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“Working Off The Same Script”: Why Can’t Republican Candidates Say Whether They Want Boots On The Ground?

It was a busy night on the campaign trail Tuesday, as candidates in several key races faced off in debates. Moderators frequently asked whether candidates thought President Obama should commit US ground troops to the fight against ISIS—and most Republican candidates dodged the question with notable clumsiness.

In North Carolina, which has the third-highest military population among US states, incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan is opposed to troops on the ground. In Tuesday’s debate, moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, she noted the United States “has many domestic needs at home” and said Iraqi and Syrian soldiers should wage the fight. Then Stephanopoulos put the question to her opponent, Thom Tillis:

STEPHANOPOLOUS: When I was speaking to House Speaker John Boehner last week, he told me that if other nations don’t step forward, the United States would have no choice but to put boots on the ground. Do you agree?

TILLIS: I think one of the reasons that many nations are afraid to step forward is because this president is afraid to lead the world. Normally in crises like these, the president is considered to be the leader of the free world. He rallies nations together to put down terrorist threats like ISIS. But now our allies, our friends across the world, really don’t know where this president stands because he telegraphs his plan to our enemies, he gives strength to the terrorists by telling them what we’re not going to do. He should have everything on the table and he should build some credibility and Senator Hagan should be right there with him.

There’s a small glimmer of an answer in there; Tillis seemed to be suggesting it was best not to say one way or the other whether ground troops should go. Stephanopoulos did not follow up, but Hagan immediately noted that Tillis didn’t answer the question.

In Colorado’s Senate debate on Tuesday, Republican Representative Cory Gardner was directly asked to “describe the circumstances in which you would support American boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq,” and answered with a word salad of attacks on Udall and Obama’s foreign policy. (Democratic incumbent Mark Udall opposes troops on the ground.) Gardner’s answer in full:

GARDNER: Look, our foreign policy is in the situation it is today because of the failure of leadership at the White House. And the president has said his policies are going to be on the ballot this November. Mark Udall voted with those policies 99 percent of the time. The president said we have no strategy when it comes to dealing with ISIL. The president said they were junior varsity actors. The president said we will lead from behind, and that’s Mark Udall’s plan, too, because he agrees with him 99 percent of the time. We must make sure that we protect the safety and security of American families. That’s why I have supported efforts to make sure that we take out the terrorists. But Senator Udall believes the Islamic State is not an imminent threat to our nation. Senator Udall believes that they are not plotting against our country. We had people arrested at Denver International Airport for conspiring with the Islamic State. In Chicago for conspiring with the Islamic State. And Senator Udall doesn’t even show up at the Armed Services hearing when it talks about emerging threats. Senator Udall is absent.

In West Virginia, Democratic challenger Natalie Tennant has plainly said she opposes troops on the ground and, in Tuesday’s debate, reiterated her opposition and cited the pain of having sent her husband off to war. She did give a mini-evasion to the moderator’s question—he noted she opposed ground troops, but asked what future situation might justify them. That’s a tough hypothetical to answer, and Tennant basically said she would need more information.

When the moderator put the same question to the Republican candidate, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, she evaded the question of ground troops entirely:

CAPITO: The visuals of ISIS beheading two Americans and threatening to behead another, and British journalists and aid workers, is just jarring to all of us. I think that because of the president’s weak policies in Iraq, we find ourselves in a position where this terrorist group has been fomenting, raising money, raising membership. I find it frightening in terms of what could happen on our homeland. That has to be what you think about. There is nothing more valuable for us as Americans than our servicemen and women, and I appreciate [Tennant’s] husband’s service to our country. I take these decisions very seriously. I did vote to have the president train the Syrian rebels because I feel like we need a coalition of people that will stop the terrorist group from further growth.

In Georgia’s Senate debate on Tuesday night, the moderator repeatedly pressed Republican David Perdue on whether he wants ground troops in Iraq and Syria, and this is the closest Perdue came to an answer: “If we put boots on the ground, that better have a chance to win. Right now we don’t have that.” (I have no idea what that means.)

In Virginia’s Senate race last night, Republican Ed Gillespie said only that Obama should not have ruled out ground troops, and incumbent Senator Mark Warner agreed.

But in most races, Republican candidates are working off the same script: avoid calling for ground troops at all costs and simply step around the question. The similarly scripted attacks on Obama’s alleged incoherence on ISIS seem rather strange given that fairly massive dodge.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Boots On The Ground, Foreign Policy, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“In Case Anyone Is Confused”: Don’t Fall For The GOP’s Over-The-Counter Contraception Racket

It’s time to call bullshit on the GOP’s embrace of over-the-counter birth control. Several Republican candidates, under fire for radical positions on women’s health, have recently adopted the idea in a naked attempt to woo female voters. These politicians say they’re all in favor of access to contraception. But sudden calls for the pill to be available without a prescription do not signal a real shift in conservative attitudes toward reproductive rights. They simply mask tired opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurers cover birth control.

The list of Republicans that have endorsed the idea includes Senate nominees Cory Gardner (Colorado), Tom Tillis (North Carolina), Ed Gillespie (Virginia) and Mike McFadden (Minnesota). Republicans running for the House have also spoken up for over-the-counter access.

None of these people were championing the proposal before their campaigns. Instead, they were working to limit women’s access to abortion and other healthcare. Gardner, who started the over-the-counter trend in June with an op-ed in The Denver Post, has campaigned for “personhood” measures that would outlaw abortion and possibly some forms of birth control since at least 2006. Early in his campaign Gardner denounced the state-level personhood legislation he’d supported—yet he’s still a co-sponsor on a federal bill that would have the same impact. Gardner has resorted to claiming that bill doesn’t exist.

Then there’s Tom Tillis, who endorsed over-the-counter birth control during a debate with Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in September. As the top Republican in the state House, Tillis shepherded extreme anti-choice legislation in a decisively dishonest manner, inserting restrictions into unrelated bills like one ostensibly about motorcycle safety. Tillis, like other Republicans trumpeting their support for over-the-counter contraception, opposes not only the ACA’s birth control mandate but the healthcare law in general, which has a range of other benefits for women.

The latest candidate to pivot to contraception when confronted about her record is Joni Ernst, a Senate hopeful in Iowa who supports a personhood amendment as well as criminal prosecution of doctors who provide abortions. “When it does come to a woman’s access to contraception, I will always stand with our women on affordable access to contraception,” she said. Her campaign did not respond to a request to clarify which specific policies she supports that would increase affordability and accessibility.

In case anyone is confused: while affordable contraception does dramatically reduce rates of unintended pregnancy, it does not solve the problems created by cutting off women’s access to abortion services. In fact, attempts to block abortion access—for example, by cutting funds for clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide a range of services besides abortion—can have the perverse effect of making it more difficult for women to get other healthcare, birth control included.

Nor is making contraception available without a prescription an alternative to the birth control mandate (or, needless to say, the entire healthcare law). Over-the-counter birth control has support from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a point that several Republican candidates have pointed out when their motives were questioned. Yet the same medical association is quite clear that women still need insurance coverage for contraception. Not all women can or want to take the pill, and other forms of birth control like the IUD are expensive and require a doctor’s appointment. In June, ACOG warned politicians against using calls for over-the-counter contraception “as a political tool.”

That Republicans need such a tool to alter their reputation among women is obvious. Young women are the key demographic in many midterm battlegrounds, and according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in July and August, they prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress by a fourteen-point margin. (Men, on the other hand, favor Republicans by seventeen points.)

But why over-the-counter birth control, specifically? It’s a win-win-win for Republicans trying to appeal to female voters, while bashing Obamacare and boosting their free-market street cred. Candidates can say they support access to contraption while celebrating a “market-based approach to medicine,” as the editorial board of National Review described it recently. The editors commended Republicans for “running…to get government out of the birth-control business as much as possible, and to free up access to it for the women who want it.”

To understand why this sudden embrace of “access” is a racket, and a dangerous one, consider Kevin Williamson, National Review’s self-described “roving correspondent.” In a recent post titled “Five Reasons Why You’re Too Dumb to Vote,” Williamson characterizes women who care about preserving access to abortion or the birth control mandate as “women who cannot figure out how to walk into Walgreens, lay down the price of a latte, and walk out with her own birth-control pills, no federal intervention necessary.” He goes on to applaud the editorial board’s endorsement of the over-the-counter birth control fad.

A few days later, Williamson declared that women who have abortions should be hanged. “I’m torn on capital punishment generally; but treating abortion as homicide means what it means,” he said on Twitter. To be clear: what “pro-life” Williamson is arguing for is putting one in every three women in the United States to death.

“Democrats are not resisting the GOP’s suggestion because of any quibbles with its policy substance,” National Review said in response to suggestions that the GOP’s embrace of over-the-counter birth control smacks of opportunism. “They hem and haw because they want to continue to depict Republicans as intent on keeping contraceptives away from women.”

It doesn’t matter what Republicans are or aren’t intent on. The bottom line is that a variety of conservative positions, from opposition to the ACA to federal funding for women’s clinics, have had or would have the very real effect of making it more difficult for women to access healthcare in general and contraceptives specifically.

Furthermore, contraception is hardly the sum of women’s medical needs. When conservatives fight to empower women to make decisions about their own bodies in all cases, regardless of income, then maybe we’ll take them seriously. In the meantime, there’s little of substance in an ideology that promotes birth control without a prescription for some women and hanging for others.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, October 3, 2014

October 5, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, Women's Health | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Price For Letting Them Off Easy”: The Bush Era Starting To Take On Less Of The Flavor Of Criminality And More Of Mere Incompetence

Things that make me want to sanitize my brain by dunking my head in a bucket of iodine:

As George W. Bush’s public image improves, more former Bush officials are running for office — and are starting to tout their connections to the former president rather than running from them.

Top former Bush advisor Ed Gillespie included photos with his old boss and talked of his work in the White House in the video announcing his Virginia Senate bid on Thursday.

Gillespie isn’t the only Bush alumni looking to be on the ballot this fall. The former Republican National Committee chairman joins a long list already looking to launch their own electoral careers: Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan (R); Elise Stefanik, the current GOP front-runner for retiring Rep. Bill Owens’s (D-N.Y.) seat in upstate New York; North Carolina congressional candidate Taylor Griffin (R) and West Virginia House candidate Charlotte Lane.

Former Bush officials Tom Foley (R) and Asa Hutchinson (R) are also running for governor in Connecticut and Arkansas. Neel Kashkari, who served both the Bush and Obama administration as assistant Treasury secretary running the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is mulling a bid to the GOP nominee for governor in California. One of Gillespie’s little-known Republican primary opponents, Howie Lind, served in Bush’s Department of Defense.

I know it is unrealistic to think that the Republican Party could field a nation of candidates without using anyone who served in the Bush administration, but it galls me that it might be anything but a liability.

There was way too little legal accountability for the various crimes of the Bush administration, and the effort to reach out (remember the vote on the Stimulus?) was met with a petulant stiff-arm. The result is that the Bush Era has begun to take on less of the flavor of criminality and more of mere incompetence. In reality, it was a lethal combination of both, and we should have never let America develop amnesia about that fact.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 19, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | George W Bush, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boy, How Things Have Changed”: We Will All Be Represented By Lobbyists Someday

Today, former Bush operative and tobacco lobbyist extraordinaire Ed Gillespie confirmed he is going to challenge Virginia Senator Mark Warner. This comes on the heels of news Monday that David Jolly, another lobbyist, had won the GOP primary in a special congressional election in Florida. And let’s not forget the victory of Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic lobbyist and second-worst candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

Three examples makes it a trend. But what, if anything, does it herald for the future of American politics? Will Congress eventually be dominated by empty-eyed, gladhanding walking grins whose only skills are flattering the rich and powerful, and raising obscene amounts of money?

The short answer: Yes, so we might as well get used to it.

Congress was never a place where high idealism triumphed. On the contrary, for most of American history it has been dysfunctional, foolish, racist, in thrall to special interests, awash in money, and often stunningly corrupt. But, at the risk of romanticizing the past, it used to be a place that basically functioned, if you define “functioning” as “passing enough legislation to keep the country tottering along, usually after every other possibility was exhausted, and maybe even making things a little better for people every once in awhile.” It was exciting, for boring people at least, a place where ambitious strivers came for a career in political adventure and accomplishment.

But things have changed. Increasingly Congress has stopped doing anything at all, let alone anything positive, and became a place where not blowing up the world financial system for no reason is a success, and passing a budget like responsible countries do on a routine basis counts as a major accomplishment. And even then, everyone hates you for it anyway. Congress has rarely been well-liked, but it keeps setting new records in unpopularity—in November its approval rating was a record-low nine percent. Which only prompted one question: Who are these nine percent of people?

What’s more, the stupendous sums needed for a modern campaign, driven by Citizens United and the unintended consequences of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, have turned our representatives’ daily lives into one of endless begging for money. After the election, Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui wrote about the grim experience awaiting newly elected congressmen:

The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington. Of that, four hours are to be spent in “call time” and another hour is blocked off for “strategic outreach,” which includes fundraisers and press work. An hour is walled off to “recharge,” and three to four hours are designated for the actual work of being a member of Congress — hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents. If the constituents are donors, all the better…It is considered poor form in Congress — borderline self-indulgent — for a freshman to sit at length in congressional hearings when the time could instead be spent raising money…

“What’s my experience with it? You might as well be putting bamboo shoots under my fingernails,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a high-ranking Democrat.

Terry McAuliffe might not be terribly principled. But one thing he can do better than all but a handful of living humans is raise money—thanks to his utter shamelessness. Consider the time he, by his own admission, left his wife and literally newborn son in the car to raise money for the Democrats:

We got to the dinner and by then Dorothy was in tears, and I left her with Justin and went inside. Little Peter was sleeping peacefully and Dorothy just sat there and poor Justin didn’t say a word. He was mortified. I was inside maybe fifteen minutes, said a few nice things about Marty, and hurried back out to the car. I felt bad for Dorothy, but it was a million bucks for the Democratic Party and by the time we got home and the kids had their new little brother in their arms, Dorothy was all smiles and we were one big happy family again. Nobody ever said life with me was easy.

If the lobbyist-turned-politician trend continues, how much will it actually change on the Hill? After all, parties are getting better and better at enforcing ideological discipline. Devoid of any principle except their own advancement, lobbyists will serve as little more than a precisely calibrated measurement of the political influence of various interest groups and pressure groups. So to the extent that the country is well-served by actual ideological competition, lobbyist-politicians will be a reasonable proxy.

That’s the sunniest interpretation imaginable, anyway. Realistically, more lobbyist-politicians means more looted taxpayer cash stuffing plutocrats’ pockets. These brave new politicians won’t, by themselves, destroy the republic, but a Congress dominated by these money vacuums will probably be hell for the American people. Just wait until a grinning President McAuliffe signs the Chinese Lead-Based Toy Deregulation Act of 2024.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The New Republic, January 16, 2014

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Lobbyists | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Grave Digger”: Mitt Romney’s Deeper And Deeper Hole

If today is the Romney campaign’s idea of how to get out of the box Romney is in, they’re even less ready for prime time than I thought. This is, well, amazing:

“There may have been a thought at the time that it could be part time, but it was not part time,” [Romney spokesman Ed] Gillespie said. “He took a leave of absence and in fact he ended up not going back at all, and retired retroactively to 1999 as a result,” he added.

He ended up not going back at all? So I presume since he retroactively retired, he also paid back the salary he earned during that period. But apart from that, how does the Romney campaign explain the following claims made under oath by Romney and his lawyer testifying about his Massachusetts residence to qualify for the race for governor:

Romney testified that “there were a number of social trips and business trips that brought [him] back to Massachusetts, board meetings” while he was running the Olympics. He added that he remained on the boards of several companies, including the Lifelike Co., in which Bain Capital held a stake until 2001…

“He succeeded in that three-year period in restoring confidence in the Olympic Games, closing that disastrous deficit and staging one of the most successful Olympic Games ever to occur on US soil,” said Peter L. Ebb from Ropes & Gray, [his lawyer at the 2002 hearing].

“Now while all that was going on, very much in the public eye, what happened to his private and public ties to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? And the answer is they continued unabated just as they had.”

So either Ed Gillespie and Romney are lying now, or Romney and his lawyer were lying then. Which is it? They were and are obviously trying to have it every which way to suit whatever purpose at the moment. But legally, CEOs are responsible for their companies, whether they are managing them full time, part time or even retroactively retiring while managing them. Period. The buck stops with the CEO, just as much as it stops with a president. As a Bain partner at the time said today:

“Mitt’s names were on the documents as the chief executive and sole owner of the company,” Ed Conard, who served as a partner at Bain Capital from 1993 to 2007, said in an exclusive interview with Up w/ Chris Hayes. Asked again if Romney was chief executive officer of Bain Capital from 1999 to 2002, Conard said, “Legally, on documents, I suppose, yes.”

Despite Romney’s statements that he left in 1999, Conard’s new remarks suggest that, in fact, Romney’s continued ownership of the firm enabled him to negotiate a better exit deal. “We had to negotiate with Mitt because he was an owner of the firm,” Conard said.

Romney, in other words, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He has been running a campaign against the “Obama economy” insisting that the president own every single month he has been in office in order to condemn his economic management all the more – despite at least a first year in which Obama cannot really be held responsible for the fallout of an economic collapse he inherited. So Romney insists on maximal responsibility for Obama and the economy.

But responsibility for Bain? Think about it. No one disputes that Romney co-founded Bain, hired most of its staff, and honed its methods and strategies from 1984 to 2002. No one can dispute that he was paid at least $100,000 from 1999 to 2002 for being CEO. There is no massive difference between the kind of strategies Bain pursued from 1984 to 1999 when Romney was managing full-time and from 1999 to 2002, when he was managing part-time and by his own lawyer’s assertion that his Bain activities “continued unabated just as they had.” Is Romney saying that nothing that happened at Bain after 1999 is his responsibility but that everything that happened after January 2009 is all Barack Obama’s fault?

Yep, that’s what he’s saying. It’s a pathetic double standard argument from a suddenly pathetic and panicking campaign. The only way he can dig out of this hole – yes, Bill Kristol is right – is to release 12 years of tax returns just as his father did. Until he does, the Obama campaign has every right to double and triple their insistent criticism of Romney’s Bain record. And there will be more and more blood in the water.

 

By: Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast, July 15, 2012

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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