The Ben Carson phenomenon is a case lesson in how some really smart, impressive figures in certain fields should never talk about politics.
Carson is now an official presidential candidate, representing a subset of grassroots conservatives who enjoy being played. This is not an insignificant number of people. He is, to the horror of the people who run the Republican party, polling viably. No would-be candidate has a more dedicated corps of volunteers supporting him. Whether it’s CPAC or the First in the Nation Summit in New Hampshire, the Carson people are everywhere, handing out stickers and buttons and t-shirts and assorted other tchochkes from dusk till dawn.
But why? What is it that they like about someone who’s quite obviously trying to separate conservative movementarians from their money?
Carson’s rise to prominence among Tea Party conservatives, or whatever we’re calling that element of the GOP now, should be bizarre to everyone. It’s especially baffling, though, to people like your trusty Salon writer, who grew up in the mid-Atlantic in the 1990s. Most elementary and middle school students from Maryland were at some point assigned to read Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands — typically ahead of a visit from the man himself. Carson was raised in Detroit, rising from abject poverty to Yale, eventually becoming the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, one of the best medical centers in the world. To children and adults alike, he was the reigning regional saint. (Along with Cal Ripken Jr., who didn’t pull off masterful feats of neurosurgery but did play in thousands of consecutive baseball games.)
Carson launched his second, lucrative career as a conservative movement celebrity at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. This is one of those grand annual Washington events, sponsored by a Northern Virginia cult, that merits a visit from the President of the United States. Carson made President Obama sit through a chaotic 27-minute political rant against political correctness, progressive taxation, the national debt, etc., and conservative media went nuts. He went on a vapid spiel to President Obama’s face! He should run for president??
Who knew Carson would actually take them up on this? But here we are, replete with a gospel choir singing Eminem.
It’s sad that such a brilliant surgeon and role model for children has committed himself to a path of spectacular humiliation. Because that same free-flowing style he showed at the National Prayer Breakfast has been subject to diminishing returns in the last two years. The novelty is wearing off, and now he’s in a position where he makes a fool of himself just about every time his mouth opens.
The trademark of Carson’s brief political career is an all-out assault on the common literary devices of metaphor and analogy. Obamacare is slavery, and the United States under President Obama is Nazi Germany. ”I want to be clear and set the record straight: I don’t think Obamacare is worse than 9/11,” Carson found himself compelled to say at one point. He has compared criticizing police to criticizing plumbers.
He recently opined that being gay is a choice and people become gay when they go to prison.
Carson says that he’s learned over the past couple of years not to “wander off into those extraneous areas that can be exploited” by the gotcha media. The problem here, as with so many other complaints about the gotcha media, is that the media simply transcribes the crazy things that he says. He might think that he has an off switch, but that’s doubtful. People who become conservative media stars become conservative media stars by saying crazy things. It’s part of their nature.
Carson’s legacy will not include a stint as President of the United States. It’s a shame that he’s decided to risk his real legacy, as a brilliant world-renowned doctor who came from nothing, by playing right-wing also-ran in a presidential contest.
By: Jim Newell, Salon, May 4, 2015
This is a blog, not a history lesson. But I can’t resist trying to make some sense of the current Republican desire for self-immolation.
Where has this so-called “Hell No Caucus” come from? Whether it is refusing to pass bills to fund the government, approve increases in the debt ceiling or provide money for the Department of Homeland Security, the Republican Party has an increasingly apparent and growing antagonism to pragmatic solutions. It has drifted so far right that it is truly in danger of self-destruction. As New York Republican Rep. Peter King, put it on CBS’ “This Week,” “[T]here’s a wing within the Congress which is absolutely irresponsible – they have no concept of reality.” Speaking with MSNBC’s Luke Russert on Friday, he added, “I’ve had it with this self-righteous, delusional wing of the party.”
The GOP has become more and more extreme, to a point where it is barely recognizable from what it was in the 20th century. Even Ronald Reagan, and certainly Barry Goldwater, would not understand their party today.
I remember producing a pamphlet on the rise of the “New Right” in the early 1980s with an analysis of groups like the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, the Conservative Victory Fund and many others. We argued how destructive the extreme right wing views were at the time but little did we realize how nihilistic they would become.
Here is the history lesson.
A very conservative group formed in 1973 called the Republican Study Committee. They were small, but they were opposed to both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as too liberal and decided to organize against their policies. Then-Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois and congressional staffers Paul Weyrich, who went on to found the Heritage Foundation, and Ed Feulner, who later headed Heritage, were driving forces, along with several other members of Congress. When Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1995, he didn’t want a separate group on his flank causing trouble, despite the fact that his conservative views were not too far from theirs. So he abolished it; but it came back.
A National Journal article last year discussed in detail the evolution and rapid growth of this far right caucus.The growth of the Republican Study Committee since 1995 has been truly dramatic – 15 members out of 218 in 1995, up to 72 members out of 220 in 2001 and skyrocketing to 171 members in 2013. The percentage of Republicans who joined this very conservative group went from 7 percent in 1995 to over 70 percent last year.
It is not too difficult to understand why House Speaker John Boehner, or any speaker, might have trouble with his or her Republican caucus.
Of course, there are other groups. Michele Bachmann helped organize the Tea Party Caucus several years ago, a group more extreme than the Study Committee. And, now, an initial nine members of the Study Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have begun to assemble the House Freedom Caucus. More trouble is afoot than Republicans may realize.
The vote last Friday where 52 Republicans bucked the speaker on his effort to move forward on funding for DHS says a lot about the GOP’s direction. The numbers don’t add up for Boehner to move much of anything forward, and the Senate won’t buy what the Study Committee or the Freedom Caucus are selling.
The rapid radicalization of the Republican Party is playing out in the presidential sweepstakes as well. The Conservative Political Action Conference has gone from a fringe gathering to a primary litmus test for most candidates.
There is no such thing as a moderate voice in the leadership of the Republican Party any longer; there is barely a Main Street conservative voice that will get traction within the party that now finds itself in control of the House and Senate. Even the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells live in fear of the new suicide caucus.
The problem, as many Republicans know, is that this crowd is ungovernable and ultimately, nationally, unelectable.
By: Peter Fenn, U.S. News and World Report, March 3, 2015
“Liberia Says ‘Thank You'”: If Anyone Is Looking For A Reason To Be Proud Of Our Country And This President, There You Have It!
Being a consumer of American media can sometimes be compared to reading a gripping mystery/adventure novel and just when you get to the height of the suspense, someone takes the book away and hands you a new one to start reading. No one ever writes the last chapter.
It’s like we get to the part where the villain has his hostage tied to the tracks and the train is approaching. Then we cut away to the next story. That is why too many Americans think the world is going to hell in a hand basket (see CPAC).
Now…I know that very few real life stories come to a clear THE END. But occasionally we get an approximation of something like that. Today I’d like to write about one of those.
This week Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed her country’s gratitude for the role the United States played in combating Ebola.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation’s Ebola outbreak.
With Liberia now in recovery from the worst outbreak of the deadly virus in history, the visiting Sirleaf thanked the United States for coming to the region’s aid in its hour of need.
“America responded, you did not run from Liberia,” Sirleaf told US lawmakers in Washington, expressing the “profound gratitude” of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The American public has moved on from the hysteria created by the Ebola epidemic only a few months ago. So this kind of news won’t get much attention. But if anyone is looking for a reason to be proud of our country and this President, there you have it!
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 28, 2015
Scott Walker is learning that when you want to play in the big leagues, things move pretty fast. And when you’re a governor without foreign policy experience, sometimes you can get a little tripped up trying to show how what you’ve done in your state prepares you for dealing with international challenges. So today Walker getting criticism for saying, in his speech to CPAC yesterday (it was actually in the Q&A session) that he can handle terrorists the same way he handled public sector unions in Wisconsin. Even some conservatives criticized him for it, but what’s alarming isn’t that he “compared” a bunch of Wisconsinites to ISIS, which of course he wasn’t trying to do. What’s alarming is that he thinks that you need the same skills and approach to dealing with unhappy constituents as you do with terrorists.
Here’s what he actually said:
“I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message not only that we will protect American soil but do not take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”
Then later he tried to walk it back:
“Let me be perfectly clear: I’m just pointing out the closest thing I have to handling this difficult situation is the 100,000 protesters I had to deal with,” Walker told reporters. Asked if he regretted the statement, he said, “No.”
“You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit,” he said. “That’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two.”
I doubt there are many limits to Walker’s contempt for people who want to bargain collectively, but obviously he didn’t mean to say they’re like terrorists. What he did mean to say, I’m fairly certain, is that he can bring the same kind of uncompromising toughness to combatting ISIS that he brought to his successful attempt to crush the public sector unions. The unions were his enemy then; ISIS will be his enemy if he gets to be president.
And this is what we need to explore, not only with Walker but with all the Republican candidates. They’ll all be eager to tell you that on this problem, Barack Obama is weak and indecisive, whereas if you’re sufficiently tough, the problem can be solved. But you know who was tough, uncompromising, and brimming with the “confidence” Walker cites? George W. Bush. When it came to terrorists, you couldn’t get much tougher than that guy. Heck, not only did he invade two countries, he even started a program to torture prisoners. Super-tough, am I right?
But you may have noticed that when Bush left office, there were still terrorists. Al-Qaeda had been transformed from a centrally-run organization into a network of franchises, all of which are potentially dangerous. And then out of the ashes of the Iraq War grew ISIS. For some unfathomable reason, toughness wasn’t quite enough to solve the problem.
So that’s how I’d pose the question to these candidates if I had the chance: You talk a lot about being strong and tough and showing resolve, and “sending messages” of strength and toughness and resolve, but George W. Bush did all those things, and yet the problem remains. So what do we do now?
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, February 27, 2015
“Who Knew?”: Conservatives Don’t Have An Obamacare Replacement Because They’re Too Busy Complaining About Obamacare
With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear the Obamacare challenge King vs. Burwell next week, Democrats and Republicans are both trying to influence the Court’s decision. For the left, that means focusing on the millions of people who could lose health insurance if the Court rules that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide subsidies in the 36 states on the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov. Just this week, Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell informed Congress that there was no administrative fix if the plaintiffs succeed. Liberal groups are equally reticent to discuss their strategy.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are determined to show that a ruling for King wouldn’t throw the U.S. health care system into disarray. Above all, that means proving that Republicans can finally agree on a replacement plan. Not coincidentally, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, included a panel Thursday titled, “The Conservative Replacement to Obamacare.” If anything, though, the panel showed that Republicans have made no progress on coalescing around an Obamacare replacement.
Moderated by Amy Frederick of the 60 Plus Association, a seniors advocacy organization, the event featured Senator John Barrasso, Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Capretta, a health policy writer from the Ethics and Public Policy Institute. “We continue to hear another lie, that conservatives have no solution to Obamacare,” Frederick said in her opening. “We’re going to put the lies to bed for good.”
While the participants were supposed to talk about a replacement conservative health plan—at least based on the panel’s title—they spent the majority of the 36-minute event attacking Obamacare. For instance, after Barrasso, Blackburn, and Capretta each gave their opening statements, Frederick began the question round by saying, “Let’s start with a political question for the panel.”
Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a policy panel?
Of the five questions Frederick asked, only one was about policy solutions. The rest were about politics.
The lone wonk of the group, Capretta handled that lone policy question, noting that conservative health reform legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Regardless of the merits of those bills, though, the challenge for Republicans isn’t simply introducing legislation. It’s actually passing it. The House can take up an Obamacare replacement plan at any time. In fact, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to do just that in 2014. “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House,” Cantor said 13 months ago.
Liberals rolled their eyes at that promise, and they’re doing it again as Republicans offer platitudes about their ability to agree on a solution. And rightly so. Just look at the “Points to Remember” that the 60 Plus Association posted on their website about the panel. None of the points has anything to do with a replacement plan. Instead, they only explain the faults of Obamacare. What happened to all of those conservative solutions?
In the past, Democrats mocked the GOP’s inability to coalesce around a replacement plan. But the King case now makes their position far more meaningful. If the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, it will make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans and potentially cripple health insurance systems in states using the federal exchange. No one knows how Congress and the states would respond to such an outcome. But they will have to respond. Republicans understand this. “The most important opportunity we’re going to have soon is the King decision,” Barrasso said, “because that can start us on the path of actually transferring the power out of Washington and to the states.”
Blackburn agreed, although it’s not clear she actually understands the case (or health care in general). “Obamacare is an enormous redistribution of wealth,” she said. “And taking the federal government, inserting itself into the health insurance and health care delivery marketplaces simultaneously and then wrapping up that money and then that access—that’s why we have to keep our focus on King vs. Burwell and the appropriate response.”
If you know what the latter part of that quote means, please let me know.
Ultimately, Barrasso and Blackburn are right. The King case is a huge opportunity for the Republican Party to come together around a conservative health care proposal. Capretta all but pleaded with congressional Republicans to do just that. “We need to come and rally around a basic single vision for where we need to go,” he said. “It’s really important for everybody to set aside their small differences so that they can rally around the big issue.”
But as CPAC showed, there’s no chance they will actually do that.
By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, February 26, 2015