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In The Age Of Trump, No Wonder Republicans Miss William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley Jr. could have made Donald Trump quiver with impotent rage. This is a guy who sent Ayn Rand postcards in liturgical Latin just to make her mad, and then bragged about it in her obituary. In part because of his trollish panache, the founder of National Review and longtime host of the television show Firing Line was a conservative mascot in life, and he has become mythologized in death. The 2016 election has made it clear that no one quite like Buckley is working in media today: Republicans are hurting for a cocksure slayer of pseudo-conservative invaders.

No wonder two Buckley retrospectives have come out this October. Open to Debate, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology media-studies professor Heather Hendershot, examines Buckley’s tenure on Firing Line and the diverse ideologies represented on the show. A Torch Kept Lit, edited by the Fox News correspondent James Rosen, chronicles notable obituaries written by WFB, as Buckley’s fans often call him. Both indulge nostalgia in their own way, but their yearning points to something real: In American politics, and specifically in political media, quality debate has seemingly withered. The presidential election has been an 18-month-long series of lows for civil discourse, culminating in the insult-laden, nearly-impossible-to-follow presidential debates.

There are many plausible explanations for how things got so bad. But one persuasive argument, which Hendershot makes in her book, is that the nature of debate itself has changed: Particularly on television-news programs, there’s little empathy on either side for opposing viewpoints, and scant willingness to engage in authentic intellectual battle. For all its flaws, Buckley’s work is a reminder that space for debate matters—true debate, between people of opposite worldviews, oriented less toward production values and sound bites than curiosity and strength of argument. In the absence of those spaces, Donald Trump’s unprecedented lies have come to count as much as putatively legitimate positions, further enabling the kind of self-satisfied complacency among Democrats that Buckley so hated about ’60s-era liberals.

The defining feature of Firing Line, Hendershot writes,was its standard of admission. Anyone, so long as they were famous or sufficiently chummy with WFB, could get on the show. This included Buckley’s ideological enemies: He delighted in debating everyone from Allen Ginsberg to the editor of The Nation; the black nationalist Milton Henry once appeared on the show flanked by bodyguards in military fatigues. No topic was out of bounds. Buckley eagerly took up controversial issues like race and civil rights, facing off with everyone from Alabama Governor George Wallace to James Baldwin.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of ideological free-for-all on today’s TV news shows, even those that rightfully prize debate like the PBS NewsHour, whose guests tend to be relatively moderate. The left has its bugaboos—a lack of willingness to engage with religious conservatives who have doubts about gay marriage, for example. But while liberal and conservative media environments are both insular, they are not equivalent. Studies have shown that people who watch Fox News are more likely to believe erroneous facts about issues like immigration, for example. Many conservative pundits have attacked the credibility of mainstream news outlets undermining trust in major information sources and empirically established facts. Arguably, this has enabled the success of Trump, a candidate who consistently spreads lies and misinformation.

Buckley’s work underscores just how far conservative media has fallen. Part of the problem, as Alan Jacobs argued in Harper’s earlier this year, could be that there are far fewer distinctively Christian (and, implicitly, conservative) intellectuals participating in mainstream media today. Buckley, a Yale man who lived on an estate in Connecticut, provided conservatives with a champion from the same class and educational background as elite liberals, for better or worse. Especially in the violent and politically divided ’60s, Buckley’s “rhetoric and self-presentation conveyed that conservatism was not the last refuge of raving lunatics,” Hendershot wrote. Above all, she argued, he showed that “conservatism could be not only upright but also stylish.”

What counted as stylishness in the 1960s and ’70s likely wouldn’t cut it in today’s media environment. Firing Line was notoriously and intentionally low on production values, and it could be dreadfully boring. Buckley, ever patrician-looking and Yankee-sounding, was featured on a simple stage; he “seemed to have been sitting next to the same table and glass of water for 30 years,” Hendershot wrote. By the time the show ended in 1999, it had extremely low ratings and a vanishing audience. “Buckley had passed from movement builder to grand old man of the right,” according to Hendershot.

“The White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail,” Buckley wrote.

Television’s shifting business model is part of why Buckley-style debate has declined, but the norms of media and entertainment have also changed. Cable-news programs seem to have created an inescapable trap of inane, false controversy, which is then mirrored across the web; as Hendershot wrote in her book, “The problem with cable-era news is not just that it skews toward one-sided harangues but that, simultaneously, two-sided debate is built into the system in order to amp up the volume of the drama.” TV news audiences are aging, and younger generations are consuming articles and videos on their phones and computers; cable news may soon go through its own crisis. But this bias toward noise-making, along with the ideological ghettos in which it takes place, remain intact.

As much as Buckley provided a model for open discourse, he and other Buckleyites also bear some responsibility for making space in the Republican Party for bigotry, including the xenophobia and racism that has come out in full force during the 2016 election. Buckley was a committed Goldwater apologist, striving to defend the Arizona senator before and after his crushing defeat in the 1964 election.

As The Atlantic wrote in its endorsement of Lyndon B. Johnson that year—the second in the magazine’s history—Goldwater’s “preference to let states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia enforce civil rights within their own borders … attracted the allegiance of Governor George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birchers.” Although Hendershot argues that Buckley distanced himself from the Wallaces and KKKs and Birchers of the right, he shared some of their views. In fact, he provided some of the intellectual firepower for opposition to civil rights, claiming that it was primarily a question of federalism and state’s rights, rather than racism and justice.

On this count, Hendershot lets Buckley off too easily. Rosen, if anything, is worse. In A Torch Kept Lit, he writes that Buckley was thoughtful on Martin Luther King’s legacy, only mentioning in passing that Buckley was “dreadfully wrong” about civil rights, such as when he referred to Southern whites as “the advanced race” in a 1957 editorial in National Review. “The White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically,” Buckley went on to say. Rosen cites the biographer Sam Tanenhaus in excusing Buckley, pleading that the Firing Line host “‘actually inherited views on race that were fairly progressive for his time and place.’”

As wrong as Buckley was, he may have helped shift the public consensus on these issues. His open slate of guests created a remarkable historical record of the period, Hendershot argues; instead of the filtered media coverage that largely blamed black Americans for the 1965 Watts Riots, for example, “a PBS public-affairs program designed to convert Americans to conservatism shows us some of the most comprehensive representations of Black Power” and other movements of that era. More than that, Firing Line provided a forum where opposing positions could be aired—and bigots could be roundly defeated. Buckley admitted in 2004 that he was wrong about the Jim Crow South; his years of getting publicly and willingly shellacked by people like Baldwin left him a better citizen and a better thinker.

Buckley may have been eminently smug and often wrong, but at least he was willing to spar.

Today, some of the most intellectual and argumentative conservatives seem more interested in waving away or eulogizing their past than engaging with it—this is the major weakness of Rosen’s book. Although it’s little comfort, this terrible election will hopefully start a soul-searching process among conservatives, and perhaps that will involve a long, hard look at their mistakes. National Review dedicated an entire issue to arguing “Against Trump,” featuring writers like Glenn Beck and Bill Kristol. At least a few of those essays acknowledged issues like “racial and religious scapegoating” among the horrors of this campaign; perhaps these conservative leaders will consider the ways these kinds of attitudes have come to fester in their own party.

On both sides, there are limits to the saving grace of discourse. Late in his career, Buckley took to lambasting political correctness—he dedicated a two-hour special to the question, “Resolved: Political Correctness Is a Menace and a Bore.” He would likely scoff at new controversies over safe spaces, triggers warnings, and free-speech zones. More than anything, this kind of reaction is sad: Empathy seems to be the missing piece in many of the recent campus debates, leaving some students feeling unable to contribute their ideas or participate in academic conversations.

But at its best, debate is exactly the opposite kind of exercise. People learn the most from debate when they understand the best possible version of their opponent’s position, and further understand who their opponent is as a person. This is what the ultimate goal of debate in democracy should be: education and understanding.

Buckley may have been eminently smug and often wrong, but at least he was willing to spar. Occasionally, he even changed his mind. That’s what good discourse looks like. Maybe one day, that’s what good television can look like again.

Journalists Mock Trump’s "Grievanceburg Address" At Gettysburg

  • Trump Speech In Gettysburg Intended To Outline Agenda As President, Turns Into Attacks On Media And Sexual Assault Accusers
  • Trump Speech In Gettysburg Was Supposed To Lay Out First 100 Days In Office.
  • Donald Trump is headed to Gettysburg, Pa., on Saturday to deliver his closing argument to the American people.
  • Aides to the Republican presidential nominee told reporters late Friday that Trump will outline important issues he will address in the early days of his presidency should he be elected.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | October 22, 2016, 8:49 pm

This Week In Science: To Infinity And Beyond!

  • For more than a year, a new global record high temperature was set every passing month.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last month’s 60.6 degrees (15.9 Celsius) was merely the second hottest September on record for the globe.
  • ​The trailing nine months virtually assure that 2016 will be the new record hottest year in the modern temperature database as measured by highly sensitive thermometers from land, sea, and orbital stations.
  • New Horizons is past Pluto, but it is not forgotten, and not done beaming back fascinating science. (DarkSyde) / Daily Kos | October 22, 2016, 7:08 pm

Clinton Still Hasn't Faced Questions About Pay-to-Play Head On

Hillary Clinton has gotten very lucky in the 2016 presidential election, on few items as clearly as the Clinton Foundation. And her spell of good luck continued again Wednesday night at the third presidential debate.

Moderator Chris Wallace pointed out that Clinton had pledged to avoid appearances of conflict of interest between the Clinton Foundation and her work as secretary of state. “But emails show that donors got special access to you. Those seeking grants for Haiti relief were considered separately from non-donors, and some of those donors got contracts, government contracts, taxpayer money,” Wallace said. “Can you really say that you kept your pledge to that Senate committee? And why isn’t what happened and what went on between you and the Clinton Foundation, why isn’t it what Mr. Trump calls pay-to-play?”

Clinton more or less avoided the question. She said that “everything I did as secretary of state was in furtherance of our country’s interests and our values. The State Department has said that.” Then she moved into a defense of the Clinton Foundation’s work. Wallace tried to get her back to the question at hand: “The specific question went to pay for play. Do you want to talk about that?” Clinton, for the most part, did not, saying “there’s no evidence.”

That gave Trump a chance to weigh in. “It’s a criminal enterprise, and so many people know it,” he said. He demanded that the Clinton Foundation return donations from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, based on those countries’ records on women’s rights and gay rights, then attacked the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti. Clinton happily defended the foundation’s work in Haiti, then turned to mocking Trump’s own, beleaguered foundation.

It was a happy escape for Clinton. First, she dodged Wallace’s question. Then, Trump effectively let her off the hook. Even though he has floated the “pay-to-play” accusation, he instead changed the focus. Neither of his alternative attacks makes much sense. Trump’s efforts to present himself as a champion of women’s rights fall on his record of sexist comments and the raft of sexual-assault accusations against him.

The Haiti attack may win Trump some backing among conservative members of the Haitian diaspora, though it’s not his most forceful argument for the American electorate overall. Moreover, it is, as Jonathan Katz has detailed, misleading: While there are good critiques to be made of the Haitian reconstruction, they don’t involve the Clintons treating the effort as a personal ATM.

The pay-to-play allegations seem far closer to the mark. In early 2015, it looked like they could play a major role in the campaign. The book Clinton Cash, for example, showed a case where a donor to the Clinton Foundation, and friend of Bill Clinton’s, received crucial approval for a deal from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. No report has provided evidence of a tit-for-that in that case.

Once Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, her husband’s speaking fees increased. In some cases, his fees went to the former president as earned income; in other cases, it went to the foundation. It has not been made clear how the destination was determined, again creating a foggy minefield of potential conflicts of interest.

The Clinton Foundation also foreswore donations from foreign governments at the start of her term in Foggy Bottom. But while it appears the foundation followed the letter of that law, the spirit didn’t fare so well. Individuals close to foreign regimes gave generously.

Then there have been the messages that popped up in Clinton’s State Department emails. In multiple cases, Clinton Foundation official Doug Band had a back channel to the secretary’s aides, and particularly Huma Abedin, who also worked for his consultancy, Teneo. Band inquired about jobs for people and attempted to connect a wealthy Clinton Foundation donor from Lebanon with a State Department Lebanon hand to talk about elections in that country. (Other accusations, such as suggestions that Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus bought State Department access, make little sense.)

Clinton’s campaign has defended her against these charges by pointing out that there is no evidence of quid pro quos. The donor, Gilbert Chagoury, says he only wanted to provide advice, and he apparently never actually spoke with anyone at State. While that is true, it is also to a certain degree beside the point.

Conflicts of interest are as much about appearance as they are about concrete examples of malfeasance. The point of ethics guidelines is to avoid even the impression that there might be shady business, and in the case of the Clinton Foundation, that did not work. Even if donors to the Clinton Foundation were not getting access from the State Department, it’s easy to imagine some giving was inspired by the hope of access. And even if there were no concrete favors doled out, the Band messages suggest some access.

Trump’s failure to press his advantage politically, and Clinton’s success in dodging the question, make for interesting debate analysis. But if, as polls suggest, Clinton wins the presidency, the question will become more important. The Clinton Foundation reportedly plans to stop accepting foreign and corporate donations if Hillary Clinton is elected, and to discontinue the annual Clinton Global Initiative events. Bill Clinton would step down from the foundation, but Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, would apparently remain on the board.

In other words, there would remain many close links between the president of the United States and the Clinton Foundation, creating more space for accusations of conflict of interest and of pay-to-play. Clinton may have escaped the question on Wednesday, but it won’t go away if she wins.

On CBC, <em>Media Matters</em>’ Angelo Carusone Discusses Donald Trump’s "Unprecedented" Attacks On The Press

  • MICHAEL SERAPIO (HOST): But Angelo, I need to bring you in here because you know about what it’s like to be intimidated by Donald Trump as a journalist?
  • ANGELO CARUSONE: That’s exactly right, and I do have a bit of a concern – I think it’s true, yes, there are criticisms of the media, that’s nothing new.
  • There is a fundamental difference there and that gets into the chilling effect.
  • When Donald Trump threatened to sue me for $25 million dollars for some advocacy that I was doing that he did not like, he threatened to sue me and then it took months to find coverage -- to find legal representation -- and it affected my actions because I mean I obviously have significantly less resources than Donald Trump and the idea that I could spend years embroiled in a sort of a frivolous litigation solely as a form of retribution is a very legitimate concern and consideration and that’s now something that many members of the media have to deal with if they’re able to get into his rallies given that he does in fact have official blacklists and I think that’s the real concern here.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | October 22, 2016, 5:44 pm

I Have No Idea Why We Think Trump Is A Misogynist… (2)

  • “When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, ‘I don’t think so.’ ”
Steven L. Taylor / Outside The Beltway | October 22, 2016, 4:34 pm

The Biography Of Twitter Anti-Semitism: White, Conservative, Nationalist, And 'Trump'

To be filed under things you already knew but now there is independent confirmation, it turns out that yes, anti-Semitism is very much alive on Twitter. And it has a very particular character.

There was a significant uptick starting early this year, when the presidential campaign began to intensify, the [Anti-Defamation League] said in its report, to be released on Wednesday. More than 800 journalists have been the subject of anti-Semitic attacks on Twitter, with 10 of them receiving 83 percent of the total attacks.

The words appearing most frequently in the Twitter biographies of the attackers were “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative” and “white.”

Jewish journalists perceived as writing something negative about Trump can presume they will be targeted. And Trump's campaign—in the gaps between Trump retweeting anti-Semitic images or accounts himself, of course—has hardly been robust in their denunciations of the attacks.

After she wrote a profile of Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, for GQ magazine, the journalist Julia Ioffe was deluged with anti-Semitic taunts on Twitter. When Mrs. Trump was asked about the controversy, she said Ms. Ioffe had “provoked” her attackers.

So there you go. Yes, Twitter promises to do something about it Real Soon Now. No, it's not clear whether this will decline after Trump gets his ass handed to him on Election Day or will just metastasize into something else.

Frustrated you don’t live in a swing state? Click here to sign up for a phonebanking shift with MoveOn. You’ll be calling voters in the swing states in no time.

How Donald Trump Broke The Al Smith Dinner

Four years ago, as a speechwriter for President Obama, I commissioned a binder full of women.

A little context. It was the morning of the Al Smith Dinner, the election-year tradition in which both parties’ nominees don white-tie attire and deliver comedy monologues to New York City’s elite. Our opponent, Governor Mitt Romney had recently used the words “binders full of women” while discussing gender parity in government. Eager to mock the clumsy phrase, I asked a staffer on the advance team to put together a prop.

But our binder never saw the light of day. Obama nixed the idea. I remember being disappointed by the president’s decision, and wondering if POTUS was phoning it in. Of the jokes that did make it into the final draft, one in particular stood out for its authenticity.

“In less than three weeks, voters in states like Ohio and Virginia and Florida will decide this incredibly important election. Which begs the question—what are we doing here?”

Fair point. Even in its best, most amicable years, the Al Smith dinner is a festival of uncomfortableness. Two candidates have spent the better part of a year locked in fierce, often personal, head-to-head competition. There’s something cruel about forcing them to pretend to enjoy one another’s company.

But looking back on it, there’s also something optimistic about the Al Smith dinner—or at least there was in 2012. I think this (along with a sensible aversion to prop comedy) is the real reason Obama said no to the idea of bringing a binder full of women onstage. Since 1945, the Al Smith dinner has been a democratic display of mutual, if slightly forced, respect. The candidates’ punchlines aren’t meant to suggest that politics is a joke, or a game. Rather, they acknowledge a bedrock principle of American society: Even in our most adversarial moments, we’re all on the same team.

How wonderfully quaint that seems today. The night before this year’s dinner, one candidate refused to promise that he would accept the election results, preferring to keep us in suspense. The peaceful transition of power is one of our great democratic traditions. If 2016 had managed to so dangerously jeopardize it, was there any chance a lesser tradition like the Al Smith dinner would go unscathed?

For a short while at least, it seemed likely to beat the odds. While the first 10 minutes of Donald Trump’s speech were a bit of a ramble, they manage to avoid blatantly crossing any lines. There was an attempt at a self-deprecating joke (“Modesty is my best quality.”) There was a predictable shot at the media (describing them as “Hillary’s team”). There was even one genuinely funny moment, when Mr. Trump referenced his wife’s plagiarism scandal from a few months before. “Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it. It’s fantastic. Melania gives the exact same speech …” We could be forgiven for thinking that, for one night only, the 2016 campaign was approximating normal.

Then, without warning, darkness descended upon the Waldorf. A line about Hillary Clinton’s FBI testimony—more a talking point than a joke—heralded the change in tone. Even so, what came next was shocking. “Hillary is so … corrupt,” Trump barked, with a ferocity all too familiar to anyone who has watched his rallies this year.

The audience was clearly horrified, and no one was more horrified than the white-tie wearing gentleman seated directly behind Trump and to his left. This was our everyman for the evening—the Ken Bone of the 1 percent. One moment he was smiling politely. The next moment it appeared that his face had been replaced with a different face: same nose, same eyebrows, but with far wider eyes, and a mouth frozen somewhere between sadness and abject horror. He maintained this expression for much of the remainder of the GOP nominee’s speech: Hillary’s a liar. She hates Catholics. She’s destroyed villages in Haiti. Last night, New York City’s rich and powerful found themselves at a Trump rally they had definitely not asked to attend.  

The expression on the face of that well-dressed man—the mouth flatlining, the eyes popping like a joke can of novelty snakes—was inadvertently one of the funniest parts of the night. A gif of the moment has already been retweeted more than 9,000 times. But it’s the kind of thing voters laugh at to keep from crying. During the 2016 campaign season, all of us have been that man. All of us having been laughing at what we hope is a joke, trying to pretend that everything is normal, only to realize, with horror, that this is now our lives.

Whoever wins this November, Americans have some soul-searching to do. The Al Smith dinner is only one democratic institution that finds itself in danger, and Trump is only one of the reasons it is under threat. After all, Donald Trump wasn’t the first to warn, without evidence, of elections being stolen through widespread voter fraud. He is not the reason a seat on the Supreme Court has gone unfilled for almost a year. Nor should Democrats be entirely immune from self-examination. At the beginning of this election many, myself included, relished the havoc Trump wreaked upon his party. Only later did they fully realize that, win or lose, the Trump campaign was wreaking havoc upon our country as well.

For too long, delegitimizing democracy has been a means: to win the next election, to hold a coalition together, to fire up a base. What this year must teach us is that if democracy is not the end, a lack of it will be. The next four years must be spent repairing the institutions that make America—despite the increasing nastiness of its politics—a beacon to the world. That’s a responsibility for all of us, regardless of which party we normally vote for. We should repudiate not just vulgarians like Donald Trump, but the respectables who know better and support him anyway. We should recognize that in a democracy, protecting the process is sometimes more important than achieving a desired outcome. Most of all, we should set boundaries: If a joke can cross a line, then surely an assault on our entire political system can cross a line as well.

It’s too late to save the 2016 Al Smith dinner. But it’s not too late to save everything it was supposed to represent. If we take just a fraction of the time and money spent on this campaign, and put it toward restoring democratic institutions, we will be better off four years from now than we are today. So here’s something to work toward: a 2020 Al Smith dinner in which a president and challenger can honestly, if grudgingly, display mutual respect. Let’s rebuild a country where two candidates can dress up like extras from Downtown Abbey, stand at a podium, and, in true tribute to our shared values, wonder what we are doing here.

Right-Wing Media Figures Conflate “Voter Fraud” With Voter Registration Inaccuracies

  • Donald Trump Stokes Fears About Systemic Voter Fraud, Claiming The Election Is “Rigged”
  • Donald Trump Claims “Voter Fraud Is Very, Very Common,” And That Dead People And Noncitizens Are Voting.
  • Donald Trump is citing unsubstantiated urban myths and a contested academic study to paint a false narrative about rampant voter fraud in the U.S.
  • • Trump claimed “people that have died 10 years ago are still voting,” citing a report that found 1.8 million deceased people remain on voter registration rolls.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | October 22, 2016, 2:43 pm

Trump Flip-flops On “the Wall” With Mexico: American Taxpayers Will Now Pay For It

  • In a speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania today, Donald Trump announced a blockbuster flip-flop in his signature policy of building a wall between the US and Mexico.
  • Yet today, Trump revealed that American taxpayers are now paying for the multi-billion-dollar wall, and that, allegedly, Mexico will “reimburse” us for the cost.
  • Trump flip-flops on "the wall" with Mexico: American taxpayers will now pay for it.
  • John AravosisFollow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn.
John Aravosis / AMERICAblog | October 22, 2016, 1:49 pm

Most Embarrassing Correction Ever?

  • The New  York Times has been forced to issue a correction in the wake of a review of a new show on Amazon after it was discovered that their reviewer had, apparently accidentally, watched the shows out of order:
  • In an amusing correction,The New York Times noted that its television writer had criticized a show for being confusing, when in reality he had actually just watched episodes in the wrong order.
  • In his review of Amazon’s Goliath, The Times‘ Mike Hale critiqued the “needlessly complicated structure of the initial episodes,” especially Billy Bob Thornton’s character’s investigation of a suspicious suicide.
  • “The nature of the case McBride has taken on… is revealed slowly and cryptically, a bit of writerly delayed gratification that keeps your attention but isn’t particularly rewarding,” he wrote.
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | October 22, 2016, 1:30 pm

Five Questions For Bryan Perlmutter Of Ingite NC, Playing A Lead Role In Response To HB2

  • Eventually, he got around to talking about his legislative initiative for the first 100 days, all of which we’ve heard before.
  • DK: What is your personal journey that led to your activism with this group?
  • DK: Given all the politics swirling around in North Carolina, what do you see as Ignite NC's role in it?
  • Perlmutter: Ignite NC is committed to allowing those most impacted by injustice and the issues affecting them to be leaders in implementing solutions and leading campaigns that advance equity in their lives. (Kerry Eleveld) / Daily Kos | October 22, 2016, 1:04 pm

Will The Fight For Obamacare Be Less Bitter Without Obama?

President Obama gave his longest and most passionate defense of the Affordable Care Act in months on Thursday. The hour-long speech came as a last rallying cry before November’s health insurance open-enrollment period—the last such period of the Obama presidency—and a bit of a valedictory for the law that appears to be his biggest contribution to American policy.

Obama’s speech sounded the familiar notes in defense of the law: The uninsured rate is at a historic low, young people can stay on their parents’ plans, federal subsidies and Medicaid allow affordable coverage for low-income people, annual spending is capped, and bans for pre-existing conditions are a thing of a past. But it also ventured into detailing some well-publicized issues with Obamacare and providing potential fixes, while striking a defiant tone against the law’s detractors. With just a few months left in his presidency, and a final open-enrollment period taking place right during crunch time in the election, Obama is looking to provide a road map for the future of his cornerstone policy.

For the president, that road map starts with acknowledging the hard-fought gains of Obamacare. “Never in American history has the uninsured rate been lower than it is today,” he noted, “and that’s true across the board. It’s dropped among women. It’s dropped among Latinos and African Americans, every other demographic group. It’s worked.”

Echoing the arguments of some journalists, he attributed the lack of public awareness of the historic gains in coverage to a negativity bias among members of the media and an impulse to place all of the burdens of health-care dysfunction at the feet of his law. Coverage of concepts like health-insurance premium increases—which have risen, sometimes unevenly for some groups of people—has been flawed by a failure to mark the rate of increase, which Obama points out is the lowest in 50 years nationwide.

No matter how much of the continued ambivalence about Obamacare is based on a misunderstanding or negativity bias among the media, it is undoubtedly true that the law hasn’t met many of its own benchmarks, nor the expectations of many of its supporters. As the Clinton campaign and other Democrats on the campaign trail have found, calls to reform the law work better than playing defense, and Obama’s speech turned to that reform work after a victory lap. He mentioned the enduring problem of lack of enthusiasm and sign-ups among young people, an issue that has bedeviled Obamacare for years now; market instability in some areas after major insurers exited exchanges this year; and the continued inability of many families to afford health insurance and health care.

For Obama, the path to fixing those problems is not necessarily through drastic change, but rather through tinkering. Notably, three of his most substantial solutions—all states expanding Medicaid to low-income people, promoting state innovation with insurance and delivery systems, and providing an emergency public health-insurance option in places where insurers pull out of markets—are all restorations of original policy points in the Affordable Care Act that have been whittled away via political or legal decisions. The new reform idea that the president presented Thursday is using the system’s savings to offer more tax credits to young people and families to help them afford insurance on an exchange. That the most radical change to the original framework of Obamacare that he’s pitching is an increase in tax credits is indicative of Obama’s faith in the long-term outcomes of health reform. And he presents a reform vision that is much more modest than even Hillary Clinton’s moderate proposals for a Medicare extension to near-elderly adults and the creation of a public option.

The general Republican strategy of “repealing and replacing” Obamacare has had remarkable staying power even as uninsured rates have plummeted, perhaps reflecting public ambivalence about the law. Obama’s speech took jabs at would-be repealers using a timely quip about replacing Samsung smartphones with rotary phones, but his overall sentiment seemed to be that the endurance of calls to repeal Obamacare is tied as much to him as it is to the actual policy. His speech appeared to concern his legacy: Will politicians be able to make the necessary fixes to the ACA once he leaves office?

President Obama is optimistic on that front, but it is unclear if future fights over health policy will become any less bitter after he leaves office. As the American conservative movement splinters with the rise of Trump, and the Republican Party sees factionalism grow within its ranks, perhaps the most consistent, unifying policy thread among all camps is an ardent refusal to play ball with Obamacare. That refusal was obviously animated by obstructionism and has not been supplemented with many workable replacement policies, but it has been a key issue for Republican voters in three straight elections.

The law still faces a significant public unfavorability rating and rising dissatisfaction about costs, even as the approval rating of the president himself is the highest that it’s been in years. Given that Clinton has positioned herself both as an ideological progenitor and a reformer of Obamacare—and also given her own deep unpopularity—it is unclear whether, if she takes office and rebrands the bill “Hillarycare,” the bitter fight will magically subside. After all, health policy has often been contentious. Nevertheless, Obama is confident that the Affordable Care Act will endure.

Breitbart News Claims Paul Ryan Wants To Elect Clinton And Shares Her “Globalist Worldview”

  • Breitbart News accused House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) of conducting a “months-long campaign” to elect Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
  • The October 21 Breitbart News article, written by Julia Hahn, is headlined “He’s With Her: Inside Paul Ryan’s Months-Long Campaign To Elect Hillary Clinton President.” Hahn wrote, "Both Ryan and Clinton share a progressive, globalist worldview, which is at odds with Trump’s ‘America first’ approach,” adding that Clinton and Ryan “see themselves as representatives not only for American citizens, but also for foreign nationals and foreign interests.” She later states that “Both Clinton and Ryan view being American as an intellectual ‘idea’ rather than a national identity, and both support the donor-class’s agenda of open borders.”
  • The article ramps up Breitbart’s years-long campaign against Ryan, which was pushed by Bannon.
  • Breitbart staffers have also said that Bannon directed them to “destroy” Ryan, telling them in December 2015 that the “long game” was for Ryan to be “gone” by spring of the following year.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | October 22, 2016, 11:42 am

Most Damaging Presidential Run, Ever?

  • I noted earlier this morning that Donald Trump’s brand has been damaged by his presidential run.
  • There are also failed contenders for a presidential  nomination who fall into this category, with Rick Perry’s 2012 run the most obvious.
  • Mitt Romney took a beating in 2012 but his reputation quickly recovered, so much so that many still pine for him to somehow replace Trump on the ballot this go-round.
  • Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis more-or-less went away after their defeats, which perhaps obscured their previous accomplishments.
James Joyner / Outside The Beltway | October 22, 2016, 10:29 am