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“An Apology To Bernie Sanders”: If I Ever Came Off As Not Respecting You, Bernie, I Apologize

Hardly a week goes by without some demand for an apology populating my inbox. I have never apologized for two reasons: The usual one is that I’m not sorry. The other is that calls for an apology have become an irritating tactic in American political discourse, a kind of bullying.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t regretted things I’ve said or the tone used. I have. So here’s a compromise: I will issue one apology a year.

And the winner for 2015 is … Bernie Sanders.

Why Bernie? Some liberal friends complain that I’ve been overly dismissive of the senator from Vermont’s candidacy. They have cause.

I was especially rough in pointing out the cracks in Bernie’s self-portrait of a national force for civil rights. Perhaps I overdid it.

But the fact remains that he fled the troubled New York of the ’60s for the whitest state in the nation. It baffles that he shares his campaign stage with Cornel West, a black academic who condemns Barack Obama in nasty racial terms.

On advancing civil rights, Bernie’s been totally on board. Still, one can see why ordinary African-Americans seem to relate better to Hillary Clinton.

Bernie, you’re really good on most concerns: Reining in Wall Street’s power. Expanding Medicare to all Americans.

You also rise over conventional liberal stances, opposing gun control measures that come off as more anti-gun than pro-control. You’ve clearly been talking to hunters in your rural state.

Your views on immigration are well-nuanced. You support a path to citizenship for otherwise law-abiding undocumented people. But you oppose calls for massive temporary-worker programs that would replace American workers — and not just farmworkers — with lower-cost substitutes.

The Democratic debates have shown you at your best. On Saturday, you graciously offered … an apology … over your campaign’s breach of Clinton’s proprietary data. (Hillary responded in kind, saying it was time to move on.) That was quite noble of you in light of the Democratic National Committee’s decision to temporarily cut your campaign’s access to its voter database. The DNC has not treated you fairly.

You’ve been taking the high road in this campaign, sticking to issues and even occasionally praising Hillary. Your dismissal of the right wing’s obsessive harping over Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state will not be forgotten.

Bernie, the poll numbers show you slipping further behind Hillary among Democratic voters. That alone is not reason enough to downplay your quest for the presidency. Candidates have come roaring back, and Hillary’s performance over the years has not been flawless.

But there’s a big question besides “can you win?” That is, What would happen if you did? For all your solid thinking, you’ve never been able to work with others in Washington, and we’re not just talking about Republicans. You often can’t get along with liberal Democrats.

Your “holier than thou” attitude, as former Rep. Barney Frank put it, has kept you from actively participating in the formation of laws. That bill you negotiated with conservatives to improve veterans’ health care doesn’t count. Helping veterans is not a hard sell.

But let’s end the criticism here. I’m glad you’re running. Without you, hardly any attention would have been paid to the Democratic side. The other remaining challenger, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, simply isn’t original enough. (Sorry, Martin. This year’s apology has just been used up.)

Finally, I never tire of hearing you describe your smart liberal ideas with force and conviction. I still don’t think you’re going to be IT. But if I ever came off as not respecting you, Bernie, I apologize.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, December 22, 2015

December 23, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hillary vs. The World”: Opponents’ New Tactic Is To Paint The Party As Colluding With The Frontrunner

There aren’t going to be a lot of “Minnesota nice” jokes coming out of this weekend’s Democratic National Committee meeting here in the Twin Cities.

Sure, speakers did obligatory eye-pops at the promise of state fair food, made Garrison Keillor references, and sang Paul Wellstone praises. But there were two ardent, rabble-rousing speeches by underdog candidates that made it a Democrat-on-Democrat bloodbath all afternoon.

Coming into 2016, the DNC crafted a debate schedule apparently designed to usher Hillary Clinton through a gentle primary process. The committee may have protected her, today’s meeting showed at what cost. Clinton’s two main rivals used the DNC as a backboard for bankshots at her. The DNC itself was a target, and Clinton’s challengers hit at it repeatedly and to great applause.

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley hooked his entire speech around a linguistic barb, calling out the Democrats’ lack of debates for being literally “undemocratic.” More daringly, Sen. Bernie Sanders warbled a doomsday tune: If the Democrats continue with “politics as usual,” “establishment politics or establishment economics,” he warned, then they “will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate, will not gain the House and will not be successful in dozens of governor’s races.” The only part of his speech that wasn’t vicious criticism was clearly a lie: “With all due respect,” he said, “And I do not mean to insult anyone here.”

Well, on that last part Sanders might well tell true. By the time he had spoken, Hillary Clinton wasn’t there.

Cynics might say that was according to plan. The day’s speaking schedule, advertised as being in alphabetic order, put Clinton in a sweet spot: mid-morning, right after a wistful and mild Lincoln Chaffee. Not a bad expectation-setter, as opening acts go.

More fodder for those looking for conspiracy: Her speech went ten minutes longer than the committee claimed to allow. Her lack of nerves showed. She hit every mark, nailed every applause line and even summoned some laughs. (Truly, Donald Trump’s most significant Democratic donation is in-kind: He’s given Hillary a punchline that’s not about email, and a few more about hair.)

Her delivery reflected the deliberate lack of urgency her entire campaign wants to convey. Going into the committee’s meeting, the Clinton campaign placed a story claiming the primary all but over before a single vote has been cast. With 130 superdelegates already publicly committed, Clinton officials told “supporters and the undecided” that “private commitments increase that number to more than 440—about 20 percent” of what she needs to for the nomination itself.

I have my doubts about that story, mainly because it’s impossible to check. But as important as whether it’s true is that Clinton’s people want everyone to believe it.

Sanders’ success in turning out crowds has given him the most obvious retort. At the meeting itself, his supporters were raucous and eager to stand, rising from their chairs to thunder approval at a litany of not just good progressive causes (from mass incarceration to the minimum wage)—the same stuff of Hillary’s speech hours before. Even more insistently, they hooted encouragement at Sanders’ thundering against the establishment that Sanders was there to address. His argument was Sanders-centered but succinct: I am generating crowds and excitement, and without them, the Obama coalition is going to stay home.

O’Malley’s argument was necessarily more small-bore, but ingeniously formed. Sanders’ doomsaying was non-specific and grim—invoking the specter of loss but not focusing that much on what they’d lose to. O’Malley, on the other hand, mounted a race against Trump—and his platform was simple: “We’re better than this.” Without more debates, he asserted, the Democratic party will cede the whole conversation: “Will we let the circus run unchallenged on every channel, as we cower in the shadows under a decree of silence in the ranks?”

Sanders’ crowd may have been more ardent, but O’Malley’s rhetoric was craftier—lines like that prodded applause that seemed to fade in confusion, as if Hillary supporters could not help but endorse a distinction between their party and Trump, but then had to remember who was drawing the distinction from whom.

Both Sanders and O’Malley’s boldness fell short of breaking the Clinton omerta from the podium. They declined to furnish ad fodder for next fall. But in the press conferences afterwards, egged on by reporters to go from bank shots to point blank, both men were unable to resist direct jabs.

Both were asked they felt the debate schedule was rigged in Hillary’s favor, and both simply said, “yes.” O’Malley in particular couldn’t wait to say more. He was proud of how obvious he’d been: “I don’t think I was hinting, I thought I was pretty clear.” Sanders dredged up some sarcasm when a reporter wanted to know if by “establishment” he meant Hillary: “I’ll let you use your imagination on that.”

Who knows what Clinton makes of all this. Defensive mode, ironically, is what she does best.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, August 29, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Self-Avowed Expert On ‘The Negro'”: Rand Paul Meets With Rogue Rancher Cliven Bundy

Rand Paul met privately with Cliven Bundy on Monday, the Nevada rancher and anti-government activist told POLITICO.

The encounter came after Bundy attended an event for the Kentucky senator’s presidential campaign at the Eureka Casino in Mesquite, Nevada. When the larger group dispersed, Bundy said, he was escorted by Paul’s aides to a back room where he and the Republican 2016 contender spoke for approximately 45 minutes. (“There were no scheduled meetings at Senator Paul’s stop in Mesquite. He spoke to many people who came to this public event, none for 45 minutes and none planned,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said.)

The Nevada rancher said that he had expected only to have an opportunity to shake hands with Paul and make small-talk. He was surprised when campaign aides found a private room and allowed Bundy, his wife and son to speak with the candidate for the better part of an hour.

According to Bundy, the two mainly discussed federal land oversight and states’ rights, in addition to education policy — a theme Paul brought up in his speech.

“I don’t think he really understood how land rights really work in the western United States,” Bundy said. “I was happy to be able to sort of teach him.”

According to the Associated Press, Paul told the audience during the main event, “I think almost all land use issues and animal issues, endangered species issues, ought to be handled at the state level.”

“I think that the government shouldn’t interfere with state decisions, so if a state decides to have medical marijuana or something like that, it should be respected as a state decision,” Paul reportedly added.

Bundy said that in their private meeting, Paul brought up the work of the American Lands Council, which raises money from groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity to wrestle land from the federal government and return it to the states via negotiations, legislation and litigation.

“I disagree with that philosophy,” Bundy said of the ALC’s legalistic approach. “My stand is we are already a sovereign state. The federal government doesn’t need to turn this land back to us. It’s already state land.”

“I don’t want to sell this land to private ownership, because I believe I already have stewardship.” He added, “I educated Rand on that point,” and said that the candidate seemed sympathetic to his point of view.

“I don’t claim ownership,” Bundy said. “I claim rights.”

Bundy first made national headlines in the spring of 2014, when the federal government temporarily closed a large swathe of U.S. government-owned land in Clarke County, Nevada, to capture and impound Bundy’s cattle as a penalty for more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. Bundy refused to federal authority on the land where his family had lived for more than 120 years, but federal courts repeatedly sided with the Bureau of Land Management.

Shortly after the BLM closed the land, hundreds of armed militia members — including members of far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the White Mountain Militia — descended on the land outside of Mesquite, Nevada. After a weeklong fight and a twenty-minute standoff where federal agents and protesters pointed guns at one another, the BLM ultimately backed down and returned Bundy’s cattle.

Though the government agency has said that it will continue to work through the courts to exact money owed by Bundy, he told POLITICO that no federal vehicle has returned to the land for more than a year.

“The federal government is off my ranch and off this area of Clark County and they shouldn’t come back,” Bundy said.

After Bundy’s standoff, he briefly became a hero to far-right conservatives, bolstered by coverage on Fox News and praise by prominent Tea Party politicians like Paul and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

But his star quickly plummeted after he made inflammatory comments about African Americans being better off under slavery.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy told supporters shortly after the standoff, according to video footage captured by an onlooker. He recounted a time he drove past public-housing in Las Vegas “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom.”

After those comments went public, Paul walked back his support and issued a statement saying Bundy’s “remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

Bundy then apologized for the comments, saying at a press conference, “I’m probably one of the most non-racist people in America.”

“I hope I didn’t offend anybody. If I did, I ask for your forgiveness,” he added. “But I meant what I said. It comes from the heart.”

As for Bundy, he said he has not yet made up his mind about who he will support in 2016. He said that he’s focused on which national politicians are most keen to return power to the states and local communities and said that, in their private meeting, Paul seemed keen to do so.

But Democrats, even before word of the private meeting surfaced, attacked Paul for what was first reported as a chance encounter. The Democratic National Committee sent an email to supporters arguing that Paul isn’t as sensitive to African-American issues as he says.

Michael Tyler, the group’s director of African-American Media, wrote, “Remember Rand Paul preaching of broadening the Republican Party’s tent to include communities they typically ignore? Remember Rand Paul claiming he was the perfect candidate to spearhead this outreach? Go ahead and throw that idea out the window.”

“Rand Paul spent his day in Nevada kissing the ring of Cliven Bundy,” Tyler added. “The Cliven Bundy who is a self-avowed expert on ‘the negro.’”


By: Adam B. Lerner, Politico, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Donald?”: The Republican Party Just Got A Giant Headache, With A Comb-Over On Top

For years now, Donald Trump has threatened to run for president. In the past it has been just a publicity stunt — he says he might run, he gets some attention, eventually he gives it up. And pretty much everyone, myself included, thought that’s what Trump was doing this time around, even as he scheduled an announcement today (the theory that made the most sense to me said that he would announce that he was creating the classiest, most high-end super PAC anywhere). But believe it or not, Donald Trump is actually running for president.

There’s no way to know how far this will go. Philip Bump recently took a look at Trump’s poll numbers, and he ranks somewhere between the U.S. Congress and foot fungus. (My favorite detail: Asked about why 58 percent of Republicans in Iowa said they’d never vote for him, Trump responded, “That’s because they don’t think I’m running. When they think I’m running, they go through the roof.”) But he has enough money to finance a campaign for as long as he likes, which essentially means until he gets bored. That could be quite some time.

Trump’s candidacy presents a problem for the news media. How do you report on someone like him? Is it even worth fact-checking the ridiculous statements he constantly makes, or should we not even bother? Given that he has zero chance of winning his party’s nomination, should reporters be assigned to cover him? Why does he deserve more attention than, say, Ben Carson?

The truth is that he’s going to be covered, and covered amply, because he brings entertainment value to the campaign. He is, without question, a unique American character. Most politicians have a heightened self-regard, but Trump is in a league by himself when it comes to delusional egotism, which is part of what makes him compelling to watch. It was apparent in the bizarre, stream-of-consciousness rant that passed for his announcement speech.

“Our country needs a truly great leader,” he said, speaking of himself. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created, I tell you.”

It’s Trump’s lack of self-awareness that makes him such a wonder to behold. The man who has brought vulgarity to new heights thinks he’s the epitome of class, and even if no sane person would sit through an hour of “the Apprentice,” it’s hard to look away when he starts talking.

But the ones with the real dilemma are the leaders of the Republican Party, which is why the Democratic Party is absolutely licking its chops at his entry. The DNC’s statement today said simply that Trump “adds some much-needed seriousness that has been previously lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation.”

Republicans have already been struggling to bring order to a race with as many as fifteen candidates, and while some people (I plead guilty) derisively refer to the primary contest as it existed before as a clown show, it now features one of the country’s foremost clowns. And according to the rules the RNC and the participating TV networks set to limit the upcoming debates to ten participants — a threshold of performance in recent polls — Trump would qualify to participate. And it’s likely to stay that way, since the bottom rungs are occupied by candidates who poll in the low single digits. Trump may not be the nominee, but he’ll probably be able to pull five or ten percent of Republican voters, putting him somewhere in the middle of the pack.

So at the debates, we may end up watching Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio try to get a word in while Trump goes on about his solid gold toilets, the models he’s dated, and his brilliant secret plan to defeat ISIS (maybe we’ll finally learn what it is!). That could make the real candidates look like sober leaders who can be trusted to take the country’s reins. Anything’s possible. But it may be more likely that Trump will make the party look more foolish than it already does. He may be a walking caricature, but is what he has to say about issues any less serious than what we’ve heard from the other candidates? Is Trump’s secret ISIS plan likely to be dumber than the idea that we just need to show “strength” and “resolve” and everything in the Middle East will turn out fine? Is what Trump has to say about the economy any less grounded in fact and experience than the other candidates’ belief that if we cut taxes for people like Donald Trump, the economy will get better for everyone?

The Republican Party just got a giant headache, with a comb-over on top.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June16, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Crash Course In Congressional Mischief”: Voters Have An Entirely New Reason To Scorn Congress

After years of excoriating Congress for not legislating, Americans got a crash course Tuesday night about the mischief that can transpire when Congress actually fulfills its duties.

With both parties (for a change) committed to passing a spending bill by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown, the comprehensive legislation became a lobbyist’s delight. These omnibus last-minute bills traditionally pass Congress with virtually no debate. And since Barack Obama would never veto legislation to fund the government over minor provisions, anything small snuck into the bill is as good as inscribed into law.

Which brings us to the gem that Matea Gold of the Washington Post discovered on Page 1,599 of the 1,603-page bill. The provision — inserted in the legislation by persons unknown — would suddenly allow a married couple to give as much as $1.56 million to their political party and its committees in a two-year election cycle.

No, that isn’t a typo. Without resorting to Super PACs or taking advantage of a new loophole from the Supreme Court, couples or individuals could give roughly eight times more to their party in 2015 than they could in 2014. As election law expert Kenneth Gross told the Washington Post, “The cost of an ambassadorship just went up.”

Technically, this new giving can only go to three designated areas — convention costs, recount expenses and building funds. But while nothing is certain until regulations are written, it is a safe bet that these categories are likely to be porous. Hypothetically, funds for a new addition to the Democratic National Committee that houses the computers that contain the party’s voter files might also be used to update these registration lists. If nothing else, the parties would no longer have to take money from their general operating funds to pay for these activities.

A case can be made for strengthening the political parties in a Super PAC era. If the parties were too financially powerful in the 1990s when they were the only conduits for unregulated “soft money” contributions, now they are suffering from, in effect, being mere millionaires in a billionaire age. This is especially true as Super PACs are beginning to take on many of the traditional functions of parties like candidate recruitment, voter contact and polling.

It is worth recalling that parties are a force for responsibility and moderation in politics — since their ultimate goal is winning elections rather than enforcing an ideological agenda. Also, as ongoing organizations, the Republican and Democratic National Committees will still be around when the enthusiasms of the current generation of Super PAC donors wane or turn to art collecting and buying sports teams.

As a result, there could have been a robust public debate over the best way to fund political parties in this new electoral environment. Both Republican and Democratic party leaders — as well as the candidates themselves — should come to realize that they are the big losers when the mega-rich dominate campaigns through Super PACs.

It would have been possible to imagine bipartisan legislation in the next few years that would have traded increased legal contribution limits for enhanced disclosure of Super PAC and “dark money” spending. Or even swapped more generous giving for a functioning Federal Election Commission.

Instead Congress in its infinite wisdom decided that “dark money” legislating was a wiser solution. And blaming this one exclusively on the Republicans is probably not true, especially since the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is currently $20 million in debt.

The result is that the McCain-Feingold legislation, signed with such high hopes 12 years ago, is now as outmoded as Morse Code. And voters (or, at least, that small remnant who still care) have an entirely new reason to scorn Congress. Quite an accomplishment for a group of stealth middle-of-the-night legislators.


By: Walter Shapiro, Brennan Center For Justice, December 10, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Congress, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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