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“Rand Paul’s Fair-Weather Compassion”: How An Ideology Can Cause Terrible Misery

If you haven’t seen the video or photos yet, trust me, you will. Rand Paul in blue scrubs and hiking boots, bringing sight to the blind in an operating room in Guatemala — could there be a more perfect visual for a White House hopeful? And that’s before we even get to the metaphors about restoring vision and fixing problems.

A flattering segment on NBC’s Meet the Press was just the start of extracting the gold from this rich political vein. Campaign ads inevitably will feature video of the senator-surgeon performing the pro bono eye operations, as will a Citizens United documentary about Paul. The conservative group sent a camera crew and a drone to shoot footage him in action in Guatemala.

Let’s stipulate that whatever you think of Paul’s views or the political entourage he brought along, the Kentucky Republican transformed lives on that trip. It was a wonderfully compassionate volunteer act — and that’s where things get complicated.

Paul has been working steadily to create his personal brand of compassionate conservatism, and it’s more substantive than outreach. His causes include restoring voting rights to felons, reforming drug sentencing laws and — after Ferguson — demilitarizing the police. He is a champion of charter schools, which many black parents are seeking out for their children. He has proposed economic incentives to try to revive Detroit. He and Democratic senator Cory Booker are pushing legislation to make it easier for people to create new lives — including expunging or sealing convictions for some juveniles and lifting bans on post-prison food stamps and welfare benefits for some offenders.

All of that is broadly appealing. It’s also consistent with libertarian and conservative principles such as more personal choice, less government intrusion, lower taxes and — in the case of the prison and sentencing reforms — saving government money by reducing recidivism and prison populations. The emphasis is on the “conservative” part of the phrase.

The man who invented the brand and rode it all the way to the White House, George W. Bush, focused on the compassion part. To the dismay of conservatives, he enlarged the federal role in education (he called it “the civil rights issue of our time” and signed the No Child Left Behind Act) and spent a bundle of borrowed money to fight AIDS in Africa, launch a Medicare prescription drug program and try to impose democracy on Iraq.

What you might call fair-weather compassion — compassion that’s limited to policies that cut spending or, at the very least, don’t cost more — is a conservative hallmark in the post-Bush era. But Paul trumped his colleagues and won plaudits from groups like FreedomWorks with a 2013 budget that would have balanced in a lightning-fast five years. It repealed the Affordable Care Act and killed the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. It also privatized Medicare, allowed private Social Security accounts, and shifted Medicaid and food stamps — designed to grow and shrink depending on need — to a system of capped grants to the states. “Gut” was the liberal verb of choice.

Paul’s 2011 budget blueprint would have phased out all foreign aid. “This would cause misery for millions of people on AIDS treatment. It would betray hundreds of thousands of children receiving … malaria treatment,” former Bush aide Michael Gerson said last weekend on NBC after the Paul-in-Guatemala segment aired. “This is a perfect case of how a person can have good intentions but how an ideology can cause terrible misery.”

The ACA, with its premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion, is designed to help just the types of people Paul served in Guatemala. In fact, more than 290,000 newly eligible people had signed up for Medicaid in his home state by mid-April. Yet last year Paul was willing to shut down the government in an attempt to defund the law.

Paul did not release a budget this year, and he said in May that he is “not sure” that Kentucky’s ACA insurance marketplace (Kynect) should be dismantled. Is he giving himself some room to maneuver? Unclear. He continues to favor repeal of the entire ACA and seems most concerned about its impact on local hospitals. One had to lay off 50 people due to the law, he said, so “now we’ve got more people in the wagon, and less people pulling the wagon.”

What he said was debatable — CNHI News Service reported that the hospital, T.J. Samson in Glasgow, is expected to do better financially under the new health law than it did under previous policies. Beyond that, does Paul really want to snatch Medicaid away from nearly 300,000 of his least fortunate constituents? The answer to that question will help determine whether those compassionate images from Guatemala are merely images, or something more.


By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, August 28, 2014

August 29, 2014 Posted by | Compassionate Conservatism, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why The GOP Should Tank The Midterms”: The “Party Of No” GOP Does Not Want To Actually Govern

Several statistical models used to forecast the midterm elections give the Republican Party a better-than-even shot at seizing the Senate.

This should terrify Republicans.

Look into Speaker John Boehner’s exasperated eyes and think about how much he has suffered the last two years trying to contain his tea–crazy Republican caucus. Now double it. Then add an extra dose of Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. And then take away the ability to blame Harry Reid for the failure to get any Republican bills passed in the Senate.

Add it all up, and what you get is not a glorious triumph of a unified army on an unstoppable march to the White House, but an expansion of the GOP civil war into a two-front bicameral battle.

Recently asked by Politico to explain what he would pursue with a GOP Senate, Boehner said, “Nobody’s given it that much thought.” Probably because thinking about it would give him a panic attack no amount of merlot could cure. What can he and his Senate counterpart possibly propose to position the party for a general election in 2016 that won’t be mocked and blocked by the Tea Party?

Consider Boehner’s most recent humiliation over legislation to address the child migrant influx.

While the politically rational Boehner tried to keep the immediate crisis separate from the messy politics of immigration reform, Sen. Cruz whipped up the House rank and file to refuse support for any bill that did not terminate the president’s executive order providing waivers to some undocumented immigrants already in America who arrived as children. Lacking the votes, Boehner junked his narrow proposal and bowed to the anti-immigration forces.

As a result, just one month after Boehner had decided that Republicans were better off avoiding any immigration reform votes, he had to schedule an incredibly controversial one. Now nearly every House Republican is on record in favor of deporting people who grew up in America and who have no significant connection to their birth country, further worsening Republican efforts to reach out to the Latino community in advance of the next presidential election.

If the Tea Party gets its mitts on the Senate too, the humiliations will only become more frequent and more public.

Now obviously, under normal circumstances, taking over the Senate while retaining the House would be a good thing. Republicans would control the national agenda, deny Obama a free hand in further shaping the judiciary, and be one step away from fully controlling Washington after the 2016 presidential election. They could pass whatever legislation they wanted, and put Obama in the unpleasant position of, having spent years complaining of GOP obstructionism, now having to constantly veto things himself, or swallow what Republicans feed him.

But this is not a normal circumstance.

There is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the party leadership and the conservative rank and file. Attempts by the leadership to tone down rhetoric, calibrate policy positions away from the ideological fringes, and avoid all-or-nothing legislative battles are irrationally decried as surrender. Such pragmatism would be crucial at the moment Republicans are in full control of Congress and carry a heightened responsibility to help govern, but they will be in no position to deliver. If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that the “party of no” GOP does not want to actually govern.

Republicans may want to take solace in the fact that Boehner has been able to contain the worst impulses of the party’s right flank. He was able to ram through bills to provide hurricane disaster relief, expand domestic violence protections to LBGT survivors, stave off cuts to Medicare reimbursements for doctors, and avoid the insolvency of the highway trust fund, all over the objections of conservative ideologues. And while he let Cruz’s followers shut down the government in 2013, he made sure it didn’t last long and that there would not be a repeat performance in an election year (though perhaps one shouldn’t be overconfident until Congress actually passes legislation to fund the government by the next Sept. 30 deadline).

That track record suggests a Republican-controlled House and Senate wouldn’t completely jump the rails. But even when Boehner wins, he wins ugly. And if the GOP wins the Senate, these fissures will constantly be laid bare in the upper chamber too, preventing the leadership from presenting a consistent and welcoming face to the general electorate, and putting Republican presidential contenders in one awkward position after another.

A titanic budget battle, with the usual mix of unreasonable demands and threat of government shutdown, will be irresistible to the Tea Party once Republicans run all of Congress. But an outside-the-Beltway candidate like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, inclined to run as someone who can end the federal government’s chronic dysfunction, will be hard-pressed to choose between criticizing Washington or praising the priorities of the Washington Republicans. If another natural disaster hits — especially in a key primary state or swing state — and conservatives again fight against emergency aid, presidential candidates who have a vote in Congress will be forced to choose between the compassion of the average voter and frugality of the debt-obsessed right-winger.

Those are the sorts of headaches that await Republicans if they win the Senate. And what exactly would they gain? Yes, they would be better able to stop Obama from further shaping the judiciary. But so long as they keep the House, they don’t need the Senate to bottle up Obama’s legislative agenda. Nor do they need to win the Senate outright in 2014 to win both the White House and the Senate in 2016. The few benefits do not outweigh the costs stemming from expanded governing responsibilities.

Republicans who want to win big in 2016 should ask themselves: Do we really want to export the House circus to the Senate next year? Or do we want to take a little extra time to sort out our own issues, and give our next presidential nominee more latitude to define the party’s agenda for the future?


By: Bill Scher, The Week, August 11, 2014

August 12, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘From Embattled To Pitiful”: Boehner Has A New Pitch To Defend Congressional Ineptitude

About a year ago, a reporter started to ask House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about Congress’ “historically unproductive” term. “That’s just total nonsense,” he snapped, before the question was even finished.

In reality, it wasn’t nonsense at all, and the question appears even more apt now. The fact remains that this is the least productive Congress since clerks started keeping track nearly a century ago.

Soon after, Boehner switched gears and tried to turn the argument around – sure, he said, Congress isn’t legislating, but that’s a good thing. According to Boehner, Congress “should not be judged by how many new laws we create,” but rather, Congress “ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

This effort to rebrand failure also posed a problem: Congress hasn’t repealed laws, either. By either standard, the legislative branch was failing miserably.

But the hapless House Speaker clearly remains sensitive about Congress’ ineptitude, which seems to have led him to an entirely new argument: Congress isn’t working, but the Republican-led House is awesome.

As he began his annual month-long, 14-state bus tour this week, the Ohio Republican left many of the red-meat issues that rev up his base back in Washington. Instead, he’s trying to promote a different message: Republicans are doing the legislating while everyone else is slacking off. […]

“When you hear all this stuff about the Congress, understand there are two bodies in the Congress,” Boehner said during a morning fundraiser in Bolingbrook, a suburb of Chicago. “One is working our rear ends off, and frankly, you’d be surprised all the stuff we do is done on a bipartisan basis. [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid didn’t even try to pass a border bill that we passed last Friday.”

And it’s at this point when the House Speaker made the transition from embattled to pitiful.

Boehner may feel slightly embarrassed for creating an accomplishment-free legacy for himself, and he’s no doubt frustrated by the fact that Congress’ approval rating has fallen to levels unseen since the dawn of modern polling, but this latest tack to rationalize failure is laughable.

Consider the example Boehner himself is using: the GOP-led House passed a “border bill,” while the Democratic-led Senate ignored it. Proof of House Republicans working their “rear ends off”? Not for anyone who was actually awake and watching Congress last week.

The House’s “border bill” was a ridiculous joke that even Boehner didn’t like. The Speaker pushed an entirely different bill; his own members decided to ignore his weak leadership (again); causing Boehner to give up and tell right-wing extremists to write whatever they wanted, without any regard for whether it would become law.

It was a pathetic effort to ram through a symbolic gesture, not a legitimate effort to pass a real bill. That Boehner is using this as a great example of how effective House Republicans are helps prove the exact opposite point.

On the surface, it stands to reason both sides are going to blame the other – in this do-nothing Congress, the Democratic Senate wants voters to blame the Republican House and vice versa. None of this is surprising.

But there’s an objective truth available to anyone who wants to see it. This Congress could approve immigration reform, tax reform, ENDA, and a minimum-wage increase, among other things, were it not for the no-compromise, far-right party dominating the U.S. House. That’s just the reality.

Boehner, taking orders instead of giving them, has approved a bunch of symbolic, partisan bills that no one, including Republicans, expect to become law, but that’s not governing – it’s self-indulgent posturing. Until the Speaker is prepared to acknowledge the difference, Congress will remain a national embarrassment.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 7, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Man Can Serve Two Masters”: The GOP Made A Deliberate Choice To Position Itself As The Party Of Reactionary Xenophobes

Over at Republican Party headquarters, they’re desperately trying to figure out how they can get both racists and the victims of racism to vote Republican. Good luck with that one.

The current crisis of Central American children flowing across the border has empowered conservatives, whose more restrictionist views on the issue have taken precedence in the party. House Republicans are pushing for more deportations, and several of the party’s prospective 2016 White House contenders are moving to align themselves with the GOP’s pro-enforcement wing.

The tough rhetoric can help Republicans appeal to their core voters. But the strategy runs counter to the party’s announcement — after losing the presidential race two years ago — that its future depends largely on broadening its appeal to minority groups and that its viability as a national force in 2016 and beyond depends on making inroads with Latinos, one of the fastest-growing voting blocs.

“This is a short-term political gain for Republicans,” said Charles Spies, a former Mitt Romney campaign aide who is part of a coalition of Republicans advocating for immigration reform. “The problem, of course, comes on the national scale. Without a friendly posture towards [Hispanics], we still face a massive demographic problem.”

A demographic problem of their own making. A demographic problem worsened every day by the hostile rhetoric spewed about immigration on right-wing talk radio. A demographic problem that Republicans simply cannot solve–and they know it:

Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2012 reelection, after which the Republican National Committee wrote in a blunt self-assessment: “It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

The problem is, the GOP made a deliberate choice to position itself as the party of reactionary xenophobes. When you sell your soul, all sales are final.

In Hiawatha, Iowa, Jeri Thompson, 50, attended an event featuring Paul and other GOP candidates and pronounced herself “very worried about the illegals coming in.”

Asked about the children and families apprehended at the southern border, Thompson said that “it’s not just street urchins from Central America carrying diseases in, but also criminals, thugs, gang members. No other country is dumb enough to have their borders wide open like us.”

Some in the GOP said they hope that if the party wins control of both chambers of Congress, Republicans could pass a comprehensive immigration bill with conservative principles that would be hard for Obama to veto. But those prospects remain uncertain.

In Colorado, Cheryl Bartlett, a registered nurse from Pueblo, said she agreed with Republicans on the need for tougher border controls.

I think we should build a wall, just like they had in Berlin and Russia,” she said. “Build that wall and keep people out.

If you have any Latino friends who happen to be members of the GOP, ask them just what the hell is keeping them in that party. Even the most anti-tax or anti-abortion Latino voter has to question their political preferences in the wake of this wrath. Why vote in a party whose base wants to kick you out?


By: D. R. Tucker, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 8, 2014

August 10, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Shameless Fear-Mongering”: It’s Time To Expel Michele Bachmann From Congress

In a recent interview on conservative radio show Faith & Liberty, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) warned that the gay community ultimately wants to “abolish age-of-consent laws, which means we will do away with statutory-rape laws so that adults will be able to freely prey on little children sexually. That’s the deviance that we’re seeing embraced in our culture today.”

Of course, Bachmann offered absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support her claim, most likely because there is none. It’s an outright lie. A supposed inherent link between homosexuality and pedophilia has been disproven time and again. Consequently, the canard that gay people — gay men, specifically — wish to sexually exploit children, which was once commonly held in America, has, more recently, been reduced to fodder for far-right homophobes. Granted, Bachmann certainly falls into that demographic, but the scope of her influence far outreaches that of an average private citizen.

In the same interview Bachmann went on to state that the gay community also wishes to legalize polygamy and enact “hate-speech laws across the United States” in order to bring about the “rise of tyranny.”

This latest incident isn’t Bachmann’s first foray into the arena of blatant homophobia. She’s been peddling inflammatory myths about the gay community and representing those myths as indisputable truths throughout her stint as a congresswoman, all the while insisting that her message “is to spread goodness and joy and wholeness and healing.”

In the marketplace of shameless fear-mongering, Michele Bachmann can certainly hold her own amongst the usual cast of right-wing characters. However, a great deal of Bachmann’s rhetoric is typically irresponsible and borders on slander. For instance, in another recent interview Bachmann implied that unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence in Central America, who have come in large numbers to the Southern U.S. border, will be allowed into the country by President Obama so they can be put into foster care and used for “medical experimentation.” How much longer will Bachmann be allowed to make such wild, completely unfounded accusations with impunity?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for individuals being able to freely express an opinion. And I understand that it’s important to play to your audience. But these are no mere opinions, and Bachmann is no mere individual. And this latest incident isn’t Bachmann’s first foray into the arena of blatant homophobia. What Bachmann is doing is presenting an erroneous and incendiary scenario as truth. We’ve heard it before, but what makes this instance all the more disturbing is the simple fact that Bachmann isn’t some washed-up 1950s-beauty-pageant contestant, nor is she some huckster televangelist. Bachmann is a member of the Congress of the United States. She has the power to introduce bills and resolutions, and to vote on whether or not they should be enacted into law. When Bachmann was sworn in for her fourth and current term in Congress, she stated on her website, “It is a true honor to represent the citizens of Central Minnesota in the United States Congress.” Given her opinion of the gay community, I don’t believe Bachmann is genuinely capable of fulfilling that duty, nor does she have any inclination to do so. After all, Bachmann must be aware that a segment of the population of Central Minnesota is made up of gays and lesbians. Otherwise, Bachmann & Associates, the counseling center founded by Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, wouldn’t have considered it necessary to offer conversion “therapy” to its clients. And Bachmann has campaigned tirelessly against same-sex marriage in Minnesota throughout her political career.

Bachmann has hinted that she will not seek reelection at the end of her current term in Congress. She has also vaguely hinted at another run for the U.S. presidency. I don’t think there is even the slightest chance that Bachmann could be elected to run the country. History has proven that. Regardless, I believe she should be expelled from Congress. Our system of government was created to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The “people” includes the LGBT community, and government officials such as Michele Bachmann are not only not for us; they are pathologically against us. Personally, I don’t believe my tax dollars should be used to pay the salary of someone who wants to convince the world that my ultimate desire is to be able to legally molest children.


By: Walt Hawkins, The Huffington Post Blog, August 9, 2014

August 10, 2014 Posted by | Homophobia, Michele Bachmann | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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