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“Donald The Sensible”: There’s No Centrist Superman To Save You

You’re all well familiar with Kubler-Ross’s famous five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Here are Tomasky’s five stages of watching a Republican debate: mockery, rage, double rage, boredom, despair.

I start, as I’d reckon most liberals do, with mockery, which was easy Wednesday night when most of them said in essence that their greatest flaw was that they cared too much (in fairness, Hillary Clinton had earlier said something similar). Then one of them says something unforgivably idiotic—and yes, there’s such a thing as forgivable idiocy—like Carly Fiorina pretending that the characters “401k” were handed down to the human race from God on Sinai and not created by the very federal government she was in that selfsame sentence traducing, and it’s rage time. And so on and so on.

But I end with despair, because the previous two (if we’re lucky) hours have revealed to me that these candidates and the citizens cheering them on just live in a totally different universe than the one I and most of my friends inhabit, and while there can be an occasional meeting of the minds on certain small matters, the sad fact is that we are going to be stuck with the current polarization for a long time yet. I think at least eight more years.

People in my position aren’t supposed to say things like this. We’re supposed to keep telling your sort that bipartisanship is in sight, shimmering in the gloaming just beyond the poppy fields. Now it’s true that Congress did just pass that budget on a bipartisan basis, but that of course is an aberration. And you know it and I know it, and everyone who writes sentences like “Perhaps this will usher in a new era of blahblahblah” knows it too.

I was reading David Brooks the other day, his column fantasizing about “a sensible Trump.” This hybrid ubermensch with “impeccable outsider status but also a steady temperament, deep knowledge, and good sense” would, in Brooks’s telling, bring together the leaders of both parties. He would sit them down and explain to them that we need to help people in the lower half of the income distribution, and that the answer is sitting right there in some research by a Harvard team led by the economist Raj Chetty.

Following the Harvard team’s example means doing some things Republicans like and some things Democrats like, so both sides get a little something but give up something too; but if we can do this, argues Donald the Reasonable, we will have started to solve our two greatest problems, stagnant wages and partisan dysfunction.

I happen to be familiar with the research of which Brooks speaks, and I’d be delighted for Raj Chetty’s work to serve as model for federal government action. But there is, unfortunately, no reason to think in real life that anything like this could happen.

Why? Because before he got elected, Donald the Reasonable would have to take a position on abortion. He would undoubtedly try to find some kind of nuanced lane, to use the au courant word, somewhere in between the standard Democratic and Republican positions. But this of course would just dissatisfy both parties. And as the Republicans appear to be moving toward a position that doesn’t even acknowledge the traditional three exceptions, any deviation from that by D the R will brand him just another baby killer.

He will have to take lots of positions, this fellow. On same-sex marriage. On whether insurers should be compelled to cover contraceptive services. On immigration and citizenship. On who his model Supreme Court justices are. On free trade. On a minimum wage. On how much he’s willing to mix it up with Putin. On whether Hollywood and the universities are ruining America. On climate change. He can’t run for president saying, “Well, sure, all those things are important, but what I’m really all about here is implementing the ideas of Raj Chetty.”

In other words, partisan choices are utterly inescapable. I don’t celebrate this, but I don’t necessarily lament it either, the way a lot of centrist pundits do. These are important things. They’re all worth fighting over, and for. There are plenty of compromises that Democrats and liberals should, and I’m pretty sure would, be willing to make in the climate-change fight, for example. A carbon tax vs. credits, how much fracking and drilling, the mix of renewables, the amount we should contribute to the UN fund—all these and more can be debated by two parties that have different views on the urgency of the problem and the proper role of government in addressing it. But when one party just denies the consensus of 97 percent of the scientific community, you can’t compromise with it. You just have to defeat it.

The hope, if there is one, is this. Hillary Clinton wins. That constitutes the GOP’s third loss in a row (and, in popular-vote terms, sixth out of the last seven). Maybe then the GOP takes a look in the mirror and at the data, which will show them if they study it honestly that they lost, again, because they failed to carry purple states that as a party they’d simply become too conservative to win.

The Ted Cruz “we weren’t conservative enough!” wing will still argue its position. And of course the Republican-led House (or House and Senate, the GOP retains control) will start out by blocking President Clinton in every way it can. But she’d probably win re-election in 2020, simply because most incumbents do, and then the Republicans would be looking at 16 straight years of being locked out of the White House, and the country will be that much more Latino, and Clinton will take Georgia and come close in Texas, and finally they’ll run up the flag. So in 2024, we might have a choice between a liberal-moderate Democrat and a conservative-moderate Republican, which the Republican would probably win, and the party’s conservative wing would be somewhat tamed.

That’s the only hope for the country, really. There are extremists. They need to be defeated enough times so that their less extreme comrades can outmuscle them and guide their party back to a place where we’re all at least agreeing on basic evidentiary propositions. There is no Donald the Sensible who can save us.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 30, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Donald Trump, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Challenge Of Being Paul Ryan”: He’s Been Anointed As A Savior, And Saviors Often Meet A Bad End

Paul Ryan had excellent reasons for not wanting to be speaker of the House. He’s a smart guy and knows that the Republican caucus he is about to lead is nearly ungovernable. He’s been anointed as a savior, and saviors often meet a bad end.

Moreover, the Wisconsin native (and ardent Packers fan) is still very much a work in progress. He was happy to stay away from the center stage as he mapped out the next steps of his life and the direction of his thinking. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he could pick his fights and choose the issues he wanted to highlight. As speaker, the issues will often pick him and he may well have to wage battles he might prefer to avoid.

Ryan has always wanted to be several things at the same time, and they have not been easy to keep in balance.

On the one hand, he is, from my experience, a genuinely nice and warm person who wants to be seen as thoughtful, wonkish and willing to delve deeply into policy details. He’s a religious man who knows that his faith teaches the imperative of compassion and the urgency of justice. He has repeatedly given speeches declaring his determination to alleviate poverty.

But he is also an ideologue — one reason the right-wingers in the House could accept him as speaker. He has said that the unforgiving libertarianism of Ayn Rand — whose books include one called “The Virtue of Selfishness” — inspired him to enter politics. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2011, he divided the world between “takers” and “makers” and spoke of government programs as creating “a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency.” I doubt that poor people think they spend their lives swaying gently between the trees.

The budgets he has proposed over the years are his signature. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group that is very careful about its numbers, repeatedly found that roughly two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budgets came from programs for low- and moderate-income people. Take that, you takers!

Had Ryan not been pushed toward the speakership, he would have more room to refine his views and would not face constant pressure to appease the right. That pressure led him to criticize the process that outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) used to save Ryan from having to deal with impossible problems around the budget and the debt ceiling. Being Paul Ryan has just gotten even harder.

But let’s give Ryan a brief respite by focusing on his virtues. When he insisted that he would not take the speaker’s job unless he could protect his “family time,” he showed what kind of person he is and made a statement that could transform the debate about work and family.

I personally identify with Ryan because we were both 16 when our dads died and, like him, I have three kids. Time with my family has been a treasure for me, too. Good for Ryan for placing his family at the heart of his life.

Yet his statement brought him immediate and sharp criticism because he had voted against mandatory paid family leave. Rather than resenting his critics, he should take them very seriously by admitting that he enjoys a degree of bargaining power that so many Americans lack. And he should not pretend that the “flex time” proposals he has endorsed are the answer. They would merely undermine employees’ existing rights to overtime.

Ryan might take a look at a 2006 essay in the Weekly Standard by Yuval Levin, a conservative thinker I am sure he admires, acknowledging the tension between the market and the family. Levin noted that the market “values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life” and that “the libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.”

Sometimes, despite what Ayn Rand says, government action is essential to preserving individual rights in the marketplace and protecting the integrity of family life. Many families are under severe economic pressures. There are times when only government is in a position to relieve them, often through the programs Ryan would cut.

Thus a hope: Ryan could use the first days of his speakership to signal his intention of bridging at least some of the great ideological gaps in our country. A man who so honorably values his own family could start by changing his mind on family leave.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 28, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Ideologues, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Bald-Faced And Blatant Lies”: Debate Fallout; Even Conservatives Are Appalled By Republican Mendacity

For people who so often accuse Hillary Clinton of lying, the Republican presidential candidates seem to feel perfectly free to bend, twist, and shred the truth at will. Unsurprisingly, that is just what several of them were caught doing in their free-for-all CNBC debate. They prevaricated about themselves, their policies, and their opponents, without blinking an eye – and for the most part, they got away with it.

Do nice people tell self-serving lies? Perhaps they do, because it was terribly nice Ben Carson who uttered one of the most blatant whoppers of the evening.

To loud booing from the partisan audience, moderator Carl Quintanilla asked the soft-spoken neurosurgeon about his long and lucrative involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplement manufacturer that has been cited for false health claims for its “glyconutrients.” (How bad was Mannatech? Bad enough to provoke a fraud action brought by Greg Abbott, the former Texas attorney general who is now that state’s very conservative governor.)

“I didn’t have an involvement with [Mannatech],” retorted Carson. “That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.”

What Carson’s noisy fans probably didn’t know is that this was no “liberal media” setup. The doctor’s decade-long relationship with Mannatech – which turns out to have included a written contract, paid speeches, and a video endorsement on the company’s website – was exposed last year by Jim Geraghty of National Review, the flagship publication of American conservatism. Following the debate, Geraghty slammed Carson for “bald-faced lies” and “blatantly lying” about his relationship with the supplement firm.

Equally mendacious about his own personal history was Marco Rubio, who “won” the debate according to many observers. When Becky Quick of CNBC asked a predictable question about his checked financial affairs, which have included foreclosures, liquidations, phony expense accounts, and other embarrassments, the senator from Florida shot back: “You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I’m not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all.”

Discredited attacks? Actually, Quick’s question was premised on facts that are not in dispute – as even Rubio himself acknowledged in his own campaign book. So frontally deceptive was his response that an outraged Joe Scarborough, his fellow Florida Republican, called him out on MSNBC’s Morning Joe the next day.

“Marco just flat-out lied to the American people there,” Scarborough complained. “And I was stunned that the moderators didn’t stop there and go, ‘Wait a second, these are court records. What are you talking about?…Becky was telling the truth, Marco was lying. And yet everybody’s going, ‘Oh, Marco was great.’ No, Marco lied about his financials.” Not incidentally, Rubio also lied about the effects of his tax plan, claiming his tax cuts would mostly benefit lower-income families when in fact its biggest benefits would accrue to the top one percent, as Republican tax schemes almost always do.

Another brand of lie was pronounced by Carly Fiorina, who drew attention at the last GOP by insisting she had watched a grisly Planned Parenthood video that doesn’t exist. This time, she reached back to the 2012 Republican campaign to invent a factoid about women’s employment.

Fiorina tries to sell herself as the candidate tough enough to take down Clinton, and tries to prove it by making stuff up. At this debate, she huffed:

It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president, when every single policy she espouses and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstratively bad for women. Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.

But as PolitiFact quickly established, that statement was false in every particular. Not only did women not lose “92 percent” of the jobs in Obama’s first term, the number of women employed during the period from January 2009 to January 2013 grew by 416,000. Naturally, as she did with Planned Parenthood, Fiorina angrily repeated the lie when challenged.

Fiorina isn’t the only Republican who doesn’t like being exposed. Rubio ridiculously claimed that the “mainstream media” is really a Democratic SuperPAC. And now RNC chair Reince Priebus has reneged on the party’s debate agreement with NBC News. He and his candidates just couldn’t handle two hours of sharp but thoroughly polite questioning.

They constantly insult Clinton, but how would any of these slippery blowhards survive something like the 11-hour Benghazi grilling she breezed through on Capitol Hill? If you want to understand who they are, just listen to them whine.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 30, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Why Republicans Are Hell-Bent On Destroying Medicare”: Belief’s That Spring From Ideological Faith, Not Facts

One way you can identify politicians’ sincere convictions is by looking at the things they do even when they know they’re unpopular. There are few better examples than the half-century-long quest by Republicans to destroy Medicare.

As we move towards the 2016 presidential election, it’s something we’re hearing about yet again. Conservatives know the Democrats will attack them for it mercilessly, and they know those attacks are probably going to work — yet Republicans keeps trying. Which is why it’s clear that they just can’t stand this program.

When Medicare was being debated in the early 1960s, one of its most prominent opponents was a certain future president, who recorded a spoken word album called Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine. In it, he said that if the bill were to pass, “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” He failed in that crusade, and ever since, conservatives have watched in pain as the program became more entrenched and more popular.

That popularity didn’t happen by accident. Medicare is popular because it gives seniors something they crave: security. Every American over 65 knows that they can get Medicare, it will be accepted by almost every health care provider, their premiums will be modest, and it won’t be taken away. On the policy level, the program is expensive, but that’s because providing health care for the elderly is expensive. It’s not because the program is inefficient; in fact, Medicare does an excellent job of keeping costs down. Its expenses for overhead (basically everything except health care) are extremely low, somewhere between 1 percent and 5 percent of what it takes in, compared to private insurance costs that can run from 10 percent to 20 percent and, in some cases, even higher. (See here for a good explanation of these figures.)

That’s not to say there’s nothing about the program that could be improved, because there certainly is. The Affordable Care Act tried to institute some Medicare reforms, including moving away from the fee-for-service model (which encourages doctors and hospitals to do as many procedures as possible) and toward a model that creates incentives for keeping patients healthy. It’s still too early to say how great an impact those changes will have. But Medicare is still in most ways the most successful part of the American health insurance system. And if you care about empirical truth, it’s impossible to argue that it’s a failure because it involves too much government.

But Republicans do argue that, and it’s a belief that springs from ideological faith, not facts. In Wednesday’s debate, Rand Paul was asked whether Reagan was right about Medicare, and he responded, “The question always is, what works better, the private marketplace or government? And what distributes goods better? It always seems to be the private marketplace does a better job. Is there an area for a safety net? Can you have Medicare or Social Security? Yes. But you ought to acknowledge the government doesn’t do a very good job at it.” Paul’s ambivalence is obvious — he grudgingly acknowledges that you can have a “safety net,” including Medicare, even as he says it’s terrible. But if that’s so, why not get rid of it entirely?

The presidential candidates who have said anything specific about Medicare all want to move in the direction of privatization, which isn’t too surprising. After all, they believe that it’s impossible for government to do anything better than the private sector, and if you can take a government program and privatize it, that’s what you should do. That’s also what new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan believes: For years he’s been touting a plan to privatize Medicare by essentially turning it into a voucher program. Instead of being an insurer for seniors as it is now, the government would give you a voucher that you could spend to buy yourself private insurance. And if the voucher didn’t cover the cost of the insurance you could find? Tough luck.

When you ask Paul Ryan about this, the first thing he’ll say is that he wants a slow transition to privatizing Medicare, one that won’t affect today’s seniors at all, so they don’t need to worry. In Wednesday’s debate, Marco Rubio made the same argument. “Everyone up here tonight that’s talking about reforms, I think and I know for myself I speak to this, we’re all talking about reforms for future generations,” he said. “Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”

In other words: Medicare is a disaster, but we would never change it for the people who are on it and love it so much. They don’t have to fear the horror of being subject to our plan for Medicare’s future. Which is going to be great.

That contradiction is the essence of the Republicans’ Medicare problem. It’s one of the most successful and beloved social programs America has ever created, and to mess with it is to court political disaster, particularly among seniors who vote at such high rates. And its success is particularly galling, standing as it does as a living rebuke to their fervent belief that there can never be any area in which government might outperform the private sector.

But grant Republicans this: A less ideologically committed group might say, “We don’t like this program, but it’s too politically dangerous to try to undo it. So we’ll just learn to live with it.”

Republicans won’t give up. They want to undermine Medicare, to privatize it, to try in whatever way they can come up with to hasten the day when it disappears. And no matter how often they fail, they keep trying.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 30, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | Medicare, Republicans, Seniors | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ben Carson’s Money Men Co-Sponsored Anti-Gay Conference”: One Of The Most Extreme Anti-LGBT Groups On The Planet

The 2016 Committee, a Super PAC which raised over $5 million for Ben Carson in the first half of 2015 alone, dropped in to visit an international conference of one of the most extreme anti-LGBT groups on the planet.

A Human Rights Campaign staffer provided The Daily Beast with a picture of the World Congress of Families partner booths, all of which were set up at Tuesday’s event. Toward the bottom of the list is “Ben Carson The 2016 Committee.”

“What we know for sure is that they were a sponsor,” a staffer for the Human Rights Campaign told The Daily Beast.

The speakers at the international event included Theresa Okafor, who once compared the LGBT movement to Boko Haram, Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov, who refers to gay people as “homosexualists,” and Eric Teetsel, who espouses the belief that God has sent the LGBT movement to inform the world about the impending End Times.

“Well, it’s obviously very, very troubling to see,” the HRC staffer said. “There’s no question that the speakers here are focused on exporting anti-LGBT rhetoric. That’s really, really troubling.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center distinguished WCF as a hate group in 2014, before this recent ninth summit, which marks the first time the shadowy organization has held its annual convention on American soil.

Author Scott Lively, a kind of Ernest Hemingway of the anti-LGBT literary scene (he wrote a novel called The Pink Swastika, which alleges that gay people caused the Holocaust), is also closely associated with WCF and frequently traveled to Uganda to spread the news that LGBT people are at fault for the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the spread of HIV/AIDS. He directly advised sponsors of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, which was later struck down as unconstitutional.

World Congress of Families is infamous for drafting Russia’s 2013 anti-LGBT law banning “homosexual propaganda,” which criminalized giving out information about LGBT rights among minors. At the time, WCF executive director Larry Jacobs said the law was “a great idea.”

In 2009, the organization wrote a letter opposing President Obama’s decision to sign a UN “Homosexual Special Rights” statement that was meant to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide.

“Signing the U.N. homosexual rights statement is very much in keeping with this administration’s anti-family and anti-faith actions so far,” Jacobs said at the time.

After the summit yesterday, WCF also sponsored a meet and greet with Rafael Cruz, Senator Ted Cruz’s father, who railed against the Boy Scouts ending its ban on gay youth, saying it would lead to “increased risk that our children would be exposed to sexual predators.”

The 2016 Committee has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. Larry Jacobs has not gotten back either.

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, October 28, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Hate Groups, LGBT, World Congress of Families | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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