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“Dowd Transference Syndrome”: When Republicans Don’t Receive Blame They Deserve, They Have No Incentive To Be More Responsible

When the Senate minority killed expanded background checks last week — and in the process, stopped the entire legislative effort to reduce gun violence — I thought it would put to rest the assertion that Congress would function more effectively if only President Obama would “lead” more. Alas, I thought wrong.

By the rules of the Beltway punditocracy, Obama did everything right: he took his message to the public, to the media, and to lawmakers directly. The president leveraged public opinion, accepted compromises, activated his electoral operation, and remained focused on achievable, popular, mainstream goals. The Republican filibuster prevailed anyway.

In a column that’s remarkably difficult to understand, Maureen Dowd is blaming Obama for the GOP’s intransigence.

Unfortunately, [Obama] still has not learned how to govern.

How is it that the president won the argument on gun safety with the public and lost the vote in the Senate? It’s because he doesn’t know how to work the system. And it’s clear now that he doesn’t want to learn, or to even hire some clever people who can tell him how to do it or do it for him.

It’s unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate.

There’s something rather amazing about the argument itself: after 20 years of complete inactivity on gun reform, President Obama was quickly able to persuade a majority of the country and a majority of the Senate to endorse sensible reforms. What a feckless leader!

I realize Dowd’s column has generated quite a bit of scrutiny, but the more I read it, the more I’m puzzled by it.

Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.

Well, yes, Senate Democrats ostensibly “controls” the Senate, but Obama’s party could not “muster 60 votes” because that would require the existence of several Republican moderates who do not exist. There are 53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats. A 60-vote supermajority it is not. What is there to “marvel” over?

President Obama thinks he can use emotion to bring pressure on Congress. But that’s not how adults with power respond to things.

Really? Because it seems to me reform proponents, including the president, have relied on reason and substance — the way adults respond to things. Does Dowd think Republicans — who engaged in post-policy nihilism throughout the debate — would have been more receptive if the president was more cerebral with them?

To thunderous applause at the State of the Union, the president said, “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” Then, as usual, he took his foot off the gas, lost momentum and confided his pessimism to journalists.

Took his foot off the gas? He gave a bunch of speeches, turned his weekly address over to Newtown parents, worked the phones, and did all the things a president does when he or she wants to see a bill passed.

The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in “The American President.”

Yep, that was a great movie, but it was fiction. They didn’t need a war room; they needed five more votes. The problem wasn’t the lack of Michael J. Fox in the OEOB; the problem is there’s a radicalized Republican caucus on Capitol Hill that doesn’t give a damn about anything but tax cuts.

Sometimes you must leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles. Obama should have called Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota over to the Oval Office and put on the squeeze: “Heidi, you’re brand new and you’re going to have a long career. You work with us, we’ll work with you. Public opinion is moving fast on this issue. The reason you get a six-year term is so you can have the guts to make tough votes. This is a totally defensible bill back home. It’s about background checks, nothing to do with access to guns. Heidi, you’re a mother. Think of those little kids dying in schoolrooms.”

Here’s something casual observers of American politics may not fully appreciate: Obama has very little to offer Heidi Heitkamp. She represents a red state that voted against him, and by the time she’s up for re-election, he won’t even be in office anymore.

Obama had to persuade some Republican senators in states that he won in 2012. He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this.

A few paragraphs prior, Dowd wrote that speeches weren’t going to cut it. Besides, the public was riled up and Republicans didn’t care.

Tom Coburn, the Republican senator from Oklahoma, is one of the few people on the Hill that the president actually considers a friend. Obama wrote a paean to Coburn in the new Time 100 issue, which came out just as Coburn sabotaged his own initial effort to help the bill. Obama should have pressed his buddy: “Hey, Tom, just this once, why don’t you do more than just talk about making an agreement with the Democrats? You’re not running again. Do something big.”

In what universe was Tom Coburn going to vote for new gun restrictions? What makes Dowd believe he was a gettable vote?

Obama hates selling. He thinks people should just accept the right thing to do.

Right, which is why Obama failed to pass the Recovery Act, health care reform, Wall Street reform, DADT repeal, student loan reform, New START ratification, credit card reforms, and food-safety reforms. Oh wait, Obama actually passed all of those things, suggesting the president’s “hatred” of “selling” isn’t really the problem.

There were ways to get to 60 votes.

If Dowd knows what those ways are, she should say so.

The larger point here is that accountability and responsibility should matter, which makes columns like Dowd’s so disappointing. Republicans filibustered gun reforms, they lied about gun reforms, they partnered with extremists against gun reforms, and then they killed gun reforms.

So let’s blame Obama? Because he didn’t remind a columnist of a president she once saw in a fictional movie?

When those who deserve blame don’t receive it, they have no incentive to be more responsible the next time. Imagine how hilarious Senate Republicans found Dowd’s column — “We ignored the will of 90% of Americans four months after a madman massacred children and a liberal New York Times columnist is condemning the president she agrees with! Amazing!”

Dowd’s column is a counterproductive mistake.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 22, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doomed”: Rupert Murdoch Stands By His Horribly Shameless And Irresponsible Tabloid

Last week was not a great week for the New York Post. But then again, not many weeks are. It’s front page last Thursday wrongly identified two innocent young men as the bombers of the Boston Marathon. (It did so without explicitly referring to them as suspects, just to ensure that they wouldn’t lose a lawsuit or have to apologize.)

Murdoch defended his paper on Twitter, because it is 2013 and stuff is weird:

All NYPost pics were those distributed by FBI.And instantly withdrawn when FBI changed directions.

— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) April 20, 2013

Hm. Here’s how Col Allan defended his story to Salon: “The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men….” So “distributed by the FBI” might be technically accurate (not that we have any way of knowing) but it is not a great defense. The photos were not distributed to the press or to the public, as the photos of the Tsarnaev brothers would be the same day that Post cover ran. The photo was never intended to be put on the front of a newspaper with copy asserting that the people pictured were responsible. There’s also no way to “withdraw” a physical newspaper printed and distributed all over New York City. I saw copies of the paper at bodegas in Brooklyn well into the evening.

Murdoch (who has become shockingly respectable in his old age) loves his New York Post and he will always defend it.

As long as Richard Murdoch has owned it, the New York Post has been defined by its shamelessness and total lack of interest in taking responsibility for its worst errors and poor judgment. It is quite hard to get fired — or be forced to resign in disgrace — from the Post, for the crime of getting something disastrously wrong. No heads rolled when the paper reported in 2004, on the front page, that John Kerry had selected Dick Gephardt as his running mate. The paper even still prints the cartoons of Sean Delonas, a hateful,unfunny, repetitive cartoonist who invariably draws all gay people as mincing cross-dressers and who once plagiarized his own joke within two months of making it. In 2003 the Post published an editorial bemoaning a Yankees loss to the Red Sox the morning after the Yankees beat the Red Sox.

Murdoch’s Post cares so little what others think of it that it doesn’t even make editorial changes that would make it more successful — say, by being less racist and terrible in a diverse, liberal city. The Post is so awful that it has allowed the Daily News — a terminally boring rival tabloid published by a slightly less terrible but much less interesting rich person — to survive.

The thing all these incidents have in common is that no one was punished for them. Post editor Col Allan might be an irresponsible drunk pigfucker (we have no way of confirming or denying the charge!) but he is Rupert’s irresonsible drunk pigfucker. As long as the old man is around, Col’s job is safe.

There are reasons to be cheerful, though: The New York Post is assuredly going to die, and it may even do so fairly soon. This summer, News Corp will split into two companies. One will be made up of the money-making bits of News Corp.: TV stuff and the movie studio, basically. The other will be the newspapers and magazines and book publishing. Murdoch will be chairman of the new newspaper company. Its CEO will be Robert Thomson, former editor of the Wall Street Journal and Murdoch’s “closest confidant,” according to The Australian (a Murdoch paper). Murdoch loves the newspapers. No one else does, which is why that company’s CEO will be an editor, not a person with actual company-running experience. Once Murdoch goes, though, none of his children will care to subsidize their father’s bizarre newspaper-publishing habit. And Rupert Mudoch is 82 years old.

And the Post will probably be the first paper to fold or be sold. The New York Post loses millions of dollars a year. Unlike the Wall Street Journal, rich people who control vast amounts of other rich people’s money don’t read it, making it less interesting to advertisers. The paper, after the Murdoch and Allan regime, is worthless. The New York Post is doomed. Right now we’re just seeing how many people it can smear on its way out.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 22, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, Journalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Way Forward On Guns”: It Often Takes Defeat To Inspire A Movement To Build The Strength Required For Victory

Victories often contain the seeds of future defeats. So it is — or at least should be — with the Senate’s morally reprehensible rejection of expanded background checks for gun buyers.

The outcome is a test of both an invigorated gun safety movement and a gun lobby that decided to go for broke.

The National Rifle Association assumed that blocking new gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre would firmly establish its dominance. Advocates of sane gun regulations would scatter in despair and be torn apart by recriminations.

But there is a flaw in the gun lobbyists’ calculation: Their strategy leaves the initiative entirely in the hands of their opponents. The early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts.

What was striking about Wednesday’s vote is that many of the senators who had expressed support for universal background checks after the slaughter at Newtown meekly abandoned their position when the roll was called.

Proponents of the measure, including Mark Kelly, the husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords, spoke of private meetings in which senators offered no substantive objections to the compromise negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa). The wobbling legislators simply hinted that politics would not permit them to vote “yes.”

Giffords, the victim of the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to battle on behalf of gun reforms. She responded to the Senate vote with an op-ed in the New York Times that declared plainly: “I’m furious.” Senators, she said, “looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”

Giffords’s frustration echoed sentiment all across her side of the debate. In the past, Democrats who support gun safety had reacted benignly to members of their party from rural states who opposed sensible gun measures for expediency’s sake. Not this time. The response to Democrats who opposed background checks — Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor — was indignation.

Begich invited scorn by insulting those who insisted that the Newtown massacre ought to be the last straw.

“It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” he said. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.” Describing the reaction to the death of so many children as “emotional” rather than rational should be electorally disqualifying.

But the vote also demonstrated for all to see a Republican Party walking in lock step behind its commanders in the gun lobby. Only four Republicans bravely defied the NRA’s fanatical opposition to a very mild measure: Toomey and Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain and Susan Collins.

This should send a message to all who keep looking for new signs of Republican moderation.

Republicans who cultivate a reputation for reasonableness — their ranks include, among others, Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman — could not even vote for a watered-down proposal. This tells us that the GOP has become a coalition of the fearful. In a pinch, the party’s extreme lobbies rule.

This vote also made clear that the right wing is manipulating our system, notably by abusing the filibuster, to impose a political minority’s will on the American majority. Since when is 90 percent of the nation not “the Real America”?

Not only do Americans overwhelmingly endorse background checks; senators representing the vast majority of our people do, too. The “yes” votes Wednesday came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. How can our democracy thrive when a willful minority can keep dictating to the rest of the country?

But the next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up. They can challenge the senators who voted “no,” or they can leave them believing that the “safe” vote is always with the NRA. They can bolster senators who cast particularly courageous “yes” votes — among them, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan — or they can leave them hanging.

The story of reform in America is that it often takes defeats to inspire a movement to build up the strength required for victory. Which way this story goes is up to us.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 21, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Common Thread”: The Conservative Paranoid Mind On Gun Control, Immigration And Terror Suspects

Liberals and civil libertarians shouldn’t yet be saying that there’s utterly no way that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be declared an “enemy combatant.” The post-9/11 law, whatever one’s opinion of it, does say that an American citizen affiliated with al Qaeda, the Taliban, “or associated forces” engaged in hostility with the United States can be declared an enemy combatant. It doesn’t seem like he’s that, but who knows, he may shock everyone when he comes to by saying that he and his brother were precisely that.

But it isn’t liberals who are jumping the gun here. As usual, conservatives are rushing to judgment, shredding the Constitution, using the bombing as an pretext for derailing immigration reform, and generally seeking any excuse to reimpose their paranoid and authoritarian worldview, which needs fear like a vampire needs blood, on the rest of us.

The cry, which I’m sure will pick up steam this week, was led over the weekend by the usual suspects—John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Peter King. On the basis of what evidence? On the basis of no evidence at all. They know nothing! We’re starting to piece together a portrait of these guys, although it’s more of Tamerlan than of his younger brother. It’s a grim portrait. He evidently did become a radicalized Islamist. But if he and his brother were acting alone, even if the bombing was 100 percent politically motivated, they can’t be called enemy combatants. Period.

At most, they should say: “If the facts connect him to al Qaeda or any other designated groups, then he should be declared an enemy combatant.” Some would disagree with that, but no one could really criticize that as a legitimate posture within the parameters of U.S. law. But to call Dzhokhar a “good candidate” for enemy-combatant status now, as they did, is appalling. Moreover, the Supreme Court said in the Hamdi decision that U.S. citizens who are named enemy combatants still have their due-process rights, so it’s not clear exactly what these four want to happen unless they want the Justice Department to contravene the court.

Similarly, other conservatives—especially in talk radio; notably Laura Ingraham in an endless trail of tweets—are arguing that the bombings prove that now isn’t the time to be liberalizing our immigration laws. What? These guys were 9 and 16 years old when they came here. What exact change in immigration law would “prevent” two future Tsarnaev brothers from carrying out another bombing? It’s absurd.

Funny thing, this urge to prevent. It’s awfully selective, have you noticed? Tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of minors—many of them Muslim—have immigrated legally to the United States since 1986, the last time immigration law was substantially changed. Some of them are no doubt reprobates or drunks or criminals, but surely some are cardiologists, inventors, successful capitalists, and innovative artists. But suddenly, these two guys and these two guys alone offer some kind of proof of the need to crack down, to prevent this from happening again. Meanwhile, we have a pile of dead bodies higher than the Himalayas, the vast majority of them slain by native-born Americans who can go online or to a gun show and acquire all the weaponry and ammo they please, but we can’t ever try to do anything to prevent that. The Second Amendment is inviolate. Can’t be touched or impinged upon in any way. To do that is fascism.

The common thread through all of this is the conservative need to instill and maintain a level of fear in the populace. They need to make gun owners fear that Dianne Feinstein and her SWAT team are going to come knocking on their doors, or, less amusingly, that they have to be armed to the teeth for that inevitable day when the government declares a police state. They need to whip up fear of immigrants, because unless we do, it’s going to be nothing but terrorists coming through those portals, and for good measure, because, as Ann Coulter and others have recently said, the proposed law would create millions of voting Democrats (gee, I wonder why!).

And with regard to terrorism, they need people to live in fear of the next attack, because fear makes people think about death, and thinking about death makes people more likely to endorse tough-guy, law-and-order, Constitution-shredding actions undertaken on their behalf. This is how we lived under Bush and Cheney for years. This fear is basically what enabled the Iraq War to take place. Public opinion didn’t support that war at first. But once they got the public afraid with all that false talk of mushroom clouds, the needle zoomed past 50 percent, and it was bombs away.

Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of this need to instill fear. Whether it’s of black people or of street thugs or of immigrants or of terrorists or of jackbooted government agents, it’s how the conservative mind works. I don’t even think it’s always cynical and manipulative; conservatives often do see enemies under every bed. But that doesn’t mean they’re there, and it most definitely doesn’t mean the rest of us ought to make law and policy based on their nightmares.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 22, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Why Aren’t They Protecting Us?”: Congressional Cowards, Afraid To Cast A Vote To Protect Millions Of Innocent People

Neil Heslin, Carlee Soto, and Erica Lafferty, each of whom lost loved ones in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday, still disappointed by the Republican filibuster that killed expanded background checks last week.

“It’s not about the Second Amendment, it’s strengthening and adding to laws that already in effect,” said Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I don’t think they did justice for all the victims of Newtown.” […]

Carlee Soto, whose sister Vicki Soto was a teacher at Sandy Hook, chastised lawmakers for not doing enough to prevent future shootings. “My sister was not a coward, she protected her kids. Why aren’t they protecting us?” […]

Erica Lafferty, the daughter of principal Dawn Hochsprung, echoed Soto’s comments. “My mom was not scared in the halls of Sandy Hook, they should not be scared to cast a vote to protect millions of innocent people,” she said.

Lafferty added she felt “disgusted” by the Senate opponents of the bipartisan compromise.

Also over the weekend, Caren Teves, whose son was killed in the Newtown slayings, showed reporters a hand-written note from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), saying he was “truly sorry” for her loss and that “strengthening background checks is something we agree on.” That Flake went on to help crush expanded background checks struck Teves as a betrayal.

“What he did was to go against his own words and vote no against comprehensive background checks … I believe he’s a coward,” she said.

For Flake and other Republicans, “strengthening background checks” is an amorphous phrase with multiple meanings.

Meanwhile, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the pushback from the right against Newtown families is intensifying.

We talked a week ago about complaints from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Rush Limbaugh, and congressional GOP staffers about the victims’ families. Apparently, some conservatives were willing to go even further.

A Minnesota radio host said he would like to tell the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims to “go to hell” for infringing on his gun rights.

Bob Davis was discussing those affected by the Newtown, Conn., tragedy during a Friday segment of his show, “Davis & Emmer,” on Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130, according to Minneapolis’ City Pages. The topic focused on how family members of the 26 victims, 20 of whom were between the ages of 6 and 7 years old, have become advocates for gun control. In Davis’ opinion, these Newtown families are infringing on his constitutional rights.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Republican strategist Ed Rogers late last week were also still insulting Newtown families, calling them “props” for the White House’s efforts to reduce gun violence.

It’s hard to even imagine a group of people more deserving of our sympathy and respect than Newtown families, but for some on the right, the only thing that seems to matter is preventing any new gun laws. If the victims’ families interfere with that goal, for the right, they deserve more aggressive pushback.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 22, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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