Deficit Falling at Fastest Rate Since WWII -- And Not Because of Spending Cuts

Pile of cash
Republicans like to say that you can't spend your way to prosperity. Why that statement doesn't get them laughed out of whatever room they're in every time they say it remains one of life's great mysteries. Of course you can spend your way to prosperity; ask any prosperous person. The only wealthy people who haven't spent their way to prosperity are those who've inherited wealth. Even lottery winners spent something to gain all their riches, even if it wasn't much. Wealthy people became wealthy by spending money -- and even by borrowing money.

Conservatives are dead wrong on this point and, indeed, the opposite is actually true -- you can't save your way to prosperity, since you're never going to be able to save more than you make -- or at least, figuring in interest, not much more. It's a case of Republican talking points contradicting other talking points; you can't spend your way to prosperity, but successful people are "risk takers" who put money on the line to get things done. One the one hand, conservatives praise entrepreneurs, on the other, they argue that entrepreneurial efforts are obviously doomed and only a fool would believe that you can spend money to make money. No wonder people who listen to talk radio make no sense at all when they start talking about economics. It's all a muddled mess of contradictory propagandizing with no real connection to how things actually work.

All of this started bouncing around in my head when I read this:

The Hill: The federal budget deficit for fiscal 2013 was $680 billion, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday.

This is the first time that the deficit has fallen below $1 trillion during President Obama's time in the White House.


The deficit has dropped $409 billion from 2012, when it was $1.089 trillion.

Is this a case of saving our way to prosperity? It's not. It's a case of bringing in more money. "Most of the change comes from higher tax receipts," the report goes on. "Receipts rose to $2.77 trillion in 2013, up from $2.45 trillion in 2012. Spending was $3.45 trillion, down from $3.53 trillion in 2012."

All those sequester cuts the Republicans love so much? Not doing a whole lot, other than slowing the rate of economic growth. You can't save your way to prosperity. As the economy improves, revenues rise. As revenues rise, the deficit falls. Therefore, if you want to reduce the deficit, you worry about the economy, not the deficit. Work on the economy and the deficit will fix itself. What's holding America back isn't poor economic stewardship from the White House, it's congressional obstructionism in service to an obsession with something that is simply not the problem. Deficit spending is a symptom, not the disease.

Republicans have everything bass-ackward here. You spend money when times are bad and save money when times are good. When the economy turns south, the last thing you want to do is cut back on government spending. It's idiotic. The economy staggers when people stop spending money -- so why would anyone think that this is the best time for the government to also stop spending money? All that does is make everything worse. I find it absolutely astonishing that this very, very obvious fact isn't very, very obvious to everyone.

"As a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the deficit fell to 4.1 percent, representing a reduction of more than half from the deficit that the Administration inherited when the president took office in 2009," said White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell. "The deficit reduction since that point represents the fastest decline in the deficit over a sustained period since the end of World War II." If deficit reduction were the key to economic prosperity, shouldn't we all be rolling in the dough right now? Instead, we continue to live with a struggling economic growth. If austerity is such a great thing for the economy, why isn't it working?

No, what we need to do is unchain the economy by eliminating the sequester cuts and abandoning any and all austerity measures. Economics hasn't been suddenly reversed and the old cliché that it takes money to make money is as true as it's ever been.


[photo via Wikimedia Commons]


Cuccinelli Demonstrates GOP's Crisis with Women Voters

It's a poll that should scare the Bejeezus out of every teabagging Republican everywhere in the nation. At first glance, it's just another survey showing former Hillary campaign manager Terry McAuliffe pummeling Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor's race. The trend is now so well set that that part of it comes as no surprise at all. But the big story is why he's losing so badly.

Washington Post: Democrat Terry McAuliffe has opened a double-digit lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli II in the race for Virginia governor, in a new poll capturing increasing dissatisfaction among voters with Cuccinelli’s party and his conservative views.

According to a new Washington Post/Abt SRBI poll, McAuliffe tops Cuccinelli 51?percent to 39?percent among likely voters in the Nov. 5 election. McAuliffe led by eight percentage points in a poll taken last month. Libertarian Robert Sarvis, who has capitalized on voter unrest with the two major-party candidates, is at 8 percent, according to the new poll.

The margin between the two major-party candidates is driven by a huge gender gap. Among men, the two candidates are running even, with Cuccinelli at 45 percent and McAuliffe at 44 percent. But among women, Cuccinelli trails by 24 points — 58 percent to 34 percent.

Cuccinelli is a religious right figure, as well as a Tea Party type -- and despite the teabaggers' insistence that they're a secular movement driven by economic concerns, Cuccinelli is what they all are. And what they all are is a pack of religious, as well as political, extremists. Ken Cuccinelli's big claim to fame is his crusade to save sodomy laws as a work-around to make homosexuality illegal.
But Ken's religious whackjobbery doesn't end at homophobia. It never does with these guys. In order to be a bona fide religious right nutcase, your first love and primary religious issue has to be abortion and women's rights. Ken Cuccinelli is profoundly anti-woman. He opposes a woman's right to choose, as well as contraception coverage.

And the Tea Party's view of women's issues is no better on the more secular side. They oppose food stamps and school lunch programs, various forms of government assistance and programs to aid families -- all of which affect women in particular, especially single mothers. And of course you don't have to be a single mother to learn about how damaging these policies are, you just have to know one. Combine all of this with the kneejerk anti-feminism of the Republican Party as a whole and you've mixed up a wreaking, toxic batch of woman voter repellent.

And damn, is that repellent ever working.

No wonder the Republican War on Voting includes attacks on female voters. This is, after all, not just a local Virginia phenomenon. In fact, recent polling shows that the damage is actually worse nationally. Where Cuccinelli is down a mere 24 points among women, polling finds that "one-third said Republicans had moved further away from their views." And that's only the percentage of respondents who said their opinions had changed. The percentage who reported no change -- 46% -- had to include plenty of Democratic voters already.

If Ken Cuccinelli represents one thing to Republicans, it should be a glimpse of their future. Years of wedge politics have left them with an ever shrinking portion of the electorate, as they pit men against women, whites against minorities, straights against gays, and middle class against impoverished. They've left themselves with a rapidly vanishing breed of elephant; the white, straight rural evangelical. Unless they make some changes and accept reality, they're going extinct right along with these guys.

The good news for everyone else is that Republicans don't do reality. If they don't like reality, they don't accept it. And so they seal their own fate.


[photo by Gage Skidmore]


Without Anything to Obstruct, Republicans are Lost

Crawling out from under the debris of their recent self-inflicted disaster, DC Republicans are brushing the dust off their suits, blinking in the glaring light of reality, and wondering what to do with the rest of the year. Turns out, that's not an easy question for them to answer.

Politico: For the first time in months, House Republicans are facing no immediate cataclysmic deadlines, and GOP leaders are struggling to come up with an agenda to fill the 19 legislative days that are left in 2013.

Need evidence? The House votes Monday evening and will finish its work week Wednesday. After that, the House is out of session until Nov. 12. Internally, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and senior Republicans aren’t discussing coming back early from the scheduled recess, but instead, they are wondering if they’ll cancel some of the remaining days in session.

Without an Obamacare windmill to joust with, they got nothing. The Republican Party now stands for one thing -- fighting Democrats. And when they have to put that one thing aside, they become legitimately confused. It's not like the nation has no problems to address, but that the GOP is a party without any ideas of their own. They've become so entirely reactionary that it seems impossible for them to think for themselves and come up with new ideas. Proaction is beyond their abilities or understanding. They need Democratic ideas to tell them what they're against. Without anything to obstruct, they're rudderless.

In fact, it's so bad that one of their big ideas in the period of Obamacare truce is to fight Obamacare. Seriously.

On Monday, House GOP chiefs of staff are meeting with leadership and the House Administration Committee on how members and staff will handle enrollment in the health care exchanges mandated under ACA. Boehner and House Republicans unsuccessfully pushed legislation that would end the government’s employer contribution to health care for lawmakers and aides. Now that they have to sign up, House Republicans face numerous questions on how to do so and who is covered.

In the meantime, it appears that the House will — once again — vote to delay portions of Obamacare, setting up another fight with Senate Democrats and the White House.

That there's what you call your one trick pony. Worse, it's a trick this particular pony can never pull off.

So the GOP's big plan for what little remains of the legislative year is to waste everyone's time -- just like the rest of the year. After 40-some failed anti-Obamacare bills, what's one more, really? Besides, if they stop fighting the Affordable Care Act. they'll be forced to admit that they no longer stand for much of anything at all.

This is a party in their death throes, being led off into oblivion by a final delusion. There's a long tunnel, a bright light... and wait, is that Ronald Reagan waving to them and offering to kill Obamacare? Maybe there is life after 2012 after all. They don't have to kiss up to minorities, women, gays, or those snotty little millennials, not when paradise awaits. They need only be faithful to the party's one remaining core belief -- that liberals are always wrong and their ideas need to be opposed.

Now Republicans just have to wait for liberals to propose something. so they'll know what to do. Never mind that being the reactionary party means giving up all pretense of leadership -- after all, you don't lead by letting someone else make the first move. But they'll just stay right here, treading water by losing a fight against Obamacare again, until someone comes up with something else for them to oppose.

Republicans know exactly where they're going -- in the opposite direction of everyone else. Now if only someone else would move, so they could know which direction that is.


[photo Wikimedia Commons]


Tea Party's Concern for Veterans is Short-Lived

During the shutdown, Rep. Blake Farenthold was one of the 'bagger reps exploiting veterans for political gain. When veterans learned that the WWII Memorial was closed, Farenthold was right there, making sure the barricades were pulled away. See, during a government shutdown, the real important thing is not making sure that families have food assistance, that homeless shelters remain open, or that the families of soldiers killed in action received death benefits. No, what was really important was to get plenty of photos of Rep. Blake Farenthold and other Republicans gladhanding vets, blackslapping each other, and generally acting like moving a temporary fence was pretty much equal to landing at Normandy themselves.

"Today, I was proud to join some of my fellow Texas members in welcoming WWII veterans from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area 'Honor Flight' to the World War II Memorial in D.C.," Farenthold said in a Facebook statement at the time. "These heroes made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our nation - and no barricade should prevent them from visiting their memorial."

Strictly speaking, the "ultimate sacrifice" would be dying, since "ultimate" means "last." So they haven't actually made that sacrifice for Blake Farenthold's freedom quite yet -- but Blake's working on that.

Burnt Orange Report: Farenthold sat down with Kristv news to discuss what exactly the shutdown did to the country and his motives for supporting it.

Kristv news quickly pointed out that many of Farenthold's constituents have said they will not vote for him again. Kristv asked Farenthold about the people who say he's lost their vote; people like retired veterans who were on the verge of losing their disability checks next month.

"I feel like my mandate when I was elected was to go reduce the size of government, lower taxes, and increase freedom, and freedom isn't free, and sometimes you have to make a small sacrifice to move forward with what you're after," Congressman Farenthold said.

So visiting a pile of marble in Washington, DC? Farenthold will move heaven and earth to make sure vets can do that.  Paying those same vets their disability benefits? Well, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Freedom isn't free. Blake knows this because of his sacrifice in... Well OK, he's never actually served anywhere other than as a talk radio blowhard.

If you get the feeling that Farenthold is scum, you're not alone. And he's hardly unique. The government shutdown caused tremendous damage to the country, while accomplishing absolutely nothing other than getting this people's faces on the news. That was it. That was the whole freakin' point. Everyone else had to make sacrficies for them, because they think they're the only people in the world who matter.

Joe Conason: ...We probably will not know the full cost of the shutdown and the near-default for several months, if ever, but fresh estimates are now arriving daily. According to Standard and Poor’s, the financial ratings agency, the shutdown alone reduced economic activity in the United States by at least $24 billion and cut growth in the current quarter by as much as 0.6 percent. That means a loss of thousands of jobs and billions in household income just when the economy would traditionally surge upward for the holiday season.

But that is just the beginning of a much grimmer inventory of suffering, which can be traced back more than two years to the first episode of tea party debt-ceiling bluster. For that assessment, we can look to none other than the Peter G. Peterson Foundation—named for its creator, a former Republican commerce secretary and fanatical fiscal hawk whose latest contribution to public discourse is a thorough study, with charts, of “the cost of crisis-driven fiscal policy.” Peterson’s full study is worth reading, but its essential points are simple enough.

That's on top of the sequester. None of this histrionic grandstanding actually did the country any good, much the same way that forcing open the WWII Memorial alleviated no suffering nor improved anyone's lives. When it comes to fulfilling our promises to veterans, to making sure that the American taxpayer receives the services those taxes pay for, to seeing to it that people have the bare minimum it takes to survive, Republican are more than ready so sadly inform you freedom isn't free. But when it comes to empty gestures that guarantee face time with news cameras, freedom is totally free -- just like it is at tax time, when paying for freedom isn't so metaphorical and everyone has to do it. The people who, like Blake Farenthold, remind us of the cost of freedom are the same ones who work overtime to make sure they never have to pay their fair share for it. Freedom isn't free when it's your ass on the line, but when it's Farenthold's wallet?

Yeah, it's free as sunshine.

When some 'bagger rep tells you how much they love America. Go ahead and laugh. They love it not. If they did, they wouldn't spend so much time slapping it and the American citizen around.


[photo via LiberalAmerica.org]


GOP's Rebranding Hits a Snag or 'How Republicans Screwed the Cooch'

Another day, another poll showing the GOP taking the blame for the government shutdown. How's that big rebranding effort going, guys?

Associated Press: Americans are holding Republicans primarily responsible for the partial government shutdown as public esteem sinks for all players in the impasse, President Barack Obama among them, according to a new poll. It's a struggle with no heroes.

The Associated Press-GfK survey, out Wednesday, affirms expectations by many in Washington — Republicans among them — that the GOP may end up taking the biggest hit in public opinion from the fiscal paralysis, just as that party did when much of the government closed 17 years ago. But the situation is fluid nine days into the shutdown and there's plenty of disdain to go around.

Overall, 62 percent mainly blamed Republicans for the shutdown. About half said Obama or the Democrats in Congress bear much responsibility.

Granted, no one comes out of this smelling like a rose. But the weight of all that "you suck!" is being shouldered mostly be Republicans. Barack Obama's approvals are underwater; 53% dissapprove of the way the President is handling the situation and only 37% approve. But that just makes him the most popular man in Washington. Only 5% approve of the job congress is doing.

Of course, at this point, AP's poll is just confirming what all the other polls have been saying: that the GOP have shot themselves in the foot. But those polls seem insufficiently scary. Republicans are standing their ground, telling anyone and everyone that they're winning and everything is awesome.

Maybe a different kind of poll with a different sort of focus will get their attention. Maybe something like this:

Politico: Democrat Terry McAuliffe has opened up a significant lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race amid broad public disapproval of the federal government shutdown, according to a POLITICO poll of the 2013 gubernatorial election.

McAuliffe, the former national Democratic Party chairman, is now 9 points ahead of Cuccinelli, the current state attorney general, in a race that also includes Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis. In the survey, McAuliffe drew support from 44 percent of Virginians versus 35 percent for Cuccinelli and 12 percent for Sarvis.

Four weeks from Election Day, McAuliffe also leads Cuccinelli in a one-on-one contest, 52 percent to 42 percent.

Let's be clear here, Ken "The Cooch"  Cuccinelli has absolutely nothing at all to do with the government shutdown. But the Republican Party brand has been so tarnished by the tantrum in Washington that Ken's clean hands ares irrelevant. Ken Cuccinelli has dropped down ten points against his Democratic rival because everyone thinks Republicans suck and because Cuccinelli is connected to Tea Party whackjob Ted Cruz.

The major curve ball in the Virginia race... which is now entering its second week and could be expected to have an outsize impact in a state with such a large population of both civilian and military government employees. McAuliffe has led Cuccinelli in the mid-single digits in both public and private polling; his margin is wider in the POLITICO poll, and the shutdown is the most obvious explanation for that.

Both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have spoken out against the shutdown. The Democrat has run ads tying Cuccinelli to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the so-called defund Obamacare champion, while Cuccinelli has accused McAuliffe of risking a shutdown in Richmond with his give-no-quarter support for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

The shutdown is already costing Republicans elections. If Virginia hasn't sent up red flags and set off ah-oo-gah horns at Republican Party HQ, nothing will. Tea Party reps are beginning to find themselves in a less comfortable position with their own voters and now Republicans who have nothing to do with the shutdown -- and indeed, have spoken out against it -- are getting hit in the public opinion driveby, as well.

When you hear a Republican say that the public is behind them, they're either lying to you, to themselves, or to both. This isn't working out very well for them at all.

Just ask The Cooch.


[photo by Gage Skidmore]


Tea Party's Creating Enemies, Not Allies

Tea Party protest
It's actually been nothing new. It wasn't long after Tea Party Republicans came to Washington in 2010 that they began to wear out their welcome. Shills for a handful of billionaires, the 'baggers were originally seen as just the sort of fresh blood a party in decline needed. They were ideologically extremist, sure, but newly elected people are always like that. Elected office is a form of activism, after all, abd these were just activists taking it to the next level. Washington -- and the Republican Party especially -- was already full of extremists, but that didn't mean that nothing could ever get done. You talk big and settle for what you can get. Besides, complaining brings in the campaign funds. Nothing raises money like a grand battle yet to be won. When you win the war, the soldiers go home.

But the 'baggers weren't interested in baby steps. They wanted the world and they wanted it now. Nothing less than total victory -- without compromise -- was acceptable and the leadership of more experienced lawmakers was spurned. By God, the Tea Party would either "save" the nation or destroy it, because anything less that Tea Party purity is considered communism, nazism, and various and sundry other forms of tyranny. In a world of black and white, with no subtleties of gray, they think they stand for liberty and anything else is tyranny. So why not destroy the nation if you don't get what you want? Anything short of what you demand represents the destruction of the nation anyway. This is what a generation raised on talk radio have become -- lunatic extremists who don't believe their political opponents are merely wrong, they believe the left is representative of every political evil visited on mankind throughout history, from Hitler to Stalin to the KKK. You don't compromise with the devil.

This is all very, very insane, of course. The old guard Republicans know it. But these new 'baggers can't be reasoned with, because as we've already established, they're insane. The insane are beyond reason by definition. The Tea Party wasn't the infusion of new blood that it at first seemed to be, it's a harmful force to be fought. Mention of the GOP Civil War has popped up from time to time, but it has never been anything other than a cold war. That is, until now.

Washington Post: Nearly three years after a band of renegade congressmen brought the tea party insurgency to Washington, there are early rumblings of a political backlash in some of their districts.

Here in the Dutch Reformed country of West Michigan, long a bastion of mainstream, mannerly conservatism, voters in 2010 handed the House seat once held by Gerald R. Ford to Justin Amash, a 33-year-old revolutionary and heir to the libertarian mantle of former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.). Amash was part of an attempted coup against House Speaker John A. Boehner (R- Ohio) and is a leader of the House tea party faction that helped force a government shutdown last week.

But within Grand Rapids’ powerful business establishment, patience is running low with Amash’s ideological agenda and tactics. Some business leaders are recruiting a Republican primary challenger who they hope will serve the old-fashioned way — by working the inside game and playing nice to gain influence and solve problems for the district. They are tired of tea party governance, as exemplified by the budget fight that led to the shutdown and threatens a first-ever U.S. credit default.

"Similar efforts are underway in at least three other districts.." The report goes on. "The races mark a notable shift in a party in which most primary challenges in recent years have come from the right."

And that's not the only front opened by old guard Republicans in the GOP Civil War. The US Chamber of Commerce says they will oppose any Republican candidate who votes to continue the shutdown or against raising the debt limit. And they aren't the only ones. According to one report, "Some influential Republican donors are now threatening to withhold their contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee over the shutdown strategy."

House Republicans current strategy is the Tea Party caucus' strategy -- and it is a fiasco. A new poll shows that they're in danger of losing the House majority. And that's a poll not a lot of people are disputing. Other polls show Republicans taking the blame for he government shutdown. This is not a fight the 'baggers are winning.

But it's a fight where everyone is against them and even their allies are defecting. The question is whether enough will defect in time. Whatever the outcome, we may be looking at the twilight of the Tea Party.

It cannot come too soon.


[photo via Wikimedia Commons]


And the Whole Republican Shutdown Goes Off the Rails

Lincoln Memorial, closed by shutdown
This is what often happens with high-profile protests and political movements. After a while, mission creep sets in and suddenly it's not about the original issue, it's about the fight itself. Think of Occupy Wall Street, where the protest became less and less about Wall Street corruption, wealth privilege, and growing in income inequality. As time went on, it became more and more about the protesters' right to occupy Zuccotti Park and the police brutality used there and by other police departments in other cities. Eventually, the whole thing went off message and that was the beginning of the end of the Zuccotti Park protest -- although not the movement as a whole.

Keep in mind, this took a while. Now consider this story from yesterday -- which was day three of the government shutdown.

Steve Benen: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) isn't the most prominent member of the House Republican caucus, but in recent weeks, he's played a pretty important role in shutting down the government. It was Meadows who initiated a formal letter, endorsed by around 80 of his House GOP colleagues, vowing to oppose any spending measure that failed to gut the Affordable Care Act.

To this extent, Meadows helped identify that most radical contingent of his caucus, and positioned himself as one of its ringleaders.

With this in mind, as Brian Beutler reported yesterday, "it was a big surprise" when Meadows told reporters this week that the government shutdown has nothing to do with Obamacare. "This fight now has become about veterans and about national guard folks that perhaps -- reservists that are not getting paid," the North Carolina Republican said. "That's where the fight is today."

So the Tea Party tantrum has gone from being about the Affordable Care Act to being about the government shutdown in no time flat. And give yourself a moment to let the stunning stupidity of this position sink in -- Republicans could resume those paychecks within the next few minutes, if they'd just pass a clean continuing resolution to fund government. As Benen points out, this seems to have been glaringly obvious to everyone but Meadows.

This point was not lost on NPR's Tamara Keith, who asked Meadows why the House doesn't just vote on "a full CR if you don't care about Obamacare anymore." If you listen to the audio, there's an awkward silence that lasts about five seconds. Eventually, the congressman says, "Why not vote on, on a full CR?"

Yeah, why not vote on the CR?

Meadows didn't have an answer for that, so he threw a bunch of random words at Keith like a Dadaist might throw a handful of magnetic poetry strips at a fridge. I'm not going to waste bandwidth reposting it here -- although you can check it at Maddow Blog if you're so inclined -- because it's only a bad parody of an English paragraph. He says a bunch of words that don't actually mean anything, but are simply meant to fill what would otherwise be an awkward silence. "Flapjack noodle bottle cap oatmeal!" would be as good a response. He has no answer -- and he's pretending he does.

"You won't hear Democrats repeating it in speeches because gibberish makes for poor rhetoric, but Meadows' response reinforces what many have feared," explains Benen. "House Republicans haven't the foggiest idea what they're doing right now."

As Republicans race around the WWII Memorial, using veterans as pawns (and exposing themselves as bullies and jerks in the process), keep this in mind -- they're doing it because they're losing. And, by making the shutdown about the shutdown, they're just making their position worse. Think about it: Americans blame Republicans for the impasse and the Republican response is "this shutdown sucks and somebody oughta do something about it!"?

Real sharp thinkin' there, Einsteins.

This thing began the process of failing the moment it began and it's even more over now. Every day, they fail a little harder, they look more like boobs and incompetents, and they demonstrate a level of political tone deafness unparalleled in modern history. As Jonathan Chait put it, "For an act of comparable cost-benefit political stupidity, you have to look to politicians who screw interns or hookers, and even that has a biologically explicable motivation."

If you really want to know what this is all about, it's about the fact that the GOP is a dying party on the national stage and they're desperate to find some way to remain relevant. It's about making Barack Obama pay for beating Mitt Romney. It's about punishing the voters who made that victory happen, because Republicans believe that Democratic voters are all welfare queens dependent on the government.

It's not about Obamacare now, because it never was. And as the shutdown goes on, the pretense slips their minds more and more often, until the mask falls away completely. Then they're exposed merely as toddlers having a tantrum.


[photo by John Sonderman]


GOP's War on Reality: Not Winning and Not Not-Losing

The image of Charlie Sheen, wild-eyed and overly-animated, announcing he's "Winning!" keeps popping into my head. It's not the freshest pop culture refrence in the world, but I suppose we aren't responsible for what our memories serve up in our idle moments. It's not even accurate; Sheen's "Winning!" quote came from a tweet, not an interview, so I have no idea what he looked like when he entered it into a smart phone. Still, it's there: a lunatic with eyes like saucers, circling down in a smoking tailspin, convinced he was on his way to glorious victory, announcing he was "winning!"

What generally gets me thinking about Sheen are stories like this:

National Journal: The two parties are portraying the stalemate over the federal budget and health reform as a titanic clash of principle, but a plurality of Americans believes that causing political problems for President Obama is now the GOP's top priority in Washington, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.

Respondents didn't view Washington Democrats' motivations quite so cynically, but even so, when the poll asked the public to rank that party's priorities, causing problems for congressional Republicans finished second, only behind reducing health care costs.

Meanwhile, as polls still consistently show that creating jobs remains task one for most Americans, only about one in seven adults in the United Technologies/Congressional Connection survey identified it as the highest priority for either party in Washington.

I suppose the bad rap Democrats are getting here is a result of false equivalency in the media, combined with story after story about the "partisan divide." People are well aware that the parties are less inclined to work together than in the past, but they may not know that -- for Democrats, at least -- it's because they're not very open to standing aside while Republicans engage in open cruelty with a War on the Poor. For Republicans, the motivation seems to be sore loserism and a desire to create failures for Democrats that can be used in political campaigns.

Still, the guys who are getting it hard are the guys on the right. Where "causing problems for Republicans" is a close second for Democrats among indies, the inverse question for Republicans isn't so awfully close. Independent voters see "reducing health care costs" as dems' no. 1 priority at 23% and political troublemakig second at 22%.

For Republicans, it's troublemaking as the top priority with 31% and "reducing government debt" in second at 17% -- not even close. The media's "both sides are just as bad" narrative has made a dent, but it hasn't destroyed swing voters' perception of reality completely.

Even along partisan lines, the perception of the GOP as political troublemakers persists. While only 5% of Democrats see partisan warfare as the Democratic Party's top priority, 14% of Republicans thought the same of their own party. You have to believe that a hefty fraction of that group thinks digging tiger traps for Democrats to fall into is a good thing.

Of course, this isn't the only poll with bad news for Republicans. Greg Sargent breaks down a Quinnipiac poll on the government shutdown:

It finds that 58 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of independents, oppose Congress defunding Obamacare. Seventy two percent, and 74 percent of independents, oppose shutting down major activities of the government to stop the health law. On the debt limit, 64 percent oppose not raising it to block the law. All of this is in spite of plurality disapproval of Obamacare. Dems have opened a nine point lead in the generic House matchup, 43-34...

This probably won't cost them the House of Representatives, since House Republicans have used gerrymandering to draw district lines around groups of voters who are just as crazy as they are. But it doesn't make things easier, either. And gerrymandering won't help them in Senate, Gubernatorial, and Presidential races, where the party is likely now more screwed than ever.

You have to wonder if House Republicans haven't just given up on being a national party for the time being. They undermine their ability to win anything other than rigged house races every chance they get. Maybe they know that the best they can do is be the brakes on progress, holding Democrats back and keeping America trapped in the amber of the status quo. Maybe from their perspective, they know they can't do anything to move things toward whatever Utopia it is that talk radio sells and that the best they can hope for is to prevent things from getting any worse. Maybe they know that the war has long sinced turned against them and that the best they can do is be partisans in the military sense -- militia types engaged in a guerilla war of annoyance, troublemakers who slow down the enemy's plans, but are never really able to stop them. They want to be the monkey wrench in the works. They just want to limit the damage until some outside force swings the war their way. In this type of warfare, the goal isn't winning, so much as delaying defeat long enough for winning to become possible again. All they have to do is hold the House as a home base to throw grenades from and to keep the fading light burning for as long as possible.

Maybe. Or maybe they really are like Charlie Sheen. Maybe they look at this polling data and decide that it's all wrong. After all, it wouldn't be the first time they'd deluded themselves in exactly that way. Whatever's going on inside their skulls, it's pretty clear that the whole "rebranding" thing is out the window. They clearly don't give a damn about alienating voters anymore. Their trust is in their gerrymandered districts and their rigged elections. Maybe they're shoveling more coal into their runaway train because they think it really is going to Reagantopia, rather than a brick wall.

Whatever their thought processes, it's eminently clear that they are not winning. And if the goal is to delay the end, then that's not going very well. They're not not-losing, either.


[photo by Wikimedia Commons]