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“Rand Paul Goes To Howard”: Ignoring Past Generations Of Egregious And Willfull Acts Of Insensitivity

The Republican Party is struggling with its future. Will it be a regional, Congressional party fighting a last-gasp battle for a shrinking base in a David and Goliath war against ominously expanding federal government? Or will it become a national, presidential party capable of adapting to a new American reality of diversity and expression in which the government serves an essential function in regulating public safety, providing a safety net and serving as a safeguard against discrimination?

Senator Rand Paul is trying to find a balance between the two. The same week that a dozen defiant senators threatened to filibuster any new gun control legislation, Paul ventured across Washington to historically black Howard University and gave a speech aimed at outreach and bridge building.

The man is mulling a presidential run after all.

The speech was a dud. It was a clipped-tail history lesson praising the civil rights record of the pre-Southern Strategy Republican Party, while slamming the concurrent record of the Democrats.

It completely ignored the past generation of egregious and willful acts of insensitivity by the G.O.P. toward the African-American community.

During the speech Paul asked, rhetorically and incredulously:

“How did the party that elected the first black U.S. Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American Congressmen, how did that party become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?”

You can’t be serious, Senator Paul. In fact, I know that you’re not. No thinking American could be so dim as to genuinely pose such questions.

Let me explain.

Republicans lost it when Richard Nixon’s strategist Kevin Phillips, who popularized the “Southern Strategy,” told The New York Times Magazine in 1970 that “the more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

They lost it when Nixon appointed William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, a man who, while he was a law clerk in Justice Robert Jackson’s office, wrote a memo defending separate-but-equal during Brown v. Board of Education, saying, “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by my ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.”

They lost it in 1976 when Ronald Reagan adopted the racially charged “welfare queens” trope. They lost it when George Bush used Willie Horton as a club against Michael Dukakis. They lost it when George W. Bush imperially flew over New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when people were still being plucked from rooftops and were huddling in a humid Super Dome.

They lost it when the McCain campaign took a dark turn and painted Barack Obama as the other, a man “palling around with terrorists,” a man who didn’t see “America like you and I see America.”

They lost it when Republican Representative Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress. They lost it when a finger-wagging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer publicly chastised the president on an Arizona tarmac.

They lost it in 2011 when a Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who was the front-runner for a while, falsely and preposterously claimed that: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”

They lost it when another Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, he of “blah people” infamy, accused President Obama of “elitist snobbery” and “hubris” for supposedly saying “under my administration, every child should go to college.” (For the record, the president never actually said that.)

The Republicans lost the black vote when Herman Cain, an African-American candidate for the Republican nomination, began using overt slave imagery to suggest that he had left “the Democrat plantation.”

They continued to lose it when the African-American Republican of the moment, Dr. Benjamin Carson, echoed Cain and said of white liberals:

“Well, they’re the most racist people there are. You know, they put you in a little category, a little box. You have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”

The Republican Party has a tarnished brand in the eyes of the African-American community, largely because of its own actions and rhetoric. That can’t be glossed over by painting the present party with the laurels of the distant past.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April !0, 2013

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Court Packing Scheme”: GOP Plots To Hollow Out The Federal Courts

The high-water mark of FDR’s power came when he tried to give himself the power to appoint six new Supreme Court justices, which opponents decried as an underhanded scheme to rig the court with justices who favored his agenda.

Now, 75 years later, Republicans are trying to do the same thing, but in reverse. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and thus the most important member of his party on such issues, introduced legislation yesterday that seems innocuous enough at first. Here’s how he explained it in a hearing yesterday:

This legislation is straightforward. It would add a seat to the Second and the Eleventh Circuits. At the same time, it would reduce the number of authorized judgeships for the D.C. Circuit from 11 to 8. If adopted, this legislation would be a significant step towards rectifying the extreme disparities between the D.C. Circuit and the Second and Eleventh circuits.

Even the name of Grassley’s bill, “The Court Efficiency Act,” sounds anodyne, but the bill’s sponsors — including Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, two of the most extreme Republicans on legal issues — should give one pause.

See, for months, Republicans have been filibustering Obama’s nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, among others. Grassley’s bill would simply eliminate three of those vacancies, reducing the court from 11 to eight judges, and thus cement the existing conservative majority on the country’s second most powerful court, after only the Supreme Court.

Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, a progressive legal advocacy group, said the move is just a clever reinterpretation of FDR’s “court-packing scheme.” “The conservative majority on the D.C. Circuit has used its power to issue decisions undermining protections for workers, consumers, and the environment that affect all Americans. This activism is possible only because there are four vacancies on the court,” Aron said.

The stated reason for Grassley’s bill is to equalize the caseload between the D.C. Circuit and other courts, but Ian Millhiser, a legal expert at the Center for American Progress, calls Grassley’s pretext “highly misleading.” “Unlike other federal courts of appeal, the D.C. Circuit hears an unusually large number of major regulatory and national security cases, many of which require very specialized legal research, involve intensely long records, and take more time for a judge to process than four or five normal cases of the kinds heard in other circuit,” he wrote at ThinkProgress.

While Democrats deployed the filibuster against judicial nominees under Bush, Republicans have used it far more often by any measure. The slow pace of confirmations has hollowed out the federal judiciary to such a degree that Chief Justice John Roberts warned the courts were facing a crisis and called on Republicans to advance more judges.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, April 11, 2013

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Federal Courts | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Abdicating Responsibility”: When The Speaker Becomes The Bystander, Doing As Little Legislating As Possible

For generations, the balance of power will often shift between the House and Senate, for a variety of institutional and historical reasons. Occasionally, the shift is deliberate — one chamber will decide it doesn’t want the power.

This dynamic is on display right now. Sarah Binder recently published a fascinating item, explaining House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to do as little legislating as possible, making the Senate go first on just about everything. For Boehner, there’s no apparent downside — he and his caucus don’t get the blame if/when legislation fails; he and his caucus have veto power over key initiatives; and when measures are pending that Republicans don’t like, he and his caucus have time to rally the opposition while the Senate does all the real work.

What’s more, as Jonathan Bernstein explained, Boehner’s “Make the Senate go first” rule forfeits “their opportunity to affect the content of legislation,” but the House GOP caucus may not care since they’re a post-policy caucus anyway.

And all of this tends to work fairly well when the Senate, overcome by gridlock and obstructionism, can’t send the House anything to consider anyway, but what happens when the upper chamber starts to make some progress?

Long mired in bitter gridlock, two groups of Democratic and Republican lawmakers have hashed out once-unthinkable bipartisan solutions on gun control and rewriting the nation’s immigration laws.

But the rush to bipartisanship could grind to an abrupt halt in the House. Speaker John Boehner is once again trapped in a tough position….

Yes, that certainly is the downside to saying, “We’ll be glad to consider whatever the Senate passes.” Occasionally, the Senate actually passes something, leaving Boehner to ask, “What do we do now?”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told Politico, “It’s clear that the House Republicans have abdicated responsibility for legislation to the Senate.” Quite right. But if the Senate manages to act on gun safety and immigration, the flaws in this plan will become fairly obvious.

Postscript: I should mention, by the way, that the House could, in theory, play a constructive role in governing, but that would require Boehner to largely give up on the so-called “Hastert Rule.” This has already happened three times this year, and Sarah Binder noted a fourth that quietly happened yesterday.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 11, 2013

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Popping Out Of Every Hole”: Mitch McConnell Faces A Real Threat, And It’s Not Left-Wing Leaks

As is often the case, we’ve been burying the lead as we dissect the leaked recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s private whack-a-mole strategy session.

Most of the talk, on the recording and in the media, has been about the cold-blooded, ruthless assessment of the alleged weaknesses of Democratic activist-actress Ashley Judd as a reelection challenger. Riveting if revolting stuff. But what caught my eye was the very last paragraph of the colloquy, in which the Kentucky Republican’s staffers assure their boss that they are going to vet and figure out how to destroy “potential primary folks.”

Specifically, they said they would investigate a wealthy Louisville, Ky., businessman Matthew Bevin, who has been willing at least to listen to some tea party types.

To understand what the Republican Senate leader is up to these days, you need to remember that he now lives in fear less of his home-state Democrats — whom he has essentially neutered in his nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate — than of tea party and other Republicans who hate his grip on the GOP in Kentucky and his record of talking a better conservative game than he plays.

Working on that resentment is how now-Sen. Rand Paul managed to defeat McConnell’s handpicked GOP candidate for junior senator from Kentucky in 2010. And even though Paul now pledges support for McConnell, and Paul’s former campaign manager is now on McConnell’s team, the five-term incumbent can’t be sure that he is a lock in the May 2014 GOP primary.

That is one reason why McConnell took the unusual step (for a party leader) of joining a list of other senators who vowed to filibuster any and all new gun control legislation.

That is why McConnell hit the floor the other day to roundly denounce — in far more caustic terms than those used by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — the president’s new budget.

And that is why McConnell is screaming bloody murder about what he claims was the involvement of the “left” in the “bugging” of his campaign office in Louisville last February.

McConnell and his minions have no proof of who was responsible for the recording and the gifting of it to Mother Jones. He may turn out to be correct.

But it is equally possible that the guilty party was a disgruntled Republican — or even that someone on McConnell’s team tried to emulate the tactic allegedly used by GOP strategist Karl Rove in a Texas gubernatorial race in 1986. Rove was widely suspected by the Texas press, and many Republicans, of having bugged his own office so that the device could be “discovered” and he could denounce the Democrats.

No device was found in the McConnell office, though no one apparently looked for one until this week, when the Mother Jones story broke.

Whatever the leak’s provenance, McConnell rushed to the microphones in the Capitol on Tuesday, surrounded by his loyal Senate GOP followers, to denounce the recordings as an example of how the “left wing” was out to get him in Kentucky.

McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton stepped up the hysteria level on Wednesday, saying on Mike Huckabee’s radio show that the recording’s release were evidence of “Gestapo kind of scare tactics.”

Translation: Hey, Tea Party! You think I’m an unprincipled dealmaker with centrist tendencies? Look how the left wing hates me!

The idea that a Kentucky Republican might have gotten hold of the recording and leaked it is not so far-fetched in a state party that has begun to feel stale and discontented after decades of control by the Louisville-based McConnell.

“There is a lot of discontent in McConnell Land,” said David Adams, who blogs in Kentucky and was Rand Paul’s first campaign manager in 2010. “People aren’t feeling like the Republican Party in the state is going in the right direction.”

The relationship between McConnell and Paul — who were ferocious enemies until the end of the 2010 primary — is described by one Kentuckian on the Hill as merely “transactional.” McConnell was the tea party’s real target in that election, with his chosen candidate, Trey Grayson, just the stand-in.

Now it is McConnell himself who has to face the grassroots wrath, at a time when his overall approval rating in the state is 36 percent — the worst of any senator.

Adams ticked off his major complaints about McConnell on the issues: “The bank bailout. The sum total of all the wasteful federal budgets he voted for, especially in the Bush years. The Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, for what they did to privacy and civil rights. All the pork barrel money he brings back and all the press releases he puts out it.

“We’ve got hundreds.

“Just all the years of him claiming that he cares about freedom and liberty when his long record shows otherwise.

“He’s playing his own form of whack-a-mole. He pops out of every hole there is.”


By: Howard Fineman, The Huffington Post, April 10, 2013

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mr 13 Percent”: Why Are Congressional Republicans Taking Dick Cheney’s Advice On North Korea?

Former vice president Dick Cheney reportedly issued a stern warning on North Korea to Congressional Republicans Tuesday, and in the process raised an important question: Why on Earth would anyone listen to Dick Cheney’s foreign policy advice?

According to a CNN report, a cowboy hat-wearing Cheney told the attendees of a GOP leadership meeting that “we’re in deep doo doo” with regard to North Korea.

“Here’s a young guy we don’t know very much about — have very little intel on him, so we just need to make sure that we don’t assume why he’s doing what he’s doing because he could be doing what he’s doing for any number of reasons,” Cheney told the Republican lawmakers, according to Representative Steve Southerland (R-FL).

Cheney attended the meeting as an invited guest of the third-ranking Republican in the House, majority whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

The notion that House Republicans would seek out Cheney’s counsel is rather mind boggling. Should a group with a pathetic 24 percent approval rating really be taking advice from a man who left office at a startling 13 percent?

It’s not as if Americans rejected Cheney for no reason. On almost every major foreign policy issue — including Iraq, Afghanistan, torture, climate change, and everything in between — Cheney pushed the Bush administration in often catastrophically wrong directions.

North Korea is no exception. As Fred Kaplan explained in a 2004 piece for Washington Monthly, the Bush administration entered the White House with the stage set for diplomatic progress — only to have the neoconservative foreign policy team shut down all negotiations. Kaplan singled out Cheney for resisting engagement, describing the vice president’s general position as “As long as the North Koreans were pursuing nuclear weapons, even to sit down with them would be ‘appeasement,’ succumbing to ‘blackmail,’ and ‘rewarding bad behavior.’”

As a result, the Bush administration all but ignored North Korea’s steady march towards construction of a nuclear weapon — even intentionally covering up information on North Korea’s nuclear program to avoid distracting the public from its misguided case for war in Iraq.

By 2002 the administration’s approach had proven so ineffective that James Kelly — then the assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs — told Kaplan that then-South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun told him, “‘I wake up in a sweat every morning, wondering if Bush has done something unilaterally to affect the [Korean] peninsula.”

So if America is now in “deep doo doo” with a nuclear North Korea, Cheney has no one to blame but himself and his former Bush administration colleagues. And if House Republicans insist on trying to bring back the Bush foreign policy team, then they will have no one to blame but themselves when their approval rating plummets all the way down to Cheney territory.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, April 11, 2013

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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