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“Not Conservative Enough”: In The Republican Party, The Hard Right Is Where The Enthusiasm Is

It’s become an article of faith among some Republican elites that the GOP doesn’t have an outreach problem, it has a turnout problem. During a recent interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, for instance, Rush Limbaugh boiled down the argument to its core. It’s not that the GOP has an issue with racial minorities or that most voters—whites included—have no interest in its policies or approach. Its problem is that it isn’t conservative enough. “The people that sat home,” he explained, were “mostly white Republican voters,” who were “dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s rejection of conservatism.”

Now, to most observers, the GOP has done everything but reject conservatism. Mitt Romney may have made his name as a moderate governor of Massachusetts, but his platform as Republican presidential nominee was a grab bag of proposals from the wish lists of conservative activists: large tax cuts for the wealthy, larger cuts to the social-safety net, prohibitions on abortion, opposition to same-sex marriage, and a hardline stance on immigration.

And indeed, in the nine months since Romney lost the presidential election, Republicans have only moved further to the right, falling deeper into the “fever” of intransigence and obstruction. Just this past week, for example, House Republicans had to give up on appropriating funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Why? Because their right-wing members demanded massive cuts to key programs, and less doctrinaire Republicans wouldn’t go along.

The problem for potential reformers in the GOP, however, is that the rank and file is on the side of the zealots. According to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of self-identified Republicans say the party needs to “address major problems” if it’s going to be competitive in national elections. For them, however, this isn’t a case of being too conservative. Indeed, it’s the opposite: 54 percent of Republicans say the party’s leadership isn’t conservative enough. And 35 percent say that GOP leaders have compromised too much in their dealings with President Obama. Presumably, this minority wanted Republicans to hold out on the debt ceiling and refuse to deal on the fiscal cliff and is pushing for a standoff over funding the government this fall.

This wish for a more conservative Republican Party holds for a variety of issues. Thirty-six percent say that the party should be more conservative on immigration—compared with 17 percent who say it’s “too conservative”—and 46 percent say it should be more conservative on government spending, compared with just 10 percent who say it’s too conservative. Guns are the only area where a majority say the party is in a right place, and recall, the GOP’s position on guns is that regulations—of any sort—are verboten, even when they have support from the vast majority of Americans.

None of this would be a huge problem for efforts to move the GOP to the center of American politics if the most moderate Republicans were also the most active. In reality, the opposite is true. The most conservative voters are also most likely to vote in all elections, including primaries. Of the 37 percent of Republicans who agree with the Tea Party, 49 percent say they always vote in nomination contests, compared with 22 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans.

In other words, hard-right conservatism is where the enthusiasm is, and it’s reflected in the broader state of Republican politics. To wit, it’s hard to imagine how Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell could do more to satisfy the conservative base. For the last four years, he has all but led the GOP opposition to Barack Obama, setting Republicans on a path of complete opposition to the president’s priorities and nearly derailing his signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.

From the beginning, he understood—correctly—that Obama’s popularity depends on a broader perception of cooperation and bipartisanship in Washington. By denying that, he harmed the president’s core appeal and helped turn a critical mass of the electorate against the White House, setting the stage for the GOP’s massive win in the 2010 midterm elections.

But despite all this, Mitch McConnell faces a primary challenge. Matt Bevin is a Louisville businessman and Tea Party favorite who sees the five-term senator as a patsy and a squish. “McConnell has voted for higher taxes, bailouts, debt-ceiling increases, congressional pay raises, and liberal judges,” said Bevin in his first ad.

Given McConnell’s actual actions, it’s tempting to dismiss Bevin as delusional. The truth of the matter, however, is that he speaks for a large plurality—if not majority—of Republicans who believe that success can only come when the party moves far, far to the right. And at the moment, there’s nothing—not electoral defeat, not public opprobrium—that will disabuse them of that conviction.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, August 5, 2013

August 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Self Styled Decider”: Edward Snowden Got Everything Wrong

Edward Snowden is now out of his limbo at Moscow’s airport, presumably ensconced in some Russian dacha, wondering what the next phase of his young life will bring. Having spent 30 years in the intelligence business, I fervently hope the food is lousy, the winter is cold, and the Internet access is awful. But I worry less about what happens to this one man and more about the damage Snowden has done — and could still do — to America’s long-term ability to strike the right balance between privacy and security.

Ever since Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, leaked top-secret material about its surveillance programs, he and the U.S. government have locked horns about the nature of those programs.

But those following the Snowden saga should understand two key points. First, though many things need to be kept secret in today’s dangerous world, the line between “secret” and “not secret” is fuzzy rather than stark, and if the goal is security, the harsh truth is that we should often err toward more secrets rather than fewer. Second, despite the grumbling from Snowden and his admirers, the U.S. government truly does make strenuous efforts not to violate privacy, not just because it respects privacy (which it does), but because it simply doesn’t have the time to read irrelevant emails or listen in on conversations unconnected to possible plots against American civilians.

Incidents like the Snowden affair put my former colleagues in the intelligence community in an impossible position. Yes, the official explanations about the virtues of data-collection efforts can sound self-justifying and vague. But they’re still right. I know firsthand that Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, is telling the truth when he talks about plots that have been preempted and attacks that have been foiled because of intelligence his agency collected. I know because I was on the inside, I have long held security clearances, and I participated in many of the activities he describes.

I spent years in the middle of the effort to identify, disentangle, and ultimately attack Al Qaeda. We didn’t operate in secrecy because we were ashamed. We operated in the dark because we had to. Al Qaeda and its affiliates study our actions. They learn from our mistakes. America is safer because we’ve made a point of understanding their methods better than they understand ours.

I understand the trade-offs here. But the intelligence community isn’t keeping things from the American people because we don’t trust them, but rather because once important security information is out there, anyone can access it, including those who would do us harm.

That’s why I find the Snowden controversy so frustrating. I realize many Americans don’t trust their government. I wish I could change that. I wish I could tell people the amazing things I witnessed during my 30 years in the CIA, that I’ve never seen people work harder or more selflessly, that for little money and long hours, people took it for granted that their flaws would be scrutinized and their successes ignored. But I’ve been around long enough to know that deep-rooted distrust of government is immune to stories from people like me. The conspiracy buffs are too busy howling in protest at the thought that their government could uncover how long they spent on the phone with their dear aunt.

Let me break this to you gently. The government is not interested in your conversations with your aunt, unless, of course, she is a key terrorist leader. More than 100 billion emails were sent every day last year — 100 billion, every day. In that vast mass of data lurk a few bits that are of urgent interest and vast terabytes of tedium that are not. Unfortunately, the metadata (the phone numbers, length of contact, and so forth, but not the content of the conversations) that sketch the contours of a call to your family member may fall into the same enormous bucket of information that includes information on the next terrorist threat. As Jeremy Bash, the former chief of staff of the CIA, memorably put it, “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack.”

Unfortunately, during the Snowden affair, many news outlets have spent more time examining ways the government could abuse the information it has access to while giving scant mention to the lengths to which the intelligence community goes to protect privacy. We have spent enormous amounts of time and effort figuring out how to disaggregate the important specks from the overwhelming bulk of irrelevant data.

This is done under tight and well-thought-out strictures. I witnessed firsthand the consequences of breaking the privacy rules of my former organization, the National Counterterrorism Center. As the center’s deputy director, I had to fire people, good people, and remove others from their posts for failing to follow the rules about how information could be accessed and used. It didn’t happen often, and it was never a malicious attempt to gather private information. We had mandatory training and full-time staffers to supervise privacy regulations. We used precious resources to hire lawyers and civil liberties experts to oversee our efforts. And on those few occasions when we made mistakes, the punishments were swift and harsh.

Yes, some things that are classified probably don’t need to be. That may undermine public trust and dilute our ability to protect the data that really need protecting. But some things — especially U.S. sources and methods — must be kept secret. Snowden didn’t offer fresh insight about a massive policy failure. Rather, he took upon himself the authority to decide what tradecraft the intelligence community needs to keep his fellow citizens safe. Sadly, Snowden has captured the public’s imagination and attention, and the government’s reaction now seems too little, too late and too reactive. But the intelligence community — always a less sympathetic protagonist than a self-styled whistle-blower — actually has a good story to tell about how seriously the government takes privacy issues. We should tell it.


By: Andrew Liepman, Senior analyst at Rand Corp., was a career CIA officer; Former Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center: Op-Ed Columnist, The Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2013

August 12, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans Against Reality”: The GOP Has Fallen Victim To Its Own Con Game

Last week House Republicans voted for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. Like the previous 39 votes, this action will have no effect whatsoever. But it was a stand-in for what Republicans really want to do: repeal reality, and the laws of arithmetic in particular. The sad truth is that the modern G.O.P. is lost in fantasy, unable to participate in actual governing.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about policy substance. I may believe that Republicans have their priorities all wrong, but that’s not the issue here. Instead, I’m talking about their apparent inability to accept very basic reality constraints, like the fact that you can’t cut overall spending without cutting spending on particular programs, or the fact that voting to repeal legislation doesn’t change the law when the other party controls the Senate and the White House.

Am I exaggerating? Consider what went down in Congress last week.

First, House leaders had to cancel planned voting on a transportation bill, because not enough representatives were willing to vote for the bill’s steep spending cuts. Now, just a few months ago House Republicans approved an extreme austerity budget, mandating severe overall cuts in federal spending — and each specific bill will have to involve large cuts in order to meet that target. But it turned out that a significant number of representatives, while willing to vote for huge spending cuts as long as there weren’t any specifics, balked at the details. Don’t cut you, don’t cut me, cut that fellow behind the tree.

Then House leaders announced plans to hold a vote on doubling the amount of cuts from the food stamp program — a demand that is likely to sink the already struggling effort to agree with the Senate on a farm bill.

Then they held the pointless vote on Obamacare, apparently just to make themselves feel better. (It’s curious how comforting they find the idea of denying health care to millions of Americans.) And then they went home for recess, even though the end of the fiscal year is looming and hardly any of the legislation needed to run the federal government has passed.

In other words, Republicans, confronted with the responsibilities of governing, essentially threw a tantrum, then ran off to sulk.

How did the G.O.P. get to this point? On budget issues, the proximate source of the party’s troubles lies in the decision to turn the formulation of fiscal policy over to a con man. Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has always been a magic-asterisk kind of guy — someone who makes big claims about having a plan to slash deficits but refuses to spell out any of the all-important details. Back in 2011 the Congressional Budget Office, in evaluating one of Mr. Ryan’s plans, came close to open sarcasm; it described the extreme spending cuts Mr. Ryan was assuming, then remarked, tersely, “No proposals were specified that would generate that path.”

What’s happening now is that the G.O.P. is trying to convert Mr. Ryan’s big talk into actual legislation — and is finding, unsurprisingly, that it can’t be done. Yet Republicans aren’t willing to face up to that reality. Instead, they’re just running away.

When it comes to fiscal policy, then, Republicans have fallen victim to their own con game. And I would argue that something similar explains how the party lost its way, not just on fiscal policy, but on everything.

Think of it this way: For a long time the Republican establishment got its way by playing a con game with the party’s base. Voters would be mobilized as soldiers in an ideological crusade, fired up by warnings that liberals were going to turn the country over to gay married terrorists, not to mention taking your hard-earned dollars and giving them to Those People. Then, once the election was over, the establishment would get on with its real priorities — deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthy.

At this point, however, the establishment has lost control. Meanwhile, base voters actually believe the stories they were told — for example, that the government is spending vast sums on things that are a complete waste or at any rate don’t do anything for people like them. (Don’t let the government get its hands on Medicare!) And the party establishment can’t get the base to accept fiscal or political reality without, in effect, admitting to those base voters that they were lied to.

The result is what we see now in the House: a party that, as I said, seems unable to participate in even the most basic processes of governing.

What makes this frightening is that Republicans do, in fact, have a majority in the House, so America can’t be governed at all unless a sufficient number of those House Republicans are willing to face reality. And that quorum of reasonable Republicans may not exist.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 4, 2013

August 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Suppressing The Vote”: For The GOP, “Integrity Of The Ballot” Is A Deceptive Myth

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court’s hyper-conservative faction has neutered the Voting Rights Act, Republican officials around the country have re-energized their campaign to block citizens of color from voting.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott surprised no one last week when he announced that he would resume a controversial and clearly partisan purge of the voting rolls, supposedly to clear them of non-citizens. Nor is there any shock in the decisions by officials in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi to proceed with harsh new voter ID laws.

While Republicans contend the new laws and purges are necessary to protect the integrity of the ballot, that stale defense no longer merits extensive debate. It’s obvious that GOP activists have but one purpose in changing laws that affect voting and registration: putting up obstacles that might suppress the franchise among voters who usually support Democrats.

Actually, a few have admitted as much. Last year, Republican Mike Turzai, House majority leader in the Pennsylvania legislature, bragged about the passage of a strict new voter ID law, claiming it would “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Though Romney lost Pennsylvania on his way to overall defeat, the state’s GOP chairman still said earlier this year that voter ID “probably helped a bit” in cutting President Obama’s margin of victory from 2008.

A similar admission came from Republican campaign consultant Scott Tranter when he spoke at a post-election analysis hosted last December by the Pew Center on the States. He dismissed the idea of bipartisan cooperation to eliminate the long lines and other dismal conditions that had plagued voting in many areas.

“… At the end of the day, a lot of us are campaign professionals and we want to do everything we can to help our sides. Sometimes we think that’s voter ID, sometimes we think that’s longer lines, whatever it may be,” Tranter said.

Not that you needed those admissions to know that the GOP-led campaign to “protect the integrity of the ballot” is phony, the 21st-century version of the poll tax. Remember when Alan Wilson, South Carolina’s Republican attorney general, claimed last year that hundreds of dead people had voted in his state?

Ah, never happened. As you might expect, zombies have little interest in electoral politics. State authorities investigated and found no — zip, zero, zilch — zombie voters there.

Wilson made his claims in defense of a strict new voter ID law, one of the GOP’s more popular methods for suppressing the franchise. Supposedly, the requirement for showing state-sponsored identification, such as a driver’s license, would prohibit not only the dead but also other unworthies who claim to be legitimate voters. There is just one problem with that theory: Voter impersonation is virtually non-existent.

But voter ID laws do serve the purpose for which they are actually intended. They pose an obstacle for thousands of elderly and poor Americans who lack driver’s licenses, most of whom tend to support Democrats.

Florida, where Scott is proceeding with his purge, is a particularly interesting case. According to Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, the state has gained 1.5 million registered voters since 2006. Of those, 61 percent are blacks or Latinos, both strong constituencies for the Democratic Party. It’s no wonder, then, that Florida Republicans have worked so hard to block the franchise among those voters.

You may have noticed, though, that voter suppression hasn’t helped the GOP win presidential elections in the last two cycles. Indeed, their tactics may have given Obama the winning edge in Florida in 2012: Black voters were so angered by obvious attempts to discourage them from voting that they turned out in huge numbers, enduring long lines.

Given that reality, some conservatives believe the GOP should give up its emphasis on blocking the ballot. As The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat has written: “the GOP is … sending a message to African-Americans that their suspicions about conservatism are basically correct, and that rather than actually doing outreach to blacks, the right would rather not have them vote at all.”

Indeed, there is no reason for black voters to believe anything else.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, August 11, 2013

August 12, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unnerving To Watch”: Could Mitch McConnell’s Senate Fight Take Down The Country?

TPM Reader TW thinks back to 2008 and 2011 …

Saw your editor’s blog post on McConnell and it’s something I have been thinking about all week. I work in the investment industry and I am watching the town hall meetings, this thing with McConnell and it’s bringing flashbacks to 2011. I don’t think most people understand just how close we were to a real meltdown that summer. Without Biden and McConnell, there would have been a default and that would have dwarfed 2008.

Now normally, the country would be able to count on the fact that they averted disaster last time, so therefore, they will find a way to avert it again this time. But as I’ve thought about it all week (and for some time before this week), I’ve had a nagging thought that this is all wrong. But, I couldn’t put a finger on it either.

But after seeing the coverage of the town halls this week and listening to the right wing turn on their own, little by little, I guess I get it now. These people really are nihilistic and the only thing that will satisfy them is a total breakdown of government. Only then, they believe, can we have our “freedoms” and our “rights”. I don’t pretend to understand how you mentally get to that point, but that’s where they are.

Now, I know that there have always been crazy people in this country throughout our history, but there has also always been rational people who think first about the country and act accordingly. But that’s not where we are today. Rational people have been voted out or left and in their place are the Lee’s, Cruz’s, Rubio’s, etc. And while they claim to be capitalists and free market proponents, they couldn’t negotiate themselves out of a paper bag in the real world, and they have no understanding of practical economics. You can spout Ludwig von Mises all you want, but it has no practical application to the real world.

Which brings me back to McConnell. For all of the issues I disagree with him on, at least he was rational and would cut the deal to keep us from going over the big cliff. If he’s gone over to Crazyland and Boehner has abdicated any remaining parts of his speakership, then what’s left?

And all this comes as economically, our world is getting better. I realize that there is a ways to go with unemployment/underemployment, housing, etc. but this economy is still getting better. The market is up because of that fact. I know there’s a lot of noise around what’s driving the market, but at the end of the day, professional investors would not be pushing money into the market if they didn’t think the overall economy was headed the right direction.

So, yes, I am worried. A government shutdown can be dealt with, that won’t kill the economy, but the debt ceiling/default will. And without someone who can/will cut a deal, it’s unnerving to watch. At this point, I think we are in a more dangerous position than 2011.

I apologize for the length, but you guys are on the right track here with your reporting. This is the story of the fall, and very few people are talking about it yet.


By: Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, August 10, 2013

August 12, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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