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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Number Of Self-Identified Social Liberals Ties Social Conservatives

Gallup Social Liberals

I tend to minimize the importance of Gallup polls on self-identification by label as they are largely influenced by the effects of the right to demonize the word liberal. Polls based on specific political positions have typically showed more people taking liberal positions than calling themselves liberal. It is of interest that a new Gallup poll shows that the number of those who call themselves liberal on social issues matches those who call themselves socially conservative, both tied at 31 percent. The trend can be seen in the graph above.

Gallup has this observation, which reinforces my greatest fears about the Democratic Party:

The newfound parity on social ideology is a result of changes in the way both Democrats and Republicans describe their social views. The May 6-10 Gallup poll finds a new high of 53% of Democrats, including Democratic-leaning independents, describing their views on social issues as liberal.

That might partially explain how someone as socially conservative as Hillary Clinton can have such a strong lead in the Democratic race. Of course it is likely that many Democrats are not even aware of what Salon recently called her bizarre alliance with the Christian right.

The Gallup poll continues to show more people identifying as conservative on economic issues although polls on specific economic issues tend to show Americans as more liberal despite how they self-identify themselves.

The results showing an increase in social liberals is consistent with another recent poll on same-sex marriage, which actually shows a far more liberal result. Gallup found that a record high of 60 percent support same-sex marriage. This leaves the Republican candidates out of the mainstream, but as Republicans tend to be less likely to support same-sex marriage this might remain the more politically expedient position for those seeking the GOP nomination. Hillary Clinton appears to have read the polls correctly as she dropped her position of last year favoring leaving the matter to the states.

The trend towards greater support of same-sex marriage is also present in much of the world with Ireland, one of the more socially conservative countries in Europe voting on the issue today. If the referendum passes, Ireland would be the first country in the western world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

One liberal is doing better in the polls. Barack Obama’s favorability rating is up to the highest level since September 2013, increasing four points to 53 percent compared to last month.

Update: Both sides are now saying that the referendum to legalize same-sex marriage has passed in Ireland.

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

Clinton Email

As I discussed once again yesterday, many Democrats are ignoring the serious ethical breaches which have been written about Hillary Clinton, both in the past couple of months and further back, from liberal as well as conservative sources. To a certain degree the right gives her cover as, in addition to the many proven accusations against her raised by the left, there are additional false accusations against her from the right, leading some to falsely conclude that all accusations against Clinton are as bogus as Benghazi. Clinton apologists are now using a rather irrelevant article  in The New York Times to justify ignoring the strong case against Clinton. The article cites actions from the past months by conservative groups, ignoring the fact that many on the left has felt that Clinton is both unethical and too conservative for many years.

A post at The Moderate Voice (where many of my posts are reposted) which cites this article takes on the surface might be called a moderate viewpoint but actually ignores the facts of the matter:

I will wait for the results of impartial, independent investigations on allegations such as “E-Mail Gate” and the Clinton Foundation.

And I will definitely not fall for what the extreme right, or the extreme left, allege about Hillary Clinton.

In actuality, while additional facts will likely continue to be found, all the information to prove Clinton’s ethical misconduct and violation of rules in effect when she was Secretary of State are already in. Criticism of Clinton comes from all parts of the political spectrum, not just the extreme right and left. There is no such thing as an “impartial, independent investigation” to occur on a public official out of office, especially those as powerful as the Clintons. There are no such “independent investigations” of candidates other than from the media. We must go by the well-established facts that we do have to judge whether she is fit to be president. Here is what we do know:

When Hillary Clinton was made Secretary of State there was tremendous concern, from members of both parties, about the conflicts of interest this entails. Two rules were established to attempt to prevent conflicts of interest. The first applied to all cabinet officials after the email scandals of the Bush years (which Clinton included in her attacks on the Bush administration for shredding the Constitution). To increase transparency, rules were established by the Obama administration in 2009 for all email to be archived on government servers. Clinton violated this, and used the private server  to keep information both from Congress and the media. The top Freedom of Information Act official at the Justice Department has stated that Clinton was in violation of the rules and the State Department’s top Freedom of Information Act officer has called her use of a private server unacceptable. An ambassador under Clinton was even fired with failure to abide by rules related to not using private email being cited as a reason by the Inspector General (pdf of report here). Buzzfeed recently obtained email showing that the  top lawyer for the National Archives also expressed concern over Clinton’s use of a private server.

After Clinton’s press conference about the email scandal, news media fact checkers showed ares in which she was lying, especially with her claim of not breaking the rules. AP subsequently also found that her claim about not wanting to use two devices out of convenience did not hold up as she was actually using two devices for email when Secretary of State.

Not only did Clinton fail to abide by the policies in effect, when this became publicly known she destroyed evidence in wiping the server.

The second rule which applied exclusively to Hillary Clinton’s situation was that the contributions to the Clinton Foundation be disclosed. Hillary Clinton agreed to this, but failed to abide by the agreement and did not disclose over a thousand donors. The Foundation also failed to disclose many of these on their tax forms and was  caught lying about this issue.

We also know that Bill Clinton saw an unprecedented increase in payments for giving speeches when Hillary became Secretary of State from organizations and countries which subsequently received favorable intervention from Clinton. His speaking fees jumped from 150,000 to typically 500,000, and as high as 750,000. Contributions to the Clinton Foundation raise similar ethical concerns. This week we also received evidence that Hillary Clinton personally benefited financially.Ezra Klein discussed how this was both unethical and showed poor judgment. The income from

Clinton apologists have argued that there is not evidence of a quid pro quo, but to require this is a higher standard of proof which others are subjected to. Direct evidence of a Instead guilt is generally established based upon patterns of behavior, including failing to follow the rules in effect and such transfers of money to a politician from those who have received benefits. Destruction of evidence is typically interpreted to mean that the destroyed evidence is unfavorable to the accused.  Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, recently wrote:

Even if no deals are made, the influence of special-interest super PACs is a corrupting influence on American democracy. Even without a quid pro quo, the incredible concentration of direct contributions from a tiny fraction of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population is a corrupting ­influence.

Corruption is not just a contract. Corruption is also a kind of economy — an economy of influence that leads any sane soul to the fair belief that private influence has affected public policy. It is for this reason that practically every Democrat has insisted that the court’s Citizens United decision (and its progeny) needs to be reversed. It is this idea that has motivated millions to petition Congress to propose an amendment for that reversal…

That consensus among Democrats has now been shattered by a book by conservative writer Peter Schweizer. In “Clinton Cash,” Schweizer charges Bill and Hillary Clinton with corruption. Not because there is evidence of any particular bribe. Instead, their corruption, Schweizer says, comes from a pattern of behavior: a constant (and, by the end of the book, practically grotesque) story of cash passing from people seeking the government’s favor to either Bill Clinton (and hence Hillary Clinton) or the Clinton Foundation. The rapaciousness alone is enough to give one pause: Seriously, don’t we pay former presidents enough?

Yet all this, the Clintons and their defenders insist, is not corruption because Schweizer has provided no smoking gun. He has offered “no evidence” of a quid pro quo trade.

Welcome to Wonderland: Were the alleged influencers the Koch brothers, with the same kind of pattern charged against them — their channeling support to Republican representatives, those representatives in turn acting in a way that reflected the desires of the Kochs — there would be no doubt that Democrats would rally to attack that influence as Exhibit No. 1 in the case against the corruption of Washington. But apparently now those loyal to the Democratic presidential front-runner will have to be more careful in their criticism. Apparently now the party line must be: Even if someone benefited personally, and enormously, and even if there is a repeated series of victories for those exercising their influence, there’s no corruption unless Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would see it as corruption — meaning again, no corruption unless a quid pro quo.

Democrats need to think carefully about whether this is really a principle they want to defend — while they insist that we need to amend the Constitution to ban independent contributions and expenditures as corrupt even if no quid pro quo is shown.

Likewise, the Republicans now railing against the Clintons need to recognize just how easy it is for them to see corruption even where no one can show a quid pro quo.

We all should agree that the economy of influence that Washington has become is corrupt, the Supreme Court notwithstanding, and all finally move on to the only important question: What can we do to fix it?

On any fair reading, the pattern of behavior that Schweizer has charged is corruption. If the Clintons are going to defend against it, they need to do more than to cite Chief Justice Roberts. And soon.

David Sirota  has also recently written in Salon about the hypocrisy of Democrats who oppose the Citizens United ruling while giving Hillary Clinton a free pass.

Common Cause has called for an independent audit of the Clinton Foundation. Charity watch dog organizations such as Charity Navigator have placed the Foundation on their watchlist.

Clinton would be receiving this criticism even if conservative groups were not further publicizing her actions. The case against the Clintons is based upon what the Clintons have done–not actions by any conservative group the last couple of months.While we have more information, this is not anything new.  The Clintons have been criticized for similar ethical problems for many years by both liberal and nonpartisan organizations concerned with ethics and transparency in government.  For example, The Sunlight Foundation has archived an article from The New York Times criticizing Hillary Clinton for similar ethical violations in 2009.

Liberals have objected to Clinton’s conservative views, along with her ethical violations, during the 2008 campaign and earlier. Hillary Clinton is essentially a Joe Lieberman Democrat on foreign policy, civil liberties, and social issues, and many liberals have felt for a long time that she should be ostracized by Democrats as Lieberman ultimately was. I discussed how her hawkish foreign policy views were unacceptable to the left in this post from August 2014, along with past posts. I pointed out her long history of poor judgment on policy issues in this post from June 2014, citing an article from The National Journal. I recently cited an article from Mother Jones written in 2007 on Clinton’s cultural conservatism, including her poor record regarding separation of church and state. Clinton has received similar criticism from liberals, and those concerned about ethics in government, going back much longer. Criticism of Clinton from the left has nothing to do with actions from conservatives.

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Huckbee Claims Gay Marriage Leads To “Criminalization Of Christianity”

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is calling legalization of same-sex marriage a move towards the “criminalization of Christianity.”

“I think it’s fair to say that Christian convictions are under attack as never before,” Huckabee said Thursday, according to audio of the call obtained by Right Wing Watch, a project of the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way. “Not just in our lifetime, but ever before in the history of this great nation. We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.”

The former governor of Arkansas, who is expected to announce his presidential bid on May 5, said it is his “biblical duty” to pray for the members of the Supreme Court as they prepare to rule on same-sex marriage this summer.

Huckabee also appeared to be defending gay conversion therapy. He did note a trend among Republican donors which upsets him but I see as a change for the better: “supposedly conservative donors and conservative office holders are running away from the issue.” Many Republicans realize this is a battle they have lost and are moving on.

Huckabee’s statements show  the distorted view of the religious right on the role of religion and government, and why the Founding Fathers were right in establishing a secular state based upon the principle of separation of church and state. Respecting gay rights based upon support for individual liberty does not limit the legitimate rights of Christians. They certainly are not forced to enter into gay marriages (and I’m not sure how Huckabee would respond to those Christian homosexuals who do exist). Despite the paranoia of some on the religious right, legalization of same-sex marriage would not mean that churches opposed to homosexuality would be forced to perform gay marriages.

The only “right” which Christians would see limited is the “right” to use the power of government to impose their religious views upon others. This is what the religious right is fighting over.

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Clinton Announces: One More Quasi-Neocon Enters Presidential Race

Hillary Clinton has officially entered the race, adding one more neocon, and still leaving a large hole for a liberal candidate. There’s no doubt she is better than the Republicans in the race (a very low bar to beat) but I am still hoping a true Democrat gets in oppose her. He announcement is exactly the type of video expected although, unlike former Clinton adviser Bill Curry, I’m not sure that the announcement itself matters. Curry wrote, based upon media reports prior to the actual announcement, Hillary Clinton just doesn’t get it: She’s already running a losing campaign:

For months Clinton has run a front-porch campaign — if by porch you mean Boo Radley’s. Getting her outdoors is hard enough; when she does get out it’s often to give paid speeches to people who look just like her: educated, prosperous and privileged.  Needing desperately to connect with the broader public, she opts for the virtual reality of a pre-taped video delivered via social media. Go figure.

Her leakers say she’ll head out on a listening tour like the one that kicked off her first Senate race. They say listening to real people talk about real stuff will make her seem more real. This too may be a good idea, but it made more sense when she was a rookie candidate seeking a lesser office in a state she barely knew. Running for president is different. So are the times. Voters are more desperate now, and in a far worse mood. If you invite their questions, you’d better have some answers. I’ll return to this point shortly.

Her leakers say she’ll avoid big events, rallies, stadiums, that sort of thing. This is about 2008, when she and her tone-deaf team seemed to be planning a coronation. This time they say she doesn’t want to come off as quite so presumptuous. Yet next week she keynotes a ‘Global Women’s Summit’ cohosted by Tina Brown and the New York Times, at which “world leaders, industry icons, movie stars and CEOs convene with artists, rebels, peacemakers and activists to tell their stories and share their plans of action.” Orchestra seats go for $300.

Clinton personifies the meritocracy that to an angry middle class looks increasingly like just another privileged caste. It’s the anger captured best by the old ‘Die Yuppie Scum’ posters and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s on the rise. Republicans love to paint Democrats as elitists. It’s how the first two Bushes took out Dukakis, Gore and Kerry — and how Jeb plans to take out Hillary. When she says she and Bill were broke when they left the White House; when she sets her own email rules and says it was only for her own convenience; when she hangs out with the Davos, Wall Street or Hollywood crowds, she makes herself a more inviting target…

There are three problems that go far deeper than Hillary’s image or her campaign’s operations. Each is endemic to our current politics; all are so deeply connected as to be inseparable. You already know them. The first is how they raise their money. The second is how they craft their message. The third pertains to policy…

On Friday, Clinton’s campaign began the quick, quiet buildup to her Sunday announcement by placing a new epilogue to her last memoir in the Huffington Post. It’s mostly about how being a grandmother gives her new energy and insight. At the end of the piece she says it also inspires her to work hard so every child has as good a chance in life as her new granddaughter has. Her recent speeches, even those her leakers tout as campaign previews, say little more than that.

Barring a Jeremiah Wright-level crisis, a presidential candidate gets just two or three chances to make her case to a big audience. Her announcement is often her best shot. That Hillary passed on hers is unsettling. If she thinks she doesn’t have to make her case real soon she’s wrong. If she thinks she can get by on the sort of mush Democratic consultants push on clients she’s finished. On Thursday the Q poll released three surveys. In two states, she now trails Rand Paul. In all three a plurality or majority said she is ‘not honest or trustworthy.’ You can bet the leak about her $2.5 billion campaign will push those negatives up a notch.

Clinton seems as disconnected from the public mood now as she did in 2008.  I think it’s a crisis. If she doesn’t right the ship it will be a disaster. In politics it’s always later than you think. Advisors who told her voters would forget the email scandals probably say this too will pass. If so, she should fire them…

Like Bill Clinton’s 1992 race, this election is about the economy. But this one’s about how to reform the economy, not just jumpstart it. Our political system isn’t set up to debate whether or not our economic system needs real reform. It will take a very different kind of politics, and leader, to spark that debate. We’ll soon know whether anyone is ready, willing and able to fight.

I agree with much of his criticism, but not that the announcement is her best shot. That might apply to a lesser known candidate, but people already know Clinton, and most have opinions about her. What matters in her case is not any single statement, even her announcement, but what she says throughout her campaign, and she can never escape her record. Pundits expect her to continue to triangulate, compromise liberal principles, and try to avoid saying anything meaningful. In other words, she is playing not to lose–and we see how that often turns out, from football games to her 2008 campaign. At some point she will need to come out of her comfort zone, and hopefully at some point she will truly answers from the press.

Clinton began the invisible primary portion of the race with a huge lead, and it is now withering away. She still has the edge due to name recognition, but she is already slipping seriously in the polls. The most recent national poll available, from Public Policy Polling, shows her lead over Republican challengers down from 7-10 points in February to a 3-9 point lead at present over various Republican challengers. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul are all within four points of her, and Rand Paul leads Clinton among independents by 14 points. The latest battleground poll also shows her slipping in key states. Multiple polls show that voters do not find Clinton honest, trustworthy, or that she understands people like them. She probably will get a bounce after the announcement, but after that she cannot afford any further decrease in support.  She still looks most likely to win both the nomination and general election, but there is also a considerable risk that her campaign will be derailed by scandals along the way. Hopefully this will not happen in the fall of 2016, leaving us with a Republican president.

What Clinton can do at this stage of her career is somewhat limited. It is hard to overcome a career most notable for her poor judgment whenever facing the big issues. Stories about influence peddling are bound to continue. With all the connections between the two, it is worth remembering that the family business for the Clinton and Bush family is essentially the same. The email scandal would not by itself derail Clinton, but it will continue to hurt as it reinforces the view that the Clintons do not follow the rules, or tell the truth, along with her long-standing propensity towards secrecy.

There are many reasons why most Democrats want to see Clinton face a primary opponent, with a Bloomberg poll finding that the number of Democrats who say they would definitely vote for Clinton  down from 52 percent in June 2013  to 42 percent at present.  At this point, Martin O’Malley looks most likely to challenge Clinton from the left but there are many months to go before the first contests and other might still get in the race. Clinton should be challenged not only on her economic views, which O’Malley and others are now doing. This should include her foreign policy positions, from pushing for war with Iraq based upon non-existent connections between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration. (While Rand Paul initially was seen as a candidate opposing nonconservative foreign policy views, he has been quickly flip flopping to sound like every other Republican.) Environmentalists also question Clinton’s weak and vague record, along with her advocacy for fracking.  Many liberals are also dissatisfied with her record and views on civil liberties and on social issues, ranging from gay rights to feminism and reproductive rights. Clinton has entered the race as the lesser evil, but Democrats should be able to do better.

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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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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder Says He Will Veto RFRA Legislation

Rick Snyder

Following the uproar over the RFRA legislation in Indiana, the legislature has added LGBT protections, but some are arguing that the protections are not sufficient. At least we should not have to worry about this in Michigan. While the far right does dominate the legislature, Governor Rick Snyder wants to stay far away from anything which will interfere with economic recovery in Michigan. Snyder has announced that he will veto the legislation–and this would not be the first time the Republican governor has gone against the will of the Republican legislature.

Snyder first won the Republican nomination for governor with the help of Democrats who realized he would be far preferable to Tea Party Republicans like Pete Hoekstra going after the nomination in 2010, in a year in which it looked inevitable that a Republican would win. Unlike many other Republicans, Snyder prefers to stay away from conservative social issues. He recently received coverage for the Michigan economic recovery in The Wall Street Journal. Of course, being The Wall Street Journal, the article gives the credit for the economic recovery to Snyder, ignoring the important contributions from the Obama recovery nationally, and Obama’s actions to save the auto industry. While the article is correct that Snyder is no Scott Walker, it also ignores that he has conflicted with labor in capitulating to the legislature in signing right to work legislation.

Despite these flaws, the article is correct in pointing out important distinctions between Snyder and other Republicans, such as refusing to sign Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, and Snyder is currently pushing for a ballot proposal to increase the sales tax. This is to be used to repair roads, with Snyder arguing it is more economical in the long run to maintain good roads. Snyder also pushed for Medicaid expansion in Michigan when many Republican governors opposed it and has vetoed Republican legislation related to concealed weapons and voter ID. On the other hand, besides signing right to work legislation, Snyder has signed legislation placing restrictions on abortion rights. With this mixed record, it is good news to hear that Snyder plans to veto RFRA.

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Indiana Pizza Shop Cites RFRA To Refuse Catering Gay Weddings

Pizza

By the time I had time to start working on a post on the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana earlier this week the national outraged had already reached such a level that there was no longer any point in the original post. The negatives have all be adequately spelled out at many sources. The best defense for conservatives on this was the claim that the law was not intended to promote discrimination and would not do so. We quickly have a case proving them wrong:

A small-town pizza shop is saying they agree with Governor Pence and the signing of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The O’Connor family, who owns Memories Pizza, says they have a right to believe in their religion and protect those ideals.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” says Crystal O’Connor of Memories Pizza.

She and her family are standing firm in their beliefs.

The O’Connors have owned Memories Pizza in Walkerton for 9 years.

It’s a small-town business, with small-town ideals.

“We are a Christian establishment,” says O’Connor.

The O’Connor family prides themselves in owning a business that reflects their religious beliefs.

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O’Connor.

So, when Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, the family was not disappointed.

“We definitely agree with the bill,” says O’Connor.

I certainly have not read everything posted by supporters of the law, but I can’t help but wonder if there are any such examples of people actually being denied religious liberties who would be helped by this law. I mean true religious liberties. Quite often when people on the right speak of freedom of religion they are really advocating the freedom to impose their religious views on others.

And why must a pizza shop be “a Christian establishment?”

At least the backlash against the law in Indiana has also had some positive impact with Governor Asa Hutchinson backing away from signing a similar law. I believe we are at a tipping point where discrimination against gays is no more acceptable than discrimination based upon race. That doesn’t man it will disappear from our society, but even Republican politicians will find it difficult to openly support such legislation.

Update: TMZ reports that the pizza restaurant has been forced to close temporarily following the negative reaction to the owner’s comments.

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New York Times Helps Outline Path To Defeating Clinton For Democratic Nomination

Clinton Defeating

Among many liberals the question with Clinton preparing to announce her candidacy is not whether it is desirable to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming the Democratic nomination but whether this is even possible. Last week The Boston Globe urged Elizabeth Warren to run, and many liberals are pushing for this despite Warren’s statements that she is not interested. Now a story at The New York Times looks at the general strategy of defeating Clinton.  Maggie Haberman, the presidential campaign correspondent for The New York Times, spoke with people she referred to as “three of the smartest Democratic strategists we know.” Their identities were not divulged “so as not to anger Mrs. Clinton.”

Even before getting to the strategy points, this raises the question as to whether this is an isolated article or if it is a sign that Clinton is losing The New York Times. The need to keep the identities of the strategists secret can be taken as both a sign of the reluctance of those who depend upon Democrats for their likelihood to anger Clinton and as a sign of what people feel about her.

There were three main strategic points in this article. The first was Populism:

Any Democrat who takes on Mrs. Clinton should be a truth-telling populist, challenging the party from within and tapping into the energy and aspirations of the Democratic base.

This is especially crucial given Mrs. Clinton’s popularity with African-Americans, a significant voting bloc in Democratic primaries. One suggestion for reaching those voters? Focus on improving policing, after a national debate and protests set off by the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York City.

Another area that the right candidate could seize upon: immigration. Pound away at Democratic leaders for not passing a comprehensive overhaul when there was a chance to do so in 2014.

Another strategist said the challenger should focus on a few big-ticket ideas, like a transaction tax on Wall Street that would finance renewable energy, and hammer the utilities for harming energy independence.

“I wouldn’t give Hillary hell, I’d tell the truth and make her think it’s hell,” the strategist said, echoing former President Harry S. Truman. “I’d try to build my own momentum, not blunt hers.”

Eating into Clinton’s support among blacks is important from the standpoint of primary votes, but the legendary Clinton support from blacks has been diminished by her attacks on Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries, which many feel went over the line f or what is acceptable in a primary battle.  Her Wall Street connections have been mentioned frequently in criticism of Clinton, with this issue being raised by open challenger Martin O’Malley and non-challenger Elizabeth Warren. A successful challenge on her economic views could also help cut into Clinton’s blue collar support.

Foreign Policy was listed second:

“She’s to the right of where the party is on a lot of these issues,” one of the strategists said. Mrs. Clinton has traditionally favored a more muscular response in places like Syria, the source of one of her biggest policy disagreements with President Obama while she was secretary of state.

Clinton was on the far Joe Lieberman right win of the Democratic Party on Iraq, pushing for war based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. She was generally the strongest supporter of military action in the Obama administration (often countered by Joe Biden). The degree to which this matters from a political perspective will depend upon how war weary the country is a year from now.

The third factor was Authenticity:

For more than a decade, Mrs. Clinton has tried to swat away a persistent concern about her ability to connect with voters. “Saturday Night Live” recently captured that problem in a sketch featuring an actress playing Mrs. Clinton, who said of herself at one point, “What a relatable laugh!”

Years of security-infused Bubble Wrap around her travels and a wealthy lifestyle have done little to pull Mrs. Clinton closer to voters.

The best hope for someone running against her, all three strategists said, was to be real. And the best environment to showcase that genuineness may be Iowa. A challenger could camp out there, have a lot of up-close voter interactions, build a relationship with activists in the state and hope to catch fire.

Mrs. Clinton has always had trouble in Iowa, and she never totally connected with voters there. One of the strategists advocated saving as much money as possible to spend in Iowa for a late media push.

Clinton’s authenticity and integrity have been further challenged by her claims of  being dead broke after leaving the White House and with the recent email scandal. While few people will vote based upon her having a private email server, this scandal does demonstrate what critics have often said about Clinton. It verifies the suspicions of her dishonesty. Her two main defenses, convenience due to not wanting to carry two devices (even though she actually did), and claims that she did not break the rules, were both shown to be false.

Clinton’s attacks on Republicans for shredding the Constitution when they used a server from the Republican National Committee, and the citing of use of personal email as one reason for the firing of an ambassador under her, are consistent with the view that the Clintons believe that the rules do not apply to them.  This also ties into Clinton’s long-standing propensity towards secrecy, both in her political life and in policy matters. Her contributions from foreign donors raises further suspicions, but Clinton has made it quite difficult to follow the money.

Much of the criticism raised of Clinton by these Democratic strategists are similar to questions raised in the past about the poor judgment she has shown throughout her career.

While strategies discussed above include means for cutting into Clinton’s support among black and working class voters, some liberal feminists are also coming out to criticize Clinton’s history on feminist issues. While this is beyond the scope of this post, I will briefly note the main points which are generally raised:

  1. Clinton undermines the case for abortion rights with calls for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, stigmatizing women who do seek abortions
  2. Clinton’s history of undermining women who have been subjects of sexual harassment
  3. Anti-feminist actions as an attorney including her attacks on a rape victim
  4. A relative lackluster record on women’s issues and taking contributions from counties with a pitiful record on women’s rights such as Saudi Arabia

Clinton is similarly weak on other social issues such as gay marriage which might have some impact in primaries among the Democratic base.

Despite these thoughts from the Democratic strategists, defeating Clinton for the Democratic nomination will not be easy. While difficult, the attempt should be made in order to have a liberal choice in the 2016 election.

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AP Poll Shows Majority Supports Marriage Equality

A poll from the AP-NORC Center shows a majority supporting same-sex marriage for the first time in their poll, with support up 8 percentage points since 2012 and 45 points since 1988. There continues to be a partisan divide, but while support among Republicans lags behind Democrats, there is a significant increase in support for marriage equality among Republicans. The key findings:

  • For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) support same-sex couples’ right to marry, up from 48 percent in 2012.
  • Support for same-sex marriage among Republicans increased from 31 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2014. This increase is larger than the increase among Democrats and independents, although Republican support still lags behind those groups.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans ages 18-34 support same-sex marriage, an increase of 10 points since 2012.

Update: Then there are faux libertarians who think that the government should be able to intrude in the private lives of individuals:

Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said on Friday affording the distinction to marriage to same-sex couples “offends myself and a lot of other people.”In an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, the Kentucky Republican, who described himself as a “libertarian conservative,” made the remarks when asked about his views on gay rights.

“I’m for tradition marriage,” Paul said. “I think marriage is between a man and a woman. Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people.”

Paul continued, “I think having competing contracts that would give them equivalency before the law would have solved a lot of these problems, and it may be where we’re still headed.”

Separate but equal.

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