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“A Fence That Cannot Be Straddled”: Gingrich’s Praise Of Mandela Rips Open Issue Of Race

Newt Gingrich has been right about very few things during a long political career of hypocrisy, duplicity, narcissism and devotion to the no-holds-barred tactics of bomb-throwing and hyper-partisanship. But ever alert to political trends, he was right about this much: He openly opposed South Africa’s apartheid government back in the 1980s, and he tried to persuade Ronald Reagan to support the stiff sanctions that finally helped to topple the hateful regime.

Gingrich understood that the Republican Party would not be well served if it continued to be identified as a defender of South Africa’s pariah government. When Reagan vetoed legislation that imposed harsh economic penalties against the Pretoria regime, Gingrich helped to lead an effort to override the veto and impose sanctions.

Still, Gingrich has been as guilty as any Republican of using the 21st-century version of the Southern strategy to appeal to the least progressive members of the GOP base. So he shouldn’t be surprised that his recent praise of Nelson Mandela was met with harsh responses by so many of his fans on the right.

The Republican Party has a huge race problem — one that once again broke into the open in the aftermath of the extraordinary South African’s death. American conservatives still find it difficult to celebrate the life of a man who stood against white supremacy. While several Republican politicians were laudatory when reflecting on Mandela’s life, other conservatives were ambivalent.

Bill O’Reilly claimed that Mandela was a “great man” but also insisted he was a “communist.” (South Africa’s economic record under his leadership gives the lie to that.) Similarly, Dick Cheney called Mandela a “great man,” but stubbornly defended his opposition to the sanctions that eventually led to Mandela’s release.

It’s no surprise, then, that Gingrich sparked a firestorm when he released a statement citing Mandela as “one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime.” His Facebook fans unleashed a torrent of hateful comments in response, from chastising Gingrich for supposedly airbrushing Mandela’s past — “Newt, I thought you of all people, a historian, would be true to who this guy really was” — to those more open in their racial antagonism: “He hated America, Newt. Quit pandering to the blacks.”

Gingrich, to his credit, responded with a frank post to conservatives, asking them to consider what they would have done had they been in Mandela’s place. But it hardly quelled the uproar.

For far too long, Republicans have been comfortable playing to the worst instincts of their base, especially those steeped in racial antagonism and uncomfortable with the changes wrought by the civil rights movement. It will take years of hard work in the GOP vineyards to rip away all the kudzu of animus and suspicion toward black and brown citizens.

Since Barry Goldwater ran a 1964 presidential campaign on a platform of states’ rights, the Republican Party has honed a strategy of appealing to disaffected whites — stoking their resentments, fueling their fears, marshaling their paranoia. Every GOP presidential candidate since Goldwater has used that strategy because it reliably delivers certain voters to the polls.

In more recent times, GOP leaders have struggled to try to find a way to broaden the party’s appeal to a more diverse constituency while also continuing to win the hearts and minds of disaffected whites. But it’s a fence that cannot be straddled. Too many Republican voters refuse to acknowledge the toll of their country’s racist past. And too many fear a future wherein whites will no longer constitute a majority.

Gingrich knows that all too well because he pandered to those fears in his 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. He labeled President Obama the “food stamp president,” an appellation designed to conjure up images of indolent black voters dependent on government aid.

The appalling comments he drew after he praised Mandela were simply retributive justice. Like other GOP leaders, he has appealed to the worst instincts of many Republican voters when he needed to — a strategy that will continue to haunt the party as it tries to plot a course to the future.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 14, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Nelson Mandela, Newt Gingrich | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Biggest Losers”: Conservatives Continue To Impose Gratuitous Suffering On Working Americans

The pundit consensus seems to be that Republicans lost in the just-concluded budget deal. Overall spending will be a bit higher than the level mandated by the sequester, the straitjacket imposed back in 2011. Meanwhile, Democrats avoided making any concessions on Social Security or Medicare. Call this one for Team D, I guess.

But if Republicans arguably lost this round, the unemployed lost even more: Extended benefits weren’t renewed, so 1.3 million workers will be cut off at the end of this month, and many more will see their benefits run out in the months that follow. And if you take a longer perspective — if you look at what has happened since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010 — what you see is a triumph of anti-government ideology that has had enormously destructive effects on American workers.

First, some facts about government spending.

One of the truly remarkable things about American political discourse at the end of 2013 is the fixed conviction among many conservatives that the Obama era has been one of enormous growth in government. Where do they think this surge in government spending has taken place? Well, it’s true that one major new program — the Affordable Care Act — is going into effect. But it’s not nearly as big as people imagine. Once Obamacare is fully implemented, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will add only about 3 percent to overall federal spending. And, if you ask people ranting about runaway government what other programs they’re talking about, you draw a blank.

Meanwhile, the actual numbers show that over the past three years we’ve been living through an era of unprecedented government downsizing. Government employment is down sharply; so is total government spending (including state and local governments) adjusted for inflation, which has fallen almost 3 percent since 2010 and around 5 percent per capita.

And when I say unprecedented, I mean just that. We haven’t seen anything like the recent government cutbacks since the 1950s, and probably since the demobilization that followed World War II.

What has been cut? It’s a complex picture, but the most obvious cuts have been in education, infrastructure, research, and conservation. While the Recovery Act (the Obama stimulus) was in effect, the federal government provided significant aid to state and local education. Then the aid went away, and local governments began letting go of hundreds of thousands of teachers.

Meanwhile, public investment fell sharply — so sharply that many observers refer to it as a “collapse” — as state and local governments canceled transportation projects and deferred maintenance. Researchers, like those at the National Institutes of Health, also took large cuts. And there was a major cut in spending on land and water conservation.

There are three things you need to know about these harsh cuts.

First, they were unnecessary. The Washington establishment may have hyperventilated about debt and deficits, but markets have never shown any concern at all about U.S. creditworthiness. In fact, borrowing costs have stayed at near-record lows throughout.

Second, the cuts did huge short-term economic damage. Small-government advocates like to claim that reducing government spending encourages private spending — and when the economy is booming, they have a point. The recent cuts, however, took place at the worst possible moment, the aftermath of a financial crisis. Families were struggling to cope with the debt they had run up during the housing bubble; businesses were reluctant to invest given the weakness of consumer demand. Under these conditions, government cutbacks simply swelled the ranks of the unemployed — and as family incomes fell, so did consumer spending, compounding the damage.

The result was to deepen and prolong America’s jobs crisis. Those cuts in government spending are the main reason we still have high unemployment, more than five years after Lehman Brothers fell.

Finally, if you look at my list of major areas that were cut, you’ll notice that they mainly involve investing in the future. So we aren’t just looking at short-term harm, we’re also looking at a long-term degradation of our prospects, reinforced by the corrosive effects of sustained high unemployment.

So, about that budget deal: yes, it was a small victory for Democrats. It was also, possibly, a small step toward political sanity, with some Republicans rejecting, provisionally, the notion that a party controlling neither the White House nor the Senate can nonetheless get whatever it wants through extortion.

But the larger picture is one of years of deeply destructive policy, imposing gratuitous suffering on working Americans. And this deal didn’t do much to change that picture.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 12, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Killer Who Supports Gun Control”: We Parade Through Life To The Relentless Drumbeat Of Death

A year ago, America was shocked by the murder of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But momentum to take action has faded, and we still lose that many lives to gun violence every eight hours on average.

The price of our gun policy can be seen in this breathtaking statistic: More Americans have died from guns here in the United States since 1970 (nearly 1.4 million) than American soldiers have died in all the wars in our country’s history over more than 200 years (about 1.2 million).

Those gun killings have been committed by people like John Lennon (his real name, but no relation to the Beatles star), who, in 2001, used an assault rifle to shoot an acquaintance dead in a quarrel over drugs. Lennon is now locked up at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y., and he underscores that while people kill people, so do guns.

“I do take responsibility for the murder; I’m sorry for taking his life, and all the life he could have had,” Lennon writes in an essay that he sent me out of the blue and that I’ve published on my blog. “But without a gun, I would not have killed.”

Lennon says that only “that perfect killing machine” of a gun assured that the murder would succeed.

“Could I have stabbed him?” he adds. “Strangled him? Bludgeoned him? If I had done so and he hadn’t died, why would that have made me less culpable than I am now, a man who swiftly and cowardly shot another man to death? A killer nonetheless, I hash these things out, in my head, in my cell, in Attica serving 28 years to life.”

Lennon does not deny that people will still try to kill each other without guns. Indeed, he knows that firsthand, for he writes about being the target of a revenge attack:

“He sneaked upon me in the prison yard like I sneaked upon his friend in a Brooklyn street. When I turned, I saw his arm swing for my neck. I weaved. Then I felt the piercing blows, as he gripped my shirt and dug into my side. Pressured by the blood-thirsty crowd, he stabbed me six times because I shot his friend to death. The ice pick didn’t do the job, though. He got away with it because we were in a blind spot of the yard, and I never told on him. Prison ethics. While my assailant’s intent was clear, the weapon he had access to was insufficient. Therefore I lived.”

“It’s clear that the only reason I’m alive is because my assailant didn’t have his weapon of choice,” he adds. “Can you imagine if we had access to guns in prison?”

Lennon says that he has been tempted to commit suicide but that hanging himself — the best option in prison — is grim and difficult. So he settles for living. Indeed, he notes the irony that it is only because he is in a safe refuge without guns that he has not been murdered or killed himself; at large, he believes he would be dead.

In quoting a murderer and publishing an essay by him on my blog, I’m not diminishing his crime or romanticizing it. But Lennon speaks a blunt truth that Washington politicians too often avoid.

“I’m all for the market system,” Lennon says, “but when the products are killing machines, why shouldn’t we tighten measures to keep guns out of the hands of people like me?”

He’s right. Take cars, which are also potentially lethal instruments ubiquitous in America. We’ve undertaken a remarkable half-century effort to make automobiles far, far safer — and that is precisely the model for what we should do with guns. We’ve introduced seat belts, air bags, prominent brake lights and padded dashboards. We’ve cracked down on drunken drivers, improved road layouts and railings, introduced graduated licenses for young drivers and required insurance for drivers.

The upshot is that we have reduced the vehicle fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by more than 80 percent — so that firearms now claim more American lives each year than vehicles.

We need to approach gun safety in the same meticulous way we approach safety in motor vehicles and so many other aspects of life: It’s ridiculous that a cellphone can require a code to use, but a gun doesn’t.

One of the heroes at Sandy Hook was Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who was killed while trying to hide and protect her students. It would be nice if Washington could show a fraction of that courage, but instead, on this issue of guns, politicians display paralysis and fecklessness. So, as Lennon writes, and he should know: “we parade through life to the relentless drumbeat of death.”


By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 14, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boehner Might Be A Pragmatist, But He’s No Moderate”: The Budget Deal Has Passed, But Don’t Hold Your Breath For Bipartisanship

For the first time in months, Washington seems…optimistic. Not only did House Republicans pass the budget deal brokered by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and his counterpart in the Senate, Senator Patty Murray, but Speaker John Boehner made news with a small Howard Beale moment:

“Frankly I think they’re misleading their followers. I think they’re pushing our members in places where they want to be. And frankly I just think they’ve lost all credibility,” he told reporters at his weekly press conference Thursday. “There comes a point when people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.” […]

“You know, they pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly the strategy I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government re-opened, one of the people at one of these groups stood up and said, ‘well we never really thought it would work.’ Are you kidding me?”

Asked if he thinks the groups should “stand down,” Boehner said, “I don’t care what they do.”

This looks like the establishment backlash we expected during the shutdown fight, or—as Molly Ball put it for The Atlantic—“House leaders stopped trying to get along with the enforcers of an impossible conservative standard and started fighting back.”

Now, the speculation is that, perhaps, Boehner is prepared to buck Tea Party Republicans on other issues. Immigration activists, for example, are hopeful that this development could change the calculus for reform, and give Boehner the room he needs to pass a bill with votes from pragmatic Republicans—who have an agenda they want to accomplish—and Democrats. Indeed, there’s the potential for a whole rush of activity around issues where Democrats and Republicans can come to narrow agreement, from an extension of unemployment insurance to the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.

The problem is that, aside from this budget deal, it doesn’t look like Boehner has broken from conservatives on much at all. In that same press conference, for instance, he repeated conservative boilerplate on repealing the Affordable Care Act. And afterwards he went to the House floor and blocked a vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits. Likewise, there’s no real indication that he’s changed his mind on the EDNA or unemployment insurance. The House Speaker might be a pragmatist, but he isn’t a moderate.

Earlier this year, Boehner bucked conservatives by violating the “Hastert rule”—the faux requirement that all legislation passed by the House have support by a majority of the majority—to pass a deal on the fiscal cliff, authorize aid for Hurricane Sandy, and renew the Violence Against Women Act. The prediction was that this could be the new normal, and that Boehner could restore a modicum of sanity to the House by refusing to rely on Republican votes for legislation.

What followed, instead, was a year of inaction, culminating in a government shutdown and a stand-off over the fiscal cliff.

All of this is to say that we shouldn’t hold our breath about Boehner and his “new” approach. The Ryan-Murray deal was a necessity: Not only does it preclude Tea Party conservatives from forcing another shutdown, but it preserves most of the sequester and hands Republicans a solid victory.

As for the other agenda items? Most Republicans don’t want them and there’s no reason for Boehner to go against the tide.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, December 13, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Budget, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pure Cultural Hatred”: Why Obama’s Haters Are Worse Than Bush’s

Permit me to share with you my favorite set of headlines from Thursday.

USA Today: Official who OK’d Obama birth papers dies in crash.

NPR: Hawaiian Official Who Released Obama’s Birth Certificate Dies in Plane Crash.

NBC News: Health care director who approved Obama birth certificate dies in plane crash.

And finally, National Review, and note the difference, which rests in just one word, but what a word it is: Official Who Released Obama’s Birth Certificate Dies in Mysterious Plane Crash.

Ah, of course. “Mysterious.” Well, I mean, it had to be, didn’t it? Poor Loretta Fuddy, 65 and a longtime public servant, was evidently a beloved figure in Aloha State political circles, at least based on the tributes I’ve read over the last couple of days from Hawaii officials, who seem to be absolutely grief-stricken at her passing. But to certain of their fellow Americans, Fuddy’s tragic death provides the occasion for only one thing—sly suggestions that her death might not quite have been an accident. You see, she was the only person of nine on board the small Cessna who perished. Hence, “mysterious.”

In fairness, the National Review writer was having a bit of a laugh. But even so, that word did appear in the headline, and that headline happened to appear toward the end of the most flagrantly batshit-crazy week of Obama obsession we’ve seen in a long, long time. I needn’t rehearse all the ridiculous and false and not-a-little-racist things that have been said. But let’s look into this dementia a little more broadly.

Of course, some on the left said nutty things about Bush too, and for the arbiters of conventional wisdom, that mere fact makes for “equivalence.” Both sides do it. Well… OK. But that depends on how you define “it.”

In fact, both sides do different things. My assertion is this: Baseless left-wing attacks on Republicans differ in character from baseless right-wing attacks on Democrats in two ways. First, most liberal-left attacks on Republicans are more political than cultural, while virtually all right-wing attacks on Democrats are about culture. And second, those liberal-left attacks that are about culture tend to be mocking in tone, expressing derision, while the right’s attacks are fearful, expressing deep paranoia.

Let’s take them one by one. Bush and his top men were often called fascists on the left. That’s an attack that certainly has its cultural elements, but it is first and foremost political. The worst thing people on the left could think to do, in other words—call Bush a fascist—is a political smear, not a cultural one. This reflects the way most people on the left see the world—through a political lens primarily, and through a cultural one only secondarily. There are exceptions to this, but in the main, for the broad liberal-left, politics is primarily about politics, not culture.

On the right, politics is much more about culture, because the right feels itself to be an aggrieved minority whose culture (industriousness, self-reliance, Godliness, etc.) is under constant attack from the libertines and relativists, who of course far outnumber and surround the righteous few. Culture is where people on the right live, and so the worst thing they can think to do is to make attacks that are about culture, about the Democrats hating God, destroying America, and so on.

Sometimes, of course, the left goes cultural. Calling Bush a chimp and an idiot and a cowboy, say; those trafficked in liberals’ stereotypes about Texans, Southerners in general, back-slapping oil men, and so on (well, chimp just had to do with certain facial features). That wasn’t nice, I suppose, but here’s the thing. It was done to laugh at him.

By and large, the right doesn’t laugh at Obama. Oh, sometimes. There’s the absurd teleprompter meme from early on, which held that he couldn’t put two sentences together without huge transcripts placed in front of him. And there’s a strain of criticism that he’s in over his head. But those tropes are far outweighed by the ones that assign to Obama a world-historical level of devious intelligence—indeed, he’s so maliciously brilliant that he managed to fake a birth certificate decades ago, all as just the opening salvo of a grand scheme to bring America and/or the white race to ruin.

If that’s how they see him, and it is, it stands to reason that the most out-there attacks will be pegs that will fit nicely in that hole. And, always, race will be ladled on top, like, well, chocolate syrup. Both elements were at work in this ridiculous thing about the Danish prime minister, with whom Obama was allegedly bringing dishonor upon America and behaving the way black men behave in Concerned Citizens’ Council newsletters, unable to keep his libido on a leash and so forth.

To people on the left, Bush was embarrassing, ever a threat to behave boorishly or be asked to appraise a Kandinsky on a European visit and crack that it looked like yesterday’s breakfast leftovers. To people on the right, though, Obama is a menace. They are different—and yes, the latter is worse than the former, because it does breed a more intense hatred.

Did you know, for example, that Obama has “ordered” the deaths and executions of some 30 or more people? Here’s the list, have a look. One of them is particularly impressive—apparently, a 10-year-old Obama iced an Indonesian classmate, decapitating him as part of an initiation ritual, “since Islam demands that a boy spill another’s blood before the age of 10 to prove their loyalty to Allah.” The Clintons, of course, were accused of murder, too. Whereas no one had to make crazy murder accusations against Bush. He actually did kill people (not with his own hands, obviously, but by starting a war of choice whose death tally will never be fully known).

One can only roll one’s eyes, but in fact, all this is psychotic and sickening, and it has power in the media, which can’t resist talking at length about The Handshake or The Selfie, even if it’s to defend Obama, because the mere fact of talking about those things really only fuels the fire. Yes, Obama will be out of office one day—which only raises the question what they might say (that they haven’t already) about Hillary.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Birthers, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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