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“Veterans, Patriots And Pawns”: A Particularly Blatant And Distasteful Ploy For Credibility

When Donald J. Trump removed himself from the Republican debate last week and threw a huge public relations party for himself, he did what many politicians before him have done: He cynically used United States military veterans to elevate his own political standing. His alt-rally, called a “Special Event to Benefit Veterans Organizations,” held in Des Moines, was the type of circus we’ve come to expect from the former reality TV star turned politician.

Thankfully, the candidate stopped short of ringleading a few acts under his big top — no Marines on the overhead trapeze, Navy SEALs balancing balls on their noses or Special Forces walking the tightrope.

The circus had nothing to do with those who serve this country; we know that he was sticking it to Fox News and the “mean” moderator Megyn Kelly. But like many before him, Mr. Trump saw an opportunity and seized it.

Mr. Trump didn’t invent this particular brand of hypocrisy; he just employed it a bit more flagrantly. Politicians from both parties have used warriors as photo ops and speech fodder ever since Abraham Lincoln posed with his generals for Mathew Brady at Antietam.

In Des Moines, Mr. Trump, who took a swipe last year at Senator John McCain of Arizona for being “captured” in Vietnam, and long before that complained that “homeless veterans” were ruining his property values, made the night air sparkle with his praise. And soon, like a true ringmaster, he gave the people what they wanted — three real, live veterans who came onstage to speak to the crowd.

As someone who spent 20 years in the active-duty Army, I should be used to strangers bending and twisting my service to suit their needs. But I’m not. I’ve been out of uniform for nearly a decade, and I still break out in a rash when I see service members used, misused and abused for commercial or political gain.

For candidates, veterans are the most useful props imaginable. They are real-life stand-ins for any number of campaign trail virtues: patriotism, national defense, antielitism, take your pick. And they are a great way to inoculate oneself from criticism for not having served — which is the case for every major candidate in the 2016 race, not just Mr. Trump. (The former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, a long shot, is the exception.) Still, for Mr. Trump, who avoided military service in Vietnam, this was a particularly blatant and distasteful ploy for credibility.

But the public gets something out of the bargain, too. For many, to be in a room with a veteran is to touch the battlefield. In his novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Ben Fountain describes the quasi-religious ecstasy that can come about when civilians meet so-called war heroes: “They tremble. They breathe in fitful, stinky huffs. Their eyes skitz and quiver with the force of the moment, because here, finally, up close and personal, is the war made flesh.” Mr. Trump hoped his supporters would skitz and quiver their way right into his campaign coffers.

At least there was a payoff. The $6 million Mr. Trump promised to donate to veterans organizations is, as Forbes recently pointed out, $5.94 million more than his charitable foundation has given veterans in recent years. Though some veterans organizations have said they’ll take the money raised at the event, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a group that represents about 150,000 veterans, has said no thanks. The I.A.V.A.’s founder, Paul Rieckhoff, tweeted: “We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.” Mr. Rieckhoff was right to refuse the candidate’s cash, and put some distance between veterans and Mr. Trump.

Other veterans saw last week’s rally as just more of the same. Nathan Webster, a Desert Storm veteran and contributor to the anthology “Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home,” told me that “veterans are the go-to for any politician who wants an easy, effort-free splash for an event or promotion.”

Mr. Trump’s Iowa event appeared to be heavily seeded with fist-pumping veterans chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Veterans are like anybody else in this current culture,” Mr. Webster said. “They’re happy to play along with whatever cynical fame-grab somebody offers them.”

Most veterans I know don’t want to be lionized for any purpose. We were simply dedicated to doing our jobs to the best of our abilities, carrying out the orders of our superiors and coming home safe every night, not unlike responsible employees at Microsoft, City Hall or Mo’s Coffee Shop. But politicians don’t rally in honor of programmers, office clerks or short-order cooks because they just aren’t as sexy and camera-ready as soldiers — particularly the ones who’ve been battered and broken by combat. Military service is charged with a special aura of bravery and honor that politicians can’t resist glomming on to.

As a result, those who serve in the military all too often find themselves also serving as the flavor of the month (November), and the poster children or circus performers at political rallies like Mr. Trump’s. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. In his novel, Mr. Fountain writes: “What is a soldier’s job but to be the pawn of higher? Wear this, say that, go there, shoot them, then of course there’s the final and ultimate, be killed.”

What a shame, then, that those who make it home alive sometimes find themselves fighting a new battle: to be seen as more than a prop on the American political stage.

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hot 2015 Words? A Political ‘ism’ Vision”: At Least Some People Care About The Words Our Political Leaders Use

What’s the word? The “Word of the Year” at Oxford Dictionaries is not even a word. It is an emoji, a digital image that is used in text messages to express an idea or emotion in a style that seems in my eyes to be aimed at illiterates.

Oxford Dictionaries justified this selection by citing an explosion in “emoji culture” over the last year and not, as I fear, a collapse in the public’s desire to read.

“It’s flexible, immediate and infuses tone beautifully,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries in a statement. “As a result emoji are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders.”

Indeed, I’m sure that’s true, provided that you can figure out what the darn emoji means. The emoji that Oxford Dictionaries happened to choose is hardly a model of simplicity or clarity.

Titled “face with tears of joy,” it depicts a gleefully cheerful smiley face with enormous water drops exploding out of its eyes. Cute, but it’s nowhere near the “rich form of communication” displayed by what has become known as the “poop emoji” in polite company. It depicts a steaming brown coil of the stuff with enough clarity to require no further translation.

But as an indicator of the social, political and economic world in which I usually work, a world that feels a lot less predictable than it did a year ago, I prefer the choices made by two other major dictionary companies.

First prize in my view goes to “identity,” the choice of Dictionary.com, a timely topic for the year that gave us Rachel Dolezal and Caitlin Jenner, among other challenges to our society’s conventional sense of selfhood and otherness.

Dolezal will be remembered as the Spokane, Washington, NAACP leader who passed for black, a complete reversal of the usual American tradition. This upset white conservatives who didn’t like the NAACP anyway. It also upset black traditionalists who felt Dolezal hadn’t paid enough dues to pose as an authentic African-American.

This conundrum proved to be remarkably similar to the dustup kicked up by Caitlin Jenner’s decision to emerge from the body of Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner. A few prominent radical feminists resented what they saw as Jenner’s EZ-pass around decades of struggle against institutional sexism.

Episodes like that, Dictionary.com CEO Liz McMillan said in a news release, sent enough people running to online dictionaries and other media to make identity “the clear frontrunner.”

“Our data indicated a growing interest in words related to identity,” McMillan said in the release, “as people encountered new terms throughout the year based on events tied to gender, sexuality, race, and other key issues.”

In a similar vein, Merriam-Webster.com named a suffix to be their Word of the Year: “-ism.” The website’s word watchers began to notice a surge in lookups that ended in those three letters. Of the thousands of queries seven with noticeably political themes rose to the top: socialism, fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism.

This was a year in which Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate and self-described democratic socialist, opened up a national dialogue of how socialism really works as something more than the epithet that conservatives like to fling at President Barack Obama. As Sanders’ crowds surged in mid-summer, so did lookups for “socialism” online.

Similarly billionaire showman Donald Trump’s calls for mass deportation of immigrants and praise for Vladimir Putin, among other comments, sent many rushing to their keyboards to look up “fascism.”

And racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism — among other popular “isms” — have been so bent out of shape by partisan and ideological accusations and counter-accusations that you need a dictionary just to keep score.

It is too early to say how much of an impact all of this chatter about identity and “-isms” will have on the 2016 presidential campaigns. We have elections to decide questions like that.

But as money, ideology and celebrity increasingly replace political parties as the pilots of national election campaigns, I am encouraged to hear that at least some people care about the words our political leaders use. I wish more of our political leaders did.

 

By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, Dictionaries, Words of The Year | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plight Of Syrian Refugees Recalls Tale Of 2,000 Years Ago”: Bar The Gates, Exclude The Stranger, Ignore The Vulnerable

There is irony aplenty in this season, which is celebrated throughout Christendom because of the tale of a babe born in a troubled precinct in the Middle East a little more than 2,000 years ago. You know the story: A couple of modest means finds no accommodations, even as the woman is on the brink of giving birth. After the child is born, they are forced to flee the depredations of a murderous king.

As history rolls on, we find the Middle East once again in upheaval, roiled by murderous tyrants who have spurred families to seek sanctuary. Given the time of year, you’d think the plight of those families would be the preoccupation of the news cycle; you’d think accommodating them would be the pre-eminent call of preachers and politicians alike. After all, the ancient tale has been said to inspire reflection, charity and generosity.

But those sentiments seem in scant supply in these United States. Instead, we are awash in suspicion, waylaid by fear and anxiety, beset by bigotry. Many of the nation’s political leaders have insisted that we bar the gates, exclude the stranger, ignore the vulnerable.

While President Obama has called on the nation to take in more refugees from Syria — where the armies of President Bashar Assad and the self-proclaimed Islamic State represent dire threats to life and limb — 27 U.S. governors, more than half, would attempt to bar Syrian refugees from their states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has famously said that he wouldn’t even take in orphans under the age of 5.

Indeed, the call to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States has captured a substantial number of voters; 56 percent oppose President Obama’s policy. And that refusal finds support across party lines: Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 59 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats, according to an NBC News survey.

The proximate cause of that hunker-down insularity is the threat of terrorist attacks, a danger brought home by the San Bernardino atrocity earlier this month, which left 14 people dead and 22 injured. But humans are notoriously bad at assessing risks. While 45 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 (counting the Fort Hood shooting), far more have been killed since then in automobile accidents and non-terrorist-related gun violence.

Besides, as the brilliant novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has written: “Contemporary America is full of fear. (But) fear is not a Christian habit of mind. … Those who forget God can be recognized in the fact that they make irrational responses to irrational fears. … There are always real dangers in the world, sufficient to their day. Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere.”

Terror is not everywhere, and its risks would not increase if we were to admit substantially more Syrian refugees. They are subjected to a vetting process that takes up to two years. Anyway, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who allegedly carried out the San Bernardino attack, had no ties to Syria that authorities have detected.

Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been displaced by war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey has taken in 1.9 million, while Iraq, which is still beset by armed conflict, has taken in 250,000. More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, and more than 600,000 are in Jordan.

The far wealthier European nations are still wrangling over the numbers they will accept, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been steadfast in her welcoming tone; her country has taken in more than 98,000 Syrians and stands ready to accept as many as 500,000 refugees, including Syrians, per year for several years.

With that in mind, President Obama’s call for the United States to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year seems modest. And while providing sanctuary to some of the planet’s most vulnerable populations may not promote peace on Earth, it is certainly a small gesture of goodwill to all men.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 26, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Fearmongering, Jesus, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bane Of Many Politicians’ Existence”: Senate GOP Solution To Super PAC Rivals; More Money In Politics

This may sound odd, but it rings true amongst Republicans and Democrats alike: The only people who loathe Super PACs more than voters forced to sit through an onslaught of their bullshit ads, are politicians themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, at first many Republicans loved the new, post-Citizen United world of PACs (a.k.a. Political Action Committees who act any way they want). But those powerful outside groups have become the bane of many politicians’ existence—even GOP lawmakers who oppose overturning the Supreme Court ruling.

“We’re at a point where the outside groups have so much more flexibility than the parties do that there’s nothing wrong with giving both political parties a little more flexibility in how they work with candidates,” said Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate.

As Congress scrambles to avoid a year end government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is quietly trying to include a provision to dismantle any limitations remaining on what the parties in Washington can spend coordinating with their candidates. Both parties bemoan that their candidates have lost control of their own campaigns.

Currently GOP and Democratic leaders can only spend about $50,000 to assist House candidates and around $3 million working with Senate campaigns. But for Super PACs the sky is the limit on what they can raise and spend, thus neutering the parties and politicians alike.

“You notice that the political parties are now being shunted aside, because he who pays the pipers calls the tune,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) who doesn’t think McConnell’s latest attempt is all that significant. “It’s the outside money, particularly in the Republican sphere, that is funding elections. And it’s all this undisclosed, unlimited money uncontrolled by the campaign finance law. So until we can stop the outside money you can tinker here and tinker there, and it doesn’t make any difference.”

PACs have complicated everything for today’s political class. Yes, candidates are still the central component of any campaign, but all the campaign cash has eclipsed many candidates’ messages in recent elections. That’s because it’s easier for PACs to rake in millions than it is for candidates and their party to take in similar rolls of dollar bills. Candidates and parties also have to play by different rules.

“The candidates we have to disclose everything and I have to put my name on it,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told The Daily Beast. She’s facing a bruising reelection battle and thinks the Citizens United ruling has unleashed a double standard.

“The parties also, they have to say ‘from the party’ and be able to do that, but you know there are a lot of outside groups, they have different names and it’s tough to know where they’re coming from.”

While candidates want to exert more control over their own campaigns, so do party leaders. In recent years Tea Party challengers have embarrassed themselves and the Republican Party in Senate races from Delaware to Nevada. That made the GOP establishment bristle, and seems to be behind McConnell’s latest move to strengthen the parties.

“McConnell is a party man,” said Kyle Kondik, a campaign analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “He probably believes that if the parties are stronger they can exert more control over who gets the nomination. You make the party stronger the individual candidates get weaker.”

That’s why the Tea Party wing of the GOP is opposed to McConnell’s latest move.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the head of the House Freedom Caucus, said the changes on coordination should also be extended to Super PACs who currently are forbidden from coordinating with campaigns.

“What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander,” Jordan told The Daily Beast. “So if it’s good for the parties, it should be good for outside groups who are involved in politics and have a big influence on politics as well. I mean free speech is free speech. So either don’t do it at all, or if you’re going to do it, do it in an equal fashion.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell has stealthily tried to unwind election law. As the legislative clock wound down at the end of last year, he worked with then Speaker John Boehner to lift the cap on what party committees could solicit from donors. The provision hiked the rate from just under $100,000 to nearly $800,000. It was barely noticed, but critics argue the new provision will be felt.

“It will basically turn the parties into another apparatus that’s owned by the big money crowd,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), an advocate for public financing of campaigns. “In a sense it would allow big donors to become benefactors of specific candidates, using the parties to do it. They would kind of go through the parties to become the sugar daddy of this candidate or that candidate. So the parties lose all independence; they just become the tool of the big money crowd.”

Then there’s the whole presidential scramble going on. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has proven to be a lackluster fundraiser in his #YOLOrace for the White House, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been carefully watching his opponents and their Super PACs. He predicts something will give when the new Congress convenes at the start of 2017.

“I think there is going to be a scandal about money coming in the 2016 cycle from unsavory sources,” Graham to The Daily Beast. “That’s what it’s going to take to spur discussion. So I don’t really care about moving the caps as long as it’s transparent.”

 

By; Matt Laslo, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Mitch Mc Connell, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disturbing Truth About Marco Rubio”: The Establishment’s Favorite Is Running An Extremist, Islamophobic Campaign

I’ve probably written at least one or two of them during my career, but I’m generally not a big fan of the “Moderate Politician X is actually not very moderate!” genre of Op-Eds. My reasons are both stylistic and substantive. It’s hard to do anything interesting on such well-trod ground, and these labels, by their very nature, are relative and in constant flux.

Put differently, the center in 2015 isn’t where it was in 1980. And while politicians have a role in shifting the Overton window in one direction or another, they are mostly reactive creatures. To paraphrase Marx: Politicians can choose which ideological space to occupy within the politics of their era. But the era itself, that’s no more up to them than it is to you or me. (I doubt that, say, Ronald Reagan would support gun control if he were running for office today.)

That said, though, the 2016 presidential campaign has already proven to be special, shall we say, in a few regards. And the one that’s been on my mind lately has to do with this whole idea of what it means to be a moderate. Because while it’s a little cheap — or at least unenlightening — to use the politics of a generation ago to slam a candidate as inconsistent or radical, I think it’s a different thing if the timeframe isn’t measured in decades but rather months and weeks.

Which brings me to Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida currently seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Despite at one point being seen as too right-wing to make it to the Senate (this was before the Tea Party really got going; a simpler, more innocent time) Rubio has been described throughout his presidential campaign as coming from the party’s supposedly reasonable, establishment-friendly wing. He is, we’re told, one of the “adults.”

Back when the campaign was largely concerned with the issue of immigration, and when Donald Trump’s rank demagoguery was the standard against which all the other Republicans were measured, this was a defensible characterization. But now that the campaign has, in the wake of the Paris attacks, become almost exclusively about ISIS and counter-terrorism, Rubio’s moderate label is wholly undeserved. Moderate? He is anything but.

Rubio has always aligned himself with the über-hawkish, neoconservative wing of the GOP when it comes to foreign policy. But while he’s long been almost John McCain-like in his willingness to drop bombs on other people — even once going so far as to chide his fellow Republicans for not wanting to bomb Libya more — it’s only lately that Rubio’s generic militarism, which he happily unsheathed against countries as dissimilar as China and Cuba, has drifted toward outright Islamophobia.

Take his response to Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments about closing down mosques, for example. Whereas Rubio has halfheartedly attempted to steer Republicans away from demonizing Hispanic people, when it comes to Muslims, it appears, his goal is to one-up “the Donald.” Rather than shoot down Trump’s flagrant disregard for the basic small-l liberal principle of religious freedom, Rubio criticized Trump for not going far enough.

“It’s not about closing down mosques,” Rubio told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on Thursday. “It’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an Internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.” The goal shouldn’t be to only shutter houses of worship, Rubio insisted, but “whatever facility is being used … to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States.”

His complete lack of interest in the First Amendment notwithstanding, some journalists have argued that Rubio wasn’t making such a sweeping threat. Rubio was saying he’d go after radicals, they say, not Muslims! There’s a big difference! And, indeed, there is. But that reassurance would be a whole lot more reassuring if the distinction were one that Rubio, too, believed in. Judging by another recent utterance of his, though, it seems likely that it is not.

Here’s what Rubio said last weekend in response to a question about the phrase “radical Islam,” which most Democrats, for reasons both strategic and moral, try to avoid. The emphasis is mine and [sic] throughout:

I don’t understand it. That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party, but weren’t violent themselves. We are at war with radical Islam, with an interpretation of Islam by a significant number of people around the world who they believe now justifies them in killing those who don’t agree with their ideology. This is a clash of civilizations.

As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall has noted, this comment has not received nearly the amount of attention that it should. Because while it’s nothing new to hear the violent extremism of ISIS or al Qaeda compared to Nazism, it’s much less common to hear someone of stature imply that all Muslims are morally equivalent to Nazis. Not Germans, mind you, but Nazis — which means, of course, that Islam is equivalent to the Nazi Party.

So in the span of about a month, Rubio has not only vowed to shut down any forum where Muslims congregate that he deems threatening, but also made clear that he sees all Muslims as inherently suspect; as equivalent to perhaps the most destructive, violent and evil organization in human history, in fact. They say Marco Rubio is a moderate. Does that sound to you like moderation?

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, November 21, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Islamophobia, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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