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“The Perils Of Circus Politics”: Circus Politics May Be Fun To Watch, But It’s Profoundly Dangerous For America And The World

The next president of the United States will confront a virulent jihadist threat, mounting effects of climate change, and an economy becoming ever more unequal.

We’re going to need an especially wise and able leader.

Yet our process for choosing that person is a circus, and several leading candidates are clowns.

How have we come to this?

First, anyone with enough ego and money can now run for president.

This wasn’t always the case. Political parties used to sift through possible candidates and winnow the field.

Now the parties play almost no role. Anyone with some very wealthy friends can set up a Super PAC. According to a recent New York Times investigation, half the money to finance the 2016 election so far has come from just 158 families.

Or if you’re a billionaire, you can finance your own campaign.

And if you’re sufficiently outlandish, outrageous, and outspoken, a lot of your publicity will be free. Since he announced his candidacy last June, Trump hasn’t spent any money at all on television advertising.

Second, candidates can now get away with saying just about anything about their qualifications or personal history, even if it’s a boldface lie.

This wasn’t always the case, either. The media used to scrutinize what candidates told the public about themselves.

A media expose could bring a candidacy to a sudden halt (as it did in 1988 for Gary Hart, who had urged reporters to follow him if they didn’t believe his claims of monogamy).

But when today’s media expose a candidates lies, there seems to be no consequence. Carson’s poll numbers didn’t budge after revelations he had made up his admission to West Point.

The media also used to evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, and those evaluations influenced voters.

Now the media’s judgments are largely shrugged off. Trump says he’d “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, round up all undocumented immigrants in the United States and send them home, and erect a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border.

Editors and columnists find these proposals ludicrous but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Fiorina says she’ll stop Planned Parenthood from “harvesting” the brains of fully formed fetuses. She insists she saw an undercover video of the organization about to do so.

The media haven’t found any such video but no one seems to care.

Third and finally, candidates can now use hatred and bigotry to gain support.

Years ago respected opinion leaders stood up to this sort of demagoguery and brought down the bigots.

In the 1950s, the eminent commentator Edward R. Murrow revealed Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy to be a dangerous incendiary, thereby helping put an end to McCarthy’s communist witch hunts.

In the 1960s, religious leaders and university presidents condemned Alabama Governor George C. Wallace and other segregationist zealots – thereby moving the rest of America toward integration, civil rights, and voting rights.

But when today’s presidential candidates say Muslim refugees shouldn’t be allowed into America, no Muslim should ever be president, and undocumented workers from Mexico are murderers, they get away with it.

Paradoxically, at a time when the stakes are especially high for who becomes the next president, we have a free-for-all politics in which anyone can become a candidate, put together as much funding as they need, claim anything about themselves no matter how truthful, advance any proposal no matter how absurd, and get away bigotry without being held accountable.

Why? Americans have stopped trusting the mediating institutions that used to filter and scrutinize potential leaders on behalf of the rest of us.

Political parties are now widely disdained.

Many Americans now consider the “mainstream media” biased.

And no opinion leader any longer commands enough broad-based respect to influence a majority of the public.

A growing number of Americans have become convinced the entire system is rigged – including the major parties, the media, and anyone honored by the establishment.

So now it’s just the candidates and the public, without anything in between.

Which means electoral success depends mainly on showmanship and self-promotion.

Telling the truth and advancing sound policies are less important than trending on social media.

Being reasonable is less useful than gaining attention.

Offering rational argument is less advantageous than racking up ratings.

Such circus politics may be fun to watch, but it’s profoundly dangerous for America and the world.

We might, after all, elect one of the clowns.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, November 17, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Journalism, Mainstream Media, Political Parties | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Marco Rubio Has An Arithmetic Problem”: Anyone With Access To A Calculator Should Recognize Just What A Joke This Scheme Is

At first blush, it’s tempting to see Marco Rubio’s economic plan as a dog-bites-man story: Republican presidential campaign proposes massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, even while saying the opposite. The Florida senator isn’t alone on this front, and it all seems sadly predictable.

But in this case, there’s more to it. Even if you’re unmoved by Rubio’s odd inability to handle his own personal finances in a responsible way, the way he intends to deal with the nation’s finances as president is arguably a national disqualifier.

The trouble started in earnest at the last debate for Republicans presidential candidates – the one pundits decided was a triumph for Rubio – when CNBC’s John Harwood pressed the Florida senator on his tax-cut plan.

HARWOOD: The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to- paycheck, don’t you have that backward?

 RUBIO: No, that’s – you’re wrong.

It turns out, analysis from both the left and right scrutinized Rubio’s plan and found that he was completely wrong. I can’t say whether he was deliberately trying to deceive viewers or simply unaware of the details of his own policy, but in either case, the senator’s claims were false.

In the days that followed, scrutiny of Rubio’s plan intensified. Vox’s Dylan Matthews talked directly to Rubio staffers and discovered that the senator’s plan includes even more generous tax breaks for the top 1% than Jeb Bush’s and Donald Trump’s plans. An analysis for Citizens for Tax Justice also found that the bulk of the benefits in the Rubio plan would go to the very, very wealthy.

Indeed, New York’s Jon Chait added, “Rubio’s proposal deliberately provides some benefits to Americans of modest income, which means that its enormous tax cuts for the very rich come alongside some pretty decent-size tax cuts for the rest of us. All told, Rubio’s plan would reduce federal revenue by $11.8 trillion over the next decade. The entire Bush tax cuts cost about $3.4 trillion over a decade, making the Rubio tax cuts more than three times as costly.”

It’s against this backdrop that Rubio has also proposed a vast expansion of the U.S. military, while leaving Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees untouched.

In any version of reality in which arithmetic exists, Rubio’s plan is simply indefensible. Massive tax breaks for the rich, coupled with significant increases in military spending, leads to ballooning budget deficits. It’s not theoretical – we tried this in the Bush/Cheney era and it led to predictable results that we’re still trying to address.

The difference is, Rubio wants tax cuts that are triple the size of the ones created by George W. Bush and Dick “Deficits Don’t Matter” Cheney.

As this relates to the 2016 race, the central problem relates to policy: Rubio’s numbers don’t, and can’t, add up. Anyone with access to a calculator should recognize just what a joke this scheme is.

But the other problem is what we’re learning about Rubio as a candidate. There is, like it or not, a character aspect to presidential hopefuls’ platforms – because they offer Americans an opportunity to learn about candidates’ honesty, priorities, values, and candor. The Florida senator who talks about his ability to appeal to maids and bartenders has gone to almost comical lengths to craft a plan that benefits CEOs and hedge-fund managers, all while pretending to be an expert on fiscal responsibility.

Marco Rubio’s economic plan tells us something important about his candidacy, and it’s not flattering.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Economic Policy, Marco Rubio, Tax Policy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Retreating Entirely Into Their Own Little World”: GOP Debate Flat-Earthers Would Rather Just Talk Among Themselves

The defining essence of today’s Republican Party is that it lives in its own reality with its own set of “facts.”

You know this well enough. On the planet most of us inhabit, huge tax cuts for the rich hurt the economy and compound the deficit. The Earth is warming, and man-made carbon emissions have a lot to do with it. Evolution is a fact that happened and is still happening. On GOPEarth, tax cuts for the rich help the economy and reduce the deficit. The Earth isn’t warming, and even if it were just a little, it’s nothing to do with us. Evolution is just a theory.

It’s all fantasy, and all promulgated partly out of deluded belief but mainly for the benefit of Republican politicians’ benefactors and shock troops—in the three cases above, for the über-rich, for energy and oil companies, and for religious-right voters. And because of the way discourse in a democratic society works, if one party decides that it believes and wants to peddle empirically untrue things, well, provided it gets enough people to believe and repeat those things, the rest of us have no choice but to take those arguments seriously and engage them and quarrel with them. So we waste a lot of time in this country “debating” things that in every other advanced democracy in the world are settled matters of fact.

But now Reince Priebus may be doing those of us on mother Earth a favor. With his astonishing admission Monday that anyone allowed to ask a question of a Republican presidential candidate at a debate ought to “care or give a rip about the Republican Party,” the GOP chairman is unwittingly hastening the arrival of the day when the flat-earthers can just talk among themselves and the rest of us don’t really have to pay attention.

It’s an incredible statement in the way it imposes a precondition of support for the party before a person is even allowed to ask a question. Now, there may be a reasonable role for ideological journalists to be on a debate stage. I’d love to participate in a Democratic debate. But not so I can lob them softballs. Rather, I’d ask them tough questions that it would never occur to Anderson Cooper to ask, because I’m immersed in liberal thought and policy debates in a way he isn’t, and I have a pretty strong sense of what kinds of questions might get them off their talking points. So there’s a role for that. But that of course is not what Priebus meant. He meant lickspittles.

On the surface, the Republican anger over the debates is about a series of somewhat picayune questions about format, like these, which were set forth in a letter from GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg to the networks (Will you commit that you won’t “show an empty podium after a break/describe how far away the bathrooms are”?)

While Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich all said Monday that they would not sign the letter, even I would agree that Republicans have a couple of legitimate gripes on some of these format questions.

The format of having the top 10 (or 11) candidates debate and leaving the others to the kids’ table has been ridiculous from jump street. Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, both of whom have actual policy knowledge, aren’t any less serious than Chris Christie and John Kasich just because they’re a point or two behind them but within the margin of error. From the start, it should have been two groups of eight or nine, randomly drawn from a hat (although, interestingly, the campaigns did not agree Sunday that this should be the practice going forward).

They’re right that the CNBC debate was chaotic. And they’re right that questions aren’t fairly distributed. Underlying these two problems, especially the latter one, is a hard economic fact that the networks won’t acknowledge and which Republican free-marketeers are unlikely to condemn. These debates, especially with Donald Trump in the picture, are far less about civic edification than they are about ratings and the ad rates that can be charged when Trump-scale audiences tune in who naturally enough want to see more of Trump than they do of Mike Huckabee. Did CNN expand that GOP debate to three tedious hours so the public would learn more, or so that the network could rake in one extra hour’s worth of ad revenue? Let’s not kid ourselves.

But at bottom, the Republican complaints about the debate process aren’t really about these format issues. They’re about GOP resentment that the questioners don’t share the candidates’ ideological presumptions and don’t see the debate as a PR opportunity for the party; which is to say that they’re about this insular reality that Republicans and conservatives have created for themselves in which everyone who doesn’t reflexively agree with a long list of litmus-test assumptions about the world, many of them provably untrue, is a liberal and an enemy of freedom and all the rest.

So now, with Priebus’s words Monday, they’re edging close to retreating into that reality in a way that would have been unimaginable a few years ago but that we may yet see. Picture this: Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. In 2019, Republicans start contemplating running against her and start thinking about primary debates. First off, they may not even have them at all (a blessing in a way, though not really a triumph for democracy). But if they do have them, is it far-fetched to think that there will be only two, and that they’ll be limited to, oh, the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Tea Party Network? After all, remember, it’s C-effing-NBC they’re mad at—the network that helped create the Tea Party! Remember also that Fox made them furious back in the summer, when Fox moderators asked tougher-than-expected questions. Pretty soon their own mothers won’t even be allowed to ask them questions (especially Jeb Bush’s).

Priebus doesn’t seem to have thought through one basic fact: If the Republican Party really sues the political media for a debate divorce, then the political media will be under decreasing obligation to take the party’s barmy positions seriously, and they can talk on their networks about their world, and the rest of us can talk in every other outlet about the real world. It’s sad, but not as sad as having to take all their whining seriously.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 3, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, GOP Primary Debates, Reince Priebus | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Telling Shift In Dynamics Of GOP Politics”: Why 2016 Is Different For The GOP; The Establishment Is Divided, The Base Is Mostly United

Billions of pixels have been spilled about Trump, Fiorina, the radical extremism of the GOP base and the fecklessness of Republican establishment candidates. But while numerous ad hoc explanations exist for the bizarre way the GOP primary is playing out, the simplest story is often the most overlooked. Traditionally, hardcore movement conservatives find themselves split over who will be the anti-establishment candidate, while the establishment usually unifies early and rolls over the top of the divided opposition.

In the 2012 campaign, establishment Republicans backed Mitt Romney early. Romney never had the backing of a clear majority of Republican voters. A number of anti-Romneys collectively had a majority of the vote against him, and even as they dwindled to just Gingrich and Santorum those two continued to outpoll Romney collectively. Had either stepped aside and delivered their voters to the other, it’s conceivable that Romney could have been defeated. But Romney limped forward to the finish line and the rest is history. A similar pattern elevated John McCain from a nearly defunct candidacy to the nomination in 2008, despite widespread opposition from the most conservative GOP voters.

This year that pattern is reversed. The establishment is divided among a bevy of uninspiring choices. The leading favorite until now has been Jeb Bush, but his unimpressive campaign performance has prevented him from coalescing support despite numerous advantages. The other GOP establishment picks from Rubio to Kasich to Walker have all had their challenges as well.

Meanwhile, of course, the Tea Party right has mostly fallen in behind Donald Trump, with a side of support for Carson. Where once the far revanchist right was divided and the corporate right was unified, now the reverse is true.

That’s partly a reflection of the corruption-fueled billionaire primary in which a variety of wealthy plutocrats can dictate their own terms, backing their own preferred candidates long after they would have normally bowed out. Party leadership no longer has the control of the moneyed establishment the way it once did; the Kochs and Adelsons fund whomever they please all the way to the convention.

It’s also the product of Trump’s singularly powerful understanding of the anti-establishment right’s desire not for a traditional presidential candidate, but someone who will declare war on the sort of cultural decency they view as “political correctness.”

It’s possible, of course, that the GOP will return to form and that the establishment will mobilize around a single candidate as conservatives split. But there’s no guarantee of it. Without that, we could easily see a Donald Trump nomination and a telling shift in the dynamics of Republican politics.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 20, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Electioneering Committees”: Buying A President For 30 Bucks And Change

For today’s report, I have a bunch of statistics for you. Wait — don’t run away! Where are you going? Come back here and sit still while I drill these stats into your head! It’ll be fun, and you’ll learn something.

I realize that numbers can numb the brain, but this is a good story, and I promise that these statistics are easy to absorb. In fact, the number 400 pretty much sums up this story of political intrigue and corruption involving some of America’s wealthiest families and corporations.

Let’s start with the “Billionaire 400,” a clique of the elite organized by the conniving Koch brothers. These ultra-rich right wingers gather each winter in some warm-weather resort for a secretive, invitation-only retreat. There, they plot strategies and pledge money to elect politicos who’ll support their vision of corporate rule in America. For the 2016 elections, they’ve already committed nearly a billion dollars to impose their vision of plutocracy over our democratic ideals — double the combined amount that the Republican and Democratic parties will spend. I wonder: What do they think they’re getting for that price?

Then there are the secretive SuperPACs that are sacking up tens of millions of dollars to back various presidential candidates. Again, a few hundred corporations and rich families — each writing checks for hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars — have put up nearly half of all the money in these electioneering committees.

Keep that 400 number in mind when I offer my sincerest congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Middle-Class America, since they are all the rage in this present presidential contest, for Jeb, Hillary, and all the rest — even The Donald — say their campaigns are all about the hurting middle class that hasn’t yet recovered from the Great Recession. Well, don’t look now, but after each one promises that they’ll do the most for the Great Mass of the Middle Class, they disappear into the shadows and scurry off to schmooze with the little group of Americans they truly love: The exclusive club of multimillionaires and billionaires, who are shoveling those big bucks into those campaign pockets.

Now, back to our statistics: Jeb Bush got a million dollars each from 26 of his SuperPAC backers; Hillary Clinton took a million each from nine funders; of the $16 million in Marco Rubio’s PAC, 78 percent came from only four donors; and Ted Cruz got the most from the fewest, taking practically all of his $37 million from just three fat-cat families.

So while candidates for the highest office in our land are soaking up applause for the grand rhetoric they’re giving to the middle class, they’re also quietly collecting millions of dollars by pledging their steadfast fealty to the ruling class. Donating millions is not an innocent or noble political transaction. Written on the back of each of their checks is their own corporate agenda, trumping the people’s agenda.

Ironically, it’s Donnie Trump, the bombastic billionaire, who candidly admits that these so-called “gifts” amount to the outright, plutocratic purchase of politicians. He’s long been a campaign donor in order to secure political favors, he confesses, and it works: “When I need something from them … they are there for me.” There’s a word for that: Corruption.

But now, here comes the antidote to this corruption of our politics by fat cats. Instead of being financed by 400 special interests, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has raised its $15 million (as of July) from over 400,000 ordinary Americans. In fact, the average donation to Bernie is a heartwarming, soul-saving $31.30!

You can’t buy a president for just over 30 bucks — but you can help elect one who isn’t owned by Big Money. And isn’t that the way democracy ought to be?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Campaign Financing, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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