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“Divorced From Reality”: Fewer Debates Won’t Save The GOP From Itself

Jonathan Martin reports in the New York Times that the RNC has moved aggressively to reduce the number of debates Republican candidates for president will have to endure.

The Republican National Committee moved Friday to seize control of the presidential primary debates in 2016, another step in a coordinated effort by the party establishment to reshape the nominating process.

Committee members overwhelmingly passed a measure that would penalize any presidential candidate who participated in a debate not sanctioned by the national party, by limiting their participation in subsequent committee-sanctioned forums.

The move represents the party’s effort to reduce the number of debates and assert control over how they are staged.

In making the case for adopting the new rule, party officials repeatedly criticized the moderators and format of the 2012 primary debates, appealing to the suspicions that many Republican activists have about the mainstream news media. “The liberal media doesn’t deserve to be in the driver’s seat,” said the committee’s chairman, Reince Priebus, addressing committee members here at their spring meeting.

This means that underdog candidates will have to weigh the advantages of appearing in unsanctioned forums versus the disadvantages of being blocked from sanctioned forums. Of course, that’s an easy decision if you haven’t been invited to the sanctioned forums in the first place.

It’s smart for the Republicans to do this, but their distrust of the mainstream media is just one more manifestation of their divorce from reality, which really took place no later than Sarah Palin’s appearance on the national stage.

When being asked what papers you read is too hard of a question, mistrust builds up in a hurry. If the Republicans are hoping to go through debate season without anyone ever puncturing their right-wing media fantasy bubble, these reforms are not going to be fully productive. And, in any case, if the candidates are cheering the death penalty and talking about the sanctity of marriage and how “severe” their conservatism is, and the wisdom of a self-deportation immigration policy then it won’t matter who the moderator happens to be.

It’s true that the Republicans had too many debates, but so did the Democrats. And it didn’t appear to hurt the Democrats at all. It made Obama a better debater.

It says something that the GOP wants to have a primary season without allowing anyone to watch or question what they are doing.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 10, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Transformational Presidency”: He Should Be In The “All-Time-All-World Politics Hall Of Fame”

Is it safe to say that Barack Obama’s presidency will be remembered as the most consequential since Ronald Reagan’s — a presidency that “changed the trajectory of America” and “put us on a fundamentally different path”?

That was the audacious goal Obama set for himself during his 2008 campaign. Now is a useful time to assess his progress because the sixth year of any president’s tenure tends to be seen as a low point. Familiarity breeds impatience and frustration — among commentators, at least, whose narrow focus on which party is perceived as “winning” the day or the week misses the bigger picture.

In both the domestic and foreign spheres, Obama has had transformational impact. And there is more to come.

Reagan’s great achievement at home was to shift the political spectrum to the right. People tend to forget how radical his ideas once seemed. Tax cuts and massive deregulation were somehow going to produce more revenue? Wealth would inevitably trickle down and benefit the middle class and even the poor? It was not a Democrat but a fellow Republican, George H.W. Bush, who mocked the whole concept as “voodoo economics.”

That’s what I’d still call Reagan’s program, but he altered the political debate to such an extent that what once were fringe ideas came to be seen as centrist. By the time Obama took office, the combination of Reaganite policies — taken to extremes the Gipper might never have contemplated — and globalization had produced a nation where the rich were becoming obscenely rich and everyone else was struggling to tread water.

Obama’s impact has been to bring the words “fairness” and “equality” back into the political lexicon.

His biggest legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, is a landmark because it establishes the principle that health care should be considered a right, not a privilege. Democrats such as Harry Truman — and Republicans such as Richard Nixon — sought for decades to move the nation toward universal care. The fact that Obama succeeded where others failed is, in itself, a huge achievement.

Perhaps as important, however, is the fact that while Republicans still claim they want to repeal Obamacare, the debate within the party centers on how best to expand health insurance coverage. Returning to the way things were before the ACA is not an option.

Health care is part of a larger suite of issues on which Obama has swung the pendulum back to the left. He made the case, for example, that more regulation of the financial sector was needed. Republicans were forced to give way. The president has been hammering away in speeches about the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Republicans haven’t caved on this yet, but in the end they almost surely will because of widespread public support for it.

Whether Democrats lose the Senate or not, Obama will have a tough time getting significant legislation passed in his final two years. Please don’t tell me he simply needs to be a better politician, like Bill Clinton. Obama ran rings around both Clintons in 2008. A black man with the middle name Hussein who gets elected president twice should be in the all-time-all-world Politics Hall of Fame.

But he can still have transformational impact. Working through the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama can take major steps to limit carbon emissions. I don’t know whether he’ll go as far as I believe he should, but whatever he does will be, by definition, a big deal.

In foreign policy, Reagan applied pressure to the weak points of the Soviet empire and helped break it apart. Obama has taken on an equally big and important task: redefining the U.S. role in a vastly changed world.

Obama is not the first president to endorse multilateralism, but he may be the first to mean it. He agreed to use force in Libya only after France and Britain nominally took the lead. He has kept the NATO allies together in cautiously dealing with the Ukraine crisis. He has refused to be drawn into Syria because he is unsure whether intervention would make the situation better or worse.

The president realizes that even the most powerful nation on earth cannot mediate every dispute, take sides in all wars, alleviate all suffering. He acknowledges our limitations and more narrowly defines our national interest. The public approves, even if some foreign policy sages are apoplectic.

Obama can be reserved and introspective. Usually, however, I find him energized, confident, determined — and fully aware that he is shifting the ground.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 8, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | Politics, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Conservative Exceptionalism”: Even Boko Haram’s Brutality Can Be Politicized

The world is still coming to grips with the recent actions of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group responsible for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. The radical cult’s violence has been “too much” for fellow militants and jihadists, with even al Qaeda keeping its distance from the group.

This week, the scope of Boko Haram’s brutality came into even sharper focus.

Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria’s northeast this week, the area’s senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported on Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing.

The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna.

The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Mr. Hassan, a cement salesman.

The scale of the violence and bloodshed is gut-wrenching, and by all appearances, intensifying.

And yet, as the world watches these events with horror, some American conservatives have decided to use this as an opportunity – to condemn Hillary Clinton.

I’ll confess that I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to exploit Boko Haram as a domestic partisan tool, but here we are.

Following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by terrorist group Boko Haram, right-wing media are rushing to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not designating the group a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), insinuating that the kidnappings might have been prevented had the State Department issued the designation earlier. The baseless attack ignores the facts around FTO designations and foreign affairs.

The cast of “Fox & Friends” told viewers this morning that were it not for Hillary Clinton’s actions, we “could have saved these girls earlier.” National Review went with the tried and true “appeasing Islamists” line of criticism. In an apparent attempt at self-parody, Newt Gingrich today demanded congressional hearings to determine why Clinton’s State Department “refused to tell truth about radical Islamist Boko Haram.”

There’s something inherently troubling about a group of Americans who see a violent tragedy unfolding in Nigeria and, almost on instinct, begin looking for ways to use the developments for political advantage.

As for the substance, it’s true that the State Department declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization a few years ago, but as Hayes Brown explained very well, the reasoning matters.

“Designation is an important tool, it’s not the only tool,” a former State Department official told the Beast. “There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn’t require a designation.” This includes boosting development aid to undercut the causes of unrest and deploying the FBI to assist in tracking down Boko Haram, both of which the U.S. actually did.

In addition, Clinton didn’t act in a vacuum to determine not to designate Boko Haram back in 2011. Scholars on Twitter who focus on the region, terrorism broadly, and Islamist groups in particular were quick to point out that not only were there few benefits and many possible costs to designation, many of them had argued against listing Boko Haram several years ago. In a letter to the State Department dated May 2012, twenty prominent African studies scholars wrote Clinton to implore her to hold off on placing Boko Haram on the FTO list. Acknowledging the violence Boko Haram had perpetrated, the academics argued that “an FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long term strategy, and undermine the U.S. Government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region.”

For the record, in 2013, the State Department reached the conclusion that the designation could no longer be delayed and Boko Haram was added to the list of entities considered by the United States to be a foreign terrorist organization.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 8, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | Boko Haram, Conservatives, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi”: The Single Deadliest Attack On American Marines Since The Battle Of Iwo Jima

Late Saturday night, at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman from San Diego, California, was chatting amiably with Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, leaning in to swap gossip and looking very much at ease in his tuxedo. Issa, who has been the lead inquisitor into what, in shorthand, has come to be known as “Benghazi,” was having a busy weekend. House Speaker John Boehner had just announced a plan for a new special select investigative committee, and, on Friday, Issa had announced that he had issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry for a new round of hearings devoted to searching, against diminishing odds, for some dirty, dark secret about what really happened in Benghazi.

Ever since militant jihadists killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador, in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in that remote Libyan town two years ago, House Republicans have kept up a drumbeat of insinuation. They have already devoted thirteen hearings, twenty-five thousand pages of documents, and fifty briefings to the topic, which have turned up nothing unexpected. Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, has already accepted responsibility for the tragedy, and the State Department has issued a critical independent report on diplomatic security, resulting in the dismissal of four employees. If the hearings accomplish nothing else, it seems that they promise to keep the subject on life support at least through the midterm congressional elections, and possibly on through any potential Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign. The word “impeachment” has even been trotted out by Obama opponents in connection with this non-scandal.

Watching Issa silhouetted against the Belle Époque windows of the Italian Ambassador’s residence, which were wide open to a garden bathed in colored spotlights, I found myself thinking about another tragedy, thirty years ago, that played out very differently.

Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans. Among the dead were seven C.I.A. officers, including the agency’s top analyst in the Middle East, an immensely valuable intelligence asset, and the Beirut station chief.

There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation—but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.

In other words, Congress actually undertook a useful investigation and made helpful recommendations. The report’s findings, by the way, were bipartisan. (The Pentagon, too, launched an investigation, issuing a report that was widely accepted by both parties.)

In March of 1984, three months after Congress issued its report, militants struck American officials in Beirut again, this time kidnapping the C.I.A.’s station chief, Bill Buckley. Buckley was tortured and, eventually, murdered. Reagan, who was tormented by a tape of Buckley being tortured, blamed himself. Congress held no public hearings, and pointed fingers at the perpetrators, not at political rivals.

If you compare the costs of the Reagan Administration’s serial security lapses in Beirut to the costs of Benghazi, it’s clear what has really deteriorated in the intervening three decades. It’s not the security of American government personnel working abroad. It’s the behavior of American congressmen at home.

The story in Beirut wasn’t over. In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit. The problem, the President admitted, was that the repairs hadn’t quite been completed on time. As he put it, “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.” Imagine how Congressman Issa and Fox News would react to a similar explanation from President Obama today.


By: Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, May 6, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bush Revisionism Is Back”: Why This Latest, Pathetic Attempt Is So Dangerous

When we think of the villains of the civil rights movement, former Alabama Gov. George Wallace — he of the infamous “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” battle cry — is perhaps the first face that comes to mind. It was Wallace, after all, who stood defiantly in the doorway of a University of Alabama building, refusing to allow two African-American students to enter until then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (and a few of his friends in the National Guard) persuaded the diminutive demagogue to give way. When we think of the era’s Dixiecrats, those Southern Democrats who spent decades siding with conservatives in order to maintain white supremacy in their apartheid states, we think of men like Wallace: shameless race-baiters whose entire political identities were inextricably bound to bigotry and hate.

But here’s the funny thing about George Wallace: According to his contemporaries, the man was not personally ill disposed toward African-Americans (at least by the standards of the time). Before he became governor, in fact, Wallace was a judge known for moderate-to-liberal views on segregation and race. It wasn’t until he lost his first race for the governorship — during which he was endorsed by the NAACP — that Wallace decided to forge an iron bond between himself and white supremacy, vowing to “never be out-[N-worded] again.” Yet by his final term in the 1980s, Wallace had appointed a record number of African-Americans to jobs in the state government; and he regretted his role as America’s one-time leading segregationist to his dying day.

Why am I thinking about George Wallace? Not because of Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy or Charles Murray. No, the reason I’ve got Wallace on my mind is less straightforward than that. Blame this foray into recent history on a recent execrable piece from Yahoo!’s national political columnist and former New York Times Magazine scribe Matt Bai. The piece is titled “So George W. Bush isn’t a monster, after all” and it encourages an approach to politicians and politics that, if applied consistently, would have us believe that George Wallace was, at worst, misunderstood.

Bai’s piece is not very long, but here’s the short version, nonetheless: When George W. Bush was president, he was maligned, demonized and turned into a loathsome caricature by a political system that encourages divisive partisanship at the expense of humane treatment of the commander-in-chief. “The truth is,” Bai writes, “that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was.” On the contrary, he was “compassionate and well-intentioned” and “the kind of inclusive conservative you can deal with.” Bush, writes Bai, “is enjoying a public restoration,” a claim he supports by referencing a poll about blame for the poor economy and puff pieces about Bush’s kitschy paintings.

Now, as defenses of George W. Bush go, Bai’s is not only exceptionally weak but also quite strange. At no point does he directly mention any of Bush’s policies or decisions; the focus is entirely on the ex-president’s increasingly cuddly public image, which Bai insists is not the consequence of sympathetic media coverage but “has more to do, really, with how we distort the present.” Instead of judging the man by the wars he started, the torture regime he implemented, the city he left for dead or the economy he helped crater, Bai would have us see Bush as the man wants to be seen, as someone who “really does care deeply about the men and women he sent to war” and “really did want to do good for the country.”

Tens of thousands of people are dead today because of George W. Bush’s choices, but he’s quick to get misty-eyed when thinking of the maimed bodies and shattered lives he left in his wake. Isn’t that what really matters?

In response to this flimsy defense, it’d be understandable if one concluded, as some on Twitter have, that Bai is simply a crypto-Republican who is ready to play his part in the epic quest to rewrite the legacy of the 43rd president. It turns out, however, that Bai’s argument is much more expansive — and destructive — than that. It’s not a mere defense of Bush but rather a condemnation of the way we treat our leaders, how we abuse and ridicule them because “[t]here’s a lot of money to be made writing quickie books and giving speeches about the utter depravity of a president.” Bush’s father, Clinton and Obama, too; all are described by Bai as fundamentally good and likable people. (Carter, curiously, goes unmentioned, despite having an average post-presidential approval rating as of 2013 of 56.) Writing of Obama, but implicitly of both Bushes and Clinton as well, Bai claims “we should all be able to grant that he’s at least a good American.”

I’m not sure what being a “good American” quite means — is it better or worse than being a good Frenchwoman or Nigerian or Swede? — but I get the gist of Bai’s piece, and I think it’s terribly mistaken. For one thing, this is an argument already made relatively recently by National Journal’s Ron Fournier and, as a rule, if your article is a rehash of a Fournier troll-job, you’re probably making a huge mistake. More seriously, this view of what makes a person “good” or “bad” is almost shockingly juvenile on its own, and becomes nearly toxic when used to assess politicians. Ignoring my temptation to break Godwin’s Law, I’ll simply note that Richard Nixon and Francisco Franco, two men few of us would consider exemplars of humanity at its best, also sincerely believed that their actions were for the greater good. For that matter, so did Jefferson Davis and the leaders of the Confederacy. Vanishingly few of us deliberately act in an immoral fashion; we’re all the heroes of our own stories.

The need to focus on consequences rather than intentions is all the more pronounced when it comes to politics, the realm in which a person’s decisions, and their consequences, are the only rational metric the rest of us can use in order to judge their suitability. Particularly in America, where the political spectrum is quite constrained, with no real far left and an often marginalized extreme right, and where some of the most heated debates are ostensibly about how best to achieve mutually agreed upon goals, it’s vital that we focus on results. To take an example less fraught than torture or war, if you were someone who believed everyone should have a good-paying job and health insurance, but you were only allowed to consider what each party says it wants to occur, you’d have no way of choosing between Republicans and Democrats, who both say a wealthy and healthy middle class is their ultimate goal. 

Or, to return to my initial example, anyone who followed Bai’s advice would have a real tough time reaching a conclusion about George Wallace that the rest of us wouldn’t find obscene and bizarre. What matters more, the fact that George Wallace stoked racial resentment at a time when it was a force powerful and dangerous enough to murder innocent children; or the fact that, while he did so, he went to bed every night knowing that he was not only a beneficiary of hatred but a charlatan to boot? What matters more, the time George W. Bush wrote Ron Fournier a nice thank you card, or the millions of lives that would be better if he had not decided more than 10 years ago to destabilize the world with a war of choice? If we were talking about people whose professional decisions weren’t literally matters of life and death, Bai’s focus on people skills would be defensible. But we’re not, and it isn’t.

In the end, I can’t tell you any more than Bai can whether or not Bush is a “good” person. To paraphrase the former president’s favorite philosopher, that’s above my pay grade. I wouldn’t even know how to pick the right criteria. What I can tell you is that George Wallace, by the time he died, was a born-again Christian who said he believed all forms of racial discrimination were wicked and wrong; and that George W. Bush, today, most likely remains someone many of us would like to have a beer with. The question, then, is this: Who cares and why does it matter?


By: Elias Isquith, Assistant Editor, Salon, May 10

May 12, 2014 Posted by | George W Bush, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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