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“Patient Deliberation, Not Imperialism”: On Syria, President Obama Is More Like Woodrow Wilson Than George W. Bush

As President Obama moves toward launching military strikes against the Syrian regime, some have been quick to charge him with hypocritically following in the footsteps of the president he long sought to repudiate: George W. Bush.

Ron Paul kicked things off two months ago with a baseless charge of “fixing the intelligence and facts around the already determined policy.” More recently, a leading Russian legislator claimed Obama would be “Bush’s clone” because “just like in Iraq, this war won’t be legit.” Fox News columnist and strident U.N. critic Anne Bayefsky declared that Obama will be seen as a “hypocrite or a fraud” for not pursuing a U.N. Security Council resolution after “bashing” Bush on similar grounds.

The Bush swipe is a cheap shot. It also misses the far more relevant historical parallel. Obama is not walking in Bush’s footsteps, but Woodrow Wilson’s.

As World War I raged in Europe and civil war erupted in Mexico, Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 on the slogan “He Kept Us Out Of War.” But Wilson’s slogan proved ephemeral, and his strategy of “armed neutrality” finally gave way in the face of German aggression.

Similarly, Obama won the presidency in no small part because of anti-Iraq War sentiment, and was re-elected at least in part for following through on withdrawal. Now Obama faces his own second-term Wilson moment, as Syria’s genocidal tactics severely test President Obama’s foreign policy goals of facilitating democracy, strengthening international institutions, and avoiding “dumb wars” that sap American lives, resources, and global influence.

The similarities do not end there. Both Wilson and Obama sought to turn away from the imperialism of their predecessors while embracing the use of American influence to spread the right of self-determination abroad. Both expressed restraint regarding the use of military force, yet both pushed back on pacifist constituencies in their political bases and kept their options open. Both were charged with vacillation, and both suffered the occasional rhetorical misstep, as they walked those fine lines in the run-up to military action.

Obama was knocked for drawing a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons without being prepared to follow through, arguably giving Syria license to go farther. Wilson quickly regretted saying America was “too proud to fight” in May 1915, three days after Germany sunk the Lusitania and killed 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. Seven months later, Wilson recalibrated. During a speaking tour promoting a new policy of military preparedness, Wilson made a clear break with his party’s pacifist wing: “There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put in one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect.”

Still, Wilson’s restraint continued through the 1916 re-election campaign. Then less than three months after Election Day, Germany secretly cabled Mexico, proposing an alliance and offering three American states upon victory. Britain intercepted the code and fed it to Wilson, who publicized it and then took another two months before concluding it was time to enter the war.

Wilson risked being portrayed as a hypocrite, or even an outright liar, considering his campaign slogan. But as it turned out, his patient deliberation and clear reluctance for war buttressed his credibility when the moment for intervention came, helping to bring along a reluctant public.

Most importantly, Wilson did not betray his core principles. He did not flip from isolationism to imperialism. He had been seeking to play the role of peace broker, and end the war in a fashion that would move the world away from colonization and toward self-determination.

Shortly before he knew of Germany’s Mexican machinations, he laid out his vision in his “Peace Without Victory” address. Instead of a harsh peace in which the victor punishes the defeated, claims new territory, and sows the seeds of future conflict, Wilson saw a compromise settlement between belligerents, moving the world towards democratic governance and establishing a new “League of Nations” international body to prevent future world wars.

Wilson stuck by this vision even after he picked a side in the war, rejecting calls from both allies abroad and Republicans at home for an “unconditional surrender.”

Here too does Obama overlap with Wilson. Military action in Syria is not a betrayal of Obama’s foreign policy principles.

This is not a repeat of Bush-style neo-conservatism. There is nothing from the Obama White House that suggests a desire to handpick Syria’s leaders, establish permanent military bases, or claim natural resources. While Obama may not seek a U.N. Security Council resolution as he did to oust Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, he is also not suddenly snubbing international law, as he reportedly sees justification in existing treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and the Chemical Weapons Conventions.

The administration’s emphasis on limited strikes makes clear that President Obama still wants to do all he can to avoid ending his presidency with a “dumb war” that would mire the United States in a hopeless quagmire.

The White House has even stated that the military strikes will not be designed to spark “regime change,” instead stressing that “resolution of this conflict has to come through political negotiation and settlement.” In other words, it anticipates some sort of power-sharing agreement between Syrian factions, leading to a government that is fully representative of all Syrian people. This policy objective harkens back to Wilson’s “Peace Without Victory.”

Of course, none of the above guarantees that Obama’s vision will triumph. Wilson learned that the hard way.

Wilson did succeed in accelerating the end of the war and jump-starting a negotiated settlement. But after long multi-party negotiations that he personally undertook, Wilson reluctantly accepted harsher terms for Germany’s surrender than he deemed fair. And a debilitating stroke in 1919 muddled his thinking and warped his ability to compromise with the Republican-led Senate, dooming ratification of the treaty and America’s entry into the League of Nations.

But Wilson’s inability to close the deal doesn’t mean he was foolish to try. He came pretty close, and a healthier Wilson with a stronger foreign policy team could well have pulled it off. In fact, President Franklin Roosevelt’s team did just that, proving Wilson’s wisdom correct with the founding of the U.N. after World War II. We have not suffered world wars since.

Obama may be taking a mighty gamble, but it is in pursuit of self-determination and an international order intolerant of genocide, not an ignoble quest for empire.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, August 29, 2013

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Another Case Of Willful Deception”: Mitch McConnell Shouldn’t Brag About Supporting Bills He Opposed

Several weeks ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) got caught misleading Kentucky voters about his record on the Violence Against Women Act. This morning, he was even more brazen on the subject (via Joe Sonka).

A press release distributed by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) campaign at a “Women for Team Mitch” event on Friday brags about the Senate Minority Leader’s support for the Violence Against Women Act, even though McConnell voted against the measure in 19942012, and 2013.

“Mitch was the co-sponsor of the original Violence Against Women Act — and continues to advocate for stronger polices to protect women. I am proud to call him my senator,” the document quotes a voter as saying.

For months, a variety of congressional Republicans have pretended to support the Violence Against Women Act, even after they voted against it, hoping voters and reporters wouldn’t know the difference.

But the fact that McConnell has a lot of company doesn’t make this any better. His campaign is now trying to give voters the impression that he’s championed VAWA, but in reality, McConnell has voted against it repeatedly. Indeed, he voted against it even when he knew with certainty it would pass — suggesting he opposed the law just to make a point about the depth and seriousness of his opposition.

As for the notion that McConnell “continues to advocate for stronger polices to protect women,” let’s also not forget that the Senate Minority Leader voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

If McConnell wants to defend his record, fine. If he wants Kentuckians to find merit in the votes he cast, the senator is welcome to make his case. But the fact that he sees willful deception as the appropriate course is a problem.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 30, 2013

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Cycle Of Savagery”: Jim DeMint Is Now Going Too Far, Even For Republicans

After months—years really—of serving as the scourge of any GOPer he deemed too squishy, the über-conservative senator–turned–Heritage Foundation president finally earned a gentle spanking from his former colleagues. Upon Congress’s return from recess next week, Heritage staffers will no longer be welcome at weekly meetings of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

The ban, which ends a decades-long special arrangement between the two groups, reportedly flowed from a dust-up between Heritage and lawmakers over this summer’s Farm Bill negotiations. (Even the stripped-down version that the House passed was insufficiently austere for Heritage’s taste.) But ag policy is merely the tip of the iceberg for Jim DeMint, who has been hammering Republican lawmakers to hold the conservative line on everything from immigration to Obamacare—to the increasing annoyance of even ideologically simpatico members. While banishing Heritage from planning sessions may not have much practical effect, it’s a sign that congressional Republicans are rethinking their willingness to take DeMint’s abuse lying down.

Which is not to say that Hill Republicans didn’t know DeMint was going to be a gigantic pain once he left office. He was, after all, a gigantic pain while in office. Upon leaving the chummy upper chamber and establishing an independent perch at Heritage, of course he was going to escalate the fight.

Just this week, in fact, DeMint is wrapping up arguably his most aggressive assault to date on his own party: a two-week, nine-city town-hall tour spreading the message that Obamacare must be stopped by any means necessary, including shutting down the federal government. Now most Republicans, of course, would be delighted to defund much if not all of the Affordable Care Act. But most also acknowledge that a government shutdown would not only be politically devastating for the GOP, it simply wouldn’t work. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told a crowd back home in Kentucky, “I’m for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare.”

This kind of squish talk is like catnip for DeMint. And so, joined by Rafael Cruz, father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (who rose to office with the support of the DeMint-founded Senate Conservatives Fund PAC), DeMint spent a chunk of his recess rallying supporters in Indianapolis, Dallas (where Senator Cruz made an appearance), Tampa, Nashville, Birmingham, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Wilmington, Delaware, and Fayettville, Arkansas, with the battle cry that Republicans unwilling to go to the mattresses over Obamacare are too soft for public service and “need to be replaced.” At stops along the way, he called out particular lawmakers for criticism. (He took a swipe at John Boehner, for instance, while in the speaker’s home state of Ohio.)

Meanwhile, the Senate Conservatives Fund—which DeMint no longer heads but is still run by his former advisers and staffers—is making the fight even more personal. Last week, the group launched a series of radio ads slamming a half-dozen Republican senators who have declined to sign a letter pledging to shut down the government as a way to defund the ACA. Among those on the hit list are McConnell, Arizona conservative Jeff Flake (to whose campaign the SCF contributed richly last year), and DeMint’s former South Carolina colleague, Lindsey Graham. Brushing off the attack, Flake responded by tweeting “Oh, whatever”—which immediately prompted the SCF to release a second ad, urging Republicans to tell Flake “Oh, whatever” the next time he asked for their support.

And so the cycle of internecine savagery accelerates, even as Republicans brace for what is fast becoming an annual game of budget chicken. Members of the party establishment, understandably, are growing increasingly anxious, and sounding the alarm about the possible repercussions of shutdown shenanigans.

“Shutting down the government in an effort to defund is the one way Republicans can turn Obamacare from a major plus to a major minus in the 2014 elections,” warns GOP pollster Whit Ayers—who, as it turns out, has just completed “extensive polling on public opinion regarding a shutdown.” While Ayers declines to unpack the yet-to-be-released results of the survey, his for-God’s-sake-don’t-do-it attitude is a pretty big clue as to what he has heard from voters. In the coming days, Ayers, among others, will be trooping up to the Hill to discuss the issue with GOP players. He tells me, “There’s a great many people hoping that wiser heads will prevail.”

Perhaps they will. Then again, such “wiser heads” are precisely the ones that DeMint is measuring for the political chopping block.

By: Nichelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, August 30, 2013

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Humiliating Desperate People”: The Myth Of Welfare And Drug Use

Now, if you’re the kind of person who forwards apocryphal stories about voter impersonation and drug-addled welfare queens, this makes sense to you—obviously, if you’re on public assistance, you’re probably using drugs. But, if you’re the kind of person who takes facts seriously, this is a ridiculous idea.

While drug use is more common among women receiving welfare, the overall incidence rate is small; in one study, only 3.6 percent of recipients satisfied screening criteria for drug abuse or dependence. Among food-stamp recipients—another group targeted for testing—the rate is similarly low.

The myth of welfare recipients spending their benefits on drugs is just that—a myth. And indeed, in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people. The only thing “gained” from mandatory drug testing is the humiliation of desperate people.

Which, judging from the GOP’s continued enthusiasm for the idea, is enough. In Ohio, for instance, state senator Tim Schaffer has introduced legislation that would establish a drug-testing program for the state’s welfare program. “It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers,” Schaffer said. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”

If Ohio is anything like Florida, which also has a drug-testing program, Schaffer will find that the large majority of welfare recipients are neither drug users nor drug dealers. From 2011 to 2012, just 108 of the 4,086 people who took a drug test failed—a rate of 2.6 percent, compared to a national drug use rate of over 8 percent. The total cost to Florida taxpayers? $45,780.

The most colossal failure of this policy was in Arizona, which passed a drug-testing law in 2009. In 2012, an evaluation of the program had startling results: After three years and 87,000 screenings, only one person had failed the drug test, with huge costs for the state, which saved a few hundred dollars by denying benefits, compared to the hundreds of thousands spent to conduct the tests.

Of course, none of this has dampened enthusiasm for these laws, which is why Republicans in Michigan’s House of Representatives have passed a bill that requires tests if there’s “reasonable suspicion” a welfare applicant is using drugs or other illegal substances. Likewise, a Tennessee Republican in Congress wants to do the same. North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar law, but—in something of a surprise—it was vetoed by Governor Pat McCrory, who in a statement, said “This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”

It isn’t. It should be said, however, that the focus on cost and effectiveness obscures a broader point: Mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits is unfair and immoral. Drug use isn’t a problem of poverty; it’s found among all groups and classes. Indeed, if we’re going to test welfare applicants—who receive trifling sums of money from the government—it makes as much sense to test bailout-receiving bankers, loan-backed students, defense contractors, tax-supported homeowners, married couples with children (who receive tax credits), and politicians, who aren’t strangers to drug use.

In other words, if stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.

Trapped in its right-wing, anti-government mania, the GOP has become a party defined by its disdain for the poor, and esteem for the wealthy. It’s the reason Mitt Romney railed against the “47 percent,” built a convention around praise for “job creators,” and endorsed an agenda that reduces the debt by decimating social services. Indeed, when Republican politicians aren’t attacking the disadvantaged for their alleged lack of virtue, they’re calling for us to shred the “hammock of dependency,” as if low-income Americans spend their lives in comfort, resting on the government dole. To the Republican Party, a comprehensive health-care law—inspired by conservative ideas—is more offensive than a country where millions go without insurance and care.

In this GOP, at this time, it’s only natural that Republican lawmakers would go after welfare recipients. Since, to many in the party, they deserve it.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, August 30, 3013

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Welfare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Important Milestone”: In Michigan, A Defeat For The Tea Party And Victory For Common Sense

Obamacare took a big step forward on Tuesday night, when the Michigan Senate approved an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. The state House is likely to back the same measure, as early as next week. And while the program requires a special federal waiver, the Obama Administration is likely to grant it. Assuming all of that happens, Michigan will become the twenty-fifth state to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, a few hundred thousand residents are likely to get insurance—and the state will get a much-appreciated infusion of federal funds, while putting up a much smaller share of state money.

For the advocates of making health insurance available to all Americans, it’s a huge victory. But the victory did not come easy—or without some last-minute drama.

Tuesday’s vote was the product of a long, sustained campaign by Democrats, moderate Republicans, progressive organizers and business leaders. For months, they have made the case for expansion—citing the likely financial and health benefits for Michigan’s uninsured citizens, and the expected boost to Michigan’s economy. The federal government is picking up most of the expansion’s costs, they have argued, and hospitals need the revenue to make up for money they lost on charity care and declining reimbursement from other sources.

Among those assessing the statistical impact were Marianne Udow-Phillips, director at the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation and a lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. As she told me on Wednesday,

if you look at all the facts—the fact that the majority of physicians in the state are ready to serve this population; the positive impact on the state budget, on the state’s economy at large, on hospitals, on businesses, on all those who are currently insured (by reducing cost shifting) – not to mention the half a million people who will directly benefit by getting health insurance coverage in a program that has the highest satisfaction of any insurance coverage type in the state  – you have to draw the conclusion that the Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for the state.

Governor Rick Snyder and the state Chamber of Commerce have been among the strongest proponents of expansion. The state’s health care industry, naturally, has lobbied furiously. But Tea Party Republicans and their allies have been dead set againt it, arguing that Medicaid is a wasteful, expensive program that subsidizes the indolent—and that the size of the federal subsidies masked the true impact on the state, which would actually be negative.

Writing this week in the Detroit Free Press, Joseph G. Lehman and Clifford W. Taylor from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy warned that

The state’s main incentive to expand Medicaid is a federal promise to transfer to Michigan $2 billion (increasing to $3 billion) annually for three years if we add 320,000 Michiganders earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level to Medicaid rolls.

After three years our federal subsidy would shrink by $300 million per year, meaning either Michigan taxes increase by that much or lawmakers kick 320,000 people off Medicaid, which seems unlikely.

Expansion supporters have responded that, even after the reduction, the federal government would still be picking up 90 percent of the new cost. They have also tried to accommodate concerns about Medicaid efficiency, by, among other things, proposing that some Medicaid recipients pay a portion of their own costs. The compromises changed a few votes, and in June the state House approved its version of the expansion. But the Senate in June surprised everybody, including the governor, by rejecting the measure. One likely reason: Tea Party groups, and their financial backers, were threatening to support primary challenges to Republicans who voted yes.

The expansion’s supporters spent the remainder of the summer making their case, rallying the public, and lobbying individual members. As of Tuesday morning, they were confident they had 19 senators willing to vote yes. That would produce a tie in the 38-member chamber, with the lieutenant governor prepared to vote yes and break the tie. But when the Senate first voted in early afternoon, only 18 said yes. The chamber quickly voted to reconsider and, after a feverish few hours of lobbying and meeting, tried one more time. This time, the bill passed 20 to 18.

Progressives aren’t thrilled about some of the compromises, particularly those asking Medicaid recipients to pay a larger share of their costs. (Sarah Kliff has more of the details if you want them.) And it’s not out of the question that the federal government will raise objections, because the federal Medicaid law limits the ability of states to change the program. But given political resistance to any expansion, supporters are mostly elated at Tuesday’s outcome. “It’s not perfect, but it’s going to help nearly half a million Michiganders,” Amy Lynn Smith wrote at Electablog, a progressive website based in Michigan.

Michigan’s decision is an important milestone in the effort to make Medicaid available to all low-income Americans—an endeavor that has proven far more difficult than most experts anticipated. Last summer, when the Supreme Court made it easier for states to reject Obamacare’s planned expansion of Medicaid, many of us assumed the vast majority of states would participate anyway. The need for coverage was too great, and the allure of federal money too tempting, for even most Republicans to reject. Quite obviously we were wrong. Conservatives serving either as governor or state legislators have successfully blocked expansion across a wide swath of the country, including the huge states of Florida and Texas, where a few million people would be eligible.

But the Medicaid expansion has gotten support from several other Republican governors, including Jan Brewer in Arizona (where the expansion is already going forward) as well as Rick Scott in Florida and John Kasich in Ohio. Florida looks hopeless, at least for the time being, given the grip extreme conservatives have over the legislature. Ohio is another story: The politics there look a lot like the politics in Michigan. The same goes for Pennsylvania, although that state’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, doesn’t yet support expansion.

Obamacare’s Medicaid component, in other words, is moving ahead. But progress is taking place in fits and starts, with frequent setbacks, thanks mostly to political opposition that’s strongest in the most conservative parts of the country.

Yeah, you should get used to that pattern.


By: Jonathan Cohn, Sebior Editor, The New Republic,

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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