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“The Last Thing Egypt Needs”: The Problems Are So Daunting That The Lack Of Democracy Is Not The Top Priority

In addition to all the experts, thinkers, pundits and others who have been cited about the loss of democracy in Egypt, let me quote a certain West Point expellee who, in a different context, uttered words that now fit the situation: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Rhett Butler neatly summarizes my position on democracy in Egypt.

I hope not to sound too cynical. I have always had a soft spot for Egypt. The people are gracious and aware that theirs is a storied and wonderful civilization. But the issue is not whether Egypt is a democracy or something else. The issue is whether Egypt provides for its people and keeps out of trouble. After that, if Ramses II returns, it’s okay with me.

For 34 years — under three regimes now — Egypt has kept the peace with Israel, which is worth a yearly Nobel Peace Prize. For all but the past two years, this peace was maintained by authoritarian regimes — Anwar Sadat’s and then Hosni Mubarak’s. They had their imperfections, but bellicosity was not one of them.

Democracy is nice, but it is not a panacea. The American insistence that the world mimic us — ain’t we pretty close to poifect? — has always struck me as both patronizing and contemptuous of history. The overriding challenge of all incipient democracies is how to handle minority issues. For a very long time, the United States did not do very well in this regard. We disenfranchised African Americans and used all sorts of devices to keep them in penury and politically powerless. Southern states insisted on Jim Crow laws, and their representatives in Congress — many of whom loathed racial segregation — voted to maintain it lest they wind up losing at the polls. It took the often non-elected courts, Supreme or less so, to remedy the situation. The people are not always wise.

In many cases, the democracies that emerged in Europe after World War I evolved into intolerant, rightist regimes. Hitler — the überexample — had enormous popular support even though Germans were well aware that he was enamored of violence and a bit unbalanced about Jews. To the east, the popularly elected governments of Poland and other nations treated their various minorities roughly — the Jews roughest of all. All sorts of restrictions were imposed on Jews throughout Eastern Europe, everything from “seating ghettos” in Polish universities’ lecture halls to a requirement in Romania that Jewish medical students learn their profession only on Jewish cadavers.

The Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing that followed World War II reorganized Eastern Europe into neat ethnic enclaves — otherwise who knows what would be happening today. The Middle East is not so well-ordered. The Jews are gone — 75,000 or so booted out of Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s, 120,000 out of Iraq around the same time — but Shiites rub up against Sunnis, and Christians against Muslims. In Egypt, the Coptic Christians felt endangered by a government — elected or not — run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

America’s interest is in a stable Middle East. If stability can be combined with democracy, all the better. But it was the authoritarian governments of Egypt and Jordan that signed peace treaties with Israel when, you’d be assured, popularly elected ones would never have done so. (As it was, the treaty cost Sadat his life.)

For Mohamed Morsi, sooner or later he might have had to balance the $1.5 billion that Egypt annually gets from the United States — most of it military aid — against a popular clamor to repudiate the peace with Israel. The Israel question, abetted by an appalling amount of anti-Semitism, is just too easy to demagogue. It is what race was in the Jim Crow South or, to wax truly esoteric, what Belorussians were in inter-war Poland.

After the collapse of Weimar Germany — a democracy but an extremely messy one — some intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, questioned whether democracy was always a wonderful thing. The answer, of course, is nothing is always wonderful. The Egyptian democracy was tending back toward authoritarianism and, no matter what had happened, the country might have seen its last real election. In the short run, no government can reverse the population explosion, provide jobs for young people or ameliorate what climate change is doing to the Nile Delta. Egypt’s problems are so daunting that the lack of democracy is not the top priority. First things first. Before Egypt needs a democratic government, it just needs a government.


By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 8, 2013

July 10, 2013 Posted by | Egypt, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Challenge Of Rebranding The GOP”: The Prescription For A Republican Comeback Outside The South Will Be Painful

The trendlines are bad for Republicans. They’re falling behind in the battleground states. Demographic and generational change are making matters worse over time. And outside of the South, they’re not even making gains among white voters. That latter point does create room for Republicans to do even better among white voters and win without big gains among Hispanics, at least for now. But conservatives take solace in the possibility of victory through whites on the assumption that it will be easier to improve among whites than Hispanics. In reality, the prescription for a GOP comeback outside of the South will be painful.

But what Republicans should do isn’t obvious. On its own, the observation that the GOP is doing worse among non-Southern whites doesn’t obviously lend itself to a solution. We might assume, for instance, that the GOP’s problems in northern Virginia, Columbus, and Denver are related to cultural issues, but do we know how many of those voters could be persuaded by any of the shifts suggested by pundits and analysts? What about middle class communities, like Appleton, Ft. Collins, or Lancaster? We might assume that the GOP’s problem is mainly economic, but probably part cultural as well—but in what proportions? And in the culturally Southern areas where the GOP hopes to improve further, like in western Pennsylvania or central Florida, it is highly unclear how much more the GOP can improve—especially if race was part of Obama’s problem.

And as a historical matter, it’s hard to predict how parties will rebound. Many DLC Democrats didn’t realize that the Democrats would eventually find a new base in the Northeast or California. The “Emerging Democratic Majority” characterizes West Virginia as “lean Democratic.” The fact is that the next Republican coalition will be built on dissatisfaction with Democrats, and we just don’t know who will revolt against the Democrats or when.

In the absence of great data on what the GOP should do, analysts and pundits are mainly resorting to what they do best: assuming that what they want is what the country wants. The more culturally liberal Republicans want the GOP to move left on social issues. The populists think populism would do the trick. The conservatives say they should go to the right. It’s all too predictable.

But there are limits to these targeted approaches. For one, parties can’t just excise parts of their base and win elections, especially when they’re the minority party. Moreover, any realistic solution won’t lead to massive gains: Republicans would still be vulnerable to Democratic attacks on their support for cutting entitlements or lower taxes for the rich, or opposition to abortion, gun control, and probably gay marriage. That limits how much they can gain among any particular group. Democrats also have the ideological flexibility to embrace good ideas and co-opt a strong Republican message, as they have done on energy. The Electoral College also makes it harder for a party to win with narrow, deep gains among any single group, like missing conservative white voters or Hispanics—there just aren’t enough them in the critical states. The GOP has a broad problem across a very diverse set of battleground states, and it will require an equally broad set of remedies.

So the best option is to spread the pain around. Don’t castrate the party, smooth out the many sharp edges of the GOP’s platform and message.  Keep supporting tax cuts and less regulation, but add an agenda and message aimed at the middle and working class. Remain pro-life, but don’t appear opposed to Planned Parenthood or contraceptives, and return to supporting exceptions in instances of rape or the health of the mother, as President Bush did. Stay committed to religion, but don’t reflexively doubt the science of evolution and global warming, or the promise of stem cell research or renewable energy. Oppose gun control, but why force yourself to oppose background checks? Oppose gay marriage if Republicans must, but could Republicans at least support civil unions? On all of these issues, the GOP need not compromise on its core policy objectives, but can’t afford to consistently stake out ground so far from the center. That allows Democrats to cast the party and their core beliefs outside of the mainstream, which has already happened on abortion.

This prescription is informed by Bill Clinton’s revitalization of the Democratic Party in 1992. He was ostensibly a “New Democrat,” even though he was pro-choice, supported higher taxes, a universal health care system, gun control, and expanded rights for gays in the military. Rather than abandon core elements of the Democratic agenda, Clinton softened the edges on unreformed welfare, crime, middle class taxes, and said abortion should be “rare,” even if it should remain legal.

The success of heterodox, but conservative Republicans suggests that this formula would be sufficient. Chris Christie is doing great in 2016 presidential polling, and he’s basically followed the approach listed above—although there’s a case that went further than I would advise on gun control. Similarly, Jon Huntsman earned quite a bit of support among moderates for merely saying that he believes in evolution and gay marriage, despite being very conservative on economic issues. Paradoxically, it seems that the GOP’s extremism will make a rebrand even easier, since a candidate can move to the center and still clearly stand on the right.

But Bill Clinton had the benefit of a relatively moderate Democratic primary electorate with a large conservative contingent in the South and Midwest. That allowed him to “soften the edges” and still win a Democratic primary, despite battling serious attacks on his character. In contrast, Jon Huntsman received 739 votes in Iowa and there are questions about whether a popular governor like Chris Christie could win the nomination.

If someone like Huntsman was way too moderate for GOP primary voters, then the GOP rebrand won’t be easy. That makes it even more important that immigration reform passes. Sometimes, allowing issues to disappear can be just as helpful as rebranding. Clinton benefited from the end of the Cold War, which he obviously had nothing to do with. Getting immigration reform off the table would dovetail well with a better economic message, which should appeal to persuadable Hispanic voters. But many of the same forces that couldn’t tolerate “smoothing the edges” seem poised to block immigration reform. And if the GOP can’t “smooth out the edges” and won’t allow Democrats to take issues off the table, like on background checks or immigration, the consequences for 2016 could be fatal.


By: Nate Cohn, The New Republic, July 9, 2013

July 10, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Goodbye Rick Perry”: Those Of Us Out In Fake America Will Miss You

Farewell, Rick Perry! We’ll miss you, those of us out in fake America, unless Texas is fake America, because of the whole Republic thing, in which case you will be missed in all the various Americas. Because once you are done as governor of your massive, slightly ridiculous oil-soaked state, you will pretty much be done.

Perry is not going to seek a fourth term as governor of Texas, a high-status, low-authority gig that he has worked at longer than anyone else in history. The next governor will likely be Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (Stu Rothenberg is keeping the position listed as “Safe Republican”).

Perry isn’t just going to go away, or at least he doesn’t intend to. He is not going to put on a stupid hat and retire to a ranch that was until very recently named something unspeakably awful. He is going to run for president. Because once a sufficient number of people have convinced an egomaniac that he would be a very good president, it’s hard for that egomaniac to let go of that dream, even after a bunch of voters do everything they can to discourage it.

In 2011, we in the rest of America were told to look out for Perry, that he was savvy, a brilliant politician, and that he’d be totally irresistible to the electorate once he made his inevitable decision to run for president. He turned out to be a dunce, completely incompetent at basic tasks like “debating” and “public speaking.” Maybe it was pain meds (but then, who decides it’s a good idea to jump into a national race while you’re on pain meds?), but either way the last presidential campaign was a disaster for the Perry brand. No one in 2016 will be particularly frightened of him, and he also probably won’t have the luxury of running against a field made up entirely of clowns and a front-runner no one in the party actually liked.

He’s amiable, decent-looking, and right-wing enough to suit the modern Republican Party, but he is also a bit of an idiot and nothing about him appeals to anyone outside his state. Republicans aren’t interested in him anymore, even in Texas. Public Policy Polling (a liberal shop, but still) has Hillary Clinton beating Perry 50 to 42 in a potential presidential contest. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed Texas Republicans preferring Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul over their finally outgoing governor. And if they don’t want him there’s no reason to suggest Republicans anywhere else will want him.  “Vote for your dumb right-wing dad” won’t work any better in 2016 than it did in 2012.

Still, Perry’s decision to join Texas Republicans in provoking a big fight over abortion access does make a bit of sense in this light: He I guess wants to be 2016′s Rick Santorum, the choice of the fundamentalist set who don’t necessarily like the recent rhetorical ascendency of pseudo-moderation and pseudo-libertarianism in the GOP. Rick Santorum still might want to be the Rick Santorum of 2016, of course, but he also might be too busy making Christian movies. (Though none of the major 2016 Republican front-runners, with the possible exception of Jeb Bush, are remotely “moderate” on abortion access, it should be pointed out.)

It is always a happy day when the political careers of mediocre right-wing hacks like Rick Perry come to an end, even if it is by choice and not a forced resignation following a humiliating scandal or exposure of criminal activity. Texas will probably be better off without Rick Perry, even if the next guy is an asshole (and he is probably going to be an asshole), and Rick Perry will get to see his dream end in tears once more in 2016, at which point his only hope to remain in elected office will be a Congressional seat or something. Though obviously he will also make a great deal of money “consulting” for some awful rich person or another, so it’s not all good news.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 9, 2013

July 10, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Utterly Shocking!”: Just Like Dear Old Dad, Rand Paul Has Ties To Neo-Confederates

During his 2008 presidential campaign, then Texas Representative Ron Paul faced wide criticism for his newsletters—published as far back as the 1970s—which, at various points, were racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic. One newsletter from 1992 claimed that nearly all black men in Washington D.C. are “Semi-Criminal or Entirely Criminal”—while another from 1994 claimed that gays were “maliciously” infecting people with AIDS. Paul defended himself by saying that the newsletters were produced by a ghostwriter—with his name attached, and presumably, his consent—and the controversy didn’t do much to diminish his following among a certain set of young libertarians. But for those of us less enamored with Ron Paul, it did underscore one thing: His long-time association with the reactionary far-right of American politics.

Ron Paul has retired from politics, but his son—Kentucky Senator Rand Paul—is in the mix, and is clearly planning a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Ideologically, the younger Paul is indistinguishable from his father. And while he isn’t as close to the far-right as Ron Paul, it’s hard to say that he doesn’t have his own problems with race. In 2009, his campaign spokesperson resigned after racist images were discovered on his MySpace wall, and in 2010, Paul landed in a little hot water during an interview with Rachel Maddow, when he told her that he would have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act for its impositions on businesses, i.e., they were no longer allowed to discriminate against blacks and other minorities.

Now, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, it also turns out that Rand Paul has his own relationship with the racist backwaters of American politics. I’m not a fan of the publication, but this looks terrible for the Kentucky senator:

A close aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.

When considered in light of everything I mentioned earlier, none of this comes as a surprise. We know that Ron Paul has ties to neo-Confederates, and we know that Rand Paul has faced criticism for beliefs that echo their opposition to civil rights laws. Hiring a John Wilkes Booth sympathizer fits the picture of the Pauls as a political family that—regardless of what’s in their hearts—is comfortable working with right-wing racists.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, July 9, 2013

July 10, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Party That Can’t Decide To Chose”: The GOP Establishment Fractures On Immigration

Over the course of this year’s immigration debate, we’ve come to view the Republican party division as follows. On one side, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, you have a group that is sometimes called “the establishment” or “the elite,” made up of people whose primary interest is in the party’s long-term national prospects. These are the big money people, the top consultants, some senators, and so on. On the other side, opposing comprehensive reform, you have “the base,” which is not only voters but also members of the House with a narrow interest in getting re-elected, usually by appealing to extremely conservative constituencies. On that side you also have some conservative media figures and others with strong ideological motivations against immigration reform. And then caught in the middle you’ve got the Republican congressional leadership, which can’t afford to antagonize the base but also worries about the effect killing immigration reform will have on the party.

But we may be reaching the point where these categories are no longer adequate to describe what’s going on within the GOP. This morning, William Kristol and Rich Lowry, the editors of the two most important conservative magazines (the Weekly Standard and National Review) joined together to write an unusual joint editorial titled “Kill the Bill,” coming down in opposition to the “Gang of 8” immigration bill that passed the Senate. The substance of their argument is familiar to anyone following this debate—the Obama administration can’t be trusted, it won’t stop all future illegal immigration, the bill is too long—but the substance isn’t really important. What’s important is that these two figures, about as establishment as establishment gets, are siding firmly with the anti-reform side.

Those of us who have been around for a while can’t help but be reminded of a memo Kristol wrote to Republicans 20 years ago, when Bill Clinton was trying to enact health-care reform. It argued that from a substantive and political point of view, Republicans should not try to negotiate with the Clinton administration or work with them to pass a reform that was as conservative as possible; instead, they should wage all-out war to kill it. “The plan should not be amended,” Kristol wrote, “it should be erased.”

Politically speaking, it was good advice; Republicans followed it, and they won. Sixteen years later they used the same strategy during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, and they lost.( It turned out, however, that conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman did the Republicans’ substantive work for them, extracting a number of concessions from the administration that moved the bill in a more conservative direction). There’s a difference in this debate, however. Those two efforts at health care reform were always understood as a conflict between a Democratic administration seeking a longtime Democratic goal, and Republicans in Congress trying to stop them. It was reported like a sporting event: Clinton loses, Republicans win; Obama wins, Republicans lose. Immigration, on the other hand, has been reported largely as a battle within the Republican party. President Obama, knowing full well that anything he advocates immediately becomes toxic for most Republicans, has been using a lighter touch when it comes to public advocacy for comprehensive reform.  (I’m not saying he hasn’t been pushing for it, but he hasn’t done the all-out, campaign-style barnstorming tour that would help turn it into a purely Democrats-versus-Republicans issue). The story has always been, “What will the Republicans do?” and if reform goes down, the headlines won’t read, “Obama Defeated on Immigration Reform,” they’ll read, “Republicans Kill Immigration Reform,” with subheadings like “Danger ahead for GOP as Latino voters react.”

I once knew a professor who would say to his students, “Institutions don’t speak. People speak.” His point was that we often ascribe a unified intelligence or will to things like the government or a corporation or a political party, glossing over the fact that it’s individuals making those decisions and statements. There may be a single most beneficial path for the Republican party to take, but the Republican party can’t just decide to choose it. A party is made up of lots of individuals, each with their own opinions, self-interest, and levers of influence, who will push it in one direction or another. With Kristol and Lowry coming out in opposition to reform (and perhaps other people like them to follow), it may no longer even be possible to say that the party establishment has a single position on the issue.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 9, 2013

July 10, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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