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“There’s Only So Far You Can Follow Your Extremists”: Conservative Anger Over Budget Deal Now Purely To Save Face

Have we finally reached a point where the perpetual anger of Washington conservatives is no longer a threat to the republic? The budget deal announced yesterday suggests that it may well be, at least for the moment. It isn’t that conservatives aren’t raising a stink about it—they’re displeased that it doesn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash Social Security and Medicare, and do more to punish food-stamp recipients, among other things—because they certainly are. Indeed, they were decrying it even before it was announced, which tells you how concerned they are about the details. But they seem to be just going through the motions. Send the press releases, say you’ll vote against it, tell Fox News why it doesn’t get to the real problems … and then we’ll all move on. The budget will pass, mostly because it averts the possibility of a government shutdown (at least over the budget, though not over the debt ceiling) for two more years. And even the most conservative Republican knows that’s a good thing for their party.

Just look at how John Boehner is acting. Boehner, who spent the entire period of the shutdown (and the weeks leading up to it) stepping gingerly around his party’s right wing as though it were a Bengal tiger that could rip his throat out with a single swipe if angered, now feels free to attack the likes of Heritage Action, obviously without concern that they can make him pay for his insolence:

At a press conference Wednesday, a visibly angry Boehner said conservative groups who oppose the two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) are “using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.” Moments earlier, during a closed-door meeting, Boehner told House Republicans that the well-funded and influential organizations “aren’t acting out of principle, and they’re not trying to enact conservative policies. They’re using you to raise money and expand their own organization,” he said, according to a source in the room.

Those are some pretty strong words. Meanwhile, primary challenges to Republicans who have sinned against purity aren’t exactly looking formidable at the moment. Steve Stockman, who could well be the single nuttiest Republican in the House (and that’s saying something), is mounting a challenge to already extremely conservative Texas senator John Cornyn, one that will produce some moments of comedy but is almost certainly doomed. There are other primary challenges in progress to high-profile Republicans like Lindsey Graham, but most of those will probably fail as well.

That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party is irrelevant, or that events couldn’t conspire to renew their power and influence over the Republican party. For the moment, however, it does appear that the shutdown provided everyone in the GOP a valuable lesson: there’s only so far you can follow your extremists before they lead you off the cliff, and once you’ve plunged to the bottom, you don’t much want to climb back up and hurl yourself off again.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Wall That Protects Us All”: Sarah Palin Can’t Tear Down The Wall Between Church And State

“We have just enough religion to make us hate,” wrote Jonathan Swift, “but not enough to make us love one another.” A lifelong religious controversialist, the 18th-century Irish satirist definitely knew whereof he wrote. After all, it’s fewer than 20 years since Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland quit dynamiting each other’s gathering places.

Even here in the United States, it often seems that picking fights over religion increases during the Christmas season. If anything, claiming to be persecuted while expressing contempt for others’ belief appears on the rise.

And, no, I’m not talking only about the annual invocation of paranoid triumphalism Fox News calls the “War on Christmas.” Nor even about noted theologian Rush Limbaugh assailing Pope Francis as a “Marxist” for criticizing the tyranny of markets and the worship of money. Because Jesus was all about capital formation and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Everywhere you look, somebody’s insulting somebody else’s religion.

To me, the cultural left’s only marginally better than the right. I recently witnessed a remarkable online colloquy concerning a Catholic organization’s shipping 3,000 rosaries to the Philippines to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, “so that they can thank God” as one cynic wrote.

“Do these people ever use their minds for one second?” one person asked. “Hearing this is thoroughly depressing. It shows how ignorant and warped so many people are and how daunting is the amount of education there needs to be to cure the world.”

Cure it of what, I wondered. Of typhoons? Of charity? Or merely of belief? Almost needless to say, Roman Catholic churches worldwide were taking up special collections for storm victims in that largely Catholic nation—along with religious and humanitarian organizations worldwide.

“They are vultures sweeping down on those in need to shove more control down their throats,” wrote another. “I have nothing but contempt for the Catholic church and religion as a whole.”

News flash: The world will never be cured.

Meanwhile, how this kind of free-floating rage differs from Bible-beating preachers who blame earthquakes and tornadoes on other people’s sexual sins escapes me. The main characteristic of the fundamentalist mind is an inability to refrain from expressing contempt for beliefs different from one’s own—whether one’s spiritual leader is Pat Robertson or Christopher Hitchens.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin’s remarkable appearance at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last week—the last stop on a tour publicizing her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.

“I say in a very jolly Christmasy way,” the Alaskan babbler claims, “that, ‘Enough is enough.’ Say enough is enough with this politically correct police out there that is acting to erode our freedom to celebrate and exercise our faith. Some Scrooge wants to force Christ out of Christmas and wants to ban Jesus out of the reason for the season?”

To hear Palin tell it, there’s a veritable army of “angry atheists armed with an attorney” who “want to try to abort Christ from Christmas” by filing lawsuits “when they see a plastic Jewish family on somebody’s lawn—a nativity scene, that’s basically what it is, right?”

Actually, no.

But never mind theology, here’s the deal: If Palin or anybody else can provide a single, verifiable instance of somebody being successfully sued for exhibiting a crèche, a cross or any religious symbol on private property anywhere in the U.S., they’d have something to complain about.

They’d also have the certain support of the American Civil Liberties Union in defense of their First Amendment rights.

But of course that’s not what these (to my mind overblown) fights over nativity scenes at courthouses, city halls and state capitols around the country are about. Instead, they’re about an “establishment of religion” which the same First Amendment categorically forbids.

In typical scattershot fashion, Palin even invoked Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson, a conventionally pious Founding Father in her mind, who would, like, totally object to the persecution of people like her who can’t make everybody admit that their God is America’s God:   

“I think Thomas Jefferson would certainly recognize it and stand up and he wouldn’t let anybody tell him to sit down and shut up.”

Now it’s definitely true that Jefferson was rarely shy about his religious views. Courtesy of Martin Longman in Washington Monthly, here’s his opinion about what Palin calls “the reason for the season” from an 1823 letter to John Adams: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter.”

Like Swift, Jefferson recognized the dangers of religious strife. That’s precisely why, he assured Connecticut Baptists in 1802, the First Amendment decreed “a wall of separation between church and State.”

A wall that protects us still.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Funerals Are Not About The Mourners”: Selfies and Handshakes Shouldn’t Overshadow Remembering Nelson Mandela

Being president or prime minister often involves partaking in such social niceties as handshakes and posing for photographs. And it’s a measure of how obsessed many have become with the style points over the substantive matters of being president that President Obama is being slammed for both.

At Nelson Mandela’s funeral – where Obama gave a very moving and sometimes scolding speech in front of world leaders there to mourn the civil rights leader – the president happened to run by Cuban leader Raul Castro. So he shook his hand. He didn’t embrace him, or hand over the keys to Blair House, or even say, “you’re doing a heckuva job, Castie.” He just shook his hand, which is what you do at such an event, since funerals are not about the mourners but about the deceased person being honored. For that, Obama is being accused of appeasing the Castros or somehow endorsing human rights abuses in Cuba (which indeed is a human rights violator, as are some U.S. allies and major trading partners – the latter status providing some affected blindness to such abuses).

Now, it’s true that handshakes are far more loaded when there’s a presidential hand involved. But so, too, is the pointed absence of any kind of tame expression of greeting. To deliberately rebuff Castro would have been a statement of its own, and not a productive one. Attempting to freeze out Cuba with an embargo and sanctions has done absolutely nothing to improve conditions in that country, which is not subject to a world embargo and (unlike other, bigger nations) is not as dependent on U.S. commerce. Sanctions can work when they are practiced by the world at large and truly damage the regime – they worked in South Africa, and brought Iran to the table for negotiations more recently. With Cuba, it is the U.S. that has isolated itself in imposing restrictions on trade and travel. Engaging with Cuba wouldn’t be an endorsement of human rights abuses there. It would be a way of helping bring about change in the island nation. Repr. James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, sums it up perfectly: The worst thing to happen to the Cuban regime would be Spring Break. Americans can have a much bigger influence in Cuba by showing up than by staying (by law) away. It was only a handshake. But if it’s the first step towards a dialogue, is that something to denounce?

Obama was also criticized for a supposed selfie he took at the funeral with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. There’s a photo of the three, with Thorning-Schmidt holding the phone with both hands, and Obama helping out with one. First lady Michelle Obama is seen looking sternly ahead. The scene – which none of the critics personally witnessed – is being used to depict the president as some sort of misbehaving, self-centered child, and the first lady as peeved over his bad judgment.

Well, maybe she is. Or maybe, she just happened to be looking ahead, thinking about the funeral, or even just really tired after a very long flight. The point is, we don’t know, and it’s absurd to read a major family drama into a photograph.

Secondly, we don’t know Obama was behind the photo-taking. In fact, there’s more evidence that he was not. We’ve already been told that for security reasons, he can’t have an IPhone, only a Blackberry (and the device in question does not look like a Blackberry). And it’s the Danish prime minister’s two hands that are on the phone, suggesting that she was the one who initiated the picture. If that indeed was the case, what was Obama supposed to do – refuse to join in the photo? Tell the teacher? We also don’t know what was happening at the time. Yes, if someone was in the middle of delivering a eulogy, taking a photo of oneself would have been in very bad form. But if it was between speeches, and if people were talking amongst themselves on the floor (which is what it sounded like, even during Obama’s speech), it’s not quite so terrible.

Mandela is dead, and the U.S. and the world have an opportunity to forge the sort of reconciliation the South African leader advocated and practiced. We ought to focus on that, instead of a couple of gestures at the funeral.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Nelson Mandela | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Keeping Things In Perspective”: In The Republican Battle With Primary “Chaos”, Chaos Still Winning

CNN’s Peter Hamby does some good reporting in a piece on various Republican discussions about the 2016 presidential nominating process. But the natural tendency of a reporter to overhype the significance of his scoop is painfully apparent here. The following is Hanby’s lede with words italicized that add some questionable drama to the proceedings:

A handful of Republican Party officials is quietly advancing a new batch of rules aimed at streamlining a chaotic presidential nominating process that many party insiders viewed as damaging to the their campaign for the White House in 2012, multiple GOP sources told CNN.

In a series of closed-door meetings since August, handpicked members of the Republican National Committee have been meeting with party Chairman Reince Priebus in Washington to hash out details of a sweeping plan to condense the nominating calendar, severely punish primary and caucus states that upend the agreed-upon voting order and potentially move the party’s national convention to earlier in the summer, with late June emerging as the ideal target date.

Compare this account of what’s actually happening with that of the reigning expert on this whole subject, Josh Putnam of Frontloading HQ, who relies in part on Hamby’s factual reporting. I’m not about to go through Putnam’s vast post, but with his usual painstaking detail he examines what is and isn’t happening, and sees a lot less change in the works than Hamby’s adjectives suggest.

The quartet of privileged states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) retain their privileges and may be able to delay the starting gun for ’16 until early February, though late January is more likely. The “severe” penalty for calendar-jumping has mainly been adjusted to keep small states from moving with light consequences. The early convention idea is colliding with the unwillingness of states holding simultaneous presidential and down-ballot primaries to hold both any earlier than they already do. And it’s important to distinguish between the dates for naming delegates and those for binding them to a candidate.

On top of everything else, all this talk must be coordinated with Democrats, who will have their own open presidential nominating contest in 2016.

Why does the difference in tone between Hamby’s account and Putnam’s matter? Well, it’s not earth-shaking, but Hamby’s approach reinforces the cherished MSM meme that for all the craziness of its “base” and “activists,” the GOP is actually run by a small but powerful cabal of shrewd and pragmatic “insiders” who use their superior procedural knowledge (in venues ranging from Congress to campaigns to the nominating process) to manipulate Republicans into doing their will. Just wait and see: the idea that the nominating process is being “overhauled” will soon merge with the idea that “pragmatists” are preparing to grease the skids for a “pragmatic” presidential nominee, presumably Chris Christie.

Truth is, the Republican presidential nominating process is a long way from being rescued from “chaos,” less because of the relative impotence of supposedly almighty party elites than because states still call the most important shots, and the early states are willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve their outsized power. So let’s keep any “reforms” or “schemes” we hear about–and their alleged consequences–in perspective.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 11, 2013

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

“The Tea Party Is Pissed And That’s A Good Sign”: Here’s The Real Story, The GOP Has Surrendered On Repealing Obamacare

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) both referred to the budget deal they announced on Tuesday evening as “historic.” They were correct — but not because of any of the cuts or fees in the modest deficit-reduction plan.

What’s historic about Ryan and Murray’s bipartisan deal, which eases the automatic sequester cuts, is that it quietly funds Obamacare for the next two years, rejecting the Tea Party argument to defund/repeal the president’s signature legislative accomplishment until at least 2017.

Yes, Republicans are giving in and accepting the Affordable Care Act, right as the law and the president are near all-time popularity lows.

Two months of severe problems with the website compounded confusion and frustration with an already complex law. Most of the problems have been fixed, but the public perception of the law will take months to heal, if it ever does. But Republicans have figured out, after their failed attempt to dive-bomb the law with a shutdown in October, that they have no hope of getting rid of it — at least until President Obama is out of office.

The Ryan-Murray agreement isn’t the only sign that many Republicans are nearing the “acceptance” phase of mourning the existence of Obamacare.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who repeatedly said that the president’s health reform was an abomination that compelled him to run for office, now says he can accept the law’s state insurance exchange system.

Five of the 25 Republican-led states that have rejected Medicaid expansion are edging toward accepting federal money to help insure millions who earn just a bit too much to qualify for Medicaid. Republican governors in the key swing states of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania are already working toward implementing expansion.

Another sign that most Republicans understand that they’re going to have to live with Obamacare is that the Tea Party is pissed.

Red State‘s Erick Erickson — one of the leading voices for primarying just about every incumbent Republican senator — put it this way:

Last month Republicans bailed on the Obamacare fight and declared sequestration their line in the sand. Now they are saying they’ll bail on sequestration, but they’ll hold the line on unemployment benefits.

Why should we believe them anymore? Is it any wonder that poll after poll shows Republican voters hate their Republican congressmen and senators?

Bend over America, here it comes again.

Republicans had two months of unity as they celebrated the miserable rollout of Now the GOP is back to where it was in October, stuck with a base that’s pretty much furious at its leadership for surrendering — again.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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