Republicans on Capitol Hill keep telling everyone how terribly shocked they are by the tawdry tale of Dennis Hastert, the former Speaker of the House indicted last week for violations of federal money-laundering statutes in an effort to cover up alleged sexual abuse of a male high-school student many years ago.
Long upheld as a paragon of Midwestern conservative values, Hastert represented a suburban Illinois district and became his party’s longest-serving Speaker. Like Newt Gingrich, who preceded him in that post, Hastert avidly prosecuted the impeachment of Bill Clinton for trying to conceal an extramarital affair. Unlike Gingrich, whose own serial adulteries became a national joke, Hastert was evidently never suspected of any such “misconduct,” as the indictment described it.
“I don’t see how this didn’t come up on the radar before,” said a former Hastert aide following the release of his indictment. “It’s sort of beyond belief.”
But is it truly beyond belief, at this very late date, to learn that yet another moralizing politician or preacher was always an utter hypocrite? Not unless you haven’t been paying attention for the past two decades or so. Or you’ve been mesmerized into believing the propaganda that claims only one party — the GOP — represents “family values.”
A decade ago, Hastert was hailed as a partisan symbol of superior virtue, notably in John Mickelthwaite and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, which gleefully predicted endless victories for the Republicans and doom for the Democrats. Written by a pair of British Tories who then held top positions at The Economist magazine, that work invidiously contrasted then-Speaker Hastert with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, his counterpart on the other side of the aisle – and described their districts as emblematic of red and blue America.
Mickelthwaite (now editor-in-chief at Bloomberg) and Wooldridge waxed on lyrically and at daunting length in praise of Coach Denny and “Hastertland,” while they cast a censorious gaze upon Nancy and “Pelosiville,” also known as San Francisco or, again in their words, “the capital of gay America.” Their description of Hastert — “a fairly straightforward conservative: antiabortion, anti-gay marriage” – rings with irony today. So does their depiction of Pelosi’s urban constituency as “a peculiar mix of blue bloods and gays, dotcom millionaires and aging hippies,” set against the “resolutely ‘normal’ ” people represented by Hastert, who “think of themselves as typical Americans.”
Key to understanding the two districts and therefore American politics, according to the authors, were differing attitudes toward “the importance of family life,” orthodox religion, and “social disorder.” In Hastertland, churches and families were growing, streets were clean, and vagrancy eliminated – and in Pelosiville exactly the reverse, with secularism rampant, bums everywhere, and even an outpost of the Church of Satan.
“Looking at ‘Pelosiville’ and ‘Hastertland,’“ they concluded, “it is not difficult to see why American politics has shifted to the Right.”
As it turned out, The Right Nation was mostly wrong, about the fates of the two major parties and much else besides. But what was most wrong was the insinuation that Republicans stand for more elevated values than Democrats, or that conservatives are morally purer than liberals. To take their own example, we now know what we know about Hastert – and we also know that Pelosi, mother of five, grandmother of eight, married more than 50 years to the same husband, advocate of gay marriage and reproductive rights, is today far more credible as a symbol of “family values” and family life.
None of this should be surprising, with all due respect to the shocked, shocked, shocked Republicans. In 2003, after Hastert already had ascended to third in line from the presidency, I reviewed the endless ranks of right-wing moral mountebanks – the cheating celebrity evangelists, the homophobic gay politicians, the lecherous legislators, and others too raunchy to mention here – in one chapter of a book called Big Lies. I included many stories about Hastert’s House colleagues, partying amid their pursuit of Clinton; some were amusing, some quite depressing. Of course, I didn’t know about “Coach Denny” back then.
But with or without his sad story, the conclusion would be the same: that liberals “care about families and children just as much as conservatives do – and that their more tolerant, humane policies do more to help families than the selfish and self-righteous approach of the Republican right.”
What should have changed by now, whenever conservatives start to cluck about their rectitude and piety, is whether anybody still listens.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, June 3, 2015
“Naked Bibi”: In The Animal Kingdom, There Is No Creature More Dangerous Than A Panicking Politician
In the lead up to Israel’s March 17th election, Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, fearful that he might lose his reelection bid, threw caution to the wind making blatant appeals to scare voters into returning him to office. He did so not caring who he alienated or what might be the consequences of his behavior. I have always argued that in the animal kingdom there is no creature more dangerous than a panicking politician and, in the last few days, Bibi was one such creature.
The day before votes were cast, Netanyahu gave a series of interviews to friendly media outlets developing themes that preyed on Israeli fears: of Palestinians, of “foreign conspiracies”, and of Israel’s own Arab citizens. He charged, for example, that if his opponents won they would submit to the pressures of the international community leading to the creation of “Hamastan B” in Jerusalem. In another interview he said, “…anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian State and evacuate territory, gives territory away to radical Islamists”. And when asked if that meant he was backing away from his 2009 pledge to support a two-state solution, Netanyahu responded “Indeed”.
He further charged that “the governments of Western Europe…are funding the campaign that is designed to oust me from power”. And he claimed that “there is a massive effort, with tens of millions of dollars…to mobilize the Arab vote…to support Herzog…it’s a massive effort…some governments are involved”.
He tied many of these themes together by race-baiting Israel’s Arab citizens warning that “[if Labor wins] Herzog and Livni will become the prime ministers…with the backing of the Arabs…causing a monumental shift in policy that will endanger the security of Israel”. And on the day of the election, in a final panicked appeal to supporters, he warned “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them in”.
This was the honest Netanyahu, stripped of any veneer–not the one who once feigned support for peace or who begrudgingly pledged support for the idea of a Palestinian State. And this was the Bibi who won.
This was the same Netanyahu who once greeted the Oslo Accords with a campaign to discredit Yitzak Rabin in Israel and by teaming up with Newt Gingrich (then Republican Speaker of the Congress) to stymie the Clinton Administration’s efforts in Washington. This was the Netanyahu who was elected in 1996 on a platform committed to ending Oslo, and then acted on his commitment by, in effect, burying the peace process. And this was the same Netanyahu who, when pressured by the West, presented himself as a leader who wanted nothing more than peace, while he pursued policies that only further humiliated and provoked Palestinians, at the same time weakening and discrediting their leadership.
But Netanyahu is also a wily maneuverer. When pressed by President Clinton to sign an agreement with the Palestinians, he did. Upon returning to Israel, however, he did nothing to implement that agreement and, in fact, acted to sabotage it. Similarly, when he was pressed by President Obama, he stated his support for a “two-state solution”, but then added caveats that made mockery of this support.
In his last two governments, Netanyahu sought to hide his naked contempt for peace by adding to his coalition individuals who could provide political cover. Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni were known figures in the West, and Netanyahu cleverly used them to shield his government from criticism, while he aggressively pursued his anti-peace, settlement expansion agenda.
Now the cover is gone and Bibi stands naked before the world. He made clear his rejection of the two state solution and his contempt for the Arab citizens of Israel. And he won.
Now Netanyahu must govern. He has just enough votes on the far right to form a coalition government that can pursue his anti-peace, anti-Arab agenda. His coalition will include Avigdor Lieberman who recently said that Israel “needs to pick up an axe and cut off the head” of any Israeli Arab “who is against us”, and Naftali Bennett who said that Palestinians were like “shrapnel in your rear end” and pledged that “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state”.
Netanyahu knows that this collection of like-minded bigots will only damage Israel’s relations with the West. And so just a few days ago, when faced with international outrage over his pre-election comments, Netanyahu once again attempted to cover his nakedness by denying that he had actually backed away from support for a two-state solution. What he may also do in an effort to hide his government’s racism is to lure one of the opposition parties into his coalition in order to give his government the veneer of respectability. He will make emotional appeals to national unity and call on his would-be “partners” to do their patriotic duty by joining with him to face the grave threats confronting their country. The question is will any of them fall for such a transparent ploy and agree to serve as Bibi’s newest stooge.
Looking at the polls in Israel, it was clear that the center-left never had much hope of forming a stable government. In the best case scenario, they could have only secured the 61+ seats they needed by relying on the strength of the Arab’s Joint List. This would have left them open to the same racist charge that Netanyahu and Sharon used against Rabin in 1993–that his decisions never had the support of a “Jewish majority”. This paralyzed Rabin and would likely have had the same impact on Herzog and Livni, neither of whom would have had the strength to take on the militant far-right and the massive armed settler movement.
The bottom line is that Israelis succumbed to Bibi’s race-baiting and fear-mongering and elected the government they wanted. It is as if George Wallace had won the US Presidency in 1972. The mask is off. The “peace process” is dead. What will the West do in response? Will they buy Bibi’s act one more time, or will they call his bluff and use the pressure they have long been hesitant to use? Captive Palestinians losing all hope while living under a brutal and humiliating occupation will not wait long for an answer.
By: James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute; The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 2015
“Racial Animus, Unconcealed And Unapologetic”: Rudy Giuliani Dives Into Dinesh D’Souza’s Anti-Obama Dumpster
Through a particularly nasty tweet sent Wednesday morning, Dinesh D’Souza once again proved that he excels at being a race-baiting political provocateur who hates President Obama. By Wednesday evening, Rudy Giuliani once again proved that D’Souza’s long-held and wrong-headed suspicions of the president are firmly rooted among right-wing Republicans.
With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in attendance at a dinner at the 21 Club in Manhattan, the former New York mayor baldly questioned Obama’s patriotism. “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said, according to a story in Politico. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” This folderol is courtesy of D’Souza.
In a 2010 Forbes piece headlined “How Obama thinks,” the rumored philanderer currently serving five years of probation for campaign finance violations wrote that the president’s worldview was inherited from his father. “[T]o his son, the elder Obama represented a great and noble cause, the cause of anticolonialism,” D’Souza scribbled. “From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America’s military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation,” he later added. “Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America….For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West.”
So noxious was D’Souza’s argument that David Frum, the neoconservative commentator and senior editor at the Atlantic who served as a speechwriter to President George W. Bush, criticized the author and the magazine that published the screed when he ran his own blog.
Nothing more offends conservatives than liberal accusations of racial animus. Yet here is racial animus, unconcealed and unapologetic, and it is seized by savvy editors and an ambitious politician as just the material to please a conservative audience. That’s an insult to every conservative in America.
The ambitious politician Frum refers to is Newt Gingrich, who also parroted D’Souza’s nonsense in a September 2010 interview with the National Journal that can no longer be found online. That Giuliani is spouting the same nonsense unchallenged nearly five years later says as much about him as it does about the Republican Party. Don’t dismiss Giuliani’s questioning the president’s patriotism because he is an unaccountable private citizen. Have a listen to what Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said about Obama’s request for authorization to use military force against the Islamic State during a panel discussion last week. Keep in mind that Perry is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and oversight chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
The conundrum for people like you, people like me and people out in the homeland that feel the same way is that we feel duty bound to do something…..We have a commander in chief who seems not only not ready, not unwilling, but really working collaboratively with what I would say is the enemy of freedom and of individual freedom and liberty and Western civilization and modernity. And in that context, how do you vote to give this commander-in-chief the authority and power to take action when…you know in your heart that, if past performance is any indicator of future performance, that he won’t, and that he actually might use it to further their cause and what seems to be his cause and just drag you as a complicitor in it.
Perry later backed off his treasonous assertion against Obama, saying, “Of course he isn’t collaborating with our enemies.” Yeah, okay.
Perry, Giuliani, D’Souza and countless others are part of a larger problem in American political discourse: the constant questioning of whether Obama not only loves this country, but also whether he would do everything in his power to protect it. Those engaging in this destructive discussion are the ones who “don’t love America.”
By: Jonathan Capehart, Postpartisan Blog, The Washington Post, February 19, 2015
It was just a couple of years ago that Republicans positioned gas prices one of the nation’s most important political issues. Mitt Romney, during his failed presidential bid, argued President Obama “gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch.”
The argument was always a little silly. Gas prices were extremely low when Obama first took office in early 2009 because there was a global economic crisis underway, weakening demand and pushing prices at the pump much lower. Consumers were paying more in 2012 than 2009, but that was because the economy had recovered.
But if Romney was correct, and the president deserves “full credit” for the price of gas, Republicans must be awfully impressed with Obama right now.
The average cost of filling up at the gas pump will soon be less than $3 a gallon across the U.S., according to projections from AAA on Friday.
The auto group said that the average price of gas may drop below $3 “sometime in the next couple of weeks” for the first time in four years.
About half of all U.S. gas stations are now selling gasoline for less than $3 per gallon. The most common price is $2.99 per gallon, AAA said.
This is easily a three-year low for gas prices, largely the result of weaker foreign demand.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not arguing that Obama deserves the credit for lower prices. He doesn’t. I’m arguing that it was lazy dumb for Republicans to argue that Obama deserved the blame for higher prices, and the right shouldn’t try to have it both ways.
Indeed, let’s not forget that Republicans actually spent a fair amount of time in the president’s first term arguing that Obama was deliberately trying to raise the price at the pump as part of a specific environmental agenda.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), during his vice presidential run, said in September 2012, “[T]he Obama administration’s policies are they’ve gone to great lengths to make oil and gas more expensive.”
In 2011, with gas prices rising, Republicans again insisted Obama was doing this on purpose. This odd line was pushed by Haley Barbour and the Koch brothers’ AFP, among others. When prices dropped, the argument went away. Then prices rose again, and the theory made a comeback, with prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and assorted Fox News figures insisting higher gas prices are the “conscious policy of this administration.”
By this reasoning, do Republicans believe Obama is still trying to raise gas prices, and just failing miserably in his goal?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 24, 2014
Having infuriated millions of Robin Williams fans with insensitive remarks on the late actor’s suicide, Rush Limbaugh now blames the “liberal media” and “despicable leftists” for distorting his innocent message.
This is an old dodge for Limbaugh. Yet however he parses his language, there can be no doubt that he sought to exploit a tragic event for what he likes to call “political education.” His attempt to brand Williams’ suicide with “the leftist worldview” was perfectly plain. And as usual, his alibi is plainly false.
In his original commentary on Williams, Limbaugh quoted Fox News – hardly a “liberal media” source even by his elastic definition – about the great comic’s possible motivations for taking his own life:
I mean, right here there’s a story on the Fox News website. Do you know, it says right here, that the real reasons that Robin Williams killed himself are he was embarrassed at having to take television roles after a sterling movie career….He’d had some divorces that ripped up his net worth, and he had a big ranch in Napa that he couldn’t afford any longer and had to put up for sale, and a house in Tiburon that he couldn’t afford anymore. This is all what’s in the Fox News story.
He had it all, but he had nothing. He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside. I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has.
Pursuing this tendentious theme, Limbaugh went on to mention the “survivor’s guilt” that Williams reportedly suffered over the early deaths of three close show-business friends, Christopher Reeve, John Belushi, and Andy Kaufman. “He could never get over the guilt that they died and he didn’t. Well, that is a constant measurement that is made by political leftists in judging the country,” he harrumphed, concluding with a few incomprehensible sentences about “outcome-based education.” (Even more oddly, Limbaugh promoted a wonderful appreciation of Williams in the Guardian by Russell Brand — an actor with very strong left-wing opinions.)
Still, his point was unmistakable: If you’re concerned about life’s unfairness – as Robin Williams, a dedicated lifelong liberal, certainly was – then you probably suffer from a dark and pessimistic worldview that may very well lead you to kill yourself.
Insofar as Limbaugh pretends to be educating the public, let’s school him by turning around his exploitative blather and putting him in the place of his rhetorical victim. A decade ago, when the radio talker’s addictive dependency on prescription painkillers was first exposed, it would have been easy enough to lampoon his behavior as an expression of his right-wing worldview.
Popping mouthfuls of oxycontin? He thought he could get away with it because of his wealth and status, like so many other millionaire crooks. Violating the narcotics code? He hates government and thinks he can ignore laws that inconvenience him, just like the Bundy Ranch gang. Publicly urging criminal prosecution of drug addicts while indulging the same weakness? He is just another moral hypocrite, like so many of his cronies on the right, from William Bennett to Newt Gingrich to… Rush Limbaugh.
As America watched Limbaugh struggle with his own personal issues, nobody tried to claim that he became a junkie because of his political attitudes. Indeed, most liberal commentators wished him a full recovery, even while noting his frequent failures of empathy. A few even suggested that he seize the opportunity to contemplate his habitual cruelty to others — and try to change.
Sadly, that never happened. If it had, then Limbaugh might have come to understand depression and substance abuse, which evidently killed Robin Williams, as illnesses rather than political or moral failing – exactly like the addiction that harmed Rush’s hearing and could have claimed his life. He might even have experienced an emotion so often mocked as “liberal” and too often absent from conservative moralizing:
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, August 15, 2014