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“I’ve Seen America’s Future And It’s Not Republican”: The Policy Vacuum Of Movement Conservatism

It is true that the media is having a bit of a feeding frenzy in their attempt to “vet” the latest front-runner in the Republican presidential nominating contest – Ben Carson. But in the midst of all that, this line from a column by Amy Davidson stood out to me:

A certain number of Republicans turned to Carson because the other candidates seemed even less plausible to them.

That was basically my reaction to the last GOP presidential debate. Initially, I looked forward to John Kasich’s attempt to come out swinging against the rhetoric he called “crazy.” But when he actually did it, all he had to offer as an alternative were the same-old Republican policies of tax cuts and a balanced budget (i.e., the “voodoo economics” of trickle-down) that were completely discredited during the Bush/Cheney years. That’s when I realized why the so-called “establishment candidates” haven’t been able to gain any traction against the rabble-rousers…they’ve got nothing.

That is basically the same conclusion reached by “movement conservative refugee” Michael Lind.

Why isn’t the old-time conservative religion working to fire people up any more? Maybe the reason is that it’s really, really old. So old it’s decrepit.

Lind goes on to talk about the birth of the modern conservative movement 60 years ago with the founding of the National Review by William F. Buckley, Jr. That was followed by Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential candidacy and Ronald Reagan’s eventual success. But by then, the strains were beginning to show.

Yet by the 1980s, movement conservatism was running out of steam. Its young radicals had mellowed into moderate statesman. By the 1970s, Buckley and his fellow conservatives had abandoned the radical idea of “rollback” in the Cold War and made their peace with the more cautious Cold War liberal policy of containment. In the 1960s, Reagan denounced Social Security and Medicare as tyrannical, but as president he did not try to repeal and replace these popular programs. When he gave up the confrontational evil-empire rhetoric of his first term toward the Soviet Union and negotiated an end to the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev in his second term, many conservatives felt betrayed…

Indeed, it’s fair to say that the three great projects of the post-1955 right—repealing the New Deal, ultrahawkishness (first anti-Soviet, then pro-Iraq invasion) and repealing the sexual/culture revolution—have completely failed. Not only that, they are losing support among GOP voters.

Lind suggests that this should have resulted in “an intellectual reformation on the American right in the 1990s.” But instead, Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan conservatism returned in an even more radical form in the 2000’s. The result was 2 failed wars in the Middle East, huge federal deficits and the Great Recession. And once again, rather than engage in an intellectual reformation, establishment conservatives initially embraced the post-policy strategy of obstruction and eventually drilled down even farther on the failed policies of the past.

Combine all that with fear-mongering about changing demographics/social mores and heated talk about a “world on fire” and you get a policy vacuum that has been filled by the likes of candidates like Trump and Carson.

It is impossible to know with any certainty how all this will play out. But unless/until conservatives come to grips with their own policy failures and re-think their whole ideological foundation (i.e., incorporate some of their own advice about personal responsibility rather than blaming others), I’d say that Stan Greenberg is right when he says, “I’ve seen America’s future – and it’s not Republican.”


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatism, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Thugification of Ben Carson”: He Want’s Something Of A “Hood Pass”, An Acknowledgement Of His Toughness Authenticity

Ben Carson might well be the “Rick Ross” of presidential politics.

In no small irony, the retired neurosurgeon—much like the chart-topping rapper— is under fire for allegedly misleading the public about parts of his life story. Ross, also known as “Teflon Da Don,” was never the thugged-out, gun-toting, cocaine-slanging street menace that so often shows up in his lyrics. Instead, he was a college-educated corrections officer before he turned to the music industry to make his millions.

Carson’s exaggerations don’t go that far—his tales are far more pedestrian. But in story after story the iconic physician appears to embellish his life growing up in inner city Detroit. He certainly did not need to spin wild tales about his years as a young, gifted black boy raised by a single mother in urban America. That’s a story millions know and can relate to.

However, in various books, speeches and interviews, Carson appears to want something of a “hood pass”—an acknowledgement of his toughness authenticity—that functions both as insulation from “liberal media attacks” and as political currency among white Republican voters. The lure of a Carson candidacy (as I said in an earlier column) could not be more appealing to the evangelical base, which has been looking for a way to attract more non-white voters. For them, Carson is the perfect ambassador: an American success story who also happens to be black, and the quintessential Horatio Alger from the rough side of the railroad tracks.

For his part, Carson is playing along and seemingly has been for decades. He has leaned on (and sometimes added flourishes to) his backstory in order to expand his public platform. The truth is he has been building a personal narrative—whether true or weaved from whole cloth—about himself from the moment he leapt onto the world stage. He wasn’t just poor, in Carson’s telling, he was hard—the kind of hard that can get an otherwise promising young man into trouble. And while it might be customary in hip-hop, engaging in this kind of self “thugification” is new for politics.

Without a doubt, Carson grew up surrounded by pervasive poverty, and avoiding a myriad of societal maladies in the Motor City was no small feat. For every Ben Carson, there are thousands of black boys who didn’t make it to the sunrise—the ones whose mothers watched tearfully as they left the block cuffed in the back of a squad car or wept over their bodies in a funeral home. Carson more than beat the odds. The bookish kid with thick glasses and a pocket protector earned his way into Yale and went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated surgeons.

Today, based almost solely on that story, Carson is currently leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. However, in recent days, key elements—as told by Carson himself— have come under increased scrutiny.

To hear the good doctor tell it, he once tried to stab a “close relative” in a dispute over a radio and at another point he wanted to hit his mother in the head with a brick. He allegedly hurled a rock at a school friend, busting his glasses and leaving him with a bloody nose. If fact, if Carson can be believed, he was so violent that he needed a divine intervention.

It’s a compelling story—one that has sold millions of books, led to a biopic about his life, and earned him countless awards over the years. The problem is almost none of its flourishes ring true and, despite the earnest efforts of reporters, almost none of them can be verified. As it turns out, CNN could find no one—not even the next-door neighbor kids—who could remember a young, hot-tempered Carson, let alone one who tried to murder somebody.

Then there was the time that he was allegedly held at gunpoint in Baltimore while out on a chicken run to a local Popeye’s restaurant near Johns Hopkins Hospital. Carson says he wasn’t afraid. He’d seen enough violence, he said, that he knew the gunman wasn’t there to kill anybody. As tales go, that one smelled like a cooler full of warm catfish.

And of course it doesn’t stop there. In interview after interview, he has waxed poetically about how he overcame extraordinary odds, including personal demons, to achieve his extraordinary success. For many—black and white, alike—Carson was a living, breathing Heathcliff Huxtable.

Carson has staked his credibility on more than just his heroics in the operating room. He regaled us with Ricky Rozay-styled street stories that served to deepen his public policy bona fides and ingratiate him with working and middle class white audiences. But frankly, Carson never needed any proof of his “blackness” and certainly not an ill-advised campaign radio commercial featuring a rap song.

In fact, Carson may be the first presidential candidate in modern history who stands to lose some credibility because he was a goody two-shoes coming up. He is certainly the first frontrunner in my lifetime to admit to attempted murder. I’ve been on this planet nearly 50 years and I cannot recall a serious candidate for office who readily admits—or, for that matter, insists—that he wanted to pummel his own mother in the head with a brick.

Stripped down to its essence, without the auto-tuning and layered tracks, Carson has a powerful story. Unfortunately, it feels like he thinks he has something to prove about who he is and where he came from. Most unfortunately, based on the kinds of stories he has chosen to hype, it appears he has a skewed perspective of what it means to be black.

He should remember that he’s running for president, not selling mix tapes in a barbershop.


By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Black Americans, White Voters | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“The Irony Of Turkeys Being Excluded”: Here Comes The New (Old) Whine About GOP Debates

Just as the intended lynch mob aimed at Republican debate moderators began to disperse in disarray, we have a new source of candidate complaints and it’s the one that generated the fine old whine we heard earlier in the cycle: the thresholds set for participation in the Main and “undercard” events using national polls. What’s changed are the candidates most affected.

According to CNN Money, two candidates, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, have been dropped from the Big Stage for failing to average 2.5% in recent national polls, and two others, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, won’t even get a seat at the kiddie table because they didn’t reach 1% in any of them.

Huck can make an argument that he’s totally focused on Iowa, though he’s not exactly on fire even there. And Christie has obviously been concentrating his limited resources on NH, where the latest poll (from WBUR) has him in 5th place with 8%. But the New Jersey governor’s bigger complaint might be that his performance in the CNBC debate, and the video of his rap on addiction that has gone near-viral, show a campaign that has risen from the dead even as some (Jeb! Jeb!) have squandered every advantage.

The two “bumped” candidates pretty much just grumbling right now; this is, after all, Fox we are talking about, and there’s only so much smack you can talk about those guys if you are a Republican who wants to get free exposure on Ailes’ various networks.

The real howling is coming from Graham, who’s come up with this novel reason for being kept on stage to croak War! War! War! like some sort of Low Country raven:

“It is ironic that the only veteran in the race is going to be denied a voice the day before Veterans Day,” Graham campaign manager Christian Ferry said.

I guess if the debate was being held a couple of weeks later a few candidates could salute the irony of turkeys being excluded. Maybe I should feed that line to Donald Trump.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“He Doesn’t Realize What He Doesn’t Know”: Ben Carson Has Weird Ideas And Makes Stuff Up. What Kind Of President Would He Be?

Ben Carson is having a very bad news day today. Politico is reporting that Carson has now admitted that a story he told in his autobiography “Gifted Hands” and again in his book “You Have a Brain” was false in one major detail. He wrote that as an excellent ROTC student in high school he met General William Westmoreland, and later, presumably because he had so impressed Westmoreland, “I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”

After being confronted with the fact that no record exists of him applying to West Point, Carson’s campaign admitted that he made up that part of the story.

Before we proceed, I want to point out what someone should have told Carson about this a long time ago: There is no such thing as a “full scholarship” to West Point, because the young men and women who go to West Point pay no tuition, nor do they pay room and board. In any case, I’m going to argue that this particular fabrication isn’t all that important to assessing Carson’s fitness for the presidency.

The reason this is happening now is obvious: Carson is reaping the reward of his success, which is an uncomfortable trip to the campaign microscope, courtesy of both the press and his opponents. More reporters are coming to his events, the questions are getting tougher and more insistent, his past writings and statements are being carefully examined, everyone who knew him since he was a babe in arms is getting interviewed, and from where he sits the whole thing probably seems terribly unfair.

But it isn’t. Not only is it just what every seriously contending candidate gets, when it comes to Ben Carson we almost have no choice but to focus on his life story and the colorful things he says and believes. So even before the West Point story, coverage of Carson was already consumed with questions about whether he stabbed a guy when he was 14, his theory about the pyramids, and his wildly inaccurate beliefs about things like Medicare fraud.

I’m a longtime critic of the personality coverage that takes up so much of the campaign, not because we don’t want to know who the “real” person is behind the persona of a presidential candidate, but because we in the media so often ask the wrong questions when we take on this task. The problem is that the moment we set out on this voyage of discovery, we forget the whole point of the exercise, which is to get the best understanding we can of what this person would be like if they were to become president.

For instance, let’s take the stabbing story. Carson wrote in his autobiography that before he found God as a teenager he was an angry and violent teen, as evidenced by the fact that he once tried to stab someone, whom he now says was a relative. CNN did a story interviewing a number of people who knew him as a youth, and they say that he wasn’t the hellion he describes, but was actually a perfectly nice kid. Carson is angrily denying the allegation that he was not in fact a danger to those around him.

It should be noted that among the evangelical Christians who form the base of Carson’s support, redemption narratives are extremely powerful — the lower down you were the better, before God raised you up. The depth of the hole you had to climb out of is yet more evidence of God’s power. But the question about this is, who cares? Let’s imagine the worst, that Carson made this whole thing up. What exactly would that tell us about what sort of president he might be? The answer is, basically nothing.

Don’t tell me, “It matters because it speaks to his honesty.” Honesty does matter, but the way you figure out whether a president will be honest about the things he does as president is to see what he’s saying about the things he’d do as president. When he was a candidate, we learned that Bill Clinton had affairs and covered them up, and what did that teach us? That as president, he’d have an affair and cover it up — not that he’d lie about other things. George W. Bush presented himself as brimming with personal integrity, all while telling one lie after another about his record in Texas and the policies he was proposing (while the press was poring over his opponent’s every word with Talmudic care to see if they could catch him in a misstatement). Lo and behold, as president he was faithful to his wife, but deceived the country about all kinds of important policy matters.

So yes, it now appears that Carson embellished his life story a bit to make his autobiography a more compelling read. Saying that he’s hardly the first prominent figure to have done that is not to forgive him, but there are more important things to consider.

Now stay with me while I argue that Ben Carson’s views on the provenance of the pyramids actually do matter. Carson maintains that unlike “all the archeologists” who say that the pyramids were built by the pharaohs to be their tombs, he believes that the biblical figure Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. There is precisely zero evidence for this belief.

This is hardly the only matter about which Carson says all the scientists are wrong. He thinks that the theory of evolution was born when Satan encouraged Charles Darwin to devise it; all the copious evidence for evolution is meaningless. Carson also says that he once stumped a “well-known physicist” by asking him how the organization of the solar system could be compatible with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that systems tend to move toward entropy. Carson is either lying about this or wildly misinterpreted the conversation he had, because there’s no contradiction between the two, and there isn’t a physicist on earth who would tell you that the solar system proves that God’s hand was at work. But people who learn only a tiny bit about certain scientific ideas often become convinced that they’ve happened upon a striking new revelation that all the so-called experts have never considered before.

So what does this have to do with what Carson might be like as president? When George W. Bush said he was “the decider,” he was describing accurately a large part of the job. Every day, the president’s aides bring him decisions he has to make, decisions that are often complex and uncertain. He has to weigh different kinds of evidence and make predictions about the future. People who know more than him about a particular topic — the economics of the labor market, the internal politics of Iran, the health effects of power-plant emissions — will offer him their advice based on their expertise, and he’ll have to integrate their perspective with other considerations that might come into play in a particular policy decision.

Ben Carson’s ideas about things like the pyramids, combined with what he has said about other more immediate topics, suggest not only that his beliefs are impervious to evidence but also an alarming lack of what we might call epistemological modesty. It isn’t what he doesn’t know that’s the problem, it’s what he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t know. He thinks that all the archeologists who have examined the pyramids just don’t know what they’re talking about, because Joseph had to put all that grain somewhere. He thinks that after reading something about the second law of thermodynamics, he knows more about the solar system than the world’s physicists do. He thinks that after hearing a Glenn Beck rant about the evils of Islam, he knows as much about a 1,400-year-old religion as any theologian and can confidently say why no Muslim who doesn’t renounce his faith could be president.

So what happens when President Carson gets what he thinks is a great idea, and a bunch of “experts” tell him it would actually be a disaster? What’s he going to do?

This is a more acute question with Carson than with any other candidate, because he has no political record we can examine to see how he might perform. The policy ideas he has put forward range between the impossibly vague and the utterly outlandish. Even more so than Donald Trump, who has at least managed a large organization, Carson offers only himself — his heart, his spirit, his soul — as the reason why America should elect him president. In assessing him we have no choice but to look at the man, because there’s nothing else. Some parts of his personal story are irrelevant to that assessment, but some parts aren’t. And it’s those that should really give us pause.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 6, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Evangelicals, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“He’ll Be A Better Boy And Show Up For School”: How Jeb Bush And Donald Trump Have Put A Surging Marco Rubio On Defense

Senator Marco Rubio seems to be deftly swatting away attacks from rivals Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, but the barrage coming his way over missed Senate votes, immigration reform, and mismanagement of personal finances have prompted him to quietly fine-tune his campaign as he rises in the polls and picks up big donors.

Moments before he formally filed for the presidential ballot Wednesday in Concord, New Hampshire, Trump told reporters that Rubio, who posted a strong third-place showing in two national polls released this week, has “very big issues” with his finances—specifically, having put thousands of dollars in personal expenses on a GOP American Express card while in the Florida state house—and is “very weak on illegal immigration. As you know, if it’s up to Marco Rubio people can just pour into the country.”

A few hours later, some 20 miles away at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, Rubio told reporters after a question-and-answer session with students that he’d release currently undisclosed charges on the American Express card “in the next few weeks.” That represents a new concession: in 2010, Rubio told a Florida newspaper he wouldn’t release the statements.

Rubio also toughened his position on immigration, making clear for the first time he’d end President Barack Obama’s program to shield young undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation by stopping new enrollments. Obama’s program is designed to temporarily protect people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were children.

Asked by Bloomberg if he’d end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) program even if Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform, Rubio responded, “Yes, it will have to end… It cannot be the permanent policy if the United States.” That’s a harder stance than in April, when Rubio left some room to preserve DACA until legislative action: “I hope it will end because of some reforms to the immigration laws,” he told Univision’s Jorge Ramos.

Rubio’s comments Wednesday about ending the executive-level protections so-called “Dreamers” led to a torrent of criticism from Democrat-aligned groups and immigration advocates, including a rebuke from Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “We should not put 650,000+ promising young people at risk for deportation,” she tweeted, referring to the number that have gained temporary deportation reprieve and work permits. “Sen. Rubio is wrong on this.” The issue is important because the next president can continue or end DACA, set up by Obama in 2012, with the stroke of a pen. Rubio is boxed in by growing criticism from conservatives who suspect him of being soft on immigration because of his 2013 effort to pass a bill that included a path for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.

“The gang of eight bill—that’s bullcrap,” said Michelle McManus of Bow, New Hampshire, referring to the legislation that Rubio co-wrote. She said she’ll vote for Trump and cannot trust Rubio again. “You blow it once and that’s it.”

While Bush’s now-famous confrontation with his former protégé in the third debate over having the Senate’s worst voting-attendance record appeared to backfire on stage (“It bombed so badly,” one Bush backer confided), it nonetheless appears to have led to a course correction on Rubio’s part.

Two days after the debate, Rubio canceled a scheduled campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, so he could return to Washington to cast a 3 a.m. vote on the budget deal. (He voted no, but it passed.) On Tuesday, he stuck around for two afternoon votes even as he had a fundraiser scheduled in New York later that day. Appearing on CNN the next day, he countered a report that he “hates” his current job, calling it “an incredible honor to serve in the United States Senate.” The first-term senator, who’s giving up his seat after 2016 to run for president, has missed 40 percent of votes since April, including one on Pentagon funding Thursday while filing for the New Hampshire ballot and giving a speech calling for a “21st century” military.

At a packed town hall Wednesday evening in Nashua, New Hampshire, a man confronted Rubio on missing votes and asked, “Why not resign from the Senate?” The questioner said that would allow Rubio to focus on his presidential campaign. Rubio, citing constituent services as the “most important” part of his job, rejected the man’s call. “I don’t actually hate being in the Senate,” Rubio added. “I’m frustrated with the Senate.”

Wednesday on Fox News, the senator hit back at Trump’s ongoing attacks on his immigration record, arguing that “Donald was a supporter of amnesty and of the DREAM Act, and he changed his position on those issues just to run for president.” On Thursday he told reporters that Trump’s attacks on his finances were “ironic” coming from “the only person who’s running for president that’s ever declared a bankruptcy.” Trump makes a point of saying that he has never filed for personal bankruptcy, though his businesses have.

Even though Rubio, however subtly, has appeared to feel compelled to respond to the attacks from Trump and Bush, his backers don’t seem to be fazed.

“Donald Trump will attack anybody just to get the spotlight. And Jeb Bush is frustrated with his 3 or 4 percent,” said Ray Younghans, a Republican who drove to Nashua from Orange, Massachusetts to see Rubio and is strongly considering him. “They’re just attacking to draw attention to themselves.”

To some voters at Rubio rallies, the attacks smack of desperation.

“I guess Donald Trump sees Rubio as the top force that might survive. And I think Jeb doesn’t know what he’s doing right now,” said Kevin Sowyrda, a 51-year-old teacher from Nashua as he held a Rubio placard. Though he’s not personally bothered by Rubio’s missed votes and faors him above all Republicans, Sowyrda said, “I guess the effect of the attacks is he’ll be a better boy and show up for school.”


By: Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg Politics, November 5, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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