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“Dishonest And Dishonorable”: Service Record; Trump, McCain, And Republican Contempt For Veterans

As soon as Donald Trump brayed that John McCain is “not a war hero” and went on to mock his suffering in North Vietnamese captivity, the righteous reaction of Republicans was entirely predictable. Nearly every would-be presidential candidate in the GOP, humiliated and worried by Trump’s sudden rise in the polls, immediately sought to wrap the loud-mouthed celebrity’s gaffe around his neck. No doubt some of them, like Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of his Arizona colleague, were truly incensed by Trump’s slur. But either way, the incident presented an irresistible opportunity to stoke public indignation against an opponent whose taunting has become unbearable, even as his rise appears inexorable.

Whether this episode will cost Trump the admiration of the Tea Party horde remains uncertain. Many of them already dislike McCain and may hear Trump’s insults as brutal candor.  But in denigrating a war hero to advance himself, the casino mogul did nothing more or less than what other “conservatives” have done for political expediency in elections past. Nobody should be shocked to hear a right-wing chicken-hawk disparaging a worthy veteran at this late date. In the Republican Party, it is standard operating procedure — and for any Republican to pretend otherwise now is risibly hypocritical.

Need we recall every example of this profoundly distasteful and unpatriotic conduct? One of the most poisonous occurred in 2002, when a Georgia Republican named Saxby Chambliss ran ads suggesting that Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam War hero who had lost both legs and one arm in an accidental grenade explosion, lacked the guts to face down Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Cleland, a Democrat who had served in the Veterans Administration under President Carter, had cast a vote protecting the rights of civil service workers in the new Department of Homeland Security, thus earning him a smear at the hands of Chambliss — one of those smooth favorite sons who had nimbly avoided the Vietnam draft.

When Cleland spoke up against President George W. Bush two years later, Ann Coulter sniped at him with an even nastier shot:

“Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam,” she wrote, describing his misfortune as “an accident during a routine non-combat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman …. Luckily for Cleland’s political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.” Ugly and appalling, even from her reliably foul mouth — and replete with lying insinuation. Although he lost his limbs in an accident — when a young infantryman dropped a live grenade that Cleland picked up — he is an authentic war hero who won a Silver Star for “exceptionally valorous action” at the Battle of Khe Sanh.

According to the official citation:

When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

That action took place four days before the accident that maimed Cleland and sent him into years of depression from which he emerged, with great courage, to lead a life of service to his fellow veterans and his country. He possesses a kind of nobility and grace that the likes of Coulter and Chambliss could not even comprehend.

The Cleland episode served as a prelude to the infamous “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” assault on John Kerry, another heroic veteran who returned home to testify and organize against the same terrible war in which he had served with such distinction. Kerry’s brave dissent brought him the lasting enmity of the Republican right — and, when he ran for president in 2004, a litany of outlandish claims about his own highly decorated service, for which he had earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

Those false charges were concocted and publicized, as I reported at the time, with money provided by Texas millionaires allied with the Bush family and their political boss Karl Rove. The Republicans led by Rove went so far as to mock Kerry’s Purple Hearts on the floor of their convention. Their aim was not only to ruin Kerry’s reputation, but to deflect attention from the highly questionable service record of George W. Bush — a subject about which he had lied shamelessly in his own 1999 campaign autobiography, A Charge To Keep.

Ultimately, Kerry and the Navy vets who had actually served with him refuted all of the bogus Swift Boat accusations. By then, however, the political damage was done. He had lost a close election to a man whose presidential candidacy was originally rejected by most voters, and whose presidency came to be seen as a tragic mistake by most Americans.

Among those who spoke up on Kerry’s behalf, unsurprisingly, was none other than his friend and fellow veteran McCain, who denounced the Swift Boat campaign as “dishonest and dishonorable.” Recalling how supporters of George W. Bush spread lies about his own service during the 2000 primaries, McCain told the Associated Press that the “independent” Swift Boat ads attacking Kerry were “the same kind of deal that was pulled on me,” and called on the Bush White House to repudiate them. Equally unsurprisingly, Bush rejected McCain’s plea for decency. The Bush family, including Jeb — who once considered posing as a conscientious objector to avoid the Vietnam draft — quietly let the dirty tricksters do their dirty work, as usual.

But that wasn’t quite the end, as blogger extraordinaire Oliver Willis reported over the weekend. On the day before his brother’s second inauguration in January 2005, Jeb Bush sent a groveling letter (on official Governor of Florida stationery) to George E. Day, one of the leaders of the Swift Boat campaign. “As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something.” he wrote pompously, “I simply cannot express in words how much I value the [Swift Boat Veterans’] willingness to stand up against John Kerry. Their efforts, like their service to their country, speak volumes about what matters most.”

On Saturday, Jeb quickly seized the chance to pose as a defender of those who have served, while bashing his rival Trump. “Enough with the slanderous attacks,” he tweeted. “@SenJohnMcCain and all our veterans – especially POWs – have earned our respect and admiration.”

For those who know the story behind Jeb’s feigned outrage, that tweet could evoke nausea, or laughter, or perhaps both. What it could not do is erase the stain on his character that this episode has revealed. Sure, Donald Trump is a demented, obnoxious character who lacks moral values. But somehow Jeb, a tough-talking weenie and sanctimonious fraud, seems even worse.

 

By; Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editors Blog, July 20, 2015

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Debate Confrontation Would Be Enlightening”: Walker, Kasich And The GOP’s Midwest Bracket

Republicans won’t win the presidency in 2016 without making inroads in the Midwest. Happily for the GOP, two Midwestern governors are running for their party’s nomination.

Both won reelection in 2014. The one from the state with more electoral votes won with 64 percent of the vote with wide appeal to Democrats and independents. The one from the smaller state got just 52 percent of the vote after a divisive campaign.

The former fought to have his state accept the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. He made his case on moral grounds, arguing that at heaven’s door, Saint Peter is “probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

The latter adamantly opposed expanding Medicaid under the ACA, and his speeches are compendiums of every right-wing bromide party activists demand. “We need a president who — on the first day in office — will call on Congress to pass a full repeal of Obamacare,” this hopeful declared when he announced his candidacy last week. “Next, we need to rein in the federal government’s out-of-control regulations that are like a wet blanket on the economy.” And on he went.

Now: Guess which one is seen as a top contender, and which is dismissed as the darkest of dark horses? Which one was running third behind only Jeb Bush and Donald Trump in the Real Clear Politics poll average as of Sunday, and which one was in 12th place with all of 1.5 percent?

You have no doubt figured out that I’m talking about John Kasich of Ohio, who is expected to announce his candidacy on Tuesday, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. It’s telling about the contemporary Republican party: Kasich would probably be the better bet in the general election but barely registers in the surveys, while Walker has the better chance of winning the nomination.

It’s preposterous to see Kasich as anything but a conservative. He was a drill sergeant for Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution in the 1990s. When Kasich was chairman of the House Budget Committee, “60 Minutes” produced a segment about him titled “The Axman Cometh.” As governor, Kasich pushed big tax cuts that included repealing the estate tax. (The Republican obsession with protecting large fortunes is beyond me.) He also took on the unions with what was known as Senate Bill 5 to end collective bargaining for public employees.

And it’s on the labor question that the Kasich and Walker stories diverge, in large part because of the accident of state election laws. In Ohio, the unions could put Bill 5 directly to the voters, and they repealed it in 2011 by a 61-percent-to-39-percent landslide. A chastened Kasich recalibrated.

Walker is best known for a very similar attack on public employee unions, but Wisconsin had no provision for a comparable referendum. The unions felt they had no choice but to organize a recall of Walker. Voters typically don’t take well to recalls that aren’t a reaction to outright skullduggery and corruption. Walker prevailed, and he’s been bragging about busting unions and surviving ever since. Conservatives love him for it.

Kasich, by contrast, reached out to his previous enemies. When he was endorsed by the Carpenters Union last year, Kasich said: “For too long, there’s been a disconnect between people like me and organized labor.” Walker is as likely to say something like this as he is to sing a rousing chorus of “Solidarity Forever.”

When Kasich talks about his time as governor, as he did to my Post colleague Michael Gerson last year, the things he brags about include his work on autism, mental illness and drug addiction. He notes — the Almighty again — that all his constituents “are made in the image of God.”

You can tell Kasich knows he will have to run a rebel’s campaign because he has hired rebellious Republican consultants, including John Weaver, John McCain’s campaign strategist who feuded famously with Karl Rove, and Fred Davis, who specializes in offbeat (and sometimes controversial) political commercials.

Kasich’s poll standing might well exclude him from one or more of the early debates. That would be a shame. Perhaps there should be a Midwest debate bracket. A Kasich-Walker confrontation would be especially enlightening.

I have a little bit of a different message here,” Kasich said at a Republican Governors Association meeting last year. Indeed he does. It’s probably why he can’t win. It’s also why his party needs to listen.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 19, 2015

July 20, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John Kasich, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Blind Spots Are Unacceptable”: Presidential Candidates Will Need To Listen

The most recent AP-GfK poll found something interesting.

Even as the public remains closely divided about his presidency, Barack Obama is holding on to his support from the so-called “Obama coalition” of minorities, liberals and young Americans, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows, creating an incentive for the next Democratic presidential nominee to stick with him and his policies.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, by comparison, is viewed somewhat less favorably by the key voting groups whose record-setting turnout in 2008 propelled Obama to the White House and will be crucial to her own success.

Roughly two-thirds of Hispanics view Obama favorably, compared to just over half of Hispanics who say the same about Clinton. Among self-identified liberals, Obama’s favorability stands at 87 percent, to Clinton’s 72 percent. Half of Americans under the age of 30 view Obama favorably, compared to just 38 percent for his former secretary of state.

The findings offer a window into the factors at play as Clinton decides how closely to embrace Obama, his record and his policies in her campaign for president. Although associating herself with Obama could turn off some independent and Republican-leaning voters, electoral math and changing demographics make it critical for Democrats to turn out high numbers of Hispanics, African Americans and young voters.

From the moment Hillary Clinton officially launched her 2016 campaign, it has been clear that she is actively courting “the Obama coalition.” She came out of the gate talking about things like criminal justice reform, immigration reform and voting rights – all issues that are of primary concern to people of color, especially young people. Based on reports like this, that is not an accident.

“This is the strongest start when it comes to diversity in presidential politics that I’ve seen and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” says Jamal Simmons, a principal at The Raben Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm. “She is hiring Black and Latino department heads and women in important positions. It’s aggressive and to be commended.”

According to Simmons, it’s not only the Democratic thing to do because the party says it values diversity, but it’s also important to have people on her staff who come from the same communities as her prospective voters.

Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, agrees.

“The first thing [such hires] does is show our community that the campaign is concerned about who we are and what our issues are and I think that’s very, very important,” she said. “It also says to our community that there are people in that campaign with whom we have some genuine ability to talk to and who understand what we’re talking about.”

To the extent that Hillary listens to the diverse members of her staff, she is unlikely to make the same mistakes that Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders did yesterday in response to challenges from people involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. They will tell her things like: saying “all lives matter” is “perceived as erasure rather than inclusion” and that tackling the issue of income inequality is a necessary but insufficient way to address structural racism.

Like it or not, this presidential campaign is going to require candidates to deal with the issues that are important to people of color, and white people inherently have blind spots in those areas. It will become increasingly important for candidates to pay heed to the words of the Dalai Lama.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 19, 2015

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Minorities, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Iran Deal isn’t Perfect – But What Deal Is?”: Critics In Congress Should Have To Explain Why They Believe War Is A Better Idea

To understand why the Iran nuclear deal is such a triumph, consider the most likely alternative: war.

Imagine a U.S.-led military strike — not a pinprick but an extended bombing campaign robust enough to eliminate 98 percent of Iran’s enriched uranium, put two-thirds of the Islamic republic’s centrifuges out of action and erase any capability of producing plutonium. Imagine that the attack did so much damage that for the next 10 or 15 years it would be utterly impossible for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Such an outcome would be hailed as a great success — achieved, however, at a terrible cost.

But I’m convinced such action would make Iran irrevocably determined to build a bomb — and that eventually the Iranians would achieve their goal. I’m also convinced that Iran would strike out at the West asymmetrically, through proxy groups and terrorism. And given the upheavals in the Middle East, any “limited” war has the potential to spread across borders.

The historic agreement announced Tuesday in Vienna accomplishes what an attack might, but without the toll in blood and treasure that war inevitably exacts. After the agreement expires, critics note, Iran could decide to race for a bomb. But the military option would still be available — and, after years of intrusive inspections, allied war planners would have a much better idea of where the nuclear facilities are and how best to destroy them.

Military action is not the only alternative to the deal that President Obama vigorously defended at his news conference Wednesday. But the other possibilities are absurdly remote.

One is simply to acquiesce and invite Iran to become a nuclear power. Obama has ruled this out, as did his predecessors and as will his successors. It should be noted that Iran’s leaders have always denied seeking to make a bomb, though they have never explained why an oil-rich nation would need tens of thousands of enrichment centrifuges and a ballistic missile program to generate nuclear power.

None of the United States’ partners at the negotiating table — the European powers, China, Russia — is prepared to accept a nuclear-armed Iran. The government in Tehran, which is fanatical but not suicidal, probably would be satisfied to reach threshold status. Arguably this is already the case, given that Iran’s scientists have mastered the nuclear fuel cycle.

The other option — the one favored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most other critics of the agreement — is to negotiate “a better deal” that deprives Iran of even more nuclear capability. The problem is that negotiators could not make tougher demands on Iran than the Chinese, Russians and Europeans were prepared to support.

If Congress overrides Obama and squelches the deal, the sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table will quickly crumble. Economic pressure from the United States alone, it seems obvious, is not enough to compel Iran to give up more than it surrendered in Vienna. On the contrary: Hard-liners in Tehran, who argued all along against negotiating with the United States, would have their hand greatly strengthened.

Iran’s reaction to a defeat of the agreement in Congress might be to crank up the centrifuges in defiance. Perhaps the government would honor some elements of the deal in order to obtain sanctions relief from China, Russia and Europe. Either way, the United States would have lost leverage and Iran’s nuclear program would be less constrained.

Obviously, the United States didn’t get everything it wanted in Vienna. That’s the nature of any negotiation. The relevant question is whether the United States and its allies, including Israel, got what they needed.

“With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program, a nuclear weapons program,” Obama said Wednesday. “Without a deal, those pathways remain open.”

The president added that “the alternative, no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, no inspections, an Iran that’s closer to a nuclear weapon, the risk of a regional nuclear arms race, and the greater risk of war — all that would endanger our security. That’s the choice that we face.”

The agreement with Iran is a landmark achievement. It’s not perfect — no deal is — but it makes the world a much safer place. Critics in Congress should have to explain to the American people why they believe war is a better idea.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 16, 2015

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Middle East | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trading Symbolism For Substance”: An Issue That Is The Bedrock Of Civil Rights…The Right To Vote

Last week Democrats in the House started attaching an amendment to appropriation bills curtailing the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of the Confederate flag in national park gift stores. When some Southern representatives objected to it, Speaker Boehner was forced to bring the whole process to a halt. On Thursday the Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, offered a compromise.

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday that Democratic leaders will drop their push to attach flag-related amendments to appropriations bills, freeing Republicans to pursue their spending agenda, if GOP leaders will agree to consider an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a central part of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

“I’m here to say to you that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the full Democratic Caucus are willing to sit down with the Speaker and work out a way for us to allow the proper display and utilization of … the flag in certain instances if he would only sit down with us and work out an appropriate addressing of the amendments to the Voting Rights Act,” Clyburn said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Ever since the Supreme Court gutted sections of the Voting Rights Act, Democrats have pushed to amend the law in ways that continued to protect the franchise – especially for those who have historically faced repeated attempts to challenge their rights. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi laid out the offer Democrats have now put on the table:

“There has been an opportunity for the Republican majority not just to send a condolence card or show up at a service but to translate that into action,” Pelosi said. “And we are now segueing from the conversation about the flag to a conversation about voting rights now.”

This is exactly the kind of thing Rev. William Barber was talking about.

Taking down the flag is a good thing. But when we look at the voting and policy records of most of the political leaders who helped to lower it, we should be careful with equating its removal as a history-altering event. Systemic racism is alive and well; they show no intention yet of dealing with the fundamental inequalities racism still causes in our society…

Let us be clear about what’s being said: nine Black deaths may get the flag lowered, but it will not get you one pen to sign Medicaid expansion throughout the South, which would save thousands of Black lives. Black deaths will not get full voting rights, which saves Black political power and produces policies that save black, brown and poor white lives. It will not get criminal justice reform, which liberates Black lives. Nor will it get you full funding for public education, a living wage, or economic empowerment that will lift the lives of black people, minorities, and the poor. It will not get gun reform.

What Rep. Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus are saying is that they’re willing to put aside arguments about symbolism in exchange for some substance on an issue that is the bedrock of civil rights…the right to vote.

 

By: Nancy leTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 19, 2015

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Congressional Black Caucus, Democrats, John Boehner, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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