“The most interesting man in politics” is what Politico Magazine crowned Rand Paul in September, when it placed him at the top of a list of 50 people to keep an eye on. And Time magazine used those exact six words, in that exact order, next to a photograph of Paul on its cover last month.
The adjective bears notice. Interesting. Not powerful. Not popular. Not even influential.
They’re saying that he’s a great character.
And that’s not the same as a great candidate.
You could easily lose sight of that, given the bonanza of media coverage that he has received, much of it over the past week and a half, as journalists eagerly slough off the midterms, exuberantly handicap the coming presidential race and no longer digress to apologize for getting into the game too soon. The game’s on, folks. From here forward, it’s all 2016 all the time.
And in order to keep the story varied and vivid, those of us chronicling it will insist on stocking it with players who break the rules and the mold, who present the possibility of twists and surprises, whose surnames aren’t Bush or Clinton, whose faces are somewhat fresh.
Cue Rand Paul. He gives good narrative.
He’s an ophthalmologist who never held office before his successful 2010 Senate race. He’s got that sporadically kooky dad. He’s a dove in a party aflutter with hawks. And he’s a gleeful nuisance, which he demonstrated when he commandeered the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours and filled Ted Cruz with filibuster envy.
All of that has made him a media sensation. But none of it would necessarily serve a quest for the Republican presidential nomination. At this point Paul is as much a political fable as a political reality, and his supposed strengths — a libertarian streak that appeals to some young people, an apparent comfort with reaching out to minorities and expanding the Republican base — pale beside his weaknesses. They’re many.
And they’re potentially ruinous.
The dovish statements and reputation are no small hurdle. No Republican nominee in recent decades has had a perspective on foreign policy and military intervention quite like Paul’s, and there’s little evidence that the party’s establishment or a majority of its voters would endorse it.
Nor is there any compelling sign that the party is moving in his direction. In the wake of Russia’s provocations and Islamic militants’ butchery, Americans just elected a raft of new Republican senators — including the military veterans Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa and Dan Sullivan in Alaska — who are more aligned with John McCain’s worldview than with Paul’s, and that raises serious questions about the currency of his ideas and his ability to promote them. He gets attention. But does he have any real sway?
He himself seems to doubt some of his positions and has managed in his four short years in the Senate to flip and flop enough to give opponents a storehouse of ammunition.
Adopting a stark, absolutist stance, he initially said that he opposed all foreign aid. Then he carved out an exception for Israel.
First he expressed grave skepticism about taking on the Islamic State. Then he blasted President Obama for not taking it on forcefully enough.
His language about Russia went from pacific to truculent. His distaste for Medicare went from robust to tentative.
These adjustments suggest not just political calculation but, in some instances, amateurism. He’s a work in remarkably clumsy progress, with glimmers of recklessness and arrogance, and he often seems woefully unprepared for the national stage.
The most striking example was his assertion in an interview with Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast in September that John McCain had met and been photographed with members of the Islamic State. Paul was parroting a patently suspicious story that had pinged around the Internet, and the problem wasn’t simply that he accepted it at face value. He failed to notice that it had been thoroughly debunked, including in The Times.
At best he looked foolish. At worst he looked like someone “too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters,” as Mark Salter, a longtime McCain aide, wrote on the Real Clear Politics website.
Paul can be prickly and defensive to an inappropriate, counterproductive degree, as he was when dealing with accusations last year that he had used plagiarized material in speeches, an opinion article and a book.
In a story in The Times by Jim Rutenberg and Ashley Parker, Paul conceded “mistakes” of inadequate attribution. But he hardly sounded contrite. He lashed out at the people who had exposed the problem, grousing, “This is coming from haters.” And in promising to have his aides use footnotes in future materials, he said, “What we are going to do from here forward, if it will make people leave me the hell alone, is we’re going to do them like college papers.”
People are not going to leave him the hell alone, not when he’s being tagged in some quarters as the Republican front-runner, and his struggle to make peace with that is another liability.
But why the front-runner designation in the first place?
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 21 percent of voters who lean Republican named Mitt Romney as their preferred candidate in a primary or caucus, while 11 percent named Jeb Bush, 9 percent Mike Huckabee and 9 percent Paul. Two other national polls don’t show any growth in support for Paul over the course of 2014, despite all the coverage of him.
In one survey of Iowa Republicans in October, he trailed not only Huckabee and Paul Ryan but also Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon. And in a survey of New Hampshire Republicans, he trailed not only Huckabee and Bush but also Chris Christie.
What really distinguishes him, apart from some contrarian positions that are red meat for ravenous journalists, is that he’s been so obvious and unabashed about his potential interest in the presidency. He’s taken more pains than perhaps anyone other than Ted Cruz to get publicity. He’s had less competition for the Republican spotlight than he’ll have in the months to come.
And that’s given him a stature disproportionate to his likely fate. It has made him, in the words of a Washington Post headline last June, “the most interesting man in the (political) world.” There it is again, that one overused superlative. Makes you wonder if he’s less a thoroughbred with stamina than a one-adjective pony.
By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 15, 2014
One time, my wife and I went walking near a pasture where nine mares grazed. I knew them all by name. Suddenly and for no obvious reason the herd stampeded, galloping by as if their lives depended upon it. It was a thrilling sight, like being right down on the rail at the race track.
But what were they running from? There are no predators around here capable of harming a horse. As the leaders thundered by, I noticed two fillies at the back getting skeptical. They kept looking behind and catching each other’s eye as if to say “What’s this about? I don’t see anything, do you?”
As the fillies pulled up, the leaders thundered headlong into a run-in shed about 100 yards ahead and stopped. The proximate cause of the stampede had been a fat black horse fly on the boss mare’s rump. As soon as she went under the roof, the insect flew off.
It was quite comical, actually.
We Americans didn’t used to be like that. We prided ourselves on being a pragmatic, self-confident people — more like the skeptical fillies than the thundering herd. But if you believe a lot of what you read in the news media and see on TV, much of the public currently lives on the edge of panic.
The role of cable TV news channels in stoking hysteria has reached new depths of shamelessness. They do it purely for the ratings, you know.
And if you don’t, the barbaric propagandists of ISIS certainly do.
Typical headlines: “ISIS Threat: Fear of Terror Attack Soars to 9/11 High, NBC News/WSJ Poll Finds.” By the ghastly tactic of beheading American and British citizens on TV, Islamic extremists fighting to establish a Sunni fundamentalist “caliphate” have stampeded the nation.
Millions of Americans who wanted out of Middle Eastern sectarian wars now think the U.S needs to get back in.
If ISIS’s goals are insane, so are their tactics. Politically speaking, no U.S. president could have failed to react to the organization’s mad provocations. Exactly how President Obama’s bombing campaign will end, nobody can say — although that hasn’t stopped a thousand propagandists from trying.
Invading Iraq at all was the big mistake, and it says here that getting sucked back in to yet another Middle Eastern ground war would be to repeat it. A big part of the problem is the unreasoning fear, far out of proportion to any actual threat the nation faces.
Although my saying so infuriated certain readers, I once wrote that Osama bin Laden’s “deluded followers posed no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation. At worst they were capable of theatrical acts of mass murder like the 9/11 attacks. And that was sufficient evil indeed.”
But fear made us reckless. I’d say the same about ISIS. For all its ruthlessness, ISIS has no Air Force, no Navy, and a ragtag Army incapable of projecting power anywhere but the desert wastes of Iraq and Syria. Helping the Kurds defend themselves against a genocidal massacre is one thing; trying to impose a pax Americana on the entire region quite another.
Quivering in our beds for fear of a terrorist strike should be beneath the American people. It’s impossible to respect shameless politicians like Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton, who actually warned viewers on a TV town hall that ISIS terrorists might collaborate with Mexican drug cartels to “infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”
Armies of Mexican Islamic terrorists descending upon El Dorado and Texarkana! For somebody who comes advertised as brainy, Cotton appears incapable of concealing how dumb he thinks voters are.
Then there’s Ebola, which cable TV also shamelessly hypes for ratings. “I’ve followed cable news for many, many years now,” writes The Daily Banter’s Bob Cesca “and not since the lead-up to the Iraq War has the American news media behaved with such recklessness.”
Among a hundred possible examples, Cesca was aghast at CNN’s interviewing novelist Robin Cook, who once wrote a thriller about a conspiracy to spread Ebola foiled by a hero-doctor.
“The real issue here is how quickly it can mutate, and how that’s gonna affect the transmission…” Cook said. “Perhaps this virus cannot live very long in the air. I don’t know. But I don’t think anybody knows.”
Actually, people do know. Every professional health agency in the world agrees that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air. As for mutating, Scientific American reports that there’s “almost no historical precedent for any virus to change its basic mode of transmission so radically.”
The real thing is bad enough without spreading lurid disinformation.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 15, 2014
“For GOP, Crickets From The Pundits”: The Kentucky Senate Race And The Media’s Double Standard For Disqualifying Candidates
Last week, in the tightly contested Senate race in Kentucky, both Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes gave newsworthy interviews in which they seemed to stumble over basic questions. But only one of the awkward missteps was treated as big news–treated even as a campaign-ending debacle–by some in the Beltway press: the Grimes interview.
Pundits pounced after Grimes refused, during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board, to say whether she voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. (McConnell has spent most of his campaign trying to tie Grimes to Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.)
After a Republican opposition group posted the clip of Grimes’ answer, the Washington Post immediately linked to it and mocked the candidate’s performance as “painful.” On MSNBC, morning host Joe Scarborough bellowed, “What a rookie mistake!” CNN commentators criticized Grimes for being “too scripted” and “evasive.”
Keep in mind; the issue itself is of no practical consequence to Kentucky voters — it doesn’t affect their day-to-day lives. But the story revolved around campaign “optics,” which Beltway commentators now thrive on, especially when it’s bad Democratic optics.
“Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything? You want to be a U.S. senator?” demanded Meet The Press moderator, Chuck Todd. “I think she disqualified herself. I really do. I think she disqualified herself.”
Recall that query (“Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything?”), and the way Todd described it as a disqualifying trait for a Senate candidate. Because the day before the Grimes interview, McConnell called into Kentucky Sports Radio to talk with host Matt Jones. Days earlier, the popular host had interviewed Grimes with the understanding the McConnell campaign had also agreed to an interview. But after Jones grilled Grimes on the air, McConnell’s campaign refused to answer Jones’ emails and phone calls with regards to finalizing an appearance.
After days of on-air pleas, McConnell, without advance notice, finally called into the show last Wednesday and spoke with Jones for 14 minutes. Among the actual topics covered (in the place of optics analysis) were climate change and gay marriage. McConnell basically refused to answer questions about either:
JONES: That’s a yes or no question. Do you believe in global warming?
McCONNELL: No it isn’t. It is not a yes or no question. I am not a scientist.
And here’s how McConnell danced around the issue of gay marriage:
When asked if he supports gay marriage, McConnell answered, “I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.” Asked why he believes that, McConnell again repeated he thinks marriage is “between one man and one woman.” Again asked “why?” McConnell repeated the same line. Jones tried one more time. Again, “It is my belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
To recap: If you’re a Kentucky Democrat and you don’t answer a straight-forward question, you may as well take your name off the ballot, according to Beltway journalists. But if you’re a Kentucky Republican and you do the same thing, it’s mostly crickets from the same pundits.
And again, Grimes’ election crime was to stumble over a tactical campaign question, while McConnell refused to answer questions about public policy that inform the decisions he makes as a lawmaker. So why does the Democrat get hit harder?
There’s something of a conventional wisdom among commentators that Republicans nominated much stronger candidates this election cycle. And specifically, GOP candidates aren’t out on the campaign trail making up strange and unsupported claims that could jeopardize Republican chances of reclaiming the Senate. This observation is usually made in contrast to 2010 and 2012, when untested Republican candidates such as Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle uncorked a series of verbal shockers and badly lost their campaigns.
Republican candidates this time around are so much more professional and focused and on-message. They’re so mainstream. Or so goes the narrative.
Keep in mind that the Republican candidate in North Carolina, Thom Tillis, says the government needs to “seal” the U.S.-Mexican border in order to protect America from the Ebola virus (via West Africa). The Republican candidate in Arkansas, Tom Cotton, thinks Mexican drug cartels are teaming up with Islamic State terrorists. And the Republican candidate in Iowa, Joni Ernst, suggested Obama be impeached because he’s “become a dictator.
All of that is complete nonsense. But Republicans don’t have to worry about candidates making crazy allegations this cycle, and Grimes is the one who flunked the competency test?
Meanwhile, Colorado Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner repeatedly refuses to directly answer whether “humans are contributing significantly to climate change.”
That type of evasion has become a hallmark of the midterm election cycle: Faced with the very simple, yes-or-no question about whether candidates believe climate change is happening, lots of Republican in tight races now throw up their hands and suggest the topic’s just too complicated and confusing, and that once scientists stop arguing about it, they’ll be happy to address the issue.
Of course, 97 percent of scientists are in heated agreement about the topic, which makes the dodge so comical. But have we heard D.C. pundits condemning the conveyor belt of clunky dodges? Have who heard Sunday morning talk show hosts announce that any candidate who refuses to address a “tough question” about climate change (or gay marriage) has instantly disqualified him or herself?
We have not.
Question: Are there different media standards for Republicans and Democrats this election cycle?
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, October 13, 2014
Looks like police in Ferguson, Missouri, took it upon themselves to suspend the First Amendment Wednesday night.
It seems two reporters, Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, were working at a McDonald’s, which has been used as a staging ground by reporters covering the ongoing unrest following the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed African-American man. According to their accounts, the two were accosted by police, some in militaristic riot gear, demanding identification and ordering them out. These officers refused to provide their badge numbers or names or a reason for the order and grew angry when one of the men attempted to take a video.
Both reporters were arrested. Reilly says a cop intentionally banged his head against the glass on the way out of the restaurant, then gave him a facetious “apology.”
The two were transported to a lockup. No mugshots were taken, no fingerprints collected, no paperwork done. After some minutes, they were released. The men were told they’d been arrested for “trespassing.”
At a McDonald’s. Where they were customers.
“Apparently, in America, in 2014,” tweeted Lowery, “police can manhandle you, take you into custody, put you in cell and then open the door like it didn’t happen.”
Actually, both men had been treated with a heavy-handedness and official contempt that are apparently all too familiar to black people in Ferguson — and to black and poor people of whatever tribe all over America. In arresting reporters for reporting, Ferguson police raise a pressing question: Just what are they trying to hide?
The same night Reilly and Lowery were handcuffed, after all, a local alderman who had posted video of the protests to social media was arrested. All last week we had reports of news photographers being ordered to stop taking pictures and reporters being tear-gassed. One officer reportedly took a TV camera and pointed it to the ground. Add to this police refusal until six days after the incident to name the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, and the picture that emerges is not one of transparency.
At least three witnesses have now disputed the official version of what happened, the tale of how Brown inexplicably shoved a police officer back inside the officer’s car, and they wrestled for the officer’s gun. One witness, Dorian Johnson, says he was walking in the street with Brown toward Brown’s grandmother’s apartment when the officer, who was in his car, commanded them to “get the eff” out of the street. The street in question, to judge from television images, is a quiet one. We’re not talking Broadway at rush hour.
Johnson says the officer reached out of the car and grabbed Brown and the struggle ensued, the two men wrestling through the car window as a shot was fired. Then the officer got out. Another witness, Tiffany Mitchell, says Brown had broken away and was facing the officer with hands up when he was shot.
Let us hope that between the time of this writing and the time of your reading, the fighting in the streets of Ferguson is done. It makes no sense to compound tragedy with tragedy.
But let us also understand: The mere restoration of order is not the same as peace. If events in Ferguson prove nothing else, they prove the status quo of police harassment and no accountability is untenable and intolerable. And what happened to these two reporters should be instructive to those whose reflex in such matters is to accord police the benefit of even overwhelming doubt.
Such people might want to reconsider. If this is how some cops behave when the whole world is watching, can you imagine what they’re like when the whole world is not?
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 18, 2014
With the word that NBC correspondent Chuck Todd will replace David Gregory as the host of the withered carcass that is Meet the Press, the chattering classes left and right are offering their advice on reanimating the corpse of the once-proud Sunday talk show. Ultimately, though, there is only piece of guidance for the Beltway’s new goateed gatekeeper. Simply seek the truth. Unfortunately, that is precisely the task Chuck Todd has argued is not part of his job description as a journalist.
Todd’s acknowledgement that the media’s role is to merely amplify the sound bites of political partisans came during a discussion of the Affordable Care Act last September. Almost four years after Politifact named “death panels” its 2009 Lie of the Year and three years since “government takeover of health care” won its 2010 crown, the future Meet the Press talking point purveyor explained to viewers that unearthing and communicating objective truth is not the media’s job. When Ed Rendell lamented that Americans were misinformed about Obamacare, Todd protested:
“But more importantly, it’s stuff that Republicans successfully messaged against it and they wouldn’t have heard…they don’t repeat other stuff because they haven’t even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say ‘it’s your fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”
That same day, Todd took to Twitter to repeat his point:
Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn’t expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA
But after eight hours of absorbing a pounding online, he returned to Twitter to clarify his clarification:
I was NOT saying it isn’t job of journos to call out lies, I said it was not job of media to sell WH’s health care message, it is WH’s job
Despite that embarrassing episode, Chuck Todd hasn’t always represented a net subtraction from the sum of human knowledge. He has, in fact, committed acts of journalism. As the GOP’s “Defund Obamacare” campaign ramped up over the summer of 2013, Todd used his NBC “First Read” column to actively illuminate rather than passively mislead. As he put it on July 9:
Here’s a thought exercise on this summer morning: Imagine that after the controversial Medicare prescription-drug legislation was passed into law in 2003, Democrats did everything they could to thwart one of George W. Bush’s top domestic achievements. They launched Senate filibusters to block essential HHS appointees from administering the law; they warned the sports and entertainment industries from participating in any public service announcements to help seniors understand how the law works; and, after taking control of the House of Representatives in 2007, they used the power of the purse to prohibit any more federal funds from being used to implement the law. As it turns out, none of that happened.
That’s exactly right. Despite their opposition to the Part D legislation, Democrats didn’t just refuse to obstruct Bush’s wildly unpopular and completely unfunded $400 billion windfall for insurers and pharmaceutical firms. In Washington and in the states, Democrats helped ensure the successful implementation of a Republican program whose 2006 launch even John Boehner acknowledged was “horrendous.”
Todd was right to highlight the polar opposite partisan responses to President Bush’s Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 to provide Americans with context for the unprecedented Republican obstruction of Obamacare. The truth, it turns out, will set you free.
And seeking the truth– not fluffing John McCain’s pillow–is exactly what “junkie” Chuck Todd the “virtual vacuum sweeper when it comes to political facts, figures and analysis” should do every Sunday morning.
By: Jon Perr, Crooks and Liars, August 16, 2014