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“Making A Fetish Of John McCain”: Using The Veil Of Patriotism To Shroud What Is Plainly Partisan Politics

Its futility makes me so weary it’s hard to type the question, but I’ll type it anyway: Why do the elite Washington media, especially the influential Sunday morning shows, continue to pay deference to, and take seriously, the opinions of John McCain?

Put another way: What would it take for the elite Washington media to reconsider their fealty to McCain? What would the Arizona senator have to do to disqualify himself as the authoritative voice on national security issues, military affairs, and patriotism?

I don’t mean to suggest that McCain would have to do something disreputable, like commit a crime. But if I were a producer for one of the broadcast TV shows, like Meet the Press, I’d ask myself: Does the man whose reputation rests on his dedication to duty, honor, and sacrifice deserve such a reputation in light of recent moves to privilege the Republican Party over the United States?

Before I go on, please note this complaint of mine is just one of many — many! — complaints among media watchers. Paul Waldman, over at The American Prospect, has kvetched for years about McCain’s “mavericky maverickness.” He wrote an entire book about it. So don’t take my complaint as new or even influential. My aim is to note merely how this latest episode is a clear example of McCain’s long con on the media. It illuminates his using the veil of patriotism to shroud what is plainly partisan politics.

What episode? You already know. McCain was one of 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to sign a letter to the Iranian government, saying any deal over its nuclear program with the current President of the United States could be — and, by implication, would be — nullified by the election of a Republican president. In other words, the man who represents the United States to the world is not really the man who represents the United States to the world, because he belongs to the wrong party.

This was further complicated when McCain publicly called into question the credibility of Secretary of State John Kerry after news broke of an agreement between the nations over the framework of a nuclear deal. And there’s more! McCain said he trusted the judgment of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over Kerry’s. Clearly, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

This is in keeping with the regular habit of his fellow Republicans to elevate the interests of party over the interests of country, as Slate‘s William Saletan minutely detailed in an article titled “Why Do Republicans Keep Siding With America’s Enemies?”

I’d add only a representative remark by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. He recently advised any young person desiring to serve her country in the armed forces to wait until 2017. Why? Because Barack Obama is not a Republican.

“Wait a couple of years until we get a new commander in chief that will once again believe ‘One Nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country,” he said.

You might say: Well, McCain signed the letter only because his party wanted him to. That’s not the real John McCain. The real John McCain is an independent voice, a bipartisan figure who often challenges his party. In other words, a maverick.

McCain did memorably use the term “wacko birds” in 2013 to describe Senate Republicans like Rand Paul who were carping about the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. (Paul didn’t like that Obama’s drone policy was Brennan’s brainchild.) And indeed, McCain might place Huckabee in the same “wacko bird” category.

But if McCain’s voting record is any indication — truly, it is the only indicator of a U.S. senator’s character that matters — McCain sides with the Republican Party’s “wacko birds” almost uniformly. And if he sides with the wacko birds almost uniformly, then there’s no significant difference between McCain and the wacko birds.

You might also say: Come on. The real John McCain isn’t a wacko bird. OK, I say, then the real one is feckless. According to Politico‘s Burgess Everett, McCain signed the letter without much thought. “It was kind of a very rapid process,” he said. “Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”

In other words, he only did what his party asked of him.

In other words, John McCain is a Republican partisan.

How, then, do we understand the Washington media’s universal portrayal of John McCain as a “maverick”? Waldman says it comes from mastering the art of flattery. McCain, he says, “spent a couple of decades massaging their egos and convincing them that he was their best buddy, an investment that paid off splendidly.”

I don’t doubt it, but I’d add another perspective.

John McCain, I suspect, might be better understood as a metaphor, as a mental projection of what the elite Washington media believes a man dedicated to duty, honor, and sacrifice would look like. And John McCain, knowing that few journalists personally know anyone who served in the military, much less saw mortal combat or, like him, experienced life as a prisoner of war, exploited that mental projection to the hilt. These same journalists, I would guess, are as awed by his biography as they are by anyone who can pull the levers of power in Washington. Put it together, and you have not so much a human being as a fetish: a there that isn’t there.

Given the state of the Washington media, I suppose a fetish is as good a reason for John McCain’s ubiquity as any other. As I said, nothing is going to change. Just asking why anyone takes him seriously is exhausting. And for that reason, I’ll stop asking.

 

By: John Stoehr, Managing Editor of The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, May 1, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | John McCain, Media, Partisanship | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Confused And Bitter Old Man”: Obama Reminds McCain How Foreign Policy Works

Late last week, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei took issue with the United States’ characterization of the recently negotiated nuclear framework, though the White House was dismissive of the Iranian leader’s posturing.

“The test of whether or not that framework can be memorialized in a deal is not going to be a comment on any given day by a particular Iranian leader,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday.

But in a bizarre twist, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed to endorse the Ayatollah’s credibility over the U.S. Secretary of State’s. “I think you’re going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had,” McCain said Friday. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made similar remarks.

To put it mildly, it was an unexpected development. For months, Republicans insisted, “We can’t trust Iranian leaders.” And yet, on Friday, McCain and Graham suggested rhetoric from Ayatollah Khamenei should be accepted at face value – while arguments from the American White House should not.

During a press conference at the Summit of the Americas, President Obama seemed visibly frustrated by the GOP’s increasingly unhinged approach to international affairs.

“When I hear some, like Senator McCain recently, suggest that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, who served in the United States Senate, a Vietnam veteran, who’s provided exemplary service to this nation, is somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the Supreme Leader of Iran – that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries. And we’re seeing this again and again. We saw it with the letter by the 47 senators who communicated directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran – the person that they say can’t be trusted at all – warning him not to trust the United States government.

“We have Mitch McConnell trying to tell the world, ‘Oh, don’t have confidence in the U.S. government’s abilities to fulfill any climate change pledge that we might make.’ And now we have a senator suggesting that our Secretary of State is purposely misinterpreting the deal and giving the Supreme Leader of Iran the benefit of the doubt in the interpretations.”

Obama added this isn’t how the United States is “supposed to run foreign policy, regardless of who’s president or secretary of state.” The president concluded that this is “a problem” that “needs to stop.”

I think even the most ardent Republicans, if they were to pause and think about this objectively, would be hard pressed to disagree with the underlying principles Obama presented. Put aside the GOP’s bitter, often ugly, contempt for the president and consider a more fundamental question: has American foreign policy ever worked this way?

Is there a scenario in which it can work this way? What signal does it send to the world when the legislative branch of the United States tries to undermine the executive branch of the United States on matters of international affairs?

For his part, McCain expressed a degree of dismay over Obama “attacking” him. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. The other way is that the president defended American foreign policy and America’s chief diplomat against ridiculous criticisms from a confused senator.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 13, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, John McCain, President Obama | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Libertarian-ish, Not A Libertarian”: Rand Paul Becomes Less Of A Libertarian Every Day

On Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky, Senator Rand Paul will officially kick off his campaign for president. As the New York Times reported Monday, his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, will be right by his son’s side for the campaign announcement. But don’t expect to see much of the elder Paul throughout the campaign—or hear much from him. While Rand and Ron both consider themselves libertarians, their positions on multiple issues have diverged in recent months as Rand has attempted to make himself a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination. In the process, that has alienated many libertarian supporters of Ron.

While Ron Paul was always an outsider candidate with no real shot of becoming president, Rand has much larger national ambitions. That has required him to make compromises on some of his positions, compromises that many libertarians find unacceptable. Retaining their support will almost certainly be a necessity for Rand to win the GOP nomination. But will they look past his heresies?

Rand Paul has been a savvy political operator during his time in the Senate and has always sought to leverage his libertarian support on issues that had broad acceptance within the GOP. For instance, Paul expertly seized on the issues of criminal justice reform and the overreach of the National Security Agency (NSA). These were long-held libertarian positions that, partially thanks to Paul’s advocacy, suddenly found renewed interest among mainstream Republicans. The issues garnered support among conservatives because they would shrink the size of government. They were the perfect issues for him to retain his libertarian credibility while earning greater support among traditional Republican voters.

But recent issues have demonstrated where traditional Republicans differ from libertarians, and that has put Paul in an uncomfortable position. Libertarians like Ron Paul set a very high bar for military conflict. Often, they are called isolationists, a term that has sometimes been used to describe the younger Paul, much to his chagrin. In the early parts of his time in the Senate, Paul displayed many of those leanings. In 2011, for instance, he called for ending all military aid to Israel. As late as June 2014, Paul wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq. “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?” he asked in the piece. Just a few months later, after the Islamic State murdered two American journalists, Paul condemned President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop the terrorist group.

Over the following nine months, Paul’s remarks about the military and his policy positions have seemed to become more and more hawkish. Last October, he gave a speech on military intervention that you could never imagine his dad giving. “The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world,” he said. “To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.” It was quite a rhetorical change from a man who just 20 months earlier performed a 13-hour talking filibuster over U.S. drone use.

In January, Paul made news at a forum hosted by the Koch Brothers when he challenged the traditional Republican line on military action. “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops?” he asked senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who had criticized the Iran negotiations. “I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.” That was music to the ears of libertarians everywhere. Maybe, they thought, Paul would actually stick to his libertarian roots on foreign policy.

Nope. In early March, Paul signed on to Senator Tom Cotton’s letters to the leaders of Iran, explaining why the American political system effectively prohibited Obama from making any lasting commitments in the negotiations. The letter received widespread condemnation, including from many within the Republican Party. But in libertarian circles, Paul’s signature was treated as almost an act of treason. At the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi reported on a number of libertarian leaders who declared Paul’s signature the final straw; they would no longer support him for president.

At the end of March, Paul proposed a massive increase in defense spending, raising it more than $190 billion over the next two years and offsetting those increases with cuts elsewhere. As Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel reported at the time, this doesn’t quite represent a flip-flop. But it’s still quite a change from Paul’s 2011 budget which would have reduced defense spending to $542 billion in 2016, including additional war funding. Under his new plan, defense spending would be nearly $700 billion in 2016.

As his 2016 officially kicks off, Paul will have to strike a balance between appeasing the defense hawks and libertarians within the Republican Party, both of whom view him suspiciously. To some extent, his movement back and forth between the factions has made it unclear what his foreign policy views actually are. Last week, for instance, as Republican candidates criticized the president’s deal with Iran, Paul stayed noticeably quiet. When his staff finally responded to questions to Bloomberg on Monday, they offered little insight into Rand’s actual position on the deal. That tactic—sidestepping the question—will work for now. But eventually it’s going to fail as Republican voters and donors will demand his position on different foreign policy issues.

The good news for Paul is that his positions on the NSA and criminal justice reform, among other issues, still play well within the party. More than any other candidate, he has made a concerted effort to reach African Americans. These are all libertarian positions that will play well for him during the primary. But it will still be hard for many Ron Paul followers to overlook—or brush off—Rand’s turn to hawkishness on foreign policy, assuming he goes in that direction. For instance, Nick Gillepsie, the editor in chief of the libertarian magazine Reason, calls Paul “libertarian-ish,” not a libertarian.

Do Republican primary voters want a “liberatarian-ish” candidate? We’ll find out soon enough.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Not Worry About Civil Rights In This Country”: Tom Cotton; Opponents Of Anti-Gay Law Need ‘Perspective’

I’m starting to long for the good old days, just weeks ago, when nobody had to think about Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.

Mr. Cotton, you will remember, was the primary author of the constitutionally outrageous and substantively mindless letter from Republican senators telling the leaders of Iran that they shouldn’t negotiate on nuclear weapons with President Obama. Now, he is adding his voice to those who are telling gay Americans that they shouldn’t get too pushy about their civil rights.

Mr. Cotton was asked by Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday about a law passed by legislators in his home state that is clearly intended to permit businesses and individuals to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“In Arkansas,” he began, “we believe in religious freedom.” Mr. Blitzer, to his credit, pointed out that “everybody believes in religious freedom.”

Mr. Cotton countered with the irrelevant fact that President Clinton signed a federal law on which the current assault on gay rights is based. (The comically named Religious Freedom Restoration Act). That’s true. He also signed the Defense of Marriage Act, an outrageous infringement on the constitutional rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. And he signed the bill that turned military policy against gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces into the moronic law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

So Mr. Clinton was lousy on this civil rights issue. What’s Mr. Cotton’s point?

“It’s important that we have a sense of perspective about our priorities,” he said. “In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”

So, let’s not worry about civil rights in this country, which Mr. Cotton and other lawmakers can actually protect, but rather in Iran. Why Iran?

I’m so glad you asked — because Mr. Cotton wanted to turn the conversation to his current propaganda campaign about Iran. “We should focus on the most important priorities facing our country, right now,” he said, adding that the prospect of a “nuclear-armed Iran” is one such priority.

So why is Mr. Cotton trying so hard to scuttle the talks in Switzerland that could actually lead to limits on Iran’s nuclear programs?

 

By: Andrew Rosenthal, Taking Note, The Editorial Page, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, April 2, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Iran, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear

When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?

That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)

But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.

The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.

But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?

I think the answer is obvious.

As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.

Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.

And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.

It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.

But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.

As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”

When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.

Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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