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“Rand Paul Is Already Doomed”: The Simple Reason Why He Will Never, Ever Be President

William F. Buckley Jr. once famously said that Republicans should nominate the most conservative candidate who can also win. The test has proven a surprisingly accurate predictor of the party’s presidential candidate: Mitt Romney beat the unelectable conservatives to his right; George W. Bush beat the waffling conservatives to his left.

This time around, most of the potential GOP candidates once again lack either broad electoral appeal (Ted Cruz) or the credentials to win over the conservative base (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie). One candidate, however, has the unique distinction of failing both of Buckley’s criteria: Rand Paul.

The Kentucky senator, who officially announced his presidential run on Tuesday, is perhaps alone among Republican candidates in being both insufficiently right-wing and too far outside the mainstream of American politics. Because of these twin weaknesses, Paul is spectacularly ill-suited to capture his party’s nomination.

Paul’s problems with the right are legion, but it’s his foreign policy views — from ISIS to Russia to Cuba — that most obviously separate him from conservatives. On Iran, for instance, the Republican Congress has repeatedly flayed President Obama for failing to confront the dire threat posed by the ayatollahs. But in 2007, Paul said that “…If you look at it intellectually, look at the evidence that Iran is not a threat. Iran cannot even refine their own gasoline,” according to Bloomberg News.

As his presidential campaign drew near, Paul lurched to put himself closer to the mainstream of the Republican party. But even if he now falls completely in lockstep with conservatives, it’s hard to imagine how Paul can escape the shadow of his former statements. In 2009, for instance, Paul suggested that former Vice President Dick Cheney wanted to invade Iraq to benefit his former employer, Halliburton. Then there was his policy speech on the Ukraine last year, which the National Review called “bizarre and delusional.” There’s also Paul’s flip-flopping on the legality of drone strikes.

Conservatives are clearly unconvinced by the reinvention, and Paul’s opponents are already jumping at the chance to portray him as an isolationist unconcerned about global terrorism. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a possible presidential candidate, said this week that Paul is “to the left of Barack Obama” on foreign policy. Conservative hawks have already purchased $1 million in advertising to portray Paul as dangerous on foreign policy, according to The New York Times.

Paul, of course, is not alone among GOP contenders in facing challenges winning over the right-wing. Jeb Bush, in particular, has already been criticized for his (allegedly) conciliatory views on immigration and education. Romney was able to overcome similar suspicions on the right.

The difference is that where Bush’s heresies broaden his possible base of support, Paul’s actually make him less appealing in a general election. Romney could plausibly argue that his history of working with Democrats in Massachusetts made him more likely to beat Obama. Jeb Bush can rightfully claim that a more humane immigration policy will give Republicans a better shot with Hispanic voters.

Though infuriating to conservatives, these appeals to electoral realities won valuable insider support for Romney. They’ve proven similarly effective at giving Bush the edge in the “invisible primary” with the establishment. But what comparable electoral advantage could Paul claim from his controversial heterodoxies on foreign policy? And that’s before we even mention his policy quirks outside the realm of international relations — like, for example, the strange beliefs about monetarism he inherited from his father (the economically dubious suggestion that America return to the gold standard chief among them). His more humane approach to criminal sentencing is similarly unlikely to win over conservatives.

And so, even as Paul launches his campaign in earnest, one thing is certain about the 2016 race: We don’t know who the Republicans will nominate for president. We just know it won’t be Rand Paul.

 

By: Jeff Stein, a recent Cornell graduate and The Editor of the Ithaca Voice; Salon, April 7, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Latest Illustration Of Delusional Paranoia”: Dick Cheney’s Ongoing Descent Into Insanity Accidentally Clarifies Iran Debate

Every so often Dick Cheney will appear in public to vocalize his latest irritable mental gesture. Today he appeared with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt to assert the following: “I vacillate between the various theories I’ve heard, but you know, if you had somebody as president who wanted to take America down, who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world and reduce our capacity to influence events, turn our back on our allies and encourage our adversaries, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama’s doing.”

Cheney’s regular utterances tend to meld together into an undifferentiated belligerent growl, but in this case he is (inadvertently) telling us something useful. The former vice-president is endorsing, or at least half-endorsing, the right-wing belief that to dismiss Barack Obama as a naif and a failure is far too kind. No, Obama is carrying out a secret plan to undermine American power. Versions of this theory have been fleshed out by such figures as Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Giuliani, and Dinesh D’Souza. They hold that Obama, driven by well-hidden black rage, seeks to humiliate the country that has oppressed African-Americans. This line of thought, while too deranged for Republican leaders to publicly endorse, has a great deal of influence among conservatives. Cheney’s comments serve as the latest illustration of the delusional paranoia running through even the very highest levels of the Republican Party.

Cheney’s logic also helpfully (and, again, inadvertently) illustrates the dilemma surrounding the current debate over Iran’s nuclear program. Like all Republican officeholders and some Democratic ones, Cheney thinks Obama has struck a weak deal with Iran. Unlike most of them, Cheney suspects Obama has done so not out of naïveté but out of a cunning plan to actually encourage the Iranian nuclear program.

But what if we apply Cheney’s analytic method to his own administration’s Iran policy? After all, it was under the Bush administration that the Iranian nuclear program flourished, bringing the regime from 164 to 8,000 centrifuges. Even so hawkish a failure as Lindsey Graham concedes that the previous administration utterly botched the task of preventing a nuclear Iran. (“I think the Bush administration, they were a miserable failure when it came to controlling Iran’s nuclear ambition,” Graham said.)

What’s more, the expansion of Iran’s power under Bush was not limited to the blossoming of its nuclear program. In 2003, an extremely hostile neighboring regime (that had launched a war against it two decades before) was deposed, creating a power vacuum that Iran filled. Cheney seems to have played a role there. A Cheney-style analysis of the Bush administration’s Iran policy would conclude that it was carrying out a deliberate plan to elevate Iran’s standing.

Such a conclusion would obviously be insane. But it happens to fit the facts far more tightly than the same conclusion about Obama’s Iran policy. And this, in turn, reminds us that the most plausible real-world alternative to Obama’s Iran deal is not some “better deal.” The alternative is either war or threatening war while refusing to negotiate.

It is true that the deal Obama struck is probably not going to leave the Middle East a terribly secure place. Iran will most likely test the international community’s willingness to uphold the letter of the agreement, and its willingness to reimpose sanctions if and when Iran violates its terms. History shows that containing the nuclear ambitions of a determined state is extremely hard. Obama’s approach implicitly acknowledges the limits of American leverage, trading away its maximal demand to end all Iranian nuclear work completely in return for pragmatic concessions (like the elimination of advanced centrifuges, and the establishment of a vigorous inspection regime) that at least offer a chance to contain Iran’s race to the bomb. The Bush approach claimed to deny Iran any right whatsoever to nuclear research, but its actual success at holding this line was less than nothing.

The Bush administration has been out of power long enough to allow Obama’s critics to conveniently forget how the conservative Iran strategy actually operates in practice; Cheney’s comments offer a timely reminder.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 8, 2015

 

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, Iran | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Obstructionists”: Congress Can Still Mess Up The Iran Deal

“Now, Congress takes up the matter” are words that are ensured to send shudders down the spine, so shudder away: We’ve just entered the congressional phase of the Iran talks, with a Senate hearing next Tuesday, after which it’s up to Mitch McConnell to decide how fast and aggressively to move with the bill from Tennessee Republican Bob Corker that would bar the administration from making any changes to U.S. sanctions against Iran for 60 days while Congress reviews and debates any Iran agreement.

There are, as the Dude said, man, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous here. It’s all quite complicated. But here, it seems to me, is your cut-to-the-chase question: Is there enough good faith in this United States Senate for something to be worked out? Or is it just impossible?

One proceeds from the assumption that the Senate will do whatever it can to kill a deal. It’s a Republican Senate, by a pretty wide margin (54-46); history would suggest that these Republicans simply aren’t going to hand President Obama a win like this. It hardly matters what the details are, about what Iran can or can’t do at Fordow, about the “snapback” provisions of the sanctions, about the inspections regime, or about what precise oversight role Congress has. It’s just basically impossible to imagine that this Republican Party, after everything we’ve seen over these last six years, and this Republican Senate majority leader, who once said it was his job to make Obama a one-term president, won’t throw up every roadblock to a deal they can conjure.

Once again, we’re left separating out the factors the way scientists reduce compounds to their constituent elements in the lab. How much of this is just Obama hatred? How much is (this is a slightly different thing) the conviction—quite insane, but firmly held—that he doesn’t have the best interests of the United States at heart? How much is a genuinely paranoid, McCarthy-ish world view about the intractably evil nature of our enemy and the definitional Chamberlainism of ever thinking otherwise?

And how much is just self-interested politics, as it is bequeathed to us in its current form? Which is to say—if you are a Republican senator, you simply cannot cast a vote that can be seen as “pro-Obama” under any circumstances. You just can’t do it.

I asked in a column last week whether there would be one Republican officeholder in Washington who might say, “Hey, upon examination of the details, this looks like a decent deal with risks that are acceptable, and I’m going to support it?” It’s still a good question. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is conceivable. He called that noxious Tom Cotton letter “not appropriate.” But Flake is pretty new to the Senate and doesn’t carry a lot of weight on these matters.

Some suggest Corker himself. Corker has this reputation, in part earned, as one of the reasonable ones. He gets articles written about him like this one,  from The New York Times a couple of days ago, which limned him as a Republican of the old school, a sensible fellow who still wants to horse-trade.

And he is—but only up to a point, at which the horses return to their stalls. The most notable example here is the Dodd-Frank bill. This is all detailed at great and exacting length by Robert Kaiser in his excellent book about how financial reform became law, Act of Congress. Then, Corker talked for hours and hours with Chris Dodd about the particulars—derivatives reform, oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more. He wanted to play ball, even thought he might deliver some votes. But as time passed, it became clear to Corker that the base just wasn’t standing for it. He faced reelection in 2012. Not tough reelection—he won with 64 percent of the vote. But reelection campaigns are great excuses for senators to do nothing, and nothing is what Corker did. He withdrew from all participation with Dodd and Frank, and he ultimately voted against the bill.  When it mattered, he caved to the extremists, in other words, among his colleagues and in his base. Why that means he should be getting credit for a spirit of compromise now in New York Times articles is something that, to my obtuse mind, requires further explanation.

“He’s not Tom Cotton.” Uh, okay. Wonderful. But that’s where we’ve come, celebrating a guy because he doesn’t want to start World War III. Happily, though, all is not lost. It’s far from clear that Corker or Cotton (and yes, they are different) can block a deal. There are, I’m told, three categories of senators on this question. The first is our own mullahs—no deal no how. The second is a group of mostly Democrats and independents—Virginia’s Tim Kaine, who is a close ally of the White House, and Maine’s Angus King—who basically wants a deal but wants to be sure that it’s good, and want to influence the shape of any legislation the Senate might pass.

The third group is senators who also basically would like to see a deal but want the Senate to serve as a backstop against a deal they see as bad. I’d put Chuck Schumer in that third camp. So when these people say they back the Corker bill, as Schumer did this week, it doesn’t mean they’re against the administration or a deal per se. Democrats aren’t going to be Obama’s problem here. A few, the ones from the deep red states, may be boxed in. But most will stick with the administration, if a deal is finalized along current terms.

I don’t think our mullahs have the numbers right now. But Obama is going to have to sell this to more parties than Tom Friedman and Steve Inskeep. He has, or should have, Friedman’s readers and Inskeep’s listeners already. The way to get someone like Corker to play ball is to sell it in Knoxville. Public opinion still influences foreign policy, as Obama knows from his Syrian experiences. Put it to work.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Iran, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our National Legacy”: North Charleston Murder Stems From American Tradition

An unarmed man shot in the back. An innocent man released after serving 30 years on death row. The centennial of Billie Holiday’s birth. These are the stories that emanated from my radio yesterday, and all bear a common thread: the devaluing of black life.

The biggest news, of course, came from North Charleston, South Carolina, where Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back by a white police officer after fleeing on foot from the scene of a “routine traffic stop”—also known in some parts as “driving while black.”  One difference this time: The cop was charged with murder after a damning cell-phone video, shot by a bystander, was provided to state authorities, and then posted on the website of the Charleston Post and Courier.

Scott was shot eight times. The video shows the officer, Michael T. Slager, dropping an object, which appears to be his Taser stun-gun, next to Scott’s body. Slager told his bosses that Scott had grabbed the Taser from him. In truth, it seems that what Scott was killed for was not any threat he posed to the officer’s life, but rather the ego of a white cop who couldn’t bear to have his authority defied by a black man. Think about Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Isn’t that ultimately why they died?

It may seem that police killings of black people—and general harassment of African Americans by law enforcement—are on the rise, but chances are that they are not. Chances are better than good that this is the way it’s always been. It’s just that citizens are now able to shoot videos with their phones, and to take to social media to howl about injustice the moment it occurs.

Take the case of Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, just released from Alabama’s death row after spending half his life there for two 1985 murders he didn’t commit. His conviction was based on police assertions that the bullets found at the scene of the crime matched a gun found in his mother’s house. But, when both were tested decades later, they didn’t. Here’s how Hinton explained his predicament to the BBC:

He said he was told by police the crime would be “put on him” and there were five things that would convict him.

“The police said: ‘First of all you’re black, second of all you’ve been in prison before, third, you’re going to have a white judge, fourth, you’re more than likely to have a white jury, and fifth, when the prosecution get to putting this case together you know what that spells? Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction.’ He was [right] and that’s what happened.”

He said: “I think if I’d have been white they would have tested the gun and said it don’t match and I would have been released, but when you’re poor and black in America you stand a higher chance of going to prison for something you didn’t do.”

Yesterday also brought human-interest stories marking 100 years since the birth of the great jazz innovator, Billie Holiday—meaning that, if, like me, you listen to the kind of radio that celebrates America’s classical music (because that’s what jazz is), you may have caught the iconic strains of Holiday’s brutally graphic tour de force lament of lynching, the centuries-old practice of white mobs hunting down a black person, torturing and mutilating that person, and then usually hanging the body from a tree. For those unfamiliar, here are the opening lines (lyric by Abel Meeropol):

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root

Black body swingin’ in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

But you should really listen to the whole thing. Every American should. In fact, it should be part of the Common Core curriculum. Because until we understand this legacy—our national legacy—it’s hard to see how things will ever truly change, except, perhaps, by matter of degree.

 

By: Adele M. Stan, Guest Blogger, The American Prospect, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | American History, Police Abuse, Police Shootings | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”: Cotton Sees Bombing Iran As No Big Deal

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has made no real effort to hide his support for a military confrontation with Iran. But in an interview yesterday on the Family Research Council’s radio show, the right-wing freshman went a little further, suggesting bombing Iran would be quick and simple.

Indeed, as BuzzFeed’s report noted, Cotton argued that U.S. strikes in Iran would go much smoother than the invasion of Iraq “and would instead be similar to 1999’s Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq ordered by President Bill Clinton.”

“Even if military action were required – and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy – the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case,” Cotton said.

“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days [of] air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior.”

For the record, the Arkansas Republican did not use the word “cakewalk” or assure listeners that we’d be “greeted as liberators.”

Look, we’ve seen this play before, and we have a pretty good idea how it turns out. When a right-wing neoconservative tells Americans that we can launch a new military offensive in the Middle East, it won’t last long, and the whole thing will greatly improve our national security interests, there’s reason for some skepticism.

Tom Cotton – the guy who told voters last year that ISIS and Mexican drug cartels might team up to attack Arkansans – wants to bomb Iran, so he’s telling the public how easy it would be.

What the senator didn’t talk about yesterday is what happens after the bombs fall – or even what transpires when Iran shoots back during the campaign. Are we to believe Tehran would just accept the attack and move on?

Similarly, Cotton neglected to talk about the broader consequences of an offensive, including the likelihood that airstrikes would end up accelerating Iran’s nuclear ambitions going forward.

There’s also the inconvenient detail that the Bush/Cheney administration weighed a military option against Iran, but it concluded that “a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a bad idea – and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.”

But don’t worry, America, Tom Cotton thinks this would all be easy and we could drop our bombs without consequence. What could possibly go wrong?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Iraq War, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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