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“The Vehemence And Vindictiveness”: I Used To Like Chris Christie, But Now I’m Beginning To Worry That He’s A Thug

I generally vote Democratic in presidential elections because I generally agree with the Democrats on social and other issues.

(Democrats are generally for “small government” on social issues, for example, whereas today’s Republicans often want to restrict choice, legislate personal morality, link Christian church and state, and otherwise have the government intrude in places where I don’t think the government should be, which I find annoying and un-American.)

That said, I’m sympathetic to some Republican views on fiscal conservatism and personal responsibility, and I don’t think the answer to every problem is “more government.” In some areas, in fact, I think the answer is probably “less government.”

So, if the Republicans were ever to produce a presidential candidate I like who is reasonable on social issues and strong and smart on economics (as opposed to being an ideologue), I would make the ideal “swing voter” who might help the Republicans capture the White House again.

For the last couple of years, I have thought that this Republican candidate might be Chris Christie, the famous governor of New Jersey.

I find Christie’s views on some social issues (gay marriage, for example) offensive and un-American. But I like his no-nonsense, practical approach to the budget and getting things done. And I love the fact that he’s willing to say and do things that run counter to the Republican Party’s talking points. This shows independence of thought and fortitude that I admire and like.

So I was thinking that it might be possible that I would end up voting for Chris Christie, who seemed to be the obvious Republican front-runner.

But now I’m increasingly worried that Chris Christie is a thug.

This is not just because of the order-up-a-traffic-jam-to-punish-a-political-opponent scandal.

Yes, that’s bad, and, regardless of whether Christie knew about it or ordered it, it reflects badly on the tone of leadership he sets in his administration. But subordinates do sometimes do things that their bosses are horrified by, and, for now, I am willing to believe that it’s possible that Christie really did know nothing about it and was actually shocked and appalled when it was brought to his attention.

It’s also the way Christie is behaving now that the traffic scandal has been exposed.

First, he torched the deputy chief of staff who ordered the traffic jam. Yes, he had to reprimand and disown her, but even if Christie didn’t implicitly sanction the jam, he could have done more to show how bizarrely out of character this behavior was for his administration and how disappointed and betrayed he felt.

Second, and far more saliently, he has now completely torched a former political ally — the guy who actually created the traffic jam.  In a startlingly long and harsh statement released yesterday, Christie’s team invoked the man’s behavior in high school to nuke his credibility. The man’s high school social studies teacher, Christie’s team triumphantly reported, once accused him of doing something deceptive.

(Something deceptive? What, exactly? And if the man did, once, in high school, do something that someone found deceptive, is this really relevant 30 years later? Has Chris Christie never, ever done something deceptive? Never? Even in high school?)

Yes, this man’s assertion that Chris Christie knew about (and, therefore, sanctioned, if not directly ordered) the traffic jam has the potential to destroy Christie’s political career.

But still … the vehemence and vindictiveness of Christie’s attack on the man was startling.

This sort of attack doesn’t make Christie look like an independent, statesmanlike leader who has the fortitude to make hard decisions and stand up for what he believes.

It makes him look like a thug.

And I don’t want to vote for a president who is a thug.


By: Henry Blodget, Business Insider, February 2, 2014

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Delusions Of Failure”: How Republicans Are Deceiving Voters And Deceiving Themselves

The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican representative from Washington — and it was remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen.

The closest she came to substance was when she described a constituent, “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly faced a $700-a-month premium hike after her policy was canceled. “This law is not working,” intoned Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And right there we see a perfect illustration of just how Republicans are trying to deceive voters — and are, in the process, deceiving themselves.

I’ll get back to “Bette in Spokane” in a minute, but first, is Obamacare “not working”?

Everyone knows about the disastrous rollout, but that was months ago. Since then, health reform has been steadily making up lost ground. At this point enrollments in the health exchanges are only about a million below Congressional Budget Office projections, and rising faster than projected. So a best guess is that by the time 2014 enrollment closes on March 31, there will be more than six million Americans signed up through the exchanges, versus seven million projected. Sign-ups might even meet the projection.

But isn’t Obamacare in a “death spiral,” in which only the old and sick are signing up, so that premiums will soon soar? Not according to the people who should know — the insurance companies. True, one company, Humana, says that the risk pool is worse than it expected. But others, including WellPoint and Aetna, are optimistic (which isn’t a contradiction: different companies could be having different experiences). And the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has run the numbers, finds that even a bad risk pool would have only a minor effect on premiums.

Now, some, perhaps many, of those signing up on the exchanges aren’t newly insured; they’re replacing their existing policies, either voluntarily or because those policies didn’t meet the law’s standards. But those standards are there for a reason — the same reason health insurance is now mandatory. Health reform won’t work if people go uninsured, then sign up when they get sick. It also can’t work if currently healthy people only buy fig-leaf insurance, which offers hardly any coverage.

And what this means, in turn, is that while we don’t know yet how many people will be newly insured under reform, we do know that even those who already had insurance are, on average, getting much better insurance. Since the goal of health reform was to make Americans more secure — to reduce their risk of being unable to afford needed health care, or of facing financial ruin if they get sick — the law is doing its job.

Which brings me back to Bette in Spokane.

Bette’s tale had policy wonks scratching their heads; it was hard to see, given what we know about premiums and how the health law works, how anyone could face that large a rate increase. Sure enough, when a local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, contacted Bette Grenier, it discovered that the real story was very different from the image Ms. McMorris Rodgers conveyed. First of all, she was comparing her previous policy with one of the pricier alternatives her insurance company was offering — and she refused to look for cheaper alternatives on the Washington insurance exchange, declaring, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.”

Even more important, all Ms. Grenier and her husband had before was a minimalist insurance plan, with a $10,000 deductible, offering very little financial protection. So yes, the new law requires that they spend more, but they would get far better coverage in return.

So was this the best story Ms. McMorris Rodgers could come up with? The answer, probably, is yes, since just about every tale of health reform horror the G.O.P. has tried to peddle has similarly fallen apart once the details were revealed. The truth is that the campaign against Obamacare relies on misleading stories at best, and often on outright deceit.

Who pays the price for this deceit? In many cases, American families. Although health care enrollment is actually going pretty well at this point, thousands and maybe millions of Americans have failed to sign up for coverage because they believe the false horror stories they keep hearing.

But conservative politicians aren’t just deceiving their constituents; they’re also deceiving themselves. Right now, Republican political strategy seems to be to stall on every issue, and reap the rewards from Obamacare’s inevitable collapse. Well, Obamacare isn’t collapsing — it’s recovering pretty well from a terrible start. And by the time that reality sinks in on the right, health reform will be irreversible.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 2, 2014

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Lonely At The Top”: Will Republicans Ever Realize That Deifying Business Owners Is Bad Politics?

Last week, congressional Republicans got together at a Chesapeake Bay resort to contemplate their political fortunes. In one presentation, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a bit of shocking news to his colleagues: Most people are not, in fact, business owners. It would be a good idea, he suggested, if they could find a way to appeal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who work for somebody else. Their aspirations don’t necessarily include opening up their own store or coming up with an amazing new product, so the prospect of lowering the corporate tax rate or slashing environmental regulations may not make their pulses quicken with excitement. They’re more concerned with the availability of jobs, the security of health care, and the affordability of education. “Could it actually have taken Republicans that long to realize they should address such problems, especially when Democrats have made huge gains appealing directly to middle-class voters?” asked conservative journalist Byron York, who reported on the meeting. “Apparently, yes. And even now, not all House Republicans are entirely on board. ‘It’s something that’s been growing and taking time for members to get comfortable with,’ says a House GOP aide, ‘because they did spend the last decade talking about small business owners.'”

You’re probably surprised at the Republicans’ surprise. But it isn’t so much about a numerical misconception—I’m sure that with the possible exception of a couple of the most lunkheaded Tea Partiers, the GOP members of Congress don’t actually think that most Americans own businesses—as it is about a moral hierarchy they’ve spent so much time building up, both in their rhetoric and their own minds.

We all believe that some people are just more important than others, and for conservatives, no one is more important than business owners. Remember how gleeful they were when President Obama said “you didn’t build that” when discussing businesses during the 2012 campaign? Sure, he was taken out of context (he was talking about roads and bridges, not the businesses themselves), but Republicans genuinely believed they had found the silver bullet that would take him down. He had disrespected business owners! Surely all America would be enraged and cast him from office! They made it the theme of their convention. They printed banners. They wrote songs about it. And they were bewildered when it didn’t work.

Just like those members of Congress listening incredulously to Eric Cantor, they couldn’t grasp that the whole country didn’t share their moral hierarchy. After years of worrying primarily about the concerns of people who own businesses, they’ve elevated to gospel truth that the businessman’s virtue is unassailable, that his rewards are justly earned, and that no effort should be spared to remove all obstacles from his path. When it comes down to a choice between, say, a business owner who would like to pay his employees as little as possible and a group of employees who’d like to be paid more, conservatives don’t just see the choice as a simple one, they can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t agree.

As a liberal, I have a different view, precisely because I don’t place the businessman at the top of my moral hierarchy. As a society we need entrepreneurs, but there are many kinds of people we need. To be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with business owners, just that the guy who owns the widget factory isn’t necessarily a better person than the guy who works on the line making widgets. Owning a business can be difficult and challenging, but so can a lot of things. I know business owners who work very hard to succeed. I also know teachers who get up at 5 in the morning every day to grade papers and plan lessons, and nurses who have to comfort the dying and change people’s bedpans. Those jobs are hard, too. And they don’t come with the prospect of great wealth if you’re good at them.

That matters too, to both liberals and conservatives. Many conservatives find wealth to be a marker of virtue—not a perfect marker, maybe, but pretty close. If you’re rich, they plainly believe, it’s probably because you worked hard for your money, and if you’re poor it’s probably because you’re lazy and unreliable. Things like unemployment insurance and food stamps only reward the indolent. The bootstraps are just there waiting to be tugged on, and if you haven’t grabbed a firm hold you have no one to blame but yourself.

As for the businesspeople themselves, it’s little wonder that so many find warmth in the embrace of the GOP, nor that they are shocked and appalled when other people criticize them. The venture capitalist Tom Perkins may have come in for a ton of ridicule when he wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal suggesting the possibility that liberals will soon be rounding up rich people and herding them into death camps (“I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich'”), but Perkins—a guy who once killed a man with his yacht—was surely speaking for more than a few of his peers. In the Republican party they find not only tireless advocacy for policies that will help them hold and expand their wealth, but the love and admiration they so clearly crave.

In 2012 on Labor Day, that same Eric Cantor tweeted, “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business, and earned their success.” Even on the day created to honor working people, the only Americans for whom he could spare a thought were business owners. Perhaps in the year and a half since, he has come to a new awareness that even if you work for someone else, like most of us do, you’re still worthy of consideration. Whether his party agrees—and whether they’ll do anything about it—is another question entirely.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 3, 2014

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Take-No-Risks Approach Is Unraveling”: Wacko Birds Cloud Republicans’ Election Euphoria”

Some Republicans envisioned a successful rope-a-dope strategy for this year’s elections: Don’t make mistakes, and let the Democrats stew in the juices of Obamacare and a strapped middle class.

That take-no-risks approach is unraveling. Congressional Republicans are offering proposals on major matters, and the party’s right wing — whose members Senator John McCain called “wacko birds” — is omnipresent in Washington and across the U.S.

Congressional Republicans have introduced initiatives on immigration, health care, and economic mobility and poverty that are creating policy and political fissures. There were four separate Republican responses to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week.

House Speaker John Boehner wants his chamber to pass immigration reform. Any compromise that is acceptable to Hispanic and Asian-American groups draws fire from the party’s sizable nativist bloc and political consultants who don’t want to divert attention from their campaign against health care reform. The Speaker’s task is enormously complicated, the prospects uphill.

On health care, three leading Republican senators recently offered an alternative to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, one they say is more market-centric. But fewer people would be covered, the prohibition on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions would be weakened, and the authors already are backing away from a proposal to deny tax benefits for some employer-based plans. Many Democrats would relish a debate over the competing plan.

Florida senator Marco Rubio, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, took on economic inequality by proposing to expand the earned income tax credit for poor people without children; Obama cited Rubio’s proposal while offering a similar one during his State of the Union address. Rubio deserves credit for trying, but he has gotten tripped up in the specifics: whether the costs should be offset by other reductions in the tax break for the working poor or whether the entire credit should be reshaped.

And the wacko birds are flocking, with a special eye on women and gays.

On women, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee wasn’t an outlier with his claim that Democrats believe women can’t control their libidos. Ken Buck, the right-wing Senate candidate in Colorado and a cancer survivor, inexplicably suggested pregnancy was like cancer. This is the same man who in a 2010 race — when his opponent was a woman — said people should vote for him because “I don’t wear high heels.” He also compared being gay to being an alcoholic.

Then there is the always -provocative Texas congressman Louie Gohmert, who said judges who rule in favor of same-sex marriage “need some basic plumbing lessons.” Or Randy Weber, his fellow Texas representative, who tweeted before the State of the Union that he was waiting for the “Kommandant-in-Chef,” who he called “The Socialistic dictator who’s been feeding US a line or is it ’A-Lying?’” Taxpayers pay Weber $174,000 a year.

Out in the provinces, the right-wing base is restless. The Arizona Republican Party recently censured McCain for leftist tendencies. In a few months, state party platforms will be drafted; keep your eye on Texas, where Republicans have called for the elimination of 16 federal cabinet departments or agencies and have come out against promoting “critical thinking” skills in education.

In Iowa, some activists are plotting to dump the state’s moderately conservative lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds, at the party’s convention. Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican who is likely to be re-elected, is the longest-serving U.S. governor, and there are expectations he will leave during his next term. Unless the ultra-right-wingers have their way, Reynolds then would become the state’s first female governor (Iowans have never elected a woman to the Senate or House, either).

Democrats have their own crazies on the left, but they aren’t as prevalent or influential.

History and polling data suggest Republicans should do well in November, keeping their House majority and with an outside shot at taking control of the Senate. But some of these big issues and the wacko birds could unsettle these prospects.


By: Al Hunt, The National Memo, February 2, 2014

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is The GOP Giving Up Tea?”: It’s An Illusion For The GOP To Think Bashing Obamacare Is An Elixir

The botched rollout of the health-care law has called forth some good news: Republicans are so confident they can ride anti-Obamacare sentiment to electoral victory that they’re growing ever-more impatient with the tea party’s fanaticism. Immigration reform may be the result.

The GOP is looking like a person emerging from a long binge and asking, “Why did I do that?” The moment of realization came when last fall’s government shutdown cratered the party’s polling numbers. Staring into the abyss can be instructive. For the first time since 2010, the middle of the House Republican caucus — roughly 100 of its 233 members — began worrying less about primaries from right-wing foes and more about losing their majority status altogether.

Obamacare’s troubles reinforced the flight from the brink. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is telling his rank-and-file that they can win the 2014 elections simply by avoiding the stupid mistakes their more-ferocious colleagues keep urging them to make. In this view, the health insurance issue will take care of everything, provided Republicans end their tea party fling.

In fact, it’s an illusion for the GOP to think that bashing Obamacare is an elixir, especially if Democrats embrace and defend the law. Now that its benefits are fully kicking in, Republicans should be asked persistently, “Who do you want to throw off health insurance?”

Also: Do you want to go back to denying people coverage for preexisting conditions? And: What about those 3 million young adults now on their parents’ health plans? “Repeal Obamacare” is not as popular as it seems in GOP bastions. Some Republicans know this, which is why they are trying to cobble together much narrower alternatives to the law.

Nonetheless, some illusions are useful. Boehner is using them aggressively. The immigration principles he announced at his caucus’s retreat last week in Cambridge, Md., are a breakthrough because they are potentially more elastic than they sound. This is why many immigration reform advocates were elated, and why President Obama, sensing what was coming, offered not a hint of partisanship on the issue in his State of the Union address.

The principles have been loosely described as favoring the legalization of undocumented immigrants without a path to citizenship. But what the statement actually opposes is a “special path to citizenship” for the roughly 11 million who are here illegally. Everything hangs on the implications of that word “special.”

A bill barring a path to citizenship would be a nonstarter for Democrats — and it ought to be a nonstarter for Republicans and conservatives. Creating a vast population of legal residents who lack citizenship rights undercuts the rights of those who are already citizens. It would undermine the commitment of a democratic republic to equal treatment and self-rule.

But reform advocates inside and outside the Obama administration note that even without a “special” path, many immigrants, once legalized, could find ways of gaining citizenship eventually.

Changes in visa allocations, including more generous rules for the spouses and parents of citizens, could help as many as 4 million undocumented residents, as The Post’s Pamela Constable has reported. Republicans have already signaled openness to a path for “dreamers” — their numbers are estimated at between 800,000 and 1.5 million — who were brought to the United States illegally as children. The bill already passed by the Senate would put as many as 8 million people on a path to citizenship. A compromise that found “non-special” ways of reaching a number reasonably close to the Senate’s is now at least possible.

It’s also possible, of course, that Boehner could make a play to improve his party’s image with Latinos by appearing to be flexible at the outset but in the end appease hard-liners by balking on a final bill — and try to blame Democrats for not compromising enough. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday that passage of a bill was “clearly in doubt.”

But the GOP consists of more than the tea party. Both business interests and conservative evangelical leaders really want a reform law. Most of the intra-party tiffs have been over tactics: whether to use shutdowns or debt-ceiling fights to achieve shared objectives. The immigration battle, by contrast, will expose more fundamental rifts among party constituencies along philosophical lines.

None of this heralds the dawn of a new Moderate Republican Age. Shifts in the Republican primary electorate and the tea party insurgency dragged the party so far to the right that it will take a long time to bring it within hailing distance of the middle of the road. But change has to start somewhere, and the GOP’s slow retreat from the fever swamps may turn out to be one of Obamacare’s utterly unintended effects.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 2, 2014

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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