Christie Not Off The Hook Yet On Bridgegate

I had previously predicted that Chris Christie has a better chance of winding up in a federal penitentiary than the White House. I thought my prediction had fallen apart yesterday when reports, stemming from an NBC News story, claimed that federal prosecutors had given up on connecting him to the closing of the bridges.

This didn’t seem implausible. It is certainly possible that there is no hard evidence which personally implicates Christie. It is even possible that, even if Christie created an atmosphere of corruption where those under him abused power to benefit his administration, Christie might not have personally given the order in this specific case.

It turns out that it isn’t over yet. NBC News has admitted that they were wrong on this story:

NBC says a report by Brian Williams on the network’s Nightly News that federal charges have been ruled out for Gov. Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge scandal was incorrect. Federal prosecutors say the investigation is ongoing and haven’t made any announcement on Christie’s status.

“The investigation is continuing,” said Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman.

NBC outlets had several reports Thursday and Friday citing anonymous sources saying no Christie connection had been uncovered while noting the investigation is continuing. However, Williams on NBC Nightly News Thursday night reported that “federal charges are now ruled out for Chris Christie in the affair that came to be known as Bridgegate.”

The same questions remain as to whether Christie was personally involved in this particular incident, and whether evidence will surface which prosecutors can use.

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Sarah Palin’s Lost Email

When not inventing conspiracy stories regarding Benghazi, conservatives are preoccupied with conspiracy theories about the IRS, primarily spread by looking at investigations of conservative groups while ignoring similar investigation of progressive groups. The lost email has further excited them, despite a policy of only backing up email on IRS servers for about six months, making the claims of lost email appear quite plausible. Surely conservatives are capable of understanding the consequences of government inefficiency, such as a poor backup policy.

Of course the same conservatives who see a conspiracy here showed no concern over the 22 million lost emails under Bush during the controversy over the improper dismissal of U.S.  attorneys for political reasons (when, contrary to the IRS case, there was real evidence on wrong doing). Similarly they ignore the manner in which the Bush administration broke the law by using outside email accounts to avoid detection.

If we are seeing rampant hypocrisy among conservatives, the most flagrant, not surprisingly, is Sarah Palin. Despite all her attacks on Obama over the lost email (which would have nothing to do with him even if Lois Lerner really was hiding something), Palin had a number of missing email of her own:

Perhaps Palin forgot what it was like to be the subject of a similar investigation exactly three years earlier after her office released her emails to the press. On June 13, 2011, the Anchorage Daily News reported that “Nearly a month of former Gov. Sarah Palin’s emails are missing from the documents released to media organizations last week, a gap that raises questions about what other emails might also be missing from what’s being nationally reported as her record as Alaska governor.”

According to the documents Palin’s office provided, she sent no official emails from between December 8, 2006 and December 29, 2006, in other words her first full month in office. As the paper put it, “That means zero emails during a period during which, among other things, Palin put out her proposed state budget, appointed an attorney general, killed the contract for a road out of Juneau and vetoed a bill that sought to block state public employee benefits to same-sex couples.”

The Anchorage Daily News that the gap was due to Palin’s preponderance to use a personal Yahoo email account instead of the official state account, thereby allowing her to hide certain communication from public view. The first email Palin was on record as sending came on January 2, 2007, one month after she took office.

If the IRS deliberately destroyed evidence of wrongdoing by “losing” emails, that would be unacceptable. So far, there is no concrete evidence that that is what happened. Similarly, Palin’s camp never offered an explanation for the missing emails from her office and we will likely never know if they were intentionally trying to hide specific actions.

Either way, Palin’s decision to focus her anger on missing emails has more than a whiff of hypocrisy.

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Cries Over Lois Lerner’s Lost Email Look Like Just Another Conservative Conspiracy Theory

Conservatives 1) love to act like the victim and 2) have been desperately trying to make it appear that there have been scandals which they can attribute to the Obama administration. As the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals, they have had to invent several. The IRS scandal first appeared to be something to be concerned about, until we realized that while Republicans like Darrell Issa were only looking at conservative groups which had problems with the IRS, it turned out that both conservative and progressive groups received extra scrutiny. This hardly comes as a surprise in light of the ambiguous tax regulations which deny tax breaks for political organizations when engaged in political activity.

Conservative conspiracy theorists typically work by using limited information to suggest something is not right, when the full facts often contradict this. There is no way I, or anyone else, can say for certain what happened to Lois Lerner’s lost emails, but once the full facts are reviewed, rather than the distorted reporting on many conservative sites, it looks far less likely that anything improper occurred. I’ve seen some claims that the email couldn’t really be lost because they are all backed up, but this just simply is not the case. The New York Times reports:

The I.R.S. initially provided 11,000 of her emails that it deemed directly related to the applications for tax exemption filed by political groups. Under pressure from Republican leaders, Mr. Koskinen later agreed to provide all of Ms. Lerner’s emails but said that doing so might take years. Since then, the I.R.S. has provided roughly 32,000 more emails directly from Ms. Lerner’s account.

After the agency discovered that its initial search of Ms. Lerner’s emails was incomplete because of the computer crash, it recovered 24,000 of the missing messages from email accounts on the other end of Ms. Lerner’s correspondence, the I.R.S. said.

Although Mr. Koskinen had indicated in congressional testimony that I.R.S. emails were stored on servers in the agency’s archives and could be recovered, the agency said Friday that was not the case.

The I.R.S. said that because of financial and computing constraints, some emails had been stored only on individuals’ computers and not on servers, and that “backup tapes” from 2011 “no longer exist because they have been recycled.”

Don’t trust the left-leaning New York Times? The right-leaning Politico reports the same practices with respect to email:

The IRS explains in the letter that it has not always backed up all employee emails due to the cost the agency would incur for allowing 90,000 employees to store their information on the IRS’s internal system.

Currently, IRS employees have the capacity to store about 6,000 emails in their active Outlook email boxes, which are saved on the IRS centralized network. But the letter and background document sent to the Hill Friday said they could only store about 1,800 emails in their active folders prior to July 2011.

When their inboxes were full, IRS employees had to make room by either deleting emails or archiving them on their personal computers. Archived data were not stored by the IRS but by the individual.

Such archived emails on Lerner’s computer were what were lost when her computer crashed.

“Any of Ms. Lerner’s email that was only stored on that computer’s hard drive would have been lost when the hard drive crashed and could not be recovered,” the letter reads.

Overall, more than 250 IRS employees have spent more than 120,000 hours digging up documents and emails for congressional investigators, spending $10 million.

On the one hand this does not look like a very efficient way to back up data. On the other hand, considering how many offices there are of the federal government throughout the country, the cost of backing up everything, including all email, indefinitely would be staggering. Not many government offices have the budget for this, but maybe the NSA still has record of the lost email.

I’m sure there are many conservatives who still won’t believe that email can be lost until they hear it on Fox or from Rush. In that case, how about what may have been as many as 22 million lost emails under Bush during the controversy over the improper dismissal of U.S.  attorneys for political reasons. There is a key difference here. While the Republican claims in the IRS case have been debunked, there was a real scandal and impropriety in the Bush White House which led directly to Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales. In addition, the Bush administration broke the law by using outside accounts to avoid detection and circumvent laws regarding maintaining email in the Executive Branch.

If there was a conspiracy to hide emails,it doesn’t make sense that it would be email from before 2012 which is missing. Steve Benen put it into perspective:

For Republicans and their allies, this sounds like a convenient way to deny investigators access to Lerner’s emails. But note, the IRS has already produced 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, from 2009 to 2013, and were able to piece together 24,000 Lerner emails from the missing period based those who’d been cc’d in various messages. This is hardly evidence of a cover-up.

For that matter, note that Republicans and conspiracy theorists are principally interested in Lerner’s messages from 2012 – the election year. The computer crash affected emails from before 2012. If the IRS intended to hide potentially damaging materials from investigators, and it was willing to use a made-up technical problem to obscure the truth, chances are the agency would have scrapped Lerner’s emails from the relevant period, not emails from before the relevant period.

When all the facts are considered, Lois Lerner no longer looks like a modern day Rose Mary Woods. It all looks like just another weak attempt by conservatives to portray themselves as victims, and one more unfounded conservative conspiracy theory.

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Liberals Were Wrong About The VA, But Conservatives Remain Wrong About Health Care Coverage

James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal, today demonstrating what they say about a broken watch, is right on one point. His column carries the subheading of “Not long ago, the left raved about the VA.”  While this is widely true about the left, there was at least one exception (myself). A few years back, many on the left were exclaiming about the quality of the VA system based upon quality evaluations. Evaluations of quality in health care currently has many limitations, and was downright primitive a few years back.  I pointed out several times, such as here, that the indications being looked at were not a valid means of determining quality health care.

Now we are learning that there is an even more serious problem beyond the fallacy of accepting computerized data as truly indicating quality health care. If the allegations we are now hearing are true, there is also the danger that information entered into computer systems might not even be accurate.

Suddenly, with the recent revelations about the VA, the line from the left has changed to (more accurately) saying that The Veterans Affairs Scandal Was Decades in the Making.

Of course this doesn’t mean that that the right is correct in their interpretation of this scandal. Many are using this to attack the idea behind the Affordable Care Act. We are comparing two entirely different ideas here. The VA is a rare case of government actually providing health care while the ACA involves using private insurance (or in some cases Medicaid) to pay for private medical care. The ACA became necessary in order to provide necessary regulations to curb the abuses of the insurance industry, along with providing support for those who could not afford health care coverage.

If government has problems in providing health care, as with the VA system, the problems in the private insurance industry have been far worse. In the past most areas had one or a very small number of insurance plans dominating a market. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are having more insurance companies planning to enter many markets, which should lower prices. In the past, private insurance companies found it to be more profitable to deny coverage to many people with medical problems, including finding ways to terminate coverage should a policy holder develop a serious (and expensive) medical problem. Here is a report of just one example of an insurance company targeting women with breast cancer for recission of policies.

Obamacare provides needed reforms to encourage more market competition and eliminate this type of abuse from the insurance industry. It is an example of where government action is necessary and beneficial. We also have an example in providing coverage for medical care where government does a better job than the market. People on Medicare have a choice of the government program, which pays private physicians to provide medical care, or Medicare Advantage plans in which private companies handle the payment instead of the government. It costs from 13 to 19 percent less to over the same Medicare population under the government plan than with private insurance plans. The added money going to the private Medicare Advantage plans primarily goes towards increased profits for the insurance companies. Medicare might also be a better, and more cost effective, model to care for Veterans as opposed to the government attempting to maintain a parallel health system.

The lesson of the VA might be to question having the government actually provide health care, although Republicans certainly share the blame here considering their long history of opposing funding which Democrats have backed for the VA. Regardless of whether this is true, this has no bearing as to the benefits of the Affordable Care Act along with government programs such as Medicare which handle health care payments as opposed to directly providing health care.

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The Democratic Advantage In The Electoral College

If a professional newspaper columnist who has to get a column out on a regular schedule does not want to write about Chris Christie or NSA Surveillance this weekend, there are a number of topics which one can always pull up. Dan Baltz went with a look at the Republican Party’s uphill path in the electoral college. There’s nothing new here, but this is worth considering when looking ahead towards 2016. Baltz looked at the earlier Republican advantage in presidential elections, later switching to favor the Democrats:

What happened? States whose loyalties were divided in the first era moved to become part of the Democrats’ base — a transition that began with Bill Clinton’s two campaigns and continued through 2012. That list includes California, the biggest electoral prize in the country, with 55 votes, but also others that have long been considered contested battlegrounds, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

All 16 states that went for the GOP in the past six elections remain solidly in the Republican column. The same is true of most of the states that voted GOP in four or five of the past six. But that leaves the Republicans far short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

A further look at key states shows advantages for the Democrats. Looking ahead, it is far more likely that red states which are becoming more diverse might shift Democratic than for many of the states which have been voting Democratic to change. The Republicans cannot even count on the South long term, already losing Virginia and with others at risk. It will probably take longer than 2016, but if increases in minority voters in Texas should make that state flip, or even become a battle ground, the Republicans will not have a single large state they can count on.

The Democratic edge in recent years would be even more one-sided if not for Republicans winning the electoral votes of Florida in 2000. It is clear that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote Democratic, with some confused by the butterfly ballots. Retrospective newspaper recounts showed that Gore would have won if he had obtained a state-wide recount. Without the benefits of incumbency, Republicans also probably would not have won in 2004. Even with their short-term advantages, Kerry could have won in the electoral college, while losing the popular vote, if there were more voting machines in the larger cities of Ohio.

Nothing is for certain. John Sides took the opposing viewpoint. He failed to provide a compelling argument as to why many states will flip. It is certainly possible that if economic conditions remain bad that the Democrats could suffer. As the fault is shared by Republicans who created the crash and then blocked recovery, it is questionable whether blue states will turn against Democrats any more in 2016 than in 2012, especially with a change in presidential candidates.

Sides is correct in pointing out how hard it has been for a party to win the White House three elections in a row in modern times, but in looking at modern American presidents we are dealing with a very small sample. We now have a unique situation where the Republicans are under the control of extremists while the Democrats have taken firm control of the center along with moderate left. Republican views have become too extreme for their candidates to have a serious chance of winning in many northern states. There are just not enough low-information white males, the primary source of votes for Republicans, for them to flip these states.  While I would hope for a more knowledgeable electorate, changes in information-sources will also be important. Over time, voters who get their fake news from Fox will increasingly be replaced by those who get their fake news from Jon Stewart.

Looking at potential candidates also makes it unlikely that the Republicans will change current trends in the electoral college. Many Republicans had hoped Chris Christie might be able to alter the current red/blue electoral map. It was already hard for him to win the nomination in the Republican Party even before he became damaged by scandal. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is likely to do better than Obama in some of the larger industrial states which the Republicans need to flip. The same low-information white males who might vote against Clinton due to her gender already have been voting against Obama because of his race.

Things are not entirely hopeless for the Republicans, at least not yet. While the Democrats have a strong advantage in presidential elections, the structure of Congressional elections gives Republicans an advantage relative to their overall support in the country. With small states having the same two Senators as large states, Republican representation in the Senate is far greater than if the Senate was representative of the country. Republican advantage in the House has been even greater, due to both gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in urban areas. As a consequence, Democrats win a smaller number of districts by larger margins and Democrats must beat Republicans by seven percent or more to retake control. Unless there is a huge shift in the generic ballot, as happened only briefly last fall, Republicans are likely to retain control of the House even if more people continue to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

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The Surprising Lack Of Scandals In The Obama Administration

The recent scandals released about Chris Christie remind us of how often we expect to find scandals in government. Power does corrupt. We have become so accustomed to scandals at the top levels of government that it almost comes as a surprise that the Obama administration has been so free of scandal. Some observers almost take it for granted that a scandal must happen sooner or later. For example, back in 2011 Brendan Nyhan described this as an aberration, waiting for an inevitable scandal to occur:

Obama has been extremely fortunate: My research (PDF) on presidential scandals shows that few presidents avoid scandal for as long as he has. In the 1977-2008 period, the longest that a president has gone without having a scandal featured in a front-page Washington Post article is 34 months – the period between when President Bush took office in January 2001 and the Valerie Plame scandal in October 2003. Obama has already made it almost as long despite the lack of a comparable event to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course when speaking of the Obama administration as being free of scandal, I am speaking of real world facts, not the fantasy world of Fox and the right wing noise machine. They have invented plenty of scandals, but in every case their claims were contradicted by the facts. Just this week we had the Senate Intelligence Committee report which debunked the Republican conspiracy theories regarding Benghazi.

When Paul Waldman wrote about how the Republican claims about Solyndra didn’t hold up, he entitled his post Obama Administration Oddly Scandal-Free, again suggesting how the presence of scandals has become what is expected. Paul Waldman recently reviewed this topic again in a post entitled The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who also provides many of the earlier links in this post). He set up these reasonable conditions for what constitutes a scandal:

So let’s take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be. Just to be clear, when I use the word “scandalous” in this list, I don’t mean “bad.” When you say, for instance, that there has been little evidence of anything scandalous occurring in Benghazi, conservatives often reply, “Four people died!” Indeed they did, and that was terribly tragic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a scandal. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call that a “Reagan administration scandal,” because while there were some bad decisions made with awful results, there wasn’t any criminality or corruption or cover-up, the things we usually associate with scandals.

To make a truly meaningful administration scandal, you need two things. First, there has to be some kind of criminal or morally atrocious behavior somewhere, which we can put under the general heading of “malfeasance.” People doing their jobs poorly isn’t enough to make it a scandal. Second, you need the involvement of highly-placed administration officials. Only an affair with both features is a scandal. If a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska is found to be running a moose-based prostitution ring, that’s only an administration scandal if people high up in the administration knew about it.

Waldman looked at all those scandals which truly dishonest politicians such as Darrel Issa are wasting tax-payers money with faux investigations on. (I am linking to this in case anyone doubts that this attitude really comes from the Republican Party, and not just the clowns in the right wing media who are making these bogus claims.) Waldman looked at Solyndra, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, and aggressive leak investigations. In each case, the conservative claims have not held up. He concluded:

So what can we conclude from all this? There are three possible explanations for the lack of a major scandal in the Obama administration. The first is that something truly horrific has gone on, but as of yet it hasn’t been discovered. The second is that the scandals we know about haven’t been fully investigated, and will eventually yield more wrongdoing than we currently understand. And the third is that the administration has not, in fact, committed any horrible crimes. Which seems most likely?

That isn’t to say that they haven’t made plenty of mistakes, because they have. And there are three years left in Obama’s term, so you never know—maybe someone will discover that he’s having an affair with Jennifer Lawrence, or that Valerie Jarrett is a mole for the Yakuza, or that those FEMA concentration camps are real. But there’s also the chance that he’ll end his term without any major scandal, which would be quite something.

A final note: The question of whether we should think of NSA spying as a scandal in these terms is a complicated one that I’m going to have to leave for another day.

And he didn’t even mention the widely held conservative belief of a conspiracy to pass off a foreign-born Muslim Socialist as an American citizen.  Claims of an affair with Jennifer Lawrence from the right are not that far-fetched in light of this. As for NSA spying, I think this falls in the category of policies we disagree with, but not a political scandal.

Regarding the lack of scandal in the Obama administration, the simple explanation might be what Andrew Sullivan previously suggested–that he is not corrupt. I suspect that the explanation might also come down to a difference in how different people see government and where they have come from. Scandals may have become more prevalent in Republican administrations because many on the right oppose the American system of government and do not see it as a force which can be used for good. To them, government is evil and they see nothing wrong for using it for their own ends when in power. In contrast Obama sees the actual functions of government as something worthy of pursuing as an end in itself. Many top government leaders come from positions of wealth and power and seek to increase this as much as possible. Even top positions in government are not necessarily enough for their lust for power. For a former community organizer and someone who not long ago was no more powerful than a member of the Illinois State Senate, the presidency is enough.

This is all quite frustrating for those on the right who seek to attack Obama as corrupt, forcing them to make up a long list of fallacious attacks.

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More Accusations Against Chris Christie Re Sandy Relief Funds And Cronyism In College Government

The revelations that members of Chris Christie’s staff intentionally closed the George Washington Bridge as political retaliation is leading to further stories coming out regarding alleged abuses of power. Some are centering around Sandy relief funds:

Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.

The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, hasn’t approved the project, but she did request $127 million in hurricane relief for her city of Hoboken – 80% of which was underwater after Sandy hit in October 2012. What she got was $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.

In an exclusive interview, Zimmer broke her silence and named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of a governor she had long supported.

“The bottom line is, it’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City of Hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer,” she said Saturday on UP w/ Steve Kornacki. “… I know it’s very complicated for the public to really understand all of this, but I have a legal obligation to follow the law, to bring balanced development to Hoboken.”

Constable and Christie – through spokespersons – deny Zimmer’s claims.

We are likely to see a continuing series of such stories. The big question remains whether Christie will be tied directly to these accusations, or whether he will be harmed by suspicions of creating such a culture of corruption. It even appears that, like Mitt Romney, suggestions as to his character could be seen when in school.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is no stranger to accusations of political bullying and backroom dealing like those at the heart of the bridge scandal.

TPM has found one of the first times the brash political brawler faced such claims was in the mid-1980s when he was an undergrad at the University of Delaware.

There, student newspaper archives show, Christie was accused of establishing a college political machine that rewarded his friends and drove his classmates out of student government. One fellow student even wrote to the paper to decry Christie’s “cronyism” and question the legitimacy of the future governor’s reign.

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Dreams Of Stopping Clinton In 2016

We have a long time go to until the 2016 presidential election, but political reporting in this country is obsessed with presidential elections and we are going to continue to see a lot of stories centered around the media’s pick as front runners. As I discussed yesterday, Hillary Clinton is a stronger front runner for her party’s nomination than Chris Christie, especially following the recent scandal.It is notable that early front runners rarely win the Democratic nomination, excluding sitting presidents and sometimes the last vice president. While Hillary Clinton is currently in a strong position to overcome the obstacles faced by front runners, she faces problems including the desire of the media to run “man bites dog” stories and highlight any potential political liability. The media will concentrate on a variety of ABC stories (Anyone But Christie and Anyone But Clinton.

There are two stories along these lines today. Michael Crowley has written about Clinton’s hawkish views, which many Democratic voters are likely to disagree with:

As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Former administration officials also tell TIME that Clinton was an advocate for maintaining a residual troop force after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq—an issue of renewed interest given al Qaeda’s resurgence there. They also describe her as skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a “containment” policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail.

Recent comparisons of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic globe-trotting to Clinton’s arguably modest diplomatic achievements have tended to overlook this less visible aspect of her tenure. But no assessment of her time in Obama’s administration would be complete without noting the way Clinton hewed to the liberal hawk philosophy she adopted during her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, and which contributed, less happily, to her 2002 vote to authorize force against Iraq. “The Democratic party has two wings—a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing,” says former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, now director of the Wilson Center. (Jackson, a Cold War-era Democratic Senator from Washington state, mixed progressive domestic politics with staunch anti-communism, support for a strong military, and backing for the Vietnam War.)

Crowley gave further details on Clinton’s hawkish record and then concluded:
But at a time when fewer Americans support an active U.S. role in foreign affairs, Clinton’s comfort with the harder side of American power could be a vulnerability. A liberal primary challenger might well reprise Barack Obama’s 2007 line that Hillary’s record amounts to “Bush-Cheney lite.” One potential contender, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, has already been zinging her over her 2002 Iraq vote. “When George Bush got a bunch of [Democrats] to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said recently. Whether such attacks will hold even a fraction of the valence they did at the Iraq war’s peak remains to be seen.
I fear that changes are not good for a liberal primary challenger to accomplish what Obama did in 2008 in terms of winning the nomination, but Clinton just might be defeated in the Iowa caucuses. CNN looked at the problems Clinton faces in Iowa, despite lack of a credible challenger at this time:

Yet despite having the Democratic establishment at her back, there remains a palpable sense of unease with Clinton in grass-roots corners of the party, even as those very same activists promise to support her if no one else runs.

Part of that restraint is ideological. Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers remain as dovish as they were in 2008, when Clinton’s support for the Iraq war badly damaged her standing on the left. Clinton helped wind down that same war as Obama’s secretary of state, but she is now linked to his national security apparatus, which has expanded drone attacks overseas and broadened intelligence gathering with controversial surveillance and data collection techniques.

And at a time when progressives feel emboldened to confront issues like income inequality and wage stagnation, Clinton, who delivered paid speeches last year to two prominent private equity firms as well as a group that actively lobbied against the Affordable Care Act, is perceived by some as too close to the deficit-obsessed worlds of Wall Street and official Washington…

Clinton is also susceptible to some of the same whimsical Democratic impulses that propelled Obama to his stunning Iowa victory in 2008. “Democrats love an underdog and we love a story,” is how Meyer put it. With a gleaming resume and the potential to make history as the country’s first female president, Clinton has a powerful story to tell. But she is hardly an underdog.

Some party leaders warned Clinton against reprising the same kind of heavy-handed front-running behavior that rankled so many Iowa activists — not to mention the media — during her 2008 effort.

“I don’t know if she has learned that lesson,” said Jean Pardee, the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2nd District vice chair. “The problem with so much of her staff was that they were all sort of higher class than the mere peasants that they had to campaign with. Everyone was kept at arm’s length by the staff, although a couple of key ones were pretty good. That’s a lesson that should be hopefully learned. But when it comes to human nature, maybe that’s not possible.”

Clinton must also confront the who’s-on-deck inclinations of the Democratic caucus-goer. Unlike Republicans, who have a habit of nominating loyal soldiers who have waited for their turn, Iowa Democrats have a tendency to search for someone new. The last time the party nominated an obvious heir-apparent was 2000, but Al Gore first had to beat back an unexpectedly fierce primary challenge from Bill Bradley on the left.

George Appleby, an attorney and lobbyist in Des Moines who supported Bradley and copped to a “pristine record of picking the wrong guy” in every caucus since 1976 until he backed Obama in 2008, described Clinton as “strong” and “brilliant.”

But he said liberals are suffering from an acute case of “Clinton fatigue.” He named O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Iowa caucus winner, as Democrats he’s keeping an eye on.

“Hillary would make a great president,” Appleby said. “She is the odds-on-favorite. But I don’t think she is necessarily going to be the nominee, or going to win Iowa. Sometimes people have been around forever, and there is time for some new blood.”

I’ve previously expressed my preference for current Secretary of State John Kerry over his predecessor and found it interesting to actually see his name come up as a possibility. Unfortunately I find it unlikely he can repeat what Richard Nixon did in the Republican Party, and  in a different era, and win the Democratic nomination after once losing the presidency. He loses out on the “tendency to search for someone new.”

In addition, it is difficulty to run while being Secretary of State. He cannot campaign for other members of his party as Nixon did to obtain support. Nor can he participate in the current “invisible primary” to raise money and develop the framework of a campaign. I can only see two possible ways that Kerry can win the Democratic nomination. One would be if he does something major of historical proportions, such as succeeding in his attempts to broker a peace agreement in the middle east. This would also have to occur early enough for Kerry to then step down and actually run. The other would be if Clinton either decides not to run, or her campaign is seriously derailed, and nobody is able to win enough support to make a credible front runner. The chances of stopping Clinton would be better if another liberal candidate could obtain sufficient support to make a serious run, and at this point I don’t see anyone doing this. Any chance Al Gore is still interested? There is a long way to go and perhaps we will see some new blood.

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Bad News Today For Both Chris Christie And Hillary Clinton

Last week the political news led to the inevitable, even if premature, discussion of the 2016 presidential race. A scandal involving Chris Christie was reported based upon its potential repercussions for the Republican nomination, even though it is far from  certain that the media declaring Christie the front-runner means anything. There are far too many pictures of him with Obama to haunt him in the GOP primaries. Still, he could not be ruled out as 2012 showed how hard it is to find a true conservative Republican who doesn’t become a laughing stock once they actually have to discuss their views on a national stage.

Hillary Clinton is a far stronger front-runner for the Democratic nomination. The 2008 race showed both that there are Democrats who do not want her and that she could be beaten, but it is hard to see someone duplicating what Obama accomplished. Clinton is certainly not going to ignore the caucus states, assuming she runs for the 2016 nomination. Therefore last week was seen as very good for Hillary Clinton. Assuming she runs, Christie polls the best against her of potential Republican candidates (again, assuming he could win the nomination). Looking like the least bat-shit crazy Republican did help Christie in national polls.

So far there is little public interest in Christie’s scandal, but I think it is still too early to tell. While the similarities to Watergate are too slim to justify calling this Bridgegate, it did take a while before Watergate became commonly known and harmful to Richard Nixon. The reports of Christie’s staff closing down the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retaliation have led to many other stories of similar bullying by Christie. Making matters worse, there is now an investigation as to whether Christie misused Sandy relief funds:

Just days after dismissing two top advisers for their roles in the George Washington Bridge scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced questions over the use of Superstorm Sandy relief funds.

CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used some of that money to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family.

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the embattled Republican, who is facing two probes in New Jersey of whether his staff orchestrated traffic gridlock near the country’s busiest bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his re-election.

If the Sandy inquiry by a watchdog finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie’s national ambitions. He’s considered a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

One would think that this should be another good week for Hillary Clinton, but maybe not. Politico (which is not above fabricating drama) cites a book claiming Hillary Clinton maintained a hit list of those who crossed her in 2008:

There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school. On one early draft of the hit list, each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from 1 to 7, with the most helpful to Hillary earning 1s and the most treacherous drawing 7s. The set of 7s included Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Rob Andrews (D-N.J.).

I don’t know how true this is, but The Hill quotes Senator Claire McCaskill as not wanting to wind up in the same elevator as Hillary Clinton. If we are to select the Democratic nominee by looking at recent Secretaries of State, I believe that one of those on Clinton’s hit list, John Kerry, would make a far better president (despite being very unlikely to be given a second chance to run).The scandals surrounding Chris Christie might wind up harming Clinton as well as Christie. All the stories of political retaliation by Christie might make voters think more about the character of who they vote for, and perhaps shy away from a candidate who sounds like they are maintaining a Nixonian Enemy’s List. Perhaps we need another pair of front runners.

Update: Dreams of Stopping Clinton in 2016

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Chris Christie Playing In Traffic

Playing in Traffic

With the emails and text messages which came to light this week implicating Christie’s top aides, but not directly providing evidence against Chris Christie, the outcome of this scandal might come down to public opinion. Documents clearly show evidence of corruption and an attempt at a cover-up. While it is far too soon to know if Christie will recover, I suspect that most people will either not be aware that the evidence does not prove direct involvement by Christie or will still believe Christie was involved. At very least, people will likely see him as creating the type of culture where such corruption exists, regardless of whether he ordered specific misdeeds.  There remains the danger that a smoking gun will be found, or someone will talk, making criminal prosecution a possibility.

There are other dangers for Christie. Being thought of as an incompetent leader who was unaware of what his top staff members were doing could be as damaging politically as being proven to have been involved. He might become a laughing stock even as details of the incident fade from the public’s mind. Late night comedians will continue jokes such as those I posted yesterday. Images such as the one on the upcoming cover of The New Yorker of Christie playing in traffic will haunt him, and probably be even more damaging than pictures of Mitt Romney driving with his dog on top of the car or shaking an Etch A Sketch.

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