from their ranks is their way of telling all these rabid Trumpist activists in the states to have at it, the GOP establishment is with them all the way. They aren't afraid of Trump voters. They're grateful to them.
Wednesday, May 05, 2021
How the Social Media Ban is Hurting Trump
Joe Poldruhi wasn’t sure what to believe about his local congressional race. He hadn’t heard it straight from Donald Trump.
I had come to Ohio’s 16th District to report on Trump’s vengeance-fueled decision to endorse a political novice named Max Miller in his effort to primary the Republican incumbent — one of the 10 GOP House members who had voted in January to impeach him.
“The little bit that I know about him being endorsed by Trump, I’m not sure I completely understand that. I don’t know if it’s somebody in the Trump campaign that’s saying that or what,” said Poldruhi, 55, a maintenance man who told me he prefers Right Side Broadcasting on YouTube to any particular news network on TV.
Shannon Burns, the head of the Strongsville GOP, was surprised I was surprised. “The Republican base,” he told me after the group’s packed monthly meeting, “is not watching any of the traditional media.”
One reason Poldruhi hadn’t heard from Trump, of course, is that Trump has been banned from major social media for almost four months for his role in stoking the insurrection and the storming of the Capitol by his supporters.
I was struck by how many people at an event meant for energized Republicans seemed to be only vaguely aware of the endorsement Trump had made in a race smack in their area. Trump’s announcement, after all, in late February in an email blast from his Palm Beach perch, had been covered by Fox News, by POLITICO, by the local Plain Dealer newspaper, and by other outlets spanning the ideological spectrum. It was the opening salvo in an expected national campaign of retribution — Trump gunning for every member of Congress who had attempted to oust him. Evidently, though, with some local Republicans, it had hardly registered.
That gap served as a stark reminder of the power of Trump’s incredibly direct connection to his supporters — and perhaps the hidden weakness as well of a strategy that relies so heavily on social media platforms like Facebook. . . . . former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg told me. “The movement he built is omnipresent throughout social media, like a MAGA blockchain. Trump’s power throughout social media is no longer any one verified account,” fellow former adviser Taylor Budowich said. “To really cancel Trump, Facebook and other platforms would have to cancel a majority of their most engaged users.”
Others, though, from internet experts and analysts to political professionals from both parties, remain almost shocked at the extent to which Trump’s been quieted by his Silicon Valley silencing — stripped of his capacity to say exactly what he wants to say whenever he wants to say it straight to what was his aggregate more than 100 million followers on YouTube and Twitter and Facebook.
“He’ll try to spin this thing either way, but the problem is he needs the outlet,” longtime New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told me. . . . . “It’s really important that he have access to that audience,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican strategist who led Marco Rubio’s digital efforts in his 2016 presidential campaign. “The decision on Wednesday is consequential for Trump’s political future — if you’re not there, and not able to shape that conversation, it’s catastrophic.”
“He’d certainly,” said Eli Pariser, the author of The Filter Bubble and the co-founder of Upworthy, “have to be a very different candidate without those platforms.”
He would have to reach his voters and would-be voters not on social media but through more mainstream channels. And for Trump, based on what I heard in Ohio, those channels are broken — because he broke them.
“It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Wilson said, “if you tell your supporters not to trust the media.”
I for one hope every conceivable misfortune overtakes Trump, both politically and personally. The man is a monster and the world will be a slightly better place when he has drawn his last breath.
Liz Cheney to GOP: History is Watching Us
In public statements again this week, former president Donald Trump has repeated his claims that the 2020 election was a fraud and was stolen. His message: I am still the rightful president, and President Biden is illegitimate. Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again. Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.
The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution. In the immediate wake of the violence of Jan. 6, almost all of us knew the gravity and the cause of what had just happened — we had witnessed it firsthand.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) left no doubt in his public remarks. On the floor of the House on Jan. 13, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” Now, McCarthy has changed his story.
I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.
The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American “miracle.”
Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system.
For Republicans, the path forward is clear.
First, support the ongoing Justice Department criminal investigations of the Jan. 6 attack. Those investigations must be comprehensive and objective; neither the White House nor any member of Congress should interfere.
Second, we must support a parallel bipartisan review by a commission with subpoena power to seek and find facts; it will describe for all Americans what happened. This is critical to defeat the misinformation and nonsense circulating in the press and on social media. No currently serving member of Congress — with an eye to the upcoming election cycle — should participate. We should appoint former officials, members of the judiciary and other prominent Americans who can be objective, just as we did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The commission should be focused on the Jan. 6 attacks.
Finally, we Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality. In our hearts, we are devoted to the American miracle. We believe in the rule of law, in limited government, in a strong national defense, and in prosperity and opportunity brought by low taxes and fiscally conservative policies.
There is much at stake now, . . . History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.
House Republicans Plot Against Liz Cheney’s Truth-Telling
The first time defenders of Donald J. Trump came for Representative Liz Cheney, for the offense of having voted to impeach him, fellow Republicans closed ranks to save her leadership post, with Representative Kevin McCarthy boasting that their “big tent” party had enough room for both the former president and a stalwart critic.
Evidently, not anymore.
Just three months after she beat back a no-confidence vote by lopsided margins, Ms. Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, is facing a far more potent challenge that appears increasingly likely to end in her ouster from leadership. This time, Mr. McCarthy, the minority leader, is encouraging the effort to replace her.
Her transgression, colleagues say: Ms. Cheney’s continued public criticism of Mr. Trump, her denunciation of his lies about a stolen election and her demands that the G.O.P. tell the truth about how his supporters assaulted democracy during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
The turnabout reflects anew the passion with which Republicans have embraced Mr. Trump and the voters who revere him, and how willing many in the party are to perpetuate — or at least tolerate — falsehoods about the 2020 election that he has continued to spread.
The latest test for Ms. Cheney could come as soon as next week, when a growing group of Republicans is planning a fresh bid to dethrone her, with Mr. McCarthy’s blessing. Many of her colleagues are now so confident that it will succeed that they are openly discussing who will replace Ms. Cheney.
The tensions escalated on Tuesday, when Mr. McCarthy went on Mr. Trump’s favorite news program, “Fox & Friends,” to question whether Ms. Cheney could effectively carry out her role as the party’s top messenger.
With onetime allies closing in, Ms. Cheney, known for her steely temperament, has only dug in harder. Minutes after Mr. McCarthy’s TV hit, she sent her barbed reply through a spokesman, effectively suggesting that the minority leader and Republicans moving against her were complicit in Mr. Trump’s dissembling.
“This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6,” said Jeremy Adler, the spokesman. “Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”
One of the few Republican voices willing to rise to Ms. Cheney’s defense was Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who has himself come under attack from his party for his unrepentant criticism of Mr. Trump — even getting booed at the Utah Republican Party convention on Saturday.
“Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie,” Mr. Romney wrote on Twitter.
[T]hey fear that Ms. Cheney’s refusal to stop criticizing Mr. Trump or condemning the events of Jan. 6 could weaken the party’s message going into the 2022 midterm elections, when they hope to portray Democrats as big-government socialists so villainous they should be voted out of the majority. It has also infuriated Mr. Trump.
Ms. Cheney told Punchbowl News that she would campaign in Wyoming — where she faces a primary challenge — defending her impeachment vote “every day of the week.” She told reporters that any lawmaker who led the bid to invalidate President Biden’s electoral victory in Congress should be disqualified from running for president. And she broke with leading Republicans when she said a proposed independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot should focus on the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, rather than scrutinizing violence by antifa and Black Lives Matter, as Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans have demanded.
A few days later, she drew attacks from the right for fist-bumping Mr. Biden at his speech before a joint session of Congress, and took to Twitter to defend herself for greeting the president “in a civil, respectful & dignified way.”
Biden’s Tax Proposal Would Create a Fairer Tax System
As former IRS commissioners, we know the challenges of administering the tax system, which has grown in size and complexity, particularly in recent years.
Yet, during the past decade, budget cuts have substantially diminished the IRS workforce. In real terms, the IRS budget is smaller than it was in 2010, and it has 21,000 fewer employees. The IRS has fewer auditors today than at any time since World War II. Moreover, the agency has struggled to keep pace as complicated tax structures, such as partnerships and pass-throughs, have grown in popularity. Workforce attrition has been most pronounced among agents who examine these complicated tax filings: Thirty-five percent fewer revenue agents handle these returns today than a decade ago.
Since 2010, the agency has been tasked with administering significant provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the IRS has delivered three rounds of federal direct payments to hundreds of millions of taxpayers. It is gearing up to accomplish another historic first: delivering periodic advance payments of an expanded child tax credit.
Between a decreased budget and increased responsibilities, something had to give. Unfortunately, that something has been taxpayer service. The National Taxpayer Advocate recently reported that just 24 percent of calls to the IRS are answered; at the onset of the covid-19 crisis, the IRS was unable to answer taxpayer questions for months. There has also been a substantial decline in enforcement scrutiny of high-earners and large corporations with complex returns: Audit rates for millionaires have fallen more than 70 percent since 2011
President Biden’s proposal would restore our tax administration system to make it far fairer and more effective. This would benefit everyone who pays their taxes. It would produce a great deal of revenue by reducing the enormous gap between taxes legally owed and taxes actually paid — much of it through increased voluntary compliance. And it would improve taxpayers’ interactions with the IRS.
The Biden proposal includes provisions on third-party reporting, leveraging information from financial services providers to learn basic information about account inflows and outflows. This information could assist taxpayers in filing accurate returns and help the IRS better focus collection efforts. Research shows that when the IRS has access to third-party reporting, compliance rates top 95 percent. Without third-party information reporting, compliance rates are below 50 percent.
The Treasury career staff estimates that the administration’s tax compliance initiatives would raise $700 billion in revenue over a decade. Some believe the revenue potential is substantially larger — two of us have conservatively estimated the possibility of raising twice as much: $1.4 trillion through investments such as those Biden has proposed. The significant revenue at stake is a byproduct of the magnitude of the tax gap, which costs the country and honest taxpayers 3 percent of gross domestic product annually in taxes that are owed but unpaid. Uncollected taxes today equal the total taxes paid by the lower 90 percent of individual taxpayers.
The Biden administration has advanced such a comprehensive, long-term program for improving the tax administration system. If passed by Congress and effectively managed, it would produce enormous, lasting benefits.
Monday, May 03, 2021
Reminder: Anonymous Comments Will Not be Approved
Unfortunately, from time to time over the life of this blog I have had to make it clear that those who wish to leave comments on blog posts who lack the spine to reveal their identities and put their name and who they are behind their opinions will not be given a platform. Since the birth of this blog I have not hidden my identity and who I am, where I live, etc. Yes, it has brought me death threats - typically from "godly Christian" types - but based om my upbringing and decades of involvement in politics, if you want to voice an opinion, have the balls to stand behind it and do not hide behind an "anonymous" identity.
Thus, if you are too gutless and cowardly to reveal your true identity, then do NOT expect me to provide a platform for your noxious commentary and personal attacks. You will not be provided with a platform. If you want your comment published, have a profile that reveals your identity. Otherwise, your comment will be deleted and not published.
Terry McAuliffe Rising Again in Virginia
Mark Shields, a celebrated pundit, once called Virginia a "hotbed of social rest." For much of the 20th century the state was run by the segregationist Byrd machine, stifling economic, social and political change.
Today the late Harry Byrd wouldn't recognize his state.
There's an economic dynamism; it was voted the best state for business in a 2019 CNBC survey, and Amazon chose Virginia as the location of its second headquarters. It's more diverse, with Blacks holding 23 seats in the state legislature, the lieutenant governor's office and the mayor of Richmond. Spurred by the fast-growing Washington suburbs, politically it has gone from deep red to blue as both U.S. Senators are Democrats, former governors, a position the party has held for 16 of the last 20 years, and after a 44-year hiatus. Democrats have carried the state in the past four presidential elections.
The change from the staid yesteryear is exemplified by Terry McAuliffe, the energetic, ebullient, backslapping longtime Democratic operative who is favored to become the first two-term Democratic governor of the Old Dominion since the Civil War. He's running ahead in the polls for the June primary and the right-wing Republican drift, which predates Trump, will make it hard to defeat him in the fall.
McAuliffe was a successful governor from 2014 go 2018. Virginia is the only state that prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms.
He could have been a member of the Biden cabinet, a top ambassador — or made even more money. Why governor again?
“There is no other job where you can get out of bed every morning and know you can help people, make a difference. I love the job,” he told me in a telephone interview. With the engaging McAuliffe this has the added virtue of being true.
He was helped immeasurably in his first run when the Republicans nominated Ken Cuccinelli, an anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, climate change denier.
The Republicans, home — 50 years ago — of an exemplary moderate Republican Gov. Linwood Holton, may not have any candidate who could get the nomination and then win a statewide election.
Two of the top Republican candidates are: state senator Amanda Chase, a conspiracy buff who said the conviction of the Minneapolis cop who killed George Floyd "makes me sick," and called for martial laws to overturn Trump's electoral defeat last November; and Pete Snyder, a businessman and former pollster, who has morphed from chairing Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign in the state to now boasting of support from Cuccinelli, Ollie North (the ringleader of Ronald Reagan's Iran-contra scandal) and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump's former press secretary.
In his term as governor, McAuliffe restored voting rights to over 170,000 felons, presided over the state's booming economy — and with a record number of vetoes, rebuffed the Republican legislature's efforts to enact anti-gay and anti-immigration measures.
Then in 2019 Democrats won control of the state legislature, enabling his successor, Ralph Northam, to pass legislation ending the death penalty and expanding Medicaid. Working with Democrats, McAuliffe says he'll push through a “big and bold” agenda: getting teachers’ pay — historically low in this now progressive state — above the national average; state support for pre-K education; expanding voting rights and building on the state's high-tech presence to unleash more economic innovation.
His multiple opponents in the June primary say he's history, his time has passed — to which McAuliffe replies: “Why then was I the guy called on to help win the House of Delegates in 2019?” His campaigning and fund-raising prowess were important factors in that victory.
Several of his primary rivals are Black, but McAulilffe has the endorsement of about half the Black legislators, the Richmond mayor, and is expected to win the Black vote in June. He also has been embraced by most of the Democratic establishment, including Gov. Northam.
Like Joe Biden, he brings an effusive joy and outgoing charm to politics, which so often these days is dominated by a negative darkness.
“I am the happy warrior,” he says. “I love every part of it, campaigning and governing.”
Yes, we are backing McAuliffe and already have one of his signs in our yard.
Sunday, May 02, 2021
Will Biden Win the Long Game Over the GOP?
Political realignments don’t happen easily. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, gifted politicians in their different ways, plausibly hoped they could create coalitions that would outlast them. The achievement eluded both.
Donald Trump never had a popular majority behind him, but he was the Great Disrupter. By shattering old assumptions, he clarified the battlefield for the future.
Trump sped up two trends that began gathering steam in the 1990s: the steady shift of well-educated and professional voters toward the Democratic Party, and the move of White working-class voters to the GOP. Biden won in 2020 partly because he cut into Trump’s working-class margins a bit, but largely because he swept increasingly diverse suburban areas that were at the heart of the Democrats’ gains in the 2018 midterms.
This raises two questions: Can Republicans begin to claw back some of the upscale, well-educated voters they lost under Trump? And can Democrats expand on the inroads Biden began to make among voters who didn’t attend college?
Democrats hold the initiative, and not just because they control the presidency and narrow congressional majorities. As long as the vast majority of GOP politicians refuse to break with Trump, they will be tethered to his minority coalition. A comeback will be tough if moderate middle- and upper-middle-class professionals continue to associate the party with Trump, far-right extremists and the Jan. 6. attack on the Capitol. It’s why reducing the size of the electorate is the GOP’s most visible initiative.
This creates a vulnerability Biden hopes to exploit. It’s hard to imagine that any Republican will win more of the White, non-college-educated vote than Trump did, so some parts of that electorate are up for grabs. Democrats do not need to carry this group; a shift of five or 10 points among these voters would put the GOP on its heels.
This is the upshot of a new report by Aliza Astrow, a political analyst for the centrist Democratic group Third Way. The report is both a warning and a promise. As long as Democrats stay weak among non-college-educated voters, she argues, they will have trouble holding, let alone strengthening, their control over the House and Senate. And they will continue to face agonizing fights to win the electoral college, even with large leads in the national popular vote. But modest shifts toward the Democrats among voters without a college degree would change the game.
The two models she cites of Democrats who succeeded in winning non-college-educated voters in states Trump carried represent different wings of the party: moderate Gov. Roy Cooper in North Carolina and progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Both, she said, campaigned on jobs for blue-collar workers, job training and infrastructure. Those who heard Biden’s speech last week will notice something familiar.
While Democrats carried non-White voters without a college degree by large margins in the past four presidential elections, the party’s share among non-college-educated minority voters has slipped since 2008. (Their performance among non-college-educated Whites declined even more.)
The ongoing debate among pollsters is whether economic policies can really move the numbers among White working-class voters. After all, their ballots for Trump were largely explained by issues related to race, culture and immigration.
But Biden’s intuition is that economic questions unite less economically privileged voters across racial lines . . . . . By addressing their concerns explicitly and sympathetically, as he did last week, Biden hopes first to close this communications gap and then deliver tangible benefits.
There’s certainly a case that American politics are now so fluid that sturdy realignments are impossible.
But with Republicans stranded on Trump Island, Biden has an opportunity to hold his party’s base and begin poaching the GOP’s core voters. He’s made no secret of his intentions.