“Dwelling In Sequesterland”: Once The Sequester Is Solved, Rand Paul Will Go Back To Being An Oddball
This is a weird moment in American politics. The sequester has just chopped $43 billion out of this year’s defense budget and Republicans are pretending not to care. Now Senator Rand Paul is winning kudos for conducting an old-fashioned talking filibuster against drone warfare from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (“I think it was completely awesome”). (Click here in the unlikely event you want to watch all 13 hours of Paul’s filibuster, and here for a video abridgement from the Washington Post.) With Politico‘s Lois Romano gushing that the filibuster has abruptly “vaulted [Rand] into the top tier of Republican power players,” Paul now says he’s “seriously” pondering a 2016 run for president. “I think our party needs something new, fresh and different,” Paul told Romano.
We have to figure out how to appeal to the West Coast, New England [and] around the Great Lakes area. We need to figure out how to appeal to the blue-collar voters that voted—that were Democrats that voted for Reagan and I think are drifting back because they see us as the party of the wealthy. … I do want to be part of making the Republican Party again more of a national party, less than a regional party, which I think we’re in danger of becoming.
Paul’s specific objection to drones is that they might be used to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. His apparent preference for civil liberties over civil rights is one problem he’ll likely have running for president. (Paul recently voted against the Violence Against Women Act largely on states-rights grounds, and as recently as last year he argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a cruel imposition on property rights.) Paul inhabits approximately the same niche as Haley Barbour, another seemingly strong candidate with a civil rights problem who ultimately decided not to run in 2012. But that isn’t the biggest obstacle to a plausible Paul candidacy. The larger problem is Paul’s opposition to the U.S. national-security establishment.
In ordinary times, it would be unwise for a Republican seeking the presidential nomination to deny this establishment the right to kill an enemy combatant on U.S. soil—even if that combatant were a U.S. citizen. But these aren’t ordinary times. We dwell in Sequesterland, a Brigadoon-like place where the GOP feels free not to define itself though toughness on defense. Even here in Sequesterland, Paul didn’t escape condemnation from the Wall Street Journal editorial page (“If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms”) and from Sens. John McCain (“totally unfounded”) and Lindsay Graham (“To my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war”). But since this is Sequesterland, most other Republicans gave Paul a pass lest they give the public occasion to wonder why, if they’re so darned desperate to defend national security, they’re bleeding the Pentagon.
They are bleeding the Pentagon, incidentally. As Fred Kaplan has argued forcefully in Slate, the mere likelihood that $43 billion could be sliced out of the Pentagon budget without compromising national defense does not mean that this $43 billion cut is a breeze. As with the civilian cuts, the sequester cuts are across the board and don’t really give managers any leeway to prioritize this at the expense of that. Here’s Kaplan:
What about the $179 million allotted for modifications to the AH-64 Apache helicopter? How do the Army’s managers parse that? And how does anyone, whether in Congress or the Pentagon’s comptroller office, perform oversight of that feat, this year and in the near future? Not only is the exercise disruptive and in some cases absurd, it also creates excuses for contractors to bilk the Pentagon after the budget crisis is over, claiming that they suffered cost overruns as a result of inefficiencies brought on by sequestration.
Because this can’t possibly last, it won’t. One way or another, the GOP will be transported out of Sequesterland, and when that happens Paul will lose his get-out-of-jail-free card.
Remember Chuck Hagel? Former Republican senator from Nebraska? Just before the sequester hit Hagel was confirmed as defense secretary, but his margin was historically narrow because nearly every Senate Republican opposed him. (Paul was one of only four GOP yeas.) The president named a Republican to be secretary of defense, and Senate Republicans (including, for very foggy reasons, Paul) actually gave serious thought to filibustering the nomination. Much of the Republican resistance to Hagel was based, childishly, on the mere fact that Obama wanted him. But much of it was based on Hagel’s having taken positions on national security issues that his fellow Republicans judged unacceptably dovish—and Hagel isn’t nearly as dovish as Paul is. If Hagel proved unacceptable to the GOP, it’s inconceivable that Paul—who less than one month before the 2012 election published an op-ed condemning Mitt Romney for being too hawkish in the Middle East and too willing to increase Pentagon spending—will ever pass muster. And by “the GOP” I don’t just mean GOP politicians. I mean voters, too. Those Reagan Democrats whom Paul thinks he can woo in California, New England, and the Great Lakes? They’re pretty hawkish. They won’t vote for a candidate who’s weaker on defense than Barack Obama is.
New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes that Paul’s libertarianism on national security issues “will remain cool with his party only as long as the GOP remains out of the White House.” I disagree. I think it will remain cool with his party only as long as the GOP dwells in Sequesterland. Once that little matter gets resolved, Paul will go back to being an oddball. I’m not saying he won’t try to get elected president—after all, it runs in the family—but he will never inhabit the “top tier of Republican players.” That it looks like he might right now is just a quirk of circumstance.
By: Timothy Noah, The New Republic, March 10, 2013
Chris Dodd was a new, young senator in 1982, when C. Everett Koop was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the nation’s surgeon general. A lot of liberals like then-Senator Dodd didn’t like Koop, who was anti-abortion, and saw him as the embodiment of the Moral Majority conservatism they despised. Dodd, who was then in the Senate barely a year, voted against Koop’s nomination. The surgeon general was approved by the Senate anyway, 60-24.
Dodd matured as a legislator, and Koop developed into a surgeon general Democrats had not expected him to be. Despite heavy pressure from social conservatives, Koop refused to declare that abortions performed by a qualified medical doctor were bad for a woman’s health. He was a leader in the battle against AIDS—a no-brainer now, but in the considerably more conservative ’80s, when it was seen as a gay man’s disease, something of a scandal. Koop, who died this week at 96, also was aggressive in the fight against tobacco use, particularly among children.
Koop may have forgotten Dodd’s vote against him. Dodd didn’t. Years after the confirmation, Dodd wrote a letter to Koop apologizing for his “no” vote. “He did a wonderful job as Surgeon General of the country, and I voted against him over issues that I didn’t really think through very carefully. And I regretted that,” Dodd told an NBC interviewer.
Fast-forward to this week, and the world of the U.S. Senate looks much different. Threats to hold up nominees for a slew of offices, from cabinet secretary to U.S. Marshall, are appallingly common. Sometimes the filibuster threat is a means to another end, a way to pressure Democrats or the Obama administration to give in on an unrelated topic. And sometimes the holdup hinges on an argument that is difficult to defend: The nominee isn’t who the minority party would have picked, so he or she can’t have the job. It’s remarkable that anyone in the Senate could presume to tell the president who he should hire to advise him, even when the paychecks come from public funds. It would be wrong for a Democratic senator to attempt to withhold funding, say, for the payroll of a GOP colleague who hired like-minded staffers to advise him or her. So why can’t President Obama pick his own cabinet, short of selecting someone corrupt or blatantly incompetent?
Chuck Hagel has been on both sides of the equation, serving in the U.S. Senate, where he had to vote on numerous nominations, and facing a battle to be confirmed as defense secretary. Hagel is a Republican, he won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and served two terms in the U.S. Senate. But he was nominated by Obama, which is enough to taint any nominee in the eyes of some Republicans. They grilled him in the Armed Services Committee, which was to be expected. Some questioned whether he was anti-Semitic, based on a cheap and pejorative interpretation of comments Hagel had made about a pro-Israel lobby. And one senator, Ted Cruz of Texas, had the audacity to suggest, with zero evidence, that Hagel had received income from North Korea.
Hagel went through a high-tech, waste-of-time hazing before he was finally confirmed Wednesday evening, 58-41. In coming years, will any senator write a note of apology to the new defense secretary?
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, February 27, 2013
As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That isn’t to say that first impressions are necessarily immutable destiny in politics, since there are those who have bombed in their national debut and turned things around, and others who looked terrific at first but turned out to be something less. Bill Clinton gave a famously terrible speech at the 1988 Democratic convention, and Sarah Palin was dynamite in her speech at the GOP’s 2008 gathering. Nevertheless, there are some things you just can’t overcome, particularly if what caused them wasn’t a bad night’s sleep but the very core of your being.
A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of stars, Ted Cruz’s name would inevitably have come up. Young (he’s only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started acting like the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, and now, barely a month into his Senate career, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that Ted Cruz is not going to be the national superstar many predicted he’d be. If things go well, he might be the next Jim DeMint—the hard-line leader of the extremist Republicans in the Senate, someone who helps the Tea Party and aids some right-wing candidates win primaries over more mainstream Republicans. But I’m guessing that like DeMint, he won’t ever write a single piece of meaningful legislation and he’ll give the Republican party nothing but headaches as it struggles to look less like a party of haters and nutballs.
It’s kind of remarkable how quickly things went south for Cruz. First he made a splash at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings by implying, without any evidence, that Hagel was on the payroll of foreign enemies. Lindsay Graham called it “out of bounds,” and even grumpy John McCain, who hates Hagel’s guts, rebuked him. Then on Friday, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker revealed that in 2010, Cruz made a speech in which he charged that when he was at Harvard Law School, “there were twelve [members of the faculty] who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.” This is what scholars of rhetoric call a lie. By way of explanation, his spokesperson said that what Cruz said was accurate, since there are people on the Harvard Law faculty who advocate Critical Legal Studies, which back on Planet Earth does not actually involve overthrowing the United States government. It’s kind of like someone saying, “Ted Cruz advocates stoning disrespectful children to death,” then saying that the statement is true, because Cruz once approvingly quoted the biblically-derived saying “spare the rod, spoil the child.” (For the record, I have no idea if Cruz approves of corporal punishment, nor if he has actually participated in any child-stonings.)
So the idea that Ted Cruz is an up-and-comer with a bright future is pretty much dead, replaced by the idea that Ted Cruz is an ideological extremist who employs some of the most shameful political tactics you can imagine, including just making stuff up about people he doesn’t like. Maybe this was inevitable, since by all accounts he really is kind of a jerk, and really does have some crazy ideas. He may end up a favorite of right-wing talk radio, and a hero to Tea Partiers, but he’s not going to be a real power in Washington.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 25, 2013
“Taking McCarthyism Literally”: Ted Cruz’s Ruthless And Baseless Witch Hunts Against His Perceived Rivals
When his detractors talk about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the one word that seems to come up more than any other is “McCarthyism.” The point, of course, is to draw parallels between Cruz’s worst habits and those of former Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), who led ruthless and baseless witch hunts against his perceived rivals — while mastering the art of guilt by association — before being censured by the Senate in 1954, in an effort led by McCarthy’s own Republicans colleagues.
Though Cruz is nowhere near McCarthy’s level — give the Texan time, he only joined the Senate last month — the accusations are not without merit. We saw repeated examples of this during Cruz’s campaign against Chuck Hagel’s Defense Secretary nomination, which led Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to recently note, “It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times.”
It was a trick Cruz leaned on repeatedly to question Hagel’s loyalty and patriotism, going so far as to suggest, without evidence, the former Republican senator may have received unreported funds from foreign enemies of the United States.
But Jane Mayer reports today that it wasn’t too long ago that Cruz delivered a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally, sponsored by the Koch brothers’ political group, accusing Harvard Law School of harboring secret Communists on its faculty
Cruz greeted the  audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)
He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
A Harvard Law spokesperson told Mayer the school is “puzzled” by Cruz’s accusations.
Of course, this shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Most Americans look at McCarthy’s record as a stain on our political history; Cruz seems to look at McCarthy’s record as how-to guide.
Postscript: Long-time readers may recall that I’ve been fascinated for several years with the right’s willingness to re-embrace Joe McCarthy and his brand of politics.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America”; and in Texas, right-wing activists rewriting the state’s curriculum have recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.
If I thought they’d appreciate it, I’d gladly chip in to buy copies of “Good Night, and Good Luck” for Cruz and his allies.
By: Steve Benen, The Mddow Blog, February 22, 2013
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) can barely contain his glee at being criticized for being a jerk, as reflected in this Reuters report from Corrie MacLaggan.
First-term Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday staunchly defended his aggressive, in-your-face style that already is raising eyebrows in Washington and has led a Senate Democrat to suggest his tactics reminded her of McCarthyism.
“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz told reporters on a visit to a Texas gun manufacturer. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”
Employees at LaRue Tactical near Austin cheered the senator enthusiastically during his appearance.
Cruz, 42, raised eyebrows in Washington by aggressively criticizing former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.
Cruz angered lawmakers in both parties by suggesting, without giving evidence, that Hagel might have taken money from countries such as communist North Korea.
Charges that Cruz was being a lying bully were, of course, all mixed up with claims that he wasn’t being a good do-be freshman Senator who waits his turn and kisses up to those with more seniority. You get the impression his colleagues think he should have to earn the right to behave like Joe McCarthy.
But in any event, how much would Cruz pay to get that kind of reputation outside the Senate itself? Congress’ job approval rating is stuck in the mid-teens. He’s a member of a party that has raised hysterical unfounded attacks on the opposition into a virtually obligatory exercise (one of his critics, Lindsey Graham, was as unhinged in dealing with Hagel as Cruz himself), and part of an intra-party faction that thinks the GOP has been repeatedly betrayed by the civility (sic!) of its elected representatives. There is virtually no down-side to his current behavior.
Come to think of it, Joe McCarthy may have simply been many years ahead of his time.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 20, 2013