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“The Republican Quasi-Isolationists Change Their Tune”: America Can Solve All The Worlds Problems Again!

It looks like the debate over what to do about ISIS has given Republicans one fewer thing to argue about:

A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party.

The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists.

A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn.

The most notable shift has come from Rand Paul, who used to talk a lot about the dangers of interventionism and foreign entanglements, but is now ready for war. “If I were president,” he told the AP, “I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

This follows on a recent Pew Research poll which found that while last November only 18 percent of Republicans said the U.S. does too little to solve the world’s problems and 52 percent said we do too much, today 46 percent say we’re doing too little and only 37 percent say we’re doing too much.

It’s possible that all those Republicans have changed their perspective because circumstances have changed. ISIS in particular certainly looks much stronger and more threatening than it did a few months ago. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what has changed is Barack Obama. Once the old conservative narrative that he’s a weak weakling endangering us with his weakness reasserted itself, most of those alleged quasi-isolationists, including the one who wants to be president, scuttled back to the fold.

This highlights a simple fact about today’s Republicans: After six years of the Obama presidency, they define themselves almost entirely by being the opposite of whatever the guy in the White House is. I guarantee you that if Barack Obama did exactly what Rand Paul seems to be recommending—a full-scale war against ISIS—he and millions of other Republicans would change their tune in short order, now claiming that he was pulling us into another quagmire, and America can’t solve all the world’s problems. And they’d be completely sincere.

This is an extension of the way Republicans have been thinking throughout his presidency. As we know, whenever Obama has embraced one of their ideas, like the cap-and-trade carbon-reduction plan, or the conservative health-care plan that became the basis of the Affordable Care Act, they immediately decide that not only is it the soul of evil, but that they’ve always believed that, like the Party in “1984” declaring that we have always been at war with Eastasia.

To a degree, that’s natural. When the other side’s guy is president for two terms, he shapes the whole debate and even how you wind up thinking of yourself. But Republicans have been unusually reactive, I think in part because their abhorrence of Obama is so intense. He could say that he enjoys ice cream, and a million conservatives would swear never to let the vile frozen sludge pass their lips again.

Of course, there’s a core of conservatism that is unchanging, no matter who the president is—taxes and regulations are bad, the rich are noble job creators, the safety net is for leeches, and so on. But on all those other issues that don’t necessarily occupy their ideological core, it does make you wonder if they’ll be able to figure out who they are once Obama is gone come 2017. I guess then they’ll define themselves as against whatever President Clinton is for.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Revenge Rules Foreign Policy”: Intense Rage At Violations Of Our National Honor Creating Self-Defeating Responses

In my earlier post on the IS “crisis” I suggested it’s irrational for American foreign policy to turn itself inside out over the barbaric murder of two (or in the future, perhaps more) U.S. journalists, horrible as it is. Peter Beinart has a very persuasive column at The Atlantic today arguing it’s important we understand the public reaction to the beheadings is entirely irrational, but reflects the enduring “Jacksonian” strain of U.S. foreign policy whereby intense rage at violations of our national honor justify completely disproportionate and sometimes even self-defeating responses:

Last September, when asked Americans whether they supported air strikes “against Syria,” only 20 percent said yes. Last week, by contrast, when it asked whether Americans supported strikes “against ISIS militants in Syria,” 63 percent said yes.

In narrow policy terms, the arguments for military intervention have not improved over the last two weeks. It’s still not clear if Iraq’s government is inclusive enough to take advantage of American attacks and wean Sunnis from ISIS. It’s even less clear if the U.S. can bomb ISIS in Syria without either empowering Assad or other Sunni jihadist rebel groups.

But politically, that doesn’t matter. What’s causing this Jacksonian eruption is the sight of two terrified Americans, on their knees, about to be beheaded by masked fanatics. Few images could more powerfully stoke Jacksonian rage. The politicians denouncing Obama for lacking a “strategy” against ISIS may not have one either, but they have a gut-level revulsion that they can leverage for political gain. “Bomb the hell out of them!” exclaimed Illinois Senator Mark Kirk on Tuesday. “We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age,” added Texas Senator Ted Cruz. These aren’t policy prescriptions. They are cries for revenge.

Well, they could represent something a lot worse than that. If you look back at how we got into the Iraq War, the simple political dynamics were that the Bush administration exploited a national desire for revenge (“Let’s Roll”) to launch not one but two wars, on the highly cynical but accurate assumption that many Americans held Arabs or maybe even Muslims collectively responsible, and that the absence of a second 9/11 retroactively justified the “revenge.” Many of the Republican pols now howling for revenge have recently howled for violence against Iraq, against North Korea, against Syria, against Russia and (perpetually) against Palestinians. Who can tell how many agendas will eventually be lashed to the project of making IS pay for its barbarism?

More immediately, as Beinart points out, Obama is especially unlucky in encountering (potentially) the same combination of developments that undid a certain predecessor:

All of a sudden, the domestic politics of foreign policy bear a vague resemblance to the late Carter years. The Iran hostage crisis did not lend itself to a simple policy response either. But to many Americans, it represented a primal humiliation, broadcast on screens across the world. And the hostage crisis primed Americans to see the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year as yet another example of Jimmy Carter failing to prevent America from being disrespected around the world. The danger for Obama is that the ISIS beheadings color the public’s view of his Russia policy in the same way.

Having spent a good part of the 2012 presidential cycle trying to convince Americans that they were actually reliving 1980 and needed to get that wimpy Democrat out of the White House, Republicans can be expected to resume making this connection directly. But even without the potent Russia/hostage combo, the politics of restraining the Jacksonian impulse could be as difficult for Obama as for Carter.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Journalists, Middle East | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not My Job”: Scott Brown, “I Am Not Going To Create One Job”

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, appeared on a local radio show this week and caused a bit of a stir. Specifically, he suggested his supporters in neighboring states should come to the Granite State, take advantage of same-day registration, and vote for him, in effect calling for voter fraud on a massive scale.

The problem, of course, was that Brown was kidding. If you listen to the audio, it seems he probably wasn’t serious about the scheme, though given his personal circumstances, this is an odd thing for Brown to joke about.

But a day later, the former senator was entirely serious when he made these comments to a group of voters:

“Here’s the thing. People say, ‘What are you going to do to create jobs?’ I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs. It’s yours. My job is to make sure that government stays out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand. Obamacare’s a great example. The number one job inhibitor right now is Obamacare…. We have to repeal it.”

As is too often the case, Brown seems a little confused about public policy. On health care, there’s literally nothing to suggest the Affordable Care Act is undermining job growth, just as there’s literally nothing to suggest unemployment will improve if Scott Brown takes health care benefits away from millions of Americans. The very idea is bizarre.

But that, of course, is secondary to the Republican’s boast that he is “not going to create one job.” This is so misguided, it’s the kind of comment that’s likely to linger for a while.

Note, for example, Brown is simply wrong on the basics of economic policy. The public sector creates jobs all the time. How a former U.S. senator can fail to understand this is a bit of a mystery.

Also, when he was in Massachusetts, Brown used to say that he could, in fact, create jobs through government policymaking. What caused the former GOP lawmaker to change his mind when he changed states? Why did he think he could create jobs in Massachusetts, but not in New Hampshire?

For that matter, just as a matter of rudimentary political competence, what kind of candidate tells voters, “I am not going to create one job”?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Economic Policy, Jobs, Scott Brown | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

” My Wife Made Me Do It”: Virginia’s Ex-Governor Is a Political Crook For Our Times

In an era of small-bore politics and lowered ambition, the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was the scandal best suited for the times. It did not feature outsized personalities or grandiose schemes. Unlike former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, McDonnell wasn’t trying to sell a United States Senate seat. And, unlike former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, McDonnell didn’t try to portray himself as a loveable rogue.

Instead, McDonnell, who was found guilty on 11 counts related to public corruption on Thursday, spent the trial trying to convince jurors that he was just a henpecked husband struggling with his family’s credit card debt.

The scandal revolved around McDonnell and his wife Maureen, who herself was convicted on eight counts related to public corruption for taking gifts from Jonnie Williams, a businessman trying to promote a tobacco-based dietary supplement called Anatabloc. These gifts ranged from$120,000 in low interest loans to Williams simply allowing the Virginia governor to spend a few hours driving his Ferrari. Prosecutors argued that in exchange for these gifts, McDonnell inappropriately used his office to promote Anatabloc and help Williams get state research grants to further study the drug.

McDonnell, who turned down a plea deal earlier this year, argued that he and his wife couldn’t have conspired to accept gifts from Williams because their marriage was so irretrievably broken.  The former Virginia governor’s lawyers portrayed their client as a man trying to save a marriage on the rocks to a woman who was increasingly prone towards “fiery anger and hate” toward him and had “a crush” on Williams.

When the verdict was announced in the federal court in Richmond on Thursday, McDonnell immediately broke down in tears and wept openly. It marked a huge fall from grace for a politician who was once considered a potential presidential candidate and rumored to be under consideration to be Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

The former Virginia governor and his wife are due to face sentencing in January 2015, although McDonnell’s attorney already said he will appeal the verdict up to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.  In the meantime, if the conviction stands, McDonnell will be the first governor in the nearly 240-year history of Virginia, ranging from Patrick Henry to Terry McAuliffe, to be convicted of a crime.


By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Bob McDonnell, Public Corruption | , , , | Leave a comment

“The Tea Party Was Right About Eric Cantor”: His Job In Congress Was About Doing And Receiving Favors

When former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, establishment Washington gasped and cried out with surprise. But when he took a job on Wall Street? No. Surprise. At. All.

Let’s think about this for a minute. It appears as though the establishment-types know Cantor pretty well. He’s got friends on Wall Street, and this is the natural course of events in the world of cronies and insiders. Republicans and Democrats have both availed themselves of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington. No surprise, no big deal.

What insiders don’t know very well is outsiders. To insiders, the unnatural thing — the big deal — was an incumbent losing. Silly outsiders, a.k.a. voters! Didn’t they know that Wall Street and fancy Washington lobbyists just love this guy?

Oh, wait, yes, the silly voters did know. It’s one of the reasons they broke up with Mr. Cantor. He preferred the cool kids to his own constituents and they knew it, so they voted for someone else.

The Cantor-Goes-to-Wall-Street ending to the story was excruciatingly predictable, but it may have some unexpected outcomes in that it could encourage tea-party types to dig in deeper.

You see, when he accepted this job, Cantor proved that his constituents were right. He was out of touch with folks at home, but very much in touch with the rich and powerful in New York. Anyone who can land a job this lucrative in a field where they have zero experience must be getting the job for, ahem, different reasons. It’s about being friends, about doing and receiving favors. Voters understand this, and those who already think Wall Street and Washington are thick as thieves just got their best proof yet.

I suspect that Cantor’s friends inside the Beltway are very happy for him. They may even be thinking, “Good for Eric. The best revenge is living well!” They may secretly think that those silly voters in Virginia will be jealous of their former congressman’s new income, which will be 26 times bigger than their average household income.

But I doubt there is any jealousy at all. I’m guessing the feeling of those who voted against Cantor is more along the lines of: “Good. He’ll be much happier with his friends in New York City and downtown Washington than he was with us here in Virginia.”

The fruition of predictable events can be comforting, but it can also cement convictions. So for those Washingtonians who are toasting Cantor’s success this week, I have a word of caution: Your buddy Eric just proved to the anti-establishment, tea-party types that firing him was a good decision. Other members of Congress in the Cantor mold will not be well served by this. Perhaps that’s why Cantor waited until primary season was safely over before proving his constituents right.


By: Jean Card, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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