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

“The New Campaign Theme: Fear”: Republican Candidates Are Rediscovering How To Use Fear In Campaigning

There’s a new narrative emerging about the midterm elections. After months in which political reporters essentially wrote the same stories over and over with only small variations — it’ll be a good year for Republicans; the Affordable Care Act is a disaster for Democrats; oh, wait, maybe not — we now have a brand-spanking new storyline to play with.

Now, the elections are all about security and terrorism and foreign policy.

Fear is back! Which, of course, is great for the GOP.

There is some evidence that the elections may be shifting on to these topics. But like the threat from the Islamic State, it may be being overhyped by a news media eager for excitement.

One of my theories about the ebb and flow of political coverage is that any new development that promises change is unusually attractive to political reporters. Polls that never change are boring. And if America is about to embark on a new military adventure, then change must surely be in the air.

So we’re seeing a whole raft of articles claiming that the election is now all about security, like this one and this one and this one.

Yes, the news has been dominated by the Islamic State question for the past couple of weeks, and people respond to what’s in the news when they’re asked what they care about (this is called agenda-setting). There is some public opinion data showing more people expressing concern about terrorism.

But the question is: Is there any clear evidence that the public is actually gripped by terror, that the elections are going to look any different next month than they did last month?

If the public were actually terrified, that would almost certainly be good for the GOP. Research has shown that if you make people afraid or remind them of their own mortality, a significant number will gravitate toward Republican candidates. A lot of news stories about shadowy foreign terrorist groups could be enough to do the trick.

A complicating factor, however, is that Congress is pretty much abdicating its responsibility for oversight over the escalation. What’s more, Republican candidates don’t have much to say about what’s going on in the Middle East, as GOP strategists admit:

For candidates, there’s a difficult balance to strike between using the issue to beat the drum against Obama and getting too far in the weeds on actual strategy proposals. Most GOP strategists agree that the way to talk about foreign policy this fall is to make it a broad argument about leadership and stay out of such details as whether or not the U.S. should put troops on the ground.

“I don’t think that many Republicans are going to rush out there with detailed foreign policy initiatives in their own campaigns,” said GOP pollster Wes Anderson. “I don’t think there’s any market for it — what voters want to hear is that somebody is going to take initiative and show leadership.”

Having no actual ideas hasn’t historically stopped Republicans from exploiting an issue, of course. And there are some signs that Republican candidates are rediscovering how to use fear in campaigning (see here or here), which is its own story worthy of examination.

But House Republicans are actually showing surprising unity with Obama on how to respond to ISIS. The disagreements among Republicans over how to proceed seem procedural more than anything else, and they are likely to give him what he wants in terms of training the Syrian rebels, which could undercut efforts by GOP candidates to use this against Democrats. On balance, it’s probably too early to say that the election has been transformed.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Middle East, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Crass Political Stunt”: Christians Enraged With Cruz Over Pro-Israel Comments

Christian writers are incensed with Sen. Ted Cruz, and argue that the Texas senator is putting politics before his fellow religious brethren.

Cruz was the keynote speaker Wednesday evening at a dinner put on by In Defense of Christians, a group dedicated to raising awareness about persecuted Christians in the Middle East. During his speech, the Texas senator argued that Christians have “no greater ally” than Israel. Soon after, heckling from the crowd cut off his remarks, and an address that started by emphasizing the unity of Christians ended with shouting and disagreement.

“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” Cruz told the audience as he walked off the stage.

Much of his pro-Israel conservative base would have had no problem with these comments, so Cruz may not have expected a backlash. But the response among key Christian thinkers and writers was fierce and immediate.

Cruz was accused of ignorance about the dynamics of Middle Eastern Christianity; of suggesting that he would not stand with Christians who didn’t agree with his political stance on Israel; even of orchestrating a crass stunt on the backs of persecuted Christians.

“Sen. Ted Cruz suggested that holding the same political views on Israel was more important than the fellowship we share as Christians,” Mollie Hemingway, a senior writer at The Federalist, a conservative website, told The Daily Beast. “We shouldn’t fight the global persecution of Christians only if the victims share our political views.”

Added Mark Tooley, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy: “Must overseas Christians pass a political litmus test, even if it further endangers them, to gain American support and sympathy?”

Jeff King, the president of the watchdog group International Christian Concern, said that Cruz was “off-topic and rude” (the crowd was rude too, King added), but mainly did not understand the nuances of the persecuted Christian minority groups he was addressing.

“They can’t be pro-Israel where they live, because they will get the snot beaten out of them or worse. If you don’t understand the dynamics going in… you’ve got to question what he was thinking,” King said. “He just doesn’t understand the reality of Middle Eastern Christians.”

Others went so far as to question whether Cruz purposely went to the conference as a stunt, that he was aware of the dynamics and wanted to show that he would support Israel in front of an audience where this would be unpopular.

“He used arguably the most persecuted and powerless minority in the world, Middle Eastern Christians, who are supposed to be his brethren in Christ, as a prop for a self-aggrandizing political stunt,” said Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a Catholic writer, in The Week.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat was particularly scathing, pointing out that Cruz’s “co-religionists are being murdered.”

“[B]y making a statement at *this* event, he basically flipped the bird to people and churches that are dying right now,” he tweeted.

Some conservative websites weighed in in support of Cruz, but may have overstepped in doing so—with two websites implying that the Middle Eastern Christians present at the event were not Christians at all.

Both Breitbart News and Townhall wrote defenses that put the word “Christian” in scare quotes—as if those who heckled Cruz might not appropriately be termed so. Breitbart has since taken down the quotation marks.

Christian writers were mixed on whether Cruz’s remarks could have an enduring political effect.

“There are potential repercussions—particularly if this becomes a trend. To be sure, there is often a stark dichotomy between so-called opinion leaders and rank and file believers. But there’s a reason they’re called leaders,” Daily Caller writer Matt Lewis, who was critical of Cruz’s speech, told the Beast. “The folks who have voiced concern about his actions buy ink by the barrel and paper by the ton, and people turn to them for interpreting events. There is always the potential for this sort of thing to trickle down.”

Countered Tooley, “Religious persecution has rarely been major issue in electoral politics.”

Democrats might also seek to capitalize on Cruz’s statement. Michael Wear, a strategist who led White House evangelical outreach during President Obama’s first term, said that Republican “voters will be looking for a candidate who can support Israel without demeaning an audience gathered to defend persecuted religious groups, a cause Senator Cruz has now distracted from in order to defend himself.”

Catherine Frazier, a Cruz spokeswoman, told the Beast that the senator will continue to speak out on behalf of religious minorities everywhere, and has made a point of bringing public attention to persecuted Christians in particular.

“He does not agree or stand with those who do not believe that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state,” Frazier said. “But that does not change his passion and priority for standing with persecuted Christians across the region and across the world.”

In the meantime, however, Cruz’s remarks appear to have at least temporarily shattered Christian solidarity on the issue of persecuted Christian minorities.

“Fighting persecution of Christians is a unifying message among voters, particularly on the right,” Hemingway said. “For better or worse, Cruz’s political speech may have broken that unity.”


By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Israel, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Running Scared”: Democrats Are Turning Georgia Blue; Republicans Never Saw It Coming

In 2008, under the best possible conditions for a Democrat, Barack Obama lost Georgia by just over 200,000 votes, or 5.2 percent of Georgians who voted. Four years later he lost again by just over 300,000 votes, or 7.8 percent of Georgians who voted. By any measure the state is a reach for Democrats. And yet, the party is optimistic, both now—Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, its Senate and gubernatorial candidates, respectively, are running close races—and for the future.

The “why” is easy to answer: Georgia has roughly 700,000 unregistered black voters. If Democrats could cut that number by less than a third—and bring nearly 200,000 likely Democrats to the polls—they would turn a red state purple, and land a major blow to the national Republican Party. Or, as Michelle Obama said during a campaign rally on Monday, “If just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November—just 50 per precinct—then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win.” Given 2,727 precincts in Georgia, that’s just 136,350 new voters.

Enter the New Georgia Project. Led by Stacey Abrams, Democratic leader in the state House of Representatives, the project is meant to do just that—register hundreds of thousands of blacks and other minorities. Their goal, says Abrams, is to “directly or indirectly collect 120,000 voter registration applications.” That could be enough to push Democrats over the top. And it makes the project one of the largest voter registration drives in recent Georgia history.

So far, it’s been a success. “In addition to the 85,000 we have collected as an organization directly,” says Abrams, “we have also supported the efforts of 12 organizations around the state. We know there are groups doing registration in the Latino community, in the Asian community, and in the youth community, and we wanted to support their efforts as well.” These groups, she says, have collected 20,000 to 25,000 applications, putting the New Georgia Project in striking distance of its goal two months before Election Day.

Which brings us to this week. On Tuesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican—said his office was investigating allegations of voter fraud from the New Georgia Project, following complaints about voter applications submitted by the group. To that end, Kemp has issued subpoenas to the group and its parent organization, Third Sector Development.

“Preliminary investigation has revealed significant illegal activities’ including forged voter registration applications, forged signatures on releases, and applications with false or inaccurate information,” he wrote in a memo to county election officials.

To Abrams, this has less to do with protecting the process and more to do with suppressing the registration effort. After all, she notes, Georgia law “requires that we turn in all application forms we collect, regardless of concerns over validity.” It’s the job of the secretary of state, she says, to determine the status of the applications. “We do not get to make the decisions about whether or not a form is valid or not.”

She’s right. “A private entity shall promptly transmit all completed voter registration applications to the Secretary of State or the appropriate board of registrars within ten days after receiving the application or by the close of registration, whichever period is earlier,” says the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office website. Nowhere are private organizations asked or required to filter or discard applications.

There’s little information on the scope of the alleged fraud. But there is an aggressive subpoena that, Abrams says, “essentially demands every document we have ever produced.” She calls it a “fishing expedition” meant to “suppress our efforts.” A spokesperson for the New Georgia Project, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, was a little more explicit. “I see this move by the secretary of state as the latest effort in voter suppression in the state of Georgia,” he said.

Kemp insists that this investigation is impartial and nonpartisan. “At the end of the day this is not going to be about politics,” he told a local reporter. “This is about potential fraud which we think happened.” At the same time, Abrams and Warnock are rightfully suspicious. Not only was Kemp a vocal supporter of the state’s divisive voter identification law, but he’s a Republican in a state where the GOP has worked hard to dilute the strength of black voters.

Under the old Voting Rights Act, Georgia officials had to clear voting changes with the Justice Department, and for good reason: The state had a long history of disenfranchisement, and “preclearance” was a way to pre-empt discrimination or prevent it entirely.

That changed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder last year, which struck preclearance from the VRA. Now, along with other Southern states, Georgia was free to change its laws and procedures for voting. And it did. That year, in Augusta—which has a large black population—officials moved municipal elections from their traditional November dates, a change with huge, negative effects on turnout. (For a case study, look to Ferguson, Missouri.)

Likewise, officials in rural Greene County implemented a redistricting plan previously blocked by the Justice Department, and lawmakers in Morgan County floated a plan to eliminate half the area’s polling sites, a move that would have its greatest effect on low-income and minority voters.

Then, Georgia Democrats realized they could play the same game. Last week officials in the large, mostly black area of DeKalb County announced plans for Sunday voting for the upcoming November election. The state’s Republican lawmakers have responded with outrage. “[T]his location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist,” said state Sen. Fran Millar, citing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway, “I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.” Millar is investigating ways to “stop this action,” and hopes to “eliminate this election law loophole.”

Against this backdrop of voter suppression, it’s no surprise Abrams is suspicious of the state’s investigation: From the harsh accusations of “fraud” to the aggressive actions from Kemp, it looks like another attack on efforts to increase participation and diversify the electorate.

With that said, there’s only so long Republicans can hope to win through such divisive methods. Six years ago, a “purple” Georgia was a pipe dream. Now, in a year when Republicans have the national advantage, it’s a possibility. The pace of demographic change is so fast that, soon enough, Democrats like Abrams won’t have to work to change the electorate—it will have happened on its own.


By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Georgia, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rubio Says Defeating ISIS Has Been ‘Achieved’ In The Past”: Inadvertently Helped Prove Just How Difficult The Current Challenge Is

The debate over U.S. counter-terrorism policy is obviously complex, and in the wake of President Obama’s speech this week, there are no easy answers. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), perhaps inadvertently, helped prove just how difficult the current challenge is.

As Amanda Terkel noted, the Florida Republican has been urging President Obama to be even more aggressive in confronting the Islamic State – beyond the 150+ airstrikes the president has already ordered – but in an NPR interview, Rubio seemed to stumble onto the broader problem.

“Absolutely it’s a realistic goal. It’s been achieved in the past,” said the senator when asked by “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep whether “defeat” was truly possible. “This very same insurgency was defeated during the Awakening in Iraq. This is the same group that was driven out by Sunnis, who then reconstituted itself in Syria when that became an unstable and ungoverned space. … But no matter how long it takes, we need to do it.”

As Simon Maloy explained in response, “There you have it. According to Rubio, we can absolutely defeat a terrorist insurgency because we have already defeated the same insurgency that we now have to defeat. Again.”


The point wasn’t lost on NPR’s Inskeep. “There are connections between this group and earlier extremist groups in Iraq,” the host told the senator. “They were battled for years and pushed back, but here they are years later. This could just be something that goes on and on, couldn’t it?”

Rubio replied, “It could, but that’s not – I mean, that’s just reality.”

Well, yes, I suppose it is, but the point is reality isn’t as easy as simply deploying the U.S. military to take out bad guys. On the one hand, Rubio believes it’s “absolutely” realistic to think we can “defeat” ISIS terrorists. On the other hand, Rubio also appreciates the fact that “reality” tells us violent radicals like these can be squashed temporarily, only to return.

I’m not trying to pick on Rubio, per se, but rather, his rhetoric is a helpful example of the underlying tension in the broader discussion. The Florida Republican is confident that fully defeating ISIS is “a realistic goal,” even while the senator realizes that it’s “just reality” to acknowledge a complete ISIS defeat may not be possible.

Rubio added that the U.S. mission against Islamic State must continue, “no matter what it takes” and “no matter how long it takes.”

And under Rubio’s vision, that would almost certainly be a very long time, pursuing an endpoint that remains on a perpetual horizon.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | ISIS, Marco Rubio, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Defeat For American Democracy”: The Senate Tried To Overturn ‘Citizens United’ Today. Guess What Stopped Them?

A majority of the United States Senate has voted to advance a constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to establish campaign fundraising and spending rules with an eye toward preventing billionaires and corporations from buying elections.

“Today was a historic day for campaign finance reform, with more than half of the Senate voting on a constitutional amendment to make it clear that the American people have the right to regulate campaign finance,” declared Senator Tom Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who in June proposed his amendment to address some of the worst results of the Supreme Court’s interventions in with the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decisions, as well as the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s going to take more than a majority to renew democracy.

Fifty-four senators, all Democrats and independents who caucus with the Democrats, voted Thursday for the amendment to clarify in the Constitution that Congress and the states have the authority to do what they did for a century before activist judges began intervening on behalf of wealthy donors and corporations: enact meaningful campaign finance rules and regulations.

But forty-two senators, all Republicans, voted no. As a result, Udall noted, the Republican minority was able to “filibuster this measure and instead choose to support a broken system that prioritizes corporations and billionaires over regular voters.”

The Republican opposition effectively blocked further consideration of the amendment proposal, since sixty votes were needed to end debate and force a vote. And, even if the Republicans had not filibustered the initiative, actual passage of an amendment would have required a two-thirds vote.

Though the Republican move was anticipated, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has been one of the Senate’s most ardent advocates for reform, expressed frustration with the result. “I am extremely disappointed that not one Republican voted today to stop billionaires from buying elections and undermining American democracy,” said the senator, who has advocated for a more sweeping amendment to address the influence and power of corporate cash on American elections and governance. “While the Senate vote was a victory for Republicans, it was a defeat for American democracy. The Koch brothers and other billionaires should not be allowed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars electing candidates who represent the wealthy and the powerful.“

Now, said Sanders, “the fight to overturn Citizens United must continue at the grassroots level in every state in this country.”

Sanders is right to reference the role of grassroots movements.

Four years ago, when the US Supreme Court removed barriers to corporate spending to buy elections, serious reformers said a constitutional amendment would be necessary to reverse the Court’s Citizens United ruling. Most pundits and politicians, even those who recognized the threat posed to democracy by the opening of the floodgates for big money, dismissed a constitutional fix as too bold and too difficult to achieve.

But the people embraced the constitutional route to reform. Grassroots organizing succeeded in getting sixteen states and close to 600 communities to formally demand that Congress act.

At the same time, the money poured in, with campaigning spending breaking records in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections—and heading toward breaking the record for midterm elections in 2014.

That was enough to shake up even the most cautious Senate Democrats, who began moving earlier this year to advance the Udall amendment. Though activists wanted a stronger amendment, the Senate deliberations confirmed that there is broad support for a constitutional response to the money-in-politics mess—and that a substantial number of senators now see that constitutional response as right and necessary.

“Less than five years after the Citizens United decision sparked national outrage, we have seen the movement to get big money out of politics go from local, grassroots organizing to a vote in the United States Senate,” explained People for the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker, who worked with activists from Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and other groups to collect and deliver 3.2 million signatures on petitions supporting an amendment. “Today’s historic majority vote is a remarkable milestone for this movement and a platform for taking the fight to the next level. The debate in the Senate this week is a debate that Americans across the country who are passionate about fixing our broken democracy have wanted to see.”

With the DC debate done, for now, the fight goes back to the grassroots. Activists with groups such as Move to Amend, Public Citizen’s “Democracy is for People” campaign and Free Speech for People will continue to organize and agitate, not just for an amendment but for an amendment that makes it absolutely clear that money is not speech, that corporations are not people and that citizens have a right to organize elections where votes matter more than dollars.

“We have amended the US Constitution before in our nation’s history. Twenty-seven times before. Seven of those times to overturn egregious Supreme Court rulings. For the promise of American democracy, we can and we will do it again,” declared John Bonifaz, the president of Free Speech for People, said Thursday. “The pressing question before the nation today is whether it is ‘we the people’ or ‘we the corporations and big money interests.’ This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is a deeply American issue. Whatever our political differences may be, we all share the common vision of government of, for, and by the people. Today’s US Senate vote is just the beginning. While this amendment bill did not receive this time the required two-thirds support in order to pass the Senate, we will be back again and again until we win. History is on our side.’


By: John Nichols, The Nation, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: