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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Joe Klein on Journolist

(in reverse chronological sequence)

From: <joe_kl...@timemagazine.com>
Date: Aug 29, 6:03 pm
Subject: A letter from Mr. Billy Ralph Bierbaum of Waxahachie, Texas
re: condensed journalism
To: Journolist

XXX--i think primary challenges are valid in some cases. I'd vote for Sestak over Specter in a heartbeat. They are much more tricky in the House...As for Greenwald, he knows little about politics, less about journalism and cares not a whit about the national security of the United States. I find the Limbaugh-like, knee-jerk devotion of his flock depressing.

On Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 3:41 PM, Joe Klein<joe_kl...@timemagazine.com>

XXXX—Sorry, I misread your original p ost and didn’t realize that it was a district with 40% African-American Democratic primary electorate. But you won’t be surprised to learn that my essential point is unchanged: I am more interested in expanding the party than in purging it. I have very little sympathy with those who are more interested in whacking moderates than in making sure that moderate districts are represented by Democrats rather than Republicans. And I wouldn’t want to take the risk—or spend a scintilla of energy or $1 of funds—whacking a respected senior member of the House Democratic Caucus, even if he were less thoughtful and honorable than Cooper. But then, I’m more moderate than you are...and proudly so.

As for Cooper and health care, HR3200 is more a bargaining chip than a bill—and a bad idea, at that. It forces Democrats like Cooper to take unnecessary votes on provisions like the public option and taxes that can come back to haunt them—especially when those provisions won’t be part of the final bill. On the cost containment front, Cooper is right--at least, according to Orszag—the House bill doesn’t do nearly enough to install the sort of comparative effectiveness monitoring that will reduce costs over time. But that doesn’t matter: the House bill will disappear as soon as the Senate Finance Committee reports something out. I’d be very surprised if Cooper votes against the ultimate product.

> On 8/29/09 11:24 AM, "XXXXXXXX" wrote:

Joe -- you need to get your facts right. The District is just over 25% black, and the Democratic primary electorate is 40%-45% black. Obama beat Clinton in Davidson County (Nashville -- ~90% of the District) 51k to 32k in the primary and beat McCain by 13 points in the general. Harold Ford beat Cob Corker 107K-67K in Davidson County. Nashville, much like Louisville, KY, is actually a rather cosmopolitan place; electoral complexities of deep south districts just aren't relevant there.

You can criticize issue polling all you want, but it's a proxy for the fact that Cooper's Democratic constituents don't like him. And they have good reason, particularly on health care. Aside from his national shenanigans, Nashville General Hospital has been mired in budget crisis for years, and Cooper's done little to help, despite repeated requests, because he "doesn't do earmarks." Nashville General is the primary service provider to black Nashville, while wealthier residents go to Vanderbilt.

"What's good enough for you" really doesn't matter. That epitomizes the village mindset. That you would, in ignorance, generalize from your personal affection for the man to a misguided strategic argument is ridiculous. He's from a District that can easily support a more progressive member, and the main obstacle to a primary challenge is Obama's eventual intervention. You should feel free to oppose a primary challenge against Cooper, but it's not jeopardizing a Democratic seat and it certainly holds the potential of electing a better team player to Congress.

As for your litmus test, did you miss the fact that Cooper says he will vote against HR 3200? That's the only meaningful bill in the house with insurance reform, and Cooper has said he opposes it because of inadequate cost control measures. Holding out for Wyden-Bennett is a pretext far more fanciful than holding out for the public option.

More generally, people who want us to drop the public option right now have almost no sense of the politics of this fight. If the public option is dropped, the $1.4 million/day worth of lobbyists aren't going to pack their bags and go home. They are going to turn their attention to the exchanges and the regulatory changes. And they will weaken if not completely ruin them, especially as dropping the public option will cost the Democrats their most dedicated activists and embolden opponents of reform. The further out you draw the line, the better the eventual bill will be. That dynamic typified the immigration fight, where ea ch compromise offered to mollify conservative objections only weakened the actual prospects for passage. EFCA was much the same.

> On Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 10:09 PM, Joe Klein <joe_kl...@timemagazine.com>
> wrote:


You actually believe polls about issues? On what basis? You think the public actually wants a public option...maybe what they really don’t want is a government takeover of health care. Or maybe both. Or maybe—no, this is actually the truth: they don’t know what the fuck they want. Maybe—no, again, the truth: they don’t have the time or interest to figure what any of this means. And they are one good negative 20-second spot away from being demagogued up the wazoo on this issue when the actual election begins. What you have here is a 40% African-American district in the south. I have spent the last 30 years watching these districts turn Republican—almost always the same way. A black candidate primaries a white moderate and wins, because the black vote is maybe 70% of the Democratic electorate, then loses in the general 55-45. I have seen this happen dozens of times.

If you have a white Democrat who is voting like a Republican—Billy Tauzin, for example—I don’t really care if he goes down, though I’d prefer a Democr atic conservative to a Republican if it means that Dems keep control of the House. But Jim Cooper isn’t remotely like a Republican. He is thoughtful on a range of issues. He is in favor of insurance reform, expansion of coverage and robust exchanges. That’s good enough for me.

And XXXX—I don’t mind litmus tests if they mean something. I would say that an unwillingness to vote for insurance reform would be an absolute, drop dead meaningful litmus test...and an unwillingness to expand coverage is another. But a public option is peripheral, especially if we have exchanges.

Ultimately, a public option might be a nice test—especially if the exchanges and insurance reforms haven’t brought the private insurers into line. But you look at the way legislation happens in a mature democracy and it doesn’t happen all at once—usually it doesn’t happen at all. We have a chance to make major progress this year on health care reform (I’d bet that we will, in fact.) But I’d hate to see the Democrats blow that chance for a third time in my working life by insisting on a peripheral provision that the opposition can easily demagogue. I’d like to see the public option dropped right now, to make life easier for all those moderates who might vote no if it is included. I don’t want to give the nervous nellies a chance to turn against Right Now in front of some town hall audience packed with wingnuts, especially since the final bill, undoubtedly, will not include a public option.

I’ve spent a lifetime watching Democrats eat their own. In the past, I’ve sometimes been one of the cannibals. I regret that as much as Ted Kennedy went to his grave regretting that he didn’t make a universal health care deal with Richard Nixon. At this point, the Republicans are down to an obnoxious purist sliver. I’d like things to stay that way. Things will not if Democratic purists and self-righteous political naifs like Greenwald successfully challenge moderate Democrats who have won in districts that could easily go Republican.

> On 8/28/09 12:50 PM, XXXXXXXXX wrote:

That seems a fairly wide departure from your initial argument, that Democratic activists have to accept "having Democratic moderate in district that would otherwise be represented by lockstep Republicans." You may like