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“Long On Facade, Short On Bricks And Mortar”: Will The Ted Cruz Presidential Campaign Be All Hat, No Cattle?

A presidential campaign often poses the largest, toughest management challenge of a candidate’s life to date, and fairly or not, is often considered a proxy for whether a politician has what it takes to lead a country.

In order to be the first 2016 candidate to officially launch, Texas senator Ted Cruz skimped on a few hallmarks of a fully prepared, well-run campaign. He used stock footage of American landmarks in a midnight announcement video. He announced in a prefabricated setting before an attendance-required crowd at Liberty University. And his post-announcement tour was actually a media blitz that included Fox News, NBC, CBS, The Laura Ingraham Show and The Glenn Beck Radio Program.

Kentucky senator Rand Paul, by contrast, plans to enter the race April 7 in Louisville and spend the next four days at rallies and other events in the crucial early voting states of New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are laying even more extensive groundwork.

Cruz’s choice of an evangelical Christian university for his Monday announcement certainly reinforced his identity as a religious conservative. But it also raised inauspicious questions. Start with the fact that had he not slated his event for that day in that place, the 12,000 students Cruz described as “on fire” would have been listening (albeit perhaps less enthusiastically) to Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. A leading Democrat and Clinton family ally, he was the speaker originally scheduled for that slot.

Could Cruz have gotten his own crowd, one that did not show up under threat of university penalties, and that did not feature people wearing Rand Paul T-shirts? Does Cruz have infrastructure in early primary states? Can he raise sufficient money? In short, will the campaign be real? Or will it be an extension of Cruz’s Senate persona as a champion talker, more interested in making a point than moving the ball?

There have been many candidates who say they are running for president and even are included in primary-season debates. But their campaigns are Potemkin villages — long on facade, short on bricks and mortar.

Cruz would argue that he is all about substance. He bristled during several interviews when it was noted that both he and Obama chose to run for president at the same early point in their Senate careers. Cruz rightly pointed out that he spent more than five years as solicitor general of Texas and won big victories before the Supreme Court. “Unlike Barack Obama, I wasn’t a community organizer,” he said.

Obama was indeed a community organizer — after college for three years, two of them as director of the program. He then went to Harvard Law School, practiced law, taught law, and spent eight years in the Illinois Senate, where he was a leader in improving ethics and transparency, health and tax programs for the poor, and police practices affecting minorities.

As for the U.S. Senate, Cruz repeatedly called Obama an inconsequential backbencher. By contrast, Cruz said, he has personally led fights to uphold conservative principles “on issue after issue after issue,” including stopping Obamacare and stopping “amnesty” for immigrants in the country illegally.

Obama might well have made fewer headlines than Cruz in the U.S. Senate. He did, however, play a key role in the passage of laws and sections of laws on ethics, transparency, green energy, protecting veterans, securing nuclear materials, and prohibiting no-bid contracting in the aftermath of disasters. The fights Cruz led against Obama’s health and immigration policies, meanwhile, produced one government shutdown, one near-shutdown, and sinking GOP approval ratings. The policies he fought are still in effect.

Clearly, leading a fight is not the same as winning a fight. Winning in Congress often means laboring and sometimes compromising in obscurity — all to get your bill or provision or amendment wrapped into a huge piece of legislation with someone else’s name on it.

In his focus on battles as opposed to results, Cruz recalls former Rep. Michele Bachmann. Voters want “a fighter against the political establishment of Washington, D.C., and I have credentials there,” the Minnesota Republican said four years ago on Fox News, as she was gearing up for a 2012 presidential bid. She did express a lot of fighting views. But when she retired from Congress, her legislative record was characterized as thin.

Cruz raised a half-million dollars on his first official day as a candidate, a good start. Among his tests is whether he can sustain that pace and build a full-fledged campaign. To call on a cowboy cliché, Cruz has a lot of ground to make up if he wants to show he is not all hat, no cattle.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, March 26, 2015

March 28, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Image Conflicting With His Actual Personality”: The Real Ted Cruz; Country Music, Harvard Law, And Tea Party ‘Populism’

Nobody who knows Ted Cruz — the Texas freshman senator who became the first official contestant for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination this week – doubts that he is very, very smart. That includes Cruz himself, whose emphatic confidence in his own superior intelligence has not always endeared him to colleagues and acquaintances (whose opinions of his personality are often profanely negative).

Yet while Cruz cleverly seeks to highlight the Tea Party persona that appeals to many Republican primary voters, he exposes the fraudulence of his ultra-right brand of “populism.”

Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University, a religious-right institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell. No doubt he chose the misnamed Liberty to underscore his commitment to the political attitudes – “anti-elitist” and often opposed to scientific and intellectual inquiry – that the late reverend represented. To Falwell, secular education and the Enlightenment tradition of free thought always seemed suspiciously irreligious; at Liberty, creationism is a required course, the Young Democrats are outlawed, and both students and faculty are rigorously censored.

What could someone like Ted Cruz, a vocal advocate of First Amendment rights, honestly think about a place like Liberty? Falwell’s school languishes far below the standards of educational achievement – including an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School — that have always filled Cruz with pride. Sometimes with excessive pride, like when he reportedly told Harvard Law classmates that he intended to form a study group including only those who had attended Harvard, Yale, or Princeton as undergrads.

Josh Marshall, a journalist who attended college with Cruz, noted in Talking Points Memo that this bit of academic snobbery marked the future senator as a “pompous a**hole” at Harvard Law, “an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense [his emphasis].”

In a further attempt to portray himself as a right-wing populist, Cruz now claims to be a country music fan – having changed preferences after 9/11, when he abandoned “classic rock” for country, which he suggested is more patriotic:

“My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music — collectively — the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people. And ever since 2001, I listen to country music,” he told CBS News – without naming a single country artist or band.

Now every presidential candidate carefully cultivates a public personality by promoting and even adopting tastes that might resonate with desired constituencies. But there are few politicians whose image conflicts so sharply with his actual personality and real base of support.

Analyzing the Texan’s financial base as he entered the presidential arena, Bloomberg News revealed “surprising weakness when it comes to small donors.” Only 16 percent of Cruz donors gave less than $200, compared with 43 percent of the donors to his fellow Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. The funding that propelled him into the Senate came from groups like the billionaire-backed Club for Growth and the Washington-based Tea Party organizations underwritten by the Koch brothers with their oil billions. Having attended the same elite schools, the people writing those big checks must feel quite comfortable with Cruz.

Need anyone be reminded of the policies favored by such interests? They oppose raising the minimum wage, or even the existence of a minimum wage. They would gut Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment benefits, along with every other government program that supports the middle class. They would reduce their own taxes even more, while raising taxes on working families – all retrogressive ideas that even the average Republican rejects.

If that’s populism, Ted Cruz is truly a man of the people.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor at Large, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog; The National Memo, March 27, 2015

March 28, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Populism, Tea Party, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Almost Anything Passes For ‘Religion’ In This Country”: Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination

Religious conservatives have lost their battle over gay marriage. Most will even admit it. The clock is ticking down to April 28, when the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against it—and by the end of June, they will have ruled on the right of every American to a civil marriage to the person of their choosing, regardless of gender. Although a “no gay marriage” ruling is possible, almost no one believes the Supreme Court will rule against the civil right to marriage.

Majority support for gay marriage is to be found in virtually every demographic in society. But the minority who still opposes it does so with vigor and conviction. The Roman Catholic hierarchy (not the people in the pews) and conservative Evangelicals continue to look for ways to express their disdain and condemnation for gay or lesbian couples who want to be married or who have been married. The new strategy is to do state-by-state what has been impossible nationally. With the help of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council), bills are popping up all over the country in state legislatures with what conservatives hope will be their effective (and legal) defense against the rising tide of acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Indiana is a good case in point. On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would exempt individuals and companies from non-discrimination rulings by the courts—based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill was passed earlier by the Indiana Senate, and once the two are reconciled, Republican Governor Mike Pence has indicated he will sign it. This legislation, like its sister bills in other state legislatures, is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. Many states have their own RFRAs, which, like the federal one, prevent any law which substantially burdens a person’s free expression of religion. (This legislation figured heavily into the Hobby Lobby case.)

If this legislation becomes law, anyone who disagrees with any non-discrimination legislation or court rulings would be allowed, based on their religious beliefs, to disregard the provisions of that non-discrimination protection.

The multiple ways in which such legislation is problematic are stunning. First, this would open the floodgates for citizens/corporations to exempt themselves from all kinds of laws, merely by claiming that it violates their religious beliefs. Now, we are presumably not just talking about your common, everyday, vanilla, mainstream religions (think Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Reform and Conservative Jews).  Such a law would, presumably, also protect members of the Westboro Baptist Church with its “God hates Fags” approach; the crazy, renegade Mormon man and his 25 wives; Satan worshippers; and Scientologists. Almost anything passes for “religion” in this country, and there would be no end to the appeals for exemption following certain laws based on the tenets of one’s religion, no matter how small and no matter how outside the mainstream that religion.

However, religionists don’t have to be crazy or on the fringes of society to wreak havoc on those they disdain. In debating the bill, Representative Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) cited an anesthesiologist who refused to anesthetize a patient because the procedure for which his services were needed was an abortion—all due to his religious beliefs about the sinfulness of that procedure. A Roman Catholic pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for physician-prescribed birth control, citing her church’s objection to any kind of artificial birth control. A Southern Baptist pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for Truvada, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug used by gay men (and others) to lessen their risk for being infected with HIV, claiming his church condemns the “gay lifestyle,” by which he means, apparently, promiscuous and profligate sex.

It is difficult for me to understand how this is not akin to the fervently held religious beliefs that the races should not “mix” in marriage, and the anti-miscegenation laws that emanated from those beliefs. Of course, in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those laws as unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. How is this any different from a 1960s lunch counter owner denying service to African Americans because of his religious beliefs (widely held at the time) that “Negroes” were lesser human beings and citizens than white folks?

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

But these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

 

By: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; The Daily Beast, March 25, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Truth Behind Ted Cruz’s Lies”: The Ugly American Approach To Foreign Language In Moral Form

Oh happy day—freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz is set to announce that he’s running for president. And he’s not going to announce at the Alamo or any other defiant Texas-type monument. He’s making a pilgrimage straight to the birthplace of the Moral Majority, the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University. The setting makes sense for a man who believes that God has called him to politics. After all, the only way to top shutting down the government is to try to run the government into the ground himself.

This month, Cruz released a short video that’s the best evidence yet for what a Cruz presidential campaign might be like. It’s called “A Time for Truth,” and the title has to be intentional irony.

Cruz’s Politifact track record for publicly-asserted falsehoods is the second-highest among front-runners, totaling 56 percent of all statements they’ve looked at. The only other leading contender with a higher rating is Ben Carson, who has a 100 percent “pants on fire” history, the result mainly of his brief time in the national spotlight and only having given Politifact one assertion to check—that people choose to be gay. (The investigative process on verifying that claim could have been entertaining, had Carson taken up Dan Savage’s invitation to take a very personal version of the Pepsi Challenge. Politifact chose a less experiential approach.)

It’s not just Cruz’s habit of embellishment that makes the video’s title more wish-fulfillment than description. One would expect a video entitled “A Time for Truth” to contain, you know, truth. Or calls to speak the truth, at the very least. Cruz’s infomercial, on the other hand, is simply a collection of Cruz clips wherein he apparently confuses speaking the truth with speaking very dramatically and forcefully. It is the Ugly American approach to foreign language in moral form.

Watch as Cruz loudly proclaims he will stand up for various things! He also asks for others to stand up for things! It’s a tic in the vernacular of the evangelical subculture Cruz hails from to think of extravagantly passionate sincerity as evidence of honesty and probity. So perhaps Cruz’s substitution of one for the other is not an intentional bait-and-switch.

Let’s indulge a thought experiment: What if, in all those cases where Cruz’s passionate sincerity has been found to be trustworthy, he meant what he said at the time?

We take it for granted that politicians lie to gain votes, to make themselves more appealing, or to make someone else look bad. But what if Cruz wasn’t craven, but instead as sincere as he sounds. What would that mean?

There are objective falsehoods that show Cruz could just be looking at a different set of data. Other, more telling whoppers show that Cruz isn’t just looking at different data, he’s living in a different universe.

The former category contains his insistence that there’s no such thing as global warming. The latter kind of lie is why Cruz can look a child in the eye and tell her the world is on fire. 

Multiple news organizations have found fault with this standard refrain from his stump speech: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” There are not 110,000 agents at the IRS. There aren’t even that many employees. There are about 82,000, of whom about 14,000 are agents.

But that’s just a fact-check of the first sentence; what about the underlying notion that there’s some kind of equivalence between what accountants do and the kind of peacekeeping one might need at the border?

The most generous interpretation might be that Cruz thinks we’re not keeping track of our immigrants; more paperwork is in order. (True enough!) The spookier option is that he thinks IRS agents are as militarized as your local police force, and they would be the group to finally wrest “100 percent operational control” (an Orwellian-sounding metric Cruz often invokes but never explains) in the region.

Cruz’s fantasy life, understandably, gets warmer and fuzzier closer to home. Take his version of the aw-shucks, I-don’t-deserve-her, backhandedly condescending marital anecdote that male candidates are required to have. It casts his decision to run for Senate as a moment of unexpected validation:

He recalled saying to his wife in the weeks before his Senate primary, when he was still behind in the polls, “Sweetheart, I’d like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign.”

“What astonished me, then and now, was Heidi within 60 seconds said, ‘Absolutely,’ with no hesitation,” said Mr. Cruz, who invested about $1.2 million—“which is all we had saved,” he added—into his campaign.

Heidi Cruz herself recalls the conversation differently. There was no movie-friendly smash cut “absolutely,” or even assent. Rather, she told Politico, she “wanted him to raise money from elsewhere first, to show that the support was out there.” And even then, “She proposed that they not put their own cash into the campaign unless it made the difference between winning and losing.” That’s sort of the opposite of an instantaneous absolutely: a hesitant and conditional maybe.

Maybe Ted’s version is just the kind of face-saving white lie we tell ourselves to preserve harmony in a relationship. After all, it’s easier and healthier than nursing a grudge. Or, in Cruz’s mind, a hesitant and conditional maybe, if it relates to something he wants bad enough, is enthusiastic agreement.

This delusion would explain almost everything Ted Cruz does.

That would explain Cruz’s misguided belief that a wide swath of Americans want to repeal Obamacare. It would explain his quixotic crusade against the country’s growing support for marriage equality. It would make sense, even, of his run for the presidency.

Cruz, after all, is a “top-tier” candidate mostly in terms of name recognition. While he’s an extremely popular speaker at base-flaming events such as CPAC (where he finished third in the easily gamed Straw Poll), wider swaths of GOP voters are not as kind. Even among the notoriously conservative Republican Iowa caucus-goers he’s in single digits. In the even narrower category of self-identified Iowa Tea Partiers, he has only 10 percent of the vote, trailing Ben Carson (11 percent), Rand Paul (15 percent) and flavor of the month Scott Walker (33 percent).

To be fair, most politicians who run for president have some strain of the megalomania that seems to infect Cruz. Almost every politician who runs for president needs to have that curious mental twist, an ego like a funhouse mirror. Otherwise, no one except those already likely to win would run. Ask some liberal Democrats how they feel about that scenario.

But the most successful politicians seem to leaven self-importance with data. Obama’s 2008 victory over the inevitable Hillary Clinton is often painted in terms of pure marketing, but it was number-crunching that made the difference in the nitty-gritty days of the final states. Bill Clinton often looks like an example of sentiment prevailing over smarts, but his career’s lows reflect the times when he didn’t turn off the charm.

Tell the truth, Ted Cruz says. Just don’t try to get him to be honest with himself.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Things Could Get Complicated”: If Netanyahu Loses, Will Republicans Still Be ‘Pro-Israel’?

The Israeli election takes place tomorrow, and there is a real possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu will lose. While the election will be close and the intricate coalition system the country uses leaves lots of room for uncertainty, the final election polls showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party trailing the Labor-led Zionist Union; Netanyahu is even telling his own supporters he could be headed for defeat, which is not something one ordinarily hears from a politician on the eve of an election.

Here in the United States, that raises an interesting question. In recent years, the Republican Party has elevated “support for Israel” to a level of passion and consensus usually reserved for things such as tax cuts and opposition to abortion rights. But that happened during a string of conservative Israeli governments. If Israel is led by a Labor Party prime minister and begins to change some of its policies, will Republicans decide that “support” is more complicated than they used to think?

It may be hard to remember now, but Israel became a Republican fetish object relatively recently. At times in the past, support for Israel was seen as a liberal cause, but as the Labor Party’s long dominance of the country’s politics faded and policy toward the Palestinians hardened, Republicans became more and more devoted to the country. The real shift probably started in 2001, when Ariel Sharon took over for the last Labor prime minister, Ehud Barak. Since then, the opinions of Democrats and Republicans about Israel have diverged, and the Republican evangelical base has grown intensely interested in the country. These days, one of the first things a freshman Republican member of Congress does is book a trip to the Holy Land (lots of Democrats go, too, it should be said). Mike Huckabee leads regular tours there. Sarah Palin used to brag that she displayed an Israeli flag in her office during her brief tenure as governor of Alaska. Given the rapturous reception he got from GOP members when he came at John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, Netanyahu could become the 2016 Republican nominee for president in a landslide, if it were possible.

But what you don’t find within the Republican Party when it comes to Israel is anything resembling a debate. As far as Republicans are concerned, Israel is just right; whatever Israel wants to do is right; and whatever Israel asks of the United States is precisely what we should do. The only question is whether you’re “supporting” the country with the proper zeal. Republicans don’t concern themselves much with the lively debates over policy within Israel, because the government is controlled by conservatives (Netanyahu’s Likud Party has ruled since 2001, with an interregnum of control by Kadima, a Likud offshoot). “Support for Israel” just means support for the current Israeli government.

But tomorrow, Republicans could learn that by the standard they’ve been using, most Israelis are insufficiently pro-Israel. And then what? What if a Labor-led government moves toward a two-state solution, or a curtailing of Jewish settlement in the West Bank? And what if those changes are enthusiastically supported by President Obama and Hillary Clinton? “Support for Israel” sounds great when the country’s prime minister and a Democratic president regard each other with barely disguised contempt, but things could get complicated.

That might actually force Republicans to think about Israel, and America’s relationship to it, with a little more nuance. They’d have to admit that when they used to say “I support Israel,” what they actually meant was that they support the Likud and its vision for Israel’s future. More broadly, they’d have to acknowledge that one can disagree with what the Israeli government does and still support the country, since that’s the position they would find themselves in. They might even realize that you can take a one-week trip to the country during which you climb Masada and go for a dip in the Sea of Galilee and still not know everything there is to know about the Middle East.

Maybe expecting Republican politicians to arrive at a complex understanding of an important foreign policy concern is a little too much to ask. But there’s always hope.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 16, 2015

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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