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The “Other Than 9/11 Argument”: How Not To Rehabilitate A Failed President

A confluence of events appears to have created a curious new talking point on the right. With former President George W. Bush’s library set to open, and last week’s Boston Marathon bombing still very much on the public’s mind, Republican pundits see value in trying to tie the two together in the hopes of improving Bush’s reputation.

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, for example, published this gem yesterday:

“Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.”

A few hours later on Fox News, Eric Bolling echoed the sentiment.

“I will tell one thing, from you 9/12/01 until the time President Obama raised his right hand January of ’09, the man kept us safe. And there — you certainly can’t say that since President Obama has taken the oath of office.”

When it comes to Bolling, I should note that this is an improvement from his previous stance. Two years ago, he suggested on the air that he didn’t recall 9/11 at all: “America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don’t remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time.”

I should also note that neither Rubin nor Bolling seemed to be kidding. Their comments weren’t satirical or jokes intended to make Republicans appear silly.

As for the substance, there are three main angles to keep in mind. The first is the bizarre assertion that President Obama somehow deserves the blame for the bomb that killed three people in Boston last week, because he didn’t “keep us safe.” The argument reflects a child-like understanding of national security and is absurd on its face.

Second, though the right likes to pretend otherwise, there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney’s tenure — after 9/11 — that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, it’s a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, “Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush’s international unpopularity, the former president’s record on counter-terrorism was awesome.”

And finally, I’m not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the “other than 9/11” argument.

Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.

For Rubin and Bolling, the response is, in effect, “Yeah, but other than that, he kept us safe.” The problem, of course, is that’s roughly the equivalent of saying other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage. Other than that one time, Pompeii didn’t have to worry about the nearby volcano. Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford’s Theater.

It is, in other words, a little more difficult to airbrush catastrophic events from history.

I can appreciate the zeal with which Republican pundits want to rehabilitate Bush’s poor standing, but they’ll have to do better than this.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 24, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, National Security | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bullet Backdrops”: Arkansas Republican “Most Likely Won’t Try To Kill” Lawmakers Who Support Medicaid Expansion

Arkansas may become the first red state to accept the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which the Supreme Court made optional in its decision last year, if the Department of Health and Human Services accepts its privatized plan.

(Of course, the states turning down Medicaid expansion are generally the ones that need it most.)

The notion of expanding government to improve health care outcomes apparently drove Chris Nogy of the Benton County Republican Committee a little nutty. In a recent newsletter, he encouraged his fellow Republicans to seek “Second Amendment” solutions against those who had voted for the expansion, and expressed dismay that he can’t actually back up these threats:

We need to let those who will come in the future to represent us [know] that we are serious. The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives. It seems that we are unable to muster that belief in any of our representatives on a state or federal level, but we have to have something, something costly, something that they will fear that we will use if they step out of line. If we can’t shoot them, we have to at least be firm in our threat to take immediate action against them politically, socially, and civically if they screw up on something this big. Personally, I think a gun is quicker and more merciful, but hey, we can’t.

Nogy’s wife is the group’s secretary and she claims the article was placed in the newsletter without her husband’s approval.

Medicaid expansion will provide health insurance for up to 250,000 Arkansans, ultimately saving dozens if not hundreds of lives, while driving down the costs of the state’s insured — who already subsidize the uninsured through higher rates.

Most of Arkansas’ estimated uninsured 401,100 are working families who simply can’t afford coverage.

Several Arkansas Republicans made it clear that they were appalled by Nogy’s comments.

“I’m embarrassed for the Benton County Republican Committee for including this article in their newsletter,” said State Senator Jon Woods (R). “I would think the Benton County Committee would have better judgment and not allow this to be sent out.”

The Benton County Republican Committee offered a statement:

“The letter was not approved and Mr. Nogy had no authority to submit it through the newsletter. As a committee, we respect the right of our legislators to vote based on their knowledge and feedback from the voters they represent. We will discuss this issue further with our executive committee.”

Nogy later clarified his comments in a letter to KFSM News.

He explained why he is more angry at Republicans than Democrats:

I don’t feel the same way about the Democrats as bullet backstops as I do about the Republicans who joined them. The Democrats were doing what their party told them they had to do because they were elected to do that job.

He concluded by saying that his threats were only meant to attract attention and he “most likely” won’t kill those Republicans who supported the Obamacare provision. He simply thought it was important to put a face behind his threats so lawmakers will take him seriously:

And for the record, I didn’t advocate violence. I mentioned violence to get people’s attention, and it worked. I advocated a serious political and social stand, an assured and significant negative response to any politician who breaks a primary voter/elected official promise contract. We have only one mechanism to maintain the ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’, and that is to elect those who promise to do as we demand they do. If we cannot make these people understand that we will not tolerate this kind of breach of contract, then we lose our ability as the people to control the government. And in this age of death threats from nameless, faceless thugs, we need these folks to know that while we most likely won’t try to kill them or harm their families, they should be much more certain of our response than fearful of the actions of those who will not identify themselves.

The contentious battle over expansion has shown that Republicans are eager to take the federal funds without getting any Obama on them. Lawmakers are so afraid to be caught pandering to the president or “takers” that they’ve officially declared that Medicaid expansion is not an entitlement.

Mr. Nogy should be happy to know that another feature of Obamacare is mental health parity.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, April 22, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul’s Godfather”: The Party Of Far Right Activists And Christian Reconstructionists

I just realized, via Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatches, that Howard Phillips, one of the true founders of the Christian Right and one of that movement’s most aggressive theocrats, died over the weekend at 72 after suffering from a debilitating illness for the last couple of years.

Aside from his important role in working with Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell in building the Moral Majority and serving as an unofficial ideological commissar during the Reagan years, Phillips was better known in the 1990s for bailing out of the Republican Party and founding the U.S. Constitution Party (originally the U.S. Taxpayers Party). Phillips’ party was a vehicle for far-right activists and especially Christian Reconstructionists determined to build a society where rigid biblical norms governed culture but private activity ruled the economy. While the Constitution Party has never had any electoral clout, it has had some well-known supporters whose influence continues to rise, notes Ingersoll:

The Constitution Party’s goal is to “reestablish” Biblical Law as the foundation for American society. Part of the ability of the Constitution Party to endure, despite structural impediments to third parties in the American political system, is no doubt due to longstanding support from Ron Paul, Rand Paul and a dedicated core of their supporters.

Rand Paul spoke at a Constitution Party event as recently as 2009. His father actually endorsed the Constitution presidential ticket in 2008, and after his retirement from Congress, has devoted much of his time (as Sarah Posner has reported) to the promotion of a home-school curriculum whose development was supervised by Gary North, a major Christian Reconstructionist theorist with links to the Constitution Party, who has also been cited as an influence by Rand Paul.

I wonder how aware some of the young hip libertarians attracted to the Family Paul–or for that matter, the MSM journalists who occasionally interpret the Paulite message in the image of their own economic conservative/cultural liberal views–about the Christian Reconstructionist associations of Ron and Rand. Sure, it’s possible to systematically dislike government on purely libertarian or even anarchist grounds, but it’s also possible to hate “government schools” because they compete with strict conservative evangelical madrassa training and wish to undermine government generally for interfering with the imposition of biblical law. If Rand Paul does emerge as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 or later, I do hope he’s asked early and often about Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party, and exactly how much freedom he actually wants us to have from the Revealed Truth as he understands it.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 23, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Visceral Reaction Like None Before”: The Gun-Vote Backlash Has Only Just Begun

As the Boston area was gripped by the manhunt that followed the Marathon bombings late last week, the opinion pages of the Concord Monitor just up the road in New Hampshire were consumed with another subject: Senator Kelly Ayotte’s vote against legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases. The paper’s lead editorial Sunday decried Ayotte’s rationale for opposing the bill as “utter nonsense” and an “abomination.” The letters to the editor section is riddled with anti-Ayotte broadsides, the tenor of which are conveyed by their headlines: “Ayotte’s vote should propel her out of office.” “Beyond disappointed.” “Ayotte did not represent her New Hampshire constituents.” “Enabler of murderers.” “Ayotte’s ‘courage.’” “Craven pandering.” “Reckless vote.” “Illogical vote.”

If gun control advocates are going to have any chance of resurrecting reforms after last week’s crushing defeat, much is going to depend on the depth of the initial backlash against the Democratic or swing-state Republican senators who opted to vote with the gun lobby. In a piece the day after the vote, I lamented that some leading liberals and mainstream media types were so willing to chalk the vote up to the predictable dynamics of the gun control issue, thereby essentially letting the senators who cast the crucial votes against the legislation off the hook for their decisions. One major columnist avoided holding accountable the senators who took the actual votes by wishing that President Barack Obama had acted more like a president in a movie.

But there are signs that the reaction against the vote will be stronger than what has followed prior setbacks for the cause. First, of course, there was the angry cri de coeur from Gabby Giffords. On Friday came spontaneous protests around the country at district offices of senators who voted no. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has set up a number for people to text so they can be patched through to the office of a senator who went the other way. “In years past when we lost on a vote, we had to generate [reaction], we had to push people,” says Brian Malte, the group’s director of mobilization. “This time it’s just directing it to the right place. It’s ‘I’m so angry, what should I do?’”

Perhaps the most surprising outburst came from Bill Daley, the former Clinton commerce secretary, JP Morgan Chase executive and Obama chief of staff. Daley, son and brother of the Chicago mayors of the same name, is no one’s idea of a conscience liberal—in fact, he was a leading voice during the past two decades for making the Democratic Party more welcoming to centrist types, be they pro-business moderates like himself or red-state working-class voters who, yes, cling to their guns. But there he was in Sunday’s Washington Post excoriating the four Senate Democrats who voted against the background-check legislation, particularly Heidi Heitkamp, the newly elected North Dakotan who does not face voters again for another five years:

I want my money back. Last October, I gave $2,500 to support Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign to become North Dakota’s junior senator. A few weeks later, she won a surprise victory. But this week, Heitkamp betrayed those hopes. She voted to block legislation to make gun background checks more comprehensive. Her vote — along with those of 41 Republicans and three other Democrats — was a key reason the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.

Polling has shown that nine in 10 Americans and eight in 10 gun owners support a law to require every buyer to go through a background check on every gun sale. In North Dakota, the support was even higher: 94 percent. Yet in explaining her vote, Heitkamp had the gall to say that she “heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota” and had to listen to them and vote no. It seems more likely that she heard from the gun lobby and chose to listen to it instead.

Daley is just one person, but this seems pretty significant to me, as a sort of signal to establishment Democrats nationwide. For so long, party poo-bahs have cosseted Democrats from red or purple districts on issues such as gun control—heck, Daley’s fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel deliberately picked pro-gun candidates to run for the House in 2006. Some liberals still seem inclined to cut the Gang of Feckless Four a lot of slack. But here is Daley turning the frame on its head—instead of making excuses for Heitkamp et al, he praised the Democrats running for reelection in tough states who did for the legislation, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan. They, not Heitkamp and the other three no’s (Max Baucus, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor) will be getting his money from now on, he said.

On the Republican side, the accountability will be left up to the voters in swing states like New Hampshire or Ohio, where Rob Portman also voted against the legislation (after letting it be known that he couldn’t cross party lines on guns after having already done so on gay marriage). It is not at all hard to envision a Democrat running against Kelly Ayotte on a law-and-order-line—here she was, a former attorney general, voting to leave a huge loophole in our system for making sure that felons are unable to purchase guns.

Of course, it won’t be easy. Ayotte, for one, is not even up for reelection until 2016, allowing plenty of time for the memory of her vote to recede in voters’ minds. As political scientists note, the unique circumstances of the gun debate still plays to the advantage of the NRA. But as my colleague Nate Cohn argues, the NRA’s sway has been overstated for some time now—the fact is, not a few senators have managed to survive in purple or red states despite consistently voting against the gun lobby. Last week’s setback was a sign that some senators were not yet willing to embrace that reality, and by doing so, they of course further enshrined facile assumptions of NRA prowess.

But their votes do seem to have produced a visceral reaction unlike any we’ve seen for some time on this front. And rightly so. It would take a jaded soul indeed to feel nothing on reading, say, of the scene Wednesday night in the Oval Office when some of the families who lost children in the Newtown massacre learned that 45 senators had not seen it in them to vote for even the most measured, limited reform: “Mr. Obama hugged the brother of one victim, Daniel Barden, who was 7, and told him to take care of his mother, who was sobbing quietly.”


By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, April 23, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Saying What Everyone Felt”: Uncle Ruslan And Big Papi Remind Us That We’re All In This Together

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

–Woody Guthrie, 1944

For what it’s worth, almost everybody in Arkansas who can find Massachusetts on a road map was appalled by state Rep. Nate Bell’s grotesquely inappropriate Twitter post. (Of course not everybody can, but that’s a different issue.) At the height of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, the Mena Republican informed the world, “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?”

Reaction from New England was swift, often witty and rarely polite. “Go put on a pair of shoes and fry me up some squirrel, Gomer,” my pal Charles Pierce wrote on his Esquire blog. In a post entitled “Bite Me,” he urged readers to remind Bell “that God loves him as he loves all mouthy hicks.” Joe Koehane, the Boston-bred columnist, was less circumspect: “Might want to take a flight up north and try saying that in person, you waterheaded, little-d**k hillbilly a**hole.”

Note to Nate: Anybody who thinks Boston’s a city of Perrier-sipping pantywaists has clearly spent no time there. It didn’t help that in photos, Bell looks less like a Navy Seal than a guy who’s never personally assaulted anything more lethal than the buffet table down at the Squat n’ Gobble Barbecue Shack. Many Bostonians speculated that his fondness for big guns originated in less-than-robust manliness. Southerners are sometimes surprised to learn that when provoked, New Englanders remember the Civil War too—particularly the Irish.

Back home, Arkansans long sensitive to being caricatured as ignorant hayseeds urged Bell to resign. My sainted wife, a lifelong Arkansan (apart from our three long-ago years in Massachusetts), summed things up wearily. “Oh my God,” she said. “He’s just pathetic.”

It’s merely ironic that “redneck” remains the last socially-acceptable ethnic slur in American life. Fools like Rep. Bell help make it so. It’s a wonder the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce or the Parks & Tourism people didn’t have him kidnapped and transported to Mississippi.

Then after the big dope said he was sorry for the unfortunate “timing” of his remarks, Davy Carter, the Speaker of the Arkansas House, and also a Republican, had the decency to post a proper apology:

“On behalf of the Arkansas House of Representatives and the state of Arkansas, I want to extend my deepest apologies to the people of the City of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for the inappropriate and insensitive comment made this morning by an Arkansas House member. I can assure the people of Boston and the people of Massachusetts that Arkansans have them in their thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”

Of course they do.

Indeed, if there’s any good to come from evil acts like the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s to remind Americans that the things binding us together as a people far outweigh our differences. In all the rage and sorrow, the words that rang truest to me came from the bombers’ immigrant uncle Ruslan Tsarni and a baseball player from the Dominican Republic.

Uncle Ruslan spoke with rare passion. He urged his surviving nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to turn himself in and beg forgiveness. Maybe he needn’t have said that his brother’s sons had shamed and embarrassed all Chechen immigrants, because we don’t do—or we’re not supposed to do—collective racial and ethnic guilt here in America. But anybody who grew up with first- and second-generation immigrant families knows exactly where he was coming from. Better to hear it raw than listen to mealy-mouthed apologetics on MSNBC.

Uncle Ruslan allowed his nephews no excuses. He found their alleged religious motives fraudulent and contemptible. More than that, he spoke in terms of bedrock Americanism common to Boston, Little Rock and his Maryland home. He said he teaches his own children that the United States is the best country in the world. “I love this country which gives (everybody) a chance to be treated as a human being.”

And then came Big Papi, David Ortiz, a beloved bear of a man who briefly addressed a Fenway Park crowd after a pregame memorial service. Gesturing to his chest, Ortiz pointed out in Spanish-accented English that on that day his uniform shirt didn’t say Red Sox.

“It says Boston,” he said. ““This is our f***ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Expletive and all, he said what everybody felt. The crowd erupted in a spontaneous roar.

Sitting halfway across the country in front of a TV set at my home on a gravel road in darkest Arkansas, I have to tell you, I damn near cried.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 24, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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