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“First Impressions”: Ted Cruz Is The Next Jim DeMint

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That isn’t to say that first impressions are necessarily immutable destiny in politics, since there are those who have bombed in their national debut and turned things around, and others who looked terrific at first but turned out to be something less. Bill Clinton gave a famously terrible speech at the 1988 Democratic convention, and Sarah Palin was dynamite in her speech at the GOP’s 2008 gathering. Nevertheless, there are some things you just can’t overcome, particularly if what caused them wasn’t a bad night’s sleep but the very core of your being.

A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of stars, Ted Cruz’s name would inevitably have come up. Young (he’s only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started acting like the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, and now, barely a month into his Senate career, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that Ted Cruz is not going to be the national superstar many predicted he’d be. If things go well, he might be the next Jim DeMint—the hard-line leader of the extremist Republicans in the Senate, someone who helps the Tea Party and aids some right-wing candidates win primaries over more mainstream Republicans. But I’m guessing that like DeMint, he won’t ever write a single piece of meaningful legislation and he’ll give the Republican party nothing but headaches as it struggles to look less like a party of haters and nutballs.

It’s kind of remarkable how quickly things went south for Cruz. First he made a splash at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings by implying, without any evidence, that Hagel was on the payroll of foreign enemies. Lindsay Graham called it “out of bounds,” and even grumpy John McCain, who hates Hagel’s guts, rebuked him. Then on Friday, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker revealed that in 2010, Cruz made a speech in which he charged that when he was at Harvard Law School, “there were twelve [members of the faculty] who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.” This is what scholars of rhetoric call a lie. By way of explanation, his spokesperson said that what Cruz said was accurate, since there are people on the Harvard Law faculty who advocate Critical Legal Studies, which back on Planet Earth does not actually involve overthrowing the United States government. It’s kind of like someone saying, “Ted Cruz advocates stoning disrespectful children to death,” then saying that the statement is true, because Cruz once approvingly quoted the biblically-derived saying “spare the rod, spoil the child.” (For the record, I have no idea if Cruz approves of corporal punishment, nor if he has actually participated in any child-stonings.)

So the idea that Ted Cruz is an up-and-comer with a bright future is pretty much dead, replaced by the idea that Ted Cruz is an ideological extremist who employs some of the most shameful political tactics you can imagine, including just making stuff up about people he doesn’t like. Maybe this was inevitable, since by all accounts he really is kind of a jerk, and really does have some crazy ideas. He may end up a favorite of right-wing talk radio, and a hero to Tea Partiers, but he’s not going to be a real power in Washington.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 25, 2013

February 26, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Conservative Shakedown Scam?”: Karl Rove And His “Enemies” Are Engaged In An Implicit Back-Scratching Agreement

I’ve been pretty conspicuous in arguing that the war of words between Karl Rove and Tea Folk over the former’s announcement of a project to stop crazy people from winning major Republican primaries in 2014 did not represent any genuine “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party,” since it’s all about strategy and tactics, not actual ideology, where everyone involved agrees Maintaining Conservative Principles is the eternal North Star.

But still, I’ve shared the puzzlement of most everybody over Rove’s motivations in picking this loud fight, however superficial it ultimately proves to be.

At the Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle has an answer that’s pretty compelling if you understand that for Rove politics is always, always, always about fundraising, his original gig.

Post-election, big Republican donors have been demanding answers as a condition of future support for various groups—and players in the money game report that there has been barking, profanity, and not-so-veiled threats. “I do think you had a lot of donors saying, ‘You have to demonstrate you learned the lessons of the last campaign,’” says the Romney adviser. “Then they want to see measurable results toward that end. ‘What are you doing to make sure you’re not spending money the same old way?’ ”

Rove’s donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. “This is all about the donors,” says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. “This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy,” the strategist argues. “It’s smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting.”

This gambit, moreover, Cottle explains, ensured that Rove would be the center of attention, on Fox and in every other conservative venue, if only to explain and defend himself, at a time when he might otherwise finally be dismissed as yesterday’s news, just like his former boss W.

Now deliberately provoking the ire of the dominant faction of the conservative movement and of the GOP is not the most conventional way to keep oneself in the power loop. But Rove is nothing if not a devious SOB. This is the guy who figured out back in the 1990s that state judicial races were the ideal lever for producing a political realignment in the South because they would split off business leaders from the Democratic donor base while reducing the power and diverting the resources of the pro-Democratic trial lawyers. He’s the master of such two- and three-cushion shots, invariably revolving around money.

But Cottle suggests Rove isn’t the only one playing money games:

Rove isn’t the only one poised to benefit from this spectacle. Even as he pokes purists in an apparent effort to jumpstart his 2014 money machine, the purists are looking to fill their coffers by poking back. “They need their shiny ball strategy too,” observes the veteran strategist. “Everybody is trying to raise money.” And just like Rove, these groups play rough—at times a little too rough. Last week the Tea Party Patriots had to issue an apology for a help-us-fight-Karl-Rove fundraising plea that included a Photoshopped image of their target dressed as an SS officer. (An outside vendor took responsibility for the pic.)

This angle reinforces the broader reality that a lot of the rightward lurch in the GOP over the last two decades is ultimately about money: Republican pols have mainstreamed the violent and extremist language so often associated with direct-mail fundraising appeals in the past–even in intra-party dustups. It would not be surprising if Rove and his “enemies” are engaged in an implicit back-scratching agreement designed to fill everyone’s coffers, and distract attention from the disaster of 2012.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 25, 2013

February 26, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Teaparty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plainly And Demonstrably Wrong”: Bob Woodward’s Unfortunate And Inexplicable Errors

In the world of media giants, the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward has reached a legendary status with few rivals. If there’s a journalistic award to be won, Woodward has received it, including multiple Pulitzers. His Watergate coverage 40 years ago is, quite literally, the stuff of legend.

But even reporting icons sometimes make mistakes, some of them rather inexplicable.

Over the weekend, there was quite a kerfuffle when Woodward, to the delight of far-right bloggers, jumped into the debate over this week’s sequestration cuts, challenging some of the White House’s key assertions. For one thing, Woodward insists the sequester was President Obama’s idea. For another, Woodward wants the public to believe Obama is “moving the goal posts” by expecting Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise including both spending cuts and revenue from closed tax loopholes. As far as the Washington Post reporter in concerned, sequestration cuts were supposed to be replaced entirely with different spending cuts, just as GOP policymakers demand.

Let’s take these one at a time. The first point, which Republicans and reporters find needlessly fascinating, is quickly becoming farcical. Tim Noah argued that the White House came up with the sequestration policy “in roughly the same sense that it was Charles Lindbergh’s bad idea eight decades ago to fork over the equivalent in today’s dollars of $840,000 to a German-born carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann…. The sequester was a ransom payment.” Noam Scheiber added that saying the sequester was Obama’s idea is “like saying it was your idea to give your wallet to a mugger when he said, ‘Your money or your life.'”

Republicans were threatening to crash the economy on purpose and Obama was scrambling to satisfy their demands before GOP lawmakers pulled the trigger and shot the hostage (which is to say, shot us). The sequester then became part of the plan that Republicans proceeded to vote for and brag about, before they came up with the “this is all Obama’s fault” talking point in the hopes of winning a bizarre public-relations fight.

After Republicans created a crisis, both sides created the sequester, and both sides now consider it dangerous. The point that matters, even if Very Serious People in Washington are reluctant to acknowledge it, is that only one side is prepared to compromise to resolve the problem.

Which leads us to Woodward’s second, and more dramatic, error.

For the Washington Post legend, Obama is “moving the goal posts,” since everyone realized in the summer of 2011 that the sequestration cuts were supposed to be replaced with a different set of cuts — and no new revenue. It’s unfair, Woodward argues, for the White House to suddenly expect a balanced compromise when that was never part of the original plan.

Woodward is plainly, demonstrably wrong. It’s not a matter of opinion and it’s not an answer found in a fuzzy gray area in which both sides have a credible claim.

When the Budget Control Act became law to end the Republicans’ debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, a “super-committee” was created to find an alternative to the sequester. Was the committee’s mandate to find a cuts-only policy? Of course not — even Republicans accepted the fact that some revenue would be part of a solution. President Obama, when signing the BCA, explicitly said, “You can’t close the deficit with just spending cuts…. It also means reforming our tax code so that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share.'”

Brian Beutler added that Woodward “is just dead wrong.”

Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It’s true that John Boehner wouldn’t agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon — sequestration — is composed exclusively of spending cuts. But the entire purpose of an enforcement mechanism is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is never triggered. The key question is what action it was designed to compel. And on that score, the Budget Control Act is unambiguous.

First: “Unless a joint committee bill achieving an amount greater than $1,200,000,000,000 in deficit reduction as provided in section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II) of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is enacted by January 15, 2012, the discretionary spending limits listed in section 251(c) shall be revised, and discretionary appropriations and direct spending shall be reduced.”

Key words: “deficit reduction.” Not “spending cuts.” If Republicans wanted to make sure sequestration would be replaced with spending cuts only, that would have been the place to make a stand. Some of them certainly tried. But that’s not what ultimately won the day. Instead, the law tasked the Super Committee with replacing sequestration with a different deficit reduction bill — tax increases or no.

At a certain level, Woodward, despite having written extensively on the subject, seems somewhat confused about the specific details. In his op-ed, he wrote, “The final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester….So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts.”

But that simply doesn’t make any sense. The sequester didn’t include revenue, so it’s unfair to expect the sequester alternative to have revenue? Why is that, exactly?

What’s especially troubling is that Woodward’s own book is at odds with the argument he presented in the new op-ed.

But wait, it gets worse. Woodward, who for whatever reason doesn’t seem to care for the president, made an unfortunate mistake and got caught. And if Woodward acknowledged his missteps and corrected them, it would have been easy to simply move on. Even journalistic legends make mistakes.

But in this case, after learning of the criticism, Woodward emailed Politico‘s Mike Allen with a defense that made matters worse, flubbing several key, basic details, suggesting he’s even more confused about the debate than was evident from his mistaken op-ed.

Republicans seem thrilled with Woodward’s errors because they reinforce the story they’re eager to tell. But relying on mistakes to bolster a bad argument only makes Woodward and Republicans look worse.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 25, 2013

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Cruz Litmus Test”: If Republicans Won’t Call This Guy Out, They Haven’t Learned A Thing

Parallel to the ongoing discussion of whether or not the Republican Party has any serious interest in curtailing the right-wing bender it’s been on since at least 2009 (and arguably a lot longer), we have the interesting phenomenon of a new and very loud Republican Senator who stands proudly for the point of view that the bender needs to get a lot crazier. Here’s the most succinct version of his argument that Republicans are losing because they aren’t standing up for “conservative principles:”

“Why did we lose? It wasn’t as the media would tell you: because the American people embraced big government, Barack Obama’s spending and debt and taxes. … That wasn’t what happened. I’m going to suggest to you a very simple reason why we lost the election: We didn’t win the argument,” Cruz said before pointedly lowering his voice. “We didn’t even make the argument.”

Yeah, not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, as George Wallace used to say back in the day.

But beyond this continuation of the ludicrous proposition that Republicans are too moderate and compromise-oriented (which really hasn’t been a credible argument since 1990, if then), Cruz is already distinguishing himself as the kind of mendacious bully-boy–sort of a smarter version of the Rick Perry who first emerged on the 2012 presidential campaign trail roaring and strutting around and threatening to tear the godless liberals limb from limb–who makes any sort of bipartisan discussion absolutely impossible. And while a few Republicans whisper about him obliquely or off-the-record, he’s mostly been lionized for this behavior:

“Senator Ted Cruz came to Washington to advance conservative policies, not play by the same old rules that have relegated conservatives, and their ideas, to the back bench,” Michael Needham, president of the influential Heritage Action said on Tuesday. “It should come as absolutely no surprise the Washington Establishment – be it the liberal media, entrenched special interests or even wayward Republicans – are now attacking him in the press for following through on his promises.”

Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project, said: “It’s about time someone annoyed those who have been complacent in doing what is necessary to get the country back on track. We applaud Senator Ted Cruz’s dedication to conservative principles and being an articulate spokesman for those principles. We are pleased he is shaking up Washington and doing exactly what the people of Texas elected him to do.”

Having brought back memories of Joe McCarthy in his nasty interrogation of Chuck Hagel, Cruz is back in the news right now for smearing left-wing Harvard Law School professors as communist revolutionaries (his effort to back-track on the smear without admitting it didn’t work too well).

As both Steve Kornacki and Greg Sargent have argued today, the acceptance of Cruz by his fellow-Republicans as a hail-fellow-well-met (and perhaps the future face of the party!) shows the shallowness of the talk about “reform” in the GOP (or alternatively, the shallowness of the MSM’s understanding of what conservatives mean when they talk about “reform”).

So I propose a litmus test for all those Republicans who say they learned their lesson and want to build a GOP that is free of the rancor and extremism of the recent past. Let’s ask them: what do you think of Ted Cruz? Because if they won’t call this guy out, then they haven’t learned a thing.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 25, 2013

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sequester Of Fools”: We Should Be Spending More, Not Less, Until We’re Close To Full Employment

They’re baaack! Just about two years ago, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of the late unlamented debt commission, warned us to expect a terrible fiscal crisis within, um, two years unless we adopted their plan. The crisis hasn’t materialized, but they’re nonetheless back with a new version. And, in case you’re interested, after last year’s election — in which American voters made it clear that they want to preserve the social safety net while raising taxes on the rich — the famous fomenters of fiscal fear have moved to the right, calling for even less revenue and even more spending cuts.

But you aren’t interested, are you? Almost nobody is. Messrs. Bowles and Simpson had their moment — the annus horribilis of 2011, when Washington was in thrall to deficit scolds insisting that, in the face of record-high long-term unemployment and record-low borrowing costs, we forget about jobs and concentrate exclusively on a “grand bargain” that would supposedly (not actually) settle budget disputes for ever after.

That moment has now passed; even Mr. Bowles concedes that the search for a grand bargain is on “life support.” Let’s convene a death panel! But the legacy of that year of living foolishly lives on, in the form of the “sequester,” one of the worst policy ideas in our nation’s history.

Here’s how it happened: Republicans engaged in unprecedented hostage-taking, threatening to push America into default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless President Obama agreed to a grand bargain on their terms. Mr. Obama, alas, didn’t stand firm; instead, he tried to buy time. And, somehow, both sides decided that the way to buy time was to create a fiscal doomsday machine that would inflict gratuitous damage on the nation through spending cuts unless a grand bargain was reached. Sure enough, there is no bargain, and the doomsday machine will go off at the end of next week.

There’s a silly debate under way about who bears responsibility for the sequester, which almost everyone now agrees was a really bad idea. The truth is that Republicans and Democrats alike signed on to this idea. But that’s water under the bridge. The question we should be asking is who has a better plan for dealing with the aftermath of that shared mistake.

The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.

Unfortunately, neither party is proposing that we just call the whole thing off. But the proposal from Senate Democrats at least moves in the right direction, replacing the most destructive spending cuts — those that fall on the most vulnerable members of our society — with tax increases on the wealthy, and delaying austerity in a way that would protect the economy.

House Republicans, on the other hand, want to take everything that’s bad about the sequester and make it worse: canceling cuts in the defense budget, which actually does contain a lot of waste and fraud, and replacing them with severe cuts in aid to America’s neediest. This would hit the nation with a double whammy, reducing growth while increasing injustice.

As always, many pundits want to portray the deadlock over the sequester as a situation in which both sides are at fault, and in which both should give ground. But there’s really no symmetry here. A middle-of-the-road solution would presumably involve a mix of spending cuts and tax increases; well, that’s what Democrats are proposing, while Republicans are adamant that it should be cuts only. And given that the proposed Republican cuts would be even worse than those set to happen under the sequester, it’s hard to see why Democrats should negotiate at all, as opposed to just letting the sequester happen.

So here we go. The good news is that compared with our last two self-inflicted crises, the sequester is relatively small potatoes. A failure to raise the debt ceiling would have threatened chaos in world financial markets; failure to reach a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff would have led to so much sudden austerity that we might well have plunged back into recession. The sequester, by contrast, will probably cost “only” around 700,000 jobs.

But the looming mess remains a monument to the power of truly bad ideas — ideas that the entire Washington establishment was somehow convinced represented deep wisdom.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 21, 2013

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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