Bernie Sanders Answers Questions And NBC Advises Not To Count Him Out

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Bernie Sanders will be holding a rally in Vermont to kick off his campaign tonight. Sanders answered ten questions from MSNBC–almost as many questions Hillary Clinton has answered in her entire campaign to date. Some excerpts, which show that while on the left of our political spectrum, he is still not out to destroy our market system as conservatives are bound to claim.

HARWOOD: In the latter part of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan came along and there was a big pivot in our politics. It revolves around the idea that we need less government and more market forces. Do you think that basic pivot was wrong?

SANDERS: Let me answer it this way, John. I think there is obviously an enormously important role for the free market and for entrepreneurial activity. I worry how free the free market is. In sector after sector, you have a small number of companies controlling a large part of the sector.

Certainly, in my view, the major banks should be broken up. We want entrepreneurs and private businesses to create wealth. No problem. But what we’re living in now is what I would call—what Pope Francis calls—a casino-type capitalism, which is out of control, where the people on top have lost any sense of responsibility for the rest of the society. Where it’s just “It’s all me. It’s all me. And to heck with anybody else.” I want to see the result of that wealth go to the broad middle class of this country and not just to a handful of people.

HARWOOD: If the changes that you envision in tax policy, in finance, breaking up the banks, were to result in a more equitable distribution of income, but less economic growth, is that trade-off worth making?

SANDERS: Yes. If 99 percent of all the new income goes to the top 1 percent, you could triple it, it wouldn’t matter much to the average middle class person. The whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn’t matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty. You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don’t think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on. People scared to death about what happens tomorrow. Half the people in America have less than $10,000 in savings. How do you like that? That means you have an automobile accident, you have an illness, you’re broke. How do you retire if you have less than $10,000, and you don’t have much in the way of Social Security?

HARWOOD: It came out in disclosure forms the other day that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, in the last 16 months, have made $30 million. [More on their disclosure here.] .What does that kind of money do to a politician’s perspective on the struggles you were just talking about? Does it make it difficult for recipients of that kind of income to take on the system?

SANDERS: Well, theoretically, you could be a multibillionaire and, in fact, be very concerned about the issues of working people. Theoretically, that’s true.

I think sometimes what can happen is that—it’s not just the Clintons—when you hustle money like that, you don’t sit in restaurants like this. You sit in restaurants where you’re spending—I don’t know what they spend—hundreds of dollars for dinner and so forth. That’s the world that you’re accustomed to, and that’s the world view that you adopt. You’re not worrying about a kid three blocks away from here whose mom can’t afford to feed him. So yes, I think that can isolate you—that type of wealth has the potential to isolate you from the reality of the world.

HARWOOD: I read an interview that you did about the corporate media. And you said the corporate media was reluctant to call out people for lying in public debates. You’re on corporate media right now. Who’s lying in our politics?

SANDERS: I’m the ranking member of the Budget Committee, OK? Leader of the opposition. The Republican budget does the following: It throws 27 million people off of health care by ending the Affordable Care Act and cutting Medicaid by $440 billion. Have you seen that in print? Have you seen that statement? There is a reality that goes on here. And you have many people who try to be, “Oh, I’ve got to be even-handed here and even-handed there. You got the Koch Brothers there, Bernie Sanders there.” That’s nonsense. And I think a lot of right-wing people get away with murder because the media doesn’t call them out on it.

Elsewhere at NBC, Steve Kornacki advised not to count Bernie Sanders out, although he was writing more in terms of Sanders winning enough delegates to shape the platform. That is hardly a satisfactory outcome if it still means Clinton wins the nomination. It is not as if a more liberal platform has any real bearing on what she will do if elected.

First Read has a slightly different, and more desirable, take:

For political historians out there, think of Sanders as a potential Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy’s ability to gain traction against LBJ drove LBJ out in 1968 and sparked more Dems to run. If Sanders gets enough traction to actually knock off Clinton in an early state, then Katie bar the door.

The closest political analogy would be the sitting Vice President winning on to win the nomination as Hubert Humphrey did in 1968. While Joe Biden is not my first choice, he would be far preferable to Clinton. He spent four years opposing Clinton’s more interventionist views when she was Secretary of State, and it was Biden who pushed Obama into announcing support for same-sex marriage. Knocking out Clinton could also result in other more liberal Democrats entering the race. Martin O’Malley, who will be announcing his candidacy later this week, is certainly seeing such a scenario as opening the way for him to win the nomination. I also wouldn’t rule out the chances of Sanders himself winning.

Update: Text of Sander’s speech here.

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Further Revelations On Payments Received By Clintons Raise Questions About Both Their Ethics And Judgment

Clinton Money

About two weeks ago  Bill Clinton said he would continue to give paid speeches, regardless of the conflicts of interest this entails, because “I gotta pay our bills.” This was despite having made $105 million dollars in speaking fees between 2001 and 2013. The latest financial disclosures continue to show that Bill and Hillary should be able to pay their bills without Bill continuing to get paid for speeches. From The New York Times:

Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband made at least $30 million over the last 16 months, mainly from giving paid speeches to corporations, banks and other organizations, according to financial disclosure forms filed with federal elections officials on Friday.

The sum, which makes Mrs. Clinton among the wealthiest of the 2016 presidential candidates, could create challenges for the former secretary of state as she tries to cast herself as a champion of everyday Americans in an era of income inequality.

The $25 million in speaking fees since the beginning of last year continue a lucrative trend for the Clintons: They have now earned more than $125 million on the circuit since leaving the White House in 2001.

In addition, the report shows, Mrs. Clinton reported income exceeding $5 million from her memoir of her time as secretary of state, “Hard Choices.”

The Clintons’ riches have already become a subject of political attacks, and her campaign has been eager to showcase Mrs. Clinton as a more down-to-earth figure. Her only declared Democratic opponent at this point, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is an avowed socialist, while Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin have considerably more modest means.

A major dimension of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy is expected to be policy proposals to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and to address stagnant wages. Yet she is far from those problems; while she said she and President Clinton were “dead broke” when they left the White House in early 2001, they are now part of the American elite.

While many conservative Democrats who support Clinton are likely to ignore this along with all the other revelations to be reported in the past couple of months, many bloggers see serious problems in nominating Hillary Clinton. John Cole says, This Just Stinks:

You knew you were running for President. You knew this would put a bullseye around you. Why, for the love of FSM, why?

Let’s earn 25 mill real quick then pivot to speaking for the common man. No one will notice, amirite?

Ezra Klein explains why this is significant for the ethically-challenged Democrats who are still willing to support Clinton (emphasis mine):

Almost a decade ago, as Hillary Clinton ran for re-election to the Senate on her way to seeking the presidency for the first time, the New York Times reported on her unusually close relationship with Corning, Inc., an upstate glass titan. Clinton advanced the company’s interests, racking up a big assist by getting China to ease a trade barrier. And the firm’s mostly Republican executives opened up their wallets for her campaign.

During Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, Corning lobbied the department on a variety of trade issues, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company has donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to her family’s foundation. And, last July, when it was clear that Clinton would again seek the presidency in 2016, Corning coughed up a $225,500 honorarium for Clinton to speak.

In the laundry-whirl of stories about Clinton buck-raking, it might be easy for that last part to get lost in the wash. But it’s the part that matters most. The $225,500 speaking fee didn’t go to help disease-stricken kids in an impoverished village on some long-forgotten patch of the planet. Nor did it go to a campaign account. It went to Hillary Clinton. Personally.

The latest episode in the Clinton money saga is different than the others because it involves the clear, direct personal enrichment of Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, by people who have a lot of money at stake in the outcome of government decisions. Her federally required financial disclosure was released to media late Friday, a time government officials and political candidates have long reserved for dumping news they hope will have a short shelf life.

Together, Hillary and Bill Clinton cleared $25 million on the lecture circuit over the last 16 months, according to a Hillary Clinton’s personal financial disclosure required of presidential candidates. A lot of the focus will naturally go toward the political argument that Clinton’s wealth makes her out of touch. The US has had plenty of good rich presidents and bad rich presidents. What’s more important is whether they are able to listen to all of the various interests without being unduly influenced by any of them.

There’s a reason government officials can’t accept gifts: They tend to have a corrupting effect. True, Hillary Clinton wasn’t a government official at the time the money was given. But it is very, very, very hard to see six-figure speaking fees paid by longtime political boosters with interests before the government — to a woman who has been running for president since the last time she lost — as anything but a gift.

After further details he continued with a word for Democrats who are probably ignoring this, questioning not only Hillary Clinton’s ethics but her judgment:

By this point, most Clinton allies wish they had a button so they didn’t have to go to the trouble of rolling their eyes at each new Clinton money story. The knee-jerk eye-roll response to the latest disclosure will be that there’s nothing new to see here. But there’s something very important to see that is different than the past stories. This time, it’s about Hillary Clinton having her pockets lined by the very people who seek to influence her. Not in some metaphorical sense. She’s literally being paid by them.

That storyline should be no less shocking for the fact that it is no longer surprising. The skimpy fig leaf of timing, that the speeches were paid for when she was between government gigs, would leave Adam blushing. And while most Democrats will shrug it off — or at least pretend to — it’s the kind of behavior voters should take into account when considering whether they want to give a candidate the unparalleled power of the presidency. It goes to the most important, hardest-to-predict characteristic in a president: judgment.

Hopefully Democrats will wake up and choose a more ethical nominee, or we face the danger that scandals such as this will return a Republican to the White House in the general election. Besides, it hardly makes sense to compromise principles  and nominate Clinton when she has spent her career pursuing a socially conservative agenda along with her quasi-neoconservative foreign policy views. As Lawyers, Guns, & Money said earlier when these scandals were being revealed:

For progressives, all this is, to put it mildly, depressing. Working to get someone with Hillary Clinton’s political views elected would require a certain amount of nose-holding even if she and her husband were above reproach, ethically speaking.

Under the circumstances, a race between Clinton and, say, Scott Walker is going to be akin to trying to acquire a sprained ankle instead of a major heart attack.

Update: Clinton’s Unethical Behavior Has Already Been Well Established–And It Has Nothing To Do With The Right

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Martin O’Malley Seeks To Be The Progressive Alternative To Hillary Clinton

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Martin O’Malley is trying to position himself as the electable progressive candidate who, as opposed to Elizabeth Warren, is actually running. He met with progressives in New York according to Politico:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has a message for progressives clamoring for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s entry into the presidential race: she’s not running, but I am.

As part of an effort to position himself as the most viable candidate challenging Hillary Clinton from the left, O’Malley traveled to New York City Monday night for an off-the-record meeting with about 30 progressive influencers and academics handpicked to meet with him by his team, multiple sources told POLITICO.

O’Malley asserted that he would be the best shot progressives have at truly challenging Clinton in a primary. “He went out of his way to mention the free trade deal,” which he — like Warren — opposes, said a source present at the meeting.

Clinton, in contrast, has failed to state her position on the trade deal, which President Obama supports and union leaders would like her to oppose.

“O’Malley’s operation sees that Warren isn’t running and that her progressive supporters can be persuaded to support him,” said one Democratic operative who was invited to the meeting. “If he does become a real candidate he can have more direct influence over Hillary than Warren. That seems to be his pitch these days.”

O’Malley’s attempts to be the progressive alternative to  Hillary Clinton are also complicated by the entry of Bernie Sanders in the race, with Sanders seeming to have caused greater excitement on the left  than O’Malley so far. While there is the risk that the two could divide the progressive vote, I am hoping that there will be value in having both candidates criticizing Clinton’s conservative record and views in the primaries. While Clinton remains an overwhelming favorite, should both Sanders and O’Malley do better than is now expected, ultimately I would expect most delegates pledged to either working together to attempt to keep the Democrats from nominating Hillary Clinton.

Many Democrats think that Clinton is a sure bet should she win the general election, but Nate Silver continues to think that Clinton has a 50:50 chance of winning, and warns that the “blue wall” which almost guarantees a Democratic victory is a myth.

While Clinton currently leads in the polls, much of this is due to name recognition. Despite her recent small bounce, expected to occur after announcing, Clinton only maintains a small lead nationally over the Republicans in most polls, is weak in the battleground state polls, and is considered to be dishonest by the majority of voters–along with a substantial number of Democrats. There is far greater risk of a Clinton campaign self-destructing over both scandals and Clinton’s inability to handle the media than a more mainstream Democrat who wins in the primaries.

Clinton continues to hide from the press, only having answered eight questions from the press since announcing her campaign, with most of these answers evasive. Her book tour, which should have been easy, was disastrous, and she couldn’t even handle an interview with Terry Gross on NPR. Her press conference after the email scandal broke was also a disaster, with fact checkers quickly reporting multiple false statements from Clinton. So far her campaign has consisted of staged events with hand-picked participants. This all predicts a candidate who will have difficulty expressing her views in a general election campaign. This is also likely suggestive of how she would govern considering her long-time hostility towards transparency in government.

Update: O’Malley is now expected to announce his candidacy on May 30.

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Bernie Sanders Presents Welcome Alternative To Hillary Clinton’s Conservative Record On Civil Liberties

LANHAM, MD - MAY 5:  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a town hall meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 office May 5, 2015 in Lanham, Maryland. Sanders, who announced announced his candidacy for president on April 30, discussed a range of issues and took questions from the audience. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While economic differences between Hillary Clinton and her more liberal challengers for the Democratic nomination have received the most attention, Clinton’s poor record on civil liberties issues is another reason why many liberals find her to be an unacceptable candidate. While Clinton has supported the Patriot Act, Bernie Sanders has voted against it. He has also opposed the abuses in NSA surveillance, and written the following forTime in response to the appeals court ruling that the surveillance is not legal:

I welcome a federal appeals court ruling that the National Security Agency does not have the legal authority to collect and store data on all U.S. telephone calls. Now Congress should rewrite the expiring eavesdropping provision in the so-called USA Patriot Act and include strong new limits to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

Let me be clear: We must do everything we can to protect our country from the serious potential of another terrorist attack. We can and must do so, however, in a way that also protects the constitutional rights of the American people and maintains our free society.

Do we really want to live in a country where the NSA gathers data on virtually every single phone call in the United States—including as many as 5 billion cellphone records per day? I don’t. Do we really want our government to collect our emails, see our text messages, know everyone’s Internet browsing history, monitor bank and credit card transactions, keep tabs on people’s social networks? I don’t.

Unfortunately, this sort of Orwellian surveillance, conducted under provisions of the Patriot Act, invades the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans…

Hillary Clinton has supported the Patriot Act and, in contrast to Sanders, has been evasive when asked about abuses by the NSA–most likley waiting to see which position polls the best. Clinton has had a terrible record on First Amendment and civil liberties issues even beyond her support for the Patriot Act. As I’ve discussed previously, Clinton’s poor record regarding civil liberties and separation of church and state includes her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, leading a campaign to censor video games and introducing a bill making flag burning a felony.

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Major Party Debate Plans Do Not Sound Conducive To A Full Airing Of Issues

Democratic Debate

Both major political parties have announced plans for their debates, and some people are going to be unhappy. The Democrats will only have six debates, down significantly from 2008. Fewer debates make it more difficult for challengers to upset the presumptive frontrunner. There is also an exclusivity agreement this year preventing other organizations from hosting additional debates, as has occurred in the past. The proposed plans are seen as helping to protect Clinton from competition.

Martin O’Malley’s campaign has indicated displeasure with this plan:

“If Governor O’Malley decides to run, we will expect a full, robust, and inclusive set of debates — both nationally and in early primary and caucus states,” O’Malley spokesperson Lis Smith said Tuesday. “This has been customary in previous primary seasons. In a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors.”

There has been no comment yet from Bernie Sanders.

The Nation opposed this idea:

Wasserman Schultz and the Democrats should leave that sort of “control freakery” to Priebus and the Republicans. If several candidates decide to debate, particularly in a state that might not otherwise host a session, that’s to the good. If civil-rights or labor groups want to schedule forums and invite candidates, the contenders should not be able to use the excuse that they do not want to violate party rules.

The American political process features too few debates. And the ones that do take place are too controlled. The Democratic National Committee ought not be in the business of restricting options for additional debates. It should be encouraging more of them.

The big question are whether the format of the debates will protect Clinton from any serious challenge, and whether she will agree to answer questions at all. She has been mocked by the press recently for only taking seven questions since starting her campaign–and has avoided answering almost every one of them. If she had her way, she would probably have staged events with hand-picked “opponents” comparable to her staged events when campaigning in Iowa.

So far only Bernie Sanders has officially announced plans to run against Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb have indicated that they are considering runs. Joe Biden has said he will delay a decision until summer. Elizabeth Warren, who many Democrats are urging to enter the race, says she does not plan to run.

The Republicans have a unique problem in organizing their debates. It is estimated that there will be about sixteen or seventeen candidates, making it difficult for individual candidates to receive any meaningful amount of speaking time. It could be difficult to determine which candidates qualify for the debates, or limit the number, as with a field this large many candidates might only poll in single digits. Lacking much time for each candidate to speak. they might have to resort to a show of hands, as has sometimes been done as a part of  past debates. They could indicate by raising their hands whether they believe in evolution, climate change, and whether the earth is flat.

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What Bernie Sanders Believes

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has become the first to officially announce his plans to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. The conventional wisdom is that he has no chance to win (a type of prediction which I fear the media helps become true) but will move the conversation to the left. Unlike most politicians, Sanders’ views have remained quite consistent, making it a good bet that looking at his past statements will give a good idea of what he will be talking about while campaigning.

Common Dreams has a lengthy article on Sanders. This includes, “In December of last year, Sanders put forth what he called an Economic Agenda for America, a 12-point plan”

  1. Invest in our crumbling infrastructure with a major program to create jobs by rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools.
  2. Transform energy systems away from fossil fuels to create jobs while beginning to reverse global warming and make the planet habitable for future generations.
  3. Develop new economic models to support workers in the United States instead of giving tax breaks to corporations which ship jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
  4. Make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for higher wages and benefits.
  5. Raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour so no one who works 40 hours a week will live in poverty.
  6. Provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.
  7. Reform trade policies that have shuttered more than 60,000 factories and cost more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs.
  8. Make college affordable and provide affordable child care to restore America’s competitive edge compared to other nations.
  9. Break up big banks. The six largest banks now have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product, over $9.8 trillion. They underwrite more than half the mortgages in the country and issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards.
  10. Join the rest of the industrialized world with a Medicare-for-all health care system that provides better care at less cost.
  11. Expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
  12. Reform the tax code based on wage earners’ ability to pay and eliminate loopholes that let profitable corporations stash profits overseas and pay no U.S. federal income taxes.

PBS Newshour has this information on his views, including additional links:

Campaign finance: Limit corporate and interest-group spending in campaigns.

Sanders proposes a Constitutional amendment that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling and ban corporations and nonprofits from unlimited campaign expenditures. The independent senator would also require disclosure of any organizations spending $10,000 or more on an election-related campaign.

Climate change: Charge companies for carbon emissions

Considered to be a “climate change hawk” and use some of the money raised to boost renewable energy technology.

Education: Two years free tuition at state colleges. Reform student loans.

Sanders would provide $18 billion to state governments to allow them to cut tuition at state colleges by 55 percent. And he would allow anyone paying off a student loan currently to refinance at a lower rate.

Federal Reserve and banks: Break up big banks. Open up the Fed.

Sanders would divide large banks into smaller entities and charge a new fee for high-risk investment practices, including credit default swaps. In addition, he believes the Federal Reserve is an opaque organization which gives too much support to large corporations. His pushed for a 2011 audit of the Fed and he would use the Fed to force banks into loaning more money to small businesses. Finally, he would ban financial industry executives from serving on the 12 regional boards of directors.

Guns: A mixed approach. No federal handgun waiting period. Some protection for gun manufacturers. Ban assault weapons.

In the House of Representatives, Sanders voted against the pro-gun-control Brady Bill, writing that he believes states, not the federal government, can handle waiting periods for handguns. Soon after, he voted yes for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that included an assault weapons ban. He has voted to ban some lawsuits against gun manufacturers and for the Manchin-Toomey legislation expanding federal background checks.

Health care: Change to single-payer government-provided health care

Sanders voted for the Affordable Care Act, but believes that the new health care law did not go far enough. Instead, he espouses a single-payer system in which the federal and state governments would provide health care to all Americans. Participating states would be required to set up their own single-payer system and a national oversight board would establish an overall budget.

Immigration: Offer path to citizenship. Waive some deportations now.

Sanders generally agrees with President Obama that most of the undocumented immigrants in the country now should be given a path to citizenship. He voted for the senate immigration bill in 2013, which would have increased border security and issued a provisional immigrant status to millions of undocumented residents once some significant security metrics had been met. In addition, Sanders has supported President Obama’s use of executive orders to waive deportation for some groups of immigrants, including those who were brought to the United States as children.

Taxes: Raise some taxes on the wealthy. Cut taxes for middle class.

The current ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders would nearly double taxes on capital gains and dividends for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. In addition, this year Sanders asked President Obama to use executive action to close six tax deductions benefitting corporations and hedge funds. The Vermont senator would use some of the revenue gained from higher taxes on the rich to lower taxes for middle and lower class Americans.

Iraq, Islamic State and Afghanistan: Opposed the Iraq war. Calls for troop withdrawal as soon as possible.

A longtime anti-war activist, Sanders voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002. He has regularly called for the U.S. to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as possible. Regarding the Islamic State, Sanders has said the U.S. should not lead the fight. In general, he believes the U.S. should focus less on international conflict and more on the domestic needs of the middle class.

Iran and Israel: Supports current talks with Iran. Critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In an interview with ABC News Sanders called the Clinton Foundation money, along with money from conservative sources, a very serious problem:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said he is concerned by the millions of dollars flowing into the Clinton Foundation at a time when he thinks money plays too strong a role in politics.

“It tells me what is a very serious problem,” Sanders said in an interview with ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. “It’s not just about Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton. It is about a political system today that is dominated by big money. It’s about the Koch brothers being prepared to spend $900 million dollars in the coming election.

“So do I have concerns about the Clinton Foundation and that money? I do,” he added. “But I am concerned about Sheldon Adelson and his billions. I’m concerned about the Koch Brothers and their billions. We’re looking at a system where our democracy is being owned by a handful of billionaires.”

The issues in the above lists are primarily, but not exclusively, based on economic views. Sanders, as opposed to Clinton, also has a strong record of support for liberal positions on foreign policy and social issues. While it is inevitable that economic issues will dominate the campaign this year, I hope that during the course of the campaign more is said about both Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy views, along with her conservative cultural views.

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Obama Took On The Right At White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Obama White House Correspondents Dinner

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner has turned into a major event in recent years, and Barack Obama did a fine job. Among his jokes:

“For many Americans, this is still a time of deep uncertainty. I have one friend, just weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”

“Michele Bachmann predicted I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now that’s big. … Lincoln, Washington — they didn’t do that.”

On Bernie Sanders: “Apparently people really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.”

On Dick Cheney: “He thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.”

Cecily Strong, while not as good a comedian, as Barack Obama, did better in this situation than as anchor on SNL’s Weekend Update. She had a number of jokes about the media, from the number of prison documentaries on MSNBC to the nature of Fox’s audience: “Fox News has been losing a lot of viewers lately, and may they rest in peace.”

She was clearly backing Hillary Clinton but she did mention the email scandal: “Hillary Clinton said that she used her private email because she didn’t want to use more than two devices. Now if that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also one of the rules of the sex contract of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”

Obama’s expression of political views has received far more attention than Strong’s. On climate change: “Look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate! It is crazy! What about our kids?! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible…”

Both conservative liberal blogs agreed that Obama was expressing liberal views in such jokes, but the spin was quite different. Power Line’s headline was Our Mean-Spirited President Cuts Loose. Ezra Klein put it differently (and more accurately): The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking.

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Clinton Receiving Criticism On Economic And Foreign Policy From Two Potential Democratic Challengers

With Hillary Clinton’s formal announcement that she is running for the Democratic nomination imminent, we now have something resembling a political campaign. Unfortunately (especially considering how Clinton is slipping in the battle ground polls) the race is rather one sided. Politico points out that even many of those who do not support her for the nomination see her as an unstoppable train. The article did look at a few possible challenges to Clinton from the left:

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — the trio who have shown the greatest interest in mounting a challenge to Clinton — face a steep path, Democratic operatives say, while the two most famous names mentioned as potential challengers — Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — seem increasingly far from running.

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island senator and governor, emerged in the last few days to stake a possible claim to be the Clinton alternative, raising Warren-like concerns about Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street. But he’s a maverick whose shift from Republican to independent to Democrat is unlikely to excite the progressive base.

…Clinton aides point to O’Malley as the most viable alternative candidate, believing he will eventually pick up support from many of the liberal activists currently urging Warren to run. The silver lining in his low name recognition is that he has an opportunity to introduce himself to the American people on his own terms.

Warren, meanwhile, repeatedly insists she will not throw her hat in the ring despite an organized campaign put together by progressive groups intended to draft the bank antagonist.

And even though the vice president has run for president twice before — including against Clinton and Obama in 2008 — he has no political operation to speak of. Biden’s supporters insist that he would need little preparation to jump in due to his existing networks and the goodwill generated by his trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina earlier this year. But he shows no signs of seriously considering a run.

MSNBC, which might be expected to be more willing than other media outlets to cover a challenge to Clinton from the left, reported on Martin O’Malley campaigning in Iowa:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley says if he runs for president, he will try to pull the Democratic Party back to its populist roots.

“You know what it’s about? It’s really about calling our party back to its true self,” he said in a wide-ranging MSNBC interview airing Friday. “Our politics has been greatly impacted, for the worse, by big money and the concentration of big money.”

O’Malley, in Iowa this week for meetings and a local Democratic Party event, took a break to talk about his potential 2016 challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Smokey Row Coffee, a bustling coffee shop on the West side of Des Moines. Clinton is expected to begin her presidential campaign as early as this weekend.

Widely known as number-crunching technocrat, O’Malley sounds pretty blunt when criticizing what he calls Wall Street’s growing dominance of campaigns and government – including some members of the Obama administration.

“For 30 years we’ve followed this trickle-down theory of economics that said, ‘Concentrate wealth at the very top, remove regulation and keep wages low so we can be competitive – whatever the hell that means,” O’Malley says.

“What it led to was the first time since the Second World War where wages have actually declined, rather than going up – where almost all of the new income earned in this recovery has gone to the top 1%,” he says, invoking the famous phrase from the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he continues, arguing, “these things are not effects that blew in on a gulf stream or on a polar vortex – these are the products of the policy choices we made over these 30 years.”

O’Malley says the system is rigged “in many ways” – a concern pressed by the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party – and contends middle class priorities should be “at the center of our economic theory.”

…O’Malley freely admits most Iowans he meets haven’t heard of him, but he believes they are receptive to his economic focus – and they aren’t all ready for Hillary.

Many Iowans want to literally “meet every candidate” before they decide, he says, and they don’t accept “the inevitability or the punditry or whatever the polls happen to say.”

O’Malley should know. He got started in politics working on Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign in Iowa, and he believes history shows there’s really no such thing as inevitable candidates.

“There is an ‘inevitable’ front-runner who remains ‘inevitable’ right up until he or she’s no longer inevitable,” he says. “And the person that emerges as the alternative is the person that usually no one in America had heard of before – until that person got into a van and went county to county to county.”

O’Malley is careful not to criticize Hillary Clinton by name, but her presence clearly looms over his possible candidacy.

While O’Malley has avoided criticizing Clinton by name, Lincoln Chafee has no such reservations. The New York Times interviewed Chafee about his intentions to run against Clinton:

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Chafee offered sharp criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq and for accepting foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

“The donations to the Clinton Foundation are alarming to me,” Mr. Chafee said, arguing that decision making can be compromised when enormous amounts of money change hands.

The Clintons have defended the family foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign governments, which was mostly suspended when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state and resumed after she left. Last month, former President Bill Clinton said taking money from foreign countries, including those in the Middle East, was crucial to keeping the foundation’s programs running

As Barack Obama did as a senator in 2007, Mr. Chafee argued that Mrs Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq should disqualify her from the White House.

“It’s still relevant,” Mr. Chafee said. “I would argue that the next president of the United States should not have voted for that war.”

Besides Clinton’s vote, Clinton has additional problems on foreign policy. These range from being one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq war, falsely claiming a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration.

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Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

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The Primary Battles Beyond Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein wrote about how Hillary Clinton is crushing the opposition for the Democratic nomination, primarily due to winning the support of the Democratic elite. He does end with this thought:

The question for the Democratic Party is whether Clinton is going to be as strong in the visible primary — and the visible election — as she is in the invisible one. The skills necessary to win over Democratic Party elites may not be the skills necessary to win the election — and if Hillary doesn’t face serious opposition in the visible primary, Democrats may not find that out until too late.

Her mishandling of both her book tour and her response to the news on her private email server should be enough to suggest to the elites, and everyone else, that Clinton is no more prepared to run now than she was in 2008. Most likely she will win the nomination, but I’m not going to give up hope that the Democrats will nominate a liberal instead of Clinton with so much time to go. Martin O’Malley is a long shot but he does stand out in one way–he says he is running. Joan Walsh interviewed him at Salon. He primarily spoke about economic matters, positioning  himself to go after the Elizabeth Warren backers. He had little to say on issues beyond economics saying, “Let me say that over the course of the next couple of months we’ll be laying out a number of policy speeches, almost certainly on national security and foreign policy.”

Bernie Sanders would also go after Clinton from the left on economic matters but he is sounding less enthusiastic about running.

While Clinton definitely deserves to be challenged from the left on economic matters, I do wish there was a comparable potential challenger on the civil liberties and social issues which I’m more interested in. Ron Wyden’s name sometimes comes up in wish lists of Democratic candidates, and he would be high on my list. Any consideration of Democrats who have been strong on civil liberties issues will naturally turn to Russ Feingold. He is is leaving his current  job as a special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and there has been a lot of speculation that he is planning to run for the Senate in 2016. If Clinton should self-destruct, I wonder if he would aim higher.

Meanwhile over on the dark side, The Politico Caucus believes that the Republicans have harmed themselves with the Iranian letter:

“The Republicans handed the Democrats a perfect issue going in to 2016,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “No matter what they do from now until November 2016, Democrats have endless editorials to pull devastating quotes from to demolish the Republicans. Truly a gift.”

“I talked to a number of non-political Granite Staters who were, to be blunt, shocked by its appalling lack of respect for the presidency,” said another, “by its undermining of American credibility and by what they felt was essentially an un-patriotic act.”

Far too few people who don’t follow politics closely do not realize how extreme the Republicans are, and the degree to which their actions are contrary to American interests. Can this be the issue which opens more eyes?

Despite how unethical Clinton’s behavior has been, both with the use of her private email server and her dishonest response, I doubt that this will have  any significant impact on the election results. The political meaning isn’t that people will turn against Clinton because of this, but that it shows Clinton’s ability to self-destruct as more controversies come up during the campaign. I did receive a link to one poll which claims, “Majority of Americans believe email controversy will hurt Clinton’s 2016 ambitions.” Being skeptical I checked into Vox Populi, which conducted the poll. It turns out to be a Republican outfit, with Mary Cheney a partner.

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