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“We Did Something Constructive Today”: The New Republican Definition Of Constructive Is What You Can Block And Destroy

We talked at length yesterday about the failure of the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (or “THUD”) appropriations bill in the House — a move that sent the Republican budget process into chaos — so it’s only fair to note what happened to the Senate version of the same bill.

In short, nothing good.

Early on Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the start of a month-long summer recess, the U.S. Senate held a doomed vote on a $44 billion package of transportation and housing funds. The vote was 54-43, six short of cloture, most Republicans making sure that the bill with the accidentally perfect name of THUD (Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development) went down in flames for now.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, whose work on a gun control amendment this year gave him the temporary glow of a centrist, walked from the Senate to a special, open live-streamed meeting of the Republican Study Committee, all about the Obama administration’s scandals. Anyone watching the Tea Party Patriots-sponsored feed could hear Toomey tell a colleague that “we did something constructive today” in the Senate.

“We denied cloture on the THUD bill,” said Toomey. “I told you we’d kill it, and we did.”

We talk from time to time about the post-policy nihilism that’s come to define so much of Republican politics, and this is rather striking example.

The Senate’s THUD bill was expected to pass with relative ease. It had bipartisan support; it was pulled together responsibly; and it sailed through the committee process as non-controversial bills should. As Joan McCarter explained, “The transportation funding bill has always been a non-controversial, reliable bipartisan effort, because there was something tangible in it for every member of Congress to take home: jobs, infrastructure improvements, a display of federal dollars at work for their constituents. That’s all changed.”

And not for the better.

After the House Republicans killed their own version of the bill, GOP leaders feared a moderate, bipartisan THUD package would give Senate Dems the upper hand in a conference committee. What’s more, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was eager to prove how right-wing he is to conservatives back home, so he lobbied Republicans who supported the bill to change their mind.

The result? A bill that was supposed to be approved easily was killed with a filibuster — which in Pat Toomey’s mind, is evidence of doing “something constructive.”

The larger point, of course, is that policymakers used to have a less ridiculous definition of what “constructive” means. Not too long ago, members of Congress used to think they did “something constructive” when they, you know, passed a bill. Or maybe reached a compromise. Or perhaps struck some sort of deal.

The hallmark of post-policy nihilism is the belief that policy outcomes and substantive governing are largely irrelevant. Officials have begun defining themselves solely by what they can block and destroy, rather than what they can accomplish, even if that means opposing what they support.

And that’s not good.

What’s more, as McConnell panics about his re-election bid, this dynamic is likely to become more common. Yesterday, for example, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) hoped to see the Senate pass the bipartisan bill, but quickly found herself on the losing side of a McConnell broadside.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the panel that wrote the $54 billion transportation bill, appeared to grope for an explanation for why Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) worked so hard to kill her legislation.

Asked if McConnell’s upcoming primary fight with a tea party challenger might have something to do with the pressure, Collins told POLITICO: “I can’t speculate on why. All I can tell you is he has never worked harder against a member of his own party than he did against me today.”

For context, note that Collins and McConnell have worked together for 16 years — and she’s “never” seem him work this hard to beat another Republican.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 2, 2013

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Love The Russian People”: Edward Snowden Savors The Taste Of Liberty In Russia

Sweet freedom, at last!

I thought I’d never get out of that crummy terminal. After a month of gagging on Cinnabon fumes, even this sooty Moscow air smells like daisies.

Today I walk the streets a free man, accompanied by my two new best friends, Anatoly and Boris. They do NOT work for the KGB, OK? They’re professional tour guides who came strongly recommended by President Vladimir Putin.

By the way, Vlad (that’s what he told me to call him) has been a totally righteous dude about this whole fugitive-spy thing, unlike a certain uncool American president, who keeps trying to have me arrested and prosecuted for espionage.

The Russians have generously given me a Wi-Fi chip and free Internet, so I can go online anytime I want and see what the world is saying about me. A recurring theme in many blogs and chat rooms seems to be: What was that kid thinking?

First of all, I believe with all my heart that Americans have the right to know about the far-reaching surveillance tactics employed by our government to monitor its own citizens. I also believe I’ve restarted an important debate about national security and privacy.

Could I have handled this whole thing differently? Sure. In retrospect, there’s definitely something to be said for anonymity.

But, hey, cut me some slack. I’m only 29 and this was my first time leaking classified intelligence data.

I’ll be the first to admit that my plan wasn’t 100 percent seamless. For example, I should have figured out what new place I wanted to live in before I revealed my identity as the leaker. Clearly, I underestimated how difficult it would be to find a country that would welcome me, especially a country as free and open as the United States.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” I declared in a video interview.

This was weeks after I’d left my place in Hawaii and flown to Hong Kong to meet secretly with reporters. The hotel was nice, but after the stories broke I couldn’t go out anywhere.

How do you like your accommodations, Mr. Snowden? Can we bring you another pitcher of green tea? More noodles, perhaps?

I found another place to crash in Hong Kong and gave a new interview revealing that the U.S. National Security Agency had hacked government computers in China. I assumed that in gratitude for receiving this heavy-duty info, the Chinese authorities would let me stay as long as I wanted. Wrong.

No problem, Eddie Boy, says some WikiLeaks dude. We’ll get you into Cuba.

Now I was seriously jazzed because Cuba’s supposed to be a lot like Hawaii — sunshine, great beaches, good surf, a chill music scene.

First connection (or so I thought) was at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. There I scored a ticket to Havana on Aeroflot (which is sort of the Russian version of Jet Blue, minus the TVs in the seatbacks), and I’m ready to roll. Load up my iTunes with the Buena Vista Social Club but then . . .

More bad news. Apparently the Cuban regime wasn’t super excited about me moving there. I never really got the whole story. The plane left without me is all I know.

So I was stuck in the Moscow airport’s “transit” area, feeling not-so-great about how this whistleblower stuff is playing out. The security guys wouldn’t even let me into the main terminal to hit a Starbucks and check out the Sharper Image.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama kept bugging the Kremlin to hand me over. Putin basically flipped him off, which bought me some time to scout other destinations that had fewer ice storms.

The Bolivian government has offered me asylum, but I’ve been thinking about what happened down there to Butch Cassidy and Sundance. I might take a pass.

Venezuela also said I could come down, and maybe that’s where I’ll end up in a few months. At least it’s warm there. Ecuador sounds pretty sweet, too.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Russian people. Anatoly always insists on carrying my laptop for me, and Boris gave me a cell phone with unlimited minutes.

The coverage here is so amazing that somebody usually answers even before I finish dialing!


By: Carl Hiaasen, The Miami Herald, August 3, 2013

August 5, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Neocon Revival?”: The Illusion Of GOP Ideological Diversity

It’s a bit startling to see the New York Times‘ David Brooks pen a column headlined “The Neocon Revival,” which speaks confidently about “neoconservatism” as an internally consistent perspective on public life that once dominated the conservative movement and the Republican Party (and apparently should again!). In 2004, the self-same David Brooks contributed an essay to a book entitled The Neocon Reader that suggested the very label was more or less an anti-Semitic slur (“If you ever read a sentence that starts with ‘Neocons believe,’ there is a 99.44 per cent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue.”).

If Brooks is now giving us all permission to talk about neoconservatism without raising a presumption of ethnic or partisan poison, I’d argue that his brief manifesto is curiously detached from both the historical and contemporary realities of conservatism and of the Republican Party. Brooks is right that “neoconservatism” (a term actually popularized by democratic socialist Michael Harrington to refer to thinkers and doers who were largely still on the ideological Left and/or affiliated with the Democratic Party) was originally “about” domestic as much as international policy. Its most recent identification with George W. Bush’s foreign policies, or with post-Bush advocates of an aggressive internationalism and often of Islamophobia, is hardly an accident, but also isn’t the whole story.

Having said that, Brooks commits an act of grand larceny in claiming for neoconservatism the legacy of Ronald Reagan, not to mention that of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, with whom he shoehorns RR in an unlikely triptych. At least that seems to be what he is doing; the column constantly shifts from politicians to writers ranging from Irving Kristol to Richard John Neuhaus and even George Will in defining the kind of conservatism Brooks identifies with “neoconservatism” and with the successful GOP of the 1980s, which happily accepted the modern welfare state and simply wanted to harness it to conservative social goals and to national greatness.

Reading this piece, you might well forget about Ronald Reagan’s deep roots in conservative rejection of the New Deal and Great Society (he opposed both Medicare and the Civil Rights Act), or his administration’s efforts (not ultimately very successful) to use the budget process and executive powers to unravel the social safety net. You might also skip over, as Brooks does, the conservatism of the 1990s (which is interesting insofar as Brooks cut his teeth at The Weekly Standard–itself often associated with “neoconservatism”–which proclaimed itself the tribune of a “Republican Revolution” that would roll back liberalism’s accomplishments in every direction). And only someone with a wildly exaggerated idea of “compassionate conservatism” would conclude that the George W. Bush era of the GOP was characterized by happy acceptance of the welfare state.

But the oddest thing about Brooks’ column is its headline, to which he should have objected violently if he did not suggest it himself. If “neocons,” defined as people who look fondly on TR and FDR as well as that sunny welfare state advocate Ronald Reagan, are enjoying some sort of “revival,” where is it? Brooks himself says “[t]he Republican Party is drifting back to a place where it appears hostile to the basic pillars of the welfare state: to food stamps, for example.” It’s pretty hilarious to call that a “drift,” or to attribute it to some long-lost pre-Reagan impulse. The Reagan administration tried to dump the food stamp program on the states as a way station to its elimination, even as it sought to “cap” federal responsibility for Medicaid, much as Paul Ryan is trying to do today. Beyond that, who among major Republican politicians is resisting this supposed “drift,” and where is the “revival” of a tradition opposing it?

In this as in other respects, Brooks resembles other “conservative reformers” (notably his New York Times colleague Ross Douthat) who regularly lay out policy prescriptions that would get them tarred and feathered in any gathering of rank-and-file Republicans, but then more or less loyally follow the party line anyway, creating the illusion of ideological diversity. Douthat and Reihen Salam wrote an interesting book in 2009 prescribing the same sort of welfare-state-accomodation strategy that Brooks seems to be endorsing. It became associated by rhetorical osmosis with Tim Pawlenty, because they used his motto of “Sam’s Club Republicanism.” T-Paw promptly ran for president in 2012 and staked his candidacy to a failed effort to become an electable right-wing alternative to Mitt Romney. Was he a “Sam’s Club Republican” happily arguing for a more family-friendly welfare state? Probably not on the day that he signed onto the vicious “Cut, Cap, Balance” pledge that represents a death sentence for the New Deal and Great Society.

The trouble is that the conservative movement and Republican Party that Brooks and Douthat like to talk about has never existed in living memory, and isn’t likely to exist in the foreseeable future. Perhaps they have other reasons for affiliating with a political movement that so routinely ignores their advice (in Douthat’s case, I suspect his RTL self-identification is the crucial factor).

With respect to the column at hand, the very slim case for a “neocon revival” now depends on politicians like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio who are almost certainly about to spend the next couple of years snuggling up to the Tea Folk and disagreeing with Rand Paul or Ted Cruz mainly on the foreign policy grounds Brooks tells us don’t actually define neoconservatism. But by 2016, I’m reasonably sure David will have found in Christie or Rubio or someone else the flickering flame of an ideology that he mistakenly remembers as Ronald Reagan’s and mistakenly projects as the wave of the future.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 3, 2013

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Purifying The Republican Party”: The Destructive Rise Of The No-Government Conservatives

Nine months after a decisive loss in the 2012 elections, the battle for the soul of the Republican Party—or whatever’s left of it—has begun.

I’m not talking about a battle between moderates and conservatives. The conservatives won that fight a long time ago. Our children may never believe that moderate Republicans once roamed the Earth, advocating policies that would limit carbon pollution and invest in scientific research, reform our schools and build new roads, promote national service, reduce the influence of money in politics, and require individuals who can afford health insurance to take responsibility for buying it. Soon enough, these politicians will exist only in the minds of ’90s-era pundits and Aaron Sorkin’s writing staff.

The conservatives have finally purified the Republican Party, dispatching moderate infidels in primary after primary, demanding fealty to their agenda of huge tax cuts and drastically lower spending. They have used their sizable numbers in Congress to help realize that agenda, with periodic assists from a president who has always been more fiscally responsible than his enemies would admit.

Today the tax burden on the vast majority of families is lower than it’s been in decades. Domestic spending outside of Medicare and Medicaid is the lowest it’s been in more than half a century. A public sector that has grown under the last four presidents has significantly contracted under Barack Obama. And deficits are falling at the fastest pace in 60 years.

Conservatives remain unsatisfied. They want more tax cuts. More spending cuts. And I’m picking up signals that they’re not entirely thrilled with the Affordable Care Act.

But here, a new divide has emerged within the Republican Party. On one side are the traditional small-government conservatives, who have a rough acquaintance with the rules of politics and basic math. They may want to reduce the size of government further, but they also want to preserve the institutions of government, understanding that a functional democracy is necessary to provide for the common defense, promote a common prosperity, and tackle problems we can only solve together, as a nation.

These are Republicans like Chris Christie, who has witnessed the vital importance of robust federal aid in the wake of a terrible storm. These are Republicans like Jeb Bush, who has tried to reform public education without completely dismantling it. These are Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and the handful of senators who have sought compromise with Democrats over issues such as immigration reform and finally ended the historically exceptional blockade of perfectly qualified executive-branch nominees so that the president can fill the jobs his administration is required to perform.

None of these actions have endeared the small-government conservatives to their rivals for power, the no-government conservatives. No-government conservatives take their inspiration from Grover Norquist’s famous quote that government should be shrunk to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. These Republicans, who make up most of the House and a healthy portion of the Senate, are on an uncompromising mission to abolish most government services, benefits, regulations, and taxes.

The goals of no-government conservatives are not primarily economic. They will propose more tax cuts in times of surplus and times of deficit. They care little when the nonpartisan experts and economists at the Congressional Budget Office say sequestration will cost up to 1.6 million jobs next year, or that immigration reform will boost our GDP, or that Obamacare will reduce the debt over time. No-government conservatives are not compelled by the evidence that temporary benefits such as food stamps and unemployment insurance put money in the pockets of those most likely to spend it at local businesses that will grow and create jobs as a result. Their only jobs agenda, their only growth agenda, their only deficit agenda is eliminating government, no matter how many people it helps or how big a boost it provides the economy.

Nor are the goals of no-government conservatives primarily political. They have advisers, they can read polls, and most of them probably know that shutting down the government or forcing a default would be, among other catastrophes, highly unpopular. They realize that rampant hostage-taking and filibuster-abuse are the chief contributors to the obstruction and gridlock that Americans of both parties hate.

They just don’t care. Jonathan Chait has written about the recent embrace of “procedural extremism” among many congressional Republicans, who have “evolved from being politically shrewd proponents of radical policy changes to a gang of saboteurs who would rather stop government from functioning at all.”

But for no-government conservatives, this has been their primary policy goal all along. Their fundamental philosophy is purely ideological—the idea that since government can’t do everything, it should do nothing. So as long as the public continues to see Washington as a dysfunctional circus of petty children, the conservative philosophy of government is vindicated. That is also precisely why no-government conservatives view the successful implementation of Obamacare as an existential threat—because it would prove that limited government intervention in the market can still be an effective force for good. It is why some Republicans are threatening a shutdown unless Obama agrees to defund the Affordable Care Act—a step they know can’t even be achieved through the annual budget process.

In 2016, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz seem to be the most likely champions of no-government conservatism, with Marco Rubio engaged in a delicate balancing act between purity and sanity. Whether Republican activists will still embrace traditional conservatives like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and others remains to be seen. But of one thing I am certain: while the single-minded pursuit of a no-government ideology may bring Republicans a fanatical sense of purpose, it will not bring them the 270 electoral votes needed to take back the White House, nor will it help our recovery gain the speed and strength it needs. The sooner the party faithful realize this, the better off the country will be.


By: Jon Favreau, The Daily Beast, July 30, 2013

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Congress, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Made Your Bed, Now Sleep In It”: Hey Republican “Grown-Ups”, Ted Cruz Does Not Care About You

A small contingent of the more Tea Party-ish Republican senators has decided to shut down the government unless “Obamacare” is “defunded.” (Or, at least, they plan to threaten to shut down the government.) Defunding Obamacare is not really as simple as it sounds. The ACA involves a lot of “mandatory” as opposed to “discretionary” spending, so you can’t really effectively repeal the program through the Continuing Resolution. (Here’s Karl Rove explaining the issue.) The plan was Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) idea, but its current most vocal proponent is Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a very smart man who purposefully talks like a very crazy man, because he understands how to become a celebrity in the modern conservative movement.

Cruz doesn’t care if the plan makes sense, either as policy or even as political tactics. If he cared about passing conservative legislation, he wouldn’t spend all of his time purposefully angering his Republican colleagues. If he cared about the Republican Party’s national image and reputation, as opposed to his own image within the conservative activist community, he would have offered rhetorical support for immigration reform, as Rand Paul did. Cruz is in it for himself and himself alone. A majority of Americans want the GOP to be more conciliatory and moderate. A majority of Republicans strongly believe that the party must be even more conservative.

So if all the “grown-ups” — the respectable, professional Republicans — tell Ted Cruz not to do something, he is going to be even more dedicated to doing that thing. This week, all the respectable, professional Republicans told Ted Cruz not to try to shut down the government over Obamacare.

Karl Rove said it, in a Fox News editorial. His argument is that no matter how awful Obamacare is, a shutdown will hurt the party. He is correct. (The important point about Rove is that he is a professional liar, but he is one whose motivation — helping the Republican Party win and hold on to as much power as possible — is sincere.) But Cruz doesn’t care about the party.

Jennifer Rubin — who has clearly detested Cruz for a while now — has been relentless in her attacks on Cruz and his shutdown caucus. This has actually been a tad inconvenient, because one of Rubin’s favorite pols right now is Marco Rubio, who supports the Lee/Cruz plot. Rubin has done her best to dissuade him.

Charles Krauthammer called the Lee and Cruz plan “nuts” and “yet another cliff dive as a show of principle and manliness.” Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who has an opinion column in the Washington Post for some utterly unfathomable reason, is similarly opposed.

To all these critics, the only reasonable response is, hope you enjoy this bed you made for yourselves. Ted Cruz is the right man for the decadent decline stage of the conservative movement, which has always encouraged the advancement of fact-challenged populist extremists, but always with the understanding that they’d take a back seat to the sensible business interests when it came time to exercise power. The result has been a huge number of Republican activists who couldn’t figure out why the True Conservatives they kept voting for kept failing to achieve the creation of the perfect conservative state once in office. That led to an ongoing backlash against everyone in the party suspected of anything less than perfect ideological purity. Meanwhile all the crazies got rich simply for being crazy. There’s no longer any compelling reason, in other words, not to act like Ted Cruz, and the result is Ted Cruz.

And if Ted Cruz is reading, all of these columns are only going to strengthen his resolve. Just look at this amazing conservative Facebook image macro shared by Gawker’s Max Read: Cruz is in the company of batshit far-right folk heroes like Allen West and Oliver North, people revered as much because of the disdain they inspire in both liberals and professional conservatives as for their actual beliefs or accomplishments.

Ted Cruz just won the Colorado Christian University 2016 straw poll and he will be a featured guest at Erick Erickson’s “RedState Gathering.” It’s working. Your “logic” won’t interest him.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, August 2, 2013

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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