Hillary Clinton vs. The Press

Hillary Clinton CSPAN Iowa

With Clinton only taking rare questions from reporters, and generally only providing evasive answers, an increasing amount of the campaign coverage has turned to Hillary Clinton avoiding the press. McClatchy, one of the country’s better news services, has joined in:

Here’s how Hillary Clinton campaigned for president this week: She took a private 15-minute tour of a bike shop that had closed for her visit. She spoke to four small business owners chosen by her staff in front of an audience of 20, also chosen by her staff. She answered a few questions from the media following weeks of silence.

And after a little more than an hour, Clinton was off, whisked away by aides and Secret Service agents, into a minivan and on to the next event.

Members of the public who wanted to go inside the building to support her, oppose her or merely ask a question of her were left outside on an unseasonably cool Iowa day. Most didn’t bother showing up.

“I am troubled that so far in this caucus cycle she hasn’t had any public town halls,” said Chris Schwartz, a liberal activist from Waterloo, as he stood outside the bike store hoping to talk to Clinton about trade. “If she had a public town hall then we wouldn’t be out here. We would much rather be in there engaging with her.”

Welcome to Hillary Clinton 2.0. Mindful of her defeat by Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton has embraced a new strategy – one that so far does not include town-hall meetings and campaign rallies, media interviews, even public events.

Instead, she holds small controlled events with a handful of potential voters in homes, businesses and schools. She repeats many of the same lines (“I want to be your champion” is a favorite), participants are handpicked by her staff or the event host, and topics are dictated by her campaign.

Clinton might be able to get away with this politically but the question is not whether Clinton campaign needs the press but whether the country needs coverage from good campaign reporters. Sure the media posts a lot of garbage, but there is also valuable reporting which tells the country more about a candidate than we will ever get from their staged events and web sites. For example, when Clinton talked about immigration, I wish that somebody could have asked her the question suggested by Amy Chozick of The New York Times:

“President Obama said his executive action on immigration went as far as the law will allow. You say you would go beyond what he did. How could you stretch the law further than the president of your own party and his Justice Department says it can go?”

Without such questions, candidate claims of what they support mean very little. When Clinton excused her vote for the Iraq War, and subsequent actions to push to go to war when even some Democrats who also voted yes were opposing such action, by saying she was fooled by Dick Cheney that Saddam had WMD, there are so many obvious follow up questions. Did she review the intelligence herself? Why is someone who was so easily fooled when many of us following the news realized at the time it was a lie qualified to be president? Even if she was fooled by Cheney, why did she go beyond what most who voted for the war were saying in also falsely claiming there was a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda?

John Cassidy points out  further questions raised by Clinton’s (along with Jeb Bush’s) answer on Iraq in The New Yorker, starting out with a listing of all her various answers to date:

Clinton’s public statements, like Bush’s, have gone through several iterations. In September, 2007, she argued that she hadn’t, in fact, voted for a preëmptive war, and said, “Obviously, if I had known then what I know now about what the President would do with the authority that was given him, I would not have voted the way that I did.” Since many people regarded the resolution, at the time it passed, in October, 2002, as a blank check (twenty-one Democratic senators voted against it), this explanation didn’t do Clinton much good, but she stuck with it throughout her 2008 Presidential campaign, refusing to describe her vote as a mistake. In her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton changed tack, fessing up and saying that she had relied heavily on prewar intelligence about Saddam’s programs to build weapons of mass destruction. “I should have stated my regret sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible,” she wrote. She went on, “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

…Clinton, for her part, still has work to do to explain what she learned from the Iraq disaster. Clearly, it didn’t turn her against the concept of overseas military intervention. In 2011, as Secretary of State, she helped orchestrate air attacks on Libya that aided in bringing down Muammar Qaddafi, unleashing a civil war that is still raging. In 2013, after she left office, she supported U.S. military action against the Syrian regime, a course that President Obama eventually backed away from. In “Hard Choices,” however, she struck a cautious note. “As much as I have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq,” she wrote. “But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war … I was determined to do exactly that when facing future hard choices, with more experience, wisdom, skepticism, and humility.”

As the 2016 campaign unfolds, Clinton might want to say more about how her views have changed, and how, as President, she would reconcile her urge to exercise American power—both to protect U.S. interests and to do some good in the world—with the harsh realities of experience. Such a discussion would help shift attention away from her 2002 vote and allow her to draw a contrast with the Republicans’ empty rhetoric. More importantly, it would focus the campaign debate on the question that, ever since March, 2003, has been hovering over practically everything: Whither America after Iraq?

The problem is that Clinton cannot easily face the press, and allow follow-up questions, for multiple reasons. She has told far too many lies about her unethical behavior in personally profiting from money from companies and countries which had business in front of her when she was Secretary of State. She even managed to botch what should have been an easy book tour, well before the current scandals were dominating the news. Clinton  has difficulties talking about her policy views when they are driven by polls and political expediency as opposed to conviction, as was made clear in her interview last year with Terry Gross. If a Democrat cannot handle an interview with Terry Gross on NPR, they are in serious trouble. Clinton could not answer questions about her views on same-sex marriage, which have varied so many times over the years, as these changes were most likely based upon political calculations rather than conviction. Now she has moved from believing that the question should be left to the states last year to supporting same-sex marriage as that is the expected viewpoint in the Democratic race.

There are many other questions which she should be asked about her views on same-sex marriage and other social issues, especially in light of how much conservative religious views have influenced her policy decisions. So far this campaign cycle I’m only aware of a single article at Salon which got into her ties with the religious right. I discussed this far more in a post last month which included selections from a must-read article from Mother Jones from 2007.

When Clinton won’t talk about policy, except for canned statements which leave many questions which she will not answer, the email scandal will continue to dominate the news. The first of many releases to come came on Friday. As expected, they do nothing to support the conservative conspiracy theories on Benghazi. It does reinforce what we already know about the blurring of the lines between the Foundation, Clinton’s old friends, and her work as Secretary of State. Karen Tumulty wrote:

For those who have worried that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign would be a repeat of the chaotic operation she ran eight years ago, her advisers have often pointed to her time in between at the State Department — which by comparison was an archetype of crisp managerial efficiency.

But a trove of newly released e-mails suggests that one of Clinton’s tendencies persisted during her time as secretary of state — an inability to separate her longtime loyalties from the business at hand.

The e-mails from her private account reveal that she passed along no fewer than 25 memos about Libya from friend and political ally Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal had business interests in Libya but no diplomatic expertise there.

Moreover, she did so after the White House had blocked her from hiring Blumenthal at the State Department. The president’s team considered him untrustworthy and prone to starting rumors…

In the memos, Blumenthal — who was identified to lower-level State Department officials only as “HRC friend” — said the information was “intel,” gathered from sources he described in such breathless terms as “an extremely sensitive source” or “an extremely well-placed individual.”

In many cases, it was met with skepticism by government officials who were experts in the region.

One official who received some of the missives said “the secret source” was known to be close to the secretary and “seemed to have some knowledge” of North Africa “but not much.”

Yet one more topic for reporters to question Hillary Clinton about if she ever gives them a chance, as opposed to her vague and empty answer on this subject.

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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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Rand Paul Flip Flopping Away From Libertarianism As He Enters Republican Race

Rand Paul Conservative

Rand Paul has a problem much like Mitt Romney did, even though the details are different. Mitt Romney took many liberal positions when a politician in Massachusetts, and then had to flip flop on them to claim to be have been severely conservative to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Rand Paul has developed his base as sort of being a libertarian, and now is trying to fit more into the Republican mold to campaign for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Much of Rand Paul’s support has come from his opposition to foreign intervention, but he has been sounding more and more like a traditional Republican over the past  several months. and wrote:

…Paul is a candidate who has turned fuzzy, having trimmed his positions and rhetoric so much that it’s unclear what kind of Republican he will present himself as when he takes the stage….

There are at least two areas where Paul has moved more in line with the conservative Republican base, somewhat to the consternation of the purists in the libertarian movement: adopting a more muscular posture on defense and foreign policy, and courting the religious right.

Where he once pledged to sharply cut the Pentagon’s budget, for instance, Paul late last month proposed a $190 billion increase over the next two years — albeit one that would be paid for by cutting foreign aid and other government programs. His tour following the announcement of his candidacy will include an event at Patriots Point in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, with the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as a backdrop.

BuzzFeed News describes this as Rand Paul’s Bid To Be Everything To Every Republican Voter Politico reported on Paul being confronted on his changing views in a Today Show interview. Time recently described Paul’s new views on defense spending:

Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending…

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.

Paul’s endorsement of increased defense spending represents a change in direction for the first-term lawmaker, who rose to prominence with his critiques of the size of the defense budget and foreign aid, drawing charges of advocating isolationism. Under pressure from fellow lawmakers and well-heeled donors, Paul in recent months has appeared to embrace the hawkish rhetoric that has defined the GOP in recent decades. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February Paul warned of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said. Asked about federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

While Paul is sounding more like a Republican on defense spending and foreign policy, like many Republican “libertarians,” Paul has never been all that libertarian on social issues. While Rand Paul might not share all the faults of Ron Paul, I have discussed at length in the past how this brand of “libertarianism” does not promote individual liberty. The New York Times found that libertarian Republicans are 1) rare, and 2) not all that libertarian:

In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian. They met a basic threshold for knowing what the term meant. But there wasn’t much “libertarian” about these voters; over all, their views were startlingly similar to those of the public as a whole.

The likeliest explanation is that “libertarianism” has become a catchall phrase for iconoclasts of all political stripes. “Libertarian” seems to have become an adjective for the liberal millennials who are more skeptical of regulations and assistance for the poor than their Democratic contemporaries. The same holds for the deeply conservative college students who may want to, for example, signal socially acceptable views about homosexuality. These “libertarians” have little resemblance to the true believers who might scare everyone else out of the room with their views on a flat tax, the Civil Rights Act and a return to the gold standard.

If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that he emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.

Paul has been especially conservative as opposed to libertarian on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He has been repeating a common line of right wing revisionist historians who deny the establishment of separation of church and state:

Paul also has been trying to find common cause with evangelical Christian voters, who have been skeptical of and even hostile toward the energized libertarian element of the GOP.

“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” he told a group of pastors at a private breakfast on Capitol Hill on March 26.

Many contemporary writers, such as here and here, have already taken Paul to task for botching the meaning of the First Amendment. For further explanation, I’ll turn to someone who not only was around at the time the First Amendment was written, but is also a hero to many libertarians–Thomas Jefferson:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” —Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

Paul has recently been having difficulty answering questions as to whether he would permit any exceptions in laws he supports prohibiting abortion rights. He tried to throw back the question to the Democratic National Committee, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz quickly responded:

“Here’s an answer,” said Schultz. “I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women — but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ’shushing’ me.”

That is a far better response than what we have been accustomed to from Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly undermined liberal proponents of  abortion rights with calls for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, stigmatizing women who do seek abortions. Still, while many liberals are unhappy with the prospect that the Democrats will nominate someone as conservative as Hillary Clinton, her views (and the likely views of any Supreme Court justices she would appoint) are far preferable to Paul’s views on social issues, while Paul’s views on national security issues are rapidly moving to be as far right as the views of both Clinton and the other Republican candidates. On the other hand, I do welcome seeing Paul challenge Clinton on other civil liberties issues, such as NSA surveillance–assuming he doesn’t also flip flop on this.

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A Day In Conservative Stupidity: Three Examples

palin-finger-two

The conservative movement has become totally divorced from reality, often denying science and facts to make their positions. Here’s just three examples from the past day.

Conservatives Hate Historical Facts

Conservatives hate actual American history as the facts contradict so many of their claims. As Joseph Ellis has explained, the Founding Fathers established a secular state with overlapping sources of authority and a blurring of jurisdiction between federal and state power. Conservative claims of states’ rights and claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation do not hold up. Oklahoma has a unique answer to teaching all those inconvenient facts in Advanced Placement History classes. Republicans there want to eliminate the AP classes and replace them classes which include the Ten Commandments and three speeches by Ronald Reagan.

Some Conservatives Still Think Obama Is A Muslim

The American Thinker is still making the conservative claim that Obama is a Muslim. Their evidence is a picture of Obama with a raised finger:

Is President Obama a Muslim?  A lot has been written about this, but if photographs speak louder than words, then a photo taken at last August’s U.S.-African Leaders’ Summit in Washington D.C. might shed considerable light.

It shows Barack Hussein Obama flashing the one-finger affirmation of Islamic faith to dozens of African delegates.

Steve M. gathered pictures of several other people who are also Muslims by this logic. The pictures include: Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Andrew Breitbart, and Pam Geller. Who knew that the conservative movement was infiltrated by Muslims to this degree.

Conservatives Still Lack Any Actual Facts To Support Their Arguments Against Obamacare

Bill Maher called them Zombie Lies. Conservatives lack any real facts to dispute what a tremendous success Obamacare has become so they tell the same lies over and over, even when repeatedly proven to be lies. They are lies which just don’t die, because conservatives don’t care about facts. Jonathan Chait reviewed the latest claims from Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation. See the full article to see how Chait shows that Moore’s claims are demonstrably wrong and that, “There is not a single substantive claim in this column that appears to be true.”

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Our Muslim Socialist President Cannot Be A Christian If He Speaks The Truth About Christian History

Obama National Prayer Breakfast

With the possible exception of Brian Williams telling tall tales about his adventures in Iraq, the most controversial statement this week appears to be Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. Obama said:

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities – the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.

The right wing blogosphere is very upset–so upset that Erick Erickson writes that, “Barack Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Christian…” Considering that many on the far right have thought for a long time that Obama is a Muslim socialist from Kenya, this is hardly anything surprising from them.

Despite this outrage, it is hard to see anything all that shocking in what Obama said. Steve Benen writes, ” that the president’s critics aren’t really outraged, but instead are playing a cynical little game in the name of partisan theater. It must be the latest in an endless series of manufactured outrages, because the alternative – that the right is genuinely disgusted – is literally hard to believe.” As he points out, “No faith tradition has a monopoly on virtue or peace; none of the world’s major religions can look back in history and not find chapters they now regret.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t at all subtle in his contempt for the right wing response with a post entitled The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech. Ignorant, but what should we expect from extremists who include people with views such as that the United States was created as a Christian nation, rigging the system to transfer wealth from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy will help the economy, global warming is a hoax, and that intelligent design is a valid alternative to evolution?

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes that Obama Was Right to Compare Christianity’s Violent Past to the Islamic State:

By limiting his criticism of Christian violence to the Crusades and Inquisition, Obama kept his critique of Christian horrors to centuries past. But one need not look back so far to find more recent Christians behaving terribly in the name of Christ. The atrocities of the Bosnian War, including the systematic rape of women and girls, was perpetrated largely by Christians against Muslims; meanwhile, many of the Christian churches of Rwanda were intimately involved in the politicking that produced the genocide of 1994, with some clergy even reported to have participated in the violence.

The degree to which, in retrospect, we are willing to condemn violent perversions of faith often has to do with their proximity to us. Most will now admit, however grudgingly, that the Crusades and Inquisition were efforts to carry out some construal of God’s will, however mistaken and otherwise motivated. With more recent conflicts, such as Bosnia and Rwanda, we are more apt to see Christianity as a single thread in a web of ethnic and political tensions that was ultimately only one cause among the many that ultimately culminated in brutality. And this analysis is probably right.

But it is also probably true of the terrorism perpetrated by ISIS, which has been roundly denounced as contrary to the principles of Islam by a host of Muslim leaders and clerics, most recently after the murder of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Like war crimes and individual acts of brutality committed within the Christian world, the pattern of tensions that has produced ISIS, in all its unthinkable cruelty, seems to be broader and deeper than its self-proclaimed religious convictions. For those not searching for a source of personal offense, this is the only point Obama’s remarks on the religious violence enacted by Christians really conveys.

And it is, at last, a hopeful point: If we in the Christian world are capable of owning the monstrosities of our past, identifying their sources as multivalent and contrary to our faith, and holding one another accountable for the behavior we exhibit moving forward, then so are the members of the faiths we live alongside in the world. But accountability requires honesty, and pretending that Christians have never attributed violence to the cause of Christ is a disservice to modern peacemaking and to the victims of the past. Obama was right to take a clear-eyed view of the years that have come before, and to look hopefully to what we can do together as a multi-faith nation in the years to come.

Ed Kilgore first responded to the right wing attacks here, and then had a follow-up post responding specifically to Erick Erickson:

I also hate to break it to ol’ Erick, but there’s pretty ample scriptural support for the idea that Jesus Christ was a bit of a “moral relativist” himself—you know, the beam and the mote , “Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged,” “the Sabbath is for man,” the woman by the well, the good Samaritan, the Two Great Commandments, etc. etc. I don’t think Erickson’s disposition has been improved by his recent matriculation at a conservative Calvinist seminary. But then again, I’m not denying the authenticity of his faith, he’s denying the authenticity of mine—and Barack Obama’s.

This likely does fall under the category of attacking anything that Barack Obama says. I’m still waiting for the conservative response should Obama every tell them not to eat yellow snow. In reality, conservatives have far more to worry about than Barack Obama making some quite obvious comments in an era when even the Pope is now taking the opposite position on several issues.

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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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Gallup Finds Increase In Self-Described Liberals

Gallup Liberals

In a poll of limited significance, Gallup has found an increase in the number of self-described liberals:

Conservatives continued to outnumber moderates and liberals in the U.S. population in 2014, as they have since 2009. However, their 14-percentage-point edge over liberals last year, 38% vs. 24%, is the smallest in Gallup’s trends since 1992. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying themselves as politically conservative in 2014 was unchanged from 2013, as was the percentage of moderates, at 34%, while the percentage considering themselves liberal rose a percentage point for the third straight year.

While not a huge number, this might contradict the idea that the Republican midterm victory was a sign of greater support for conservative views.

I find this to be of limited significance as people tend to take more liberal positions on polls than would be expected if self-described labels had a real bearing on political positions. I have generally seen this poll to be more a measure of the demonization of the word liberal by the right wing noise machine than a measure of ideological beliefs, and perhaps this trend shows that conservatives are having less success in demonizing liberals.

Besides polling on issues, I find the recent Pew survey on religious affiliation to be more meaningful than this poll. Among their findings which might be of significance in speculating on political trends, Pew found that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

Another finding of interest is that, while 70 percent of Republicans label themselves conservative, only 44 percent of Democrats label themselves liberal. Is this due to a majority of Democrats not being liberal, or again due to people simply avoiding the term liberal? I suspect it is a combination of each, with the Democratic Party being a more centrist party, but also with many Democrats supporting liberal positions without using the liberal label.

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Fox Twitter Hashtag Backfires

On Tuesday Fox & Friends asked Twitter users to post things they were over with the hashtag #OverIt2014. They started with Fake Journalist Barbie tweeting, “I’m over attacks against Christianity.” This worked out about how you might expect.  Gawker reported some of the snarky responses, and far more are now up:

You get the idea. The responses are continuing to come in at a rapid rate.

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Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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Sarah Palin Adds New Litmus Test To Far Right Wing GOP Agenda: Impeaching Obama

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There were times when Republicans were divided by real ideological differences, such as the Goldwater versus Rockefeller wings of the party. Since then nearly the entire Republican Party has moved so far to the extreme right that not only would Rockefeller be too liberal but so would Barry Goldwater with his strong opposition to the religious right. In the 1960’s conservative leaders such as William F. Buckley, Jr. worked to keep extremists such as the Birchers out of the GOP. Now their modern day equivalents in the Tea Party set the agenda for the party, with internal party debates limited to matters of how far to go in their tactics.

Dana Milbank described the current position of the Republican Party:

Imperial Japan taught its soldiers that death was preferable to surrender. The tea party’s code is similar: Stand firm, regardless of the odds of success or the consequences of failure. I’ve argued before that the struggle between the Republican establishment and the tea party is no longer about ideology — establishment figures have mostly co-opted tea party views — but about temperament.

It has become the amiable vs. the angry, the civil vs. the uncivil, a conservatism of the head vs. a conservatism of the spleen. The division now is between those who would govern and those who would sooner burn the whole place to the ground…

In past years Ronald Reagan would not hesitate to raise the debt ceiling to cover the nation’s debts. Now the Republican establishment fights with the Tea Party over whether to shut down the government over this.

Sarah Palin has now established a new litmus test for the establishment versus bat-shit crazy Republicans–impeachment of Barack Obama over immigration:

Without borders, there is no nation. Obama knows this. Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate. This is his fundamental transformation of America. It’s the only promise he has kept. Discrediting the price paid for America’s exceptionalism over our history, he’s given false hope and taxpayer’s change to millions of foreign nationals who want to sneak into our country illegally. Because of Obama’s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in, competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services. There is no end in sight as our president prioritizes parties over doing the job he was hired by voters to do. Securing our borders is obviously fundamental here; it goes without saying that it is his job

President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution’s role in protecting our rights.

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

This could cause new dilemmas for Republicans who fear primary challenges from the right but hope to avoid looking too extreme in a general election. Aaron Blake outlined the choices Republicans now have:

If a significant pro-impeachment portion of the conservative base does materialize — and that’s a big “if” — it will put Republican lawmakers in the unenviable position of responding to questions about whether they, too, agree with the idea of impeachment.

From there, there are three options:

1) Oppose impeachment and risk making yourself a target in the 2016 primary
2) Try to offer a non-response that doesn’t really support or oppose impeachment
3) Support impeachment and, while likely saving your own hide from becoming a target, exacerbate the problem with the larger Republican Party.

So just why is the whole impeachment talk bad for the GOP?

Well, as we’ve said before, it throws a sizable and unpredictable variable into what was already shaping up to be a good election year for Republicans. That same could be said for the Benghazi investigation (though that effort appears to have the support of the American people). The name of the game for the GOP right now is maintaining their edge and trying to win back the Senate. Everything else is noise.

Secondly, it lends credence to Democrats’ argument that Republicans are controlled by the extreme wing of their party. And to the extent that Democrats can make the 2014 election a referendum on the GOP’s conduct in Congress (see: government shutdown), it’s to their benefit.

Lastly, impeachment is a very difficult issue to press. Even in the late 1990s, when an American president had an affair in the White House and then lied about it, support for impeachment was still well shy of a majority — as low as 30 percent.

John Boehner has been caught in the middle of the disputes between the establishment and the Tea Party. If he was really in control he seems like the type who might be willing to compromise with Obama, as Tip O’Neil compromised with Ronald Reagan, and then get back out on the golf course. He has come out against impeachment, realizing what a disaster proceeding with impeachment would be for the Republicans. Once again, this is purely a difference in opinion regarding tactics, with Boehner preferring his frivolous lawsuit against Obama. Paul Begala had this to say about the lawsuit:

As political stunts go, Boehner’s is too transparent for my tastes. And I say this as a guy who has perpetrated some serious stunt work in my political career.
Boehner’s not a bad guy. One gets the sense he’d rather be sharing Marlboros and merlot with Obama than taking him to court. But he is a SINO: Speaker in Name Only. The tea party is driving the GOP train these days, which explains the frequent train wrecks. So, perhaps to appease the tea party bosses, Boehner has decided to sue the President.

But appeasement never works. Highly influential conservative blogger and pundit Erick Erickson calls the Boehner lawsuit “taxpayer-funded political theater” and notes that some of Boehner’s complaints about Obama are political, not legal or constitutional.

Then there’s the small problem of hypocrisy. As the progressive group Americans United for Change notes in this clever ad, Boehner has long opposed citizens’ rights to sue corporations over, say, defective products or gender discrimination in the workplace. He rails against “frivolous lawsuits” — until he decides to file one.

A second way Boehner is being hypocritical is his support for robust executive authority when George W. Bush was exercising it. Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama, going so far as to use his executive authority to authorize waterboarding, which Sen. John McCain flatly describes as torture and a “violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

So, to be clear: Dubya uses his executive authority more often — including to turn Americans into torturers — and Boehner goes along. But Obama uses his executive authority to give businesses more flexibility in complying with Obamacare or to extend family leave to gay couples, and Boehner literally wants to make a federal case of it.

There is no longer any principle behind the actions of Republicans. They supported Bush and Cheney while they  lied the country into a disastrous war, crashed the economy in order to transfer more wealth from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy, and ignored the Constitution with theories such as the Unitary Executive which would give virtually unlimited power to the President and/or Vice President. Now Republicans are united on an extremist, far right wing platform while they fight over matters such as whether to shut down the government or to impeach versus sue the president with no real justification for either.

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