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“It’s Part Of The Culture”: Carson’s Implosion Is A Reflection Of The Con Artistry That Has Overtaken The GOP

Ben Carson’s presidential campaign is imploding. One could argue that that’s the result of a candidate in freefall: things always get ugly when a campaign is losing ground in the polls, and staff shakeups are inevitable. But the way that Carson’s campaign has imploded is yet another window into the way the GOP has allowed itself to be run into the ground by charlatans of all kinds.

To begin with, as a politician Ben Carson himself is something of a fraud. By all accounts an eminently successful neurosurgeon, Carson parlayed his story of success into a grander overarching narrative that every person of color could overcome structural racism by sheer dint of hard work and determination, plus an abiding faith in God. His story became mythologized, played out on stage and on film as an example of the model minority.

But Carson, like many successful specialists, is not exactly well-rounded in his knowledge of life and the world. He drew the wrong political conclusions from his rise in the medical field, and grew to believe in his own hype–not just that he had a knack for neurosurgery, but that he was a genius in all respects and specially guided by the hand of God. Without even a political science undergraduate’s knowledge of either domestic or foreign policy, Carson decided that he was qualified to be President of the United States–and that his utter lack of policy ken or experience would be unimportant, irrelevant and undiscovered. And if he failed as a presidential candidate? There would always be a right-wing media circuit and book tour available.

In typical fashion for such a candidate, he allowed close friends and confidants to dominate his campaign instead of people who actually knew what they were doing. In particular, he trusted key decisions to Armstrong Williams, a media maven, radio jockey and advertising executive who has rather transparently been using the Carson campaign as his own vehicle for professional advancement. That in turn led to comically bad candidate preparation and campaign decision-making, with the direct result that Carson’s staff is engaged in a mass exodus.

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The libertarian-conservative ethic of “get rich any way you can” combined with a stubborn dismissal of objective fact makes political conservatism especially ripe for con artistry. It is no accident that Richard Viguerie was able to conduct his mail fundraising scams on the backs of GOP voters. It’s no accident that the tea party has been home to one grifter after another making a quick buck. American conservatism is the home of quack televangelists and secular Ayn Rand-spouting hucksters alike. Fox News itself is a long con perpetrated on fearful, older white Americans with the goal of making Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes rich while keeping Republican politicians in power. Donald Trump is merely the latest in a long line of egomaniacal scammers willing to play the same group of people for fools.

It should shock no one, then, that GOP presidential campaigns themselves are being waged by con artists, and themselves fall victim to media-hungry carnival barkers. It’s part of the culture.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primaries, GOP Voters | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Negligent Homicide At Best”: If You Shoot First And Ask Questions Later, You Should Go To Jail

It happened yet again: a trigger-happy homeowner hears something go bump in the night, pulls the trigger of a gun, and an innocent victim dies. This time it was a mother gunning down and killing her own daughter:

A woman in St. Cloud, Florida, woke up just before midnight Tuesday and fired a shot at a person she thought had broken into her home.

But the person wasn’t an intruder; it was her 27-year-old daughter. The woman fired one round, but police didn’t say where the bullet hit the daughter. She died at a hospital. The shooting appears to be accidental, police said. An investigation is ongoing.

The only problem with that story is the use of the word “accident.” Such shootings–and they occur all too frequently in America–are never accidents. They are not tragedies. They are negligent homicides at best, and 2nd-degree murders at worst.

The number of home invasion robberies that lead to physical harm for the victim is low–particularly in the sorts of neighborhoods in which “defensive gun use” tends to take place. There is very small chance that whatever is going bump in the night actually means you and your loved ones harm.

Most of the time that bump in the night isn’t even human, and doesn’t need you to pull out your gun.

Most of the time a human is involved, there’s an innocent explanation–whether it be someone who got lost, an intoxicated person who can’t find their proper way home, a neighborhood kid playing a prank, a teenager’s romantic partner sneaking into a bedroom, etc. Twice in my life I’ve encountered a current or would-be home invader, and twice resolved it without violence because both men were under the influence of drugs and mistook my home for that of a friend or associate. I would have had every right to use a gun and fire on them, but that would have made me a reckless killer, not a responsible gun owner.

Even when there really is a criminal situation, the vast majority of the time it’s a petty thief looking to boost some electronics or jewelry to make a quick sale. They just want their next fix or meal ticket, and they’re not looking to up the ante on possible jail time by hurting you. Hurting you generally gains them nothing. Which means that common thieves can usually be scared off simply by shouting and alerting them to your presence.

There is almost never an excuse to fire a gun at an intruder without trying to talk to them and assess the situation first and at least try to scare them off. The notion that an intruder might have a gun which they might use on you first unless you have the element of surprise is essentially Hollywood fantasy. When Oskar Pistorius tried to defend himself from murder charges by suggesting he thought he was shooting behind a door at a potential burglar, the answer shouldn’t have been so much to contest his intent as to state that he’s a murderer regardless of his intent. No one should ever fire a gun in a domestic situation without having any idea what they’re firing at.

If you shoot first and ask questions later, you should go to jail. It’s not an accident. It’s a crime.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Old Rules Are Out The Window”: America’s Political Parties Are Just Tribes Now

When it comes to politics, in 2015 we witnessed nothing less than a paradigm shift. The old rules are out the window. Technology and changing mores have conspired to lower barriers of entry—and acceptability. Gatekeepers no longer exist. What we have right now is closer to direct democracy than we’ve ever seen, and our civilization is regressing as a result.

One party (the Democrats) already represents the liberal half of the nation. The other half seems to consist of modern, Buckleyite conservatives, but also an increasingly large horde populist, nationalist, individualistic Americans—who now have a megaphone and a vessel in the form of Donald Trump.

Times change, and political parties adapt or are replaced. And make no mistake; if the Party of Lincoln becomes the Party of Trump, it would essentially redefine what it means to be a Republican. Conservatism, a coherent political philosophy, looks as if it’s being replaced by messy right-wing populism.

Just as the political parties sorted themselves out so that there are no more “conservative Democrats” or “liberal Republicans,” I fear we may be entering a new stage where there are essentially two distinct political tribes: One tribe consists of minorities and educated elites, while the other tribe increasingly consists of working-class whites.

The trends that brought us this situation have been in existence for decades, but 2015 may be remembered as the year when we broke apart, and political differences became primary cultural signifiers. Disagreements about ideological principles, or even policy preferences, seem to be taking a back seat to identity politics. It doesn’t matter what you believe in so much as what grouping you belong to, and how willing you are to fight for the sliver of America you represent. 2015 was the year of tribalism. Our politics are less high-minded than ever.

If tribes strike you as primitive, it’s not just you. Tribes tend to assign leadership, not based on experience or wisdom, but based on strength. Much of what we are witnessing today is very base (no pun intended) and essentially comes down to machismo: The other guys are out to get us so we need our toughest guy to get them first. This is the major rationale for Trump supporters, who see him as an “alpha” in a sea of wishy-washy Beltway insiders.

Conservatives once hated identity politics and victimhood—but then again, we once supported free trade, too. Perhaps our disdain for tribalism was always a high-minded, yet doomed, effort to suppress the natural, carnal state of a fallen humanity. You and I may view politics as being about ideas and human flourishing, but a lot of people believe it’s really about power—about making sure scarce resources are allocated to “our” people.

Although I didn’t see the Trump phenomenon coming, I think I sensed the populist zeitgeist that led both to him and to this larger breakdown into tribes. Here’s something I wrote back in April for the Beast—long before Trump was in the race:

…I think there is a huge underserved constituency in the GOP—and that constituency is what might best be termed populist conservatives. These folks tend to be white and working-class and who feel they’ve been left behind in America. They are culturally conservative—but they also want to keep government out of their Medicare.

Mitt Romney was arguably the worst candidate Republicans could have ever nominated to appeal to this constituency. But while candidates like Huckabee and Rick Santorum flirted with going full populist, something always seemed to keep them from really doubling down on it.

… The last time someone really tried this was when “Pitchfork” Pat Buchanan, and then Ross Perot, ran in 1992. It resonated then, but that was before the “giant sucking sound” really kicked in. Whether it’s globalization or immigration—or whatever “-ation” might have taken your job—it stands to reason that the same grassroots phenomenon that helped Buchanan and Perot tap into an underserved constituency might be even more potent today

I still think there’s a decent chance that this fever—which has been aided by an economic downturn, Obama’s election, and the rise of ISIS—will break. And I think that the rules governing the way the GOP allocates delegates will probably benefit someone who is a more mainstream and thoughtful conservative, like Marco Rubio.

It’s easy to see how a Rubio presidency could help reorder things in a different way—in a way that I believe would be healthier both for America and in terms of making sure conservatism can survive and thrive in the 21st century. A Rubio presidency would have the potential to grow the conservative movement by modernizing (not moderating) it—to make it more appealing to Hispanics, urbanites, and millennials. If conservatism is about ideas like freedom and entrepreneurship, not merely cultural signaling (the stereotype being that the definition of a conservative is a white guy with a gun rack), then there’s no reason the guy who orders an Uber shouldn’t be a conservative.

But this only works if the conservatives want to actually grow their numbers by choosing a modernizer. The last CNN/ORC poll I saw suggested that if you add Trump’s supporters together with those of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, you were at about two-thirds of the national GOP primary voters. The rejection of candidates favored by the GOP establishment this past year has been unprecedented. The Republican base, at least right now, is rallying to the candidates who embrace this new tribalism.

Earlier, I said the rules have changed. And, indeed, they have. Conservatives used to care about electing men and women who have wisdom, experience or expertise, and will comport themselves in an appropriate or “statesmanlike” manner, and who have a conservative temperament. They were deeply invested in defending abstract concepts like a culture of life, the rule of law, and religious liberty, while also worrying about things like unintentional consequences. They wanted to unleash the power of a free market (of products and ideas) to encourage human flourishing.

These are the hallmarks of conservative philosophy, consistency, and a coherent worldview—something that looks increasingly passé to Republican voters.

In some cases, much of today’s GOP base is skeptical or even hostile to these conservative values. For example, they believe a conservative temperament is an antiquated concept guaranteed to produce weak leaders who won’t fight, and that conservatism as a temperament was essentially designed to fail. How else can you explain the near-triumph of contemporary liberalism, and the fact that the GOP has only won the popular vote in a presidential election once since the end of the Reagan era?

It’s hard to summon people to their better angels when those people feel aggrieved. It’s hard to advise those people to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”—when there are literal beheadings taking place around the globe. The problem is that people like me are calling for civilized behavior and for modernization at a time when Republican voters want to get medieval. 2015 belonged to Donald Trump. But the real question is this: who will own 2016?

 

By: Matt K. Lewis, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Democracy, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Just Being A Strong Conservative Doesn’t Help The Party”: Cruz And Rubio Engage In Battle For Nevada Mormons

Deep divisions among Nevada Republicans over a $1 billion tax increase pushed by the state’s Republican governor are helping to shape the battle between Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas to win this state’s presidential caucuses — the first nominating contest in the West.

Rubio’s backers are eagerly eyeing Nevada as they look for an early-voting state the candidate could win. Although Rubio is widely seen as one of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, the early primary states mostly look unpromising for him.

Cruz, by contrast, leads the polls in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the season on Feb. 1, and is well-positioned in several other conservative states that hold early contests.

With the stakes high here, the two freshman senators are vying to gain the support of a key voting bloc within the state’s GOP — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who mostly lined up behind fellow Mormon Mitt Romney in the last two election cycles.

Mormons make up only about 4 percent of the state’s population, but their influence in Nevada’s Republican caucuses is much greater. In 2008 and 2012, members of the church accounted for nearly a quarter of Republican caucusgoers, entrance polls showed.

Both Cruz and Rubio — who attended an LDS church in Las Vegas in his youth — have enlisted politically prominent members of the church, and now the fault line on taxes that split the state’s Republicans this spring and summer has come to the forefront.

Rubio’s side includes prominent backers of the tax increase, aimed at expanding the state’s budget for schools, which Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval pushed through the GOP-controlled Legislature in May and June. The tax hike, the largest in state history, was strongly opposed by a large portion of the Republicans in the Legislature.

Also among Rubio’s backers is Bruce Woodbury, a Mormon and former Clark County commissioner who is so admired in southern Nevada that the I-215 beltway around Las Vegas is named after him.

Four years ago, Woodbury appeared in radio advertisements urging supporters to vote for Romney. He plans a similar effort this cycle for Rubio, working alongside the campaign’s state director, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison — another prominent Mormon — to build support ahead of the Feb. 23 caucuses.

“An essential factor is winning the election in November,” Woodbury said after a recent Rubio rally in a hotel ballroom a short drive from the Las Vegas Strip. “He has all the essentials: a powerful life story, he’s moderate — he can appeal to all segments of the electorate.”

His son, Boulder City Mayor Rod Woodbury, and two City Council members — all church members — also back Rubio.

Among the leaders of the opposition to the tax increase was Assemblyman Ira Hansen, a Republican who represents Sparks, just east of Reno. Hansen, also a Mormon church member, is now part of Cruz’s state leadership team.

“You see it at the national level and here: Cruz folks are much more conservative than Rubio’s,” said Hansen. “When it comes to social issues, when it comes to tax increases, if you’re a conservative — a true conservative — then Ted Cruz is your candidate.

“I think that Mormons and just Republicans in general want a true conservative who will stand for conservative values in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Hansen says Rubio’s past support of bipartisan immigration reform, which included a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, is also a negative for him in the state’s caucuses. It’s an issue on which Cruz has repeatedly assailed Rubio, saying that the Florida senator supports “amnesty” for those who have violated immigration laws.

Rubio’s campaign has two field offices in the state — one in Las Vegas, the other in Reno — and nearly a dozen paid staffers. The Cruz campaign has a similar infrastructure.

Cruz has enlisted Paul Workman, a former bishop in the Mormon church and a member of Romney’s 2012 Nevada finance committee, who says his job is to make sure LDS members know about Cruz’s record as a conservative.

Cruz “talks about his faith with confidence and how it guides him,” Workman said. “There’s a real openness to other faiths that he has. It appeals to me and I’m sure other Mormons as well.”

At a recent religious round table in Las Vegas hosted by the Cruz campaign, Workman spoke with evangelical Christian pastor Rafael Cruz, the Texas senator’s father. The two talked about Mormon doctrine — of salvation, atonement and family — and how to appeal to LDS voters. Workman says he was impressed by the elder Cruz’s knowledge of Mormonism, which he says will help bolster the senator’s LDS support.

Rubio supporters, however, say Cruz’s brand of staunch conservatism will not help the party win in November.

Heidi Wixom, a mother of six, lives a few blocks from a Mormon church in her eastside Las Vegas neighborhood. After rallying behind Romney in the last two elections, she remained torn for much of the summer and fall about which candidate to back. Electability in November was vital in her decision to support Rubio, she said.

“Just being a strong conservative doesn’t help the party,” she said. “You have to have shown you can work alongside Democrats; even if right now that doesn’t seem ideal, it will pay off in the general election.”

 

By: Kurtis Lee, The National Memo, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Marco Rubio, Mormons, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Below Par”: Donald Trump’s Ardent Courtship Of Bill And Hillary Clinton

Nobody should be surprised that the Washington press corps, perennially obsessed with Bill Clinton’s real and imagined private life, would seize upon any chance to revisit that favorite topic, especially if that means mimicking Donald Trump. They’ve never quite gotten over the departure in disgrace of their favorite pornographer, the former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

What the political press mostly fails to explore is the overall absurdity of Trump’s new Bill-bashing gambit. They may wonder aloud how a misogynist bully can accuse anyone else of “sexism” or “abusing women,” but if Trump got the same treatment as Clinton, the media would remind us every day of his vile attacks on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, his distasteful remarks about his suppressed desire to “date” his daughter Ivanka, and his alleged battering and marital rape of his former wife Ivana.

Like so much of Trump’s loud talk, his disparaging remarks about Bill and Hillary Clinton have scant credibility, at least to anyone who knows anything about him. Whatever he claims to think of them now, he has spent years sucking up to the Clintons in the most abject way. His one-sided courtship of the former First Family goes well beyond Trump’s ridiculous insistence that they attend his wedding to his third wife in Florida.

Although he now claims to deplore Bill Clinton’s misbehavior, Trump awarded the former president a free membership at his Trump National Golf Club, just a few miles from the Clinton home in Westchester County. Still a member to this day, Clinton has long enjoyed all kinds of special privileges at the club, where he maintains a locker in a special VIP section near those of former Yankees manager Joe Torre and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Not only has Trump boasted repeatedly about Clinton’s membership and displayed pictures of them together, but on Clinton’s 65th birthday a few years ago, he cleared the course so that the Clintons, including Chelsea and her husband, could play a leisurely foursome there.

Gullible wing-nuts who admire Trump and hate Clinton won’t like hearing any of these facts, of course. But the impeccably far-right Washington Free Beacon told the story not so long ago, illustrating it with fun photos. (Evidently the Beacon story was designed as a “racist” smear of Clinton, but that fizzled.)

This silly episode illustrates once more why only the very dimmest Americans believe that Trump “tells it like it is” and “says what he really thinks.”

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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