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

“Republican Control Of Senate Not A Slam Dunk”: You Have The Power, Voting Will Matter This Year

There is something deeply satisfying about the troubles punditry is having in nailing down exactly what’s happening in the 2014 elections.

The careful statistical models keep gyrating on the question of whether Republicans will win control of the Senate this November. The prognosticators who rely on their reporting and their guts as well as the numbers are sometimes at odds with the statisticians.

The obvious reason for the uncertainty is that many of the key Senate races are still very close in the polls. This should encourage a degree of humility among those of us who love to offer opinions about politics. Humility is a useful virtue not always on display in our business. The unsettled nature of the election also sends a salutary signal to the electorate. As Howard Dean might put it: You have the power. Voting will matter this year.

It is not my habit to agree with Karl Rove, but he was on to something in his Wall Street Journal column last Thursday when he wrote that “each passing day provides evidence as to why a GOP Senate majority is still in doubt.”

Rove’s focus, not surprisingly, was on money. Democrats have been spending heavily to hang on to their majority, and he interpreted this as an imperative for Republican candidates and donors to “step up if they are to substantially reduce that gap.” In a parenthetical sentence, he disclosed his interest here: “I help American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS raise funds on a volunteer basis.” Rove’s professional history is in the direct mail business, and his column was a nicely crafted fundraising plea.

Rove acknowledged that the big-dollar Republican groups have yet to commit all the cash they have raised, so the TV advertising gap “is likely to shrink.” But the GOP’s real problem in closing the deal is about more than money. Spending doesn’t work unless candidates and parties have a case to make, and this gets to why we have yet to see either a clear trend or a dominant theme emerge in this campaign. Many swing voters may be in a mood to punish or put a check on President Obama. Yet Democrats might still hang on if voters decide that life and government will be no better with a legislative branch entirely under GOP control.

Underlying the Democrats’ argument that a Republican-led Senate will be no day at the beach is the fact that their conservative opponents are offering little of practical help to voters still unsettled by the economic downturn, and might make things worse.

Thus, even in conservative states, Democrats are zeroing in on Republican opposition to government programs aimed at solving particular problems. Their arguments and ads reflect a reality: Voters who might dislike government in the abstract often support the concrete things government can do.

In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes launched a Web ad on Friday criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for leading a filibuster against Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill to bring down interest rates on student debt. “We want our students getting degrees, not debt,” Grimes says. Students are portrayed echoing the “degrees not debt” theme.

In Arkansas, Democrat Mark Pryor has run advertising built around the Ebola outbreak, criticizing his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, for being one of 29 House Republicans to vote in 2013 against a reauthorization of public health and emergency programs. Cotton’s campaign insisted that he voted later in favor of a subsequent version of the spending bill, but it’s striking that a conservative would be put on the defensive about opposing a spending program.

And in North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan used a debate earlier this month to launch a populist attack on state House Speaker Thom Tillis, her Republican foe, charging him with believing that “those who have the most should get the most help.” She has also denounced Tillis for blocking North Carolina from taking advantage of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. She pointed to health-care providers in the state who are “having unbelievable problems because of no Medicaid expansion.”

I’ll try to practice some of the humility I’m preaching by acknowledging that I have no idea whether Republicans will take the six seats they need to control the Senate. Maybe their incessant assaults on Obama will prove to be enough. But an election that once looked to be a Republican slam dunk has even Karl Rove worried, because many voters seem to want to do more with their ballots than just slap the president in the face.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 21, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Midterm Elections, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Vain And The Desperate”: The Caress Of The Spotlight Redeems The Indignities Of The Process

In case you missed it, our nation’s officeholders, current and former, have been working overtime to make us proud.

Ted Cruz threw a histrionic hissy fit in front of Arab Christians. Sarah Palin went to a birthday party where her family reportedly got into a brawl. Mark Sanford emitted a self-pitying aria of romantic angst. Debbie Wasserman Schultz compared some Republicans to wife beaters.

Somewhere in there, I sank into a newly deep funk about the kinds of people drawn to politics these days.

Then I burrowed into Matt Bai’s new book and I hit rock bottom.

It’s called “All the Truth Is Out,” it will be published later this month and it’s about Gary Hart. Remember him: the presidential contender who rode a boat named Monkey Business into a media whirlpool? You should, as the book, which is excerpted in The Times Magazine this weekend, makes clear.

And the reason isn’t so much the scandal that swallowed him or his particular exit from the political arena. It’s the warning that his story sounded — about a new brutality on the campaign trail, about uncharted frontiers of media invasiveness and about the way both would wind up culling the herd, not in favor of the strongest candidates but in favor of those so driven or vacuous that the caress of the spotlight redeems the indignities of the process.

Has running for public office become less attractive than ever? Does it frighten off potential leaders who might benefit us and clear a path for aspirants with less to offer?

Bai’s book suggests as much, and he points a finger at political journalism, which, he writes, is “now concerned almost entirely with exposing lies and unearthing character flaws, sexual or not.”

“Hart’s downfall,” Bai continues, “was the thing that tipped the scales completely, the catalyst that made it O.K. — even necessary — for all aspiring political reporters to cast themselves as amateur P.I.s and psychotherapists. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would have been: We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.”

“All the Truth Is Out” has fascinating tidbits, in particular about friendships that bloomed between Hart and Mikhail Gorbachev and Hart and Bill Clinton, his descendant in the annals of sexual scandal.

It also has a few belly laughs — painful ones. Bai writes that when the media was consumed by Hart’s sex life, Johnny Carson joked that “the nomination would fall into Hart’s lap — if there was any room left there. On the highly rated sitcom ‘Golden Girls,’ one of the little old ladies commented of another character, ‘She’s Gary Hart’s campaign manager. It doesn’t pay much, but you don’t have to get out of bed to do it.’ ”

Those jokes serve a point: Hart was reduced to a single trait, and everything else he had to say was muffled by it. And the same questionable fate befell many politicians after him, as privacy perished and the media’s insistence on a certain sort of juicy narrative intensified.

“It’s just getting worse,” Stuart Stevens, the veteran Republican strategist who spearheaded Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, told me. “It’s the most grueling process imaginable.”

As CNN’s Peter Hamby noted in a study he wrote during a fellowship at Harvard last year, the accelerated news cycle of the social-media age demands meaningless scoops, trumpets dubious gaffes and turns the reporters trailing a candidate into “one giant, tweeting blob.”

That blob suffocates its quarry, often at the prodding of his or her rivals, who supply opposition research (or “oppo”) that strays from serious byways down silly cul-de-sacs. This was captured in a story about the Senate elections that was splashed across the top of the Politico website Friday afternoon.

The headline blared, “GOTCHA! How oppo took over the midterms.” And the story began, “Why would anyone want to talk about immigration, terrorism, gun control or the national debt, when there’s Alison Lundergan Grimes’ bus, John Walsh’s thesis, Bruce Braley’s chickens and Pat Roberts’ recliner? Gotcha stories — ranging from those tangentially related to issues of the day to the completely ephemeral and even absurd — have been front and center in an abnormally large number of top races this year.”

Everything’s a teapot, primed for a tempest. Although Joe Biden has a famously spastic tongue and there’s no reason to believe he is anti-Semitic, he makes an indecorous reference to “Shylocks” and the outrage machinery cranks into gear. The content-ravenous blogosphere lights up.

But the hysteria of the present media climate isn’t the only problem or turnoff. There’s the extended duration of a political race. There’s the ceaseless fund-raising, the burden of which was spelled out in an internal memo that leaked from Michelle Nunn’s Senate campaign in Georgia. It decreed that drumming up money should consume 80 percent of her time in the first quarter of 2014, declining to 70 percent in the third.

The memo identified Jews as a “tremendous financial opportunity,” so long as Nunn struck the right position on Israel, still to be finessed. Ah, the heartfelt conviction that animates today’s candidate!

Writing about the memo in The Times Magazine, Mark Leibovich said that his main takeaway was “that a political campaign today is a soul-killing pursuit.” He presumes a soul to take.

Seriously, who’s attracted to this ordeal? Some people with only the best intentions and motivations, yes. But also plenty like Sanford, whose 2,346-word Facebook post about his postmarital woes signaled a Newt-caliber neediness. Or like Wasserman Schultz, an intemperate warrior who, if Politico’s profile of her last week got it right, is consumed by self-centered ambition. Or like Cruz, with his lust for attention, even if it’s negative.

Or like Palin. She’s clearly on Bai’s mind when he writes that the “post-Hart climate” of estrangement between politicians and the press — and of shallow campaign pageantry — made it easier for candidates with little policy expertise or insight into governance, because no one expected any candidate to say anything too detailed or deep.

“A politician could duck any real intellectual scrutiny simply by deriding the evident triviality of the media,” Bai writes.

It’s odd and funny that the conservative writer Charles Krauthammer sought to vilify President Obama last week by calling him, of all things, a narcissist. When this came up on “The View” and narcissism was explained to Rosie O’Donnell as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of self and their own importance and a deep need for admiration,” she replied, “That’s every celebrity I know, including me.”

It’s a lot of politicians, too. The process guarantees it.


By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 20, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Media, Political Journalism, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Faithful Are Spinning Out Of Control”: The Bizarre Behavior Of Christian Conservatives This Week

If Christianity had its own PR flack, he would be slamming his fist on the desk right about now, as the faithful are spinning out of control.

A Tennessee man, Ronnie Monday, and his friends thought they were doing the “Lord’s work,” by raising money to erect a massive billboard in the town of Portland that called homosexuality an abomination. It quotes Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination.” To the right of the verse the billboard says, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” Yet what Monday didn’t address is that a few verses later in Leviticus, homosexuals are condemned to death. So much for loving the sinner.

The United States Air Force entered the religious battle this week when it said it would not let a veteran airman reenlist unless he swore an oath unto God. The airman, who has remained unnamed, signed the oath document, but crossed out the words “so help me God.” Bryan Fischer of the ultra-conservative American Family Association said that atheists should not even be allowed to serve in the armed forces. “There is no place in the United States military for those who do not believe in the Creator,” he said. “A man who doesn’t believe in the Creator … most certainly should not wear the uniform.”

How quickly Fischer dismisses the lives of those like Pat Tillman, an open atheist who lost his life not long after he walked away from his professional football career to fight Al Qaeda after 9/11. The American Humanist Association and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation quickly took action against the Air Force, which strongly defended the wording of the oath. Eventually, the organizations wore the Air Force down, and it dropped its religious enlistment requirement.

After the Air Force’s decision to drop the requirement, the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson went on an anti-Semitic tirade: “There’s a left-wing radical named Mikey Weinstein [president of MRFF] who has got a group about people against religion or whatever he calls it, and he has just terrorized the armed forces.” He continued, “You think you’re supposed to be tough, you’re supposed to defend us, and you got one little Jewish radical who is scaring the pants off of you.”

On the subject of the military, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared in front of a crowd that the US should not fear a war with the Islamic militant group ISIS because Huckabee has read the Bible, and it contains a prophecy. “I got good news for all the dispirited and disquieted Christians in America who somehow are afraid that the Sons of Ishmael who are challenging us now in the Middle East will overwhelm the Sons of Isaac,” Huckabee said. “Let me assure you, I have read the end of the book! My dear friend, we win!”

For those who have not read the Bible, there is a massive lack of information about how to deal with ISIS, but that did not stop Huckabee, who even appeared on Fox News endorsing greater military action, saying dropping bombs is not enough to “eradicate ISIS.”

And last, if you are not familiar with Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount, Jesus blessed the poor and the hungry. But now he’s blessing the gun nuts? Pat Robertson, who can’t stay out of the news, has added a new verse: “Blessed are the fully armed because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

Robertson was referring to earlier fear-mongering comments in which he claimed, “Violent attacks and even deaths on church property occur far more often than people realize.” But Robertson had good news for his viewers, saying, “The good news: You can protect yourself. What are you going to do, are you going to give church members AK-47s at the door to let them blow away those intruders?”

I don’t think Jesus meant handguns when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”


By: Dan Arel, AlterNet, September 18, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Atheism, Christian Conservatives, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not A Pretty Picture”: The Trouble With Republican Reinvention

The political landscape is replete with hope that the GOP will find a way to reinvent itself as a more inclusive and more reality-based organization in the future. The Washington Post carried another such piece today. All it’s a question of, say the optimists, is a few tweaks, some rebranding and a minor dose of reconciliation.

We haven’t seen the beginnings of that at a national level because, well, national Republicans still feel pretty good about themselves. They’ve got control of the House, they may well gain control of the Senate, and they look with relish at President Obama’s approval ratings.

But shouldn’t we be starting to see signs of the reinvention where the GOP is facing its toughest challenges? We should. But it’s not pretty:

The gathering opened on a sour note Friday, when the evening’s keynote speaker, state controller candidate Ashley Swearengin, told reporters she was still mulling whether to vote for Kashkari or Brown. “I’m looking at the two candidates like other Californians are,” she said. And Pete Peterson, the Republican running for secretary of state, said in an interview that he was not endorsing Kashkari — or anyone else on the statewide ballot — and did not plan to vote a straight party ticket.

The extraordinary display of disunity led Ron Nehring, a former state Republican chairman and underdog candidate for lieutenant governor, to vent his fury in a profanity-tinged email to party brass just before midnight Friday, after news organizations began reporting the dust-up.

Kashkari is an economic royalist who hasn’t strayed far off the GOP ranch when it comes to supply-side economics, tax cuts for the rich, and the rest of the Republican financial tapestry. But he does preach a more inclusive social message. And for that if nothing else, rank-and-file conservatives are avoiding him like the plague.

A moderate social message is essential for Republican rebirth in California. A more moderate economic one is, too, but Republicans won’t even be able to get a foot in the door without a change on issues like gay marriage and immigration. It would seem that rebranding should be easy on the west coast.

But they can’t even manage it there. How will they ever manage it in Iowa?


By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 21, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Don’t Have Google In Kentucky?”: White Supremacist Runs For Senate In Kentucky

Ahhh, election season. That time between late summer and November when candidates are most likely to knock on your door or send robo-calls to your home; and patches of grass, stabbed with metal-boned campaign signs, become the literal embodiment of grassroots politicking with their messages of hope, change, and…anti-Semitism?

“WITH JEWS WE LOSE” is the message, displayed on stark black and white placards, that Robert Ransdell, a write-in candidate for the Senate in Kentucky is using to bombard unassuming passersby. In an interview with the NBC-affiliate WLWT, he said: “Online, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback. We’re going to find out what kind of feedback we get once we go out and take it to the people here in the state of Kentucky.”

Ransdell — whose name will not appear on the ballot — is a coordinator for the National Alliance, a white nationalist political organization characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Neo-Nazi group. He is technically running against incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan.

“One would hope that this sort of thing would never make it’s way into any modern day discussion, let alone a U.S. Senate race,” said Allison Moore, the spokeswoman for the McConnell campaign.

On Constitution Day, Ransdell addressed a room full of high school journalism students at the University of Kentucky. From behind a podium, in a room decorated by shiny red and blue star balloons, he told them about the “organized and ongoing war against white people,” and decried the fact that white people are “constantly under attack by black criminals.” In a video of the speech, students at first talk amongst one another without paying Ransdell any attention, but as he descends further into racist rhetoric, they begin to look around, alarmed. One student can be seen staring with her mouth agape in horror. After about one minute of rambling, a woman runs up on stage and directs someone to turn his microphone off. As Ransdell walks off, students can be heard muttering “go away,” and “shut up.” The incident forced a school spokesperson to make a statement claiming the institution “was not aware of the content of his remarks prior to him speaking and does not condone or endorse any political platform or agenda.” They don’t have Google in Kentucky?

Ransdell has publicly acknowledged that he has no chance of winning, but would like to use his campaign to publicize his message — a suggestion of demented optimism that believes people are merely unfamiliar with white supremacy, but maybe once they find out about it, they’ll get on board. On his website, “The White Guard,” Ransdell has an entire page devoted to the badge of honor that is the negative coverage of his campaign.

Ever the versatile bigot, Ransdell hates gays, African Americans, and immigrants, in addition to Jewish people. His platform includes: stopping immigration entirely until the economy improves, “halt[ing] the tolerance and promotion of this sickness in the nation” (by which he means homosexuality), and protecting the Second Amendment.” According to Ransdell: “If you want to keep your firearms you had better also support the immediate annihilation of racial integration in America because the savage and uncivilized nature of most Blacks will soon lead to laws that severely restrict or ban firearms.”

The Daily Beast reached out to Ransdell to ask if he has ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. Ransdell responded with an anti-semitic term, a Yiddish word, and an accusation about rhinoplasty: “Before I let you in on whether or not I have one, why don’t you kindly inform me of who removed the hook from your schnozz first, promise to get back and answer your inquiry, really I promise.”

If you have any questions you would like to ask Ransdell, or thoughts you would like to share about his platform, his website has helpfully provided a phone number where you can leave him a message: 1-800-488-1363. Be creative!


By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, September 21, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Racism, Senate, White Supremacists | , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: