He ain’t heavy

Via reader Hilts, Jon Chait has a pretty good piece on why he thinks people should should stop focusing on Chris Christie’s weight.

I will tell you why I think people should shut up about it: I don’t think it affects his ability to do his job. It’s that simple, for me. This isn’t about being politically correct. There all kinds of health problems and disabilities that I think would get in the way of being an effective president. Bachmann’s migraines might have been problematic (I’d have to know more to say for sure); whatever was wrong with George W. Bush — I think he might have suffered from some diagnosable cognitive/attention deficit disability, though I’m not an expert — probably impacted his ability to be an effective president.

I don’t think being overweight falls into that category. Do you?

Part of being a liberal is believing that if someone can do a job well, they deserve a shot at that job, whether they’re black, white, brown, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, atheist, thin, fat. That’s why we nominate great presidential candidates even if they’re black like Obama or from very poor families like Clinton. Leave all that only rich, corn-fed, broad-shouldered himbos need apply bullshit for the wingers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to call Chris Christie Chunky Jon Huntsman if he gets into the race. But you can’t convince me that his weight is a legitimate issue.

The best president of the (last) century could barely walk, remember.

Update. Obviously, to the extent that it affects his ability to get elected, that’s fair game. But I haven’t heard of it affecting his ability to be governor or to be a federal prosecutor.



The best and the brightest

I’m not normally one to hate competent public servants for no reason, but I’ve always hated Peter Orszag. He always seemed liked that sort of faux nice guy geek who would ultimately turn out to be the kind of sociopathic douche who would take millions in dollars of pay-off money from an investment bank, pen establishment-pleasing contrarian op-ed pieces that stabbed his old boss in the back, and advocate turning our entire society over to paid-for think tank hacks. (In short, he reminds me of almost everyone I knew in college.) Kthug:

Catherine Rampell comments skeptically on Peter Orszag’s call for delegating more policy to panels of nonpolitical experts. I’d add that this is an odd time to make such a proposal. Yes, the political world is deeply dysfunctional — but what’s equally remarkable is just how terrible the judgment of the supposed experts has been.

Kthug also, in a different piece, gives a good example of why this is such a bad idea:

I’ve written a lot about the Dark Age of macroeconomics, of the way economists are recapitulating 80-year-old fallacies in the belief that they’re profound insights, because they’re ignorant of the hard-won insights of the past.

What I’d add to that is that at this point it seems to me that many economists aren’t even trying to get at the truth. When I look at a lot of what prominent economists have been writing in response to the ongoing economic crisis, I see no sign of intellectual discomfort, no sense that a disaster their models made no allowance for is troubling them; I see only blithe invention of stories to rationalize the disaster in a way that supports their side of the partisan divide.

I used to believe that reasonable, educated people could all blah blah blah but now I think that nothing could be further from the truth. It’s easy to buy experts off, easier still to confuse sophistry with knowledge, and inevitable that powerful elites will mostly identify with other powerful elites.

The only possible serious check on all of this is democracy. That may suck but it’s how it is. Alan Greenspan and U of Chicago economics largely caused this recession. I don’t have to remind you about the awesome intellectual pedigree of the people who dreamed up the Iraq War. Also too, Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.








Probably Not the Next BJ Book Chat Selection

Whatever the eventual verdict on Ron “Reality-Based Community” Suskind’s new book, surely all reasonable people can agree with NYMag that Larry Summers is a toxic pest:

Adam [Moss]: Hi, Frank. So there’s a little commotion about this new book Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, which is being published on Tuesday… To give readers a super-fast overview, it’s a book, essentially, about Obama’s economic team during his first two years in office. The news of the book, according to some reports, is that Tim Geithner was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own pro-banker agenda. Or, according to other reports, that Larry Summers was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own — well, monomaniacal agenda. I’d add that it’s also about Rahm Emanuel being insubordinate to the president, just because. Basically, it’s about the presidency being hijacked by these three guys. And the guys thing is important because they’re pretty awful to women. Anyway, they’re the villains. Paul Volcker, Christina Romer, and Elizabeth Warren are the heroes. Bankers win, America loses. Did I get that right?
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Frank [Rich]: Hi, Adam, and yes, you did! I would point out that among the other heroes are more women (Sheila Bair, Brooksley Born, Maria Cantwell) and at least one man, the Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who also seems to be a serious Suskind source and who has now returned to the White House to succeed Austan Goolsbee and Romer as head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Not that that will do any good…
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AM: … Summers is portrayed as an egotistical nut job, single-mindedly determined to get Bernanke’s job; when he doesn’t get it, he goes bananas. He is supposed to be a conduit for the collective advice of the team, but undermines his colleagues, only passing along advice and information that supports his positions. I was kind of stunned how many officials were willing to go on the record against him.
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Peter Orszag relays this eviscerating quote that Summers said to him about Obama during the worst of the economic distress. According to Orszag, Summers says, “You know, Peter we’re really home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.” Later, Orszag says to Suskind, “Larry just didn’t think the president knew what he was deciding. Was this [obstruction of the president’s wishes] outright and willful?” In other words, asks Orszag, was Summers saying, “I know more than the president flat-out? That strikes me as … likely.” In an amazing memo, Pete Rouse, who would replace Emanuel temporarily as chief of staff, recommends firing Summers for “Larry’s imperious and heavy-handed direction of the economic policy process.” Romer says Summers made her feel “like a piece of meat.”
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In the end, nobody’s talking to Summers — not even his crony Geithner… At least according to Suskind, the only person who could stand Summers was Obama, which — in Suskind’s telling — was a misjudgment that had a rather profound effect on the first chunk of Obama’s presidency…



Ginning Up Their Base (-est)

Brad Friedman and Mother Jones have a meaty series of linked articles taking us “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Secret Seminar“:

“We have Saddam Hussein,” declared billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, apparently referring to President Barack Obama as he welcomed hundreds of wealthy guests to the latest of the secret fundraising and strategy seminars he and his brother host twice a year. The 2012 elections, he warned, will be “the mother of all wars.”
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Charles Koch would probably not publicly compare the president of the United States to a murderous dictator. (As a general rule, he and his brother don’t do much politicking or speechifying in public at all.) But Mother Jones has obtained exclusive audio recordings from the Koch seminar, a private event that took place in June at a resort near Vail, Colorado…
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Charles and David Koch are co-owners of Koch Industries, an energy and chemical conglomerate inherited from their father that is currently America’s second-largest privately held company. To date, the brothers have spent more than $100 million supporting hard-right political campaigns and institutions. They are key funders of the movement to discredit climate science and sow doubt on the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to global warming.
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The Kochs also bankrolled the fledgling tea party by making massive investments in right-wing political advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity as detailed by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker last year. More generally, the brothers have dedicated a portion of their vast wealth—and that of their benefactors—to influencing elections across the nation and swaying public opinion on everything from health care and fracking to labor policy and government spending…
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During his welcoming remarks, Charles Koch warned his guests that the 2012 elections are nothing short of a battle “for the life or death of this country.” He then acknowledged the individuals and families who had given more than $1 million to the brothers’ efforts—though he misspoke, saying “more than a billion,” earning a huge laugh from the crowd. “Well, I was thinking of Obama and his billion-dollar campaign,” Koch said, to more laughter and cheers. “So I thought, ‘We gotta do better than that.'” (Forbes pegs the brothers’ personal net worth at around $22 billion apiece.)…
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“We’ve had a lot of tough battles,” he continued. “We’ve lost a lot over the years, and we’ve won some recently.…And I pledge to all of you who’ve stepped forward and are partnering with us that we are absolutely going to do our utmost to invest this money wisely and get the best possible payoff for you in the future of our country.”

Because progressives are punctilious about fairness (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Kevin Drum points out that “[I]t’s quite possible that Koch intended something like, ‘Saddam Hussein called the Gulf War the mother of all wars, and for us, this is the mother of all wars we’ve got in the next 18 months.'”

Besides, when you read the whole thing, there’s plenty hard-data details to get righteously outraged over, apart from Koch’s habit of speaking from the murky depths of his Robber Baron id.



Other people’s parties

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner finds that:

[A] striking 53 percent (of voters surveyed) say that they will consider voting for a third party candidate next year.

This put me in mind of something Jay Ackroyd said a few weeks ago:

Voters have been throwing them out since 2006. It’s really all they can do. Hasn’t worked yet.

The last three elections were wave elections against the party that was in power at the time. I would argue that, in effect, all three were effectively votes against elitist, “centrist” opinion. In 2006, the “suck on this” war drove the Democratic victory, in 2008, the continuation of the “suck on this” war and the Maestro Greenspan-ravaged economy drove another Democratic victory, in 2010, the Kaplan-approved, insufficiently-stimulated economy drove a big Republican victory.

That is why there is something so incredibly perverse about the new pundit-and-plutocrat party that Friedman and his ilk are pimping: voters are unhappy precisely because of the policies that pundits and plutocrats pushed on the country. I can’t think of a better illustration of the shock doctrine than “centrist” elites driving the country into a ditch so that they can put Michael Bloomberg in charge of everything.

Of course, this is already going on, as Very Serious People use our austerity-throttled economic crisis to argue in favor of more austerity.



Not in our stars but in ourselves

I’m already tired of talking about that Drew Westen article about how Obama should have given better speeches and demonized the banksters more. I’m not saying it’s all wrong, but I mostly agree with the Monkey Cage’s take on it, that demonizing the banksters more might not have worked that well and that Westen is “fundamentally wrong in its portrayal of presidential power within American politics”.

American politics is a disaster in most ways. Media commentary is a mix of right-wing propaganda, both-sides-do-it tripe, and infantile fantasies about Reagan and Churchill. Very Serious People — at Brookings, at CFR, at S&P — are consistently wrong about almost everything, from Iraq to austerity. A political party used to sometimes nominate smart competent leaders like Eisenhower and Bush I now elects extremists, some of whom wanted to see a huge government default. The one bright spot is that the Democratic party often nominates good presidential candidates. Whether or not Clinton and Obama got/get everything right, they have to be near the very top of the heap of western political leaders of the last 25 years in terms of intellect and political talent.

I just don’t see why it makes sense to focus much energy on why they are, or were, so awful.

I realize that this makes sound like the worst kind of fanboi, but everything I said is true, right?



The best and the brightest

Reader B sends along news of David Brooks’ book deal (don’t have a link, he got it via email):

NYT columnist and #1 NYT bestselling author David Brooks’ two new books, the first on humility, looking at the gale force wind of self-preoccupation, self-celebration, and self-enhancement that has come to dominate every aspect of our lives, and at how the idea of humility, defined as the opposite of self-preoccupation, and informed by a new and more accurate view of human nature, can open up new and better foundations for community, commitment, and life purpose in a changing world, again to Will Murphy at Random House, by Glen Hartley at Writers’ Representatives (World).

Reader D sends along an Atlantic magazine job listing:

Atlantic Media recruits for two personal attributes in its candidates. The first is force of intellect – reflected in discipline and rigor of thought as manifested, often, in exceptional academic performance. The second is a personal spirit of generosity – a natural disposition towards service and selfless conduct.

Kthug explains how many arguments about economics work these days:

I don’t have time right now to track down all the examples, but if you look at how many freshwater macroeconomists have responded to Keynesian arguments in this crisis, you find over and over again that they resort to assertions of privilege — basically, I am a famous macroeconomic expert and you aren’t — rather than really addressing the issues. And this is so ingrained a response, apparently, that they use it in situations where it’s truly ridiculous: Lucas accusing Christy Romer of not understanding basic macro, then demonstrating that he doesn’t understand Ricardian equivalence; Barro belittling the credentials of yours truly, just after forgetting that there was rationing and investment controls during World War II.

This what American public discourse has devolved into: an undeserving, unbelievably self-absorbed “elite” telling the rest of us bitch better recognize, while lecturing the rest of us about how we should be more humble.