Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why did the GOP Choose Michael Steele?

Was it imitation, desperation, or a little of both?

The Field Negro thinks it was imitation out of desperation:

Steel might be "charismatic", but he strikes me as one of those Negroes who will say whatever is necessary to fit in. I see the guy on FOX NEWS and he is killing Obama and calling him every kind of name in the book. Then I see him on one of those late night talk shows and he is saying what a great guy Obama is and how the repubs have a lot of work to do blah blah blah. Yeah, Michael is somewhat of a fraud, he should fit in well with the folks over at the RNC.

But he will be right at home with the repubs, and this is just what the Doctor ordered for them in the age of Obama. They were losing their minds while trying to come up with an answer for his O ness, and now they think they have it. Damn that Obama sure is popular. He is smart, articulate, and very telegenic. Where can we get a Negro like that? Hey, how about that Steele guy, he speaks really well....

Sure the Republicans were looking for an answer to Barack Obama, but they were also looking for someone who didn't remind people of:

Strom Thurmond (Caton Dawson, Chip Saltsman)
James Dobson (Ken Blackwell)
or the Horse with No Name (Mike Duncan, Saul Anuzis).

Like The Field Negro, I think Steele is going to be exposed as a phony sooner or later.

But Steele isn't obviously inadequate.

And that makes all the difference to the Republicans right now.

Did Daschle Do Any Work for Intermedia?

It appears that Tom Daschle didn't pay more than $100,000 in taxes over the last few years. That means that Daschle had about $300,000 in extra income beyond what he reported.

Nice work if you can get it.

But that's the question in my mind. Did Daschle do any work for the income on which he didn't pay any taxes?

Here's the key passage in the New York Times.

The car and driver were provided by Leo Hindery Jr., a media and telecommunications executive who had been chairman of YES, the New York Yankees regional sports network. In 2005, Mr. Hindery founded a private equity firm known as InterMedia Advisors. Mr. Daschle was chairman of InterMedia’s advisory board.

In a financial disclosure statement filed this month with the Office of Government Ethics, Mr. Daschle reported that he had received large amounts of income from InterMedia, including more than $2 million in consulting fees and $182,520 in the form of “company-provided transportation.”

Given that Leo Hindery is also a big Democratic fundraiser, there's reason to ask what kinds of work Tom Daschle did as "chairman of Intermedia's Advisory Board" and how he earned his "$2 million in consulting fees" and use a company car and driver for mostly personal purposes.

Obviously, there are consultants who do research and give expert advice to "private equity firms" and help those companies increase their profits (at least when the economy isn't collapsing).

But "consulting" is also a sufficiently nebulous term that it could describe other kinds of arrangements as well.

In Daschle's case, you have to wonder if "consulting" is an arrangement where the CEO keeps a political heavyweight on a huge retainer to stroke the CEO's ego, ensure that the heavyweight makes some "real money," or gain benefits for the CEO when the heavyweight gets back into government.

Of course, it could be all of the above.

This isn't like the Timothy Geithner case. With Geithner, it was just a matter of screwing up his tax returns. The Senate should be looking carefully at the sources of Tom Daschle's income as well as his taxes.

And the Senate should not confirm Daschle if it turns out that Daschle's arrangement with Intermedia was some sort of sweetheart deal. That kind of arrangement is inherently corrupt and should be inherently disqualifying.

McCaskill Sends a Lifeline to the Financial Sector

The best thing that could have happened to the financial sector was Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-MO) bill limiting the salaries of companies receiving TARP funds to $400,000--the President's salary.

The bottom line is that Wall Street and the banking industry haven't responding to the current situation in a tenable way.

The United States is in a financial crisis because American financial institutions have failed and failed catastrophically. Individual leaders failed, institutions failed, and the business culture rooted in the early 80's failed. Beginning with the leveraged buyouts and takeovers of the early 1980's and continuing through the development of the derivatives market, the financial sector developed an enormous sense of entitlement, raised executive compensation to the stratosphere, and kept it there even after the companies began falling into crisis.

To recover from the crisis, the financial sector will have to replace most of its leaders, rebuild the companies, and dramatically change the business culture of financial institutions.

And the first order of change will be reigning in the pervasive sense of entitlement.

That's what Claire McCaskill was helping financial institutions with when she filed the bill to limit the executive salaries of companies receiving TARP money to $400,000. She was helping them change their business culture for the better.

Here's McCaskill talking to Huffington Post (another example of the prominence of blogs in contemporary Democratic politics).

QUESTION: Tell me how you came about introducing this bill.
MCCASKILL: I've been mad for a while, when first there was talk -- even within weeks of when we passed the initial half of the TARP money, [there were] rumors about bonuses, the fact that too many of these guys were holding unto the jobs even though they were running these companies into the ground. Reality didn't seem to be the order of the day. This culture, this idea, that these guys are entitled not just to their jobs but to excessive compensation, even when their companies were in moments of extinction because of the decisions they had made, just seemed unreal
to me.
Looking back, shouldn't legislation like this have been attached to the first installment of the Troubled Asset Relief Program?
Absolutely. Looking back, I just think none of us really comprehended that this culture was so calcified of entitled that multi-million dollar salaries are due, regardless of whether or not they perform (my emphasis). When all this started piling up - and I was having a conversation with someone this morning - and they said: 'None of them should make more than the president.' And he was right. None of them should be making more than the president. So I walked down the hallway and said draft it and we went to the floor and introduced it today.

I think this at least sends the signal that the party is drawing to a close. If you take this bill along with some of the other things my other colleagues are doing, Sheldon Whitehouse is focusing on $40 billion of deferred compensation that is still on the books for these guys and these companies. That needs to be wiped out.

McCaskill had some revealing things to say to NBC as well.

"We have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer." And then the Missouri Democrat reloaded. "They don't get it . . . These people are idiots. You can't use taxpayer money to pay out $18-billion in bonuses... What planet are these people on . . . "

"Once they're off the public dole, once the taxpayers aren't footing the bill, then it's not as much our business what they get paid," she said. "But right now, they're on the hook to us. And they owe us something more than a fancy waste basket and a $15-million dollar jet. They owe us some common sense."

McCaskill added, "We must have our financial institutions survive, but not with a culture that thinks it's OK to kick the taxpayer in the shins while they drink champagne and fly in fancy jets."

Obviously, McCaskill is ticked off. Who can blame her besides a delusional like Rudy Giuliani? But the basic fact is that the private financial sector as a whole is not going to survive if the current culture of executive entitlement continues. The only way to finance the extremely high level of executive salaries, perks, and bonuses was to commit enormous financial resources to speculative bubbles like the derivatives market. If the culture of executive entitlement persists, financial companies will be going back down the road to ruin soon again . . .

And then they will have to be nationalized.

Claire McCaskill is sending the financial sector a lifeline. They should take it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blogs in the Political Architecture

Talking Points Memo had a story today on the complaints of Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Pete DeFazio (D-OR) concerning the relative lack of infrastructure projects in the Obama stimulus package.

Specifically, the congressmen complained about Larry Summers, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, not being committed to infrastructure spending.

DeFazio even joked that "Harvard had it right" in firing Summers as president.

Rachel Maddow and other liberal blogs have been pursuing the "insufficient infrastructure" story for a week and the House did put $3 billion for mass transit back into their stimulus bill.

But what's most significant about the story is that blogs like Talking Points Memo have become a part of the communications architecture through which Democratic Party factions negotiate with each other.


Is It Obama's New Deal or Obama's New WWII

One of the benefits of receiving Ann Coulter's columns in my e-mail is the little sales pitches she makes for a purported stock genius named Mark Skousen, Ph.D.
I wonder if Coulter gets compensated for that.
What's interesting about today's pitch is that Coulter titled it "Obama's "New New Deal" -- and YOUR Money."
But if I understand Obamanomics right, the Obama administration is thinks of its policy as a "New World War II" rather than a "New New Deal."
What finally brought the American economy out of the Great Depression was the massive government spending associated with WWII.
That's essentially what Obama wants from his stimulus package, a huge fiscal boost that lifts the economy out of its current downward spiral.
That brings us to a big question.
It's doubtful that the current stimulus package of $819 billion is big enough to be the fiscal equivalent of WWII. $819 billion is only 5.7% of our $14 trillion economy.
But will he be able to get another big stimulus package out of Congress next year?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Expansion of Health Insurance Begins

Good news on health policy--
The Democratic-controlled Congress moved a step closer to handing President Barack Obama an early health care victory Thursday as the Senate passed a bill extending government-sponsored health insurance coverage to about 4 million uninsured children.
The Republicans worry "that Democrats are using SCHIP to increase the government's role in providing health care."

And they are right.

Of course, expanding the government's role in health care is both a good thing and long overdue.

More Rod to Come

Rod Blagojevich may not be governor of Illinois, but does anybody really think his 15 minutes of fame are really over?

Too bad he couldn't marry Sarah Palin. They could have a great reality show.

Democratic Senate 65

There's been a lot of bogus chatter about the Republicans making gains if the economy doesn't pick up by the 2010 elections.

But it's far more likely that the Democrats will be nudging toward 65 votes.

Think I'm kidding.

Here's the run-down.

There are currently 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans in the Senate if we include Al Franken from Minnesota. And yes, Minnesota has elected a comedian over their incumbent Republican.

But Republican Senators from Florida, Missouri, and Kansas have already declared that they're not running for re-election. Of those three states, Democrats are good bets in Florida and Missouri. The situation for Republicans in Florida is dire because none of the prominent Republicans want to run. A Democratic takeover would also be a good bet in Kansas if Gov. Kathleen Sebelius decided to run.

That gets up to 61 with a decent shot at 62.

There's also two Republicans who are thinking of following Trent Lott's example and quitting mid-term. There's noise about Judd Gregg of New Hampshire joining the Obama administration as Secretary of Commerce and being replaced by a Democratic governor. Likewise, Kay Bailey Hutchinson is thinking about running for governor of Texas and Democrats would have a decent chance of winning an election to replace her.

That makes it 62 with a shot at 64.

Finally, Jim Bunning of Kentucky is the Republican who's in most trouble for re-election in 2010. In fact, he has so little chance of being re-elected that Republican leader Mitch McConnell shouts "dead man walking" every time he sees Bunning in the hall.

The Democrats would need everything to go right to reach 65. But that's a lot more likely right now than any kind of Republican renaissance.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kissing Limbaugh's Stimulus Ring

Limbaugh's Butt--No. 4. Kissing Limbaugh's Ring--The Republicans are about hierarchy and yesterday they sorted out the new post-Bush order with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on top and Congressional Republicans following their cues. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia, the Chair of the Republican Study Group in the House, had commented to the day before that it was easy for Limbaugh and Hannity to be bomb throwers.
“I think that our leadership, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are taking the right approach,” Gingrey said. “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn’t be or wouldn’t be good leaders, they’re not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell."
Gingrey thought that Boehner and McConnell were in the "leadership position" because of their official positions as "Republican leaders." But Gingrey found out that it was Limbaugh who was in the "true leadership" position. After getting thousands of e-mails and telephone calls, the Georgia congressman felt that it was necessary to go on Limbaugh's radio show, apologize for his "foot-in-mouth disease" and praise Limbaugh to the skies as a "conservative giant." Even more important, Gingrey also had to accept Limbaugh's delusional claim that President Obama is only interested in bi-partisanship because Obama assumes his stimulus package will fail and wants "bi-partisan" cover.

Actually, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Gingrey had to kiss Limbaugh's ring. Timothy Noah of Slate observed years ago that lobbyists had higher status in Washington than most members of the House. The same was surely the case with Limbaugh and Hannity. What's changed is that Rush Limbaugh now has more clout than "leading Republicans" like Gingrey. Gingrey might have status within the House Republican Caucus but his lack of a national media profile meant that Gingrey is a nobody compared to Limbaugh.

Now, Phil Gingrey and other prominent House conservatives are going to be taking their cues from Rush Limbaugh rather than the other way around. George Bush might be gone, but right-wing delusions are going to dominate the Congressional Republicans more than ever.

By the way, Limbaugh was so nervous and had so many ticks as he was talking with Gingrey that it was hard not to think that he was still having some addiction issues.

The Stimulus Package--The Obama stimulus package passed the House of Representatives yesterday on a 244 to 189 vote without a single Republican voting in support. There's been two kinds of stories about the vote, the story of Obama's bi-partisanship "failing" in the mainstream media and the liberal blogs seeing the Republicans refusing compromise even though the Democratics bent over backwards to accommodate them. This is the Lucy and the Football story in which Obama and the House Dems did many of the things the Republicans wanted and they still pulled the football away and voted "no."

My own view is that the whole thing has a big win for President Obama so far. Obama fulfilled his No. 1 campaign promise of bringing a new kind of politics to Washington, met with the Republicans in all kinds of forums, and adjusted his plans. Obama more than met his obligation to meet the Republicans half-way, but the Republicans remained mired in the "tired partisanship of the past" and that hurt them. Even worse for the Republicans, House Republicans showed that they could be easily pushed around by right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh who are reviled by the American public at large. When Phil Gingrey kissed Limbaugh's ring, he lost moderate votes for Republican candidates all over the country and made the Republican Party an even narrower ideological group than it was before.

Getting no Republican votes might have been bad for bi-partisanship, but it's a big political plus for Obama.

The Banking System: A Bad Moon Rising

I was never that big of a Credence Clearwater fan, but I couldn't help thinking of "Bad Moon Rising" when I saw this tidbit in an article on the banking crisis from the Washington Post (via MSN).
The health of many banks is getting worse, not better, as the downturn makes it difficult for all kinds of consumers and businesses to pay back money they borrowed from these financial firms. Conservative estimates put bank losses yet to be declared at $1 trillion.
I think it's fair to say that the American economy doesn't need another trillion dollars in bad news.

Actually, it gets worse.

Author David Cho goes on to look at the credit crunch and argues that the ability of banks to make loans depended on the mortgage based securities that are now on the wrong side of worthlessness.

Some help from the TARP bailout, government officials said, may go to jump-starting the credit markets that finance roughly half the debt owned by businesses and households. During the boom years earlier this decade, investors bought pools of mortgages and other kinds of loans packaged into securities, providing fresh funding for bank lending. But this activity ceased after traders lost confidence that the market was accurately pricing the value of these securities and assessing their risk.

If "normal bank lending" was indeed contingent on the highly speculative market in derivatives and credit default swaps (CDS) that relied on mortgage backed securities, the banking system as a whole was profoundly distorted and unsustainable for any kind of long term.

No doubt following up on his sources in the Obama administration, Cho suggests that the solution would be to put the derivative and CDS markets on a "more solid grounding."

The Federal Reserve is poised to launch an initiative in coming weeks to restart a segment of these markets by offering to buy highly rated commercial paper, backed by assets such as credit card debt, student loans and auto loans. Officials are considering expanding this initiative to help free up loans for municipalities, small businesses, commercial real estate and other consumer debt.

I'm not an economist but this just sounds disastrous. On the surface, it looks like the fed is looking to build an economic castle on a new pile of quicksand. How much more reliable can "credit card debt, student loans, and auto loans" be as a backing for securities than home mortgages? Not very!

There's another problem. If the derivative and CDS markets are tied to things like credit cards, student loans and auto loans, then there will be pressure to offer flimsy loans as a way to keep priming the financial markets. Eventually, the banking system would start falling apart again because of the inability of credit instruments to provide an adequate grounding for the financial markets.

What the Obama administration needs to do is to build (or rebuild) a credit system that does not depend on the derivative and CDS market for the credit needed to make necessary commercial and consumer loans.

If the administration can't accomplish that goal through reconstructed private lending agencies, then they're going to have to do it through some sort of government system.

Good luck with that!

RSI Losing Power

No, it's not a metaphor.

The RSI family was privileged to be one of the 50,000 Kentucky families that lost power last night. Our lights went off at about 9:30--it seemed that a little knot of homes on our street all lost power--and stayed that way for eight hours as the drizzle kept coming down over the ice.

It wasn't too big of a crisis though. We broke out the candles and Miss Tween RSI and a friend went out sleigh-riding. Eventually, Miss Tween was farmed out to the friend's house and the rest of the family hunkered down for a "long winter's nap." The heat was out but everybody was able to sleep. The house is well-insulated. It didn't get that cold.

Today's another day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Limbaugh's Butt--No. 3. How Can Cillizza Be Boring About Limbaugh?

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza's note on Rush Limbaugh's new prominence in American politics is an unbelievable bore. How does he do it? Looking at Limbaugh provides an extremely interesting perspective on political dynamics at the outset of the Obama administration. Plus, Rush Limbaugh might be the single most quotable human being in the United States of America (apart from Ann Coulter perhaps).

Yet Cillizza limits himself to one dull Limbaugh quote and goes on to quote a couple of Republican consultants who are trying very hard not to say anything. Here's one.
"Rush is a double-edged sword, he cuts both ways" said Phil Musser, a Republican consultant and former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. "Sometimes you love him, sometimes you cringe at his impolitic (he'd say honest) fusillados."
Talk about cringing, I cowered when I saw "impolitic fusillados." Musser must have spent too much time at all-white country clubs while he was growing up.

There are several facts to keep in mind here.

The most important is that Rush Limbaugh is extremely unpopular with the 80% of the population that aren't committed conservatives. Limbaugh knows this as well as anyone. People on the left despise him as a "Big Fat Idiot, (the book that made Al Franken a senator)" but moderates hate him just as much.

The mainstream media was pulling Limbaugh into the national spotlight even before Obama mentioned him. That's because GOP congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have such a weak media presence. Cillizza quotes Haley Barbour retainer Ed Rogers as saying that the Republican leadership has not found "their voice or direction." That's weak, weak, weak! John Boehner doesn't have enough charisma to fill a shot glass. How's he ever going to find his voice?

The same with McConnell.

The emergence of Limbaugh provided Obama and his press secretary Robert Gibbs with the opportunity to tell Boehner and McConnell that they were either "with Obama or with Limbaugh." Because both of those choices are losers for the GOP leadership, Boehner and McConnell were probably trying to figure out how to stand "on the middle ground" for the first time in their lives.

At the end, Cillizza raises the question of whether Limbaugh's new prominence as a "Republican spokesman" is a good thing for the Republican Party.

Why raise the question when the answer is obvious? Having Limbaugh in the mainstream media is horrible for the Republican Party. They wouldn't do any worse if they dug up Saddam Hussein and made him a party spokesman.

John Boehner and the Art of Demagoguery

Last Friday, the Republicans focused on attacking the spending entailed by the Obama stimulus package working its way through the House. Republican leader John Boehner put it this way.
“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?”
Where did Boehner get "hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?" That's an interesting question. Here's the actual provision of the legislation from ThinkProgress.
State Option to Cover Family Planning Services. Under current law, the Secretary has the authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to states to allow them to cover family planning services and supplies to low-income women who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would give states the option to provide such coverage without obtaining a waiver. States could continue to use the existing waiver authority if they preferred.

The purpose of the legislation is to provide "family planning services" as part of a general effort to maintain health services for poor women.

As the Republican leader in the House, Boehner could have taken "the high road" and argued that "maintaining health services for poor women" provides little economic stimulus. In terms of economic consequences, the main effect of providing health services for poorer women would be to lower future health expenses. According to ThinkProgress, the figure would be $200 million over 5 years. More health services means fewer unwanted pregnancies, guarding against chronic illnesses like cancer, and things like that. Certainly, lowering health expenses is a worthwhile goal, but there's an argument there it wouldn't provide a significant economic stimulus.

In this context, Boehner could have suggested that family health services could be linked to the construction or remodeling of health clinics in low income areas or Obama's efforts to transform medical record-keeping. In that way, the economic stimulus from putting up new buildings and installing new computer systems would be directly connected to improved health outcomes.

But Boehner decided to take the low road--the very low road.

Instead of framing a serious criticism of "maintaining health services" as economic stimulus, Boehner focused on contraception in a way that impugned an association with promiscuity or abortion or impugned that women's health was not a serious matter.

At the same time, Boehner made up a figure of "hundreds of millions of dollars" and attached it to legislation. The ultimate result was that Boehner deceptively represented the Obama administration and the Democrats as squandering an enormous amount of money on something that's "morally questionable" on the one hand and impugned the seriousness of women's health on the other.

In other words, it was a neat bit of demagoguery.

To top it all off, Boehner made his sensational claim about contraceptives on Friday and thus guaranteed that the Sunday news shows would be about "hundreds of millions of dollars for contraceptives." The result was that he put the Democrats on the defensive for an entire 48 hour news cycle.

No doubt Boehner and other Republicans were happy over winning a small victory on Monday.

What this means is that we're back to the 2008 election in which Obama focused on the big picture and the McCain campaign fought hard to win the daily news.

In fact, McCain managed to create a lot of headlines with his "Celeb" ads. Likewise, a lot of people on the left (like me) wanted the Obama people to be more aggressive in response.

But Obama won handily and I suspect that he'll also win handily on the stimulus package.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mongiardo Declares

Today, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo of Kentucky announced that he is running for the Senate seat held by Republican Jim Bunning.

The conventional wisdom is that Mongiardo has a good shot to win. Running against Bunning in 2004, he came within 23,00 votes despite being an obscure state senator from Hazard. This time, Mongiardo will have a higher profile, be a more experienced campaigner and will have access to a ton of money from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

That gives him a shot.

The conventional wisdom might be right here because Bunning is such an obvious target. I've seen Bunning speak. Known mostly as a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Phillies and a sharp-elbowed politician, the 77 year-old Bunning's political fastball is just as far gone as his brushback pitch. He made a fool of himself in 2004 by phoning in a debate and making denigrating remarks about Mongiardo (an Italian-American) looking like one of Saddam Hussein's sons.

And the expectation is that Bunning will make a fool of himself again.

At the same time, Mongiardo hasn't exactly proven that he's a big league political hitter while serving as lieutenant governor in the lackluster Beshear administration.

So, the question is whether Mongiardo has enough political talent to take on a guy who's fading as obviously as Bunning.

If Mongiardo gets the Democratic nomination, he'll have a good shot on the basis of turnout.

Mongiardo will get majorities in Louisville, Lexington, and rural Eastern Kentucky and he has a good shot at winning if he can inspire higher levels of off-year turn out in those areas.

That's because turnout most likely won't be that high in GOP strongholds. Bunning is the kind of guy who's almost impossible to get excited about and I don't think that preventing the Senate Democrats or defeating the relatively colorless Mongiardo is going to motivate Republican voters either.

Depressed Republican turnout hurt John McCain. It will kill Jim Bunning.

Krugman and the Lions of Conventional Opinion

Last night, Crooks and Liars had a story on ABC's This Week program entitled Paul Krugman Takes Sam Donaldson to School on This Week.

But the reality of the situation was not so encouraging.

Krugman was on the program with George Stephanopoulos, Sam Donaldson, George Will, Cokie Roberts, and Carly Fiorina.

And he was the only one on the panel who didn't just ASSUME that tax cuts were the best way to address the economic crisis.

In the end, Krugman was just the token liberal on a panel that reiterated the conventional wisdom.

Would Bank Nationalization Be So Bad?

One of the arguments against the nationalization of banks like Citigroup and Bank of America is that government officials can't manage banks:
So far the Obama administration has signaled that it is trying to avoid that day, and members of its economic team — among them Mr. Geithner and the president’s top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers — made the case during the Asian financial
in the 1990s that governments make lousy bank managers.

But would "government bankers" really be worse than the current generation of major bank management which has lost hundreds of billions of dollars?

The answer to that is probably no.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Much Worse Than Cocooning

You have to give David Frum credit for trying. Frum served as a Bush speechwriter and wrote a horrible book with Richard Perle, but he does seem to be trying to get a grip on what's wrong with the Republican Party.
Our party has been crippled by an all-pervading assumption at the center that if you just don’t talk about bad news, it will go away: whether it’s an extravagant wardrobe decision - or a bad job creation record. Our leaders cocoon themselves, refuse to hear unwelcome news, and reward yesmanship.

But that doesn't come close to getting it.

The Republican Party and its conservative base go way beyond "cocooning." In fact, they've become deeply committed to maintaining an alternative reality. For the Republicans, it all gets down to the conviction that "Bush was right" and imagining a weirdly distorted world in which such a conviction was justified.

In terms of the war in Iraq, this means that "the invasion was right" despite the lack of WMD's, the failure to understand Shiite/Sunni sectarianism, and the bizarre idea that Iraq would become a beacon of liberty in the Middle East.

That's not to mention the 4,000 American combat deaths.

"Bush was right" also means that Republicans believe that Guantanamo, torture, and extraordinary rendition have been the only thing that's been keeping the country safe for the last seven years.

What the Republicans have been saying about Obama's turning back from Bush's terror policies has been so off the wall that Matthew Yglesias declares himself "gobsmacked" by all the nonsense.

Here's a few examples of the weird stuff Yglesias hass been hearing from the right.

The fact that the Bush administration has let dangerous terrorists go free means
Obama should keep innocent people detained.
The fact that the Bush administration screwed up the paperwork on detainees shows that there was more wisdom to Bush’s policies than Obama acknowledged on the campaign trail.
Obama’s promise of change was empty and hypocritical because it will take time to implement his executive orders.
The “Guantanamo” issue is primarily about the physical location of the facility rather than the legal status or treatment of the detainees.
Since many liberals live in San Francisco, anyone who thinks it would be ill-advised to transfer prisoners to a museum in the San Francisco Bay that hasn’t been a prison for decades is a hypocrite.

It goes on.

"Bush was right" means that "deregulation was right' even though the failure to regulate the financial industry has put the country on the edge of a depression.

It also means denying the vast amount of research on climate change, not giving a damn about the environment, and being opposed to most kinds of social progress.

"Bush was right" mantra also declares that the only way to combat sexually transmitted diseases is abstinence and that pharmacies shouldn't make contraceptives available to women.

In other words, they want to turn back the dial to the fifties.

The problem for the Republicans is that they remain committed to their alternative universe even though their views are rejected and ridiculed by an increasing majority of the American public.

That's a lot worse than cocooning.