Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Bush Clinton

Peter Beinart has an article on A Unified Theory of Hillary in today’s issue of National Journal.The entire article is worth reading but one line really sums up the article and my overall opinion of Hillary Clinton: “Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.” He also pointed out how her tunnel vision “might produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush.”

Beinart does have also have some praise for Hillary Clinton as being tough-minded, and does feel she might have a better chance of dealing with Congress than other recent Democratic presidents. Looking back to the  years when Bill was in the White House, and even earlier, he had this to say:

From their days in Arkansas, Hillary took the lead in combating the scandalmongers who threatened Bill’s career. Her default position was single-minded and relentless. She repeatedly urged her husband’s advisers to meet attacks on Bill’s character by going after the character of his opponents. (According to Bernstein, in 1992 she urged the campaign to fan rumors about George H.W. Bush’s infidelity.) It was Hillary who called in Dick Morris when Bill was losing his bid for reelection as governor in 1980, and who became Morris’s point of contact when the Clintons entered the White House. According to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.’s biography Her Way, when a liberal Arkansas staffer objected to Morris’s presence, Hillary responded, “If you want to be in this kind of business, this is the kind of person you have to deal with.”

Tough-minded, but also showing the lack of principle she is known for.

Clinton has a history of making big mistakes on the big issues, such as her handling of health care reform:

Hillary’s failure to see that her model, which she had developed in Arkansas, was not working and needed to be altered midstream. As in Arkansas, Hillary—now aided by Magaziner—kept tight control of the process. At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force’s secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president’s wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access.

Her biggest mistake was in getting her husband to agree to promise to veto anything other than what Hillary wanted, despite the fact that the Republican counter-proposal was extremely similar to the Affordable Care Act passed under Barack Obama, and would have served as a point to negotiate from at the time rather than having to wait until just recently to achieve health care reform. Some Clinton staffers recommended considering more modest proposals from moderate Democrats when it became clear that her entire package could not pass in Congress.

But Hillary resisted switching course, and she and Magaziner won the day. In his State of the Union address the following January—at Hillary’s urging and over Gergen’s opposition—Bill pledged to veto any health care bill that did not provide universal health coverage, even though key figures in his own party already believed that was the only kind of health care bill Congress would pass.

Hillary proceeded to move to the right to counter the false impression spread by the right that she was a left-wing radical.

IF HILLARY’S FAILURE to improvise contributed to the demise of health care reform, it also contributed to her greatest foreign policy blunder—her support for the Iraq War—and her subsequent loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

As with health care reform, Hillary’s transition from first lady to elected official relied on a clear plan, a key component of which was: Disprove the caricature of herself as a left-wing radical (an effort made easier by the fact that the caricature had never been remotely true). In her New York Senate race, Tomasky notes, Hillary ran to Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion: She supported parental-notification laws; he did not. In the Senate, she cosponsored legislation with former impeachment champion Sam Brownback to study the effects of mass media on children and hired a staffer to reach out to abortion foes.

Clinton has also come under criticism recently for not supporting marriage equality until 2013, long after this became the politically safe position to take. She has most recently received unfavorable criticism for her handling of an interview with Terry Gross on this subject, although after listening to the interview I did not feel she did as badly as many others have written.

For the right to call Hillary Clinton a left-wing radical is even more absurd than their current claims that Barack Obama is a socialist. How would they respond if an actual leftist were to become president?

Beinart went on to describe how, after 9/11, Clinton joined Joe Lieberman on the far right of the Democratic Party, going as far as to claim 9/11 as justification for the war in Iraq and failing to recognize her mistake until virtually everyone else had abandoned her original view:

Almost as soon as the twin towers fell, Hillary began staking out positions on the right edge of her party. On Sept. 12, from the floor of the Senate, she warned—in language similar to George W. Bush’s—that regimes that “in any way aid or comfort [terrorists] whatsoever will now face the wrath of our country.” As Gerth and Van Natta detailed, Hillary did not just vote to authorize war with Iraq—something most other nationally ambitious Democrats did as well—she justified her vote by citing Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaida, a claim echoed by only one other Senate Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

Even once it became clear that governing postwar Iraq would be far harder than the Bush administration had predicted, Hillary gave little ground. In a December 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she called her Iraq decision “the right vote” and insisted that “failure is not an option.” As late as February 2005, when Iraq was already in civil war, she drew attention to the “many parts of Iraq that are functioning quite well” and warned that it “would be a mistake” to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

In bucking her party’s liberal base, Hillary almost certainly believed she was doing the right thing. She was “cursed,” she declared, when explaining her refusal to join John Edwards’s 2007 call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, “with the responsibility gene.” Hillary’s intellectual failure lay in her inability to recognize that the definition of “responsibility” she had developed during the 1990s, with its emphasis on American freedom of action and the utility of military force, was being abused and misapplied in Iraq. Her political failure lay in her inability to see how dramatically the center of gravity in her party was shifting away from her point of view.

As the situation in Iraq went south, liberal activists—enraged at the Democratic Party’s ideologically hawkish, politically submissive leaders—launched an intraparty rebellion. The first sign came in 2003, when blogs like Daily Kos and activist groups like MoveOn.org powered Howard Dean’s stunning insurgency against a field of Washington Democrats who had backed the war. Yet during that period, Hillary and her top advisers were remarkably slow to recognize that the ground was shifting underneath their feet, and that the centrist strategy they had laid out at the beginning of her Senate career was now dangerously outdated.

Clinton’s failure to recognize how the Democratic party was changing could be seen in her choice of Mark Penn to be chief strategist for her campaign: “Hillary put her fate in the hands of a consultant who not only discounted their influence but loathed them.” Her presidential campaign only reinforced suspicion of her among many liberals:

But while she may have had no good way to discuss her Iraq vote, Hillary could have at least signaled to angry liberals that she would act differently on Iran. Instead, she picked a fight over Obama’s willingness to meet Tehran’s leaders without preconditions, a fight that to many liberals confirmed that Obama would change Bush foreign policy while Hillary represented more of the same.

More broadly, Hillary’s campaign failed to adequately recognize that her Iraq vote had convinced many liberals that she lacked the courage of her convictions. As an actress playing Hillary quipped on Saturday Night Live in January 2007, “I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere.” In that environment, Hillary’s unwillingness to embrace controversial liberal causes for fear that they’d be used against her in the general election became a character issue. Arguably, the key moment in Hillary’s demise came at a Drexel University debate on Oct. 30, when she refused to forthrightly endorse New York state’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and was slammed by her opponents and the press for trying to have it both ways. Eleven days later, in perhaps his most important speech of the primary campaign, Obama wowed a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, declaring that “not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do.” At a time when Democratic primary voters were hungry for authenticity and backbone, Penn’s efforts to inoculate Hillary against right-wing attack convinced many liberals that she lacked both.

Beinart concluded (emphasis mine):

NONE OF THIS is to suggest that Hillary would be an ineffective president—only that her successes and failures would look different from Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s. Bill’s failures often owed to indiscipline. Obama’s have stemmed in part from aloofness. If past is prologue, Hillary’s would stem in significant measure from unwillingness to change course. Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Her successes as president, on the other hand, would likely result from the kind of hands-on, methodical, unyielding drive that both Bill Clinton and Obama struggled to sustain. In her wonkishness and her moderate liberalism, Hillary has much in common with Obama and her husband. But her “tunnel vision”—in the words of a close friend quoted in Sally Bedell Smith’s For Love of Politicsmight produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush. For years now, Democrats have yearned for a leader who champions their causes with the same single-minded, supremely confident, unwavering intensity that they believe Republican leaders bring to theirs. For better and worse, they may soon get their wish.

For better and worse. While undoubtedly far better than a presidency in the hands of any imaginable Republican opponent at present, I also feel that Democrats who are now so willing to hand her the nomination will also see the worse aspects.

Other controversies also surround Clinton at present. Matthew Contenetti has raised criticism this week of Clinton’s early defense of child rapist. See Doug Mataconis and Steve M for responses.

Even a simple question from The New York Times Book Review has created controversy as it reinforced views of Clinton as being calculating and dishonest:

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

Gawker’s reaction was that, “Some people like Hillary Clinton. Other people dislike Hillary Clinton. However you feel about Hillary Clinton, it is difficult to deny that she is one of the most cold and calculating political figures in all the land.” This led to a link to a 2013 article on Clinton’s Cowardice As a Political Philosophy, which looked at her views on Iraq and gay marriage.

The Daily Banter responded:

But does Clinton calling the Bible her most influential book tantamount to a political calculation?

Yes it does.

It would be one thing if Clinton meant that the Bible has been the most influential on her because it’s had a profound impact on the course of human history for more than 2,000 years. However, she wasn’t talking about the book’s cultural and political impact, but rather the influence it’s had on her personally as a reader of it.

Because if the book with the biggest influence on Hillary Clinton were truly the Bible, she would never have gotten to where she is. The Bible, however beloved it may be, is not a book conducive to thinking. Rather, the Bible deals in revealed wisdom written by men of antiquity who probably knew less about the natural world than a contemporary American fifth grader. Without question there are passages in the Bible that may very well have given her a modicum of wisdom, comfort, and encouragement, but for every such excerpt there is one or more that couldn’t be more disturbing and anathema to what we today call common decency.

There is no time to air all the dirty laundry of the Bible here. Besides, most Americans are familiar with its horrors, yet many seem to accept it as a sort of general guide on how to live by focusing on passages they find agreeable while discarding the rest.

The “rest” would include the multiple instances of mass killing in the Old Testament, including the great flood started by god that wiped out nearly all of humanity. Homosexuals, witches, and Sabbath-breakers are ordered killed. The Ten Commandments say that one must only worship Yahweh, who judges people merely for what they think. Interestingly enough, rape is not mentioned in the commandments.

In the New Testament, we come to learn that those who do not accept that Jesus was brutally tortured and killed for their sins will suffer in hell in anguish for all eternity simply for not believing. This is founding principle of Christianity.

And yet this is the text that Hillary Clinton — a Yale Law School-educated former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State — says is the book that’s had the biggest impact on her life.

You can believe it if you like. And if you do, there’s a bridge near me I’d like to sell you.

While hardly the biggest campaign issue, this also underscores Hillary Clinton’s lack of self-awareness, failing to understand how a dishonest and calculating answer such as this does nothing to appease the right while reinforcing reservations about her from the left.

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Norman Ornstein Writes Once Again That The Republicans Are The Problem

Norman Ornstein once again sets the record straight, resonding to those who say both parties are responsible for the degree of polarization and gridlock we are now experiencing:

Tom Mann and I, among others, have said that the polarization in the capital is asymmetric, much more on the conservative and Republican side than on the liberal and Democratic side. An army of journalists—including Ron Fournier, Paul Kane, and others—have said both sides are to blame. And journalists led by Jim Fallows have decried what he first called “false equivalence.” This malady itself has two components. The first, which in many ways is a larger ingrained journalistic habit that tries mightily to avoid any hint of reporting bias, is the reflexive “we report both sides of every story,” even to the point that one side is given equal weight not supported by reality. The second, often called the Green Lantern approach and typified by Bob Woodward, is that presidential leadership—demanding change, sweet-talking, and threatening lawmakers—could readily overcome any dysfunction caused by polarization, thus allocating responsibility in a different way that deflects any sign of asymmetry.

As the Pew study makes clear, in the mid- to late-1990s, we did not have anywhere near the level of public polarization or ideological or partisan animosity that we have now. In the public, this phenomenon has been much more recent (and is accelerating). But in the Gingrich era in Congress, starting in 1993, where Republicans united in both houses to oppose major Clinton initiatives and moved vigorously from the start of his presidency to delegitimize him, the era of tribalism started much earlier, while the ante was upped dramatically in the Obama years. The fact is that it was not public divisions on issues that drove elite polarization, but the opposite: Cynical politicians and political consultants in the age of the permanent campaign, bolstered by radio talk-show hosts and cable-news producers and amplified by blogs and social media, did a number on the public.

The elite tribalism was not all one-sided. To be sure, there was plenty of vitriol hurled by Democrats at George W. Bush. But Democrats worked hand-in-glove with Bush at the early, vulnerable stage of his controversial presidency to enact No Child Left Behind, which gave his presidency precious credibility and provided the votes and support needed for his tax cuts. Contrast that with the early stages of the Obama presidency.

Merry uses immigration to dispute our characterization of the contemporary Republican Party as an insurgent outlier, dismissive of science; no surprise that he does not mention climate change. As for Ron Fournier, I have one point of contention and one response to his question, “Who cares?” First is the characterization of those who believe that the polarization is asymmetric as partisans. There are partisans who have seized on the ideas, but it is very unfair to characterize the scholars and most journalists who have written about this as biased—just as it would be deeply unfair to characterize Fournier, a straight-up journalist of the old school, as an instrument of Republicans or the Right.

More important is the question he raised. Does it matter whether the polarization, and the deep dysfunction that follows from it, is equal or not, including to the average voter? The answer is a resounding yes. If bad behavior—using the nation’s full faith and credit as a hostage to political demands, shutting down the government, attempting to undermine policies that have been lawfully enacted, blocking nominees not on the basis of their qualifications but to nullify the policies they would pursue, using filibusters as weapons of mass obstruction—is to be discouraged or abandoned, those who engage in it have to be held accountable. Saying both sides are equally responsible, insisting on equivalence as the mantra of mainstream journalism, leaves the average voter at sea, unable to identify and vote against those perpetrating the problem. The public is left with a deeper disdain for all politics and all politicians, and voters become more receptive to demagogues and those whose main qualification for office is that they have never served, won’t compromise, and see everything in stark black-and-white terms.

Besides, this excerpt, read the full article, along with his writings with Thomas Mann, including this op-ed and their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. For a look at the unprecedented obstructionism towards Obama practiced by the Republicans, see this Frontline documentary,The Republicans’ Plan For The New President:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

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Unclipping Hillary Clinton’s Hawkish Wings

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Barack Obama recently described his views on the use of military force at West Point. E.J. Dionne pointed out that military “restraint makes us stronger” and praised “the more measured approach to military intervention practiced during the presidencies of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.” Obama said, “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” This was described by Andy Borowitz as meaning”Obama Defends Controversial Policy of Not Invading Countries for No Reason.”

Conservative critics were taken aback by Obama’s speech, which was riddled with incendiary remarks about only using military force for a clearly identified and rational purpose.

Obama did not shy away from employing polarizing rhetoric, often using words such as “responsible” and “sensible” to underscore his message.

Harland Dorrinson, a fellow at the conservative think tank the Center for Global Intervention, said that he was “stunned” to see Obama “defend his failure to engage the United States in impulsive and random military adventures.”

“History tells us that the best way to earn respect around the world is by using your military in a totally unpredictable and reckless manner,” he said. “Today, President Obama showed once again that he doesn’t get it.”

Even beyond Borowitz’s satirical take on the speech, this is a clear change from past years. The apparently inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination has some on the left concerned. An article on Clinton in The Wall Street Journal will not help to reassure anyone worried about Clinton’s more hawkish views. We must keep in mind the Republican bias of the source, which leads me to question some of the assessments in the article that Clinton was ineffective. I doubt that they would have reason to exaggerate Clinton’s hawkishness, and their assessment on this is consistent with the views of many others.

The article describes her as a “hawk with clipped wings.”  It argues that, “She was often more hawkish than the White House she served, and at some key moments was ineffectual at swinging policy her way.” Despite the article’s description of Clinton as someone who did not push her views, I often had the opinion that Clinton was one of the forces pulling Obama more to the right. Syria was given as an example where the two did disagree:

“… she was more comfortable than Mr. Obama with the use of military force and saw it as an important complement to diplomacy, present and former administration aides say.
“In the debates that we had, she generally was someone who came down in favor of military action,” says Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “She had a comfort with U.S. military action.”

Syria was a test case. The civil war exposed a divide in the administration, with Mr. Obama hesitant to commit military force and Mrs. Clinton pushing to arm secular rebels who might help oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.”

It would certainly be ironic if Rand Paul manages to win the Republican nomination, leaving the Democrats with the far more hawkish candidate who would take over without Barack Obama in the White House to counter her more hawkish tendencies.

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Defending and Attacking Presidents In The New Media Age

Obama media

There is some amazing tunnel vision from James Oliphant in an article on the progressive blogosphere. An article on the subject, or even  how it often helps Obama, might make sense. This does not make sense once you get to the second paragraph quoted below:

It’s been a familiar pattern since President Obama took office in 2009: When critics attack, the White House can count on a posse of progressive writers to ride to its rescue. Pick an issue, from the Affordable Care Act to Ukraine to the economy to controversies involving the Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi, and you’ll find the same voices again and again, on the Web and on Twitter, giving the president cover while savaging the opposition. And typically doing it with sharper tongues and tighter arguments than the White House itself.

While the bond between presidential administrations and friendly opinion-shapers goes back as far as the nation itself, no White House has ever enjoyed the luxury that this one has, in which its arguments and talking points can be advanced on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. No longer must it await the evening news or the morning op-ed page to witness the fruits of its messaging efforts.

At least he recognized that sometimes Obama receives criticism from the left further in the column, even if the article does downplay how often this happens. Still, in general, I’ll accept that quite often “the White House can count on a posse of progressive writers to ride to its rescue.” What is wrong is the claim that no White House has ever enjoyed such a luxury.

There are plenty of conservative bloggers to counter liberal bloggers–both having defended Bush when he is in office and in intensifying the attacks on Obama. Obama might have more defenders thanks to the blogosphere, but he also has far more people attacking him, quite often with totally manufactured attacks.

Maybe the conservative blogosphere isn’t as potent a force as the progressive blogosphere. It doesn’t matter. Bush had Fox , which is essentially the unofficial propaganda arm of the Republican Party, actively defending and often lying for him.  Bush had the right wing noise machine defending him to a far greater effect than blogs are capable of defending Obama.

When there is not a Republican in the White House, Fox does a 180 degree switch in outlook, having been the biggest attacker of both Clinton and Obama. Fortunately Clinton had his own people to defend him as the liberal blogsophere was not yet a meaningful force back then. Fox provides far more assistance for the right than MSNBC is capable of doing for the left, and there is barely an equivalent to right wing talk radio on the left. On the other hand Obama does have Jon Stewart’s fake news show defending him from the attacks coming from the fake news shows on Fox, when Stewart is not criticizing him from the left.

These days both Democratic and Republican presidents are going to have far more defenders and attackers than was the case in the past, with the progressive blogosphere defending Obama (when not criticizing him from the left) not being anything unique to Obama.

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The 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner–Full Video And Best Lines

Above is the video of Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Full transcript is here and excerpts follow:

I admit it — last year was rough.  Sheesh.  At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.

Of course, we rolled out healthcare.gov.  That could have gone better.  In 2008 my slogan was, “Yes We Can.”  In 2013 my slogan was, “Control-Alt-Delete.”  On the plus side, they did turn the launch of healthcare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.  (Slide of “Frozen”)

But rather than dwell on the past, I would like to pivot to this dinner.  Let’s welcome our headliner this evening, Joel McHale.  On “Community,” Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist.  So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.

I want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for hosting us here tonight.  I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia.  The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.  I think they’re still searching for their table.

MSNBC is here.  They’re a little overwhelmed.  They’ve never seen an audience this big before.

Just last month, a wonderful story — an American won the Boston Marathon for first time in 30 years. Which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six.

We have some other athletes here tonight, including Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson is here.  We’re proud of her.  Incredibly talented young lady.  Michelle and I watched the Olympics — we cannot believe what these folks do — death-defying feats — haven’t seen somebody pull a “180” that fast since Rand Paul disinvited that Nevada rancher from this dinner. As a general rule, things don’t like end well if the sentence starts, “Let me tell you something I know about the negro.”  You don’t really need to hear the rest of it. Just a tip for you — don’t start your sentence that way.

And speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight.  But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front.  Hello, Fox News.

Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.

Of course, now that it’s 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms.  Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don’t really want me campaigning with them.  And I don’t think that’s true — although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton.a, Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Captain America, Chris Christie, Community, Donald Trump, Facebook, Fox, George Bush, Health Care Reform, Hillary Clinton, House of Cards, Jeb Bush,

And I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the Speaker of the House, as well.  These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.

Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever.  Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder:  What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?

One issue, for example, we haven’t been able to agree on is unemployment insurance.  Republicans continue to refuse to extend it.  And you know what, I am beginning to think they’ve got a point.  If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else.

Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy.  They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.  Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment. Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don’t want to repeal it?  What if everybody’s cholesterol drops to 120?  What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old, Donald Sterling Clippers — the new Oprah Clippers.  Would that be good enough?  What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse?  What is it going to take?

Joel McHale, star of Community and The Soup, did an excellent job. #sixtimesashostandamovie. He has followed a long line of top comedians who have roasted politicians and the media and previous events. The all time best speakers was Stephen Colbert who roasted George Bush in 2006. The full transcript of his speech can be found here.

Following are some of Joel McHale’s best jokes, with video above and full transcript here.

Good evening, Mr. President — or as Paul Ryan refers to you, yet another inner-city minority relying on the federal government to feed and house your family.

I’m a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s one of the all- time great presidents — definitely in the top 50. Please explain that to Jessica Simpson. You’re right. That was low.

All right, how about the president’s performance tonight, everyone?  It is — it’s amazing that you can still bring it with fresh, hilarious material. And my favorite bit of yours was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was a classic. That was hilarious, hilarious. Still going.

All right, look, I know it’s been a long night, but I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.

It’s a genuine thrill to be here in Washington, D.C., the city that started the whole crack-smoking-mayor craze.

The vice president isn’t here tonight, not for security reasons. He just thought this event was being held at the Dulles Airport Applebee’s. Yes, right now Joe is elbow-deep in jalapeno poppers and talking to a construction cone he thinks is John Boehner. Also true.

Hillary Clinton has a lot going for her as a candidate. She has experience. She’s a natural leader. And, as our first female president, we could pay her 30 percent less. That’s the savings this country could use.

Hillary’s daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to “Bad Grandpa.” It also raises the question, when the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?

Jeb Bush says he’s thinking about running. Wow, another Bush might be in the White House. Is it already time for our every-10- years surprise party for Iraq? Yes.

As it stands right now, the Republican presidential nominee will either be Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or a bag of flour with Ronald Reagan’s face drawn on it.  A bag of flour. All right.

People are asking, will Donald Trump run again? And the answer is, does that thing on his head crap in the woods?  I actually don’t know. I don’t know.I don’t know if that thing on his head has a digestive system.

Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.  Now, I get that. I’m sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I didn’t know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it, just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened, because I was unaware it happened until just now.

I’m appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I’m not responsible for it. Justice has been served. He’s going to kill me.

Mr. President, you’re no stranger to criticism. Ted Nugent called you a subhuman mongrel. And it’s comments like that which really make me question whether we can take the guy who wrote “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” seriously anymore.

Your approval rating has slipped. And even worse, you only got two stars on Yelp.

Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was to get the president out of office. So, Mitch, congrats on being just two years away from realizing your goal. You did it — kind of.

But thanks to “Obamacare,” or, as the president refers to it, “Mecare,” millions of newly insured young Americans can visit a doctor’s office and see what a print magazine actually looks like. That’s awesome.

Now over 8 million people have signed up for “Obamacare,” which sounds impressive until you realize Ashley Tisdale has 12 million Twitter followers. So that’s pretty good.

Sir, I do think you’re making a big mistake with Putin. You have to show a guy like that that you’re just as crazy as he is. He invades Crimea. You invade Cancun.  Russia takes back the Ukraine. America takes back Texas. Something to think about.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here. Finally I can put a face to the mysterious voice clearing its throat on the other end of the phone.  It was weird.

And CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months — their dignity.  Totally. That was just that table. At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a sad strip mall. You don’t know how it’s stayed in business this long. You don’t know anyone that shops there. And they just fired Piers Morgan.

Fox News is the highest-rated network in cable news.  Yeah. I can’t believe your table  — that far.  And it’s all thanks to their key demographic, the corpses of old people who tuned in to Fox News and haven’t yet been discovered.

Former “Inside Edition” host Bill O’Reilly is not here. He did host that. Bill’s got another book coming out soon, so he’s making his ghost writers work around the clock. Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity are the Mount Rushmore of keeping old people angry.

This event brings together both Washington and Hollywood. The relationship between Washington and Hollywood has been a long and fruitful one. You give us tax credits for film and television production, and in return, we bring much-needed jobs to hard-working American cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Vancouver again.

Hollywood helps America by projecting a heroic image to the rest of the world. We just released another movie about Captain America, or, as he’s known in China, Captain Who Owes Us $1.1 Trillion.

There’s a lot of celebrities here tonight. They’re the ones that don’t look like ghouls. Look around. The cast of “Veep” is here. That’s a series about what would happen if a Seinfeld star actually landed on another good show. I like “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” I swear.

I’m not going to spoil the shocking twist on “House of Cards,” but just know that it was so surprising that Nancy Pelosi’s face almost changed expression. Did you like that one, Nancy? I can’t tell.

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, is here. So if any of you congressmen want to cut out the middleman, just show him your penis. Not now! Are you nuts?

And here’s why America is the best country in the world. A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy — and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I’m going to the Vanity Fair after-party. That’s right. This is America, where everyone can be a Pussy Riot.

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Republican Benghazi Truthers Go Wild In Preparation For Midterm Elections

What do the Republicans do when the Affordable Care Act is exceeding expectations, their latest  lies have been exposed, and there are no real scandals for them to attack with? Benghazi. Sure it has been investigated over and over again with nothing coming up, but that doesn’t matter. Politics, especially in a year with a midterm election, is all about firing up the base to get out to vote, and we know the Republican base doesn’t care about facts. They have a new email which adds nothing new to the story, but that is apparently enough for John Boehner to call for yet another investigation. Or as Paul Waldman put it, The GOP hunt for a Watergate-scale scandal continues (even though there is nothing there).

David Weigel reported on the “shocking” news that the email showed that the White House agreed with the CIA talking points.

But it’s just lazy journalism or lazy politicking to blame Rhodes for a talking point that was fed from the CIA. The White House’s shifty-sounding excuse, that the “demonstration” story line came not from its spin factory but from the CIA, remains surprisingly accurate. (And I mean really lazy. It does not take very much time to compare the new Rhodes email to the previously known timeline of emails.)

From there Weigel presented a time line which you might want to go through to help put all this nonsense into perspective.

Peter Weber at The Week tried to find an actual crime which the Republicans might be accusing Obama of:

If the crime is that the Obama administration, two months before a presidential election, was concerned with putting the best face on the attack, Team Obama is probably guilty. But the emails do not suggest that the administration lied to the American public, let alone orchestrated a vast cover-up of some massive intelligence or policy failure.

Maybe they need a new committee to investigate as Darrel Issa’s witch hunt is falling apart.

If Congress really wants to investigate preventable deaths of Americans, they can look at how George Bush ignored intelligence briefings warning about the 9/11 attack, and then responded by sending more Americans to their death in the Iraq war based upon lies. Rather than dwelling further on Susan Rice, they might look at how Condoleezza Rice lied when she denied receiving the anti-terrorist strategy from the Clinton administration. They could look at previous embassy attacks under Republican presidents, including the over 320 Americans who died in embassy attacks under Ronald Reagan or question why Republicans cut funding for embassy security.

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Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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The 2014 State Of The Union Address

Boehner SOTU

The State of the Union address (transcript here) was rather modest, considering the limitations Obama faces in dealing with Congressional Republicans who have had the policy of opposing Obama’s agenda on political grounds since the day he took office. The few policy proposals had already been released, such as an executive order regarding the minimum wage at companies receiving government contacts. There were a few moments during the speech worth noting. He began with what was basically a defense of his record on the economy:

The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.

Of course, in what is essentially a disproof of trickle-down economics, he recognized that problems remain:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

This sure makes the right wing claims that Obama is a socialist sound ridiculous. Plus there is his support for small business:

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.

While it may or may not be wise, I always wish that Democrats would do more to directly take on the absurd positions held by many Republicans. Unfortunately I’m not sure that showing Republican denial of science would be politically successful in a country with such vast scientific illiteracy. At least we did get this:

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.

He is right about climate change, but the debate is only settled in terms of the scientific knowledge. Climate change is a fact. So is evolution. And the earth is round. Try to convince the Republicans.

Obama also defended his record on health care:

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Obama said little about the problems caused by Republican obstructionism, but did mention the “forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.” I believe the exact number is forty-seven votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Among the lines which got the most attention of the night, when discussing equal pay for equal work:

It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.

The official Republican response was rather empty, and there were also two Tea Party responses. The bulk of the opposition I saw to Obama on line (and in an op-ed by Ted Cruz)  has been to the use of executive orders, ignoring how much fewer he has used than his predecessors. Where were all the conservatives now complaining about Executive power during the Bush years, when Bush went far further than Obama is contemplating?  I doubt their complaints will receive much sympathy from swing voters (the few who exist). As I pointed out recently, voters are realizing that the Republicans are responsible for gridlock, even if the media often overlooks this in their efforts at appearing objective by treating both parties equally when they are not mirror images of each other.

sotu_ideology2

All in all, the address was liberal but hardly ground-breaking. The Monkey Cage has compared every SOTU address since 1986 based upon ideology. This year’s speech was placed around the middle of previous addresses from Obama and Bill Clinton. What I really found interesting about this chart was how far the Republicans moved to the right under Bush. State of the Union addresses are hardly an exact measurement of the ideology of a president, but it is interesting that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush are far closer to the two Democratic presidents compared to George W. Bush. George W. Bush Started out comparable to the previous Republican presidents in his first speech, then moved significantly to the right. Maybe this was the result of 9/11.

If nothing else, I was happy that it wasn’t Mitt Romney giving the speech. I’m imagining Mitt Romney spending the evening going up and down in his car elevator. I couldn’t resist staring with the above picture which captures John Boehner, even if he isn’t orange enough. I did feel that his green tie did clash with his orange face.

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Obama Damage Control On Affordable Care Act

Obama Affordable Care Act

As Barack Obama said, “We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law.” While the problems have been greatly exaggerated and conservatives took advantage of this to further distort the facts, Obama did make some political mistakes and it was important that he respond. The headline is now that the White House to allow insurer to continue canceled health plans. That is the line he needs to help reduce problems caused by previous misleading headlines on Obamacare causing cancellation of plans.

This actually affects very few people. Most people obtain their health insurance outside of the individual market. For those who did purchase insurance on the individual market, plans in effect prior to when the Affordable Care Act passed could still be grandfathered in, but in many cases the insurance companies decided against continuing such plans. For such plans, today’s statement does not really change anything, except that it might put pressure on insurance plans to continue plans they previously decided against continuing. When consumers go beyond the hype (and get past the poorly-working computer system) a tremendous number will find that they can receive more comprehensive coverage at a lower price, especially after the subsidies are considered, and will hopefully decide against taking advantage of this option.

In some cases canceled policies have nothing whatsoever to do with the Affordable Care Act, despite the sensationalist and untrue stories seen on Fox. Insurance companies have left markets every year. Sometimes they would technically remain, but jack up the premiums so high that they would force everyone out (as once happened to me). Some insurance companies would also drop people who became too expensive to cover. A tremendous number of people who have declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses were insured when they first developed a serious medical problem. These are the types of problems that the Affordable Care Act was designed to solve, such as preventing an insurance company from dropping people who developed a serious medical problem. In addition, in past years if an insurance company left a market those with pre-existing medical conditions might not be able to obtain coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act they will be able to purchase insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Insurance plans which were sold prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act could be grandfathered in, independent of any changes made based upon today’s announcement. Plans sold after the Affordable Care Act passed could not be grandfathered in if they did not meet current requirements. In many cases plans sold on the individual market have been terrible plans which were not worth keeping. Many would cover very little, often after high deductibles were met, such as not covering hospitalizations.

It was still a mistake on Obama’s part to ever say that “if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.” This was said in an atmosphere in which conservatives were scaring people into thinking that everyone would be forced to drop their current plan and switch to some sort of government run health plan. In this context, he was correct to point out that people would be remaining in private health plans, but wrong to make such an absolute statement. There were always going to be exceptions. It was inevitable that insurance companies would stop offering old plans, even if they could be grandfathered in, and concentrate on the plans they could continue to sell. There was no way that the government could compel insurance companies to continue to offer every plan currently on the market. In many cases people are better off by the passage of the Affordable Care Act by taking advantage of the opportunity to switch to better plans,  but that is not what Obama said.

While very few people are both  actually having insurance canceled which the insurance companies don’t already have the legal ability to continue and are actually going to have to pay more, this issue has become far more about political posturing. People are hearing the exaggerations and distortions which suggested the issue was far more significant than it was. Headlines have been negative, with stories failing to put the issue in perspective.  Bill Clinton weighed in earlier this week on the need for Obama to fix this, but it is important to note that Clinton also said  “The big lesson is that we’re better off with this law than without it.”

Ezra Klein has summarized the various responses coming from Congress and the President. For Republicans, this is largely about exaggerating the problem and weakening the Affordable Care Act. In reality, Republican schemes to weaken the Affordable Care Act will actually wind up causing more people to be at risk of losing their coverage or having to pay more. Democrats who are running for reelection also see the need to distance themselves from this problem now that it has been totally blown out of proportion. Obama’s credibility has been harmed, even though Republicans claims on health care have been far more dishonest. Making a statement such as what Obama said today might help calm down some of the rhetoric on this issue. It will help even more when the exchanges are working properly and people can more easily compare the coverage which was available before to the coverage now available.

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Some Honesty From A Republican

David Frum has often questioned Republican behavior since leaving the Bush White House. I imagine that is due to a combination of factors including the Republicans moving much further towards the extreme right, and as those not working for someone in office have more freedom to tell the truth. His list of Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Political Parties provides some useful insight into how the saner Republicans think. In some cases he is wrong, such as in not believing we can afford to do what the rest of the world with modern economies can in providing affordable health care for all. At least he concedes that Obamacare is not the calamity they claim:

If the United States has remained a constitutional republic despite a government guarantee of health care for people over 65, it will remain a constitutional republic with a government guarantee of health care for people under 65. Obamacare will cost money the country doesn’t have, and that poses a serious fiscal problem. But it’s not as serious a fiscal problem as is posed by the existing programs, Medicare and Medicaid, which cover the people it costs most to cover. It’s not a problem so serious as to justify panic.

Yet panic has gripped the Republican rank-and-file since 2009—and instead of allaying panic, Republican leaders have aggravated and exploited it, to the point where the leaders are compelled to behave in ways they know to be irrational. In his speech to the “Bull Moose” convention of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt declared, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” It’s a great line, but it’s not a mindset that leads to successful legislative outcomes.

He gave arguments other than racism for Republican hatred of Obama:

Barack Obama was never likely to be popular with the Republican base. It’s not just that he’s black. He’s the first president in 76 years with a foreign parent—and unlike Hulda Hoover, Barack Obama Sr. never even naturalized. While Obama is not the first president to hold two degrees from elite universities—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did as well—his Ivy predecessors at least disguised their education with a down-home style of speech. Join this cultural inheritance to liberal politics, and of course you have a formula for conflict. But effective parties make conflict work for them. Hate leads to rage, and rage makes you stupid. Republicans have convinced themselves both that President Obama is a revolutionary radical hell-bent upon destroying America as we know it and that he’s so feckless and weak-willed that he’ll always yield to pressure. It’s that contradictory, angry assessment that has brought the GOP to a place where it must either abjectly surrender or force a national default. Calmer analysis would have achieved better results.

True, the know-nothings of the far right would oppose any educated president who acts like they are educated. They just can’t stand things like facts as they show that right wing policies make no sense. The right wing base also hates America for our freedoms, desiring to replace our liberal heritage with religious their religious beliefs. There are reasons besides being black that Republicans dislike Obama. This does change the fact that racism is endemic in the conservative movement and being black did lead to immediate and unreasonable opposition to Obama. If conservatives were willing to look at Obama’s actual beliefs, they might never agree with him on some social issues, but they would see that he is relatively conservative on many economic issues and is willing to compromise on quite a bit. Of course Obama may hold the view of  an Eisenhower Republican on many issues, but to the far right Eisenhower was suspected of being a Communist.

The other most important confession from Frum is on the role of the right wing noise machine:

The actor Hugh Grant once bitterly characterized his PR team as “the people I pay to lie to me.” Politicians do not always need to tell the truth, but they always need to hear it. Yet hearing the truth has become harder and harder for Republicans. It takes a very unusual spin artist to remember that what he or she is saying isn’t actually true. Non-politicians say what they believe. Politicians sooner or later arrive at the point where they believe what they say. They have become prisoners of their own artificial reality, with no easy access to the larger truths outside. This entombment in their own artificial reality was revealed to the entire TV-watching world in Karl Rove’s Fox News election night outburst against the Ohio 2012 ballot results. It was the same entombment that blinded Republicans to the most likely outcome of their no-compromise stance on Obamacare—and now again today to the most likely outcome of the government shutdown/debt ceiling fight they started.

The false narrative created by the far right is a dangerous threat to democracy due to the need for an informed electorate. It becomes even more dangerous when conservative politicians believe their own lies.

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