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“One Presidential Speech, Many GOP Responses”: There Is No Clear Leadership In The Republican Party

Not too long ago, a president would deliver a State of the Union address… and that was it. Much of the country would see the speech, pundits would talk about it, and either the political world would respond favorably or it wouldn’t.

In the 1960s, Republicans decided it wasn’t entirely fair for a president to have all the fun, and the official State of the Union response was born.

But in the Obama era, as GOP politics went off the deep end, the number of speeches on the big night proliferated. Last year, in addition to President Obama’s actual SOTU, there was an official Republican response, an official Republican Spanish-language response, a Tea Party response, Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) self-indulgent response, and a “prebuttal” from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) because, well, why the heck not.

This year, the fact that Republicans tapped Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) for the party’s official response seemingly negated the need for competing conservative voices – Ernst is, after all, one of the most frighteningly right-wing senators in a generation. Why bother with a Tea Party response if the Republican address will be delivered by arguably the most radical voice in the Senate?

Apparently, that didn’t matter.

Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.) will deliver the tea party’s response to President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, the Tea Party Express announced Thursday.

“2015 marks a year of new beginnings for the Tea Party movement,” Tea Party Express executive director Taylor Budowich said in a statement. “These new Tea Party members of Congress are brimming with ideas to make America economically stronger with opportunity for all to realize the American Dream. We are honored to present Florida Congressman Curt Clawson, the first Tea Party Express victory for the 2014 cycle, as someone committed to making Congress deliver for the American people.”

To appreciate what makes the selection interesting, consider the impression Congressman Clawson has made over the course of his brief, seven-month career on Capitol Hill.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, it was Clawson who spoke to senior officials from the U.S. State Department and Commerce Department during a House Foreign Affairs Committee last July. Despite the fact that the officials are Americans representing the Obama administration – they were even introduced as former aides on the House Foreign Affairs Committee itself – Clawson assumed the Indian-American witnesses were literally officials from India.

“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” the Florida Republican said. When one of the U.S. officials gently tried to explain that they’re Americans working for the U.S. federal government, Clawson ignored the cues and stuck to his faulty assumptions. He later apologized.

Two weeks ago, Clawson raised eyebrows again, casting a vote for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – yes that Rand Paul – to be Speaker of the House. That the Kentucky senator is not a member of the House apparently didn’t bother the congressman.

And now he’s the guy delivering a response to the State of the Union address, along with Ernst. (Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) is delivering the Republicans’ Spanish-language response, which will reportedly mirror the substance of Ernst’s speech.)

As we talked about last year at this time, let’s not forget that there used to be one Republican response because the party wouldn’t tolerate any other scenario. GOP lawmakers who deliberately chose to step on – or worse, contradict – their party’s scripted message risked raising the ire of party leaders and insiders. Only one SOTU response was given because no Republican in Congress would dare challenge – or even think to challenge – the party’s message operation.

Those norms have collapsed. “There is no clear leadership in the Republican Party right now, no clear direction or message, and no way to enforce discipline,” Mark McKinnon, a veteran Republican strategist, said last year. “And because there’s a vacuum, and no shortage of cameras, there are plenty of actors happy to audition.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 21, 2015

January 21, 2015 Posted by | GOP, State of the Union, Tea Party | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our ‘Real’ America”: Whiteness Is Still A Proxy For Being American

Anyone can make a fool of himself. So it’s tempting to dismiss last Thursday’s mega-gaffe by Florida Representative Curt Clawson as indicative of nothing more than the fallibility of the human brain.

But think about the nature of Clawson’s goof. Sitting across a congressional hearing room from Nisha Biswal, an official at the State Department, and Arun Kumar, who works at the Department of Commerce, Clawson addressed the two Indian-Americans as if they were representatives of the government of India. Which is to say: He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.

In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.

In fact, Obama’s opponents, including Democrats, have been raising questions about his Americanness since he began seeking the presidency. In a March 2007 memo, Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist, argued that she should attack Obama for “not [being] at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.” Had Obama been white and named Joe Smith, Penn’s line of attack would have been inconceivable, since Obama’s thinking and values were typical of a liberal Democrat’s, and similar to Clinton’s own. Penn’s effort to question Obama’s Americanness was entirely a function of the fact that he traced his ancestry to the third world and had spent some of his childhood abroad.

Since Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, it has been the Republicans’ turn. Newt Gingrich has claimed Obama possesses a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview.” Dick Cheney has said, “I don’t think that Barack Obama believes in the U.S. as an exceptional nation.” Indeed, a major thrust of the GOP’s attack on Obama is that he doesn’t understand America, doesn’t believe in America and wants to turn it into something fundamentally different from what it has always been. Bill Clinton, by contrast, was attacked relentlessly for his supposed lack of personal integrity and failure to serve in Vietnam. But conservatives rarely questioned his connection to the United States.

It’s not just Obama. In various ways in recent years, conservatives have questioned the Americanness of American Muslims. Michele Bachmann suggested that Huma Abedin and other Muslim-Americans serving in the national-security bureaucracy might be more loyal to foreign Islamist movements than to the United States. Another former Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, in 2011 said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet because “Muslims in this country, some of them, try to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us.” A Public Religion Research Institute poll that same year found that 63 percent of Republicans believed Islam contradicts American values.

The link between the GOP’s tendency to question the Americanness of Muslim- Americans and Clawson’s assumption that the Indian-Americans sitting across from him were not American becomes clearer when you realize that in contemporary American discourse, “Muslim” is often seen as a race. Several of the most high-profile hate crimes committed in “retaliation” for 9/11 occurred not against Muslims but against South Asian Hindus or Sikhs. Representative Peter King has called for profiling suspected terrorists based upon their “religious background or ethnicity,” even though Islam is no more an ethnicity than is Christianity. The implication, of course, is that Muslims are brown.

One even sees traces of this tendency to un-Americanize immigrants from the developing world in the way some Americans see Hispanics. When Arizona in 2010 passed a law empowering law enforcement to detain anyone who presented a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally, critics rightly wondered what criteria the police could possibly use to suspect someone of being undocumented other than the fact that they looked or sounded Hispanic. A 2012 poll by the National Hispanic Media Coalition found that one-third of Americans believed most Hispanics in the United States were undocumented. In other words, many Americans associate being Hispanic with not being legally American. That’s pretty similar to the assumption Congressman Clawson made about Biswal and Kumar.

There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.

 

By: Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, July 27, 2014

July 28, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Minorities, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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