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“The Thing That Launched Trump’s Campaign”: Birtherism; Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

After a full year of the Trump steamroller — in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy — the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump’s campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused to disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.

It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American — almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii — and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don’t seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important — for two reasons:

First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism — a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, “I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.”

I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

So, too, was Trump’s political career.

The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.

 

By: James Carville, Media Matters For America, April 26, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Bigotry, Birtherism, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“When War Is The Only Option We All Lose”: GOP Plunging Blindly Into Reckless Politicization Of The Issues Of War And Peace

It is very rare where I get angry from the outbursts that emanate from my television screen but yesterday was an exception. That it would come from a protégé of Dick Cheney is neither surprising nor excusable. On Hardball with Chris Matthews Ron Christie uttered some of the most nonsensical, insensitive, and factually dubious comments I have heard in a while. Mounting an attack against the recently completed framework for Iranian nuclear containment he likened President Obama’s efforts to those of Neville Chamberlain in 1938. Aside from the cheap and tawdry nature of the accusation, it is intellectually bankrupt and petty.

In the eyes of the lunatic fringe evidently Obama is not only a Muslim, Kenyan, and Socialist but also a Nazi sympathizer. The childishness of the accusations is only eclipsed by the vapidity with which they are dispensed. Dick Cheney should be in Guantanamo serving a life sentence for the damage he has wrought on the battlefield and in the arena of American national security interest. He is a lunatic, a dangerous one at that and he continues to this day to spread his hate-mongering to any audience that is desperate enough to have him.

Ron Christie was an advisor to Cheney and his baseless political hucksterism does not qualify him for prison but certainly does bring into question his value as a commentator. Reading from a prepared script does not qualify anyone to be taken seriously, particularly when it is devoid of substantive considerations. He is purely and simply a political hack.

The conservative Republican talking points memo on Iran was drafted long before even the faintest outlines of a framework were discussed. It is extremely hard to take seriously the opposition position that renders the mere act of negotiating an agreement a non-starter. The position that negotiation has no place in disposition of the serious issues involved when it comes to nuclear capacity in Iran is as deceitful as it is dangerous. Have these neoconservative nincompoops not done enough damage already?

To be clear their opposition is not to the construct of an agreement as much as it is a statement that anything short of war should be on the table. The same neocon thinking that led us to the most strategically disastrous blunder in American history, namely the invasion of Iraq and subsequent execution of a governmental purge known as deBathification is very much alive in the comments of noted failures such as Cheney, Bolton, and now this mouthpiece Ron Christie.

An outraged Matthews did everything he could to ridicule Christie short of cutting off his microphone. I would offer that Christie’s performance should foreclose the option of him ever being invited to appear on any program designed to discuss serious issues involving international affairs. He obviously takes his cue from the attack first and ask questions later crowd and if there is need for discussion of whether war or peace is an appropriate response to issues in tinderbox areas of the world such as the Middle East then maybe there is consideration of his opinion. However, on issues of substance he is ill equipped to participate in the discussion.

The Republicans have got this one wrong and will not be supported by the American public at large. They have overplayed their hand by plunging blindly into reckless politicization of the issues of war and peace and if they succeed in derailing an attempt to peacefully settle the issue at hand will drive a wedge into the heart of American public opinion unlike any seen since the dark days surrounding our involvement in Vietnam.

 

By: Lance Simmens, Author, The Evolution of a Revolution; The Blog, The Huffington Post, April 4, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Iran, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Artificially Polarizing The Country”: Redistricting Reform Should Be Priority Number One

I became political aware at a young age and took a keen interest in the 1980 Republican primaries when I was only nine and ten years old. I still have cartoons I drew at the time that depicted Ronald Reagan as a warmonger intent on blowing up the world with nuclear weapons. This wasn’t something I learned from my parents. It was my own opinion. In retrospect, it was a little bit alarmist. I should have been worried about other things, like the long-term destruction of the middle class or a propensity to sell TOW missiles to Iran to pay a ransom for hostages held by Hizbollah in order to illegally transfer the proceeds to the Contras in Nicaragua. But, a nine year old’s capacity to imagine evil only goes so far.

When I see a book title like Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, I want to claw my eyeballs out. Yet, I do understand what Chris Matthews is pining for, and it isn’t the fjords. However much Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan disagreed, they were civil to each other, and they knew how to strike a deal without threatening to default on the country’s debts. For Washington insiders of a certain age, there is a keen sense of nostalgia for the old days when politicians didn’t go home to their districts every weekend but stayed in town and socialized with each other.

Perhaps no one represents this group better than Cokie Roberts, who was almost literally raised in the Capitol Building. Her father, Hale Boggs, represented Louisiana’s 2nd District in 1941-43 and then from 1947 to 1972, when his plane disappeared in Alaska. By the time of his death, he had risen to be the Majority Leader, the same position held today by Eric Cantor. By that time, Cokie Roberts was an adult, but her mother, Liddy Boggs, went on to represent the New Orleans-based district until she retired to look after her dying daughter (Cokie’s sister) in 1990. I found a set of interviews that Ms. Roberts did with the Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008, (you can read the interviews here in .pdf form) in which she describes her life growing up in the corridors of power and how things have changed.

In the following excerpt, she laments the use of the gerrymander, which she calls “picking your own voters.” In her opinion, the increasing efficiency with which the political parties draw the congressional maps is one of the main reasons why Congress is so deadlocked. Keep in mind that she said this in 2008, before things got even worse after the 2010 census and subsequent redrawing of district maps.

ROBERTS: I think that what this business of picking your voters—first of all, is so anti-democratic—it does a few very, very bad things. It creates a far more partisan chamber because you only worry about getting attacked from the true believers of your own party in a primary rather than a general election. Look what just happened to Chris [Christopher B.] Cannon as a perfect example of that.

You do only represent people who are just like you, so that your desire or even ability to compromise is far less than it used to be. I’ll give you an example. Bob Livingston used to represent a district that was 30- percent black. So he voted for fair housing, he voted for Martin Luther King holiday, he voted for a variety of things that were not the things that people whose representative in the state legislature was David Duke expected him to do. But he could explain to the yahoos in his district that he had to do it because of the black constituency when it was actually stuff that he wanted to do. Then it was redistricted to be lily-white conservative Republicans, and, you know, it’s almost impossible for that person—it was [David] Vitter, I don’t know who it is now—to do that. You just have to be fighting your constituency all the time to do something that would be a sort of national interest thing to do. And that’s true on both sides. It just makes legislating and governing much, much harder.

The President [George W. Bush], actually, was talking to me—I don’t often get to say, “The President was talking to me about it,” {laughter}—when I went with him to meet the Pope. We were talking about immigration, and he’s, you know, he’s basically just furious about immigration, about the failure of the bill, and he said, “It’s all about the way districts are drawn.” And it is fundamentally anti-democratic because the whole idea is you get to throw these people out. In 2006, I must say I was heartened, not for partisan reasons, but I thought they had drawn the districts so cleverly that you’d never be able to register that vote of no confidence, which an off-year election is—it’s either a vote of confidence or no confidence—I was afraid that that had been taken away from the voters, which would really be different from what the Founders had in mind. So the fact that even with that, you were able to change parties and register that vote was heartening, but it’s much harder than it should be.

There has been some debate recently about whether or not Justice Ginsburg should strategically retire from the Supreme Court to prevent a Republican president from appointing her successor. Ginsburg defends her continued presence of the Court by arguing that President Obama will be succeeded by a Democrat because “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.” She’s probably right in her prediction about Obama’s successor, but she is definitely correct that the Democrats have trouble getting out their vote in midterm elections. With the districts drawn the way there are, this threatens to prevent the people from expressing their vote of confidence or no confidence.

According to the Cook Political Report, the Democrats should have won the 2012 House elections.

By Cook’s calculations, House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.

It was the second time in 70 years that a party won the majority of the vote but didn’t win a majority of the House seats, according to the analysis.

So, there are really two things here worthy of consideration. The first is that the gerrymander has the effect of artificially polarizing the country by creating districts that are only really contestable in primary, rather than general elections. Politicians are punished for cooperating more than they should be.

The second problem is a partisan one that only hurts the left. Democrats get less seats than they should have.

Yet, the first problem hurts the left, too, because it leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to a general disdain of government in the populace, which creates distrust about the government’s ability to do big things.

For these reasons, I believe that progressives should consider redistricting reform their top priority. Unless we can solve this problem, we will never be competing on a level playing field, and our ability to do great things will continue to erode.

Unlike Chris Matthews and Cokie Roberts, I don’t want to go back to some idyllic time of bipartisan cooperation that barely existed in reality, but I do want a fair shake and a government that works again.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 28, 2013

December 29, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Regular Joe He’s Not”: Among The Common Folk, A Breakfasting John Boehner

From the “Politicians—they’re just like us!” file today, we have something seemingly aimed straight at one of my pet peeves, the habit of Blue Collar Chic among politicians (and to an even greater extent, certain bigshot media figures). Esquire magazine asked John Boehner to “endorse” something, and what he came up with was “breakfast at a diner,” which he says he has “most mornings when I’m in Washington.” You may have thought the Speaker was a merlot-sipping, golf-playing gent who had risen above his hardscrabble roots. Au contraire!

I sit at the counter in jeans and a ballcap. Order eggs, and sometimes sausage, but never on Fridays. (And never the bacon. My diner makes lousy bacon. I don’t know why.) I’m there maybe 15, 20 minutes.

It’s pretty much the same thing on the road. I’m always looking for new diners, and when I find one I like, I stick with it.

It’s an anchor to my day, a way to feel like I’m home in Ohio no matter where I am. That’s why I endorse breakfast at a diner.

Mr. Speaker, if you’re eating eggs and sausage at a greasy spoon every morning, legislation isn’t the only thing getting clogged. But how wonderful to know that just like ordinary folks, you wear “jeans and a ballcap”! Since you presumably go to work after this breakfast, do you get dressed in your jeans and ballcap, then go back home and change into the suit you’ll wear the rest of the day on Capitol Hill? Why not just put on the suit, get the breakfast, and then proceed to work? Is the costume change really necessary?

I realize I’m making too much of this. And of course, when a magazine asks you to do something like this, you’ll be conscious of the image you’re projecting. Unlike a political “endorsement,” this endorsement is not about explaining to readers the wonders of breakfast at a diner, but telling them who you are, and if Boehner had endorsed an earthy yet whimsical Chateau Latour, he would have been mocked for an entirely different reason. But I find the efforts of politicians to convince us they’re just ordinary joes so insufferable, especially when it’s this transparent.

It’s only partly their fault, though. Every election season we’re treated to an endless discussion about which candidate is more reg’lar and can do a better job relating to the common folk, without any explanation of what that has to do with their potential performance in office. Here’s a little piece of the column I linked to above, when the question consuming some in the media, none more than Chris Matthews, was whether Barack Obama was too much of an effete swell to win the Pennsylvania primary over the (allegedly) slightly more down-to-earth Hillary Clinton. We knew he wasn’t, because he committed the horrible sin of being a crappy bowler:

Every night at 5 and 7, Matthews acts like a psychic channeling the spirit of the working class. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he insightfully informs his viewers, are just not the type to whom Joe Sixpack takes a liking: “Pennsylvania prefers a beefier sort to either of these people, Matthews claimed, “a more rustic, tougher sort than either of them.” When neither Obama nor Clinton turned out to be particularly skilled bowlers, Matthews said gravely, “Maybe that tells you something about the Democratic party.”

In the days since, he has returned to the alleged symbolic importance of Obama’s lack of bowling skills so often, and with such a combination of glee and indignation, that you would have thought that before launching a gutter ball, Obama had donned a powdered wig, sipped from a snifter of brandy, then smacked Rocky Blier across the face with his riding crop. “This gets very ethnic,” Matthews said at one point, a preface that no doubt made his producers whisper, “Oh God, please don’t.” He then went on, “But the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody, but the fact that he’s that terrible at bowling does make you wonder.” Makes you wonder what, exactly? Whether he would be a better president, were he a better bowler? No, what Matthews wonders is whether Obama can “woo more regular voters — you know, the ones who actually do know how to bowl.”

According to the Times Magazine article, Matthews makes a salary of $5 million a year. When it comes time to relax, he doesn’t head to the Jersey shore, where the typical blue-collar Philadelphian might go to get some sea air. Instead, Matthews repairs to his $4.35 million house on Nantucket.

I don’t mind that Chris Matthews has a house on Nantucket; maybe I would too, if I made as much money as him. And I don’t care whether John Boehner prefers a fine wine to a downmarket beer. My problems with Boehner have nothing to do with his personal tastes in food and recreation. The thing about politicians is that they take positions and perform official actions that give great insight into whether and how much they care about regular people. That’s the place to look if you want to know who they really are. You don’t have to ask where they eat breakfast.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 17, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | John Boehner, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“History Is A Cruel Judge Of Overconfidence”: Ten Years Ago, Bush Declared “Mission Accomplished” And The Media Swooned

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Mission Accomplished Day, or as it might better be known, Mission (Not) Accomplished Day. Sadly, it comes amid another upheaval in sectarian violence in Iraq—two days ago The New York Times warned of a new “civil war” there—and a week after the attempts at Bush revisionism upon the opening of his library. We’re also seeing aspects of the run-up to the Iraq invasion playing out in the fresh, perhaps overheated, claims of chemical weapons in Syria.

In my favorite antiwar song of this war, “Shock and Awe,” Neil Young moaned: “Back in the days of Mission Accomplished/ our chief was landing on the deck/ The sun was setting/ behind a golden photo op.” But as Neil added elsewhere in the tune: “History is a cruel judge of overconfidence.”

Nowhere can we see this more clearly than in the media coverage of the event.

On May 1, 2003, Richard Perle advised, in a USA Today op-ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.” The same day, President Bush, dressed in a flight suit, landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major military operations in Iraq—with the now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner arrayed behind him.

Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a “hero” and boomed, “He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.” He added: “Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple.”

PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.” On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, “The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a—on a carrier landing.”

Bob Schieffer on CBS said: “As far as I’m concerned, that was one of the great pictures of all time.” His guest, Joe Klein, responded: “Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me.”

Everyone agreed the Democrats and antiwar critics were now on the run. The New York Times observed, “The Bush administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to less than two divisions by the fall, senior allied officials said today.”

Maureen Dowd in her column did offer a bit of over-the-top mockery, declaring: “Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.

“He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ”revvin’ up your engine” myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies look like Lizzie McGuire.

“This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.”

When Bush’s jet landed on the aircraft carrier, American casualties stood at 139 killed and 542 wounded. That was over 4,300 American, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, fatalities ago.

 

By: Greg Mitchell, The Nation, May 1, 2013

May 2, 2013 Posted by | Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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