Democratic Senate: Progressives, Populists Win

It’s worth taking a moment to make sure Tuesday night’s Senate victories sink in. First, the big three.

Ohio

Sherrod Brown (D) – 50%
Josh Mandel (R) – 45%

Sherrod Brown is a tenacious, strongly pro-labor, staunch defender of Social Security and Medicare who introduced and pushed legislation to break up the “Too Big To Fail” megabanks (twice!). He’s pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and a key progressive force in the Senate. He also represents the most fiercely contested swing state in the nation. From the get-go, Brown’s re-election campaign was the top target of Karl Rove and corporate interests. They threw everything at him: $40 million worth of gold-plated kitchen sinks. Sherrod Brown, as the saying goes, has all of the right enemies. He also has all of the right friends and a willingness to fight for his core values and the interests of regular working people in Ohio. That combination helped him carry the day.

Massachusetts

Elizabeth Warren (D) 54%
Sen. Scott Brown (R) – 46%

Be afraid Wall Street, be very afraid. Elizabeth Warren just defeated your favorite Senator in her very first campaign.

Wisconsin

Tammy Baldwin (D) – 51%
Tommy Thompson (R) – 46%

Tammy Baldwin proudly self-identifies as a Wisconsin progressives and she happens to be openly gay. Tommy Thompson is a former four-term Governor who the Republican establishment was thrilled to get as their party’s nominee. Tammy beat Tommy by 6 points.

A similar story played out across the country. New Mexico, which up until recently was considered a swing state, is now represented by two progressive populist Democrats as Martin Heinrich joins Tom Udall in the Senate. Progressive Democrats Chris Murphy (Connecticut), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Ben Cardin (Maryland), among others, all won big.

This brings me to the widely and deservedly mocked pre-election piece by Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, which claimed that the make-up of the Democratic coalition means that Democrats have a progressive problem.

The pressure on Obama to deliver for this liberal base will be powerful. Already, top left-wing groups are pressuring him not to buckle on a grand bargain that includes any entitlement cuts.

The Senate races offer the perfect cautionary tale to this impulse. Democrats have a good shot in Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia and Indiana because they have moderate Democratic candidates and incumbents who often see the president — and the party back in Washington — as out of tune with a center-right country.

Set aside for the moment that this isn’t a “center-right country” (the Democratic presidential candidate has won the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 elections). Bob Kerrey, who embraced everything Beltway “centrists” have ever called for and then some, still lost in Nebraska by 16 points. Tim Kaine won in Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp won in North Dakota after running as mainstream Democrats on a lot of things, including the very popular earned benefit programs clueless inhabitants of the Beltway bubble would just love to hack away at. Kaine did an event with Social Security Works. When asked at a debate whether he would vote for the Bowles-Simpson co-chairmen proposal as it is, he said that he wouldn’t while rightly pointing out that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. Heitkamp talked about the budget deficit a lot but explicitly opposed “putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block.” She also ran on the Buffett Rule and the ACA. “Be a ‘moderate’ and cut Social Security and Medicare!” is a nonsensical statement. It’s not just progressives and virtually the entire Democratic voting coalition that oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It’s a clear majority of the country as a whole.

Democrats don’t have a progressive problem. Progressive Democrats win on the West coast and East coast. Progressive/populist Democrats win in the Midwest, specifically “blue collar blue” states Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mainstream Democrats can win in the Southwest and New South. Going forward, Democrats won’t need conservaDems to build a durable Senate majority like we used to. They weigh us down (see: recovery efforts in 2009) and increase the chances that all kinds of Democrats will lose their seats, they drain resources that could go to other races and they still lose despite all of their playing to DC’s warped idea of what constitutes the “center.” Getting policy results matters. Turning out your coalition matters. Beltway positioning games? Not so much.

Of course, running progressive/populist Dems doesn’t mean we can always overcome bad fundamentals, like the awful economy and vastly different midterm electorate that defeated Democrats in 2010. Joe Sestak, for example, lost in Pennsylvania — but just barely. And he was just one of many cases of progressive/populist/mainstream Democrats outperforming conservaDems in similar races.

Every cycle I choose four of five Senate campaigns early on that I see as especially important to focus on. I’ve focused on winners before: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) in 2006; Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Tom Udall (New Mexico) and Al Franken (Minnesota) in 2008. Tuesday night was the first time all of my picks — Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Martin Heinrich and Mazie Hirono — were victorious. This does not make me, or any of the many others who advocated for these candidates geniuses. But it does help show why the timidity lobby should be largely ignored. Their model is fatally flawed.

How can Democrats keep the momentum going?

John Kerry and Dick Durbin may be headed for cabinet positions in President Obama’s second term, which would mean opportunities to elect new Senators in Massachusetts and Illinois.

2014 priorities include re-electing Jeff Merkley in Oregon, Tom Udall in New Mexico, Al Franken in Minnesota and Tom Harkin in Iowa. Republican Senator Susan Collins is up for re-election in Maine and someone like Congresswoman Chellie Pingree could challenge her.

In 2016, a presidential year, Republicans will be defending freshmen Senators in Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

And last but certainly not least, filibuster reform ASAP.

The Supreme Court and Disaffected Progressive Voters

Final cases for and against voting to re-elect President Obama are now being made in progressive circles, with the Supreme Court at the forefront of the debate. Although I come down on the re-elect Obama side and always have for a number of reasons, I think the way this debate has played out has done a disservice to all involved.

A brief overview:

Calling the current iteration of the court a Republican majority isn’t simplistic and misleading as it would have been with the Rehnquist court in 2004. Since Souter and Stevens stepped down there are no moderate to liberal appointees of Republicans presidents left on the court and there aren’t going to be any more where they came from. Supreme Court justices now broadly reflect the party of the president that nominated them: five conservative Republicans appointees and four moderate to progressive Democratic appointees.

The conservative side has two relatively young George W. Bush justices, a George H.W. Bush justice and two Reagan justices. The Democratic side includes two relatively young Obama justices and two Clinton justices. Over the next four years the seats currently filled by Clinton and Reagan justices will be watched closely. Reagan appointees Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia are both 76. Clinton appointee Ruth Bader Ginsburg will turn 80 early next year and has batted cancer. Clinton’s other addition to the court, Stephen Breyer, is 74.

That Anthony Kennedy, the champion of Citizens United, is the swing vote speaks to the nature of the conservative majority on the court. Kennedy is labeled a “moderate” because he changed his mind and broke with the right on Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Chief Justice John Roberts was effusively praised simply because he ultimately decided not to strike down in its entirety a health care plan that originated at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Kennedy and Roberts have successfully cleared a very low bar.

If Romney were to win and replace Kennedy or Ginsburg the right’s majority would be solidified for a long time. If a “President Romney” were to replace both, a distinct possibility if he were to win, it would be difficult to overstate the damage the conservative majority could inflict — damage that would take decades to undo. If President Obama is re-elected there’s a good chance that he will replace a Reagan appointee and end the right’s majority. A durable majority consisting mostly of relatively young Obama appointees isn’t out of the question

Disaffected progressives contend that there isn’t much difference between the Democratic appointees and their Republican counterparts. Yes, Justice Kagan may be an open question on some things and other Democratic appointees only look like progressive stalwarts when compared to the right. But that doesn’t mean the differences on reproductive rights, effective regulation in the public interest, the right to organize, campaign finance and civil rights are small. They’re real and undeniably consequential.

Some of the disaffected argue that elected Democrats haven’t fought the right’s Supreme Court nominees and the specter of a long-term right-wing majority on the Supreme Court is being raised to scare progressives into supporting Democrats.  There is certainly some truth to both claims. I don’t doubt that in 2003, even though George W. Bush had lost the popular vote and it was well understood that his eventual nominees would be stealth regressives, there were Senate Democrats privately and perhaps publicly giving voice to the traditional view that a president should get to choose their justices, almost regardless of context and consequence. Some Senate Dems may have even patted themselves on the back for their display of inordinate reverence for what the process might look like in a perfect world in which elected Republicans are not, you know, elected Republicans. With that said, the Democratic caucus in the Senate is improving significantly. And what Romney appointees would do on the court really is scary.

Spend some time reading what progressives disaffecteds are thinking and it quickly becomes apparent that what they resent the most, and understandably so, is the notion that the two words “Supreme Court” render profound disagreements on other issues invalid. The Supreme Court is a very good reason to vote to re-elect the president if you’re a progressive voter, especially if you’re living in a swing state. It’s not and never should be used to end uncomfortable discussions. The disaffected are right that if something is wrong or counterproductive it doesn’t become any less so just because the president who is doing it is one we voted for; they’re right that dissent is integral to progressive change; and they’re right that on climate change and civil liberties (two issues they cite frequently) “better than Republicans” is a woefully inadequate standard.

I would hope that progressive voters in swing states making a last minute decision would separate the way the Supreme Court has been invoked from the issue itself. Because although it should never have been used, to whatever extent it was, to try shut down debate about foreign policy or anything else, the future of the Supreme Court is at stake in this election.

iHawk

There’s never a shortage of candidates and prominent commentators who portray themselves as hawks: vigilant, proactive, ready to descend onto a threat. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The problem is that too many of these self-styled political hawks are hawkish about the wrong things. They’re more like peacocks (trying to call attention to themselves) or ostriches (head in the sand). If there was a bird that let out some kind of “Yeah, look at me! I’m so hawk-like!” noise before crashing itself into the ground with great ferocity, they would be like that bird too.

This brand of political hawk goes through a four step process.

1. Be very proud of yourself
2. Ignore the most pressing threats and opportunities
3. Remain very proud of yourself
4. Repeat

The “hawk” label is frequently used as it relates to foreign policy, as a crude and dated way to denote whether someone is supportive of military action. It may have outlived its usefulness. Self-professed “hawks” misled our country into the disastrous war in Iraq. They want to keep us in Afghanistan, as if years 11, 12, 13, and 14 would be the charm. The younger voters whose peers have had to fight these wars for inordinately long periods of time aren’t very big on foreign policy hawks of any kind, but they’re downright infuriated by the “chickenhawk” variety of the foreign policy hawk, and rightfully so. Chickenhawks are all for rushing into wars in a litany of places as long as they are nowhere near the action. Chickenhawks posture, casually send their fellow Americans to war, and then go AWOL on PTSD, brain injuries, joblessness and homelessness among veterans, and veterans care in general. Nobody likes a chickenhawk, to put it gently.

On economic policy front we have self-proclaimed “deficit hawks” like leading “fiscal conservative” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The fiscal conservative label Ryan wears so proudly is meant to, through the sheer force of the word “fiscal,” cast a highly destructive and incoherent set of positions as inherently virtuous. Fiscal conservatives fail to articulate a credible view of when and how a budget deficit negatively impact the real economy while simultaneously making wildly inaccurate statements about what is driving the deficit.

Fiscal conservatives talk themselves up as noble tellers of “hard truths.” This is ironic, not just because their “hard truths” are aggressively deceptive (so much for the “truth” part), but because they’re the ones who haven’t yet been sufficiently and publicly confronted with what for them will be a hard truth: there’s little reason to believe they care about the deficit at all.

Paul Ryan-style “fiscal conservatives” aren’t genuine, let alone realistic, about the deficit. They’re trying to use it as political cover for their long-standing agenda. This goes back to Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo that became a blueprint for the conservative movement. Yelling “look at the deficit!” when there’s a Democrat in the White House is important to conservatives. The deficit isn’t. The conservative movement these fiscal conservatives are part of seeks to redistributes even more wealth upwards, give even more tax breaks to the most wealthy despite their already very low tax rates, and cut or eliminate Social Security and Medicare because these programs work. “Fiscal conservatism” is the name that gets slapped on all of this to give it a vaguely respectable sheen.

Those in the media who covered Paul’s Ryan’s “Listen To Me Say ‘Deficit’ A Lot” Tour in a favorable light might prefer to ignore the assertion that Ryan is a blatant fraud with goals far outside of the mainstream. But this view is backed up by Ryan’s voting record, the content of his proposals, his stated beliefs, and the conservative playbook. In other words, pretty much everything Ryan says, does, and by his own admission believes on the relevant issues makes it clear that his “concern” for the deficit is disingenuous.

The deficit is something “fiscal conservatives” cite, usually in a nonsensical way, to justify their opposition to things they oppose. It also gives them something to attribute a bad economy to and a theory of how electing them will fix it. Their expressed concern for the deficit runs into an obvious problem when they make one of their top domestic priorities eternal, ever more extreme tax cuts for the wealthy. In an attempt to paper over this glaring inconsistency, fiscal conservatives trot out discredited theories like Arthur Laffer’s infamous Laffer curve and/or the right-wing spin on “dynamic scoring.” This is the only fig leaf Republicans like Paul Ryan feel they need to declare with one breath that the deficit is a terrifying threat before yelling “Tax cuts! Thurston Howell III, come get more tax cuts!” with the next.

Note that movement conservatives like Grover Norquist openly talk about “starving the beast.” This translates to decimating revenue in order to give conservatives a pretext for hacking away at things that work and people like but make Zombie Ayn Rand cry. Norquist has actually been pretty straightforward about this. They’re not really concerned about the deficit and of course they want less revenue.

Republican strategists try to spin all of this into something they can pitch as constructive. Because of their agenda’s status as a miserable failure, and the fact that almost all of its component parts are unpopular, it has to be repackaged often. It’s trickle down economics, no it’s supply side, no the empowerment agenda, no “supply side economics for the working man,” as the Wall Street Journal and now Rick Santorum put it. (More accurate title: four flat tires for the driving man.)

Shorter Trickle Down Re-Re-Remix: Here’s the latest slight variation on the same agenda. We’re going to claim it addresses problems we don’t really care about and have never cared about. This will allow us to continue our efforts to dismantle the successful policy we’ve always hated.

For the record, elected officials who are genuinely concerned about the long-term deficit would be talking about rising health care costs. They would be proposing things that infuriate AHIP (insurance companies) and PhRMA (drug companies). Grover Norquist would be their lifelong sworn enemy. And if they’re truly interested in economic responsibility, elected officials in either party will be adamant about putting job growth first. The deficit is a symptom of the Great Recession, not the disease itself.

Again, the hawkish impulse isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just being misapplied. As an example, here are some threats and challenges that warrant a hawkish outlook:

Unemployment

Any improvement on this front is obviously welcome. And while it’s certainly true that the GOP’s Mitch McConnell strategy and the demonstrable (and predictable) failure of austerity hysteria slashonomics have blocked and hobbled recovery, Democrats and progressives shouldn’t lose sight of the reality that we’re a painfully long way off from what should be our goal: fully employment. We’ll never get anywhere close to where we need to be if we’re satisfied with clearing a relatively low bar. As far as the election goes, it would be helpful if Democratic candidates remembered that most people will react negatively to statements that comes across as in any way self-congratulatory. You really can’t blame them for this. We’re still in a bad place and at this rate we will be for quite some time. It’s much better to talk about determination to make progress, and how we’ll go about doing that, than to tout improvement most have yet to feel. There’s a point at which improvement will make people receptive to more positive language, but we’re not there yet and we won’t get there anytime soon unless the improvement is significant and sustained.

Once the economy crosses that point, the political capital Democrats gain needs to be put towards the kind of recovery effort that can get more results. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: we don’t need to “pivot” to unemployment as much as we need to kick the jobs crisis in the face, repeatedly, until it goes away. And for the sake of actually learning from history and the 1937 mistake, let’s not prematurely pivot away from jobs (again). (See: Paul Krugman)

Investment deficit

Other countries aren’t hesitating to build a 21st century infrastructure, Meanwhile, we’re falling behind. Combating the crumbling of America (details from the American Society of Civil Engineers) is a no-brainer. It’s as practical as it gets. Yet we’re still not doing it. Every day that we don’t act we fall further behind China and the European countries that take infrastructure seriously. Those who sleep on this challenge embody the old caricature of a “liberal” as someone with their head in the clouds. Politicians like to talk about competitiveness and American greatness, but if they’re not investment deficit hawks their talk of economic patriotism is empty.

Note: Manufacturing, the trade deficit, and China’s predatory practices fit in here or in the broader discussion about jobs.

Union busting

Labor unions built the American middle class and are essential to rebuilding it. We’ve seen a systematic and unrelenting attack on labor by the extremely well-financed union-busting lobby. This attack has delivered for those, like the Koch brothers, who put insane amounts of money into it. Virulently anti-union right-wingers and special interests have dramatically tilted the playing field against unions. This has a profound negative impact on all working people, whether they’re in a union or not (see: wages). The wrecking crew is knocking out the pillars of the middle class.

As a recent CEPR report shows, it’s the forces who target unions for political reasons, not other factors, that are responsible for the decline in union membership. We never had a strong, broad middle class without the right to organize and we never will. If the labor movement dies, it will not be due to natural causes. And if the labor movement dies, the hopes for a vibrant American middle class die with it.

Climate change

Climate change is right at our front door. Yet the same Republicans who talk about not wanting to pass things on to future generations ignore that anyone planning on being alive in 10 years, let alone their children, is going to be most angry with those in power over the destruction wrought by catastrophic climate. The absolute least the Inaction Caucus can do is start looking into cameras and saying what those with any shred of honesty know to be true: their inaction means catastrophic climate change and/or serious conversations about geoengineering sooner rather than later. Politicians who deploy forward-looking rhetoric about science can’t ignore what the scientific community is in heated agreement about right now. In a few more years, the harsh reality will make it next to impossible for all but the most stubborn FOX News viewer to deny climate change science. But we don’t have years to wait.

Defending Social Security

Most voters don’t reflexively line up with either side in the debate over the role of government. They don’t agree with conservative’s selective devotion to “small government” (or they’re in the large “ideologically conservative, operationally liberal” contingent), nor would they agree with the mythical liberal who wants what the right calls “big government” for its own sake.

Side note: I have yet to come across one of these “government is its own reward” liberals. They’re political Bigfoot. Let me know if you find one and it’s not just David Koch wearing the Bigfoot suit.

Voters want effective government. And that’s precisely what Social Security is. It’s a testament to Social Security’s undeniable success that those who want to needlessly cut it have to resort to saying that a couple of decades from now, after what will at that point be almost a hundred years of success, the intensely popular program will have an easily fixable, relatively small problem. That’s the knock against it.

To my fellow Democrats I would ask a straightforward question: If Social Security isn’t worth defending and truly strengthening, what is? We believe in and advocate for effective government. People want effective government. Social Security is effective government.

If we take part in unnecessary cuts and undermine retirement security despite broad opposition to cuts, when are we going to stand up for anything the right-wing wants to dismantle? If we won’t stand up for what we know to be right (and popular!) — one our party’s defining achievements, which is absolutely essential to retirement security, when exactly are we going to locate our backbone? Much too late, if ever.

I don’t quote him lightly, but the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) is apt here.

“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.” – Paul Wellstone

K Street’s influence

Conservatives and Republican operatives like to say that campaign finance reform is “unrealistic.” It’s true that getting K Street and Wall Street out of a position from which they can dominate our politics is going to be an epic battle requiring ongoing effort. A movement that can bring about campaign finance and lobbying reform with teeth is key, but it won’t mean the end of the story. This problem will require vigilance long after it’s contained.

But what’s really “unrealistic” is for conservative Republicans to expect to win much without the influence of corporate special interests giving them an assist in elections and legislative battles. They’re on the wrong side of demographic changes, history, and public opinion. Their solution to their problem: make it more difficult for people who are likely to support Democrats to vote (the ongoing GOP voter suppression tour) while making it even easier for K Street and Wall Street to drown out the voices of those who do vote (the Citizens United decision, other right-wing efforts to undo anything that acts as a check on corporate interests’ involvement in elections). This is what a desperate party looks like.

It’s also unrealistic to think that we’ll be able to truly address our major problems without reducing the influence of big money and countering the pull of K Street.

No Rest For The Willard: How Romney Is Denied The Nomination

For months now most pundits have portrayed Mitt Romney as, if not the inevitable Republican nominee, something close to it. He is consistently referred to as the frontrunner. All of this makes Romney look much stronger than he actually is. While there is smart analysis of the race that favors Romney, much of it informed by the authoritative book The Party Decides, I think that even the smart political science view misses something important about this specific nomination fight. Nate Silver came up with a useful shorthand for the competing theories of the Republican primary, “More of the Same” vs. “This Time Is Different.” This post is my case for This Time Is (Or Could Be) Different.

It’s not just that the current media landscape has changed in meaningful ways, though that is certainly true. Mitt Romney is at odds with conservative Republican primary voters in ways these voters see as central to who they are. To be clear, the case I’m making here is not necessarily that one of the other two candidates will capture the nomination, especially any time soon. My case is that Mitt Romney, even against competition with little in the way of organization, won’t be able to win over enough of the Republican primary electorate to secure the nod.

The Romney Campaign: A Yacht In Uncharted, Dangerous Waters

Whoever wins the nomination will be the first Republican to do so with only one win in the first three contests — the Iowa caucus, the New Hampshire primary, and the South Carolina primary — since the inception of the modern calendar.

Ronald Reagan in 1980: New Hampshire, South Carolina
George H.W. Bush in 1988: New Hampshire, South Carolina
Bob Dole in 1996: Iowa, South Carolina
George W. Bush in 2000: Iowa, South Carolina
John McCain in 2008: New Hampshire, South Carolina

Note the importance of the South Carolina primary. From Michael Scherer‘s 2008 primer:

Lee Atwater, the party’s onetime strategic wizard, designed the thing to give conservative southerners a say in the presidential process and offer churchgoers a power line to the White House. Then he put it on the calendar right after Iowa and New Hampshire, the ideal spot for the party establishment to kill an insurgent candidate’s momentum.

The national establishment and South Carolina’s top Republicans were lined up behind Romney heading into the state’s primary. He had the support of Tea Party-favorite Governor Nikki Haley and the tacit approval of the Senate’s most powerful extreme conservative Jim DeMint. Romney was racking up the endorsements but he still got clobbered. Theory: The problem is Romney, and no endorsement can fix that.

This time is already different.

Iowa caucus

Santorum 24.6%
Romney 24.5%
Paul 21.4%
Gingrich 13.3%
Perry 10.3%
Bachmann 5.0%

New Hampshire primary

Romney 39.3%
Paul 22.9%
Huntsman 16.9%
Gingrich 9.4%
Santorum 9.4%

South Carolina primary

Gingrich 40.4%
Romney 27.8%
Santorum 17.0%
Paul 13.0%

Despite Rick Perry (and then Herman Cain) crashing and burning, and a torrent of attack ads from Romney’s Super PAC knocking Gingrich out of the lead, Romney couldn’t close the deal in Iowa… again. For the second time in as many cycles he lost there despite vastly outspending the winner. He recovered with an expected win in New Hampshire, a quasi home state that has been very good to presidential candidates from neighboring Massachusetts. Then he got crushed in South Carolina.

Going 1 for 3 in the first states, including a big defeat in South Carolina, is not the record of a modern Republican nominee. Romney won in New Hampshire, the early state that is the least representative of today’s GOP, while losing big in South Carolina, his party’s most important early state since 1980.

The first three contests were followed by Romney’s victory in the Florida primary. But there’s a catch: he lost in the Florida panhandle, the more conservative, more ideologically Southern Republican part of the state.

Romney went on to win the Nevada caucus before badly losing to Rick Santorum in caucuses in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado. The results of the Maine caucus are in doubt (it seems Romney may end up losing to Ron Paul when all the votes are counted).

Romney has lost in Iowa, South Carolina, the Florida panhandle, Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado. Polling in a slew of Midwestern and Southern states and Romney’s inherent vulnerabilities lead me to believe that he’s on his way to being consigned to mostly coastal victories in a race for the nomination of a party that sees itself as the heartland.

Losses Add Up In The South, Midwest

Romney now turns his well-oiled, high-powered attack machine on Rick Santorum to avert a debilitating loss in the Michigan primary. The phrase “must-win” is overused in politics but it might apply here. Romney’s father was the Governor of Michigan. Mitt announced his 2008 bid there. It’s the only early state he won in ’08, defeating John McCain by over 9 points. Polls show a close race with Santorum leading.

Even if Romney wins in Michigan and avoids an upset loss in the Arizona primary on the same day, he’s hardly out of the woods. Santorum is threatening throughout the Midwest and the South is Not Romney Country.

On Super Tuesday Romney could very well lose Alaska, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. (Romney and Ron Paul are the only candidates on the ballot in Virginia, otherwise it would be on the Not Mitt list too.)

There’s an obvious problem with being a Republican who Southern and Midwestern Republicans don’t want to nominate. Every cluster of states to vote includes GOP electorates that will look to reject you if there’s another active candidate on the ballot.

Mid-March brings Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Romney will have another chance to pick up a big state, Illinois, in late March. But that is soon followed by Louisiana. Maryland votes in early April on the same day as the likely competitive if contested state of Wisconsin. Northeastern states Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Rhode Island vote in late April, but on the same day as Pennsylvania. Just as Romney gets his best chance to get something of a streak going, Santorum’s home state has its say.

In the first half of May: North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, and Nebraska. All fertile territory for a Non-Romney.

If Romney can’t win over the South (and it’s hard to see how he could) the writing on the wall will be bolded, underlined, and colored red while a Drudge siren blares above it in late May.

May 22nd: Arkansas and Kentucky

May 29th: Texas (tentative)

Establishment Overreach

Imagine a Northeastern Republican with Romney’s cultural disconnect but an issue profile closer to Tim Pawlenty, or a John Ensign-type Republican (minus the scandal) made Mormon. Strong establishment support can get someone like that over the finish line with relative ease. Maybe the candidate previously agreed with the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a real and very serious problem that needs to be addressed. They would face ads in the primary accusing them of supporting “job-killing cap and trade” but it could be dealt with. A candidate like that could make a conscious effort to stay away from the more incendiary rhetoric Tea Party-types respond to and still wrap up the nomination in the first few weeks of voting.

But an establishment pick probably can’t get away with running afoul of the rank-and-file’s views on all three fronts: religion, region, and record. Mitt Romney is a Mormon from Massachusetts who raised taxes while renaming them fees. He has flipped flopped on every social conservatives priority: reproductive rights, LGBT rights, immigration, and guns. He failed to initially endorse Ohio’s repealed anti-union SB5 law and the Paul Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. Romney ran a newspaper ad against the right-wing’s sweet, sweet flat tax and said he wasn’t a fan or Ronald Reagan, or “Ronaldus Magnus” as Rush Limbaugh and company call him.

If an establishment choice has all of this working against them, they at least need a clear contrast on the top issue animating the GOP base. This cycle that’s “Obamacare.” Opposition to Obamacare doesn’t animate Romney; Romney animated Obamacare. The inescapable truth is that President Obama’s health insurance legislation is modeled on what Romney did in Massachusetts. Just ask their common adviser, Jonathan Gruber.

It’s true that before Obamacare was Romneycare it was largely Bob Dole’s health care plan from the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. But the moment the GOP declared the president’s approach to be radical socialism from Kenyan Russia, Romney had only one play if he wanted to put the issue to rest: disavow what he did in Massachusetts. Instead he explained the finer points of radical socialism from Kenyan Russia and said states should decide whether it’s a good idea — but it works good in Massachusetts!

To the GOP base, “Obamacare” is about much more than a piece of legislation. It’s an icon of the Obama presidency. And Romney is now one of the chief defenders of all of it but the name.

Baptism By Fire

The media has generally shied away from talking about Romney’s religion and how it’s a liability in a GOP primary, especially in the South. While the reluctance is in many ways understandable, avoiding the subject means avoiding one of the main challenges facing his primary campaign. Many evangelical Christians consider Mormonism to be more or less a cult. Talking about this view is in no way equivalent to endorsing it. Romney’s religion isn’t on the long list of reasons why I wouldn’t vote for him but I’m not a Republican primary voter so I don’t get a say in how they evaluate candidates.

Headline at The Daily Beast/Newsweek yesterday: Mitt Romney on Mormon Baptisms of the Dead: ‘I Haven’t Recently’

The post covers an interview with Romney from 2007 about an issue that is a sensitive one, to put it mildly, in GOP primary politics. All an interviewer or someone at a town hall has to do is ask Romney if he has, as an adult, taken part in a posthumous baptism of a Christian/Catholic/Jewish person into the Mormon faith. Romney has done this. And this practice will infuriate parts of the Republican activist base already primed to take serious issue with Romney. This practice may be misunderstood, but that many leading media outlets seem inclined to dismiss it doesn’t mean GOP primary voters will do the same if it forces its way to the forefront through channels more representative of the Republican voting base. The salience of this story might be downplayed by the very media conservatives love to hate but these controversies can be pushed into the spotlight in the previously mentioned altered media landscape.

If the nomination continues to be seriously contested — namely, if Romney loses in Michigan — I think it’s only a matter of time before this story and the division its indicative of comes into play.  If this happens, the opposition to Romney as the Republican standard-bearer in the South and Midwest will be enough to stop his path to an outright win before the convention. And if Republicans go into Tampa asking themselves “Who do we want to nominate?” while considering a number of options as opposed to asking themselves “How do we rally around and advance the person who clinched our nomination, Mitt Romney?” there are good reasons to believe the convention won’t end with Mitt Romney accepting the nomination of his party to face his fellow purveyor of Jonathan Gruber’s radical socialism from Kenyan Russia, President Obama.

Roundup: The Foreclosure Fraud Settlement

Thursday morning news broke that the foreclosure fraud settlement that had been reportedly “imminent” countless times in recent months was finally a done deal. The federal government and every state but Oklahoma (whose Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt is philosophically opposed to even a shred of accountability for banks or help for affected homeowners) are settling with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

It was good to hear President Obama described the settlement in terms of “some help” and “some measure” of accountability, because as of now, that is the most that can be said in its favor. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to overstate the national impact this will have. We’re not talking about a big win here. The deal doesn’t come close to matching the scale of the problem and it falls short on the accountability front. The case for this deal is that it’s a beginning not an end.

While the settlement is far from great, it’s much better than it would have been thanks to the “Justice Democrats” and those who organized around their efforts. This group of Democratic Attorneys General including Eric Schneiderman (New York), Beau Biden (Delaware), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), and Kamala Harris (California), as well as Lori Swanson (Minnesota) and Martha Coakley (Massachusetts), deserve credit for preventing a wider release of the megabanks’ wrongdoing.

Two glaring problems have been the subject of discussion since the settlement was announced. First off, and this one is basic, the term sheet hasn’t been made public. This is bound to cause people to expect the worst, as they’re understandably distrustful of anything that involves elected officials and the megabanks. Second, as feared, Scott Walker is using the funds meant for homeowners to plug his state’s budget deficit. At least two other Governors are following his lead.

Schneiderman, one of the lead Justice Dems, is adamant that the deal preserves his ability to pursue real accountability. As one of the co-chairs of the mortgage fraud task force the president announced in his State of the Union address, Schneiderman is one to watch in the coming weeks and months. Will Schneiderman be given the resources he needs to do this job right?

Schneiderman spoke to a number of media outlets about the fraud settlement and what comes next.

Greg Sargent:

Schneiderman — who has gained a national liberal profile for his insistence on true accountability for financial institutions — conceded the settlement announced today was “small” in financial terms, given the struggles of underwater homeowners and people who lost their homes.

But he insisted that time will show that today’s settlement was a win — that it secured a framework that will ultimately result in a true accounting of the role big banks played in sparking the economic meltdown.

“This is a small step in an economy where we have $700 billion in negative equity, but it is a significant step,” Schneiderman said, in response to criticism that the $25 billion settlement was far too small given the injuries sustained.

Interestingly, Schneiderman vowed that if the task force to probe mortgage practices set up by the president — which he co-chairs — stalls or drags its feet, he would speak out publicly against it. Some critics, such as David Dayen, have expressed skepticism that it would have the resources and leeway it needs to secure real accountability.

“I will speak up if I don’t feel that the rights of American homeowners are being protected and we’re not pursuing the investigation as aggressively as we should,” he said. “If things break down and things don’t work I’m prepared to speak up and take action. But the initial signs are really positive.”

“This will ultimately depend on the coalition that’s assembled around these principles,” Schneiderman said. “We’ve now got a progressive coalition that … can move public officials to take a more aggressive approach.”

Schneiderman outlines a credible, historically supported theory of progressive change: the right people in the right place combined with a strong movement capable of support and pressure. Schneiderman is urging progressive groups, labor unions, and civil rights groups to stay engaged on this. While some commentators have suggested that Schneiderman may have “sold out” the message he is sending about the task force and the role of grassroots pressure is entirely inconsistent with the sellout theory.

From Rachel Maddow‘s interview with Schneiderman.

Maddow: What you’re describing is at least a 90 degree turn in Washington… in terms of the aggressiveness with which people will be held accountable for what happened in the crash. Why didn’t this happen before?

Schneiderman: I took office about a year ago and the atmosphere in the country was very different. What we’ve seen is a swing toward progressive populism in this country and I’m glad to be a part of it, but I’m just a part of it.

Schneiderman again urges those who organized around this to keep at it and not disengage. Though the deal is unquestionably flawed in many respects, that’s not the fault of Schneiderman, Biden, Harris, and Masto. There’s certainly a lot in the settlement to criticize or decry; but that can be done without discarding the allies who pushed the outcome in a positive direction.

David Atkins:

Harris and Schneiderman fought as long and as hard as they could against this tide, and their efforts without question led to a better settlement than would have been achieved without them.

I would advise that progressive wrath be focused where it belongs: on Holder, on the President, on the financial institutions and their executives (of course), and on the entire neoliberal ideology that enabled this situation to occur in the first place.

Not, however, on Schneiderman and Harris, without whom this settlement would have been worse, and without whom this issue would have been quickly and quietly swept under the rug without significant national attention. If we, hating the end result, are quick to turn on our best friends and strongest champions no matter whether they fight for us or not, no one will stand up for us in the future.

I’m all for EPI/Roosevelt Institute/Paul Krugman-type Democrats fighting the outsized influence of the consistently wrong Third Way/Hamilton Project/Tim Geithner… uh… Democrats?… or whatever Tim Geithner is. The outlook of the latter group is largely confined to D.C. — they’re out of step with the mainstream of the country (let alone the mainstream of the Democratic Party) on defining issues. The long-simmering discontent with the influence of Wall Street Dems should fuel a confrontation with those who are part of the problem. But that’s not Schneiderman and company.

Elsewhere, Beau Biden spoke with Chris Hayes’ Sunday panel. Former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), who is running to be Pennsylvania’s next Attorney General, released a statement opposing the settlement.

Reactions

Via Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog

Elizabeth Warren:

Today’s settlement shows a significant commitment to helping struggling homeowners stay in their homes. But it needs to be the beginning, not the end, of efforts to hold the big banks accountable with meaningful penalties that demonstrate the rules and the law apply to everyone, no matter who your friends are or how many lobbyists and lawyers you can hire. Moving forward, further investigation and prosecution are needed to bring our long national mortgage nightmare to an end.

Dean Baker:

I’m not thrilled with the settlement, since it doesn’t accomplish much, but at least it doesn’t preclude further civil or criminal suits. In terms of the commitment of payments in the form of write-downs, we don’t have a clear counterfactual that allows us to gage how much would have been written down anyhow. We also have the peculiar situation where the banks get to pay the penalty with write-downs of debts to MBS investors.

The big plus is that the settlement does not preclude further legal action on securities fraud and other issues. [New York Attorney General Eric] Schneiderman and the other holdouts deserve credit for this.

Jared Bernstein:

Here are two reasons why I like the mortgage settlement agreement just announced: It’s not voluntary and it doesn’t require Congressional approval.

I’ll elaborate in a moment, but first, the caveats: It’s a drop in the bucket. There’s something like $700 billion out there in negative equity, and even with the leveraging — another attractive attribute of the way this should work — the $17 billion for preventing foreclosures ain’t gonna solve this.

But neither is any other single idea. Along with the other interventions policy makers are working on — ones I also hold some hope for — there’s clear potential to help distressed home owners and the macroeconomy.

Here’s what’s unique, useful and potentially important about the settlement: One of the main reasons the measures we’ve tried so far have underwhelmed is because they’ve all been voluntary from the perspective of lenders and servicers. No bank had to play along with HAMP or HARP. They had a choice of whether to respond to the incentives in the programs or not, and often it was “no thanks.” (By the way, that’s why I always liked the cramdown option — moves locus of action from solely being in the lenders’ hands.)

But the five banks named in the settlement must now set up processes to do refis and principal reductions. They don’t have a choice. And that’s a real advance.Who knows, with these processes in place, we can even dare to hope that the $17 billion, which is expected to be leveraged up to about twice that amount (i.e., banks are expected to provide a dollar of foreclosure prevention for $0.50 from the settlement fund) will be testing the waters for a deeper dive into mortgage modifications.

Karen Nussbaum, Working America:

The $26 billion is not what we wanted. We were hoping for much more. This is like pocket change. So we hope this is a down payment, and we’re hoping to see more positive action coming out of this federal investigations unit. But only a handful of people are actually going to have their payments reduced, and the people who have already lost their homes will get $2,000. That doesn’t come close to fixing the problem…this just doesn’t add up to the kind of relief that people actually need to stay in their homes.

Mike Konczal, Roosevelt Institute:

Follow the money in this deal, but also follow the process. There’s good reasons, both in theory* and empirically, to believe the “servicing” model the banks use to manage mortgage debt and foreclosures (created recently alongside the mortgage-backed security model), is destroying value for investors and homeowners through large numbers of unnecessary foreclosures. Why? Because of serious conflicts-of-interest and misaligned incentives between the banks managing the debts and investors and homeowners.

The robosigning and related scandals are a symptom of this broken process, and they should have lead the way to serious reform. Unless this model is changed in some fundamental ways, we’ll continue to have problems, including ones that make a mockery of court documents, property records, and our legal system. The settlement appears to allow the banks to hire their own monitors and is so similar to settlements at the state level that were broken by the banks in the past we have to ask: how can we expect anything to be different?

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka:

The banks broke the law by railroading homeowners through the foreclosure process. Today’s settlement provides compensation for foreclosure victims without requiring individuals to waive their legal claims. While banks must be made to pay more to help homeowners, the settlement includes needed principal write-downs so homeowners can stay in their homes.

We urge President Obama to provide the federal investigative task force with the resources necessary to address the $750 billion in negative home equity that is the result of illegal conduct by banks. The 99 percent demand a fair economy and a judicial system that holds the rich and powerful accountable for their illegal behavior.

Robert Kuttner:

The banks bargained hard for broader protection against future liability. They didn’t get it mainly because progressive state attorneys general held out for the right to continue investigating, filing civil suits, and criminal prosecutions.

Obama wanted to announce this deal in his State of the Union address, but for the past couple of weeks, there has been a standoff, with the banks pressing for more immunity and Schneiderman reserving the right to prosecute and litigate.

In the final deal, whose actual text has not been made public, Schneiderman appears to have won big.

The question now is whether federal and state law-enforcement agencies will use the authority they have. For the first three years of the Obama administration, the feds have gone far too easy on the banks. Though Schneiderman has been added to a newly activated federal task force, it remains to be seen whether the same Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that declined to take vigorous action have truly reversed course.

Ideally, we didn’t need this settlement now. It would have been better for prosecutors to mount more cases, not just related to robo-signing and MERS but aimed at the fraud at the heart of mortgage securitization. Then, prosecutors could extract penalties that more accurately fit the crime—specifically fines and mortgage relief as restitution, well into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

This is said to be Schneiderman’s goal, both in agreeing to join the settlement once it was revised so as not to tie his hands and taking part in the Justice Department task force.

The settlement is (barely) better than nothing only if pressure is kept on the Obama administration to view it not as an end but as a beginning. The signs are good that Schneiderman and the other progressive attorneys general see it that way. But it will take quite a deathbed conversion for the Justice Department and SEC to reverse their record of the past three years.

Campaign for America’s Future – Robert Borosage:

The deal has been cut before the investigation so it is suspect on its face, but limited in its scope. Whether it will be enforced adequately remains to be seen. How homeowners benefit will differ from state to state.

But the real question remains whether the federal investigation will finally turn over all the cards so we know just how bad a hand the banks are holding. Only then is there a possibility for real accountability – and real relief for homeowners.

So this settlement must be the beginning, not the end. We have to sustain pressure on the administration for an aggressive investigation. State criminal and civil suits, individual and investor relief have to continue. We are a far remove from achieving the justice and accountability that is due.

Campaign for America’s Future – RJ Eskow:

Up to now, the fight has been to prevent the Administration from doing another cushy bank deal. Now that the door’s been left open to further action, there’s a new fight: to demand that they devote the Federal government’s resources to investigating Wall Street crime.

The agreement trades away the leverage that investigators gained by essentially catching bankers dead-to-rights as they broke laws on a mass scale through robo-signing. That means they can’t use that leverage to “sweat” more information out of the banks.

When it comes to their rampant lawbreaking around robo-signing, bank executives just dodged a bullet. But they’re still vulnerable on other forms of personal wrongdoing.

Once again, it’s all in the execution. The public has to keep the pressure on the White House to back Schneiderman and others in their investigations.

More Eskow:

Two thousand bucks for having your home illegally foreclosed on is an insult. But two billion dollars’ worth of lawyers suing bankers on behalf of wronged homeowners could change everything. And a real investigation into bank crime could make a real difference.

Will we get those things? Maybe – but only if we fight for them.

Do I think some groups inside and outside Washington oversold this deal? Yes. But do I think that Eric Schneiderman and his allies made it considerably better than it would have been? Yes.

[W]ithout public pressure – either because we’ve over-celebrated the deal or walked away from it – the scenario that’s worst for the public becomes the likeliest one.

The authorities had bankers dead-to-rights on forgery and perjury, which is what “robo-signing” really is, and they traded it away for a relative pittance. I wish they’d locked somebody up with this evidence – or, better yet, sweated the small fry until they got to the top guys behind the criminal behavior. They locked up Al Capone for tax evasion, after all, not bribery or theft or murder.

So can we stipulate the following? The money banks will have to pay is meaningless, if that’s all they ever pay. The dollar amounts homeowners will receive in compensation is an insult, and the principal relief it offers are a tiny fraction of the real problem.

Now what? We keep fighting. What else?

[W]e’re going to have to strike the right balance: Cheerleading for this deal creates a false sense that justice has been served and the battle’s over. But trashing it altogether discourages people and could prevent them pressuring the Administration and their state’s Attorney General to use the tools it does provide.

You can listen Eskow discuss the settlement with David Dayen here.

Dayen, whose comprehensive coverage of foreclosure fraud is second to none, is all over the settlement.

Dayen:

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan believes that they will be able to get between $35-$40 billion in principal reduction in real dollars out of the settlement. Donovan became the point person on the federal level, along with DoJ, as the Administration pretty much took over the investigation and settlement process from the states, who were led by Iowa AG Tom Miller.

But even this $35-$40 billion number, which is at best a guess since the direction of the principal reduction is mostly at the discretion of the banks, pales in comparison to the negative equity in the country, which sits at $700 billion. And the banks have three years to implement the principal reductions, drawing out the loss on their books.

More Dayen:

Let me focus on what the people who settled this deal will probably tell you. They would say that the interlocking state and federal claims, and the relative intensity of the law enforcement officials in the various states, many of whom would decline to go after any claims, means that the maximum you could get out of all of these lawsuits on servicing and foreclosure issues would be commensurate with the $40 billion they believe will be the ultimate outcome of the settlement. I’ve had that told to me. You can look at the fact that Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada secured around $57,000 per homeowner in a settlement with Morgan Stanley on these issues and dismiss that claim. But that’s the thinking, at least from some parts of this.

Dayen proposed nine ways to improve housing policy around the deal. He also asked how anyone could be sure what to think of the settlement when the term sheet has yet to be made public.

There’s a HUGE difference between an agreement in principle and the actual terms. I mean night and day. The Dodd-Frank bill was for all intents and purposes an agreement in principle. It left to the federal regulators to write hundreds of rules. And we have seen how that process of implementation has faltered on several key points. But the Administration wanted to announce a “big deal,” the details be damned. And they got buy-in from the AGs. Everyone else stayed silent.

Neil Barofsky, the Inspector General who oversaw TARP, commented on this development.

Econobloggers weigh-in: Felix Salmon called the settlement “a win for all sides.” Yves Smith wrote “The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement,” which includes this money quote, in more ways than one.

We’ve now set a price for forgeries and fabricating documents. It’s $2000 per loan. This is a rounding error compared to the chain of title problem these systematic practices were designed to circumvent. The cost is also trivial in comparison to the average loan, which is roughly $180k, so the settlement represents about 1% of loan balances. It is less than the price of the title insurance that banks failed to get when they transferred the loans to the trust. It is a fraction of the cost of the legal expenses when foreclosures are challenged. It’s a great deal for the banks because no one is at any of the servicers going to jail for forgery and the banks have set the upper bound of the cost of riding roughshod over 300 years of real estate law.

Joan McCarter at Daily Kos:

The banks are getting off pretty damn easy on the financial side of this. What makes the settlement less of a disaster than what it looked like even a few months ago is that, thanks to the concerted efforts of a handful of attorneys general (Eric Schneiderman of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, Beau Biden of Delaware, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts and Lori Swanson of Minnesota) who refused to sign on to an agreement that gave the banks blanket immunity, legal immunity has been limited to banks very narrowly to robo-signing issues, and investigation of the residential mortgage backed securities market can still procede.

The concessions that those hold-out attorneys general were able to wring out the banks were critical for investigations and potential prosecutions in the massive fraud these banks committed. Those investigations, at the state and federal level, if pursued with vigor and a real intention to hold the banks accountable could potentially do what this settlement absolutely won’t: Force the banks to reform.

Seth D. Michaels at Main Street:

[T]he first part of this fight has come to a close—and, despite the flaws in this settlement, working people have won some victories over the banks along the way. But here are the questions we’ll be asking as we move forward. Will homeowners who need it actually get the help this settlement provides in a timely manner? Will the investigation task force be able to uncover and actually penalize misconduct on the part of the banks? And, most importantly, will the settlement and the next steps have enough force to prevent large-scale abuses like this from happening again?

Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect:

Looked at in vacuo, it’s not much of a deal… [b]ut the deal should be looked at as much for what it doesn’t do—for if it doesn’t even begin to provide adequate compensation for America’s beleaguered homeowners or former homeowners, neither does it preclude those homeowners from lawsuits of their own, or, more important, does it put an end to the civil and criminal liability of the banks for all they did to misrepresent mortgages both to homebuyers and investors in mortgage-backed securities.

In the division of labor on the coming investigation of bank abuses, Harris and Masto will likely take the lead on fraudulent and lax origination—more of which took place in their states than anywhere else—while Schneiderman, Biden, and the Feds focus more on the misrepresentation and fraudulent marketing of mortgage-backed securities and derivatives. The mansion of financial fraud has many rooms, and since Thursday’s deal did not seal them off, Harris, Schneiderman, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Company will be looking into them in the months to come.

The New Bottom Line calls the deal a “tiny drop in a big bucket… a paltry down payment toward full relief for homeowners” that doesn’t achieve justice for those who have lost their homes or full accountability for the banks’ wrongdoing. The NBL says the settlement is stronger than it would have been thanks to “grassroots groups and the courageous stance” of the Justice Democrats, whose work is building momentum “toward broad-scale relief for homeowners.” The NBL makes it clear that they will be watching the Obama Administration and the Mortgage Fraud Task Force closely.

Mike Lux:

[P]rogressives won something that was never even on the table when these settlement talks started: we got a bigger, broader investigation into financial fraud through the new task force, co-chaired by Schneiderman, appointed by President Obama.

So in this stage of the struggle, we definitely lost some things, especially the chance for dedicated prosecutors to keep investigating and prosecuting all those robo-signing perjuries, but we also won some important things that open the door for more investigation, prosecution, and forced mortgage write downs by the big banks. We have won our chance to keep the prospect of pressuring the banks alive. Now we have to take advantage of it. We have to keep the heat on high intensity to make sure this task force isn’t for show, that roadblocks aren’t thrown in the way of the prosecutors like Schneiderman who really want to prosecute, and that enough staff resources are allocated to take these investigations deep into the heart of what these bankers did to our economy.

Leverage

Clearly this deal, and the discussion about how to respond to it in Democratic and progressive circles, requires a running debate. It would be a massive understatement to say there are a lot of moving parts to this. Deferring on the finer points to those with relevant expertise who you know share your values and goals isn’t a bad thing. The inherent complexity isn’t cause to dodge the difficult questions; it’s a reason to keep a close eye on new developments. Remember that even those who believe that on balance this deal is a victory stipulate that the victory requires follow-through.

If the Obama Administration doesn’t follow through, there will be a real backlash. They already have a credibility problem when it comes to taking on Wall Street to the degree necessary. Housing is an especially sore spot (see: the endlessly frustrating HAMP, Administration officials assuring Congressional Democrats that cramdowns would be pursued and then failing to pursue them). No small number of people within the Obama Administration are too deferential to Wall Street. While this dynamic predates the Obama White House, voters are beyond tired of it. This is one of the many subjects on which prominent progressive voices and swing voters align. If Eric Schneiderman is forced to walk away from the mortgage fraud task force, it will dramatically undercut President Obama’s populist re-election appeal. That’s not something the White House can afford to risk if they know that a vocal 99% movement is watching.