Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has had a fair amount of success in his first two years implementing a very conservative agenda. Most notably, Brownback’s tax “reform” plan, which sharply cut income taxes on Kansas’ wealthy while punishing the poor, was signed into law in May.
But it apparently wasn’t quite enough to satisfy the right. We talked earlier this week about a group of congressional Republican moderates — an endangered and ineffectual contingent — feeling increasingly frustrated, but reader R.P. flagged an item out of Kansas, where the GOP is actively purging centrists from their midst.
Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP. [...]
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to slash state income taxes.
Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who’s running for the state Senate, told the AP, “If you don’t believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?”
What an illustrative quote. The far right is drawing up the plays, and those who disagree, even a little, ought to be replaced with loyal, almost robotic, teammates who will do what they’re told.
In Kansas, this translates into a series of contentious GOP primaries, which will be held early next week, in which right-wing activists try to replace the moderates (or at least those who seem moderate by 2012 standards) in their midst. This includes, the Republican Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, and several key committee chairs whose fealty to the far-right cause has disappointed the party’s base. The Koch brothers and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are providing the financial resources to fuel the purge.
For his part, Brownback has already turned on many Republican incumbents, throwing his support to primary challengers because the moderates, in his words, help “promote a Democrat [sic] agenda.”
A traditional poli-sci model might suggest this is risky. Most voters consider themselves mainstream and “somewhere in the middle,” and traditionally punish parties that become too extreme.
But in states like Kansas, Republicans figure they have nothing to worry about — the GOP dominates, and winning the primary means winning the seat.
For the activist right, this means there’s very little risk in fighting to replace more reasonable Republicans with ones who’ll mindlessly toe the party line.
In the post-Bush, post-financial-crisis, post-war era, the Republican Party has slowly been confronted with questions about what kind of party it wants to be in the 21st century. It appears the decision has been made: the GOP wants a small, rigid, right-wing party that tolerates very little dissent and even fewer moderates.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 3, 2012
If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”
— Alice Roosevelt Longworth
This year has seen the deaths of four prominent men — Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Breitbart, Andrew Cockburn, and, most recently, Gore Vidal — who all had wildly diverging political views, but one salient characteristic in common: their scathing, take-no-prisoners political commentary. None of those guys exactly treated politics like a tea party. They didn’t wring their hands about whether they were hurting anybody’s feelings. or lose any sleep about whether they were being fair. On the contrary, all four were combative and sharp-tongued; each one of them clearly took pleasure in being, at least on occasion, extraordinarily vicious.
Which is why I found the wanly polite reactions to their deaths, at least in some quarters, to be puzzling. Some examples: on a listserv I’m on, some writers made it clear that they had sharply negative opinions about Alexander Cockburn, but were oddly reluctant to commit them to paper (and these were extremely voluble folks who are rarely shy about weighing in on anything else). When Gore Vidal passed away, sunny obituaries like this one seriously downplayed the man’s bigotry (and I say that as someone who holds mixed, but more positive than not, opinions of Vidal’s work. David Greenberg provides a useful corrective here). Heck, when Andrew Breitbart ascended to that choir invisible even I, who possess unmitigated loathing for the man, held back. I was afraid if I unloaded on Facebook or a listserv with my uncensored opinions of him, I’d be castigated as a prime example of the Indecent Left.
Suffice it to say, I’ve come to rethink all of that. Why go soft on a public figure all of a sudden, just because that person happens to be dead?
Now, I perfectly understand that when a private citizen dies, you don’t want to be the kind of prize idiot who’s badmouthing him at the funeral in front of the grieving widow. But when a public figure dies, it is entirely appropriate to examine that person’s entire legacy, and not hold back. Holding yourself up to that kind of public scrutiny is basically part of the job description, if you are a public figure. If you don’t like it, you need to seek some other line of work.
One of my email correspondents explained that he didn’t want to write anything negative about a recently deceased public figure because he wanted to spare the grieving family’s feelings. In reply, one wit chimed in, “The time to feel sorry for the family was when the person was alive,” but that doesn’t quite get at it, either.
The fact is, a public person’s public life and legacy do not belong to her family, it belongs to the world at large. To censor oneself and deprive the general public of a full and frank discussion out of consideration of the private feelings of a few individuals reflects distorted priorities. It would be selfish and narrow in the extreme if the loved ones of a public figure believed that that person belonged to them and only to them, and should be immune from criticism. If we took that attitude to its logical conclusion, all intellectual life in this country would stop dead in its tracks.
Okay, so I think we can agree that the “sparing the feelings of the family” justification for avoiding honest discussions about the merits, or lack thereof, of dead people, is a load of bunkum. Are there any better arguments out there?
One might be, “I don’t speak ill of the dead because I hope when I’m gone, I’m repaid in kind.” My response to that is, good luck with that one, buddy, especially if you’re on the left and you don’t want conservatives to attack you when you shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s human nature for people to say mean things, and it’s probably more likely that they will say them when you’re gone than when you’re still here to defend yourself. And for whatever reason, many conservatives seem less constrained than many liberals are by these middle class niceties
Yuppie careerism, in the form of wanting to advance oneself by protecting the reputations of powerful people, even when they’re dead, and even when those reputations are totally undeserved — well, that definitely is sometimes a reason why people abide by this convention, but it’s hardly a creditable one.
Finally, there’s one more reason I can think of for whitewashing the dead: sheer wimpiness. And that, to be honest, is what got a hold of me when Breitbart took his dirt nap.
The prissy delicacy with which so many commentators treated the passings of Messrs. Hitchens, Breitbart, Cockburn, and Vidal was all the more annoying because, though each one of them had, in their time, written some fairly venomous obituaries themselves, they were also tough-minded enough to understand that turnabout is fair play. Take, for example, Cockburn on Irving Howe; Breitbart on Ted Kennedy; Vidal, who described Truman Capote’s death as “a good career move,” and Christopher Hitchens, who when Mother Teresa died, gleefully seized upon it as an opportunity to start energetically making the rounds to promote his vicious book about her (which I actually think is kind of awesome).
My feelings about this issue explain why, all too frequently, I find the obituaries in American newspapers — genteel, respectful, and often bleached of any hint of color, with all pertinent conflicts and controversies either sentimentalized or all but erased — to be maddening. I much prefer the warts-and-all style obituaries that British newspapers such as The Independent have longed specialized in.
That said, America has not been without its lively obituaries. In the 90s and early 00s, there was an excellent obituary zine called Goodbye!; it is still online, and you can find the back issues here. Its motto was “Because the dead can’t sue for libel,” and it contained many fine essays on the recently departed, famous, infamous, and obscure. On this slow news and blogging day, I strongly encourage you to browse its archives. I think my favorite Miller piece has got to be this one, on the death of Harvey Ball, surely one of history’s greatest monsters, because he created the Smiley Face. The obit contains this classic line: “Hey Smiley – your old man just died! Still smiling?”
You may wonder why Goodbye! stopped publishing, and whether Mr. Miller succumbed to the unfortunate, if inevitable, fate of all the subjects he so faithfully chronicled. Fear not! In a rare instance of virtue being rewarded (didn’t Oscar Wilde say something to the effect of that’s why they call it fiction?), Mr. Miller now does this sort of thing for a living, at the Wall Street Journal. I miss the punk rock edge of Goodbye! but I can hardly fault Mr. Miller for forsaking his zine for a steady paycheck.
Steve was actually a friend of mine back in my NYC days, though unfortunately we’ve lost touch over the years. A fascinating fact about him is that he is a survivor of the WTC attacks — he was on one of the upper floors of the towers on September 11th. Interestingly, he doesn’t think — or at least, did not think at the time — that the experience changed his approach to writing obituaries very much. He still appears to enthusiastically favor speaking ill of the dead. As do I!
By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 4, 2012
Good afternoon: It’s Sunday, August 5th, 2012, and Mitt Romney has still not released more than two-years’ worth of tax returns. Why is that? Only Mitt and Rafalca know for sure. The rest of us poor souls must continue to sit here and speculate, potentially forever. As you are perhaps aware, Harry Reid has floated one improbable explanation for the secrecy surrounding the documents, which is that Romney did not pay taxes for a decade. The candidate has, of course, denied this, but Reid keeps pushing back, forcing Romney’s surrogates to attack him and thereby ensuring that the story — and the general tax return theme — remain in the news.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus got particularly feisty on ABC’s This Week, calling Reid a “dirty liar who hasn’t filed a single page of tax returns himself, complains about people with money but lives in the Ritz Carlton here down the street.” Senator Lindsey Graham called Reid’s accusations “out of bounds,” while Virginia governor Bob McDonnell said they were “reckless and slanderous.” McDonnell added that, “People don’t care about Mitt Romney’s tax returns. They are [worried] about their own tax returns,” which would probably be mostly true in a world in which Mitt Romney had released more tax returns.
Meanwhile, the Democrats did their best to contain their glee over the situation, with varying degrees of success. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell gently peer pressured Romney to share his filings, saying, “We all do it. It’s become commonplace in American politics…Mitt, go ahead and do it.” Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs suggested that Romney “go to Kinko’s,” where he could “put this to rest” by making copies of the documents for “a nickel a page.” (Gibbs was nice enough to offer to send him the nickels.):
“The whole world would know exactly what loopholes he’s taking advantage of,” alluding to Romney’s having placed some of his money in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
Asked repeatedly whether the Obama campaign in Chicago had told Reid to stop making those tax claims, Gibbs would only reply: “I don’t think anybody controls Harry Reid.
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz was more subdued: “This question is not just generated by Harry Reid,” she said. “It’s been asked by countless reporters, by voters that want to know more about Mitt Romney’s finances.” And David Axelrod stuck to what has become an Obama campaign mantra, asking, “Why don’t they just put this to rest? What is it that he’s hiding?”
Finally, Reid himself weighed in once again via a statement sent to Talking Points Memo this morning which read, in part, “It is sad that the most secretive candidate since Richard Nixon has forced his party to defend his decision to hide the truth about his tax returns.” Sad is one word for it.
By: Caroline Bankoff, Daily Intel, August 5, 2012
“A Blatant Attempt To Mislead”: Romney Falsely Accuses Obama Campaign Of Trying To Restrict Military Voting Rights
Mitt Romney attacked a lawsuit brought by President Obama’s campaign seeking the restoration of early voting rights for Ohio voters by falsely implying that Obama is trying to take away the early voting privileges for members of the military.
“President Obama’s lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage,” Romney said in a statement Saturday.
Actually, the Obama campaign’s lawsuit, filed by the campaign in mid-July, explicitly asks a federal court to restore in-person early voting rights to all eligible Ohio voters on the three days preceding Election Day.
The suit does not seek to prevent members of the military from voting in person during that period, rather it seeks to force Ohio to give other voters (including, for instance, cops and firefighters) the same opportunity to vote.
Romney said in the statement that as president he would “work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them.” He said that members of the military “make tremendous sacrifices to protect and defend our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to protect their fundamental right to vote.”
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM on whether he believes cops and firefighters should also be allowed to vote in the three days before the election.
Obama’s campaign is fighting back, calling Romney’s statement a “blatant attempt to mislead” voters.
“This lawsuit seeks to treat all Ohio citizens equally under the law,” Obama for America attorney Bob Bauer said in a statement. “We want to restore the right of all to vote before Election Day.”
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department has filed 10 lawsuits and reached nine settlements with various states to protect military voters under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
Late update: Obama for America Veterans and Military Family Vote Director Rob Diamond issued this statement:
“Mitt Romney and his campaign have completely fabricated a claim that the Obama campaign is trying to restrict military voting in Ohio. In fact, the opposite is true: the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit to make sure every Ohioan, including military members and their families, has early voting rights over the last weekend prior to the election. The case filed with the court could not be clearer on this point. The real story of what is happening in the Buckeye State is that Mitt Romney supports the Republican effort to stop people from voting by restricting their access to the polls. In 2008, more than 93,000 Ohioans utilized early voting in the three days before the election. In complete disregard of the will of Ohio voters expressed last year through the referendum process, the Republican legislature is attempting to remove from the vast majority of voters — including veterans of our armed services — the early voting rights they enjoyed in 2008. This latest Republican attack on rights of voters is shameful — and so is Mitt Romney’s endorsement of it.”
By: Ryan J. Reilly, Talking Points Memo, August 4, 2012
Harry Reid has always been an unusual character. He’s often dismissed as a lightweight by Republicans (Senator Tom Coburn recently called him “incompetent and incapable”), but he is also an adept legislative maneuverer who has notched some extraordinary victories, perhaps none more notable than getting every Democrat in the Senate, even ones like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman who live to make trouble for their own party, to vote for the Affordable Care Act. He’s very soft-spoken, speaking most of the time in a near-whisper, but he’s also willing to wield a shiv with an enthusiasm few in his party can muster.
And now, Reid is doing the kind of work that surrogates are supposed to do for presidential candidates: go out and make the kind of biting, maybe even questionable attack on the opponent that the candidate himself doesn’t want to be seen making. Reid has charged that a source at Bain Capital has told him privately that Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years, and that’s why Romney won’t reveal his tax returns. When asked for concrete evidence beyond the word of an anonymous source, Reid says, “I don’t think the burden should be on me. The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes. Why didn’t he release his tax returns?” Romney replied that Reid should “put up or shut up,” and offered an unsubstantiated charge of his own: “I’m looking forward to having Harry reveal his sources and we’ll probably find out it’s the White House.”
This episode gives us yet another case study in how different Republicans and Democrats are. If the parties were reversed, I guarantee you that you would not be able to find a single Republican to criticize what their colleague was doing. They’d meet the “McCarthyism!” charges with a laugh. But Democrats are conflicted, as they usually are about hardball politics (Jon Stewart tore Reid a new one over it). So let’s take a moment to sort through just how we should feel about this.
As a general principle, people shouldn’t toss around explosive charges without having evidence to back them up. And everyone is assuming that what Reid is saying is false, but there is at least some possibility that it’s true. It’s highly unlikely, but it’s possible. We can probably also assume that Reid didn’t make this up out of whole cloth—somebody did tell him this, though whether the person ought to be believed is something we can’t know.
Is this really akin to the birther controversy, as some have charged? It might be, if Romney had already released his tax returns and everyone knew what was in them. Remember that Obama released his birth certificate during the 2008 campaign, not to mention the fact that there were birth announcements in Hawaii newspapers. There was never any question but that the birthers were nuts, and Obama was never hiding anything. In this case, however, Romney is hiding something. His argument is that even though he will certainly demand to see multiple years of tax returns for his nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, and even though he’s certainly demanding to see multiple years of tax returns for the people he’s considering to be his running mate, the public doesn’t get to see his tax returns for more than one year. The absolute gall of his position—that he wants to be president of the United States, but doesn’t think he should have to give a full accounting of his finances—is really something to marvel at.
So just like it’s possible for the police to frame a guilty man, Reid is making what’s probably a false charge about a matter that Romney is improperly concealing from the electorate. If Romney wanted to, he could refute the charge and humiliate Reid tomorrow, just by releasing his returns. But it’s obvious that those returns contain something (or maybe multiple somethings) that Romney believes would be so damaging to his candidacy if voters knew about it that he’s willing to suffer all this bad press, and give the Obama campaign all this ammunition, to keep anyone from finding out.
And frankly, Mitt Romney has run his campaign in a manner so disreputable—constantly questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism, twisting his words out of context at every opportunity, running up a record of mendacity that stands out even among modern campaigns—that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him when someone hits him a little below the belt.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 3, 2012