Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016

Clinton Email

The reports I discussed yesterday regarding Hillary Clinton using private email as Secretary of State are leading some, such as Frank Rich, to wonder if Democrats need a backup plan for 2016. A follow up story in The New York Times reports how Clinton used her private email to thwart requests for information, including requests from Congress and Freedom of Information requests from journalists. These ethical breaches by Hillary Clinton are of particular concern taking place so soon after scandals in the Bush administration regarding private use of email, making many liberals besides myself question why Clinton could have done something so foolish.

As The Guardian summarized the significance of the news:

It leaves Clinton vulnerable to at least three lines of criticism: that she potentially broke fundamental rules governing the handling and security of state secrets; that she skirted around guidelines put in place to ensure historical accountability and transparency within high public office; and the political attack that she must have had something to hide.

Perhaps the most serious accusation facing Clinton is that she may have breached one of the fundamental tenets of classified information. J William Leonard, former director of the body that keeps watch over executive branch secrets, the Information Security Oversight Office, told the Guardian that if Clinton had dealt with confidential government matters through her personal email, that would have been problematic. “There is no such thing as personal copies of classified information. All classified information belongs to the US government and it should never leave the control of the government.”

The Associated Press is considering legal action in response to her failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for email:

The unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official running her own email server would have given Clinton — who is expected to run for president in the 2016 campaign — significant control over limiting access to her message archives.

It also would complicate the State Department’s legal responsibilities in finding and turning over official emails in response to any investigations, lawsuits or public records requests. The department would be the position of accepting Clinton’s assurances she was surrendering everything required that was in her control…

The AP said Wednesday it was considering taking legal action against the State Department for failing to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat after waiting more than one year. The department has failed to meet several self-imposed deadlines but has never suggested that it doesn’t possess all Clinton’s emails.

Having checked more coverage in the media and blogosphere since my initial post, I was pleased to see that most liberal bloggers I read did question Clinton’s conduct. For example, rather than a partisan defense Steve Benen‘s post raised the same objective points:

There’s no shortage of problematic angles to this. Obviously, there’s the question of transparency and compliance with the Federal Records Act. Clinton wasn’t the first Secretary of State to make use of a personal email account – Colin Powell did the same thing during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration – but preservation rules have changed and Clinton apparently faced more stringent requirements.
There’s also the matter of security: as Secretary of State, Clinton sent and received highly sensitive information on a daily basis, including classified materials, from officials around the world. By relying on private email, instead of an encrypted State Department account, Clinton may have created a security risk.

Other liberal bloggers have been far harder on Clinton.  Clinton is also receiving criticism on MSNBC, as opposed to the partisan defense we would expect in the reverse situation from Fox. Needless to say, conservatives tended to be quite critical, and  hypocritical, usually ignoring the comparable use of private email by many Republicans, including officials in the Bush administration, Chris Christie, and Sarah Palin.

It was disappointing but not surprising to see that the Clintonistas did quickly get some writers out to defend Clinton. Typically their defenses were no more honest than a report from Fox. Defenses of Clinton tended to concentrate on the arguing that Clinton did not actually break the law. This is definitely a case of moving the goal posts and possibly also incorrect. The initial articles raising these concerns did note that Clinton may have broken the law and with the complexity of the regulations involved avoided a definite conclusion, but it was her conduct and judgment, not whether she was in violation of the law, which is the heart of the issue.  The defenses of Clinton point out that Colin Powell used private email, but ignore the changes in regulations made in 2009 which “required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system.” Her defenders have also ignored the more stringent requirements put into place in 2011. As a consequence of these rules changes, John Kerry has used government email for his communications, as has Barack Obama since taking office in 2009.

Many of the other defenses of Clinton are rather trivial attacks on the journalist who wrote the story. The statements that these revelations came out as part of the Benghazi hearings is contradicted with finding a journalist who had reported on this previously. This is analogous to the debates as to who discovered America. Finding that someone had previously reported on Clinton’s private email does not change the substance of this story any more than discovering that Vikings beat Columbus to America substantially other facts regarding American  history post-Columbus.

The rapid release of such dishonest defenses of Clinton by her allies is yet another reason why I would hate to see Hillary Clinton as president. I have always been disturbed by the degree of secrecy when she was working on health care reform, her push for war against Iraq based upon fictitious claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, along with many questionable statements I’ve heard from her over the years. Electing Clinton would be a great blow to honesty and transparency in government. Democrats should be able to do better.

There is no question that Clinton was at least skirting the rules in effect when she became Secretary of State, if not outright breaking them. Her honesty has already been a serious question. Someone with a reputation for dishonesty and lack of transparency should have realized that this would only make matters worse. Her credibility, already in question, will be even lower when there is always the question of secret emails looming. Republicans will be able to drag out their hearings on Benghazi even longer because of this. If she runs against Jeb Bush she would be on the defensive over transparency after the release of his emails. Clinton has never been a very good campaigner, and her lack of judgment in this matter only raise.

Update: Hillary Clinton On Private Email 2007 And 2015

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SciFi Weekend: The Americans; The Flash; Arrow; Agents of SHIELD; Doctor Who (The Doctor Dates Cinderella); 12 Monkeys; Big Bang Theory; Two And A Half Men Finale; Mad Men In The 70’s; Orphan Black; Kristen Bell; If Ayn Rand Wrote Harry Potter; Birdman Parody; Politics And The Oscars

The Americans Nina Gulag

One of the things which makes The Americans one of the top television shows now on is the manner in which several story lines involving different characters are carried out so well. Whether or not the different story lines become intertwined, one storyline often has lessons for another. On Dimebag, while Elizabeth and Phillip fought over whether Paige should become a spy, neither seemed to have thought that if Paige had been trained they could have used her to get information from Kimberly, the young daughter of the CIA’s Afghan group, instead of Phillip seducing her. Neither realized initially the degree to which they were in danger of losing Paige to her church–hardly acceptable if she were to be a good Communist. There is some similarity to how Pastor Tim is “recruiting” Paige to how Phillip is using Kimberly and the Russians want them to recruit Paige. Meanwhile in Russian, Nina might be saved due to Oleg’s family relationship to the future Russian oligarchs, and she went to work on her cell mate as Elizabeth would work on getting information. On top of this, the episode included a defector who might be double crossing them, an EST meeting, and a visit with an AA sponsor.

Keri Russell discussed the relationships with her character’s daughter and mother this season, and described the scene earlier this season in which Annelise’s body was packed into a suitcase:

IGN: I have to ask about that second episode and the scene of having to get rid of the body in that hotel room. First of all, there’s the “Oh my god!” of it all. And then also is it interesting for you to play a character who already had to compartmentalize everything, but this is a woman that her husband was sleeping with as a part of the job, and now she has the reality of that in front of her?

Russell: All I have to say is so many naked girls! Naked, beautiful actress, naked beautiful contortionist, yeah. Then on a second unit day of reshoots, a second naked beautiful girl. I was like, “There’s a lot of pretty, naked girls on this show!” Yeah, so bizarre! Really gruesome. I haven’t seen it. Does it play?

IGN: Oh yeah, it plays.

Flash Firestorm

Last week The Flash was both a back door pilot for Firestorm and further advanced the idea of time travel for Barry Allen. We saw once again how far Harrison Wells is willing to go, and his motives remain unclear. We should be learning more when the show returns in March.

Also on CW, we saw a reversal on Arrow, as the flashback took place in Starling City while the present day action took place back on the island. It was strange to see Oliver from the period when he was missing back around his home. Seeing Oliver snooping around Queen Consolidated gave the feeling of a time travel story in which a character is in their past but cannot risk being seen.  Meanwhile, on the island, there was a deliberate reference to Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn with Slade’s comment, “I’m going to leave you as you left me.”

Agents of SHIELD returns March 3. Marvel has released this synopsis of the episode:

After discovering an alien city with ties to his resurrection, Coulson and his team destroyed it before the forces of Hydra could claim its secrets, eliminating the villainous Whitehall (Reed Diamond) in the process. But new threats to the world have arisen, including Skye’s father, Cal (Kyle McLachlan), who now seeks retribution against Coulson for stealing his revenge against Whitehall; a disturbing alliance between former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Ward (Brett Dalton) and Agent 33; the enigmatic Raina (Ruth Negga), who struggles with her transformation into something inhuman by the alien Obelisk and seeks vengeance; and Skye (Chloe Bennet), who developed mysterious new powers from the Obelisk but whose lack of experience with her new abilities may threaten the safety of those she loves.

Meanwhile, Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) begin the next phase of a plan which seems to have grave repercussions for Coulson and his team, who are unaware that there’s another mysterious force moving against them. And as Hunter (Nick Blood) is forced to make the biggest choice of his life, Coulson will find his mission threatened by this shocking endgame.

In the midseason premiere, “Aftershocks,” Coulson’s team must deal with the consequences of their war with Hydra as shocking revelations threaten to tear them apart, and Hydra makes a dangerous move that may involve a traitor in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s midst.

Adrianne Palicki has been promoted to a series regular on Agents of SHIELD, which probably means that Will will not be getting back together with Doctor Sam on About a Boy anytime soon.

Lily James Matt Smith

The Doctor is dating Cinderella–Matt Smith has confirmed that he is dating Lily James. I don’t know if it has occurred yet in the US broadcasts of Downton Abbey so I won’t give any specifics, but I did like her character’s triumph in a late season episode. Of course anything is better than revisiting certain past events yet once again.

In other Doctor Who and related news, The BBC has announced that Michelle Gomez will return as Missy in a two part episode to open the next season of Doctor Who. Add Eve Myles to the list of those interested in another season of Torchwood.

Speaking of Lily James in Cinderella, Ellen DeGeneres has presented a mash-up of Cinderella and Fifty Shades of Grey. Video above.

I thought there was a chance that 12 Monkeys might be able to make it into the upper tier of genre shows with The Night Room last week but The Red Forest couldn’t keep up the same quality this week. Not that it was a bad episode, but it was too easy to fix the timeline when it simply came down to Cassie getting captured in our present, and saving her would fix things. There are still a number of questions raised last week which could provide interesting episodes. Plus they now know how important Cassie’s role is and will make sure that they do not change history involving her, ensuring that she can deliver the message for Cole before she dies.

Amazon has renewed Mozart in the Jungle (which I recommend watching, now about half way through the first season) and is going ahead with the adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I have intentionally held off on watching the pilot, preferring to wait until Amazon shows are released in full as opposed to watching the pilot months earlier, but reviews have been excellent for the pilot.

Last week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory seemed to throw far too much into a single episode, including the reopening of Stuart’s comic book store, a cameo by Nathan Fillion, and (the most amusing part of the show), Sheldon telling Penny how Amy was doing experiments on her. Then we learned what the episode was really about–a tribute to Carol Ann Susi, the voice of Mrs. Wolowitz, who died in November. There is a toast to her in the video above, and there is an unseen tribute to her in every episode:

After we had that impromptu memorial the morning she passed away, Johnny and I were hugging—like everybody was—and right then we found our prop person and asked to get a little picture of Carol Ann and we put it on the refrigerator [in Leonard and Sheldon’s kitchen] so she’s there in every episode now. It’s so small you wouldn’t even see it, but on the fridge is this tiny little wallet-size picture of Carol Ann that’s been there since the day she passed away.

It also appears that The Big Bang Theory is so subversive that China doesn’t want its citizens to be able to watch the show.

We are going into the final week of one of the best network sit-coms in recent years, Parks and Recreation. Last week we had the finale of Two And A Half Men, a multi-cam sit-com which over the last twelve years has shown everything wrong with the format. If anyone cares, Chuck Lorre explained his intentions for the finale. There were no apologies to the nation, but at least our great national nightmare is over.

Mad Men 70's

Mad Men enters the 1970’s for its final half-season, and from the music playing in the trailer it might even be doing a time jump to the mid 70’s. After that, I’m looking forward to the inevitable spin-off. Better Call Sally. Just kidding but considering how good Better Call Saul has been so far as a spin-off of Breaking Bad, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if AMC went that route again.

AMC purchased 49 percent of BBC America, and this has implications for the promotion of the third season of Orphan Black. The show probably has many less viewers than a show of this quality might otherwise have due to not being seen on BBC America. In the hopes of increasing exposure, the third season premiere will be shown on all of AMC’s channels, including AMC, Sundance TV, IFC and We TV. The one problem with this strategy is that Orphan Black is not a good show to come into late. Perhaps they should have been rerunning the first two seasons on some other channels prior to the start of the third season.

Forget any thoughts of John Oliver taking over for Jon Stewart. HBO, perhaps thinking along those lines and wanting to lock him in, has signed Oliver for two more seasons of This Week Tonight, with 35 episodes a year. Meanwhile Jon Stewart, after having to put out new shows daily, near year round, might envy Oliver’s deal.

Kristen Bell has no tolerance for anti-vaxxers, and won’t let them around her children. “It’s a very simple logic: I believe in trusting doctors, not know-it-alls.”

morena_baccarin
Morena Baccarin (of Gotham, Firefly, V, and Homeland) has been cast as the female lead in another superhero adaptation, this time the movie version of Deadpool. I don’t know if this will impact her work on Gotham, but we know that sooner or later Jim Gordon has to get back with Barbara, or else Batgirl will never be born.

BoingBoing has pointed out an example of Harry Potter fan fiction by Mallory Ortberg, written as if it was written by Ayn Rand. Thus there are passages such as, “It’s also why I never water my plants in Herbology. They must learn to survive with or without me. Self-sufficiency is not just a human virtue. It is the highest virtue.”  Plus don’t miss the link to Mallory Ortberg’s reviews of children’s movies as if they were written by Ayn Rand. For example:

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars.

“Bambi”

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.

“101 Dalmatians”A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.


Big Bird meets Birdman in the video spoof above. Birdman is considered a heavy favorite to win an Oscar for best movie.

When actors go on stage to accept Oscars tonight, many of them are contributing to the Democrats, and some to the Republicans. The Hill reports:

Democrats are the biggest winners when it comes to raking in political donations from Academy Award nominees.

Some of the Oscars’ most famous contenders — including this year’s hopefuls Reese Witherspoon, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Bradley Cooper, and Meryl Streep — are delivering big bucks for the left.

Norton plays an egotistical movie star in “Birdman,” — which snagged him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at Sunday’s awards — but the real-life film star is one of Hollywood’s biggest Democratic donor…

Witherspoon, who earned her second Best Actress nomination this year for “Wild,” has also donated generously to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission records. The 2005 Oscar winner gave $1,500 to Warren’s camp in 2012. She’s also given in excess of $6,000 to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and $1,500 to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

While Clint Eastwood, the director behind Best Picture nominee “American Sniper,” is known for his support of Republican candidates — famously delivering his “empty chair speech” at the 2012 Republican National Convention — the film’s star, Bradley Cooper, gave $750 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid. Cooper is vying for Best Actor for his portrayal of real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in the record-breaking movie.

The article later discusses how Democrats often use celebrities in fund raising campaigns while “Republicans have capitalized on conservative celebrity activists by encouraging them to run for office.”

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Bush Campaign Has Two Tech Problems

Since Jeb Bush began unofficially running for the Republican nomination he has had a couple problems with technology. These are primarily presented as examples of how politicians must be careful, not necessarily criticism of Jeb Bush personally. First there was the problem of old tweets from a campaign aide, such as calling women sluts. The solution was fairly simple, deleting the old tweets and apologizing:

Ethan Czahor’s tweets began disappearing today after news broke that he had been hired by Jeb Bush. A spokesperson for Bush told BuzzFeed News: “Governor Bush believes the comments were inappropriate. They have been deleted at our request. Ethan is a great talent in the tech world and we are very excited to have him on board the Right to Rise PAC.” Czahor also apologized in a tweet on Monday.

Nothing totally disappears from the internet, but old tweets from a campaign aide are not likely to cause any significant problems for Bush, as stories of his own earlier actions might, unless a trend develops. It does serve as a reminder that anything posted on social media can come back to haunt the writer when seeking a job, although in this case it did not prevent the Bush campaign from hiring Czahor.

This was quickly followed by another problem when Bush wanted to give the appearance of transparency by releasing hundreds of thousands of emails sent to him when he was governor of Florida. This was largely show as the press already had copies of the email. Bush ran into a problem when it was reported that the released emails also contain email addresses and Social Security numbers of constituents.

It was certainly a mistake to dump such information but I also suspect that these are problems which any campaign might have faced. In the lists of Bush family errors, this hardly ranks with invading the wrong country following a terrorist attack.  The Wall Street Journal reports that, “he is leaning toward his father’s more pragmatic and restrained philosophy” compared to the philosophy of his brother. Of course George W. Bush also spoke out against nation-building as a candidate.

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Rand Paul’s Past May Catch Up With Him

Rand Paul

Paul Waldman reminds us of some of the nutty things Rand Paul has said in the past, such as his belief in the NAFTA Superhighway conspiracy theory and past statements on the Civil Rights Act. He got in trouble again this week, along with some other Republicans, when discussing measles vaccination. It is not surprising that Paul, as is the case with the many in the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party (along with some mainstream Republicans) has a history of association with anti-vaccine groups. Paul has gone further than most other Republicans in the past in both questioning the science of vaccines and questioning the right of the state to mandate vaccinations.

Waldman has a good suggestion as to why Paul has made it to the Senate despite a history of holding views which would have prevented others from winning such a position:

But that’s not the path Rand Paul followed. Whatever his talents, he’s a United States senator because he’s Ron Paul’s son. Over his time in Congress, Ron Paul developed a small but fervent national constituency, made up of some ordinary libertarians and a whole lot of outright wackos. That constituency was greatly expanded by his 2008 presidential campaign. Despite the fact that Paul had plenty of interesting and reasonable things to say, it’s also the case that if you were building a bunker to prepare for the coming world financial crash and ensuring societal breakdown (and possible zombie apocalypse), there was only one presidential candidate for you. When Rand Paul decided to run for Senate in 2010, having never run for anything before, the Ron Paul Army mobilized for him, showering him with money and volunteers. He also had the good fortune to be running in a year when Republicans everywhere were looking for outsider, tea party candidates, so he easily beat the choice of the Kentucky GOP establishment in the primary.

You may remember that early on, and unseasoned Rand Paul got in trouble for his ideas about things like the Civil Rights Act. But he quickly discerned what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and he set about moderating his views, sanding down the rough edges of libertarianism to find something that would fit more neatly within the Republican Party while also finding issues where he could say something distinctive. It’s been very effective, but you can’t erase the past.

And I’m guessing there’s more in Paul’s past that will be of interest now that we’re getting into the 2016 campaign. I don’t mean scandalous behavior, I mean scandalous notions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a dozen more videos like this one out there, in which the now-respectable senator says some alarming things to groups of people who revere his father in all the elder Paul’s eccentric glory. I could be wrong, of course—the NAFTA superhighway and vaccines causing autism may be the only conspiracy theories Rand Paul has ever entertained. But we’re going to find out.

Rand Paul is not Ron Paul and we cannot attribute all of Ron Paul’s nuttier views and actions to Rand without evidence. I do bet that plenty more will come out if he has to face the scrutiny of a presidential campaign, and his Republican opponents for the nomination won’t hesitate to begin the opposition research.

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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Obama Approval Now Rises To Reagan-Levels As Economy Improves

president-obama-in-the-white-house

An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama’s approval reaching 50% on the eve of his State of the Union Address:

Obama’s overall approval rating now stands at 50 percent, the highest in a Post-ABC poll since the spring of 2013. His standing is nine points higher than in December and seven points higher than in October, just before Republicans captured control of the Senate, increased their House majority to its highest level in eight decades and recorded advances in the states.

The Post-ABC survey puts the president’s approval rating slightly higher than some other recent public polls. But most have shown improvement since the November elections as the president has moved aggressively and unilaterally on issues such as immigration and climate change.

A breakdown of the poll also shows greater support for Obama than for Republicans on the issues, which could be significant now that Obama will be facing a Republican-controlled Congress. These numbers put him well on course to exceed Ronald Reagan’s approval at this point in his presidency, which is quite an improvement after the many comparisons to George Bush’s approval ratings last year.

It is far too early to predict where his popularity will be at the time of the 2016 election. Nate Cohn, looking at his average improvement and not this specific poll, wrote on the political impact Obama’s popularity might have on the 2016 election:

There is a well-established relationship between the pace of economic growth and a president’s approval ratings, and Mr. Obama is clearly benefiting from signs of accelerating economic growth. For the first time since the start of the recession, more Americans believe the economic conditions are good or excellent than poor. Consumer confidence rose to an 11-year high last week, according to the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index…

Only a handful of modern elections have not had an incumbent president on the ballot. In these contests, the president’s approval ratings are unsurprisingly less important than when a president is running for re-election. So Mr. Obama’s approval ratings will matter in 2016, but it is hard to say exactly how much.

The balance of evidence suggests that the break-even point for the presidential party’s odds of victory is at or nearly 50 percent approval. If the only thing you knew about the 2016 election was Mr. Obama’s approval rating on Election Day, you might guess that the Democrats had a 37 percent chance of holding the White House with a 46 percent rating — rather than a 23 percent chance with a 41 percent rating. The difference between 41 and 46 might be worth between one and two percentage points to the Democratic candidate in 2016 — the difference between a close race and a modest but clear Republican victory.

Mr. Obama’s surge among Hispanic voters might be particularly telling. It is a sign that Democratic-leaning voters dissatisfied with Mr. Obama’s performance might not be so disillusioned that they can’t be lured back to the Democrats by the issues and messages that brought them to the party in the first place. The president’s ratings among liberals and Democrats remain mediocre — perhaps only in the low 70s and low 80s, respectively — suggesting that there are additional, low-hanging opportunities for Mr. Obama and his party’s next nominee.

 

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Clinton v. Bush, Again?

Clinton Bush

A lot can change between now and when the two major political parties pick their nominees, but it is looking increasingly like we might face another Clinton v. Bush campaign. Larry Sabato, while acknowledging that there are factors which could cause him to lose, has placed Jeb Bush alone in his top tier of Republican nominees:

So for the first time in a while, we elevate a candidate to the First Tier of the Crystal Ball’s GOP rankings for president. Jeb Bush fills a long-established vacuum. Our decision is tentative; his poll ratings are still underwhelming, and Bush is a shaky frontrunner. Yet Bush is No. 1 on a giant roster as we begin the long roller-coaster process of picking the party nominees over the next year and a half.

We are amazed that Republicans could nominate their third Bush for a fifth run at the White House since 1988. Such family dominance of either major party is unprecedented in American history, unless you want to link Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s one nomination (1904) with Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s four nominations (1932-1944). The Roosevelt presidencies were separated by party labels and 24 years. The Bush presidencies, should Jeb win it all, will have been separated by just eight-year intervals.

By no means is Bush a sure thing — far from it. The path to the nomination will likely be tougher for this Bush than it was for his father in 1988 and brother in 2000. The party establishment is still a force to be reckoned with, but nowhere near as dominant in the GOP of 2015 as it was in those earlier times.

Currently, more than three-quarters of Republicans want someone other than Bush. The frontrunner depends on a split in conservative ranks — which appears to be happening — as well as a concerted push by the party’s establishment leaders and donors to freeze out Bush alternatives (including Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich). We’ve always doubted Romney would run unless the pragmatists in the leadership and donor class deemed a rescue mission essential; right now, they do not. The remaining Bush alternatives are still in the game, though.

After Bush, Sabato has Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie in the second tier, with other candidates ranked down to a seventh tier. Mike Huckabee, who has also taken recent action towards a possible campaign, is in the third tier along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. My Governor, Rick Snyder of Michigan is in the fourth tier. He is likely the least bat-shit crazy of the bunch, but I fear that even if he was president he would acquiesce to far too much from a Republican Congress, as he sometimes does with the bat-shit crazy Michigan legislature. Snyder originally won the Republican nomination for Governor because of support from Democrats in 2010 when he looked like the lesser evil when it was apparent that a Republican was going to win.

With three-quarters of Republicans wanting someone other than Bush, it certainly seems possible that another candidate could emerge. While there is some sentiment among Democrats for someone other than Clinton, there do not appear to be any serious challengers at this point.

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Red State Republicans Are A Minority Of Population Despite Senate Gains

Congress

The Senate is probably the strongest example of how our political system is (small-d) non-democratic. Each state receives two Senators, regardless of size, and the District of Columbia, with a population greater than several states, receives zero. The difference in size between the smallest and largest states has also increased significantly since this compromise was reached in the writing of the Constitution. A combination of factors including Senate races primarily in red states, the usual problems faced by either party in the sixth year of a presidency (with Republicans even losing control of the Senate under Ronald Reagan), and several tactical errors by Democratic candidates, led to the Republicans taking control. However, Vox has an interesting calculation:

But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”

Republicans also receive an advantage in the House due to a combination of gerrymandering and the fact that Democratic votes are more concentrated in cities, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of districts by higher margins, and in some years allowing Republicans to control the House with a minority of the vote.

Republicans will be forced to defend more seats in blue states in 2016 but the magnitude of the Republican pick up in 2014 will make it much harder for Democrats to actually regain control. The Atlantic looked at key election races, pointing out:

Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states.

Other factors could help Democrats in 2016 beyond the geography. The economy will hopefully be even stronger, unless the Republican-controlled Congress, or even factors beyond political control, create further problems. The Affordable Care Act will be even more established, assuming Republicans aren’t successful in dismantling it in Congress or the courts, and might be less of a divisive political issue. Perhaps most importantly, the Democrats will be running a more national campaign behind a presidential candidate as opposed to running as Republican-lite and hiding from Obama.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Obama to hit the road, selling economic progress:

Eager to stay on the offensive as new Republican majorities are seated in Congress, the president plans to take a more bullish economic message on the road next week in something of an early test drive of his State of the Union message.

During stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee, Obama plans to draw a connection between actions his administration took early in his presidency and increasingly positive economic trends in sectors such as manufacturing and housing.

Officials say he’ll also offer specific new proposals — some that he’ll pursue with Congress and others he’ll advance with his own authority — that are intended to build on that progress, particularly for the middle class.

It’s an approach that upends the traditional White House script to start the year, when new policy rollouts are usually reserved for the president’s annual address to Congress.

But the White House is eager to sustain momentum  it says started to build after November with major actions on immigration and Cuba as Obama began what he calls the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Obama, and other Democrats, should have been made the successes of Democratic policies the major point of the campaign, as opposed to running away from their successes. They might have still lost in deep red states, but Democratic turnout would have been better and they would have done better in less red areas. Besides the benefits of running on Obama’s previous record, as a result of Obama’s post-election actions his approval has shot up in the Gallup and other polls.

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Obama Approval Reaches 48%

Obama Affordable Care Act

Gallup reports that President Obama’s job approval has increased to 48 percent, the highest since August, 2013. This matches his disapproval rate, being the first time this gap has not been negative since September, 2013. They don’t give firm data to explain this improvement, but note that this partially can be explained by an improvement among Hispanics. They further speculate that the increase might be due to improved views on the economy, as well as people being more generous in their ratings around Christmas.

I wonder if other factors are involved, including his recent successes on foreign policy, the disappearance of the Ebola crisis in the United States which Republicans spread considerable misinformation about prior to the midterm elections, and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

As a sign of how desperate conservatives are to deny the considerable success of Obamacare in both expanding insurance coverage and making it more affordable, they are going further in cherry picking and distorting statements from Jonathan Gruber going back to 2009, with many conservative sites falsely calling him both the architect of Obamacare and its leading spokesman. Strangely, they don’t pay any attention to the far greater statements from him on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party New Network, which is essentially a dishonest propaganda outlet like Fox but more honest about its political position, even defends Sarah Palin for her rants about death panels, and repeats all the other claims greatly distorted by conservatives. Their complaints about Obama’s poorly worded statements about keeping one’s own doctor or insurance are hardly meaningful considering that their policies would greatly increase the likelihood that people would lose their doctor and insurance, while Obamacare (even if unable to guarantee this will never happen in a market-based system) greatly reduces this risk.

Obama’s improvement in the polls could be a consequence of him becoming more aggressive after the midterm elections, no longer being fearful of taking actions which might place Democratic candidates at risk in red states (a foolish plan which backfired when it led to Democrats staying home). I believe that the Democrats would have still lost seats because of the seats which were up for grabs in 2014, but would have done better if they hadn’t run as Republican-lite. On the other hand,  Dan Pfeiffer told Huffington Post that he believes that if Obama had not waited until after the election, his actions would have been overwhelmed by politics.

The big question is whether this is a transient bounce or if this improvement will continue. Either way his approval is certainly far greater than for Congress. The Republican Congress might give Obama an opportunity to gain further public support if the Republicans actually proceed to pass legislation pushing many elements of their agenda which will be unpopular with a majority of American voters.

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Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

Yesterday Howard Dean was Ready for Hillary. Now, unsurprisingly, Lanny Davis is ready too. His op-ed includes a long list of politicians in Maryland who have signed up.

BooMan responds:

The real news from this Lanny Davis endorsement is that Hillary seems to have already wrapped up most of the significant support from officeholders in Maryland.

The other news is that she hasn’t broken with Davis, which remains one of the most troubling things about her.

John Cole is also not ready for Hillary:

 Read between the lines- this is not so much just Hillary boosterism as it is an attempt to strangle an O’Malley run in the crib- “We’re in your back yard, bitch.” Which is yet another reason I am not ready for Hillary. I’m not ready for the re-emergence of uber scumbags like Davis, Penn, and the rest of that wretched hive of scum and villainy. I’m not willing to embrace the PUMA crowd and I am not ready to look past their racist bullshit in 2008. I’m not ready to forgive and forget, I’m not ready to deal with four-eight years of serial obfuscation and triangulation and overall hawkishness, etc.And this doesn’t even get into the fact that on every issue in which Obama has not been as good as I wanted, Hillary will be far, far worse. Has she even spoken out about the torture report since it was released? You’d think she’d have some feelings about it, considering she voted for the war, was in the Senate while it and the torture were happening, and she was on the Armed Services Committee.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that many on the left are not ready for Hillary. Yes, she is better than whoever the Republicans will run, but that is hardly good enough.

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