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Teaparty, More Dumb Than Clever

Although I’m not part of the Tea Party movement and I don’t share its values, I usually understand what its followers are trying to do. But their latest gambit on health care has me genuinely baffled.

The idea is to oppose the Affordable Care Act not in the Congress or the courts, where they’ve been fighting so far, but in the state legislatures. As you may recall, the Act calls upon states to create the new “exchanges,” through which individuals and small businesses will be able to buy regulated insurance policies at affordable prices. The simplest way to do that is for state legislatures to pass laws creating exchanges that conform to the Act’s standards. Several states have started that process already–and a few, like California, are well along in their efforts.

But Tea Party activists have been lobbying state lawmakers to vote against such measures and, in a few states, it looks like they’re succeeding. Politico’s Sarah Kliff has the story:

In South Carolina, tea party activists have been picking off Republican co-sponsors of a health exchange bill, getting even the committee chairman who would oversee the bill to turn against it.

A Montana legislator who ran on a tea party platform has successfully blocked multiple health exchange bills, persuading his colleagues to instead move forward with legislation that would specifically bar the state from setting up a marketplace.

And in Georgia, tea party protests forced Gov. Nathan Deal to shelve exchange legislation that the Legislature had worked on for months.

It’s a great idea for blocking the law, except for one small problem: The Affordable Care Act anticipates that some states might not create adequate exchanges. And the law is quite clear about what happens in those cases. The federal government takes over, creating and then, as necessary, managing the exchanges itself. In other words, if state lawmakers in Columbia, Helena, and Atlanta don’t build the exchanges, bureaucrats in Washington are going to do it for them.

I realize that blocking the exchange votes may have certain symbolic value–and, at least in the early going, it could complicate implementation simply by generating more chaos. (Georgia lawmakers, as the article suggests, had already put in a lot of time on theirs.) I also gather that some Tea Party activists believe that blocking state exchanges will strengthen the constitutional case against the law. Still, if even part of the law withstands both congressional repeal and court challenges, as seems likely, the long-term effect of this Tea Party effort seems pretty clear: It will mean even more, not less, federal control.

The irony here is that, throughout the health care debate, liberals like me wanted federal exchanges, in part because we feared states with reluctant or hostile elected officials would do a lousy job. That’s the way exchanges were set up in the House health care reform bill and, in January of 2010, many of us hoped the House version would prevail when the two chambers negotiated the final language in conference committee. But the conference negotiation never took place, because Scott Brown’s election eliminated the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority. The House ended up passing the more conservative Senate bill, which had state exchanges, and that became the law.

Of course, not all Republicans agree with the Tea Party’s approach. In a previous article, for Politico Pro, Kliff interviewed several state officials who said they were setting up exchanges, notwithstanding their opposition to the law, precisely because it is the surest way to keep out the feds.

Len Nichols, the health care policy expert at George Mason University, thinks that approach makes a lot more sense, given their priorities:

Ironically, the only way to make PPACA a “federal takeover” is for states to do nothing. There is much state flexibility in the law, and much more could be sensibly negotiated and amended before 2014, but the strategy of repeal, do nothing and “get the government out of health care” will have exactly the opposite effect in those states that follow this path.

Maybe the Tea Party activists know something that neither Nichols nor I do. My bet, though, is that this effort is the policy equivalent of a temper tantrum, one that opponents of federalizing health care may come to regret.

By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, March 31, 2011

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Constitution, GOP, Health Care, Health Reform, Insurance Companies, Neo-Cons, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tip Offs That Karl Rove Is A Perpetual Liar

There are certain tip-offs that suggest when somebody is misleadingly describing a politicians’ position. One of those tip offs is when you see somebody quoting a small piece of a sentence fragment, which often suggests a statement being wrenched out of context to alter its meaning. Another tip-off is when you read anything in the frequently-misleading Wall Street Journal editorial page. And yet another is when you come across any statement spoken or written by the compulsively dishonest Karl Rove. So the combination of Rove, writing for the Journal, quoting a sentence fragment is a red-siren tip off that some misleadin’ is going on.

Here’s Rove in today’s Journal, charging President Obama with flip-flopping on democracy promotion:

Mr. Obama also came out rhetorically for his predecessor’s Freedom Agenda, saying America supports “freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders” throughout the region. That statement is at odds with what Mr. Obama said in June 2005, when he insisted “we cannot, and should not, foist our own vision of democracy” on the Middle East.

Okay, having already used heuristics to establish with 99.99% certainty that Rove is lying, let’s nail down the final 0.01% by consulting Obama’s speech from 2005:

In testimony before Congress, Secretary Rice stated that while she believed it was possible to create a multi-ethnic, democratic Iraq under a unified national government, it was also possible that, in the near term, Iraq may look more like a loose federation and less like a tightly-knit, multi-ethnic society. According to the deal struck in the writing of the Constitution, the structure of the national government may still be altered by discussion among the three major factions. If it is the Administration’s most realistic assessment that the Iraqi government will take the form of a loose confederation, then we need to be thinking about how we should calibrate our policies to reflect this reality. We cannot, and should not, foist our own vision of democracy on the Iraqis, and then expect our troops to hold together such a vision militarily.

Notice that Rove has actually distorted Obama’s speech in two different ways. Obama was not invoking “our vision of democracy” to mean democracy, period. He was describing the debate in Iraq between advocates of a loose federation versus a strong national government, and arguing that the U.S. should let Iraqis settle this question rather than foist our vision upon them. Nowhere did Obama state, hint or imply that people in Iraq or elsewhere should not enjoy democracy.

Indeed, Rove cut off the portion of Obama’s sentence that referred to “on the Iraqis” and changed it to “the Middle East,” to further pull it out of the context and transform it into an attack on the rights of Arabs to enjoy democracy.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, March 31, 2011

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Foreign Policy, GOP, Ideologues, Iraq, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Driving Ms. Bachmann: The Most Embarrassing Republican Presidential Candidates Of The Modern Era

For respectable Republicans, the embarrassment potential may be at an all-time high. The party is a year away from picking its next presidential candidate and never in the modern era has it faced a vacuum like this.

Sure, the odds are still strong that the GOP will ultimately settle on a “harmless enough” general election candidate — someone sufficiently generic and inoffensive to ensure that the party doesn’t fall far below its natural level of support in the fall of 2012. But the road from here to the convention looks unusually — and, if you’re a Democrat, comically — rocky for Republicans.

The party’s base — which nominated several utterly unelectable candidates in several high-stakes Senate races last year — is in revolt, thirsting for purity and likely to accede to a Romney or Pawlenty nomination only with reluctance. Before then, it figures to be tempted by an atypically large collection of red meat-spouting long shots: Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich, John Bolton, Rick Santorum, maybe even Sarah Palin or (why not?) Herman Cain — personally and politically polarizing extremists who validate a damaging stereotype of the Obama-era GOP. It’s not impossible that one of these ideologues will fare surprisingly well in one or more of the early nominating contests next year (most likely activist-dominated Iowa).

It is this possibility that makes 2012 potentially different from previous Republican contests, in which the party has generally — but not always — succeeded in keeping the embarrassments to a minimum. Here’s a look at the most embarrassing Republican candidates to be taken (at least somewhat) seriously by the media since 1980:

1. Rep. Phil Crane — 1980

The heir to Donald Rumsfeld’s old House seat, Crane came to Congress in 1969, a Goldwater campaign veteran made good. He spent the ’70s racking up one of the most conservative voting records in the House and, in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 White House bid, set out to run for the presidency himself in 1980. (His theory was that Reagan, because of age and his two failed bids for the GOP nod, would end up passing on ’80, leaving Crane to gobble up “New Right” support.)

Crane’s politics weren’t really more conservative than Reagan’s, but unlike the Gipper, he didn’t know how to mask his extremism with warmth and charm. Instead, he conformed to the popular image of a far-right whacko, purchasing (for instance) 30-minute blocks of time to air a speech in which he held up the Bible and quoted from it in an effort to establish America’s Christian roots. He also attracted unwanted attention when, at the height of the campaign, he was sued by Richard Viguerie, the direct mail pioneer, for unpaid bills.

More damaging, though, was the wrath of Bill Loeb, the notoriously vengeful publisher of New Hampshire’s largest (and most conservative) newspaper, the Union-Leader. Fearful that Crane’s presence in the race would hurt Reagan, Loeb skewered him in a series of front-page editorials, then commissioned a devastating story that used anonymous sources to portray Crane as a serial philanderer with a drinking problem. The story attracted national attention and helped Loeb achieve his goal: Crane finished a distant fifth in Iowa and won only 2 percent in New Hampshire. (Years later, he would publicly admit to a drinking problem and seek treatment.)

2. Pat Robertson — 1988

The pioneering televangelist’s candidacy was the logical consequence of the rise of the Christian right, which emerged as a force and embraced the Republican Party during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

But Robertson, the founder and president of the Christian Broadcasting Network, was a particularly kooky frontman for this movement. By the time he announced his candidacy for the ’88 GOP nod, he already had one false Armageddon prediction under his belt (1982 would be the year, he’d forecasted in ’76) and had also taken credit for using prayer to steer Hurricane Gloria away from New York City in 1985. As a candidate, he sought to present himself as a businessman more than a religious leader, bristling at suggestions that he had “followers” and accusing Tom Brokaw of religious bigotry for calling him a “televangelist” during one debate.

You can imagine, then, the profound embarrassment — and fear — that mainstream Republicans felt on the night of February 8, 1988, when Robertson finished 6 points ahead of Vice President George H.W. Bush to claim a shocking second place in the Iowa caucuses. Robertson quickly ran out of momentum — he finished dead last in New Hampshire a week later, behind even Pierre S. du Pont IV — and was blown out in South Carolina. But the Christian Coalition that he founded in the wake of his campaign played an instrumental role in creating the Republican Party that we know today.

3. Pat Buchanan — 1992 and 1996

Less than two months before announcing his challenge to Bush for the ’92 GOP nomination, Buchanan wrote a column offering advice to his party on how to win in the future: “Take a hard look” at the “portfolio of winning issues” being championed by … David Duke, the ex-Klansman who, in the fall of 1991, had won a place in Louisiana’s gubernatorial runoff (in which he was thumped by Edwin Edwards).

This was par for the course for Buchanan, who had also used his media platform to opine that women were “less equipped psychologically” than men to handle the business world and to defend accused Nazi war criminals — most notably John Demjanjuk. In the 1980s, he had also ridiculed third-world nations pushing for sanctions against apartheid South Africa, arguing that they were motivated by “racism and the resentment that failure always feels for success.”

Buchanan went on to fare alarmingly well in the ’92 New Hampshire primary, powered by the GOP electorate’s frustration with the economy and Bush’s broken “no new taxes” pledge. It was the high-water mark for Buchanan’s ’92 campaign, although it also helped him earn a prime-time speaking slot at the ’92 convention — a speech best remembered for Buchanan’s divisive declaration of “culture war” and his long-windedness, which knocked Ronald Reagan’s speech out of prime time.

Four years later, Buchanan gave the GOP an even bigger headache when he finished a close second in Iowa and then won New Hampshire, although his momentum was quickly arrested as a panicked party establishment rallied around Bob Dole.

(Note: Duke himself also sought the ’92 GOP nod, although he’s not included in this list on the grounds that — unlike the others — he was thoroughly isolated and shunned by the party’s establishment. No one respectable would touch him, not even Buchanan.)

4. Rep. Robert Dornan — 1996

A few highlights of the political career that preceded “B-1 Bob’s” absurd 1996 White House bid:

* On the House floor in 1985, he attacked fellow Rep. Tom Downey as “a draft-dodging wimp,” then grabbed the New York Democrat by his collar. Downey claimed that Dornan threatened him physically; Dornan said he’d merely been trying to straighten his tie.

* In 1993, he took the House floor to accuse President Clinton of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” during the Vietnam War. He also branded the president “a flawed human being” and “a draft-dodging adulterer not fit to lace the boots” of America’s troops.

* In 1994, he outed fellow Rep. Steve Gunderson on the House floor, making reference to the “revolving closet door” on the Wisconsin Republican’s closet.

* During his 1992 House campaign, he bragged that “every lesbian spear-chucker in this country is hoping I get defeated.” And when Dornan was confronted by AIDS activists at a public event, his wife snapped, “Shut up, fag!”

* Court records made public in 1994 indicated that Dornan had been convicted and ordered to jail in 1996 for physically attacking his wife (although there was no record he’d actually done time). Dornan and his wife denied that any abuse had occurred and blamed the case on a drug problem she had at the time.

Dornan ran on the slogan “Faith, Family and Freedom” but struggled to raise money and assembled a staff that consisted primarily of family members. One of his final acts as a candidate came at a New Hampshire party dinner the weekend before that state’s primary. He literally begged the audience for sympathy votes, so that he would avoid the indignity of finishing with 0 percent. He didn’t get his wish.

5. Alan Keyes — 1996 and 2000

Described in one of Al Franken’s books as a “Reagan administration functionary,” Keyes entered politics in 1988, waging a hopeless Senate campaign against Democratic incumbent Paul Sarbanes in Maryland. He was trounced, but tried again four years later against Barbara Mikulski. He was slaughtered again, but this time he made national news — for taking the unusual step of giving himself a salary of $8,500 per month with campaign funds. A few years later, he set out to run for president.

Keyes ran on a platform of Puritanical morality, lashing out at America’s “licentious, self-indulgent culture,” lashing out at the Clinton administration and its “condom czars” and focusing almost obsessively on abortion. He also had this exchange with a local right-wing radio host, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:

Muller says slavery has been misconstrued by many blacks. “This whole slavery thing has been bastardized into ‘Oh, we were oppressed. Now we don’t have to do anything because of what happened 300 years ago.'” Keyes, who is black, agrees, saying the devastation imposed on black families by liberal government programs, such as welfare, has been worse than slavery.

By: Steve Kornacki, News Editor, Salon, March 31, 2011

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Birthers, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Neo-Cons, Politics, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Defection Track In Libya: Pragmatic And Correct

Everybody has questions and anxieties about our policy in Libya. My own position is this: I oppose the policy the Obama administration has described in various public statements. I support the policy the administration is actually executing.

The intellectual, cultural and scientific findings that land on the columnist’s desk nearly every day.

The policy the administration publicly describes is constricted and implausible. The multilateral force would try to prevent a humanitarian disaster from the air, but then it remains maddeningly ambiguous about what would happen next: what our goals are; what our attitude toward the Qaddafi regime is; what an exit strategy might be.

Fortunately, the policy the Obama administration is actually implementing is more flexible and thought-through.

It starts with the same humanitarian purpose. People sometimes think of President Obama as a cool, hyper-rational calculator, but in this case he was motivated by a noble, open-hearted sentiment: that the U.S. cannot sit by and watch tens of thousands of people get massacred when it has the means to prevent it.

President Obama took this decision, I’m told, fully aware that there was no political upside while there were enormous political risks. He took it fully aware that we don’t know much about Libya. He took it fully aware that if he took this action he would be partially on the hook for Libya’s future. But he took it as an American must — motivated by this country’s historical role as a champion of freedom and humanity — and with the awareness that we simply could not stand by with Russia and China in opposition.

In this decision, one could see the same sensitive, idealistic man who wrote “Dreams From My Father.”

As president, of course, one also has to think practically. The president and the secretary of state reached a hardheaded conclusion. If Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is actively slaughtering his own people, then this endeavor cannot end with a cease-fire that allows him to remain in power. Regime change is the goal of U.S. policy.

There are three plausible ways he might go, which inside the administration are sometimes known as the Three Ds. They are, in ascending order of likelihood: Defeat — the ragtag rebel army vanquishes his army on the battlefield; Departure — Qaddafi is persuaded to flee the country and move to a villa somewhere; and Defection — the people around Qaddafi decide there is no future hitching their wagon to his, and, as a result, the regime falls apart or is overthrown.

The result is a strategy you might call Squeeze and See. The multilateral forces ratchet up the pressure and watch to see what happens. The Western nations are reaching out to senior Libyan figures to encourage defection (the foreign minister has already split, and more seem to be coming). There is an effort to broadcast television signals into Libya to rival state TV. In the liberated areas, the multilateral alliance is sending aid to build civil society and organize the political opposition. The U.S. is releasing billions of confiscated Libyan dollars to the opposition to ensure its staying power.

Eric Schmitt had a fabulous piece in The Times this week detailing what the air assault actually involves. It’s not just hitting Libyan air defenses. It also involves psychological warfare inducing Libyan soldiers to defect. It involves messing with Libyan communications systems, cutting off supply lines and creating confusion throughout the command structure.

All of this is meant to send the signal that Qaddafi has no future. Will it be enough to cause enough defections? No one knows. But given all of the uncertainties, this seems like a prudent way to test the strength of the regime and expose its weaknesses.

It may turn out in the months ahead that we simply do not have the capacity, short of an actual invasion (which no one wants), to dislodge Qaddafi. But, at worst, the Libyan people will be no worse off than they were when government forces were bearing down on Benghazi and preparing for slaughter. At best, we may help liberate part of Libya or even, if the regime falls, the whole thing.

It is tiresome to harp on this sort of thing, but this is an intervention done in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is motivated by a noble sentiment, to combat evil, but it is being done without self-righteousness and with a prudent awareness of the limits and the ironies of history. And it is being done at a moment in history when change in the Arab world really is possible.

Libyan officials took Western reporters to the town of Gharyan this week to show them the grave of a baby supposedly killed in the multilateral bombing campaign. But the boy’s relatives pulled the reporters aside, David D. Kirkpatrick reported in The Times. “What NATO is doing is good,” one said. “He is not a man,” another whispered of Qaddafi. “He is Dracula. For 42 years it has been dark. Anyone who speaks, he kills. But everyone wants Qaddafi to go.”

By: David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 31, 2011

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Dictators, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Libya, Media, No Fly Zones, Politics, President Obama, Qaddafi, United Nations, War | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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