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“A Corrupting Influence On Politics”: Will Influence Of Big Money Be A Big Issue In 2016?

For many years, Democrats have wanted more restrictive campaign finance rules, while Republicans have wanted to loosen restrictions. But it’s likely that the 2016 campaign will feature more outside money than ever before, as millionaires and billionaires take advantage of an almost-anything-goes environment to buy themselves candidates and shift the race in their favored direction. The Koch brothers alone plan to spend nearly a billion dollars (with the help of some friends) on the election.

Nevertheless, the consensus on the campaign finance issue has long been that while voters are generally in favor of reform, it isn’t a motivating issue for many of them. They care more about the economy or health care or foreign policy, and while they might shake their head at the influence of money in politics, in the end the issue won’t make much of a difference in the campaign’s outcome.

But is it possible that 2016 will be the year it finally does? Matea Gold has a piece in today’s paper arguing that it might:

At almost the same time last week that a Florida mailman was landing a gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol to protest the influence of the wealthy on politics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was getting pressed about the same topic at a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H.

“I think what is corrupting in this potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from,” Christie (R) told Valerie Roman of Windham, N.H.

The two moments, occurring 466 miles apart, crystallized how money in politics is unexpectedly a rising issue in the 2016 campaign.

Hillary Rodham Clinton announced last week that one of the top planks of her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination will be reforming a “dysfunctional” campaign finance system. And several of her GOP rivals — quizzed by voters in town hall meetings — have begun lodging their own criticisms of how big-money interests dominate politics.

It’s the last part that’s really a surprise. Republicans have usually put the emphasis on maximal liberty, arguing that restrictions on contributions and outside spending infringe upon the First Amendment. Democrats counter that a liberty that’s available only to the super-wealthy isn’t much of a liberty at all, and all this money, particularly when it’s so hard to know where it comes from, inevitably has a corrupting influence on politics. But now even Republicans seem to be saying things have gone too far.

Of course, it’s easy to just shake your head and say, “Yeah, it’s gotten really bad,” before you head off to your next fundraiser or meeting with Sheldon Adelson. And that’s how lots of candidates have handled the issue in the past: some general words of agreement or a vaguely worded position that doesn’t lock them in to doing much of anything about the problem.

But even if most voters don’t put campaign finance at the top of their priority list, there’s an opening for a candidate who can connect disgust over the political situation in Washington (which has become almost universal) with displeasure over the funding of campaigns to devise a broad reform agenda.

There are already ideas out there. For instance, Rep. John Sarbanes has a bill that would provide refundable tax credits for political contributions and give significant matching funds for small-dollar contributions in an attempt to amplify the voices of ordinary people who can only give a limited amount. That might not put the billionaires out of the politics business, but a candidate could use that idea or something like it to demonstrate his or her commitment to specific policy change, as opposed to just saying they wish the system were cleaner.

Clinton could be that candidate — though she hasn’t yet said anything specific about what she would change. But a Republican could as well. For the last couple of decades, presidential candidates have been saying they’ll change Washington by bringing Democrats and Republicans together to transcend partisanship, something no one believes anymore. But if (nearly) everyone thinks there’s too much money in the system and too much of it is unaccountable, there’s a political opportunity here. Will any candidate seize it?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, April 20, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Main Street Nashuans Weren’t Feeling It”: The GOP Clown Show’s Alternate Reality In New Hampshire

Saturday morning found the America that politicians endlessly seek and love to mention but barely know strolling along the first floor of Alec’s Shoes on Main Street here in a city where at least 20 people running for President of the United States were at a hotel less than three miles away, talking. The candidates up the road ranged from a Bush, a Christie, one Paul, a Perry, a Trump, a Rubio, a Cruz, and more than a dozen others, all in town seemingly a decade before the primary next year.

But that traveling clown show didn’t matter much to Roland LeBlanc, who held a Nike sneaker in one hand and a Reebok in the other as he watched his 11-year-old son inspect a wall covered with hundreds of sneakers for sale at reasonable prices. He checked the price on both because the boy, like most kids, was only interested in style.

The Nikes were marked down to $70. The Reeboks were $64.

“How about this one, Dad?” the boy asked, holding a Nike that cost $90.

“I kinda like this one better,” the father replied, showing him the $70 sneaker.

A nuclear deal with Iran, a trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations, all of that and more was a long way from the immediate issue of the moment: the price of sneakers for a boy who would probably grow out of them by the end of summer.

“We get a good cross-section of people here,” John Koutsos, the owner of Alec’s Shoes, was saying. “We get fairly-high-income people here, low- and moderate-income families. We get them all.”

The store itself is a definition of a country too many people think is a distant, fond memory. It was opened in 1938 by John Koutsos’s father, Alec.

Alec Koutsos was born in Pentalofus, Greece, in 1917. He came to America and Nashua in 1934, in the middle of a Great Depression that knocked America to its knees. He did not know the language but he knew what it meant to work hard and to dream of better days and bigger things. He passed away last year at the age of 96, a proud, prosperous citizen.

Today the store is a local magnet to many looking for affordable footwear and clothing in a region hammered by our latest and very deep recession. It is the beating commercial heart of a Main Street where ‘For Lease’ signs are papered to windows of a dozen empty storefronts.

At the Church of Good Shepherd across Main Street a daily meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous had ended and several people stood on the sidewalk talking and smoking cigarettes, some looking as if their immediate future was simply the long day ahead, an agonizing wait before the next meeting when they would again fight temptation together. One of them, Eddie, a 26-year old-unemployed machinist, walked across Main Street to Joanne’s Kitchen & Coffee Shop, where he sat, sipping his coffee, reading the sports page.

“Heroin,” Eddie said. “That’s one of the biggest problems here. It’s all over the place and it’s cheap too. I used to do it but not anymore.”

Heroin overdose has stalked the region around parts of New Hampshire and Vermont. All the politicians gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the First-in-the-Nation Republican Leadership Summit came prepared to discuss how lethal, how dangerous, ISIS was but there was no mention of the life-destroying availability of a drug that has flooded parts of the nation they seek to lead.

“I don’t know much about any of them,” John Koutsos said. “But it seems to me that the country needs a pep talk. There’s something wrong. People seem to be just sitting back, almost like they’re giving up a little. It’s hard to explain. Hard to put your finger on. It’s like everyone wonders, ‘Where we going?’”

At one end of Main Street in Nashua, there are the local offices of the state’s two United States senators. Republican Kelly Ayotte’s office is at the corner of Main and Temple. It is in a storefront next to the Vietnam Noodle House and across the street from a large Gentle Dental building. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, is a hundred yards farther along on the second floor of a fairly new brick office building.

In between there is the empty, for lease, building that once housed Aubuchon Hardware, a staple of northern New England life. Then there are fairly new buildings where Citizen Bank, Santander Bank, and CVS are found; chains that swallowed up small savings banks and corner drug stores, not just here, but everywhere.

Saturday found local residents out enjoying a sun-splashed New Hampshire morning, the weather offering immediate relief from a long, punishing winter. The parking lot at Nashua’s Pheasant Lane Mall, a few miles from Main Street, was packed with cars and shoppers, each parking space another bullet in the heart of downtown commerce.

At the Crowne Plaza there were the candidates, gathered, shaking hands, smiling, surrounded by the curious and the committed, talking about their views, their opinions on all the big issues that their handlers and their pollsters indicate will help propel them to the front of a truly predictable political pack. And, standing at the cashier’s counter of Alec’s Shoes, Roland LeBlanc paid cash for a $70 pair of Nike sneakers for an 11-year-old boy he hopes will grow up in a country filled with more optimism than too many think exists today.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republican Leadership Summit | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Weird Social Security Gambit”: If That’s Christie’s Lead Issue, It Doesn’t Say A Lot For His Political Instincts

Now I know we don’t really care about Chris Christie and he’s less popular in New Jersey these days than air pollution in Elizabeth, but he actually said something interesting in his little “Hey, I’m still here” media blitz. He went after Social Security for no apparent reason.

Bizarre is the only word I can come up with for Christie’s proposal to means-test Social Security while also raising the retirement age to 69. It’s bizarre first because most experts think means-testing, which for Christie would start at $80,000, would be the death of the system. As the standard line goes, it would turn Social Security from an entitlement program to a welfare program, and welfare programs aren’t popular, so support for it would plunge, and it would end.

Of course, some people want that, so there is support for the idea among conservative policymakers. But here’s the thing, which is reason No. 2 the idea is bizarre: Who exactly was clamoring for this? Nobody! It’s been years since we’ve heard anyone making a big fuss about means-testing. Conservatives know it’s totally unrealistic, so they just don’t bring it up much. It’s akin to liberals and marginal tax rate north of 50 percent on dollars earned above some really huge amount. We’re for it in theory, sure, but we know it’s not in the cards, so there’s no point in even bringing it up. If that’s Christie’s lead issue, it doesn’t say a lot for his political instincts. You don’t even get truth-teller cred for this one, except from Pete Peterson and maybe The Washington Post editorial board (which hasn’t weighed in on Christie that I’ve seen but which generally backs “reining in” entitlements).

In New Hampshire over the weekend, many of the other leading Republicans, most notably Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, agreed with Christie on the retirement-age question. I don’t think this is crazy talk. We’re living longer, and while people who perform hard physical labor if anything should have their retirement ages lowered, more of us do the kind of work that we can keep doing after 65. The retirement age is 67 in Norway, and other European countries are debating an increase to 67. The age at which an American will be eligible to receive full benefits will rise from 65 to 67 by 2027, so an increase is already on the books.

But while I may not think the idea is crazy talk, my fellow Americans are decidedly cool to it, disagreeing with such a proposal by nearly 2-to-1 in most polls you see. And of course any talk about changing Social Security scares old people, who have increasingly been voting Republican.

So why are Republicans talking about it? It’s kind of mystifying. I suppose business broadly supports it. But I think it’s mostly become just an anti-government thing. The real position is to oppose Social Security entirely, because it’s socialism and so forth. But of course they can’t say that, so they back things like means-testing and raising the retirement age. That is a benefits cut, which I suppose they think in the back of their minds will help whittle away at the whole thing over time. Any time you hear a Republican talk about “saving” Social Security or Medicare, they mean “save” in the sense of “destroy.” Or at least “disfigure.”

On the other side, Democrats are suddenly talking about increasing benefits. In the Senate in late March, Elizabeth Warren introduced a mostly symbolic resolution calling for an increase in benefits (it didn’t say exactly how) and it got the support of 42 of 44 voting Democratic senators. Joe Manchin, even! (The nays were Delaware’s Tom Carper, a longtime deficit hawk, and Heidi Heitkamp, who represents deep-red North Dakota.)

No word on all this yet from You Know Who. But what Hillary Clinton does on Social Security will be a real indicator of how drunk on Populism Kool-Aid she’s willing to allow herself to get. Will she, for example, support raising the payroll tax cap? Right now, earnings up to $118,500 are subject to the Social Security and Medicare tax. (That figure rises every year with inflation.) For many liberals—though by no means all, since a lot of them dislike the payroll tax in the first place—doubling, tripling, quadrupling that cap is kind of an obvious step. It even polls well.

The last time she was a presidential candidate, Clinton seems to have tried to have it both ways on this one. It was Barack Obama who pretty consistently supported raising the cap, even if he didn’t talk about it much. According to this interesting report from the left-ish economics journal Dollars and Sense, Clinton’s campaign distributed a flier in Nevada lighting into Obama for wanting to raise the cap so he could “send more of Nevada families’ hard-earned dollars to Washington.”

Yet apparently an AP reporter heard Clinton tell an Iowa voter that she’d support a so-called doughnut-hole approach that would keep the cap where it is and then re-impose a payroll tax at a higher income level (at the time she is supposed to have suggested $200,000). That would spare the vast majority of upper-middle-class earners—voters with lots of political muscle, that is—from a tax increase.

I would bet Clinton goes this route if she does anything, although four years on, the re-imposition number will likely be higher than $200,000. But even just putting it into the conversation will be important. The entire Social Security debate is about how to cut it, not how to expand it. And yes, a tax is a tax, and it’s always risky to talk about one, but as taxes go, this one is probably less risky than most. People like Social Security and seem to grasp that what they pay in, they get back, which is still true for the vast majority of retirees, who get somewhat more back in benefits than they put in.

So let the Republicans talk about how to cut. Clinton ought to do the opposite. She should do it in her responsible, Wellesley-girl way. She’s not Warren and shouldn’t try to be. But she can still leave the Republicans looking stingy and small.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 20, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Social Security | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Huckabee Discourages U.S. Military Enlistments”: Delusions Based On Conditions That Don’t Exist

In politics, announcements held until late on a Friday afternoon tend to be part of a low-key strategy: this is the time to release news you don’t want the public to know.

It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said late Friday that he would disclose his plans for the 2016 presidential race on May 5. This wasn’t an announcement, so much as it was an announcement about an announcement (at which point, the far-right Arkansan may or may not make an announcement).

Huckabee continued to act like a candidate over the weekend, sticking to the usual script in New Hampshire, but it was something the former governor said late last week that was more striking.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed in an interview with Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson [Thursday] that the Obama administration has “an open hostility toward the Christian faith,” and urged prospective military recruits to wait until the end of President Obama’s term to enlist. […]

“There’s nothing more honorable than serving one’s country and there’s no greater heroes to our country than our military,” he responded, “but I might suggest to parents, I’d wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe ‘one nation under god’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.”

It’s extraordinarily unusual for a presidential candidate, in either party, to publicly discourage enlistment in the United States military. For a candidate to do so while American military forces are engaged in combat operations overseas is arguably unprecedented.

Huckabee justified his position by arguing, without proof, that the Obama administration is openly “hostile” towards Christians, which leads the Republican to believe Christians, at least for now, should steer clear of military service.

“Why would they want to be in a military that would be openly hostile and not just simply bring some scorn to their faith, but would punish them for it?” Huckabee added.

If the Republican had any a legitimate case to make about anti-Christian discrimination, it would still be genuinely bizarre to hear a would-be president publicly suggest Americans not enlist in the military. But Huckabee’s rhetoric is even more outlandish given that this anti-Christian discrimination is largely imaginary.

In other words, the GOP personality isn’t just discouraging enlistment; he’s doing so based on conditions that don’t exist.

In case this isn’t already obvious, the U.S. military is an all-volunteer force. It exists and thrives because servicemen and women choose to wear the uniform. To tell Americans not to enlist – until 2017 at the earliest – is to effectively undermine the nation’s security needs for the next 21 months.

Should Huckabee proceed with another national campaign, this seems like the sort of controversy that will require an explanation.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 20, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Mike Huckabee, U. S. Military | , , , , | 2 Comments

“When The President Was White And Male”: Will Someone Tell Wayne LaPierre ‘Normal’ Is Gone For Good?

Maybe conservatives are done with dog-whistle politics.

After all, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre traded his dog whistle for an air horn at a recent gathering of the gun faithful in Washington, D.C. “I have to tell you,” he said, “eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.”

Subtle, it was not.

Still, as insults go, it was a rather neatly crafted twofer. On one hand, it demeaned the nation’s first African-American president and welcomed the day the White House is, well… de-Negro-fied. On the other hand, it also demeaned the candidate seeking to become the nation’s first female-American president and promised to save the White House from, well… woman-ification. Evidently, LaPierre wants America to get back to normal; “normal” being defined as “the president is white and male.”

So out come the air horns, blatting Woman! Woman! Woman! seeking to reduce a former senator and Secretary of State to the sum of her chromosomes. Now the race is apparently on to see who will be first to tag the former law professor, senator, and Secretary of State with which crude, sexist epithet. Oh, the suspense.

The blazing irony is that conservatives have at least two “demographically symbolic” candidates vying for their favor: Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator from Florida and Ted Cruz (does no one else see Joe McCarthy staring back when they look at this guy?), a senator from Texas whose father was born in Cuba.

So the “normal” LaPierre seeks is threatened, regardless.

Not that he is the only one tripped up by Clinton’s woman-ness. Consider, a recent piece from Time magazine which argued that Clinton is “the perfect age to be president” because, at 67, she is “postmenopausal.” Granted, the essay, by a doctor named Julie Holland, flatters Clinton and women of her age, assuring us that, having been freed from the “cyclical forces” that “dominated” the first half of her life, she emerges with the “experience and self-assurance” to be president.

Still, could you not have happily gone the rest of your days without contemplating Hillary Clinton’s “cyclical forces”? More to the point, can you imagine such an essay being written about a male candidate? Marco Rubio is 43, which means he’s probably already had his first digital prostate exam. Will anyone analyze how that factors into his readiness for the presidency? Rick Perry is 65. If he jumps in, will anyone speculate on how possible issues of erectile dysfunction might inform his foreign policy?

Here’s the thing about “demographically symbolic” presidents and candidates: They tend to function like Rorschach inkblots. Meaning that what we see in them reveals more about us than them. Where Barack Obama is concerned, the right-wing panic over birth certificates and fist bumps and the left-wing tendency to idealize and canonize his every exhalation revealed the rank bigotry and messy irresolution beneath our “post-racial” happy talk. Where Clinton is concerned, these very early indications suggest her woman-ness will likewise be a minefield for friend, foe and media — even more, perhaps, than in 2008.

And that’s not to mention Cruz and Rubio. Who do you think will be the first to wear a sombrero to a Cruz rally in misguided solidarity, or to tell the Miami-born Rubio to go back where he came from?

Point being that in America, markers of identity — gender, race, ethnicity — have a way of becoming identity itself, of blinding us to the singular, individual one in front of us. And campaigns tend to magnify that failing. To put that another way: Strap in. It’s going to be a very long 19 months until the 2016 election. Even so, one thing is already clear, and it should please the rest of us, if not Wayne LaPierre.

“Normal” is gone for good.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 20,2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Misogyny, Racism, Wayne LaPierre | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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