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“The Dystopian Nightmare That Only Republicans Can See”: Incoming! Quick, Everybody Hide Under The Table

It was unexpectedly convenient to have the State of the Union address and a Republican presidential debate occur in the same week, scheduled just 48 hours apart. The bookends offered the public an opportunity, not just to hear two competing visions, but also to confront two entirely different versions of reality.

Because anyone who listened to President Obama on Tuesday night, and then the GOP presidential candidates on Thursday night, might find it hard to believe they all live in the same country at the same time.

The president made an impassioned case that Americans have reason to stand tall. We have the strongest economy on the planet, the strongest military in the history of the planet, and an unrivaled position as a global superpower. Job growth is strong, our enemies are on the run, our civil rights are a model for the world, and our insured rate is the best it’s ever been.

Obama has heard the naysayers, but he believes we’d be wise to ignore their campaign to exploit anxiety to advance their own partisan or ideological goals. We can aim higher – we can even cure cancer! – and make the future our own.

That was Tuesday night. Just two days later, the Republican Party’s national candidates were simply flabbergasted, baffled by the president’s optimism. Jeb Bush, apparently unaware of the state of the nation when his brother left the White House, insisted, “[T]he idea that somehow we’re better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe.”

And in a way, there’s some truth to that: the president and the Republican presidential field don’t seem to occupy the same place on the space-time continuum. Obama thinks the American dream is alive and well; the GOP thinks it’s dead. The president wants the public to feel hopeful; Republicans want Americans to feel existential dread. “Alternative universes” isn’t a bad summary, all things considered.

The trouble is, Obama’s the one who seems to live in the same reality as the rest of the public.

Mother JonesKevin Drum noted this morning that it’s “remarkable just how apocalyptic Republicans are this year.” As a public service, he collected the “most ominous” statements from each of the GOP candidates from last night’s debate. The list is worth checking out in its entirety, but some of my personal favorites:

Donald Trump: Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show…. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people.

Marco Rubio: This president is undermining the constitutional basis of this government. This president is undermining our military. He is undermining our standing in the world…. The damage he has done to America is extraordinary. Let me tell you, if we don’t get this election right, there may be no turning back for America.

Chris Christie: When I think about the folks who are out there at home tonight watching….They know that this country is not respected around the world anymore. They know that this country is pushing the middle class, the hardworking taxpayers, backwards, and they saw a president who doesn’t understand their pain, and doesn’t have any plan for getting away from it.

Can’t you just feel the sunny, Reagan-esque optimism?

It’s worth emphasizing that nearly every word of these assessments is plainly wrong, and that matters, but the broader point is that Americans saw seven candidates last night who were effectively encouraging us to hide under a table.

I suppose the natural response is to highlight the underlying circumstances: we’re talking about the GOP field running to replace a Democratic president in his eighth year. Of course they’re going to spend time making the case that the status quo is unacceptable. It’s not like they have an electoral incentive to promise more of the same.

The point, however, is how they choose to make this case. Eight years ago at this time, Barack Obama was facing the same situation in reverse – a Democratic candidate running to replace a Republican president in his eighth year – but his message was rooted entirely in optimism. Obama’s entire campaign message was ultimately summarized in one, four-letter word: Hope.

It’s not because Democratic voters were satisfied about the state of the nation in 2008 – they really weren’t – but rather, it was because Obama saw value in being a positive, hopeful, confident candidate.

Eight years later, Republicans’ collectively are pushing a message that also can ultimately be summarized in one, four-letter word: Doom.

Politico’s Michael Grunwald wrote last week, “America is already great, and it’s getting greater. Not everything is awesome, but in general, things are even more awesome than they were a year ago. The rest of the world can only wish it had our problems.”

It’s the kind of uplifting, can-do message that would have been roundly booed in Charleston last night.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Prophet’s Of Doom”: The GOP Debate Was A Master Class In The Republicans’ Apocalyptic Vision

Every presidential campaign is a choice not just between two paths forward, but also two visions of where the country is right now. If things are going well, the incumbent party says, “You’ve never had it so good!” and the opposition says, “Things could be a whole lot better!” If things aren’t going so well, the opposition says “Everything’s terrible,” and the incumbent party says, “Things could be a lot worse, and they will be if those knuckleheads win!” But it’s hard to recall a campaign where the two parties painted such a starkly different picture of the country’s status than this one.

Earlier this week, Barack Obama offered the Democratic version in his State of the Union address. “The United States of America,” he said, “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.” And it isn’t just the economy: “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.” Even if you can argue that those facts are only part of reality, or that they obscure some deeper problems, you can’t say they aren’t facts.

Or maybe you can.

The Republican candidates hoping to replace Obama met for another debate last night (they’ll have one more before the voting starts in Iowa in two weeks), and they described a nation not just in decline, but one whose decline was already complete. They agreed not only that Obama has been a failure and that Hillary Clinton would be a disaster, but that America right now is the lowest of the low, suffering at home and mocked abroad, a dark pit of misery and shame. Here’s just a taste of what they said:

“Our military is a disaster.” — Donald Trump

“We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.” — Chris Christie

“The idea that somehow we’re better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe. The simple fact is that the world has been torn asunder.” — Jeb Bush

“In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted, in this administration, the force levels are going down to a level where we can’t even project force.” — Jeb Bush

“We have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exoatmosphere and destroy our electric grid. I mean, just think about a scenario like that. They explode the bomb, we have an electromagnetic pulse. They hit us with a cyberattack simultaneously and dirty bombs. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point? He needs to recognize that those kinds of things are in fact an existential threat to us.” — Ben Carson

“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. ObamaCare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry.” — Trump

“Let me tell you, if we don’t get this election right, there may be no turning back for America.” — Marco Rubio

“This country is not respected around the world anymore.” — Christie

“You know, we have to stop this because, you know, if we manage to damage ourselves, and we lose the next election, and a progressive gets in there and they get two or three Supreme Court picks, this nation is over as we know it.” — Carson

“This country is changing. It feels different. We feel like we’re being left behind and left out.” — Rubio

“There’s something going on and it’s bad. And I’m saying we have to get to the bottom of it. That’s all I’m saying.” — Trump

Add it all up, and you have the prism through which the Republican candidates will view any event or development that comes along. Job creation looks excellent? Obama must be cooking the books, because everybody knows the economy stinks. Millions of people have gained health coverage? Nope, it’s a disaster. We still spend over $600 billion a year on the military? Nuh-uh, we couldn’t invade the Bahamas if we wanted to.

Consider the incident in the Persian Gulf this week, where a small Navy boat lost power and drifted with a second boat into Iranian waters. What could have been a dangerous international incident was instead resolved in a matter of hours, with the American sailors and their vessels returned to us. But to the Republicans, the fact that the sailors put their hands on their heads when boarded by the Iranians — to repeat, in Iranian waters — meant that not only wasn’t the whole episode a triumph of diplomacy, it was a disaster, a humiliation, a defeat so catastrophic that it might literally have been worth bombing Iran over. As Ted Cruz intoned with every ounce of steely resolve he could muster, “any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.” If only there had been some more force and fury!

There’s always an incentive for the opposition party to paint the current president’s record in the worst possible light. You can’t convince voters to make a change if they don’t agree that there are problems that require fixing. But Republicans have taken that natural impulse and, like so many things in this campaign, turned it up to 11. It isn’t enough to say you’ll increase military spending; you have to say that “our military is a disaster.” It isn’t enough to say we face serious foreign policy challenges; you have to say “the world has been torn asunder.” It isn’t enough to say that electing the other party’s candidate would be bad; you have to say that if we do, “there may be no turning back for America.”

Perhaps the Republican candidates have hit on the right formula, and whichever prophet of doom wins the nomination will ride this apocalyptic vision all the way to the White House. But they shouldn’t be surprised if the voters end up saying, “Gee, things don’t seem quite that bad.”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, GOP Primary Debates, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Not-Very-Subtle Attack”: GOP’s Official SOTU Response Helps Obama Undermine Trump

At the beginning of her pre-recorded “response” to the State of the Union address, Nikki Haley echoed the president’s evocation of his 2008 campaign themes by taking up the old 2008 Republican theme of Obama being just a good speech-maker with no substance. Near the end she briskly went through the Republican critique of Obama and the standard GOP agenda of tax-cutting and Obamacare-repealing and defense-spending increases, etc. But in between these bookends, she did something very different.

The emotional and structural heart of Haley’s speech was a not-very-subtle attack on Donald Trump as a “siren voice” of intolerance:

During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

That was clear enough. But Haley doubled down by making the saga of the Charleston massacre earlier this year — not coincidentally the beginning of her best moment in office when she squashed conservative resistance to the removal of the Confederate flag from state property — an allegory of the kind of tensions Trump is exploiting.

What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about.

Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.

We didn’t turn against each other’s race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world.

We removed a symbol that was being used to divide us, and we found a strength that united us against a domestic terrorist and the hate that filled him.

There’s an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results.

Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.

Not much doubt who she was talking about.

So Haley delivered the Republican Establishment’s message to and about Trump as much as any message to and about Obama. By doing so, she is presumably doing their will, and will store up treasure in heaven politically. But will it make her more or less viable as a possible vice-presidential nominee in 2016? That obviously depends on the identity of the person at the top of the ticket. But if I were Donald Trump and had any leverage over the GOP at the end of this nominating contest, I’d make sure Nikki Haley is buried at the Republican Convention in some pre-prime-time, five-minute speech slot, preferably confined to talking about the Tenth Amendment or something. She’s only 43, so maybe she’s shooting for a spot on the ticket — perhaps even the top spot — in 2024 or 2028.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Nikki Haley, State of the Union | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Lesson In Leadership”: Obama Uses State Of The Union To Rebut Ted Cruz And Marco Rubio Along With Donald Trump

President Obama spent a lot of time in his State of the Union address responding to Donald Trump without naming him. The president denounced the politics of fear, of inwardness, scapegoating minorities, and Trump’s conviction that the United States is undergoing economic or military decline. But Trump did not absorb all of Obama’s jibes. The president drew clear lines of distinction against the other two leading Republicans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Cruz and Rubio have offered contrasting ideological approaches to foreign policy — and, especially, opposing ISIS. Cruz has revived the isolationist tradition of ignoring the world except for occasionally bombing parts of it to smithereens. Rubio has instead embraced the neoconservative doctrine of using ground troops to project force and promote democratic governments. Obama very clearly attacked both philosophies in succession:

The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage. [Cruz]

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq  —  and we should have learned it by now. [Rubio]

Of course Obama proceeded to expound his internationalist position, before returning to a contrast against both Cruz’s isolationism and Rubio’s neoconservatism: “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world  — except when we kill terrorists; [Cruz] or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. [Rubio]”

The State of the Union address provided a forum for Obama to insert himself into the presidential campaign and resist the habit of the opposing party’s assumptions about the state of the world to gain currency through repetition. It also showed that he is paying close attention to the Republican race — and not only to the candidate who is grabbing all the headlines.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 12, 2016

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Leadership, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“State Of The Union Vs. State Of The Trump”: Our Political Spite And Meanness Have Gotten Out Of Control

Barack Obama really does not have it so bad. He gets $400,000 a year in salary, $50,000 in expenses, a fleet of planes, a car and driver, and almost all the golf he can stand.

In other words, the president’s life is almost as good as Donald Trump’s.

With one major exception: President Obama feels actual remorse. And considerable responsibility. And Trump may never have felt either.

In his last State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama spoke of something presidents rarely speak of at such moments: regret.

Pointing out how “our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention,” Obama said, “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter, that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”

He went on, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency: that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

And who is to blame, according to Obama?

Obama is to blame. At least a little.

“There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide,” Obama said, “and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

But he won’t hold the office for very much longer — only a little more than a year. And Obama said that if things are going to improve, somebody else needs to bear some blame around here: you and I.

Which made it an unusual political speech. If there is one rule of politics, one unbreakable commandment, it is this: Thou shalt never blame the voters.

The voters are holy. They can do no wrong. Or, rather, they can be blamed for no wrong. Because if you blame them, they may not vote for your party. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

Yes, we could, said Obama. Because our political spite and meanness have gotten out of control. And that must stop.

“My fellow Americans, this cannot be my task? — or any president’s — alone,” Obama said. “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. … It’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

We must “end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” Obama said. “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

In other words: Don’t hold your breath.

No, wait. That’s the kind of cheap cynicism that Obama wants to eradicate or at least reduce.

“What I’m asking for is hard,” he admitted. “It’s easier to be cynical, to accept that change isn’t possible and politics is hopeless and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.”

You bet it is! And if you get cynical and hopeless enough, they make you a columnist!

Obama blamed an array of people, most of whom turned out to be Republicans running for president.

Chris Christie was the target when Obama said, “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.”

Ted Cruz was the target when Obama said, “The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.”

And Trump was the target when Obama said: “When politicians insult Muslims … that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

Making these statements — as true as they may be — will not do much to decrease the rancor in Washington, however.

Which Obama admits. He is not perfect. Often criticized for being aloof and academic, he is, in fact, proud of his toughness. If you are not tough in the world of today’s politics, nobody will respect you. Which means you have to be tough without being so tough that nobody will work with you, either.

“Our brand of democracy is hard,” Obama said Tuesday night. But there are good people in it who redeem it.

And Obama listed some of them, including “the American who served his time … but now is dreaming of starting over.”

“The protester determined to prove that justice matters.”

“The young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”

“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”

And Obama ended with a Carl Sandburg-like list, saying Americans are “cleareyed, bighearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

 

By: Roger Simon, Politico’s Chief Political Columnist; The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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