A New Week, A New Low

USA Today:

President Bush’s approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections.

The survey of 1,013 adults, taken Friday through Sunday, shows Bush’s standing down by 3 percentage points in a single week. His disapproval rating also reached a record: 65%. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

How low can he go?

“You hear people say he has a hard core that will never desert him, and that has been the case for most of the administration,” says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who studies presidential approval ratings. “But for the last few months, we started to see that hard core seriously erode in support.”

According to Howard Fineman on Countdown, the White House thinks the Hayden confirmation hearings will help them. The NSA spy program will be front and center, and the Bushies think that’s a winner for them. More dissociative thinking?

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Moussaoui: “I Lied”

Reuters reports that Moussaoui wants to withdraw his guilty plea.

Moussaoui, 37, said in an affidavit filed with the motion that he had pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy in connection with the attacks against the advice of his court-appointed lawyers because his understanding of the U.S. legal system was “completely flawed.”

Moussaoui’s court-appointed lawyers — who rarely speak to their client — said in a footnote that they were aware of a federal rule that prohibits a defendant from withdrawing a guilty plea after a sentence is imposed. But they said they filed the motion anyway “given their problematic relationship with Moussaoui.”

Make of that what you will.

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The Shoulders We Stand On

John F. Harris has a lovely article in the Washington Post on the friendship between the late John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

There was a time — it’s been decades now — when politicians or pundits would call people “liberal intellectuals” and not mean it as an insult.

The phrase carried no sarcasm or disdain. Nor was it an abstraction. There were specific individuals who answered by the name….

… How to convey the way public intellectuals such as Galbraith and Schlesinger loomed over American politics and ideas for the quarter-century following World War II?

The easiest way would be to point to their latter-day equivalents. But there simply is no one these days who does what they did.

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Fish Story

Froomkin says the Amazing Giant Perch actually was a large-mouth bass.

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Don’t Miss

Lovely lib links:

Justin Rood at TPM Muckraker connects CIA director-nominee Hayden to “a top executive at the company at the center of the Cunningham bribery scandal.”

Might Al Gore run in 2008?

Elisabeth Bumiller reports that the President is occupied by plans for the presidential library he will build after he leaves office. He wants the library to include a public policy center. Jeez, who knew Bush had any interest in public policy?

Ezra says,

You just can’t make this stuff up. George W. Bush reportedly wants to start a think tank once he leaves office, dedicated to “the spread of democracy and Alexis de Tocqueville’s vision of America as a nation made better by its “associations,” or community groups.” Sigh. Truth is, I think I’d rather bowl alone than bowl with Bush.

Good’n, Ezra!

The view from Germany, via Spiegal Online: “For some time now, the president has become an observer of his own political decline.”

Paul Craig Roberts, “A Nation of Waitresses and Bartenders.”

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Paul Krugman Rocks

Who’s Crazy Now?” he asks.

A conspiracy theory, says Wikipedia, “attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance.” Claims that global warming is a hoax and that the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq meet that definition. In each case, to accept the claim you have to believe that people working for many different organizations — scientists at universities and research facilities around the world, reporters for dozens of different news organizations — are secretly coordinating their actions.

But the administration officials who told us that Saddam had an active nuclear program and insinuated that he was responsible for 9/11 weren’t part of a covert alliance; they all worked for President Bush. The claim that these officials hyped the case for war isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s simply an assertion that people in a position of power abused that position. And that assertion only seems wildly implausible if you take it as axiomatic that Mr. Bush and those around him wouldn’t do such a thing.

The truth is that many of the people who throw around terms like “loopy conspiracy theories” are lazy bullies who, as Zachary Roth put it on CJR Daily, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Web site, want to “confer instant illegitimacy on any argument with which they disagree.” Instead of facing up to hard questions, they try to suggest that anyone who asks those questions is crazy.

Indeed, right-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again,” said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration’s harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

I think Professor Krugman has been reading Glenn Greenwald.

But now those harsh critics have been vindicated. And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can’t handle the truth. They won’t admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job. Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right. So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.

Of course, as long as they’re the ones running the government, and as long as they’ve got their own media reporting from Rightie Alternate Reality Universe, they don’t have to admit the truth.

Be sure to read the whole thing. It’s brilliant.

I found the Zachary Roth post to which Professor Krugman refers. It’s from February 2004, and it’s on the use of the phrase “conspiracy theory” by a number of prominent columnists.

… the phrase serves as a dismissal, closing off debate rather than opening it up.

Loopy us. At times we could swear that some commentators are using the label “conspiracy theory” to remove uncomfortable ideas from the public debate, without having to actually come up with countervailing evidence.

Or is that a conspiracy theory?

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Bob Herbert Rocks

More on why Hillary Clinton must not be nominated in 2008:

After more than three years of fighting and more than 2,400 American deaths, you still need a magnifying glass to locate the differences between Mrs. Clinton and the Bush administration on the war. It’s true, as the senator argues, that she has been a frequent and sometimes harsh critic of the way the war has been conducted. In a letter to constituents last fall she wrote, “I have continually raised doubts about the president’s claims, lack of planning and execution of the war, while standing firmly in support of our troops.”

But in terms of overall policy, she seems to be right there with Bush, Cheney, Condi et al. She does not regret her vote to authorize the invasion, and still believes the war can be won. Her view of the ultimate goal in Iraq, as her staffers reiterated last week, is the establishment of a viable government capable of handling its own security, thus enabling the U.S. to reduce its military presence and eventually leave.

That sounds pretty much the same as President Bush’s mantra: “Our strategy in Iraq is that as the Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down.”

With disapproval of the way Bush is running the war at 64 percent, can somebody explain to me why sounding just like Bush is “smart politics”?

Democrats are still paranoid about being perceived as soft on national security.

With superhawk Republicans like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani making their way toward the starting gate for the 2008 White House run, the terminally timid Democrats continue to obsess about what they ought to be saying, neurotically analyzing every syllable they hesitantly utter, as opposed to simply saying what they really believe.

See also Brilliant at Breakfast.

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The Beast That Won’t Starve

Sebastian Mallaby has questions; I have answers.

In today’s Washington Post, Mallaby points to two foundational rightie myths: (1) Tax cuts pay for themselves; and (2) Cutting taxes forces the government to cut spending. Of the first, he says, “It’s been a long time since honest believers argued that tax cuts pay for themselves.” I’m glad Mallaby added that qualifier honest, as it saves me the trouble of ranting about what planet he lives on.

Of the second, Mallaby cites a study conducted by William Niskanen, an economist who worked in the Reagan White House and now chairs the Cato Institute.

Niskanen has crunched the numbers between 1981 and 2005, testing for a relationship between tax cuts and government spending, and controlling for levels of unemployment, since these affect spending and taxes independently. Niskanen’s result punctures his own party’s dogma. Tax cuts are associated with increases in government spending. The best strategy for forcing cuts in government is actually to raise taxes.

(Mallaby doesn’t say if the study breaks down taxing and spending behavior by party. I wandered over to the Cato Institute but couldn’t find the Niskanen study online. I did, however, find a cool “white paper” called “Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush” that looks like a good read, but off topic for this post. You can read more about the Niskanen study in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly. Or, rather, I can read more since I’m a subscriber. Sometimes there are subscription firewalls at Atlantic Monthly, so good luck reading the article.)

Mallaby has two questions. His first question is, why would this be true? Niskanen and Mallaby speculate that cutting taxes makes legislators feel that they’ve done something to make government cheaper, so buying stuff with government money seems like a bargain. It’s like finding tube socks on sale; tube socks may not have been on your shopping list but you are compelled to toss a few into the cart because they’re such a good buy. But if you don’t exercise some restraint you might end up with a garage full of tube socks and not enough money to pay the mortgage.

Is he saying that legislators are stupid? Because that seems like, y’know, a real stupid way to run a government. Stupidity would explain a lot about Congress, certainly. But it also seems like self-deception. It’s like ordering a diet soft drink with the super-size burger and fries, or sticking to the meal plan all day long and then rewarding yourself with a big piece of cheesecake. You’re not being honest with yourself about how many calories you’re really consuming. (This is an example I can relate to, and I don’t think I am stupid. Righties will, of course, disagree.) Or maybe it’s like the alcoholic who persuades himself that just one little drink won’t matter. Or a shop-a-holic with a new credit card.

An editorial in today’s New York Times provides an example of self-deceptive spending pathology, and not just in Congress.

President Bush is trying to score unearned points for fiscal rectitude by railing against the Senate’s outsize $109 billion supplemental spending package, which includes money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as hurricane relief. But the real scandal is Mr. Bush’s own preference for financing much of the cost of the Iraq war outside the normal budget process. That is convenient for the administration, which does not have to count the money when it is pretending to balance the budget. But Iraq is not some kind of unexpected emergency, like Hurricane Katrina. It is a highly predictable cost, now amounting to about $100 billion a year, or just under 20 percent of total military spending.

Moving the war’s financing off budget is no mere technical distinction. For one thing, it subjects the military’s spending requests to less careful Congressional committee scrutiny than they would receive during the usual budget process. More important, this fiscal sleight of hand makes it that much easier for the Pentagon to duck the hard choices it desperately needs to be making between optional and costly futuristic weapons and pressing real-world needs.

Entire libraries could be filled by the commentaries on Bush v. reality. I’m not going to add any more to that volume of literature today. I’m just saying that we seem to be electing people to Congress who exhibit dissociative thinking patterns. Maybe we should screen candidates with personality tests.

Back to Mallaby and the second question:

But the really interesting question isn’t why the starve-the-beast theory is 180 degrees wrong. It’s how Republicans will react to this finding.

Oh, that’s easy. They’ll ignore it. And if forced to acknowledge it, righties will just trot out their universal, sure-fire, one-size-fits-all rebuttal to challenges — Niskanen must be a liberal. Therefore, what Niskanen says is self-evidently false.

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