The Blog Has Moved. Again.

Squarespace is an excellent site to host one's homepage at, but its blogging services dissatisfy. Especially annoying is the fact that Squarespace has not decided to update its iPhone app in eons, and I presume that the iPad app is similarly out of date. This makes it almost impossible for me to blog on the run, and let's face it; readers might like it if I were able to blog on the run more often.

As such, while, this blog, and all of the sub-pages of this site will remain on the web, and be used by me as a homepage, actual blogging will occur from now on at, which is a somewhat less cumbersome URL than is this blog's address (I know that any URL with my name in it is cumbersome by definition, but here's hoping that I have lightened some burdens).

Yes, I am aware that this blog has moved many times. And yes, I know that I have had problems with Wordpress blogs in the past. But I know what to do in order to prevent those problems from occurring again. And yes, with every blog move, I have said that I would never move again, but here's hoping that this time, I mean it.

Be sure to change your bookmarks, and I hope to see you at often. And bring along your friends.

In Memoriam: Norman Geras

I was shocked and saddened yesterday to discover that Norman Geras has passed away. He was taken from us at too young an age, and he was one of the best that the blogosphere had to offer; clear-headed, very intelligent, exceedingly well-informed, and very good-natured and good-humored. The wealth of tributes that he received in both life and death speak well to his character and goodness, and to the positive impact that he made in the lives of those privileged to have known him.

Here is James Joyner's remembrance. Nick Cohen has penned one as well. Here is an online festschrift, whose encomiums for Norm are apt and well-deserved. His blog will remain online as a memorial.

Those familiar with Norm's blog will know of the profiles that he wrote of various bloggers. I sent him an e-mail a couple of years ago seeking to guilt-trip him into posting a profile of me. I doubt that I made him feel guilty in the slightest for not having done so previously, but being the delightful soul that he was, he kindly indulged my nagging. I remember having found his questions very interesting, and very enjoyable to answer. I wish that I could continue the conversation with him.

Requiescat in pace.

James Baker Advises the Republican Party

I am sure that the following is anathema to those who prefer ideological purity in the Republican party to the actual winning of elections--and to the ability to use election victories in order to claim a mandate to change policy for the better--but I happen to be enough of a heterodox thinker to believe that there is some merit to be found in Baker's advice:

There was, however, one big loser [in the government shutdown debacle]: the American people. This misguided episode cost the federal government $24bn, cost the country a potential drop in gross domestic product, and cost the GOP an opportunity to focus on the extraordinary failure associated with the ACA rollout.

Most Americans blame Republicans for the fiasco. And the fight over reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling revealed fissures within the GOP leadership. Understandably, questions have arisen about the party’s future. Will it split between Tea Partiers and its more mainstream factions? Will a third party rise from the aftermath of this schism? Is the Republican brand so tarnished that it cannot take control of the Senate in 2014 or the White House in 2016?

Having participated in presidential politics since 1976, one thing is clear to me. The party out of power is typically seen as impotent, helpless and hopeless. But just as inevitably, that same party always seems to rebound after serious soul searching.

Moreover, there has always been a wide range of interest groups in the party. For decades, we have had substantial fights between rightwing and more establishment Republicans. This infighting was particularly brutal in 1976, 1980 and 1988, and we went on to win two out of three presidential elections.

The party’s diversity, however, is a strength, not a weakness. Today, Tea Partiers bring a passion that can be an important edge in elections. But mainstream Republicans remain indispensable. It may sound trite, but it is true: united we stand, divided we fall. I think most Republicans understand that.

So what does the GOP need to do now? In the short term, remember that tactics and strategy both matter. It was a fool’s errand to tie the defunding of the ACA to a government shutdown and a debt-ceiling debate. Because Democrats control the White House and the Senate, the strategy was never going to work. To paraphrase Clayton Williams, a Republican who lost the 1990 Texas gubernatorial race after a series of gaffes: we shot ourselves in the foot and reloaded.

That does not mean that Republicans should stop criticising the ACA. It remains an example of big government at its worst: cumbersome, complicated and intrusive. The best – in fact, only – way to repeal the ACA is to control the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives. Democrats, after all, enacted the law when they controlled all three. So the focus should be on winning elections to control those levers of power.

New York City: Trading One Meddlesome Mayor for Another

Anyone really surprised to read this?

After his mayoral campaign sent vague signals yesterday about whether he would maintain Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legal effort to restrict soda cup sizes at restaurants, Bill de Blasio vowed to do precisely that this afternoon.

“I think the mayor is right and I would continue the legal process. We have to, of course, look at the specifics with our own lawyers to handle the mechanics, but there’s no question I want to see this rule go through,” the front-running candidate told reporters at a rally with Chinese-American supporters.

Yesterday, Mr. de Blasio’s spokesman, Dan Levitan, told The New York Times the candidate would “review the status of the city’s litigation” if elected.

Mr. Bloomberg’s proposed ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces was struck down by a lower court earlier this year, following an intense lobbying effort from the soda industry, small business owners and some elected officials. The Bloomberg administration, however, appealed the decision to the state’s highest court, which agreed to hear the appeal yesterday.

To be sure, there are people in New York who deserve to be the beneficiaries of exactly this kind of "leadership"; as Mencken famously said, "[d]emocracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." But there are also plenty of people in New York--and other places as well!--who deserve better than this. And they'd get better than this if the allegedly great and powerful ever learned to mind their own business and to devote their alleged greatness and power to solving actual problems of actual consequence that are within their wheelhouses instead of trying to mollycoddle the rest of the planet.

I trust the people of New York to look after their own waistlines. Bill de Blasio--who aspires to be their mayor--does not. I don't see how any New Yorker with any semblance of self-respect looks to the like of de Blasio and says "ah, yes; that's the person I want leading my city."

Continuing Obamacare Follies

This is just horrible:

Insurers say the federal health-care marketplace is generating flawed data that is straining their ability to handle even the trickle of enrollees who have gotten through so far, in a sign that technological problems extend further than the website traffic and software issues already identified.

Emerging errors include duplicate enrollments, spouses reported as children, missing data fields and suspect eligibility determinations, say executives at more than a dozen health plans. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska said it had to hire temporary workers to contact new customers directly to resolve inaccuracies in submissions. Medical Mutual of Ohio said one customer had successfully signed up for three of its plans.

The flaws could do lasting damage to the law if customers are deterred from signing up or mistakenly believe they have obtained coverage.

This is also just horrible. Read the whole thing, and try not to let your jaw hit the floor while you do so.

Peter Suderman lets loose:

The Obama administration doesn’t want to talk about Obamacare. At a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dodged questions about the ongoing failure of the law’s federally-run health insurance portal,, which after two weeks is still practically impenetrable to all but the most dedicated users. Carney refused to say when the exchange might be working, and directed reporters' questions to the agencies in charge of the project. “Those are all questions for HHS and CMS,” he said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But the head of HHS isn’t saying much. Following a disastrous interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has avoided most media inquiries. The head of CMS, Marylyn Tavenner, is staying mum too. She refused to answer questions New York Times reporters posed about the performance of the exchanges.

That’s hardly a shock. What could either of them say? The federal exchange system simply does not work. And the administration has run out of excuses. Even President Obama—who initially excused the exchange problems as being typical of a large technology rollout—has begun to talk more frankly about the system’s flaws. "The website that was supposed to do this all in a seamless way has had way more glitches than I think are acceptable," he said on Tuesday.

It is clear now that, despite occasional suggestions of light at the end of the tunnel, the administration does not know how long the exchange problems will take to fix. At this point, then, it is necessary to at least consider the possibility that the federal exchanges, and perhaps a few of the state-run counterparts as well, are simply not going to work, at least not in the relatively short time the administration has to get the system on track.

Given how little information is available to outsiders, it’s hard to judge with great certainty. It is of course possible that the problems could be resolved in a few days or a few weeks. But the administration’s obfuscations, as well the repeated assurances both before and after the opening of the exchanges that they had everything under control, don't inspire confidence that meaningful fixes are on the way. Already there are signals that the exchange problems could be deep and long-lasting.

Initially, the administration pinned problems with an unexpected amount of traffic. “These bugs were functions of volume," White House technology adviser Todd Park told USA Today.  “Take away the volume and it works.”

That excuse no longer holds up. The volume’s gone, and the website still doesn’t work. Web traffic to dropped 88 percent from October 1, the day the exchanges opened, to October 13, according to data released this week by Kantar US Insights. Yet despite plummeting traffic, many users remained unable to even create the accounts necessary to begin the application process.

No one has been fired over this catastrophe, and scarily enough, there do not even appear to be hints that someone is going to get fired over this catastrophe. Certainly, the Obama administration has not said anything about giving Kathleen Sebelius a chance to spend more time with her family. How much worse does this disaster have to get before the president finally starts demanding some accountability from his team?

Obamacare: Full of Bugs

Now that the shutdown/debt ceiling debacle is over (for the moment, anyway), it is worth focusing anew on Obamacare, because the program truly is dysfunctional, and the depth and breadth of that dysfunctionality deserves our attention. Consider:

  • The Obamacare website didn't even get tested until a week before the launch.
  • The website violates licensing agreements for copyrighted software. Indeed, the Department of Health and Human Services is going to get sued for having engaged in copyright violations.
  • Teal Media, which was the design consultant for the Obamacare website, is taking down all reference to its work on the website because it "doesn’t seem interested in talking about its work on" I can't say that I blame them.
  • As Peter Suderman reports, the Obama administration did not know when the health care law's mandate penalty deadline was until they were informed by a tax preparation company. You have until March 31 of next year to enroll, but if you do not enroll by February 15, you are going to pay a penalty. Quoting Suderman: "This says something about the daunting level of complexity in the tax code. And it's more than a little suggestive about the level of (in)competence that is apparently going into what is arguably the largest and most complex bureaucratic endeavor in the nation's history."
But hey, never let it be said that there is no good news whatsoever surrounding the law. Yesterday, the Weekly Standard reported that someone in Delaware was finally able to enroll in Obamacare. So, you know, progress!

Epic Defeat

So, Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling and reopen government, which is the good news for anyone who cares about decent and responsible policymaking. The bad news is that in a few months, we may end up repeating the entire fight. I can't wait to see what that does to our credit rating. I also can't wait to see the people who thought that the current shutdown and flirtation with debt ceiling disaster was A Compendium of All the Wonderful Things tell us a couple months down the line that we have to tilt at windmills again because . . . well . . . something.

Of course, it would be nice if congressional Republicans avoided making the same mistake again. Perhaps they could listen to one of their own:

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), one of the more conservative voices in the House GOP caucus, told CNN on Wednesday afternoon: “We lost. That’s it. You’re absolutely right. The folks who said we were going to lose turned out to be correct. I can’t argue that.”

I pray that Rep. Mulvaney isn't going to get primaried for these comments at some point before the night is over.

The only thing that Republicans got in the deal legislative deal that brought this entire horror show to an end is a commitment to verify the incomes of those seeking subsidies in order to enroll in Obamacare. Of course, income verification was already part of the bill authorizing the Affordable Care Act, so this means that Republicans got absolutely nothing whatsoever of any substance or value from the shutdown. This is what happens when an incredibly weak hand gets ridiculously overplayed.

It is time for some serious self-examination on the right, and to that end, I am glad to give the microphone to Peter Wehner. Read the whole thing that he wrote. Also, read John Podhoretz:

Apologists for [Senator Ted] Cruz and [Senator Mike] Lee say they drew attention to ObamaCare. This is nothing short of demented. ObamaCare has been pretty much the sole subject of Republican domestic- policy politics over the past three years. It didn’t need them to call attention to it.

If anything, as it turns out, they drew attention away from it.

Had they not created the shutdown, the political discussion in the United States these past two weeks would have been entirely dedicated to the disastrous launch of ObamaCare — something so disastrous, in fact, that liberal journalists have been unable to avoid the subject and have instead taken to whining about it.

But no. Instead, we spent the two weeks before the launch watching Ted Cruz rally the Republican faithful with a fantasy scenario in which the public would stage an uprising against ObamaCare and force a bunch of Democratic senators to vote to defund it.

Well, that didn’t happen.

But once the conservative base became convinced the defunding of ObamaCare was a possibility, the Republican House found it impossible not to join in the really futile and stupid gesture. Shutdown ensued.

Well, that’s over with. And maybe the damage will not be very great. But doing really futile and stupid things is never a good idea, and for a political party, it is disastrous.

Such behavior convinces people who are not firmly fixed in your party’s corner that you don’t care about the good working ­order of the United States, that you’re only out to satisfy your own ideological fantasies, and that you’re actually unserious.

Listen: Not enough people are voting for Republicans. That’s why the GOP has lost the popular vote in five out of the last six national elections. What happened over the past two weeks will only harm the effort to convince those who can be convinced to vote Republican that doing so is wise and prudent.

You would think that all of this was obvious to begin with. You would think that an entire column in the New York Post would not have to be devoted to explaining the obvious to very smart politicians.

You would think wrong.

Bill Keller Doesn't Get Along Very Well with Reality

The following paragraph is one of the biggest howlers in the history of Ever:

Unless you’ve been bamboozled by the frantic fictions of the right wing, you know that the Affordable Care Act, familiarly known as Obamacare, has begun to accomplish its first goal: enrolling millions of uninsured Americans, many of whom have been living one medical emergency away from the poorhouse. You realize those computer failures that have hampered sign-ups in the early days — to the smug delight of the critics — confirm that there is enormous popular demand. You have probably figured out that the real mission of the Republican extortionists and their big-money backers was to scuttle the law before most Americans recognized it as a godsend and rendered it politically untouchable.

So presumably, this is one of the "frantic fictions of the right wing":

The federal health-care exchange that opened a dozen days ago is marred by snags beyond the widely publicized computer gridlock that has thwarted Americans trying to buy a health plan. Even when consumers have been able to sign up, insurers sometimes can’t tell who their new customers are because of a separate set of computer defects.

The problems stem from a feature of the online marketplace’s computer system that is designed to send each insurer a daily report listing people who have just enrolled. According to several insurance industry officials, the reports are sometimes confusing and duplicative. In some cases, they show — correctly or not — that the same person enrolled and canceled several times on a single day.

As, presumably, is this:

It's a batting average that won't land the federal marketplace for Obamacare into the Healthcare Hall of Fame.

As few as 1 in 100 applications on the federal exchange contains enough information to enroll the applicant in a plan, several insurance industry sources told CNBC on Friday. Some of the problems involve how the exchange's software collects and verifies an applicant's data.

"It is extraordinary that these systems weren't ready," said Sumit Nijhawan, CEO of Infogix, which handles data integrity issues for major insurers including WellPoint and Cigna, as well as multiple Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates.

Experts said that if's success rate doesn't improve within the next month or so, federal officials could face a situation in January in which relatively large numbers of people believe they have coverage starting that month, but whose enrollment applications are have not been processed.

"It could be public relations nightmare," said Nijhawan. Insurers have told his company that just "1 in 100" enrollment applicants being sent from the federal marketplace have provided sufficient, verified information.

[. . .]

"It doesn't surprise me—I've heard similar numbers," said Dan Mendelson, CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health, when asked about the 1-in-100 rate that Infogix cited.

"This is not a traffic issue," Mendelson said. "Right now, the systems aren't working."

And this:

No one knows how many people have managed to enroll because the administration refuses to release those numbers, but the website's launch has been rocky.

Media outlets have struggled to find anyone who's actually been successful. The Washington Post even illustrated that sought-after person as a unicorn, and USA Today called the launch an "inexcusable mess" and a "nightmare."

White House officials initially blamed the problem on an unexpectedly high volume as they had more than 8 million hits in the first week, but after it went offline over the weekend for repairs, officials now acknowledge other problems.

"We've identified the glitches, we've added hardware, we're recoding software, and I can tell you today is better than yesterday, and we are hoping in the very near future to have a seamless process that's what we are aiming for," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

However, computer experts say the website has major flaws.

"It wasn't designed well, it wasn't implemented well, and it looks like nobody tested it," said Luke Chung, an online database programmer.

Chung supports the new health care law but said it was not the demand that is crashing the site. He thinks the entire website needs a complete overhaul.

"It's not even close. It's not even ready for beta testing for my book. I would be ashamed and embarrassed if my organization delivered something like that," he said.

Oh, and as for those "millions of uninsured Americans" that Keller tells us have been enrolled . . .

The glitch-plagued rollout of President Barack Obama's signature health care law has been dogged by one big question: How many people have enrolled in an insurance plan?

The White House refuses to release the numbers, leading many to assume they are embarrassingly low. But insurance industry insiders point to another reason: Nobody knows if the numbers they do have are even accurate.

Turns out, some insurance companies say they are receiving data from the administration that is incomplete, duplicative or contradictory, making it difficult to get an accurate count of new enrollment.

[. . .]

So far, the buzz in the insurance industry is that enrollment numbers are falling short of projections. One insurance company executive put it this way, "The numbers aren't as bad as the doomsday people would say. But so far, they're low and they have people worried."

Avik Roy has a theory for why the Obamacare website is crashing: He believes that it is because Team Obama doesn't want you to suffer sticker shock. I am sure that people like Bill Keller will try desperately to dismiss this as yet another "frantic fiction of the right wing," but given just how divorced Keller is from the facts, why should we take anything he has to say regarding this issue seriously? Either Bill Keller is one of the laziest and most inept intellects ever to try to find out and explain facts on Obamacare, or he is congenitally dishonest. He--and other Obamacare defenders--can feel free to take their pick as to which is the case.

From the Department of “Imagine If Republicans Did this Kind of Thing”


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) is riding a compelling Hillary Rodham Clinton story. It’s not so much about her quite-possible presidential run. Nor is it about the Clinton family’s foundation. Nor Benghazi. It’s about how Clinton is attempting the impossible: Turning a speech into something approaching an off-the-record occasion.

This morning, the former secretary of state was in Atlanta for a speaking engagement before the National Association of Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS). As the AJC reported yesterday, members of the media were barred from the session. Today it reported that a “cone of silence” had descended on her remarks. “Convention officials banned all video and sound recording, social media, and naturally, journalists,” wrote the AJC’s Greg Bluestein and Jim Galloway.

I am pretty sure that Hillary Clinton will indeed run for president again in 2016. I am also pretty sure that lots of people in the media share my assessment. Shouldn't they be calling Clinton out on her lack of transparency?

Our Ongoing Governmental Disaster

This Ross Douthat piece is very good indeed on describing why the Republican shutdown plan was so crazy to begin with, and why indeed no method to Republican plans can be found. I would excerpt favorite parts, but really, one ought to read the whole thing.

While I am citing Douthat, here is another piece of his from which I will excerpt:

. . . I suppose one possible alternative would be for Republicans to step outside the murder-suicide context of shutdowns and debt ceiling brinksmanship, set aside the fantasy of winning major policy victories in divided government, cut a few small deals if possible and otherwise just oppose the president’s agenda on issues like immigration and climate change, and try to win the next two elections on the merits. This is how American political parties normally seek to enact their preferred policies, and the fact that the Republicans and Democrats are currently further apart ideologically than our political parties have traditionally been only strengthens the case for this old-fashioned way of doing things. Want to repeal/replace Obamacare, reform entitlements, do tax reform without tax increases? Go win a presidential election.

Well said. But of course, these days, to suggest that Republicans ought to moderate political positions in order to be able to win an election or two is to be a RiNO, utterly devoid of principles.

I do not want to make too much of the claim that the GOP's political position has become untenable. There are limits to that theory, which Nate Silver discusses in a very informative piece (isn't it interesting that Silver suddenly has fans on the right? A year ago, Silver was under attack from the right for having had the temerity to suggest that Barack Obama would win the presidential election). But as I have (plaintively) mentioned before, wouldn't it have been great if the GOP had avoided shooting itself in both feet, and instead, we had the opportunity to focus on just how incredibly embarrassed the Obama administration and just about every supporter of Obamacare must feel regarding the utterly disastrous rollout of the new health care program? Wouldn't it be better for Republican politicians if they could make fun of the Obama administration's admission that we should expect "months" of glitches with the Obamacare registration program?  Wouldn't it be better for Republican politicians to be able to focus on the fact that Obamacare is already giving consumers bad economic choices, or the fact that a former member of the Obama administration is criticizing the president's handling of the shutdown, or the fact that people like Megan McArdle are now pushing for Obamacare to have a drop-dead date for implementation?

Well yes, all of this would be better. But instead, what we have is a war between the establishment and the Tea Party (and yes, because of the way in which the Tea Party botched strategy and tactics for Republicans, I most certainly do have sympathy for the establishment in this fight, and note that the establishment is not made up of Gerald Ford Republicans, but people like former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who is no one's idea of a moderate or RiNO). Instead, what we have are concerns that the default has already begun, and while I don't think that any evaporated faith in the United States government "will never return," I certainly think that in the short term, this entire dumb fight has caused a lot of damage to the United States government. At the end of the day, Republicans are going to have to give a lot of ground in negotiations in order to allows the government to re-open and in order to prevent any kind of default, and the tragedy is that the upcoming Republican capitulation would never have been necessary if Republicans did not try to demand things from this fight that they were never going to get in the first place.

I have said before that the Republican stance in forcing the government shutdown, in flirting with a debt ceiling default, and in demanding concessions that they never had any realistic chance of getting was political malpractice of the first order, given the way in which Republican bumbles and stumbles took attention off of the failed Obamacare rollout. I see no reason to back away from that statement.

On the Nobel Prize in Economics*

Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen of the University of Chicago--along with Robert Shiller of Yale--have ended up sharing the prize for this year. Fama and Shiller are on different sides of the asset-pricing debate; Fama is a major proponent of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, and Shiller is . . . well . . . very much not a major proponent of EMH, so the awarding of the prize this year reflects the major split in the economics community that exists concerning asset-pricing.

I was curious as to how Paul Krugman would greet the news that Eugene Fama--he of the Dreaded Chicago School of Economics--was awarded the Nobel, and sure enough, Krugman didn't disappoint those who are used to the way in which he dismisses and insults intellectual opponents. Shorter Krugman: Fama is awesome because he set up an intellectual rubric against which alternatives could be tested, and Shiller is even more awesome because he showed how Fama was wrong, and by the way, Krugman has graciously decided to ignore the "foolish things" (by Krugman's lights) that Fama has said. Also, it's great that the prize committee both gave Fama a share in the Nobel while pointing out that he's oh-so-terribly wrong.

This, by the way, is Paul Krugman being gracious, which goes to show that however one prices certain assets, grace and class are always at a premium with some people.

*It's actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which means that it is not one of the original Nobel prizes mentioned in Alfred Nobel's will. I'm sure that neither Fama, nor Hansen, nor Shiller will lose sleep over this fact.

Republicans and the Right Continue to Bumble and Stumble

Don't look now, but there finally appears to be some work getting done in order to reopen the government and get some kind of deal achieved on increasing the debt ceiling through meetings between the White House and congressional Republicans. But Republicans are hardly negotiating from a position of strength. Note that the story points out that "the White House and its Democratic allies in Congress were all but declaring victory at the evidence that Republicans — suffering the most in polls, and pressured by business allies and donors not to provoke a government default — were seeking a way out of the impasse." That part about "suffering in the polls" is no joke, by the way:

The Republican Party has been badly damaged in the ongoing government shutdown and debt limit standoff, with a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finding that a majority of Americans blame the GOP for the shutdown, and with the party’s popularity declining to its lowest level.

By a 22-point margin (53 percent to 31 percent), the public blames the Republican Party more for the shutdown than President Barack Obama – a wider margin of blame for the GOP than the party received during the poll during the last shutdown in 1995-96.

Just 24 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion about the GOP, and only 21 percent have a favorable view of the Tea Party, which are both at all-time lows in the history of poll.

I would like to use this blog post in order to thank the shutdown caucus for bringing about this unmitigated political/public relations disaster for the Republican party, and for the right in general. No Democrat or liberal, actively working to undermine the starboard side of American politics, could possibly have done a better job than the suicide squards of the right did with the GOP's reputation.

The good news for Republicans is that they have over a year until the 2014 elections. The bad news is that the Republicans have over a year to think to themselves "gee, how else can we make ourselves less popular than the bubonic plague," come up with answers, and then merrily set about implementing them--to the shock and delight of Democrats everywhere. I for one have no doubt that Republicans will rise to the occasion.

To the extent that congressional Republicans are able to get themselves out of the political jam they have created for themselves, it may be because of the efforts of Paul Ryan, who doubtless will be considered a RiNO and an apostate in short order for actually trying to be responsible instead of doing something crazy like urging default on the debt, or working to get the GOP's approval ratings in the single digits.

Of course, if congressional Republicans wanted a blueprint on how to act halfway intelligent, they might have listened to Megan McArdle. The following excerpt revolves around a point I have tried to make myself:

The shutdown is eclipsing the horrifyingly inept rollout of the federal exchanges. Republicans should be basking in schadenfreude while a grief-stricken administration watches its poll numbers plunge. Instead, Obama and his deputies are getting front-page stories every day where they get to claim to be the grown-ups in the room. Again, I don’t care whether this is because the mainstream media is biased, unless you have a negotiation scenario where the MSM disappears at the stroke of midnight and is replaced by the staff of the National Review and the Daily Caller.

To amplify McArdle's point, the GOP could have spent time chortling over the fact that only five people in Iowa have signed up for Obamacare. No, that's not a typo; only five people in the entire state of Iowa have signed up for Obamacare. But, you know, God forbid that congressional Republicans should listen to reason, get themselves out of the line of fire, and let the storyline focus on all of the problems with the Obamacare rollout.

This is political malpractice at its worst. And it has been brought about by "thought leaders" on the right who wouldn't know a good thought if it confronted them and slapped them in the face. Whether activists on the right--both in and out of Congress--actually genuinely believed that it would be a good idea to shut the government down and play chicken with the debt ceiling over unrealistic negotiating demands, or whether those activists knew that this would be a disaster, but felt that it would profit them to curry favor with the Tea Party, there needs to be a serious examination on the right regarding the kind of leadership it has been saddled with. Specifically, anyone who argued that the shutdown strategy and threats of not raising the debt ceiling were good ideas needs to be ousted from any position of leadership on the right. It is high time for the grownups to take charge. As things stand right now, the GOP's/right's brain trust is short on brains, and shouldn't be afforded any trust whatsoever.

Congressional Republicans Are NOT Retreating. They Are Simply Advancing in Reverse. And Don't Anyone Dare Claim Otherwise.

Those who carefully peruse this op-ed by Paul Ryan will find upon careful reading--or via the Ctrl-F option--that the word "Obamacare" is not used once by Ryan. In writing on how Republicans and the Obama administration can come to some sort of agreement that will get the government open again, Ryan proposes the following:

Here are just a few ideas to get the conversation started. We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.

The president has embraced these ideas in budget proposals he has submitted to Congress. And in earlier talks with congressional Republicans, he has discussed combining Medicare's Part A and Part B, so the program will be less confusing for seniors. These ideas have the support of nonpartisan groups like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and they would strengthen these critical programs. And all of them would help pay down the debt.

We should also enact pro-growth reforms that put people back to work—like opening up America's vast energy reserves to development. There is even some agreement on taxes across the aisle.

Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) have been working for more than a year now on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code. They agree on the fundamental principles: Broaden the base, lower the rates and simplify the code. The president himself has argued for just such an approach to corporate taxes. So we should discuss how Congress can take up the Camp–Baucus plan when it's ready.

Reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code will spur economic growth—another goal that both parties share. The CBO says stable or declining levels of federal debt would help the economy. In addition, "federal interest payments would be smaller, policy makers would have greater leeway . . . to respond to any economic downturns . . . and the risk of a sudden fiscal crisis would be much smaller."

To be sure, Ryan does make reference to health care policy, but this is how he does it:

This isn't a grand bargain. For that, we need a complete rethinking of government's approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government's approach to health care. But right now, we need to find common ground. We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today—and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let's negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.

One senses a shift in negotiating posture by congressional Republicans via this op-ed, which surely must have had the blessings of the congressional Republican leadership, and which may well have had the blessings of certain elements of the Tea Party for all I know. Ryan believes that we need to reform health care policy post-implementation of Obamacare, but he clearly does not want to make a fight over health care part of any negotiations that will lead to re-opening the government. His demands--and dare I say those of a host of other congressional Republicans who look to Ryan for intellectual leadership?--revolve around pledging to make "modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code" as a price for re-opening government. And this shift in negotiating posture appears to be confirmed by this story:

A fight over Obamacare? That’s so last week.

With the government shutdown firmly in its second week, and the debt limit projected to be reached next Thursday, top House and Senate Republicans are publicly moving away from gutting the health care law — a practical move that could help resolve the stalemate and appear more reasonable in the eyes of frustrated voters.

In a private meeting among Senate Republicans, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed openness to a plan by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that includes a repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax but nothing else related to the health care law.

With polls showing their party is suffering the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, many top Republicans are quietly moving past the Obamacare debate. Many Senate Republicans’ demands do not include changes to Obamacare, but rather cuts to Medicare, Social Security and changes to the Tax Code. House Republicans are also considering a short-term debt hike, but no one expects that it will be accompanied by changes to Obamacare.

“I’d like to get rid of Obamacare, no question about that, but I think that effort has failed,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the veteran member of the Senate Finance Committee. “And we’re going to have to take it on in other ways.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said bluntly: “We took an unpopular law and chose a more unpopular tactic to deal with the law.”

“Why don’t we focus on entitlement reform, Tax Code reform, regarding the debt ceiling and continue to fight on Obamacare [separately], because there’s not a consensus there,” Graham said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wrote an opinion piece that appeared on The Washington Post’s website Wednesday that simply urged President Barack Obama to negotiate with Republicans.

So, congressional Republicans no longer appear to be fighting to defund Obamacare. And when one considers the state of the polls, one can hardly be surprised by the fact that Republicans have chosen to change their negotiating objectives:

With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.

The Democratic Party also has a public image problem -- although not on the same elephantine scale as that of the Republican Party -- with 43% viewing the Democratic Party favorably, down four percentage points from last month.

These findings come from a Gallup poll conducted Oct. 3-6 that followed the Oct. 1 partial government shutdown after lawmakers in Washington were unable to pass a spending plan for the federal government.

More than six in 10 Americans (62%) now view the GOP unfavorably, a record high. By comparison, nearly half of Americans (49%) view the Democratic Party unfavorably. Roughly one in four Americans see both parties unfavorably.

To be sure, these polling numbers don't make any particular party look especially good, but Democrats will sleep more easily than Republicans will.

"That's okay, Pejman," I hear you retort. "The Republican party is made up of squishes and moderates who are also squishes, who act very moderately. It's fine and good if the party goes the way of the dinosaur." To which I retort by giving the microphone to John Podhoretz (who likely will be denounced as a RiNO for writing what he has written):

Every piece of evidence we have so far on the government shutdown shows the public is blaming Republicans most of all for the standoff. On Monday, an ABC poll showed 71 percent fault the GOP; 61 percent fault Congressional Democrats; 51 percent fault President Obama.

Yes, Democrats look bad. Yes, Obama is probably doing himself no favors by saying he won’t negotiate when the public wants politicians in Washington to work together.

But Republicans look considerably worse. And for the Right, the Republican Party is the only game in town.

This is what my fellow conservatives who are acting as the enablers for irresponsible GOP politicians seem not to understand. They like this fight, because they think they’re helping to hold the line on ObamaCare and government spending. They think that they’re supported by a vast silent majority of Americans who dislike what they dislike and want what they want.

I dislike what they dislike. I want what they want. But I fear they are very, very wrong about the existence of this silent majority, and that their misperception is leading them to do significant damage to the already damaged Republican “brand.” (Forgive me for making use of that horribly overused term, but it’s the only one that fits.)

The belief that the public is with them is based on two data points: First, twice as many people say they’re conservative as say they are liberal. And second, ObamaCare is viewed unfavorably by a majority of the American people.

Both are true.

But it has been true for more than 20 years that Americans are twice as likely to call themselves conservative — and in that time Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of six national elections. The statistic tells us little about how Americans vote or what they vote for.

And it is true that, according to Real Clear Politics, Americans disapprove of ObamaCare, 51 percent to 40 percent. It is unpopular. But it is not wildly, devastatingly unpopular — though given the fact that it is now rolling out and appears to be as incompetently executed as it was badly conceived, it may yet become so.

If ObamaCare had been as unpopular as conservatives believed, their plan for the shutdown — that there would be a public uprising to force Democratic senators in close races in 2014 to defund it — would’ve worked. It didn’t. Not a single senator budged.

Their tactic failed, and now what they are left with is House Speaker John Boehner basically begging the president of the United States to negotiate with him.

I further retort by giving the microphone to Ross Douthat as well:

. . . There was, as I’ve noted before, some kind of plausible populist case for threatening a shutdown around the health care law, as a kind of exercise in noisemaking and base mobilization. But the shutdown itself is just a classic march of folly. From RedState to Heritage to all the various pro-shutdown voices in the House, nobody-but-nobody has sketched out a remotely plausible scenario in which a continued government shutdown leads to any meaningful, worth-the-fighting-for concessions on Obamacare — or to anything, really, save gradually-building pain for the few House Republicans who actually have to fight to win re-election in 2014, and the ratification of the public’s pre-existing sense that the G.O.P. can’t really be trusted with the reins of government.

Sure, the polling could be worse. Sure, assuming cooler heads ultimately prevail, it’s not likely to be an irrecoverable disaster. But something can be less than a disaster and still not make a lick of sense. And that’s what we have here: A case study, for the right’s populists, in how all the good ideas and sound impulses in the world don’t matter if you decide to fight on ground where you simply cannot win.

I presume that despite the shift from demanding the defunding of Obamacare, despite the horrible poll numbers for the Republican party, despite the fact that the weakening of the Republican party means--as Podhoretz points out--the weakening of the conservative movement, and despite the fact that as Douthat writes, the shutdown strategy simply has not been thought through with any degree of care, there will be those who protest that I am in the wrong by declaring, as I have consistently declared, that the shutdown will not advance the goals of the right. Let me anticipate your objections to my post--and to me--with the following bullet points:

  • I am a RiNO.
  • I am a squish.
  • I am a quitter.
  • I am violating Reagan's Eleventh Commandment by taking issue with the Republican strategy in the shutdown confrontation.
  • Polls don't matter.
  • Have we mentioned that I am a RiNO and a squish?
  • Winning elections is not important.
  • I am a moderate.
  • "Oh yeah? Well, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George H.W. Bush lost!"
  • I am an "establishment Republican."
  • Blog posts like mine are the reason why the shutdown strategy is failing. Democrats get together in their cloakrooms and excitedly whisper amongst themselves "Yousefzadeh is down on the Republicans. You see? That proves that the GOP is divided! We've got 'em right where we want 'em!"
  • I am completely mistaken about the current state of play because, shut up.
  • I am secretly a Democrat whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly a communist whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly Mephistopheles, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly Tokyo Rose, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly Brett Favre, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right
  • I am secretly Aaron Rodgers, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right
  • I am a pessimist who simply shouldn't be listened to, because, shut up.
  • I am from Chicago. Barack Obama is also from Chicago. Coincidence?
I have done my best to anticipate as many objections as I could. If I have forgotten any, I beg your indulgence and forgiveness. Must be my RiNO/squish/moderate nature to be careless.

Elections Have Consequences

Consider some of the ways in which the rollout of Obamacare has played in the news over this past week:

  • We are informed by Todd Park, the chief technology officer of the United States (yes, we have one), that the reason there have been bugs in the health care exchange websites that have made it all but impossible to sign up for health insurance is that there have been oh-so-many people who have tried to sign up. Apparently, the fault for the bugs lays not with those who designed and rolled out the sign-up system, but with those who actually tried to sign up. Or, in Park's words "These bugs were functions of volume. Take away the volume and it works." There you have it; if only people didn't try to sign up for the health insurance exchanges, the websites for the health insurance exchanges would be functioning just fine. This is one of the more Scooby-Dooish statements I have ever had the misfortune of stumbling upon. If the Obamacare rollout were an animated television show, Park would be the one at the end of the episode who shakes his fist, declaring that "the health insurance exchange websites would have worked too, if it weren't for you crazy kids trying to sign up!"
  • Meanwhile, the secretary of the treasury desperately tries to avoid telling us whether anyone actually has signed up for Obamacare. He even tries to tell you that the issue isn't his "primary area of responsibility." This isn't quite true, given the fact that the IRS is responsible for taxing people who don't get health insurance and that the IRS is part of the Treasury Department, but never mind, I guess; Jack Lew clearly wants to wash his hands of this entire mess.
  • And just out of curiosity, do you think that there are other stories out there like this one? Me too.

Now gee, if only there were a way to get the media to focus on all of these problems instead of allowing the media's attention to be divided by, oh . . . say . . . a government shutdown that has no strategy or tactics behind it. Yes, I know, much of the media is biased against Republicans and in the best of times, it is like pulling teeth to get reporters to cover stories that my feature the Obama administration making a boo-boo or several. But that doesn't mean that Republicans have to give the media an excuse not to cover the failures of Obamacare's implementation by giving the media targets to shoot at on the Republican side.

A number of people in this cross-posted thread protested my rant, because they believe that I am not providing constructive suggestions on how Obamacare can be repealed. Fair enough. I am glad to provide constructive pieces of advice. Here is one: Win elections.

"Well, duh, Pejman," I hear you cry. But the point is worth making, given the fact that Republicans have increasingly opted for ideological purity over being able to get moderates and independents to join Republicans in a coalition on general election days in order to get Republicans into political offices. I know that there are people out there who are sick and tired of hearing about Christine O'Donnell, Todd Akin, Sharron Angle and Richard Mourdock, but let me tell you about Christine O'Donnell, Todd Akin, Sharron Angle and Richard Mourdock. They all won Republican primary elections they had no business winning if the Buckley Rule were still being observed with any degree of faithfulness.

To be sure, the people spoke in all of those Republican primary contests, and I respect the people's wishes, but if the people wanted to choose candidates who could win Senate seats in Delaware, Missouri, Nevada and Indiana, they chose . . . poorly. O'Donnell spent much of the election trying to convince people that she wasn't and isn't a witch (not exactly the kind of thing that a candidate dreams of discussing in his/her stump speech). Akin poured gasoline on his campaign and set it on fire (thus helping Claire McCaskill, who was, by far, the weakest Senate incumbent in the 2012 elections win by over 15 points on election day). Angle allowed a very vulnerable Harry Reid return to the Senate so that he could continue to be a noxious presence on the national stage. And Mourdock looked at Akin's campaign and said to himself, "self, that fellow seems to have some good ideas about how to lose an election," and followed through in implementing those ideas. In Mourdock's case, it is worth noting that he denied former Senator Richard Lugar a renomination to run in 2012. Lugar--does anyone really need to point this out?--would have won the general election in a walk and would have allowed Republicans to focus their energies on helping other candidates in other races. Instead, Mourdock ended up losing the general election, and as everyone and their pet canaries know, once incumbents get into office, it is very, very, very hard to get them out. The Indiana senate seat once occupied by Lugar may be in Democratic hands for a long time.

Lest anyone think that this shift away from electability is an accident, bear in mind that it is actually being encouraged by higher-up muckety-mucks in the conservative movement, with former Senator Jim DeMint being the most visible among the higher-up muckety-mucks in question. DeMint has said in the past that he would rather have candidates who adhere to conservative principles than have a Senate majority. I am all for smart candidates with conservative principles, just as I am all for smart candidates with libertarian principles as well. But not every state is as open to conservative or libertarian principles as DeMint or I would want those states to be. So--gasp!--sometimes, the Republican candidate is going to have to be less conservative than Jim DeMint would like in order to win an election.

I know, I know, grab the smelling salts; sometimes, we may have to make common cause with people who are less conservative than Jim DeMint would like. Well, it's either that, or Republicans will have to be a permanent minority in the Senate, and the House of Representatives as well, if DeMint's principles extend there. And hey, if DeMint would rather have a conservative presidential candidate than win the White House, then say goodbye to 1600 Penn. Ave. if anyone has the temerity to offer a more pragmatic course of action that may help Republicans win a presidential election. All of this, of course, would give Democrats a free hand to implement policies of their choosing with little to no organized Republican opposition. And once those policies are in place, they will be very difficult to dislodge.

So, while "win elections!" would seem to be really obvious advice, there are, alas, Republicans and conservatives out there who do not have a grasp on the obvious. And that is costing Republicans--and the right-of-center movement in general--very dearly.