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“Bernie Sanders Is Not The Left’s Ron Paul”: Representing A Wing Of The Democratic Party Whose Influence Is Increasing

Ever since Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president, he has drawn comparisons to a similarly disheveled, longtime politician with a cult-like following and a strong independent streak: former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012. It’s true that Sanders and Paul have a lot in common: They both have rabid fan bases, don’t hold their tongues, and embrace ideologies that are rejected by the establishment of their respective parties. And like Paul, Sanders could challenge his party’s frontrunner early on, but doesn’t stand much of a chance of winning the nomination. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote this week:

Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be important. Here, it’s useful to think of Ron Paul … He helped bridge the divide between libertarians and the Republican right, and he inspired a new group of conservative and libertarian activists who have made a mark in the GOP through Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. If Sanders can sustain and capture the left-wing enthusiasm for his campaign, he could do the same for progressives.

I disagree; Sanders’s campaign isn’t simply one that will put “democratic socialist” ideas on stage against a more mainstream Democratic view, as Paul sought to do with his libertarian ideas. Rather, his candidacy represents a wing of the Democratic Party whose influence on the establishment is increasing with each election, as moderate Democrats (and their Republican counterparts) become extinct.

For a more apt Republican analog to Sanders’ campaign, one must go back to 2000. John McCain, like Sanders, was thought to have little chance to defeat George W. Bush, who, as the son of a former president and governor of a major electoral state, had more money and more party support. But McCain harnessed the anti-establishment sentiment of the time to build a strong online following, at a time when the internet’s infancy as a political tool. He fought a hard campaign against Bush, even winning the New Hampshire primary, before being knocked out of the race in early March.

Apart from the major issue of campaign finance reform, however, he had very little major policy or ideological differences with Bush and the Republican establishment. What set him apart was his press-appointed “maverick” status: He was willing to say things in public that no other candidate would—what David Foster Wallace, in his classic profile of the McCain campaign, called “obvious truths that everyone knows but no recent politician anywhere’s had the stones to say.” (His campaign bus was even called the “Straight Talk Express.”)

Likewise, Sanders refuses to hold his tongue. In June, he opened an interview with HBO’s Bill Maher by saying, “This campaign is about a radical idea: we’re going to tell the truth.” And that message seems to be working with liberals and even disaffected voters. As one New Hampshire resident, a self-described undecided independent voter, told The New Republic recently, “Do I think he can win? No. But I do like the somewhat fresh take of being a straight shooter.”

And much like Bush and McCain fifteen years ago, Clinton and Sanders are closer on the issues than a lot of progressives would like to admit. Sanders is championing reforms—a legislative or constitutional fix to Citizens United, universal healthcare, increased regulation of the financial system, income inequality—that most Democrats have supported for years, including Clinton; she was the face of the universal healthcare fight during Bill Clinton’s first term and has focused on income inequality and Citizens United in her 2016 campaign. Similarly, McCain’s biggest issues in that 2000 campaign—national defense and the Middle East—would define the Bush administration and the neoconservative movement as a whole for the next decade.

On the major issues that Sanders and Clinton disagree on—the extent to which the banking system should be reformed, surveillance, and free trade—Sanders’s position is just as popular within the party as Clinton’s, if not more so. These are the battles for the future of the Democratic Party, and where both Sanders and Clinton will seek to stake out a position independent of the other. And in those few instances where McCain and Bush disagreed, like the McCain-led campaign reform act, a McCain bill that expanded rights for terrorism detainees, and how much of a role social conservatism should play in the Republican Party, the disagreements were public.

McCain’s challenge to Bush was ultimately unsuccessful, but both were neoconservatives working toward the same goal. McCain campaigned for Bush, voted with the administration’s position 95 percent of the time, and was an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq. Although we can’t possibly know how often Sanders would vote with a hypothetical Clinton administration, we do know they voted together during their two years spent as Senate colleagues 93 percent of the time. And given Sanders’s endorsement of Obama in 2008 and 2012, it’s likely that, should he lose, he would throw his weight behind Clinton. John McCain may not have liked Bush much, but he supported him in both 2000 and 2004. In 2008, Ron Paul snubbed both McCain and the Libertarian Party candidate, instead endorsing the Constitution Party candidate, and refused to “fully support” Mitt Romney in 2012.

Similar to 2000, a dark-horse candidate running a candid campaign has emerged as the principal challenger to the frontrunner, one he’s a long shot to defeat. And like that first McCain bid for the presidency, Sanders’s loss would be because Clinton is a strong nominee who is more well-known and deemed an acceptable general election candidate to a majority of Democrats—not because his ideas are too fringe, as Paul’s were in his campaigns, for his party’s base.

 

By: Paul Blest, The New Republic, July 9, 2015

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Political Party Of Their Own”: RNC Discovers A Problem With The Koch Brothers’ Operation

The more Charles and David Koch provided the resources for a massive political operation, the more it seemed as if the far-right billionaires were creating a political party of their own. The Kochs had an army of field organizers, blanketed the airwaves with political ads, and even had their own voter lists.

All of this, of course, raises important questions about the role of money in the political process, and just how much influence wealthy interests can wield in a democratic system. But as Yahoo News reports today, for the Republican National Committee, the Koch brothers’ power is raising very different kinds of questions.

The Yahoo News report notes, for example, that in the 2014 election cycle, the RNC and the Kochs’ operation struck a deal to share voter data, though the arrangement evaporated once the season came and went. Now, however, the two sides are sharply at odds, creating what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.”

Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts – which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC – is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over – some even say control of – the GOP.

Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff, told Yahoo News, “I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how.”

I can appreciate why fights over data may seem like the ultimate in inside-baseball, but this is a fight worth paying close attention to.

Remember, for many modern campaigns, this data is the foundation for any successful endeavor. The more reliable and comprehensive the data, and the easier it is to use, the more effective the targeting, messaging, advertising, and grassroots organizing of any major campaign.

In this case, as one might expect, the Republican National Committee controls the Republican voter file, but the Kochs’ operation seems to have discovered that it really doesn’t need the Republican National Committee – the Kochs have their own platform to manage the data, and their own relationships with campaigns that want to make use of the data.

If that’s the case, some of you may be wondering why the Republican National Committee is needed at all – and you wouldn’t be the only one. From the Yahoo piece:

The core issue, from Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs – whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party – decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so. […]

The Kochs’ political arm, Freedom Partners, which oversees i360, views the issue as one of capability. Koch aides – several of whom used to work at the RNC – want to win elections, and in their view the RNC has inherent challenges to helping the party win. Party committee fundraising is severely limited by federal election law, while building, maintaining and enriching a database is expensive.

The other angle to keep in mind is just how striking it is to see Republican officials discover their heretofore non-existent concerns about outside money and the political process. The RNC’s Katie Walsh didn’t even rely on anonymity – she straight up told Yahoo News, on the record, that she believes it’s “dangerous” to extend too much power to “well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone.”

Ya don’t say. We might want to think twice before turning over parts of the democratic process to unaccountable, wealthy players with their own agenda? I’ve heard similar concerns for many years, but I don’t recall them ever coming from RNC officials.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 11, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Koch Brothers, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Unlikely To Long-Shot”: Rand Paul Just Sacrificed His Presidential Campaign For His Libertarian Principles

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had what will probably be the defining moment of his presidential campaign on Sunday night. It could conceivably help him, but at a high political cost. It could also end his presidential hopes.

The junior senator from Kentucky infuriated his Republican colleagues by blocking a vote on the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would curtail a controversial National Security Agency bulk phone-data collection program and reauthorize three other surveillance programs that expired at midnight. The NSA had stopped collecting telephone metadata Sunday afternoon, when it became clear no deal would be finalized in time. It won’t be able to resume until the Senate acts, the House approves any changes, and President Obama signs the bill.

In Rand Paul’s telling, and that of the red-shirted “Stand With Rand” supporters who filled the Senate gallery on Sunday evening, Paul stuck a shiv in the government surveillance state, at least for a few days. “The Patriot Act will expire — it will expire tonight,” Paul said on his way out of the Senate chamber Sunday night. “The point I wanted to make is that we can still catch terrorists using the Constitution.”

Paul had some other help, if inadvertent. Senate Republicans, notably Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), had wanted to extend the USA Patriot Act as is. They fell short. Then, after a week’s recess, when it became clear the votes just weren’t there for the Patriot Act renewal, McConnell reluctantly agreed to put the “flawed” USA Freedom Act up for a last-minute vote on Sunday, and the Senate agreed, 77 to 17. The bill had passed the House on May 13, 338-88, and Obama supports it.

Senate GOP hawks say the Freedom Act puts too many constraints on the NSA; Paul and some other civil libertarians say it still goes too far. But his usual civil-liberty allies in the Senate signaled their comfort with the House bill, leaving Rand Paul the lone holdout. In the Senate, that’s often enough to delay a bill, and Paul did so on Sunday.

Whether or not it was his prime motivation, as Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggest, Paul will earn a lot of money for his presidential campaign. But his chances of becoming the 2016 Republican nominee just went from unlikely to long-shot.

Shutting down American espionage and surveillance capabilities, even for a few days, is too off-brand for the GOP — especially at the moment.

Paul is “a niche candidate of a shrinking niche, because events are not playing out the way he anticipated two years ago when he began running for president,” George Will said on Fox News Sunday. “The world looks much more dangerous than it did,” and “literally cashing in” on his “conscientiousness as a libertarian” really “muddies the waters” of his intentions.

In a crowded Republican presidential field, Rand Paul is betting he can monopolize the libertarian caucus. It’s a gamble. Forcing expiration of the NSA provisions for a couple of days was a small victory on its own. But “his larger political victory was that he took ownership of Patriot Act opposition,” said David Weigel at Bloomberg Politics, “angering Republican colleagues whom he is happy to anger.”

Weigel names McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), but Paul also angered McConnell, who has endorsed him for president, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who vowed on Sunday that “there won’t be any negotiations with Rand Paul from this point forward.” Paul didn’t attend the GOP caucus meeting before Sunday’s session, and Republicans walked out on him en masse when he started speaking.

The big question for Paul is whether there are enough civil libertarians in the Republican Party, and if so, whether they will vote in the primary. Plenty voted for his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), but it wasn’t enough.

“People here in town think I’m making a huge mistake,” Rand Paul said Sunday evening. “Some of them I think secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.”

In other words, Rand Paul sounds like a lot of Democrats after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That wasn’t a good place to be, politically.

Brit Hume at Fox News hammered the same point on Sunday. Paul “seems confused about which party he’s running in,” he said. “There’s a segment of the Republican electorate which shares his somewhat paranoid views of things, and he’ll have their support, but that’s not a nominating set.”

Rand Paul seems to know the risks, and he seems content to go down swinging. And if he does stake his political future on curtailing government spying and lose, unlike other GOP presidential contenders, he probably shouldn’t expect a soft landing at Fox News.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, June 1, 2015

June 2, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Patriot Act, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Flood The Government With Lawsuits”: Charles Murray And The Right’s Plan To Subvert Democracy

Early last week, a watchdog website hosted by People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, reacted with alarm to a political-legal strategy outlined in a new book by the conservative social theorist Charles Murray. Normally when liberals assail Murray it’s in connection with his infamous tome The Bell Curve, which made him synonymous with race science—specifically the presumption that I.Q. differences between whites and blacks can be partially attributed to genetics.

Twenty years later, Murray has moved on to a more direct form of conservative activism, and taken a critical look at the mixed record of various expensive right-wing efforts to roll back the New Deal consensus. As you might expect from someone as deterministic as the author of The Bell Curve, Murray has concluded that the conservative movement’s shortcomings must be explained via reference to its political DNA and the political DNA of its competitors. But rather than reason much as he did two decades ago that these shortcomings reflect the intrinsic weakness of his ideology, he has concluded instead that the system is rigged against it. Appealing as populist libertarian ideas are to him and his cohort, or as they should be in the abstract, they simply can’t compete in a democratic environment with downwardly distributive progressivism. For the right to gain advantage, it will have to change terrain.

In his latest book, as PFAW explains, Murray hopes “to have one or a few anti-government billionaires kick in to create ‘The Madison Fund,’ a legal group that would flood the government with lawsuits challenging the enforcement of regulations they deem unnecessary.”

This is an apt description of Murray’s strategy, but the strategy itself happens to be the least revealing or alarming in his book. By The People is not first and foremost a book about billionaires subverting federal regulations, or beleaguered citizens seeking redress with the help of libertarian philanthropists.

It is instead about the impossible odds conservatives face if they hope to implement a libertarian agenda, and thus about the need for conservatives to think more devilishly about how to subvert democratic and quasi-democratic processes. The book’s title—By The People—has been held up for ridicule for exemplifying the emptiness of the populist appellations conservatives typically apply to the handiwork of wealthy, self-interested ideologues. But perhaps the joke’s on us, and Murray’s simply using a different form of the word “by” than Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

The subtext of Murray’s argument is that principled conservatives can only set back liberalism with rearguard action, and that even then, they can hope only for modest victories. Remarkably, the 100-page buildup to the strategy that has PFAW so concerned reads less like a battle cry than like a manifesto of hopelessness—or perhaps like a letter of surrender to the left. Murray tells his fans that “a restoration of limited government is not going to happen by winning presidential elections and getting the right people appointed to the Supreme Court”—asking them to accept, as a premise, that the billions of dollars conservative activists have spent trying to advance the cause through the White House have been wasted, or at least could have been better spent.

Like an adolescent Ayn Rand devotee, Murray can’t quite come to grips with the unattractiveness of his ideology. He is perfectly aware that the policies he opposes and the regulations he wants to overwhelm with litigation could theoretically be overturned by Congress and a conservative president. But to him, the unlikelihood of that outcome isn’t attributable to the normative weaknesses of his worldview but to a playing field that’s tilted against it. His ideas falter not because the people don’t support them, but because a series of ingredients, including—in his words!—the democratization of the House of Representatives, have corrupted the political system systemically. To the extent that “the people” he claims to be speaking for don’t rise up to challenge this corruption, it’s because they run up against what Murray calls “the fundamental theorem of democratic politics”—the fact that “people who receive government benefits tend to vote for people who support those benefits.”

“As of 2012,” Murray laments, “approximately half of all Americans received such benefits.” And more than one in three receive such generous benefits (either through welfare or retirement programs) that “the continued security of those programs is likely to be near the top of the recipients’ political calculations.”

Conservatism has been checkmated, not by a superior player, but by an unscrupulous one. Under the circumstances, Murray sees no choice but to move the game from the chessboard into the wild.

In truth, there’s nothing particularly novel or disquieting about the scheme Murray’s drawn up, except insofar as the procedural extremism conservatives have deployed in the Obama era is alarming in general. From the moment conservatives lost the White House six and a half years ago, they’ve been asking judges to do on their behalf what they’ve been unable to accomplish in the democratic branches. A few weeks from now, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in a case that was devised as part of an explicit strategy to hobble the Affordable Care Act through the judiciary, knowing that the legislature wouldn’t be able to do it for them.

This strategy has been intermittently successful, but has also run aground when its objectives—such as paralyzing the administrative state by flooding the courts with litigation—are unsupportable or too nakedly political. Notwithstanding Murray’s continued influence over conservative thinking, including favorable mentions just this month by GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, his latest big idea will run into a feasibility problem: even if it were attempted, it wouldn’t work particularly well.

What’s refreshing about By The People is that it blows right past the typical pretense that conservatives are, humbly and alone, defending the constitution and the rule of law, except to the extent that he believes the country went off the constitutional rails in systemic fashion several decades ago. He happily admits that his means here are subversive, undemocratic and of questionable legality. His substantive aims are not so different from those of, for instance, National Review writers Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru, who have outlined an agenda for the GOP Congress that includes unwinding the cooperative federalist models, responsible for so much of the regulatory and redistributive status quo Murray detests, and subjecting the regulatory regime in the crosshairs of his litigation strategy to legislative approval. But what Murray sees that others don’t, or won’t admit, is that these goals can be achieved only by short-circuiting the normal policy-making process.

It’s a shame in a way, because notwithstanding his Romney-esque conception of the political economy of modern welfare states, Murray’s overall critique of the American political system has a lot of merit to it. Were Murray’s central purpose to make Congress and the executive branch more responsive to the public, irrespective of the public’s political disposition, he’d find a lot of support in unexpected places. But that’s not his central purpose, and for good reason. As infuriating and frustrating as the U.S. government’s many corruptions are, they do not explain why conservatives have failed to upend enforcement of environmental, anti-discrimination and workplace-safety regulations. That’s why his preferred instrument of reform isn’t the ballot box, but the court system, and that in turn gives away the game. The former helps ensure that policy reforms have public sanction. The latter makes it possible to sneak ones that don’t By The People.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 18, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Charles Murray, Conservatives, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Worst Nightmare And A Pundit’s Dream”: A Brokered Convention In 2016

There are so many Republicans running for president, or thinking about running for president, that the Republican National Committee is having a hard time keeping track of them all. An official GOP online straw poll lists 36 potential candidates (and as Politico noted, that list actually missed at least two former governors who have said they’re mulling White House bids).

Regardless of the final tally, it’s becoming increasingly clear that debate planners will need to come up with creative ways to fit so many podiums on the stage when the candidates first face off in August.

But what makes this election so interesting isn’t just the sheer number of candidates. It’s that it could remain undecided until the GOP’s national convention in the summer of 2016. With so many candidates splitting the vote, it’s quite possible that no candidate gets a majority of delegates by the end of the primary season.

Now, it’s true that political junkies like me hope for a brokered convention every four years — one where backroom deals ultimately decide the eventual nominee. (Read more about brokered conventions here.) Each time, our dreams are ultimately foiled by one candidate who gains momentum through the primary season, causing the others to drop out.

But this year may be different for three unique reasons:

1. Look at the early polls. No Republican candidate can break even 20 percent support on a consistent basis in national surveys. In fact, the latest Real Clear Politics average finds just three possible candidates who register more than 10 percent. There’s really no frontrunner at all.

2. A winning coalition isn’t easy to put together. There are already several candidates who appeal mainly to evangelical Christians, a bunch who are attractive to national security hawks, and a handful who attract the Wall Street establishment crowd. There’s even a libertarian or two in the mix. With so many candidates on the menu, primary voters won’t necessarily have to pick the lesser of the evils. They’ll find a candidate who speaks to the issues they most care about.

3. Follow the money. Super PACs, which have become a pre-requisite for running for president this year, can raise unlimited sums from large donors. While they cannot legally coordinate their actions with the official campaigns, their war chests can ensure a candidate can stay in the race much longer than ever before. There’s little need to drop out if you have a billionaire or two committed to influencing the race with your candidacy.

Put this together and it’s very possible that no candidate will win two of the first four early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. If that happens, it’s impossible to predict what comes next.

RNC rules require states that hold nominating contests before March 15 to award delegates proportionally, meaning that the winner-take-all states that might decide the nomination come later in the process. Favorite-son candidates in delegate-rich states like Florida (Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) or Texas (Rick Perry and Ted Cruz) could further splinter the delegate counts.

The odds probably still favor the Republican nomination fight coming down to just a couple candidates. But at this point, it’s impossible to predict when so many candidates have a plausible path to the nomination.

In fact, a chaotic primary season – with more than a dozen candidates with plenty of money to spend — makes the most improbable outcome much more possible.

 

By: Taegan Goddard, The Week, May 18, 2015

May 20, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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