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“Gimmicks Tend To Backfire”: What A Party Circling The Drain Looks Like

The same is true of TV shows, consumer products and politics: when you have to rely on gimmicks to make your sale, you’re on the path to failure.

Despite a consistent and unyieldingly belligerent posture, the GOP has been increasingly substituting flash-in-the-pan gimmicks for actual policy positions or even coherent ideological talking points. Meanwhile, they’ve been quietly but surely on a path of retreat on substantive grounds.

The Benghazi carnival continues to go nowhere, damaging neither the Democratic Party generally nor even Hillary Clinton in a significant way. Republicans who once thought they could ride an anti-Obamacare wave all the way to November are facing the annoying reality that even in red states the actual specifics of the program are pretty popular, and they’re going to look very bad trying to take away health insurance from millions of people. The seniors who bought into the lie that the ACA is stealing money from Medicare are still with the GOP, but they’re not a big enough voting block to sweep conservatives into a Senate majority, much less the sort of tidal wave they would need to overcome Democratic filibusters.

In the meantime, polls show voters moving away from the GOP on most issues. Fox News’ ratings are tanking. And early numbers are indicating that while liberal and centrist voters aren’t excited about voting in the June primary, conservative voter enthusiasm seems to be greatly diminished as well.

Some of these trends are new, but they were also predictable. Pundits left, right and center have been cautioning for years that the GOP would be placed in a political squeeze by its hardline stance on the ACA. Gay marriage used to be a wedge issue driving Karl Rove’s voters to the polls; now it’s a thorn in the elephant’s side and a major public image problem. The shrill cries of Benghazi barely even excite their own base anymore. And the national Republican party hasn’t even given its own voters a positive agenda it would enact if it held the White House. After all, cutting Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and unemployment benefits isn’t a terribly attractive policy platform for a party utterly dependent on older, less educated suburban and rural white voters. What else are Republicans actually offering the public as a credible policy platform? What are they even offering to their own base?

Without steak to sell, all the GOP has left is culture war sizzle. Enter Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, whose bright light of media controversy over his remarks on gay marriage attracted a swarm of Republican political moths desperate to cling to his popularity with the conservative base. Now they’re stuck with him as he goes to public events telling Republican leadership that they can solve their problems with the electorate by “getting right with God”. His prescriptions for divine governance, unsurprisingly, are non-starters with the majority of American voters.

Gimmicks tend to backfire. Unfortunately for them, the Republican Party doesn’t seem to have much else left in its arsenal.


By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jindal Checks The Falwell Box”: In A Desperate Search For A “Base”

I don’t know how I missed the fact that Bobby Jindal was doing the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. Perhaps the Lord wanted me to have a peaceful weekend and not think about the Louisiana governor up there in Lynchburg pandering his heart out and checking the Falwell box in his desperate search for a “base” from which to run for president in 2016. Most of his remarks sound about as generic as you can get, in the Times-Pic‘s account of it:

“Today the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war. … It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty,” said Jindal, who spent much of the speech attacking President Barack Obama and the federal government.

This is the same rap he delivered at the Ronald Reagan Library back in February, and the only real enhancement is that he’s lucked into having an actual constituent, Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson, he can tout as the latest “victim” of politically-correct hordes of Jesus-hating sodomites. And so he has made his Christian Right persona the last of many reinventions he has pursued in his career, one that has the advantage of not relying on his record in Louisiana, where at the end of next year he’s leaving office after two full terms as governor not terribly popular with people in either party.

Indeed, he leaped effortlessly from talking about Phil Robertson to talking about Liberty’s pop-culture martyrs:

“You may think that I was defending the Robertsons simply because I am the Governor of their home state, the great state of Louisiana. You would be wrong about that. I defended them because they have every right to speak their minds,” Jindal said.

The governor then went on to say he supports David and Jason Benham, Liberty University graduates who recently lost an opportunity to have their own television show on HGTV after making controversial remarks about homosexuality and abortion.

So what distinguishes Bobby from all the other conservative pols making the holy pilgrimage to Lynchburg to offer themselves as field marshals in the spiritual warfare against godless secularists? Well, he’s got his conversion experience from Hinduism to Christianity, which he talked a lot about at Liberty, and will talk about in the future, so shameless and ruthless is his exploitation of anything in his own life that will help his candidacy. Trouble is, Bobby converted to Catholicism, not to the conservative evangelical Christianity of Jerry Falwell. I supposed he could have told the audience at Liberty this was a youthful indiscretion based on the likelihood that he would someday seek his fortune in Catholic-heavy Louisiana. But instead he’s describing himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” which is code for “don’t mind the transubstantiation and don’t listen to the current Pope, I’m as politicized as you are!”

Jindal by all accounts got a warm welcome from a national conservative evangelical audience at Liberty, and from a separate and more select group of Christian Right leaders at a private dinner over the weekend. But you have to wonder if he’s more of a novelty and a mascot for them, someone to warm up crowds with stories of hiding in the closet to read the Bible so his idol-worshiping parents couldn’t punish him, before the real presidential candidates speak. At this point, though, if that’s the role Bobby Jindal has to play to keep getting invited to do “major speeches,” that’s fine with him. Anywhere he goes will be more congenial territory than Baton Rouge.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 13, 2014

May 14, 2014 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sagebrush Provocateur”: Racist Liberal Media Invent More White Racism

Wouldn’t you figure it would be Adam Nagourney of the New York Times who would ruin the splendid living theater of patriotism being acted out in Nevada by quoting everybody’s hero Cliven Bundy as having views about black folks that might embarrass your local Grand Dragon:

[I]f the federal government has moved on, Mr. Bundy — a father of 14 and a registered Republican — has not.

He said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North 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. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “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. They got less freedom.”

Since Nagourney’s story came out late yesterday, you can imagine the consternation in conservative-land, which has for the most part adopted Bundy as a sort of sage-brush counterpart to Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson. What to say? Dean Heller’s staff was smart enough to immediately distance The Boss from Bundy’s racist rant. It took Rand Paul a bit longer to get there. Texas GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott’s people also disavowed an earlier effort to link his cause to Bundy’s. It’s probably a matter of moments before someone accuses Nagourney of inventing the quote about “the Negro,” and it’s probably crossed more than a few minds that Bundy is an agent provocateur. Seems to me the old cowboy really, really wanted to say what he said; he had to understand he was blowing up his own game.

All I know for sure is that the next ten or a hundred conservative gabbers who claim the only racists in America are liberals who play the “race card” are going to have to deal with Bundy’s example. They, not liberals, made the man an icon. Let them explain how his racism is unconnected with all the other reactionary features of his world view, which are pure as ever.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 24, 2014

April 25, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Racism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“With Cliven Bundy, The Right Is Reaping What It Sows”: He’s Theirs, Down To His Last Ugly Thought

Some great causes achieve their goals and transform the world, while others fizzle out when it’s discovered that their leaders are unadorned racists who think black people were in much better shape when they were slaves. Isn’t that how it goes? At least that’s what some conservatives must have thought today as they learned of the New York Times report on Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been grazing his cows on federal land and refusing to pay grazing fees, what you or I might consider “stealing,” but what the folks at Fox News, who have given Bundy hour after hour of glowing coverage, consider a principled stand against federal overreach in the finest American traditions.

Prior to this morning, Bundy’s fans were a limited but influential group, including senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller, the entire Fox network (but especially Sean Hannity), and the National Review, where one writer compared him to Gandhi. Now that Bundy’s fascinating ideas about “the Negro” have come to light, they’ll no doubt pretend they never really liked the guy in the first place, then they’ll stop talking about him. I predict, for instance, that after practically being Sean Hannity’s co-host for the last couple of weeks, Bundy will never be seen on Fox again, and he’ll be wiped out of their future discussions like a disfavored Soviet leader airbrushed out of a photo of the Politburo. But is there anything to learn from this episode? I think so. First though, here are the comments in question:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North 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. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “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. They got less freedom.”

Who would have thought that a gun-toting rancher who thinks he can graze on public land for free because “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing” would also be a racist? So weird.

Now hold on, you might say, that’s just a stereotype based on some things about who he is and what he believes about an entirely separate matter. And yes, it is. Which is why it would have been unfair to assume, before we knew it to be true, that Bundy was a racist. But I didn’t see anybody doing that. The only commentary I saw having to do with race before today came from people like Jamelle Bouie and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who pointed out that if Bundy were black, right-wing figures would not exactly be flocking to his defense, and the government might be dealing with him differently as well.

And the conservatives who embraced Bundy were doing so because of their own stereotypes about him. It wasn’t as though he had some kind of compelling case to make. It was clear from the outset that the guy was a nut (see the above comment about not recognizing the existence of the United States government). His only cause was that he shouldn’t have to pay fees to graze his cattle on land he doesn’t own. To most people he looked like a crazy old man with a sense of entitlement that would put any “welfare queen” to shame.

But to his advocates, he was an avatar of freedom. Why? Well, he does ride a horse and wear a cowboy hat, and he loves guns and hates the government. What else did they need to know?

As I noted today over at the Washington Post, there are more than a few parallels with the case of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson. Robertson too was someone conservatives knew they loved, since he was their kind of guy, even before they heard his views on gay and black people. Robertson’s statement was remarkably similar to Bundy’s, just substituting Jim Crow for slavery (“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues”). Since no black people ever brought their complaints about the terroristic system of Jim Crow directly to Phil Robertson, he’s pretty sure they were all “singing and happy” back then, unlike today with their entitlement and their welfare. Cliven Bundy once drove past a housing project, so he has a deep understanding of how pathological those black folk are.

The conservatives who elevate figures like Robertson and Bundy may not share the full extent of their views on race, but they can’t escape them either. Because those people know which party and which ideology is their natural home. Sure, you may not hear Rush Limbaugh say that black people were better off as slaves, but you’ll hear a lot of other things that make Cliven Bundy nod his head in agreement. You’ll hear him say that Barack Obama’s agenda is “payback” for slavery, a way to stick it to white people. You’ll hear him say that Barack and Michelle Obama’s lavish lifestyle, where they live in a big white house and travel on their own airplanes, isn’t just what presidents do; instead, “they view it as, as an opportunity to live high on the hog without having it cost them a dime. And they justify it by thinking, ‘Well, we deserve this, or we’re owed this because of what’s been done to us and our ancestors all these’ — who knows?” When you watch Fox you’ll see story after story about welfare queens and food stamp cheats and all the other schemers and scammers who are taking your hard-earned money away from you. And you’ll be told, again and again and again, that racism against black people is but a fading memory, while the false accusation of racism is something liberals and blacks use to keep the white man down.

Conservatives didn’t invent Cliven Bundy, but when he rushed to their embrace they encouraged him and applauded him and made him into a national figure. He’s theirs, down to his last ugly thought.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 24, 2014

April 25, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Racism, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gird Thy Loins, War Is Nigh”: Bobby Jindal Tries To Become A General In The Eternal War On American Christians

Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America’s greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President ’16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It’s partly Barack Obama’s war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it’s important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn’t the victory but the fight.

Here’s how Politico describes the speech, which they got an early copy of:

“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance.”

“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power,” he adds, according to the prepared remarks. “It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”

The speech sounds like pretty standard stuff; Jindal reiterates his support for Duck Dynasty homophobe/Jim Crow nostalgist Phil Robertson, saying, “The modern left in America is completely intolerant of the views of people of faith. They want a completely secular society where people of faith keep their views to themselves.” Which is not actually true; what Jindal (and some others) seem to want is a society where conservatives can say ignorant, bigoted things and no one is allowed to criticize them for it. But what interests me is the religious war stuff.

“Our religious freedom was won over the course of centuries of persecution and blood,” Jindal says, “and we should not surrender them without a fight.” Maybe he explains in the actual speech about the centuries of persecution and blood—is he talking about here in America? Because I don’t really remember all the Christians being tossed in jail or rounded up for massacres during the colonial period, culminating in the First Amendment, but maybe I missed something. In any case, this is a little more complex than simply appealing to social conservative voters, though it certainly is that.

Jindal is rather shrewdly attempting to tap into something that’s universal, but particularly strong among contemporary conservatives: the urge to rise above the mundane and join a transformative crusade. It’s one thing to debate the limits of religious prerogatives when it comes to the actions of private corporations, or to try to find ways to celebrate religious holidays that the entire community will find reasonable. That stuff gets into disheartening nuance, and requires considering the experiences and feelings of people who don’t share your beliefs, which is a total drag. But a war? War is exciting, war is dramatic, war is consequential, war is life or death. War is where heroes rise to smite the unrighteous. So who do you want to get behind, the guy who says “We can do better,” or the guy who thunders, “Follow me to battle, to history, to glory!”

Not that candidates haven’t tried to ride the “war on Christianity” thing before, with only limited success. But Fox News does crank up the calliope of Christian resentment every December, and there’s enough of a market there to keep it going. Can Bobby Jindal—slight of build, goofy of mien, dull of voice—be the Henry V of the 2016 version of this unending war? Let’s just say I’m a wee bit skeptical.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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