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“Running Against History”: It Looks Like Scott Brown May Have Picked Exactly The Wrong State

Republican Scott Brown is not just a pretty face or the first senator to be seen around the Dirksen Senate Office Building in full biking gear for his afternoon rides. How else is he to keep his tall, lean physique in fighting form in the deliberative body? After all, the once senator from Massachusetts may be the future senator from New Hampshire.

But there’s more to that story than switching states. Brown has already earned a unique place in U.S. political history, despite a slender record of service after winning a special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat in 2010, as he is the first man to fully face the ramifications of the rise in formidable women players running for high office in the past 20 years. The Senate now has an all-time high of 20 women. If Brown wins, he will cut into that peak, reached in 2012. Does he want to cycle against history?

Brown will likely become the only man ever to run in three consecutive Senate races against three women candidates. You read it here first. I say this despite Mark Leibovich’s wry piece in the New York Times Magazine giving Brown the sobriquet, “Superhypothetical.”

Lest we forget, he beat Martha Coakley, the state’s Democratic attorney general, when she forgot to campaign and even took a vacation shortly before the election. Then he lost to feisty Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren in 2012. And now he comes into the fray again — well, almost. Bowing to party pressure, he has formed an exploratory committee in New Hampshire, where his family has a vacation home. That means that he is taking all the right steps to challenge a popular Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, in the red-flecked Granite state.

Let’s say that Brown is, for all intents and purposes, jumping into the race this spring. That is roughly the consensus among the politerati. Republican party operatives are delirious at the thought that Brown could clinch their goal of painting the Senate red overnight. And he could, because Shaheen is not the only vulnerable Democrat in this cycle. Two Southern Democrats, Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Pryor, are in deep danger and don’t want any “help” from President Obama.

If the wily Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky becomes the Majority Leader, even by a margin of 51-49, that will effectively doom President Obama’s chances of getting any major legislation passed in his second term. Big money stands by, ready to help Brown become a powerful contender.

In fairness to him, Brown is no Ted Cruz tea partier, but a telegenic New England moderate with some appealing qualities. If Brown declares and engages, New Hampshire will be the most closely watched state on the 2014 political map. Accustomed to the drill, voters there will love the national media trudging through the leaves to take their political pulse. They are an unusually seasoned, sophisticated set of voters in a small state and the outcome is bound to be a close call. For Shaheen, a former governor, the home court advantage could prove decisive.

More interestingly, gender may help Shaheen where she lives; the state’s other senator is a Republican woman, Kelly Ayotte. In fact, the state’s congressional delegation is all female, and the governor is a woman, all of which is the stuff of history. That is hard evidence that Brown will have to pedal uphill in a state that favors electing women, lately.

For Brown, the race will break his personal tie, one way or the other, when it comes to running against women. And it sure looks like he picked exactly the wrong state.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Scott Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wealth Over Work”: We’re On The Way Back To “Patrimonial Capitalism”, Where Birth Matters More Than Effort And Talent

It seems safe to say that “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade. Mr. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.

To be sure, Mr. Piketty concedes that we aren’t there yet. So far, the rise of America’s 1 percent has mainly been driven by executive salaries and bonuses rather than income from investments, let alone inherited wealth. But six of the 10 wealthiest Americans are already heirs rather than self-made entrepreneurs, and the children of today’s economic elite start from a position of immense privilege. As Mr. Piketty notes, “the risk of a drift toward oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism.”

Indeed. And if you want to feel even less optimistic, consider what many U.S. politicians are up to. America’s nascent oligarchy may not yet be fully formed — but one of our two main political parties already seems committed to defending the oligarchy’s interests.

Despite the frantic efforts of some Republicans to pretend otherwise, most people realize that today’s G.O.P. favors the interests of the rich over those of ordinary families. I suspect, however, that fewer people realize the extent to which the party favors returns on wealth over wages and salaries. And the dominance of income from capital, which can be inherited, over wages — the dominance of wealth over work — is what patrimonial capitalism is all about.

To see what I’m talking about, start with actual policies and policy proposals. It’s generally understood that George W. Bush did all he could to cut taxes on the very affluent, that the middle-class cuts he included were essentially political loss leaders. It’s less well understood that the biggest breaks went not to people paid high salaries but to coupon-clippers and heirs to large estates. True, the top tax bracket on earned income fell from 39.6 to 35 percent. But the top rate on dividends fell from 39.6 percent (because they were taxed as ordinary income) to 15 percent — and the estate tax was completely eliminated.

Some of these cuts were reversed under President Obama, but the point is that the great tax-cut push of the Bush years was mainly about reducing taxes on unearned income. And when Republicans retook one house of Congress, they promptly came up with a plan — Representative Paul Ryan’s “road map” — calling for the elimination of taxes on interest, dividends, capital gains and estates. Under this plan, someone living solely off inherited wealth would have owed no federal taxes at all.

This tilt of policy toward the interests of wealth has been mirrored by a tilt in rhetoric; Republicans often seem so intent on exalting “job creators” that they forget to mention American workers. In 2012 Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, famously commemorated Labor Day with a Twitter post honoring business owners. More recently, Mr. Cantor reportedly reminded colleagues at a G.O.P. retreat that most Americans work for other people, which is at least one reason attempts to make a big issue out of Mr. Obama’s supposed denigration of businesspeople fell flat. (Another reason was that Mr. Obama did no such thing.)

In fact, not only don’t most Americans own businesses, but business income, and income from capital in general, is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people. In 1979 the top 1 percent of households accounted for 17 percent of business income; by 2007 the same group was getting 43 percent of business income, and 75 percent of capital gains. Yet this small elite gets all of the G.O.P.’s love, and most of its policy attention.

Why is this happening? Well, bear in mind that both Koch brothers are numbered among the 10 wealthiest Americans, and so are four Walmart heirs. Great wealth buys great political influence — and not just through campaign contributions. Many conservatives live inside an intellectual bubble of think tanks and captive media that is ultimately financed by a handful of megadonors. Not surprisingly, those inside the bubble tend to assume, instinctively, that what is good for oligarchs is good for America.

As I’ve already suggested, the results can sometimes seem comical. The important point to remember, however, is that the people inside the bubble have a lot of power, which they wield on behalf of their patrons. And the drift toward oligarchy continues.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Wasted Life Of Fred Phelps”: It’s Hard To Mourn A Monster

And what shall we say now that the monster has died?

His estranged sons Mark and Nate told the world just a few days ago that their 84-year-old father, Fred Phelps, was in the care of a hospice and “on the edge of death.” Thursday morning, he went over the edge.

The senior Phelps, of course, was the founder of Westboro Baptist “Church” in Topeka, KS. He was the “God hates” guy. As in “God Hates China” (its divorce rates are too high), “God Hates Islam” (for being a false religion), “God Hates Qatar” (for being rich) “God Hates The Media” (for saying mean things about Westboro), “God Hates Tuvalu” (for having too many holidays), “God Hates America” (for tolerating homosexuality) and, of course, most notoriously, “God Hates Fags” — Phelps’ odious word for gay men and lesbians.

He was also the man who applauded the deaths of American soldiers and picketed their funerals, under the dubious formulation that their dying represented God’s judgment upon this country.

Westboro is a tiny “church” — hate group, actually — said to draw its membership almost exclusively from Phelps’ extended family. His sons say Phelps was excommunicated from it last year for some reason, which the “church” refused to confirm or deny, saying its “membership issues are private.” For what it’s worth, last week Phelps was conspicuous by his near absence from Westboro’s website, which once displayed his words and image prominently.

Now the monster is gone. What shall we say?

The people hurt and maligned by Phelps didn’t wait for his actual expiration to begin answering that question. They started days ago when his sons announced that his end was near. One woman tweeted about Death needing rubber gloves to touch the body. Another woman set up a “Fred Phelps Death Watch” on Facebook, the tone of which can be inferred from one posting depicting feces in a toilet as a photo of Phelps in hospice care.

After his death, one person tweeted the hope that “his final hours were filled with immense physical pain and horrifying hallucinations.”

You can hardly blame people for not being prostrate with grief. This man cheered the lynching of a young gay man in Wyoming. He turned the funerals of American military personnel into circuses. It is hard to imagine anyone more loathsome, despicable and justifiably reviled than he.

And yet it is also hard not to feel saddened by this reaction, diminished by it.

If one is a Christian as Phelps claimed to be, one may hear the voice of Jesus arising from conscience: “A new command I give you: Love one another.” And you may demand an exemption from that command, because being asked to love the spectacularly unlovable Phelps is just too much. But, if you love only the lovable, what’s the point? What does that say or prove? Indeed, loving the unlovable pretty much constitutes God’s job description.

Even beyond the obligations imposed by faith, though, there is something troubling in the idea that some of us willingly become what we profess to abhor, adopt extremist hatred in protest of extremist hatred. As Martin Luther King famously put it, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It is hard to imagine that anyone beyond, perhaps, his immediate family, is sorry Fred Phelps is dead. And that is probably the truest barometer of his life and its value. But as most of us are not sorry, some of us are not glad, either. What we feel is probably best described as a certain dull pity.

Phelps was given the gift, the incandescent miracle, of being alive in this world for over 80 years — and he wasted it, utterly.

If God hates anything, surely God hates that.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Opinion Writer, Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Intent Is Pure Partisan Power Politics”: The GOP’s Racial Dog Whistling And The Social Safety Net

You’ve no doubt heard the famous quote about race in politics spoken by the late Lee Atwater, the most skilled Republican strategist of his generation. Liberals have cited it for years, seeing in it an explanation, right from the horse’s mouth, of how contemporary Republicans use “issues” like welfare to activate racial animus among white voters, particularly in the South. Race may be an eternal force in American politics, but its meaning and operation change as the years pass. It’s time we took another look at Atwater’s analysis and see how it is relevant to today, because it doesn’t mean what it once did. Atwater may have been extraordinarily prescient, though not in the way most people think.

If a certain word unsettles you, you might want to read something else with your coffee, but it’s important we have Atwater’s quote, spoken in 1981 during an interview with a political scientist, in front of us:

You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.'”

As Rick Perlstein explained, the common interpretation of the quote—that Atwater was describing how the GOP shrewdly encourages and benefits from racism among voters while maintaining deniability for doing so—isn’t quite correct. Heard in context, it seems clear that the point Atwater was trying to make was that the GOP was evolving beyond racism, even if some of its favored policies were still better for some races than others. Eventually, the deniability wouldn’t just be plausible, it would be genuine.

At the time, this was more than a little ridiculous. Just a year before, Ronald Reagan had opened his campaign for president in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the murder of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, then spent a good deal of his campaign talking about welfare queens. Four years before, Reagan had told Southern audiences about how frustrating it was to stand in line at the grocery store behind a “strapping young buck” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. And seven years after the interview, Atwater would join with Roger Ailes to mastermind the “Willie Horton” strategy for George H.W. Bush, in which the mug shot of a menacing black convict became as ubiquitous in the campaign as flags at a Fourth of July parade.

But in 2014, Atwater’s vision of a GOP evolving on race has finally come to pass, though not precisely in the way he intended. Back then, attacks on safety net programs like welfare and food stamps were used by Republicans as a means to activate barely contained racist feelings, with the knowledge that the more hostility white voters felt toward minorities, the better it would be for Republican candidates. Today, we see the reverse: Stirring up a bit of subconscious racism, or attacking the rights of minorities in much more practical ways, is a means to attack the safety net and undermine government.

Take, for example, the issue of voting. When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, it was meant to dismantle the system under which white Southerners had kept blacks from exercising their right to vote, a system created to maintain white supremacy. And when the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the law last year, Republican states rushed to rewrite their laws to do things like require ID in order to vote. Republican states all over the country have cut back on early voting, making sure to eliminate it on the Sunday before election day, when many black churches conduct “souls to the polls” voting drives after service. In Arizona and Kansas, Republicans even passed laws requiring that you not just document who you are but provide proof you’re a citizen in order to vote, laws that were just upheld by a federal judge.

Are the people who are going to be disenfranchised by a requirement for proof of citizenship going to be disproportionately minority? Of course they are. But that’s not the reason Republicans are so eager to impose these requirements. The reason is that the disenfranchised voters will disproportionately be Democrats. If there were a way to just as easily keep large numbers of Democrats from the polls without harming minorities particularly, they’d be perfectly happy to adopt that method instead. That’s why, for instance, in Texas the voter ID law passed by a Republican legislature and signed by Governor Rick Perry says that a gun license is a valid form of identification, but a student ID issued by a Texas university isn’t. When a legislature engineers a “racial gerrymander” to pack as many black voters into as few districts as possible, the goal isn’t white supremacy, it’s Republican supremacy. The result may be bound up in race, but the intent is pure partisan power politics.

And when Paul Ryan starts talking about how “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work,” the racial implications may be perfectly clear (it’s the “inner city,” i.e. the place where black people live, that has a “culture” of laziness, as opposed to the places where there are a lot of poor white people). But Ryan’s real goal isn’t to get you mad at black people, it’s to get you mad at the safety net. I have no trouble believing Ryan, in a way, when he says that race was not the heart of his intent. The man who once said that “the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand” is surely motivated primarily by a Randian contempt for the “takers” who might need help with food or health insurance, whatever color their skin.

Today’s GOP is a place where open expressions of racism are far less tolerated, no one talks about “strapping young bucks” anymore, and the next Willie Horton is presented with more subtlety—and deniability—than ever. How much of that is because the mainstream blowback from blatantly racial appeals is just too high (just look at all the flack Ryan got), and how much because of a sincere change in perspective? It’s almost impossible to say. But if America’s blacks and Hispanics woke up tomorrow and starting voting 60 percent Republican, the party’s leaders would welcome them with open arms, then call an emergency session of every Republican-run state legislature to get rid of all those voter ID laws.

Of course, that won’t happen any time soon, so Republicans will continue to pass laws limiting minorities’ ability to vote, and offer roundabout appeals aimed, some more directly than others, at the darker places where people’s less generous feelings about race lie. Were he alive today, Lee Atwater would probably say, “See? I told you so.”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Separating The Son From The Father”: What Rand Paul Can Learn From George W. Bush’s Daddy Issues

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently told my Daily Caller colleague Alex Pappas that he has “pretty much quit answering” questions about his controversial father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Referencing George W. Bush’s campaign for president in 2000, Paul continued: “Did he get tons of questions about his dad? … I don’t know that he did, to tell you the truth.”

This is a silly semantic game for Paul to play. Whether or not George W. Bush was directly asked a lot of questions about George H.W. Bush in the run-up to the 2000 race is almost irrelevant. Because it is something close to an irrefutable fact that the elder Bush has loomed large over W.’s career and life for decades. In the minds of millions of Americans, there was no separating the son from the father — much in the same way there is no separating Hillary from Bill, or Jeb from a pair of Georges.

A simple search of the news archives is telling. As far back as 1978, when George W. Bush lost a bid for Congress, Bush declared: “We don’t need dad in this race.” When his opponent attacked him over his family connections and pedigree, Bush responded: “Would you like me to run as Sam Smith? The problem is I can’t abandon my background. I’m not trying to hide behind any facade.”

George H.W. Bush was a congressman, director of the CIA, vice president, and president. It is a legacy no son could escape — particularly a son who entered his father’s profession.

Ron Paul does not have nearly the record that the first President Bush did. But he is still a leading political figure in his own right. Perhaps the country’s most famous libertarian, the maverick congressman from Texas has an extremely passionate following, and became a nationally known figure thanks to several failed presidential bids. Rand Paul is kidding himself if he thinks he won’t have to deal with his dad’s legacy.

If after four years in the political limelight, Rand is already tired of answering questions about his dad, well, he’s got a long haul ahead of him. The “fortunate son” charge first lodged against Bush in 1978 was leveled more than two decades later, during the 2000 GOP primary. “If [John] McCain’s book is titled Faith of My Fathers,” quipped Margaret Carlson, “Bush’s should be called Friends of My Father.”

Of course, George W. Bush also faced the challenge of subtly distancing himself from his father’s “read my lips” flip-flopping image, without throwing the old man under the bus. Today, it’s easy to see 41 as a wise old statesman, but in 1999 and 2000, skeptical conservatives still didn’t trust the Bush clan.

The good news for the younger Bush was that after eight years of President Bill Clinton, Republicans were desperate for a winner (and the perception of being a winner can cover a multitude of perceived sins).

And for us mainstream conservatives, word had gotten out that Dubya was more conservative than his father — that he was “one of us.” He came of age studying Lee Atwater’s campaign style and Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy, we were told. The son was not like the father, the whispers went, answering questions we all had, even if they weren’t asked of the candidate himself.

Good luck finding any contemporaneous documentation to back this up, mind you. You’ll just have to take my word for it. We conservatives were somewhat quiet about it. But a 2003 Bill Keller article retroactively confirms this messaging: “That Bush is Reaganesque is a conceit that some conservatives have wishfully, tentatively embraced since he emerged as a candidate, and one that Bush himself has encouraged,” Keller noted. “The party faithful have been pining for a new Reagan since Reagan, and for Bush the analogy has the added virtue of providing an alternative political lineage; he’s not Daddy’s Boy, he’s Reagan Jr.” (Emphasis added)

For all the talk about Poppy and Dubya — and I’m sure they have a strong bond — the backers of George W. Bush had to burn a lot of calories distancing the son from his old man. And this lasted well into his presidency. “When Bob Woodward asked President Bush if he had consulted with his father about the decision to go to war in Iraq,” Bob Herbert recalled in 2005, “the president famously replied, ‘There is a higher father that I appeal to.'”

Similarly, Rand cannot escape his father, just as Jeb and George W. couldn’t, and just as Hillary Clinton cannot escape her husband. “Hillary Clinton spent eight years in the Senate and four at the State Department,” says Dave Weigel, “but has to answer for her husband’s actions in the mid-1990s. Paul, with three years behind him in the Senate, says he does not have to answer for what his father does right now.”

I’m not sure it’s fair to judge anyone based on the sins of their father, the successes of their father, or whom they’re married to. But these comparisons and questions are inescapable, and have always been so. Rand Paul cannot appeal to historical precedence to evade comparisons to his dad. Because fair or not, voters still want to know how far the apple falls from the tree — and they always have.

 

 

By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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