Can't Shake the Devil's Hand and Say You're Only Kidding

As all denizens of the internets know, Jumping the Shark is a phrase that has come to represent that moment in which a good something becomes permanently broken. It originally referred to the moment on Happy Days when Fonzie, for no evident reason, has to jump over a shark on waterskis because…well, because he had to, okay?

The actions of the formerly redoubtable Jane Hamsher during this health care debate, sadly, have now reached a point beyond Jumping the Shark. Hamsher has Transcended Sharks. She has rocketed over ever every member of Superorder Selachimorpha, and she is gone.

It’s not just her incessant parroting of right-wing talking points on individual mandates in her quixotic quest to “Kill the Bill.” Yes, Hamsher’s rhetoric since the public option was stripped has essentially mirrored the right-wing talking points (the evil government is gonna make you buy insurance! And if you’re doing well, you might even end up spending more on insurance, which will help others get insurance, but so what? What about your rights?), and that was the point at which she jumped the shark.

But now…well, now Jane has just gone beyond beyond. Because she’s allying herself with the worst elements of the Republican party. And I don’t mean that figuratively:

Jane Hamsher, Grover Norquist Call for Rahm Emanuel’s Resignation

By: Jane Hamsher Wednesday December 23, 2009 12:17 pm

Today, Grover Norquist and I are calling for an investigation into Rahm Emanuel’s activities at Freddie Mac, and the White House’s blocking of an Inspector General who would look into it. The letter follows: [...]

This is, in a word, unforgivable. It would be akin to working directly with Dick Cheney. Norquist is, quite frankly, a man who has devoted his entire life to destroying the Democratic Party, and any form of government more robust that that which exists in Somalia. He famously has said of his aims, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” He wants to eliminate the FDA, the NEA, the IRS, and the Department of Education.

Norquist cut his teeth working with the Contras for Ollie North. He helped Newt Gingrich write the Contract With America. He’s the genius behind the TABOR legislation that’s been slowly strangling Colorado. Norquist was an early and enthusiastic backer of then-Gov. George W. Bush’s run for the presidency in 2000, and he has been associated with Karl Rove for decades. His goals are anathema to the goals of Democrats, or indeed anyone more liberal than James Inhofe.

Quite honestly, if Grover Norquist approached me and asked me to help him in his quest to save puppies, it would lead me to rethink my feelings about puppies. So it’s not just alarming, but flatly wrong for Hamsher to join in common cause with Norquist, even if there was strong evidence that Rahm Emmanuel had done something specifically wrong during his brief tenure at Freddie Mac, which there isn’t.1

At any rate, Hamsher isn’t concerned about Emmanuel’s ethical problems. She’s mad because Emmanuel put pressure on the Senate to find a compromise that could get through the Senate, and that led us to the bill which lacks the public option, which alone has caused mandates to go from fairly understandable requirements to the worst! violation! of liberty! ever!!! And Hamsher wants to punish Emmanuel and the Obama Administration however she can. if that means making common cause with the likes of Norquist or Phyllis Freakin’ Schlafly, so be it.

Well include me out. I can understand being so frustrated with the bill coming out of the Senate that you’d oppose it. I think the idea that a better bill is just waiting for more willpower, or attacks on Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or a really good speech from Barack Obama betrays a certain naïveté about the realities of the American system of government, and I think the main lines of attack from the Kill Bill crowd have been specious at best, but I can understand the frustration shared by anti-compromise forces; indeed, I share it, even as I understand that reality means we have to give in to Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman because that’s the way the system works.

But Hamsher has moved beyond principled opposition to the bill, and beyond even strong and forceful criticism of the Obama Administration. She’s now working with people who do not wish to improve the Obama Administration, but instead wish to destroy it. She’s working with people who do not want to improve the bill working its way though Congress so that more people are helped and corporations get their just deserts, but instead with people who want Congress to end Medicaid because it helps the wrong sort of people.

I’m sorry, but that’s beyond the pale. Hamsher may have the purest of intent. But her actions are helping and emboldening the right. She has, ultimately, become the mirror of her greatest adversary, Holy Joe Lieberman, another person who started out a moderate liberal, and ended up joining forces in common cause with the Republican Party. In his case, it was just the war he was with them on. In Hamsher’s case, it’s just health care and Rahm Emmanuel. In both of their cases, they’re gone. And they’re never coming back.

  1. There is some evidence that Emmanuel did nothing during his brief tenure at Freddie Mac, and that he basically received a paycheck for doing said nothing because he’d been a high-ranking official in the Clinton Administration, but while such a deal may be unethical — indeed, is unethical, in my opinion — it isn’t criminal, and isn’t much different than, say, Halliburton hiring a politically-connected former Defense Secretary as its chief. Indeed, such practices are sadly common, on both sides of the aisle. That may be reason to think Rahm isn’t particularly ethical, or even a reason to think Emmanuel’s a bad person. It isn’t by itself reason to call for his resignation. And it certainly isn’t the real reason Hamsher or Norquist are doing so. []
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23 Responses to Can't Shake the Devil's Hand and Say You're Only Kidding

  1. Pingback: Principles of the unprincipled: Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist unite

  2. 2
    Tc says:

    About time someone said this. Over on firedoglake, the comments are all full of, “you go, girl!”. And you’d expect people like Tbogg to pull back a little.

  3. Pingback: And People are Surprised by Hamsher Why? « Tiny Cat Pants

  4. 3
    Robert says:

    Hamsher is right and is being more progressive than you. This is a bad bill that makes many people worse off and which doesn’t make the overall health care system better.

    As for Norquist…when MY allies start taking up with my enemies, it IS very tempting to start compiling the purge roll and editing the Christmas card list. On the other hand, though, it might be worth considering whether it isn’t me who’s gone off the tracks.

  5. 4
    Sungold says:

    I’ve got my own misgivings about the bill, but our only reasonable course now is to exert pressure on the reconciliation process.

    Snuggling up to Norquist … well, the last time I heard of such an unholy alliance, anti-porn feminists were joining forces with Ed Meese. That wasn’t such a hot idea, either.

  6. 5
    lonespark says:

    Pretty much what Sungold said. Eccchh!

  7. 6
    Jenny says:

    She was quite hostile to those who were for Single Payer too rather than the public option: http://vastleft.blogspot.com/search?q=public+option

  8. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Jeff, with all due respect, I think this post goes too far.

    First of all, it’s only because of Hamsher and other lefties who are taking extreme positions that there’s a chance this will be improved in conference. And it’s because of them that there were marginal improvements to the bill in Reid’s final package of amendments. (Although the big, famous items, like the pubic option, are basically off the table, there are a lot of items that aren’t big news but which are still amenable to improvement before final passage.)

    As Sungold said, we need to exert pressure on the reconciliation process. Pelosi’s negotiating position is much better if the left is screaming and calling the bill a horrible sell-out, than it is if the left is quietly, mildly critical. If the only people getting angry and calling the bill terrible are the conservatives, then the bill will move even further to the right.

    So although I’m on your side on the policy issues here, I think Ms Hamsher may actually doing more good at this point than moderate, mild lefties like you and I are.

    As for working with Norquist… I’m not really one for the “poisoned well” theory of politics. I’d gladly support lefties and progressives working with the Catholic Church, for example, on issues of poverty and economics, even while we hate with a fiery passion everything they do on reproductive rights and lgbt rights.

  9. 8
    Ampersand says:

    Hamsher is right and is being more progressive than you. This is a bad bill that makes many people worse off and which doesn’t make the overall health care system better.

    The bill brings coverage to tens of millions of Americans who currently lack coverage, and makes insurance far more affordable for the less well off than the status quo. It has nearly $200 billion of subsidies for people who need it, including a big expansion of Medicaid (mostly paid for by the feds, not the states).

    It makes insurance available for people with pre-existing conditions. It forbids insurance companies from It bans lifetime spending caps. It puts a ceiling on how much more insurance can charge for age.

    It also does quite a lot to control spending — although we’ll have to see how that works out in actual implementation, of course.

    So yes, I’d say it’s a lot better than the status quo.

  10. 9
    Ampersand says:

    Oh, and most importantly: It creates a better baseline for future efforts. This bill is horribly flawed because it had to be compromised in order to get the support of right-wing democrats. Future bills will also be compromised — but they’ll be compromised starting from a much, much better baseline than the status quo.

    Social Security kind of sucked when it started, too.

  11. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Sorry to Bogart the thread, and I’ll stop it, but to support what I said to Jeff — about how vitriolic rhetoric from the left is probably helpful to improving the final legislation — I wanted to quote this, which was itself quoted on Open Left:

    Mike Lux once told me an anecdote about then-Representative Bernie Sanders and President Clinton during the signing ceremony for the fiscal year 1994 budget. Before the ceremony began, he heard President Clinton telling Representative Sanders that he and other progressive members of Congress should have attacked the budget from the left more vehemently. President Clinton’s reasoning was that such attacks would have provided his administration more room to push the legislation to the left, and less justification to give into demands from the right.

    Two months ago, President Clinton himself told me a similar story. He said that he had read a lot of people online calling him a sellout, or something similar, for any number of reasons. Rather than being upset with this criticism, he said that he wished that sort of progressive media had been around to broadcast that left-wing criticism during the 1993-1994 health care fight. Once again, if that criticism had been both prominent and backed up with real power in Congress, it would have given him a lot more room to work on health care.

  12. 11
    lonespark says:

    That last point, Amp, seems like a vitally important one to me. Fighters on the left can shift the debate in the right (er, correct?) direction, so that Obama and congressional leadership can look a lot more moderate. That’s part of why not getting single payer in the mix was a bad idea.

    But for the bulk of pragmatic boots-on-the-ground liberal Dems, we need to be doing this, and have leaders and spokespeople who are doing this, in a way that isn’t too vituperative, that allows for enough unity and enthusiasm to keep working.

  13. 12
    brenda says:

    As for working with Norquist… I’m not really one for the “poisoned well” theory of politics. I’d gladly support lefties and progressives working with the Catholic Church, for example, on issues of poverty and economics, even while we hate with a fiery passion everything they do on reproductive rights and lgbt rights.

    Hmm. I think this would be a fair comparison if Hamsher were cozying up with good-faith conservatives – the few of them that remain. But Norquist? That’s more analogous to working hand-in-hand with Bill Donohue, not the Catholic church proper. Gotta go with Jeff on this – Hamsher is crossing a line.

    On your larger point, I don’t at all dispute the critical importance of the far left critique in this debate – in fact, I read somewhere earlier today someone making the point about how remarkable it is that the center of argument here is between left and center left, rather than center v. far right as we’ve become so accustomed to.

  14. 13
    chingona says:

    how remarkable it is that the center of argument here is between left and center left, rather than center v. far right as we’ve become so accustomed to

    On the other hand, it speaks to how far to the right we’ve shifted when backing the public option places you on the left instead of the center left or even the center right.

  15. 14
    Jeff Fecke says:

    Hmm. I think this would be a fair comparison if Hamsher were cozying up with good-faith conservatives – the few of them that remain.

    As do I. As I said above, I have absolutely no problem with Hamsher attacking the bill. I strongly disagree with her, and I vehemently disagree with her using right-wing frames to do so (the attack on the bill is not the mandate, if you want to attack it from a progressive standpoint, but that the bill doesn’t have robust enough subsidies and lacks a public option. The argument latter pushes the frame leftward; the latter embraces the right-wing frame that already exists, and while it may torpedo the bill in the short term, it’s highly unlikely to create a better one in the long term). But up until now, I’ve expressed frustration with her embracing right-wing memes, and disagreed with her about whether the bill does nothing — in short, I’ve had policy disputes with her, which is fine.

    This is not a policy dispute. Norquist is, to be blunt, one of the worst actors in American politics over the last thirty years, and a man who has made no secret of his goal of destroying the Democrats. If Hamsher wants to team up with Snowe, or try to swing someone else against the bill, that’s one thing. Teaming up with Norquist to push a specious charge related to another right-wing talking point (that Fannie, Freddie, and minorities are responsible for the housing collapse) is not doing that, though.

    By all means, attack the bill if you believe the bill should be attacked. For example, I think Glenn Greenwald has been wrong on the merits of this debate, but he’s argued in good faith and he’s been trying to push the debate leftward. That’s not only fine, but it’s vital to ensuring the bill is a good one. Hamsher is not doing what Greenwald is doing, however. She’s adopting a scorched-earth policy that seeks to cripple the Obama Administration. That is not going to advance progressive interests in the slightest. It’s just going to pave the way for Speaker Boehner and President Palin. And if you think that will lead us to single-payer health care, I have some lovely swampland I’d like to talk with you about.

  16. 15
    Jeff Fecke says:

    On the other hand, it speaks to how far to the right we’ve shifted when backing the public option places you on the left instead of the center left or even the center right.

    That’s not surprising. The Democrats are a center-right party by world standards. America doesn’t have a left-wing party. As much as the wingnuts want to claim that Obama is a Marxist, he’s arguably to the right of, say, Sarkozy on economics. And Sarkozy is a conservative.

    And Obama is not a particularly conservative Democrat. Policywise, he’s very much in the mainstream of the party (as was Clinton and, for that matter, Edwards). The Democrats are a center-right party. The Republicans are somewhere around where the Front national is. We have no active party left of center. I think that will change eventually. But such change will be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

  17. 16
    Manju says:

    The Republicans are somewhere around where the Front national is.

    I think this is an accurate description of where Pat Buchanan is (but he left the republican party), socially conservative and economically nationalist/interventionist/protectionist, but to say this is where the republican party is is like saying kucinich represents the dems. there are too many libertarians, neo-liberals, free traders and Rockerfeller republicans still in the party.

    i agree there is no real left of center party by world standards but you fail to see there is no real rightwing party either, since both political extremes are defanged by a broad classical liberal consensus. (maybe the dixiecrats were the last of the anti liberal right).

    thats what makes America so great. its a privilege to be here.

  18. 17
    djw says:

    I think Ampersand would have a much stronger case if Hamsher were merely signing on as an ally with Norquist to complain about elements of the HCR bill that she and Norquist agree are problematic. And I agree that “Hamsher line” might plausibly have the effect of making the bill better. But that’s not what’s going on here, and while I’m open to a defense of her kill the bill rhetoric on strategic grounds, she’s not doing that. She’s uniting with Norquist in a deranged, quixotic personal vendetta against Rahm Emanuel–someone who she’s taken making a number of outrageous claims about (and, as a bonus, giving cover to the right-wing nonsense about Fannie/Freddie/brown people somehow being responsible for the financial crisis is just an added bonus). Uniting with evil in a strange bedfellows kind of situation (say, Bob Barr on civil liberties, or Chris Smith on anti-slavery and anti-human trafficking stuff) is a necessary and often smart part of poitics. But there’s nothing particularly progressive (or, for that matter, sane) about Hamsher’s obsessive, bizarre vendetta against Emanuel.

  19. 18
    belledame222 says:

    Amen. Hamsher is a tool in every sense of the word.

  20. 19
    Ivy NYC says:

    Excellent article. Although I admired Hamscher for her tenacity and drive and undeniable intellect, I never agreed with her “all or nothing” rhetoric. That’s just not how politics work, sorry to say. And now, this has become all about Jane, and not her message. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Example: Sarah Palin.

    OK, ok, ok, before everyone jumps down my throat, hear me out. The ONLY comparison I am making between Ms. Palin and Ms. Hamscher is this: That fame, left unchecked, can twist a person’s perceptions to a point where the message gets crushed by the messenger. Now in Palin’s case, that phenomenon happened in the blink of an eye– a nobody politician with a deep-rooted narcissism from the middle of nowhere (literally) is thrust onto the world stage. With no clear set of goals or policies or even intellectual curiosity, Palin grabbed onto the attention with both hands and made herself an icon of a poltical party with no clear set of goals or policy.

    Now I don’t need to tell you that Jane Hamscher is an intellectual Hercules compared to Wasilla Peron. Palin is a silly, fatuous woman drunk on fame. Jane’s work throughout the Iraq occupation and on health care reform is wholly admirable. But she has shown her hand in this game of political poker. She blinked– and hard– when Emmanuel went off on progressives a couple months ago. She took it personally. No, no, no. Not good. Rather than stepping back with a Mona Lisa smile and saying, “Ok Rahm, is that how you want to play it? Fine, let’s play,” she hurled herself into a public tantrum and whipped the left on Dkos and FDL and Ameriblog into a frenzy on nothing more than Rahm hurting her feelings. She then villified the entire Obama Administration a mere 9 months into its first term. And now…Norquist. Sigh.

    The message has been lost within the spotlight of the messenger. That is what American politics has become, a cult of personality. And Jane fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

    PS: Merry Xmas everyone!

  21. IvyNYC:

    Although I admired Hamscher for her tenacity and drive and undeniable intellect, I never agreed with her “all or nothing” rhetoric. That’s just not how politics work, sorry to say

    Kinda is, actually, at least for people not currently in office. “Rhetoric” is the key word here; as has been noted, if we say “single payer is the only acceptible outcome” then sure, we’d look like crazy leftists, but a robust public option would look like standing up to the crazy leftists. We screwed ourselves by saying “public option is the minimum acceptible outcome”: now a robust public option looks like giving in to the crazy leftists.

  22. 21
    AlanSmithee says:

    Bwa…hahahaha! This is fucking hilarious! You spend years sneering down your nose at so called “leftists” and whining about how everyone to the left of you is a “purist” while you’re an oh-so-fucking-realist. And NOW that Hamsher has show you what real coalition building is like, you shit your little pants and start screaming about how she’s not pure enough to be in your fucking warmonger corporate Democratic Party.

    Hi-fucking-larious!

    What a giant stinking sack of hypocrisy you are.

  23. 22
    Ampersand says:

    Alan, your behavior is completely unacceptable on “Alas.” You’re welcome to disagree with what people say, but if you can’t stand addressing other folks here with respect — beginning with your very next comment — then you’ll be banned from posting comments here.