"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Rhetoric Won’t Patch The GOP Up”: It’s Hard To Patch Things Up When You Have Diametrically-Opposed Goals

Over at the National Review Kevin Williamson has penned a column we are all familiar with. It’s a rallying cry for conservatives to get over their differences and rally behind the Republican Party. In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, there were countless articles of this type written by pragmatic liberals. All you have to do is reverse the names, and it looks completely familiar.

And though I reject the notion that Mitt Romney wasn’t good enough for true-believing conservatives, let’s say, arguendo, that that was the case. Unless you are ready to give up entirely on the notion of advancing conservative principles through the ballot box, you might consider looking at things this way: Even if you do not think that it matters much whether Republicans win, it matters a great deal that Democrats lose.

Maybe you were not that excited that 2012 gave you a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I sympathize — I liked Rick Perry. But how is President Romney vs. President Obama a hard choice? How is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a hard choice? How is Speaker of the House John Boehner vs. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a hard choice?

It isn’t.

I don’t think these types of columns are ever very convincing, but that doesn’t mean that they are incorrect. If we were to give this genre a name, it would be Vote-for-the-lesser-evil essays. They don’t exactly get people fired up and ready to go.

And it’s not a great sign that people feel that they are necessary to write because it indicates that there are some rather strong divisions. Back in the 2005-6 period, Democrats became unified, and they did an adequate job of patching things up after the 2008 primaries. The divisions among Republicans are more fundamental. There’s a glaring generation gap on gay rights. There’s a yawning gulf between the businessmen who want comprehensive immigration reform and the nativist base that wants an end to all non-white immigration, whether it is legal or illegal. There’s a growing chasm between the libertarian non-intervention wing of the party and the John McCain bomb-em-first-ask-questions-later wing of the party. There’s also a Main Street/Wall Street divide over tax policy and social/religious issues.

In all these cases, important factions within the GOP simply want different things. It’s hard to patch things up when you have diametrically-opposed goals.

Interestingly, Mr. Williamson says he quit his membership in the Republican Party during the Bush years because he couldn’t abide belonging to the same club as Arlen Specter. He also says that “the Affordable Care Act, [is] the worst domestic defeat for the cause of limited government in a generation,” which is a nice admission. It shows the real reason that conservatives keep bad-mouthing a law that is working very well and is already covering seven million people. We can understand, now, why conservatives have fought the law with so much fury. They believe, correctly, that the mere existence of the law is a tremendous ideological defeat. Whether it works well or not is completely beside the point for these folks.

Going forward, that’s going to be an increasingly suicidal political position to take. There will be divisions on that, too.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 30, 2014


March 31, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Election 2016, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pilgrimage On Bended Knee”: Chris Christie Apologizes, For Saying Something True

Current and former Republican governors with their eyes on the 2016 presidential nomination sought casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s cash at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting this weekend in — where else? — Las Vegas.

None of the speakers, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are Jewish. But some made efforts to boast (awkwardly, the Times notes) their loyalty to the Jews.

In Christie’s case, this effort quickly turned sour, at least in Republican “pro-Israel” eyes. Like any non-Jewish politician addressing a Jewish audience, Christie fondly recalled a trip to Israel. But he made the fatal error of uttering a word that will, for this particular Jewish audience, immediately and without further thought or adjudication turn the speaker into an enemy.


Within hours, Christie had been forced by his host to apologize — ordinarily no mean feat, as long-time observers of the Bridgegate governor’s modus operandi know.

According to POLITICO’s Ken Vogel, Christie made a pilgrimage on bended knee to Adelson himself:

Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.

The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”

Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

Note here that Christie, aside from his use of the forbidden (but true) word “occupied,” expressed no sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Here’s the full context: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.” Got that? Using the word “occupied” overshadows that what Christie took away from the experience was the conclusion that Israel is the only party facing risk and danger.

Scott Walker is no doubt doing a little happy dance right now. With all the attention on Christie’s faux pas, no one is paying attention to his lame pander that he likes to light a menorah during the Christmas holiday season.


By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, March 30, 2014

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Israel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Corrosive Effect On Public Confidence”: The ‘Sheldon Primary’ Is One Reason Americans Distrust The Political System

Several prospective Republican presidential candidates have gathered in Las Vegas for the opening round of what has been dubbed “the Sheldon Primary,” an event emblematic of how warped the system for financing presidential elections has become.

The Sheldon Primary is named for Sheldon Adelson, the wealthy casino owner who, with his wife, poured more than $92 million into the 2012 elections. Despite all that money, Adelson made some bad bets in the last election, first on former House speaker Newt Gingrich to win the Republican nomination and then on Mitt Romney to defeat President Obama in the general election.

He is now looking toward 2016 with a fresh eye, determined, according to The Post’s Matea Gold and Philip Rucker, to find a non-extremist candidate who can actually win the presidency. Those who are looking at running would be happy to have that kind of financial support. Some of them have come to Las Vegas on Friday for a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, but also to meet privately with Adelson.

Adelson has become a symbol of the new system of financing presidential elections. He and others play under legal rules. But this new financing structure has had a corrosive effect on public confidence in government and politicians. It is why so many Americans feel shut out of the process.

Many people have had a role in bringing the system to this point — the courts, special interests, incredibly wealthy individuals with their own agendas and candidates seeking to gain political advantage in the fierce competition that is presidential politics.

A series of court decisions, the most prominent being the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has hastened the rise of super PACs. These political action committees are the new behemoths in political campaigns. They are allowed to take unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. They can openly advocate for individual candidates, and candidates can help raise money for them. But they are supposed to operate independent of those candidates.

Court decisions also helped usher in a new era of shadowy financing of political activity by so-called “social welfare” groups. Like super PACs, these groups also take huge individual donations — $10 million, $20 million, $30 million — but they are not required to disclose their contributions. They can engage in political activity within limits, but those limits have done little to slow their growth.

Meanwhile, the system of public financing for presidential candidates that came into being after the Watergate scandal and that once was universally accepted and respected by those seeking the presidency has been systematically shredded over the course of the last four presidential campaigns.

In 2000, George W. Bush opted out of public financing in his nomination campaign because money was flowing so freely into his campaign war chest and he was worried about rival Steve Forbes’s ability to fund his own campaign out of his private fortune. John F. Kerry and Howard Dean followed suit four years later in their nomination battle. That effectively destroyed the use of public money in pursuit of the nomination.

Then in 2008, Obama took it a step further. Fueled by nearly half a billion dollars in online donations alone, candidate Obama decided to forgo public financing in the general election after suggesting that he would stay within the system if his Republican rival did, too. His opponent, Sen. John McCain, was one of the most ardent advocates of campaign finance reform who was left to chastise Obama for turning his back on a general election public financing structure designed to level the playing field. Having seen what happened in 2008, Romney in 2012 followed Obama out the door of public financing.

All of these candidates who pulled out of public financing put political need ahead of public interest. They chose to quit the system because by doing so they could spend well beyond the limits of what the law allowed if they accepted federal matching funds. Meanwhile, some of their rivals were constrained by the limits imposed by the acceptance of public money.

What is left now is an arms race in presidential campaign fundraising by the candidates and a new power base, the quasi-independent force of the super PACs, which have eclipsed the political parties as powerbrokers in the campaign process.

Courting wealthy people will always be an essential part of running for president. But the outsize influences of people who are prepared to give tens of millions to a super PAC or the contributor who can bundle hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations have changed the game.

The ability to raise huge amounts of money has become an even more important attribute for those seeking the presidency, a yardstick to stratify the field of candidates long before the voters have taken a serious look at the field.

Dark horse candidates still can break through in one of the early states, as former senator Rick Santorum did in 2012. But anyone thinking of running for president today would be urged by those who shape this inside game not even to think about taking public funds to help finance their campaign and to build a financial foundation designed to go the distance.

Obama was initially critical of super PACs, but there is no longer any hesitation among Democrats to play in this new world. Hillary Rodham Clinton already has a super PAC organizing on her behalf, though she is far from making an announcement about whether she will run in 2016. Priorities USA, which supported Obama in 2012, has reconstituted itself more aggressively than ever in preparation of her candidacy.

Republican politicians know that whomever Adelson and his wife decide to support in 2016 will have what is now a required asset of any campaign—a well-funded super PAC that can provide additional armor against the inevitable attacks from opponents and which can lead the attacks against rivals who threaten their path to victory. Those who lose the Sheldon Primary will look to other rich people to fund other super PACs dedicated solely to the promotion and protection of their candidacies.

Super PACs have yet to prove they can decide the outcome of elections. Romney lost the general election despite having a clear advantage in the amount of outside money on his side. But the super PACs’ role in the GOP nominating process was more significant. Without Adelson at his side, Gingrich might not have lasted as long as he did. Without the support of his own super PAC, Romney might have had a more difficult time fending off Gingrich and later Santorum. That knowledge is what has brought several prospective candidates to Las Vegas.

When W. Clement Stone, an insurance magnate and philanthropist, gave $2 million to Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 campaign, it caused public outrage and contributed to a movement that produced the post-Watergate reforms in campaign financing. Accounting for inflation, that $2 million would equal about $11 million in today’s dollars. If not exactly commonplace, contributions of that size or larger are now an accepted part of the presidential campaign process, in some cases without real transparency. Is it any wonder that the public has a cynical view of how the system works?


By: Dan Baltz, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 28, 2014

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dignity Is A Constitutional Principle”: Institutionalized Humiliation And The Constitutional Requirements Of Equal Protection

With gay marriage litigation moving forward at warp speed — federal judges have struck down five state bans on same-sex marriage since December — we may soon witness one of the worst shouting matches in Supreme Court history. Passions were already running high last June, when a divided court struck down federal, but not state, laws defining marriage exclusively as a relationship between a man and a woman. Justice Antonin Scalia denounced the majority opinion, which cited the demeaning and humiliating effects of the Defense of Marriage Act, as “legalistic argle-bargle” lacking any basis in our constitutional tradition. Writing for the five justices in the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy countered that the assault on human dignity should be decisive in condemning the statute as unconstitutional.

In making this “dignitarian” move, Justice Kennedy relied principally on his two earlier pathbreaking opinions supporting gay rights, in 1996 and 2003. He did not link his guiding philosophy to the broader principles hammered out during the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. Yet that constitutional legacy would strongly support any future Supreme Court decision extending Justice Kennedy’s reasoning to state statutes discriminating against gay marriage. Indeed, the court should reinforce its dignitarian jurisprudence by stressing its roots in the civil rights revolution — and thereby demonstrate that it is Justice Scalia, not Justice Kennedy, who is blinding himself to the main line of constitutional development.

Consider the great speeches made 50 years ago today as the Senate began its decisive debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill’s floor managers were the Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey and the Republican Thomas H. Kuchel. As they surveyed the scene on March 30, 1964, it was far from clear that they had the 67 votes required to break a filibuster led by Southern senators. So they were determined to make their case to the larger public and mobilize popular support for a sustained effort to win a cloture vote.

As The Washington Post reported at the time, the two floor leaders dominated the first day’s proceedings with elaborate presentations that set the stage “for a serious no-nonsense debate” on the fundamental issues. Humphrey began with a remarkable three-and-a-half-hour speech that introduced the central theme of humiliation by comparing two travel guidebooks: one for families with dogs, the other for blacks. “In Augusta, Ga., for example,” Humphrey noted, “there are five hotels and motels that will take dogs, and only one where a Negro can go with confidence.” He argued that if whites “were to experience the humiliation and insult which awaits Negro Americans in thousands and thousands of such places, we, too, would be quick to protest.” Kuchel followed up with a second major presentation, emphasizing the “urgency” of ending the “humiliating forms of discrimination” confronting blacks.

On other occasions, Humphrey repeatedly linked this anti-humiliation principle to the larger aim of securing “freedom from indignity” for blacks and other groups. This link was further reinforced by President Lyndon B. Johnson. “We cannot deny to a group of our own people,” he argued, “the essential elements of human dignity which a majority of our citizens claim for ourselves.” In making their case to the American people, these leaders succeeded in pressuring Senate fence-sitters to close down the filibuster, on June 10, after it had monopolized the floor for more than two months.

But they failed in their larger aim. Their elaborate speeches were also addressed to future generations, articulating fundamental principles that Americans should consider in defining the terms of constitutional equality. Yet as Justice Scalia’s denunciation of Justice Kennedy’s opinion illustrates, America’s lawyers and judges are in danger of consigning these views of Congress and the president to legal oblivion. They seem to suppose that the only civil rights opinions worth studying are those of the Warren and Burger courts — even though the judicial initiatives of those courts would have gone nowhere without the mobilized support of the political branches and the American people.

This is a mistake. To be sure, the judges of the civil rights era also emphasized the link between institutionalized humiliation and the constitutional requirements of equal protection. Most famously, Brown v. Board of Education declared school segregation unconstitutional precisely because it stigmatized blacks, generating “a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” Yet once we recognize that Congress and the president broadened and deepened the nation’s commitment to Brown’s anti-humiliation principle, we can gain a larger perspective on contemporary civil rights struggles.

This point applies not only to gay marriage but also to sexual harassment. When the courts condemn “harassment” on the job or in schools, they are using a different word to describe the very same dynamics of institutionalized humiliation repudiated by the framers of the Civil Rights Act.

This constitutional legacy should also shape our understanding of future civil rights struggles. Consider the situation of undocumented immigrants as they seek to attend school, get a job or drive to the supermarket. They face pervasive humiliation in sphere after sphere of social life. Does this not amount to a systematic denial of the “equal protection of the laws” guaranteed by the Constitution to all persons “within the jurisdiction” of the United States?

Fifty years ago, our parents and grandparents faced the same question when confronting the humiliations imposed on blacks. As we search for guidance on the great constitutional issues of our own time, the place to begin is with the words of Humphrey as he explained why Americans could no longer “justify what we have done to debase humanity.” He argued that we “do not have to be lawyers to understand, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ ”


By: Bruce Ackerman, Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University; Opinion Writer, The New York Times, March 29, 2014

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Addition To Honesty, It Requires Accountability”: Ryan Unsuited To Lead ‘Adult Conversation’ About Poverty

These days, a favorite talking point of Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s is calling for an “adult conversation” about poverty.

“It’s time for an adult conversation,” he told The Washington Post.

“If we actually have an adult conversation,” he said in remarks at the Brookings Institution, “I think we can make a difference.”

The problem is that a prerequisite for any adult conversation is telling the truth and it is there the congressman falls monumentally short.

In addition to Rep. Ryan’s recent, racially-coded comments about “our inner cities” where “generations of men [are] not even thinking about working,” his rhetoric around policy should raise red flags for anyone — including the media — assessing his credibility.

A report from Emily Oshima Lee, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, examines the hatchet job Rep. Ryan did on Medicaid in his 204-page account of antipoverty programs that The Washington Post generously described as a “critique.” Indeed, Ryan’s report — which would have been flagged by my excellent 10th grade English teacher for misrepresenting and cherry-picking data — is a dangerous disservice to a public which has neither the time nor the staff that Ryan has at his disposal to delve into literature assessing antipoverty programs.

Lee notes that Ryan misuses research to imply that Medicaid coverage leads to poorer health — that people enrolled in Medicaid will have worse health than those with private insurance and the uninsured.

“The privately insured comparison is patently unfair because these people tend to be higher income and that comes with a whole host of health privileges,” said Lee.

She notes that Medicaid enrollees tend to struggle a lot more with chronic conditions and illnesses than other populations.

“A large body of literature identifies various social determinants of health, including socioeconomic status and living and work environments, as risk factors for poor health outcomes,” writes Lee, in my opinion admirably resisting the temptation to add, “duh.”

As for the uninsured being healthier — it would be one thing if Ryan were making an “apples to apples” comparison, but he’s not.

“The uninsured is a diverse group and doesn’t only include low-income individuals. It may include people who are high-income and don’t really want insurance but can afford health services, and lower-income people who may not have previously enrolled in insurance for a number of reasons — including cost and not having any real health issues,” Lee says. “But again, to imply that Medicaid is somehow making people worse off is absurd.”

Ryan also argues that Medicaid coverage has little positive effect on enrollees’ health. But as Lee points out, Ryan conveniently overlooks studies showing an association between Medicaid and lower mortality rates; reduced low-weight births and infant and child mortality; and lower mortality for HIV-positive patients, among other heath benefits.

“In general, we need more data to accurately assess the effect of Medicaid coverage on people’s health,” Lee continues. “But several studies do indicate positive health and non-health effects of coverage — such as increased use of preventive care and greater financial security.”

Rep. Ryan also plays on fears of low-income people abusing the welfare system when he asserts that Medicaid coverage improperly increases enrollees’ use of health care services, including preventive care and emergency department services. Ryan makes this case too by comparing Medicaid enrollees to uninsured people, who, as Lee writes, “are less likely to use health care services due to significant financial barriers.”

“Presenting data that Medicaid enrollees use more health services than the uninsured affirms that insurance coverage allows people who need care to seek it out,” writes Lee, “and that being uninsured is a major barrier to receiving important medical care.”

Further, one of the two studies Ryan references explicitly states that “neither theory nor existing evidence provides a definitive answer to… whether we should expect increases or decreases in emergency-department use when Medicaid expands.”

Despite Ryan’s shabby work when it comes to antipoverty policy, the media repeatedly seems willing to overlook it. That’s another strike against the prospects of a truly adult conversation about poverty — in addition to honesty, it requires accountability.


By: Greg Kaufmann, Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers Blog, March 29, 2014

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid, Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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