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“Not To Worry, The Negativity Is Coming”: Why The GOP’s 2016 Bloodbath Is Going To Be Great Fun — And Instructive

If there are any Republicans out there who haven’t joined the presidential race, they’ll probably be getting in soon — even if a Donald Trump campaign is too much to hope for.

With a remarkable 15 announced or soon-to-announce candidates, including such dynamos as Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, there’s still one thing we haven’t seen yet: the Republican candidates attacking each other. There’s been a vague insinuation here and an implied criticism there, but no real verbal fisticuffs to speak of. But worry not: The negativity is coming, and when it does, it will come fast and hard.

The first contest of the primary season is still eight months away, but as it gets closer, each candidate will start seeing their relative place in the contest come into focus. And the more it does, the greater the incentive will be to take potential opponents down a peg.

Whoever’s in front (if anyone actually moves to the front) will want to beat back challenges from below. Those behind will want to punch upward to pull down the leader. And everyone will want to strike out laterally to make sure they’re the ones with a chance to climb upward.

Once the primaries begin, desperation will set in for some candidates, which inevitably leads them to sign off on nastier rhetoric and advertising than they ever thought they’d engage in. If all goes well, it’ll be a spectacle of insults, attacks, and character assassination. Should be great fun.

Lest you think I’m being too cynical, let’s not forget that just because you’re criticizing another candidate instead of touting your own virtues doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing something valuable to the debate. There are reasons to vote for candidates, but there are also reasons to vote against them — and if their opponents don’t tell us, we might not learn about them at all. As I heard a political consultant say once, no candidate is going to tell voters, “I hope you vote for me, but before you do, there are a few things you ought to know…” If Jeb Bush’s diligent opposition researchers discover that Scott Walker once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, then we should hope they’ll share that information with the rest of us.

So when the race gets adversarial, we shouldn’t reflexively condemn the fact that the candidates are criticizing each other. It’s important to remember that when candidates are being “positive,” they’re just as likely to be feeding the voters pabulum. In fact, research on political advertising I did in my former life as an academic showed that positive ads were less likely to concern policy issues and more likely to contain inaccuracies than negative ads. What’s more helpful to voters: showing them a soft-focus picture of my family and sharing my deep love for America, or telling them that the numbers in my opponent’s tax plan don’t add up?

There are better questions to ask than whether the candidates are being “positive” or “negative.” Is the criticism they’re making accurate and fair? Does it tell us something meaningful about the candidate being criticized? Is it relevant to the job he or she will be doing as president? If the answer to those is yes, then there’s nothing wrong with it.

For instance, if I were running against the newest entrant, Lindsey Graham, I might note that while he touts his experience in foreign policy as the foundation of his campaign, on foreign policy questions he’s perpetually wetting his pants in terror, which has some disturbing implications for his decision-making as president. Is there anything illegitimate about that?

But nobody’s naïve here — we know that the accurate, meaningful, and relevant criticisms are likely to be fewer than the ones charging candidates with sins like insufficient ideological purity or dangerous flip-floppery, not to mention the ones that delve into the candidates’ personal lives. And with so many candidates, the chances that the race will devolve into a thunderdome of pummelling and recrimination are pretty high. But in and of itself, that doesn’t mean the Republican primaries will be any less edifying than they would be if they were entirely civil and polite. At least it’ll be entertaining.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Week, June 3, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Country Is Leaving Them Behind”: How GOP Candidates Feed The Social Conservative Narrative Of Oppression

If you want to get a sense of what social conservatives are thinking and feeling, there are few better ways than watching how Republican candidates seek their votes. Call it empathizing or pandering, but the candidates know it isn’t enough to say “I agree with you on the issues” — you have to demonstrate that you feel what they feel and look at the world the same way they do. That’s true to a degree of any constituency group, but it may be particularly important with voters who feel as besieged as social conservatives do today.

Which is why many of the GOP presidential candidates are repeating a narrative of victimhood and oppression that has become common on the religious right. It says that the forces of secularism — cruel, immoral, and on the march — are consolidating their gains and preparing to make it all but illegal to be a Christian.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas,” said Jeb Bush in a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The left, says Bobby Jindal, wants to “essentially outlaw firmly held religious beliefs that they do not agree with.” Not only will opposing same-sex marriage get you branded a hater, says Marco Rubio, “what’s the next step after that? After they’re done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.” “We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity,” says Mike Huckabee.

It may sound ridiculous to assert that this majority-Christian country with a stronger tradition of religious freedom than any other country on Earth is about to start rounding up Christians and putting them in jail for their beliefs. But to many on the religious right, that doesn’t seem like such a remote possibility.

It’s partly because, in a very real sense, the country is leaving them behind. The rapid change in public opinion and laws on gay rights is the most vivid current reminder, but it’s part of a process that has been going on for decades. The truth is that American society has been drifting away from the “traditional” values to which they hold for some time now, whether it’s on things like corporal punishment, women working outside the home, or the infusion of Christian practices into government-sponsored activities (like prayer in schools). That’s not to mention the discomfort they feel upon seeing a celebrity undergoing a sex change hailed for her courage and splashed across the covers of glamorous magazines.

And Christians themselves are shrinking as a proportion of the population. According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, in 2014 Christians made up 70.6 percent of the American population, down 8 points from just seven years before. Meanwhile, the population of the “unaffiliated” — atheists, agnostics, and people who don’t identify with any religion in particular — has grown to 23 percent of the public. Most strikingly, only 56 percent of millennials identify as Christian, while 35 percent are unaffiliated, suggesting that the trend will continue.

So it’s perfectly understandable for social conservatives to feel like they’re living in a society that no longer shares their values, because they are. I might say, “Welcome to the world everybody else lives in” — if you’re a Jew or a Muslim, you aren’t going to complain that unless the department store puts up a banner acknowledging your particular holiday that you’re suffering under the bootheel of oppression.

Nevertheless, many conservative Christians have constructed out of these developments an uplifting story for themselves, where their supposed persecution gives them nobility and heroism. They can now tell themselves that just by doing what they’ve been doing — having lots of kids, staying chaste until marriage, or just going to church — they’re courageous revolutionaries, underdogs fighting the odds on behalf of their principles and God’s desires. When they oppose gay marriage, they aren’t the equivalent of George Wallace barring the schoolhouse door, they’re the equivalent of the Soviet refusenik in 1975 or the American patriot in 1775.

Liberals may dismiss this kind of rhetoric, but it’s mostly sincere, and it will likely become louder as social progress continues in the direction it’s going. It’ll be particularly interesting to see what the candidates say if the Supreme Court rules that gay people have a constitutional right to marry, as it may well do in a matter of weeks.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Week, June 4, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Right, Social Conservativism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Some GOPers Want To Play Chicken”: Getting An Obamacare Repeal Bill On Obama’s Desk; For What?

There’s an interesting Rachel Bade/Jennifer Haberkorn piece up at Politico about all the trouble congressional Republicans have encountered in trying to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a simple veto-proof “root and branch” repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Seems the Senate parliamentarian is telling them they’d have to limit themselves to items with an immediate budgetary impact in any reconciliation bill. But any “partial” repeal–much less a replacement–legislation would raise policy questions on which Republicans disagree, and might also involve deficit-boosting consequences for which offsets would have to be found. So some GOPers want to play chicken:

Some conservatives and staff in both chambers, like House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), are urging the chambers to do a straight one- or two-sentence repeal of everything. They argue that the parliamentarian has to look only at the words in front of her during reconciliation and should not be able to force lawmakers to break out the provisions on their own.

One aide working on the matter suggested they may try this and see if it works — but others are doubtful.

I guess I’m unclear as to why this is worth the trouble. Getting legislation repealing Obamacare onto Obama’s desk, long the obsessive goal of congressional Republicans, will not accomplish a thing other than confirming that Obama doesn’t want to kill his signature domestic policy achievement and Republicans do. I think most voters out there for whom opposition to Obamacare is a “bullet vote” have probably already figured out they should vote Republican in 2016. So the whole exercise appears to be one of those “energize the base” things whose value I am always questioning.

I do think that if SCOTUS kills Obamacare subsidies in states using federal exchanges there will be some value in Republicans getting a bogus “fix” onto the president’s desk in order to blame him for the subsequent chaos. In that contingency they could almost certainly structure a bill that would meet the conditions for reconciliation, and could probably tamp down any internal opposition by ensuring dissenters there’s zero chance any of it will become law. But on “root and branch repeal,” they might as well just promise they’ll git er done when President Bush or Walker or Rubio takes office.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 1, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget Reconcilation, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Real Scandal In Denny Hastert’s Life”: Immersed In The Immoral Swamp Of Washington’s Game Of Money Politics

Washington’s establishment of politicos, lobbyists, and media sparklies are shocked — shocked to their very core! — by the scandalous sexual revelations about Dennis Hastert.

The portly Republican, who’d been Speaker of the House a decade ago, was an affable, nondescript Midwesterner who was popular with his fellow lawmakers. A former high-school wrestling coach in rural Illinois, Hastert was viewed as a solid salt-of-the-Earth fellow embodying Middle America’s moral values. So his recent indictment for paying $1.7 million in hush money to a man he apparently molested during his coaching years has rocked our Capitol.

“I’m shocked and saddened,” said the current GOP Speaker, John Boehner. Likewise, former colleagues from both sides of the aisle were dismayed that “our Denny” would have been engaged in child molestation and now caught in an illegal financial cover-up of that abomination. “This has really come out of nowhere,” exclaimed Rep. Peter King, a longtime ally of the man whom all of Washington considered a straight arrow.

Washington’s gossip mill is spinning furiously over last week’s revelations. Before we join these officials in wailing about Dennis Hastert’s alleged long-hidden molestation, however, let me note that while they are bewildered by his sexual impropriety, they find it not worthy of mention — much less condemnation — that Denny has long been immersed in the immoral swamp of Washington’s game of money politics. The guy they profess to love as a paragon of civic virtue — “the coach,” as Rep. King hailed him — was one of the most corrupt Speakers ever. What about the filthy, backroom affair he has been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?

During his tenure as House Speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. By putting campaign cash into Republican re-election coffers controlled by him and his top hitman, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, corporate interests gained entry into Denny’s psychedelic playhouse. With Hastert himself singing “Candy Man,” the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress’ back rooms.

Remember “earmarks,” the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks became the trademark of Hastert’s regime, sticking taxpayers with the tab for such outrages as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.

When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist. Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company, land developers and other giants. And guess what his specialty is? Getting “riders” attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.

Hastert openly traded legislative favors for campaign cash, including profiting personally from his powerful position. And, when he was squeezed out because of the corruption, he didn’t return to the home folks — he became a K-Street lobbyist, continuing to profit to this day by doing corporate favors. That’s how he got so rich he was able to shell out $1.7 million in hush money to the student he abused.

Good ol’ Denny has always thought he was above the law. Just as Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage his alleged molestation would’ve done to his former student, so should he also pay for his abominably indecent abuse of office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people’s public trust.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 3, 3015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | Corporate Welfare, Dennis Hastert, Sexual Molestation | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Creating Straw Politicians”: Scott Walker And The GOP Are Wrong About The Safety Net

It’s back and Democrats are going to have to deal with it. I’m talking about the political argument that they want to lure as many people as possible into government dependency.

This is a staple of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s incipient presidential campaign, and he frames it as simple common sense. “Oftentimes when I think about the president and people like Hillary Clinton, I hear people who I think measure success in government by how many people are dependent on the government. By how many people are on food stamps and Medicaid and unemployment,” he said this week at the Florida Economic Growth Summit in Orlando. “I don’t know about all of you, but my belief in America is that we should measure success by just the opposite.”

Walker added: “I don’t remember any of my classmates saying to me ‘Hey, Scott, someday when I grow up, I want to become dependent on the government.’ Nobody signed my yearbook ‘Dear Scott, Good luck becoming dependent on the government.’”

Very funny, and a lot more appealing than Mitt Romney’s assertion that 47 percent of the electorate is dependent on government and will never take responsibility for themselves. The problem with Walker’s formulation, however, is that he’s creating straw politicians. President Obama and Clinton and practically everyone in their party — in fact both parties — talk incessantly about education, job creation, income inequality, and how to increase wages. That doesn’t sound like a yearning for Handout Nation. It sounds like people obsessing over how to make America a country of tubs standing on their own bottoms.

I’m not saying that Democrats haven’t given Republicans ammunition. The 2012 Obama campaign’s “Life of Julia” cartoon slideshow was a parody waiting to happen. From Julia’s enrollment in Head Start as a preschooler to her retirement aided by Medicare and Social Security, the sequence gave off a distinctly Soviet, cradle-to-grave vibe.

As pediatric neurosurgeon-turned GOP candidate Ben Carson put it in his announcement, “We’re not doing people a favor when we pat them on the head and say ‘there there, you poor little thing, we’re going to take care of all your needs. You don’t have to worry about anything.’ You know who else said stuff like that? Socialists.” That was less than a week after a real socialist — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — announced he was running for the Democratic nomination.

Obama came into office amid the worst recession since the Great Depression. The rolls of the three programs Walker named swelled as people lost jobs, income and health insurance. Job losses climbed to a terrifying 818,000 in January 2009, the month Obama was inaugurated. Another 2.2 million jobs were gone by the end of April. The unemployment rate was at or near 10 percent for eight months. So yes, there were a lot of people relying on government programs, for good reason. The private sector had completely failed them.

Obama’s chief economic message for years has been about sustained job creation and an unemployment rate nearly down to half its recession peak, not high enrollment in safety-net programs. Democrats do try to educate people about benefits for which they may qualify. But the goal is to get them on their feet, not lock them into dependency.

There is one area of government “dependency” that Obama and his party are proud of, and that is health insurance. The Department of Health and Human Services said this week that 10.2 million people bought private health coverage this year under the Affordable Care Act, and 85 percent of them receive federal subsidies to help pay for it. Millions more have been able to enroll in Medicaid as a result of the ACA expansion of the program to people with incomes slightly above the official poverty line. For those who believe health coverage should be universal, the numbers justify a victory lap.

People who receive insurance help, or food stamps or unemployment benefits, do indeed depend on the government — just like farmers, homeowners, corporations, and anyone else who receives subsidies or tax breaks, as well as companies that don’t provide health insurance or living wages. And just to be clear, if they are not children, disabled, or elderly, people who use the safety net often have jobs. Nearly 43 percent of all food-stamp recipients live in a household with earnings, according to the Department of Agriculture. The Kaiser Family Foundation, in a study of states that haven’t adopted the Medicaid expansion, found there are workers with full- or part-time jobs in 66 percent of the families eligible for it.

Jeb Bush has called the safety net “a spider web that traps people in perpetual dependence.” We are going to hear a lot of statements like that in the next 18 months. But that doesn’t make them true.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, June 4, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Scott Walker, Social Safety Net | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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