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“Obamacare After Obama”: The Next President Should Be Grateful To Have A Universal Health Care Program On Which To Build

The morning of the recent Republican debate, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of uninsured Americans in 2014 had dropped by about 9 million from the year before. This was thanks, of course, to the Affordable Care Act.

So it did cross one’s mind that at least one of the Republican presidential candidates might lend a kind word to Obamacare. After all, some of the largest gains in health coverage were among moderate-income families, a group including much of the Republican base.

A futile hope. Not even Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey — who, to their credit, had accepted the law’s expansion of Medicaid coverage in their states — offered a shred of praise. Instead we heard vows to basically blow it up, the main difference being the number of dynamite sticks to use.

Grudging appreciation for Obamacare has also extended to significant parts of the Democratic base. In the 2012 election, many Democratic candidates actually avoided discussing it. You see, a flood of anti-Obamacare propaganda — which Democrats had neglected to counter — caused support for the program to swoon in the polls.The new Census Bureau numbers show that African-Americans and Latinos have enjoyed an especially sharp rise in health coverage under Obamacare. And that makes it painful to contemplate these groups’ dismal turnout in the 2014 midterm elections.

Back then, the newly won guaranteed health coverage was under grave threat. Republicans had tried to repeal Obamacare dozens of times. Had a case before the U.S. Supreme Court gone badly, the program could well have been destroyed.

You’d think that low-income Americans would have marched to the polls waving Obamacare flags. Problem was their so-called advocates had moved on to immigration and income inequality and saw the elections as an occasion to blame Democrats for what they held was inadequate progress. They forgot there was something precious to defend — and that Obamacare was a huge advance against said inequality.

Nowadays, Hillary Clinton not only is waving the flag but has hired a brass brand to march behind it. We await the details of her proposals for improving the program. Same goes for Joe Biden, should he choose to run.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination, gives Obamacare two cheers but not enough credit. In a recent CNN interview, he said he wants a “Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system.”

Expanding Medicare to everyone happens to be a super idea. But we must note that Medicare is not single payer. It is a multi-payer program combining government and private coverage. As such, Medicare is more like the top-ranked French and German health care systems than it is the good, but not-as-good, Canadian single-payer program.

Because Medicare has strong public support, Medicare for all can be imagined. It would be a very hard political sell, however. Recall that Democrats couldn’t even get the “public option” past Congress. That was to be a government-run health plan to compete on the new insurance exchanges with the private ones.

Sanders’ own Vermont tried but failed to put together a modified single-payer health plan. If Vermont can’t do single payer…

Suffice it to say, it would take a master politician to get a greatly expanded Medicare passed in this country. A master politician Sanders is not. But may his vision live on.

Happily, Obamacare now seems safe. Its imperfections well-documented, it remains a work in progress. But whoever is the next president should be grateful to have a universal health care program on which to build.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP Primary Debates, Obamacare | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans Pander To Anti-Muslim Bigotry”: Constitution Says ‘No Religious Test’, Not ‘Only The Religious Test That I Can Pass’

The founders of this nation recognized Islam as one of the world’s great faiths. Incredibly and disgracefully, much of today’s Republican Party disagrees.

Thomas Jefferson, whose well-worn copy of the Koran is in the Library of Congress, fought to ensure that the American concept of religious freedom encompassed Islam. John Adams wrote that Muhammad was a “sober inquirer after truth.” Benjamin Franklin asserted that even a Muslim missionary sent by “the Mufti of Constantinople” would find there was “a pulpit at his service” in this country.

Indeed, the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Some of the GOP candidates for president, however, simply do not care.

Ben Carson said Sunday that he believes Islam to be inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore he could not support a Muslim candidate for president. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

A campaign spokesman, seeking to clarify Carson’s remarks, effectively doubled down by claiming there is a “huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith and our Constitution and American values.”

Carson is dead wrong, but at least he seems sincere about it. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he could only support a Muslim candidate “who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America.” Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) said a president’s faith should be irrelevant, but he understood many people felt otherwise because “we were attacked by people who were all Muslim.” And front-runner Donald Trump, when asked about the possibility of a Muslim president, wisecracked, “Some people have said it already happened” — a reference to oft-repeated lies about President Obama’s faith.

I was ready to offer rare praise for Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), who rejected Carson’s outrageous view by pointing to the Constitution’s prohibition against religious tests. But then Cruz went on to say the United States should accept Christian refugees from the Syrian civil war but not Muslims, who might, after all, be terrorists.

There is an ugly undercurrent of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country, and the Republican Party panders to it in a way that the Democratic Party does not.

This rancid sentiment was on display at Trump’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week, at which a questioner began by stating a premise: “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know, he’s not even an American.”

The man went on to say that these problematic Muslims “have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

Trump should have showed some backbone and told the man his worldview was based on paranoid fantasy. Instead, he made vague noises of agreement, or at least non-disagreement — “[A] lot of people are saying that. . . . We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things” — which kicked off a round of criticism from his campaign rivals.

But where were these high-minded, all-embracing Republicans when Trump and others, with no factual support, were casting doubt on Obama’s religion and birthplace? Leaving Obama aside, since he’s in a position to defend himself, where were the wise GOP elders when their party became a refuge for extremists spouting the worst kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric?

After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush did an admirable and important thing: He made clear that blame for the atrocity should not be ascribed to Islam itself but rather to a small group of radical fundamentalists.

Going forward, however, his administration was neither specific enough nor consistent enough about culpability for the terrorist strike. Warmongers found it politically useful to suggest involvement by Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks. Meanwhile, officials played down the fact that most of the attackers came from Saudi Arabia, considered a valuable ally.

This fuzziness, I believe, helped give some Americans the impression that the United States was at war not with small and vicious bands of jihadists but with Muslims more broadly. Democrats almost invariably pushed back against this dangerous misimpression. Republicans far too often did not.

On the campaign trail, GOP candidates are touting their own Christian faith in what can only be described as a literal attempt to be holier than thou. They should reread the Constitution, which says “no religious test” — not “only the religious test that I can pass.”

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Muslims, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Ben Carson Is Right About Something!”: But Where Would His New Standard Leave Most Republicans?

Just a few days ago I wrote an article slamming Ben Carson for his asinine view that a Muslim should not be president of the United States and that the values of Islam are incompatible with our Constitution.  The irony here, of course, is that Carson’s very views are inconsistent with our Constitution, which expressly prohibits a religious test for president (or any federal office.)

But on Monday night Carson actually said something I agree with. While on Fox News, he stated, “I don’t care what religion or faith someone belongs to if they’re willing to subjugate that to the American way and to our Constitution.”

He even said he would support a Muslim American seeking office if the person  “clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion.”

I couldn’t agree more with Carson. And I say that as a Muslim American. If a Muslim candidate for office were to advocate imposing Islamic law in America or revising our Constitution to agree with the Koran, I would be the first one to loudly oppose that person.

But I also feel strongly the same test should apply to all candidates of any faith. John F. Kennedy, a man I greatly admire, espoused a similar view when running for president in 1960 when he was subject to vile religious bigotry for being Catholic. Like Carson is now saying about Muslims, in 1960 some on the right claimed that Roman Catholicism was “incompatible with the principles” of our nation and that Kennedy was not truly loyal to America simply because of his faith.

In response, Kennedy gave a famous speech in 1960 before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston to address these allegations head on. There, Kennedy said that “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Adding, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

Kennedy did, in essence, what Carson advocated Monday; namely that he swore “to place our Constitution above” his religious beliefs.  And I believe it’s now time for the GOP presidential field to do the same. (The Democrats as well but let’s be honest, the religion talk comes from the Republican presidential field.)

So in accordance with the “Carson doctrine,” at the next GOP debate, all the  presidential candidates should be asked if they would expressly pledge to place our Constitution above their religious beliefs.  Yes, I know some will try to squirm there way out of it saying things like, “America was founded on Christian values and that is my faith” or “America is a Christian nation and I’m a Christian so there won’t be a problem.”

Not so quick. If any candidate refuses to make this pledge, follow up questions must be asked. We, as a nation, need to know specifically which of their respective religious beliefs they view as superior to our Constitution. Here are a few proposed questions:

  1. In the Bible it says that, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Do you agree or reject that principle?
  2. If a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, would you support the men of the town stoning her to death as expressly as mandated by the Bible?
  3. We have heard American pastors called for killing gays for “for their abominable deed” as it’s described in the Bible. Is that something you reject or agree with?
  4.  If a woman is raped in the city but does not cry out for help, would you stone the woman to death to “purge the evil from your midst” or reject that and instead follow our Constitution?
  5. Do you believe in death for those who commit blasphemy as required by the Bible?

We can even ask about modern day issues such as if a bill was put in front of you to ban all abortions, would you sign it, imposing you religious believes upon all Americans or follow the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade?

Don’t we need to know which passages they would follow if elected president and which they would reject? And yes, I know that many of the above passages are from the Old Testament and some Christians will claim that they don’t follow that book—except when some cite it to demonize gays, of course.

Well I’m far from a theologian but Revs. Billy and Franklin Graham are. Billy believes that Christians mistakenly ignore the Old Testament when in fact God gave “the whole Bible to us.” And his son Franklin has echoed that very sentiment with his words, “I believe the Bible from cover to cover. I believe the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament.”

But even before the next debate, we know some would fail the Carson test. For example, Mike Huckabee has stated that conservatives cannot accept “ungodly” court rulings on gay marriage and abortion. He has even urged that we need “to amend the Constitution” to agree with the Bible.

And Rick Santorum in 2012 told us that Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech “makes me throw up,” and U.S. laws must “comport” with the Bible. So he’s out too.

But the jury is still out on the rest including Carson himself. Isn’t it time we know if these candidates will place the U.S. Constitution over the religious beliefs or are they more beholden to the Biblical passages listed above?  I, for one, very much want to know the answer to that question.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Beliefs, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Hostility Is Clarifying”: Conservatives To Pope Francis: Stick With Salvation; We’ll Handle Politics

In a 1979 column, George Will quoted Chekhov describing a character in these terms: “He was a rationalist, but he had to confess that he liked the ringing of church bells.” To Chekhov’s lovely words, Will added his own smarmy endorsement, writing, “Me too.” In his column, Will was affirming the quote in the most literal way possible: He was writing to celebrate bells. But it’s not hard to discern in the quote a larger attitude toward religion. Will is, as he told an interviewer from this magazine, an atheist, yet as a conservative he finds religion to be socially useful and often praises it for that reason. Like the political philosopher Leo Strauss, who has shaped much of his broader outlook, Will has a utilitarian attitude toward religion: Christianity might not be true, but it helps create a cohesive society. To put it another way, Will believes in philosophy for the elite and religion for the masses.

Not surprisingly given this attitude, Will has been at the head of the conservative chorus denouncing Pope Francis’s advocacy for the environment, for migrants, and for the poor—a chorus that has grown more vehement in the run-up to Francis’s U.S. journey. In a syndicated column published on Saturday, Will came out firing: “Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.”

Seeing religion as a tool for political ends, Will quite naturally praises religious figures he sees as politically simpatico (like Pope John Paul II) and savages those whose politics he finds politically unpalatable (like Pope Francis). It’s not surprising that Will is so nakedly partisan in his evaluation of religious leaders. What is perhaps more noteworthy is that the same pattern can be found among conservatives who claim to be genuinely devout. Some of these critics voice the objection that Francis is too political, but on closer inspection their real problem is the same as Will’s: They don’t like his politics.

In a 2005 column, for instance, Will praised John Paul II as one of the great heroes of the 20th century because he made common cause with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in fighting communism. Enthusiastically voicing a theme common to conservatives, Will marveled that “[i]n an amazingly fecund 27-month period, the cause of freedom was strengthened by the coming to high offices of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and John Paul II, who, like the president, had been an actor and was gifted at the presentational dimension of his office.”

Yet if John Paul II’s political interventions were held up as crucial in the battle against the enemies of civilization, then his successor Francis, seemingly embodying very different politics, stands condemned as a menace who threatens the very survival of capitalism. As one of America’s foremost climate change deniers, Will has nothing but contempt for Francis’s calls for environmental responsibility. In a 2014 column, Will condemned the Pope as a sanctimonious interloper whose ignorance of worldly matters threatens to leave millions impoverished. “He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources,” Will thundered. “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”

In taking up the cause of the environment, Will argued over the weekend, the church was abandoning its “salvific mission.” Since Will doesn’t actually believe that the salvation the church offers is real, his polemic amounts to a call for the church to continue to offer consoling lies to parishioners and ignore real problems so that the social system continues to work the way Will wants it to. Continue ringing those church bells, Will is saying, so they’ll drown out the protests of environmentalists.

The cynicism of Will’s position hardly needs to be underlined. Yet it is broadly shared by others on the right. Writing at the Federalist, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of the publication and a fellow at the lavishly funded climate change denialist think tank The Heartland Institute, makes many of the same arguments that Will does: that in voicing concern for the environment, the Pope is overstepping his proper duties as a religious leader, and that serious efforts to combat climate change would lead to an economic catastrophe that would have its worst impact on the world’s poor. In an extremely confusing line of argument, Pullmann seems to suggest that an environmental apocalypse might actually be a welcome outcome from a Christian point of view:

We will never achieve utopia in this world. That’s kind of the central story arc of the Bible: How humans screwed themselves and the whole world up, and how Jesus has and will ultimately put things to right. Getting all the way to a perfect eternity, however, requires first an apocalypse.

So maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. That’s partly a joke and partly serious, because every time I see another Planned Parenthood butchering video I am ready for Jesus to take me and my kiddos right up to Paradise and end this sick, mad world.

Pullmann’s words might seem lurid and even nonsensical, but they follow the basic contours of Will’s: The church should stick to saving souls and leave the job of running the world to big business. She also upholds John Paul II as an example of a pope whom it was possible “to respect and admire”—further proof that what is wanted is not an apolitical pope but a pope who aligned with the Republican Party.

Pat Buchanan, the legendary conservative columnist, takes the right-wing hostility toward Francis to its logical conclusion and sees the current Pope, along with President Obama, as being emblematic of the deep sickness in Western civilization. In a breathtaking recent column, Buchanan opines that Francis is promoting “moral confusion,” and argues that both Putin’s Russia and Communist China show much greater cultural health than either Obama’s America or Francis’s church:

America is a different country today, a secular and post-Christian nation on its way to becoming anti-Christian. Some feel like strangers in their own land. And from the standpoint of traditional Catholicism, American culture is an open sewer. A vast volume of the traffic on the Internet is pornography.

Ironically, as all this unfolds in what was once “God’s country,” Vladimir Putin seeks to re-establish Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the basis of morality and law in Russia. And one reads in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Xi Jinping is trying to reintroduce his Chinese Communist comrades to the teachings of Confucianism.

The world is turned upside down. Every civilization seems to recognize the necessity of faith except for the West, which has lost its faith and is shrinking and dying for lack of it.

Will is a religious skeptic, while both Pullmann and Buchanan are believers. Will’s prose is elegant and measured, while both Pullmann and Buchanan write shrill screeds. Yet despite these surface differences, they are making the same argument: that the proper role of the church is promoting individual salvation and social morality, a mission Francis is jeopardizing by advocating for political change.

The hostility conservatives of all stripes have toward Francis is clarifying. It shows that issues of belief and non-belief are less important to conservatives than adherence to an ideological party line. Despite their different metaphysics, Will, Pullmann, and Buchanan can unite in opposing Francis as a political enemy. Theology serves merely as a convenient cloak for politics.

 

By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor, The New Republic; September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, George Will, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Perils Of A Small-Tent Party”: An ‘Archie Bunker’ Posture In A ‘Modern Family’ World

In the last national election cycle, the Republican losses obviously counted, but so too did the way in which they lost. GOP candidates, party officials later acknowledged, were catering to an increasingly narrow part of the population. The Republican Party’s base was getting older, whiter, and male-dominated.

GOP strategists were determined to change the party’s focus. They failed spectacularly.

Steve Schmidt, who served as Republican Sen. John McCain’s top strategist in the 2008 presidential election, said it’s problematic for the GOP to be seen as intolerant, particularly with moderate voters who help sway the general election.

“Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt’s correct that the party’s problems are exacerbated by perceptions of intolerance and exclusivity, and this doesn’t just alienate Latinos, Asians, Muslims, and the LGBT community. It also has the effect of pushing away white mainstream voters who start to see Republicans as wildly out of step with a diverse, modern nation.

On Friday, for example, President Obama nominated Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army. No one has questioned Fanning’s qualifications, but GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee condemned the nomination because Fanning is gay. “It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes,” the Republican said, adding, “Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep Americans safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”

It’s an “Archie Bunker” posture in a “Modern Family” world.

Of course, the broader point is that the campaign to create a small-tent party isn’t limited to Huckabee. Ben Carson doesn’t think Muslims can be president. Donald Trump vowed last week that he’s “going to be looking into” non-existent Muslim “training camps.” Bobby Jindal said this morning that a Muslim could be president, but only if he or she took the oath of office on a Christian Bible.

It’s against this backdrop that many Republicans want to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. And condemn the Black Lives Matter movement while ignoring the need for a Voting Rights Act repair. And push over-the-top talking points about “anchor babies” and mass deportations.

After the 2012 cycle, Republican officials concluded, “Our party is too small.” To which the GOP’s driving forces spent three years responding, “Let’s make it smaller and more reactionary.”

All of which brings us back to that Steve Schmidt quote: “Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims.”

The GOP presidential nominating process has several months to go. There’s every reason to believe the most “worrisome” developments are still to come.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | GOP Base, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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