They have professional dog-walkers here in Hollywood, but they must have them in Manhattan and Georgetown and Back Bay Boston too. They’re necessary. This part of Hollywood, in the slopes above and below the Sunset Strip, there are magnificent old apartment buildings from the thirties, where the stars used to live, and blocks and blocks of low stucco post-war apartment buildings, each with a pool in the center courtyard, where you expect Paul Drake to pull up in his white Thunderbird and start asking questions to help Perry Mason solve the case at hand. Those are iconic, as are the blocks and blocks of restored Craftsman cottages from the days when films were silent and a lot of this place was just orange groves – but this is now no place for dogs to run free. Like all urban areas, we have dog parks where they can do that, and we have the dog-walkers. Out here they’re usually leggy young blonds in short-shorts, sometimes on rollerblades, who are waitresses in the evenings, while they wait to become stars, when they’re finally “discovered” – and they have those six tiny dogs on leashes, waiting for each of them to poop, while they text on their Apple gizmos.
That’s pretty cool, but something is missing, something is lost. Even the suburbs dogs are fenced in the yard these days. Otherwise, they’re on a leash. They don’t get to lope around being goofy any longer, and they don’t get to chase cars. Long ago and far away, in the raw new suburbs of Pittsburgh in the fifties, each successive family dog – usually a happy and fairly intelligent mutt – would do that. We never could figure out why. No amount of scolding would stop them from racing after the neighbor’s Plymouth, and really, what would they do if they actually caught the car? Dogs have primitive brains – all instinct and reaction to the immediate (which makes them so loveable) – and their brains are not wired to consider consequences. They can’t manage even slightly complex what-if thinking. What if they do catch that car? What was the plan?
Don’t ask. They don’t know. Chasing cars is fun. The chase was the whole point, the only point. The chase feels good. What more do you need to know?
Humans are more evolved. They don’t chase cars, so to speak, just for the fun of the chase. There’s a plan. Humans think of what happens if what is attempted succeeds – that’s the whole point in any human effort. It’s a matter of abstract reasoning about something other than the immediate. What happens if you finally win? What have you won? Humans think about the future, or think in the future, of the ideal state, when they have finally caught something more than an old Plymouth. They’re thought through what’s next.
There are exceptions. Love is blind, at least blind to the consequences of winning what you want. Pip, the hero of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, spends that novel madly in love with the cold and dismissive but beautiful Estella, and at one point in the novel finally gets it – “I never had one hour’s happiness in her society, and yet my mind all ’round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the happiness of having her with me unto death.”
He really has no idea what would happen if he won her heart, if she has one – but it wouldn’t be nice. He suddenly realizes that, and that epiphany lasts about as long as that sentence. He can’t help himself. He postulates an ideal without thinking it through, but that’s human nature. The evolved brain isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Getting what you think you want can be a disaster you should have expected but didn’t consider, and of course that is fwhat the Republicans are now realizing. They chased the car and caught the car. They now control both houses of Congress, so they can get what they want – Obama can’t veto everything they pass – but getting what you want is turning out to be the new problem.
They may finally get what they want with Obamacare. Republicans would have their dream come true if the Supreme Court were to toss out a key funding mechanism of Obamacare – because while the intent of the law is clear, some of it was badly worded. The letter of the law makes a lot of the subsidies illegal, even if the problem might be a typo. This would end Obamacare, or go a long way toward ending it, but then somewhere around twelve million folks who just got health insurance would have it ripped away from them, immediately, and the insurance companies, who finally got everything set up for the new system, would have to toss that all out and start all over. They are appalled at that prospect. They’re angry – that would be chaos – and somewhere around twelve million folks would be even angrier. There’d be chaos. It would be worse than Pip waking up one morning actually married to Estella.
They still have no plan for when they catch this car, as Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo reports:
Republican leaders recognize the dilemma. In King v. Burwell, they roundly claim the court ought to invalidate insurance subsidies in some three-dozen states, and that Congress must be ready with a response once they do. But conversations with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers and aides indicate that the party is nowhere close to a solution. Outside health policy experts consulted by the Republicans are also at odds on how the party should respond.
The party that has failed to unify behind an alternative to Obamacare for many years now has five months to reach an agreement. It’s an unenviable predicament, especially for the congressional Republicans leading the effort to devise a response – all of whom hail from states that could lose their subsidies.
Getting what you want can be what you don’t want:
For now, the GOP’s goal is to “make the world safe for [Chief Justice John] Roberts to overturn” the Obamacare subsidies, said one prominent outside conservative close to Republican lawmakers and the case, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “What I worry about is – the goal is to not let our guys look like they’re going crazy and letting the world spin into chaos.” In other words, Republicans must show they’re willing and able to deal with the issue.
The rest of the item shows they’re not ready:
In an illustration of the depth of the struggle, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told TPM he would support the old Wyden-Bennett health care plan from 2009 if the court guts the ACA. But there’s one problem: that bill has an individual mandate similar to Obamacare, making it a political death-sentence for GOP leaders.
Avik Roy, a conservative health care adviser, laid out the party’s options at the strategy meeting in Hershey: do nothing, work with Democrats to fix the law, or seize what he calls “their best opportunity to reform the health care system” and propose a serious conservative alternative.
Republicans don’t view the first two options as viable.
The third option is something they never could do – we’ve been waiting for a serious conservative alternative to Obamacare since 2009 or so. The Supreme Court will rule in June. They have five months. That won’t work:
Privately there is concern among GOP health policy aides that – contrary to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) contention that the Supreme Court could create an “opportunity” for a “major do-over” on health care reform if it rules against the government in King – the party won’t be ready with a viable solution in time.
One big challenge, the Republican aide said, is that a GOP plan would be unlikely to cover as many people, making it an easy piñata for Democrats to pound. “That’s the brutal truth. We have a problem with that for very specific reasons. We don’t have good responses,” the aide said. “Show me the constituent in a town hall meeting who you can tell that it’s okay for them to lose their health insurance.”
Ah, but there is this:
Thomas Miller, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Republicans are unlikely to have a “fully formed” plan before the ruling. He said it would be a slow burn – they may have to “let off some steam” with repeal votes before they vote on serious solutions.
“Certainly there are cross-pressures and impulses within just the Republican ranks on this,” he said. “There are issues that are not going to be fleshed out – a consensus is not going to be reached in advance of the King decision.”
But Miller said it’s important to build support for a set of proposals ahead of the ruling and have legislation on the shelf that “gets the job done in a period of several weeks in late June to early July.”
They haven’t agreed on a set of proposals ever before, so Miller may be a bit optimistic, or delusional, as Kapur notes:
The “let it burn” option means doing nothing as millions of Americans in three dozen states lose their subsidies. Many of them would no longer be able to afford insurance or seek waivers. Insurers would be forced to raise prices as they lose younger, healthier customers – causing them to lose more customers. This is plausible in the near-term if Republicans fail to propose a viable alternative. But the “death spiral” would eventually compel a fix.
The second option means teaming up with Democrats to enact a legislative fix to make clear that the subsidies are available to Americans in all states. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) last week told TPM that there should be a fix if the court rules against the government. But however strong the pressure, countervailing sentiments in the GOP base against Obamacare are likely too powerful to make it palatable.
Republicans also aren’t ready to call on their states to set up exchanges, likely because conservatives could attack that as supporting Obamacare. Asked about the prospect Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and [Lamar] Alexander [R-TN] demurred. Each would face a situation where many of their constituents lose insurance subsidies and perhaps their coverage.
They are about to get what they wanted, finally – they caught the car – and they get a face-full of hubcap.
Brent Budowsky, a former aide to Senators Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, and then chief deputy majority whip of the House, generalizes about this:
According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, Hillary Clinton would defeat Jeb Bush in 2016 by 13 percentage points. She would defeat Chris Christie by 13 points, Rand Paul by 13 and Mitt Romney by 15.
According to the summary of polling from Real Clear Politics, approval of the Republican Congress is barely 15 percent. Disapproval remains near 72 percent. Control of Congress means ownership of the vast unpopularity of Congress.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s popularity has risen significantly since November. The stage is set for Clinton to begin a 2016 campaign with a significant lead over GOP opponents and run against a highly unpopular Republican Congress.
There’s a reason for this:
Voters see Republicans overreaching and underachieving. They see the GOP repeating ritual attacks against Obama and Clinton as though the 2014 campaign never ended. They see Republicans moving to pass political bills they know will never be enacted, such as old attacks against ObamaCare, and opposing important bills voters do want enacted, such as immigration reform. They see the GOP stage phony hearings on Benghazi that are nothing more than taxpayer-financed attacks against Hillary Clinton.
That explains the numbers, but they can’t help themselves, and they’ve done it again:
The most egregious GOP overreach was the decision by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a bitterly divisive figure in Israel and the U.S., to address a joint session of Congress, in the midst of his campaign in the Israeli election, to attack the policies of President Obama and Obama’s internationally respected secretary of State, John Kerry.
Breaking with precedent, tradition and protocol, Boehner did not consult with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), with Democratic or Republican leaders in the Senate or with the White House before inviting a foreign leader to use the platform of Congress itself to campaign for his reelection and condemn American policy on vital matters of security.
Republicans may now control Congress, but they don’t seem to know what to do now that they do:
I have always had great respect for Speaker Boehner as a statesman on foreign policy, but I have worked for House Democratic leaders, and no Speaker I worked for would ever have attempted such a grotesque overreach of his role on national security. Nor has any Republican speaker in my lifetime. Nor has any Speaker of any party in American history. Nor, to my knowledge, has any allied foreign leader sought to use a joint session to campaign for reelection and criticize the policies of his host.
American-Israeli relations should be bipartisan, based on trust, grounded in mutual respect and above politics. The Netanyahu speech should be canceled. Whoever wins the Israeli election should receive a bipartisan invitation to address a future joint session.
Yeah, but that’s not going to happen, because they won big in the midterms, so something else will happen:
These GOP overreaches create a golden opportunity for Clinton to be elected president and for Democrats to regain control of Congress.
The smart move for Clinton might be to wait until June to formally launch her candidacy. She could spend spring quietly building her campaign structure and creating a legal entity to begin major fundraising, giving thoughtful and uplifting speeches in dignified settings offering her vision for the future, while the crowd of candidates in an overreaching and underachieving GOP begin clawing at one another’s eyeballs.
They’re also helping Obama on Iran. Jeremy Peters in the New York Times reports that John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress is backfiring – it is rallying Democratic support behind Obama, as Greg Sargent summarizes:
While for a time Democrats were split on Obama’s demand that Congress hold off on an Iran sanctions vote that could scuttle negotiations over that country’s nuclear program, now Dems are more inclined to heed Obama’s call. As Peters reports “Netanyahu’s planned speech, a provocation of the president that many Democrats found distasteful and undiplomatic, has helped shift the political dynamic.”
That political dynamic has been very slow in shifting. At various times throughout this process, Dems have moved towards an Iran sanctions vote, only to stand down after intense White House pressure. Given that polls have shown solid majority support for the general idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for Iran restricting its nuke program, the hostility to allowing diplomacy to run its course has shown just how skittish some Democrats can be about the politics of appearing out of sync with what Israel wants.
Now they can appear out of sync, because the White House called out Israel’s ambassador here – Ron Dermer – who once worked with Frank Luntz on Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America back in the day – as Josh Marshall explains:
The straightforward subtext of this remark is that Dermer is damaging the bilateral relationship and should not be ambassador. So why up the ante now? …
As I said a few days ago, I simply did not think the Obama White House had it in them to refuse any contact with Netanyahu during his visit. I was wrong. This may have something to do with President Obama having a highly limited number of fucks remaining to give this late in his presidency…
While the Boehner-Bibi Bund has defenders on the merits on their push for blowing up the Iran negotiations, virtually no one outside the category of the most abject hackdom has been willing to defend Dermer. It is telling that Frank Luntz, the less than judicious or respected political operative who employed Dermer as a political operative when the two were engineering the Contract for America for Newt Gingrich in the early 90s, is the main guy the Times could find to speak up for him.
There’s a back-story too:
Israel HaYom is the mass circulation free daily paper that Sheldon Adelson (yes, same guy!) set up more or less openly to support Netanyahu back in 2007. Though its general line has remained supportive of Netanyahu through the latest controversy, even its lead columnist has called the Boehner-Bibi Bund and speech “grievous” and “cynical” … “a trip … not being taken for the sake of the interests of the state of Israel, rather for the needs of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud, for the Likud election campaign.”
There’s some weird mix of incompetence and hubris in play on Dermer/Netanyahu’s side of this. They didn’t even loop AIPAC in on their stunt and caught them off guard too – something that has contributed to the widespread discomfiture among Jewish organizations across the country.
Absent any credible defenders lining up to defend the trespass, the White House is pressing the response. And while the US rightly has no claim or say on the identity of the Israeli Prime Minister, it’s quite a different matter with an Ambassador who, by definition, serves at the sufferance of the host country. Dermer’s case is ill-served by his repeated and transparent lies about it.
And it gets worse:
“He’s a political operative, he’s not really an ambassador,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former United States ambassador to Israel. “What he did was totally unacceptable from a standpoint of diplomacy. To think about going behind the back of a friendly country’s administration and working out this kind of arrangement with the parliament or the Congress – it’s unheard-of.”
Mr. Kurtzer said while it was unlikely the Obama administration would take the extraordinary step of declaring Mr. Dermer “persona non grata” – the official method for a foreign diplomat to be ousted from a country – it could request that Mr. Dermer by reprimanded or removed.
“He has soiled his pad; who’s he going to work with?” Mr. Kurtzer said.
The nonsense is aggravated by Dermer’s callow, demonstrably false pushback – claiming that he wasn’t try to offend anyone and thought it was up to Boehner to decide whether to inform the administration. Please, dude. For someone whose calling card in Israeli politics is a nuanced grasp of and ability to operate deftly within American politics, that’s pretty weak. Dermer has continued to make an argument which amounts to saying that the White House itself represents such a grave danger to Israel that Netanyahu has no choice but to trample all diplomatic precedent and norms to show up on an unsanctioned diplomatic mission to plead with the Congress to upend the President’s policy. This is not a public stance that is tenable for the Ambassador of a junior partner in an alliance with a great power.
This nonsense is, however, complex, as Paul Waldman has explained:
When House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without bothering to let the White House know, as is normal practice when dealing with foreign leaders, he no doubt thought he was getting a little sauce for the gander. You want to find ways to get Republicans mad, President Obama? Okay, how about if I invite the leader of one of our closest allies here to basically lobby against your position on Iran? How do you like that?
It’s not that simple:
Maybe this skirmish over diplomatic protocol is a good thing for everyone. Maybe we can stop pretending that Americans and Israelis are nothing more than loving and committed allies offering unwavering support to one another, when the truth is that parties in both countries are active participants in each other’s partisan politics. …
So the Republicans have asked Netanyahu to come join them in this debate, and he is more than willing – which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. For years we’ve had one party (the Republicans) that is fervently committed to the right-wing Likud’s vision for Israel, and another party (the Democrats) that is much more committed to the Israeli Labor party’s vision. When each holds the White House, they put those beliefs into policy. But both will say only that we all have a bipartisan commitment to “support” the Jewish state, as though what “support” means is always simple and clear.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has done what he can to help Republicans. In 2012, his all-but-explicit advocacy for Mitt Romney ended up getting him in trouble back home. The current Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is American-born political operative Ron Dermer; as Josh Marshall says: “His relationship with Netanyahu has been compared to Karl Rove’s with George W. Bush. And a main reason for his being Ambassador is his ties to DC Republicans.”
It’s time to cut the crap:
It has long been true that the debate about what Israel should do – with regard to the Palestinians or anything else – is infinitely more varied and robust in Israel itself than here in the United States, where the only allowable public position for a politician to take is that we support whatever the Israeli government wants to do. This unanimity is maintained by a variety of forces, most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” but in practice has for decades been not the Israel lobby but the Likud lobby, representing one particular faction in Israeli politics.
Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of his country, but he’s also the leader of that faction, and at the moment he’s in the midst of an election campaign (one the Obama administration would be all too happy to see him lose). If Congressional Republicans want him to come be a spokesperson for the Republican position in the debate over Iran, that’s fine. But we should use the occasion to allow ourselves a little honestly. Yes, the United States and Israel are close allies whose core interests are aligned. But in neither country is there agreement about how to serve those interests. There’s no such thing as a “pro-Israel” position on this issue, because Israelis themselves have a profound dispute about it, just as there’s no such thing as one “pro-America” position on anything we argue about.
So we can call this speech what it is: an effort by one conservative politician to help a bunch of other conservative politicians achieve their preferred policy. Maybe afterward, John Boehner can return the favor and cut some ads advocating Netanyahu’s reelection. Though I’m not sure how well that would go over in Israel.
That would be more honest, but the Republicans won the midterms – they caught the car – and they can stick it to Obama. See! Israel thinks we’re more important than you. If fact, they don’t even see you as the real leader in America. You’re toast. And Obamacare will end. And people will know you ordered our ambassador in Benghazi killed, because you sympathize with terrorists – and there will be no immigration reform, because no one in America likes Hispanics, unless they’re Cubans from Florida. So there!
This is why dogs should be on a leash.