Fox Republican Debate Dominated By The Donald

Fox Debate August 2015

Fox brought in a record 24 million viewers for the first Republican debate on Thursday night , and nobody doubts it was because of Donald Trump. CNN explained what this number means:

For perspective, the first GOP primary debate four years ago, also on Fox, attracted 3.2 million viewers.

The most-watched primary debate that year, broadcast by ABC, reached 7.6 million.

Thursday’s debate audience more than tripled that one.

The audience easily exceeded pretty much everything that’s been on American television this year, from the finale of “The Walking Dead” to the final episode of David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

The debate was bigger than all of this year’s NBA Finals and MLB World Series games, and most of the year’s NFL match-ups.

It also trumped Jon Stewart’s Thursday night’s sign-off from “The Daily Show,” which averaged 3.5 million viewers.

Trump is a known ratings magnet. His reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice” used to reach 20 million viewers a week. But it has slipped over the years, averaging 6 to 8 million viewers for recent seasons.

The debate, as well as most of the talk afterwards, was about Donald Trump. They might as well have named it Presidential Apprentice. By the end, many viewers might have been expecting to go to the boardroom to see who Trump would fire. Hint–it might not have been one of the candidates considering what he has been saying about Megyn Kelley and the other Fox correspondents. Among the most crude:

Trump was the center of attention from the start when the very first question was a show of hands  as to “who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.” Only Donald Trump raised his hand. (Full transcript of the debate can be found here).

Donald Trump did make a great case for campaign finance reform:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.

And do you know what?

When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

QUESTION: So what did you get?

TRUMP: And that’s a broken system.

QUESTION: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.

You know why?

She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.

Trump also restated his opposition to the Iraq war but flip-flopped on his previous support for a single payer system. Trump could have been the best candidate in the room if he hadn’t turned into a Tea Party clown.

There were some other moments when Republican candidates deserved credit. This includes Rand Paul criticizing both his fellow Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton for their policies which on sending more arms to middle east:

I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

This was followed by John Kasich defending taking funds for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare:

First of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.

Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what?

To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life.

Rand Paul made a another good point when he argued with Chris Christie over NSA surveillance:

The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

Beyond this, we primarily learned from the debates that Republicans hate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood.

I am looking forward to seeing Bernie Sanders debate Hillary Clinton on foreign military intervention and suppression of civil liberties. Clinton’s record on these topics does fit well in the GOP mainstream.

I am hesitant to write about winners because we have learned that the winner of a debate is not based upon the debate itself, but the perception of the candidates after people have listened to the talking heads in the days following the debate. This is further complicated with the Republican Party as most of their voters receive their thoughts from Fox. Criticism from the Fox commentators could make Donald Trump look like a loser, but so far he has managed to survive better than the pundits have predicted, and it is not looking like Fox will be successful against him.

From my perspective, which could be quite different from that of Fox, the winners were John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Kasich barely squeaked into the prime time debate, and the two debates did show that Kasich really did deserve to be there more than Rick Perry, who was excluded, possibly by fudging the results of the polls. Kasich and Jeb Bush looked the most stable in the group. Bush already has his position as top contender after Trump, but now Kasich might replace Scott Walker as the leading challenger to Bush and move into the top tier.

I also downgraded Bush for his discussion of his brother’s policies. It wasn’t faulty intelligence which got us in Iraq as he claimed, but his brother twisting the intelligence to justify the war he wanted to start. Jeb! also seemed oblivious to the fact that ISIS and the other problems now occurring in Iraq are due to his brother destabilizing the region. They all seemed oblivious, when talking about the deficit, to the fact that the deficit is a consequence of George W. Bush both fighting the war on credit and cutting taxes on the wealthy.

The other Republican who looked good, if you ignore his actual views, was Marco Rubio. He could make a good candidate in a television-based campaign. The entry of Trump into the race made it hard for candidates like Rubio to get attention, but he did get a shot at being noticed Thursday.

On the other hand, it seemed a battle throughout the evening between Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to be the most bat-shit candidate on stage, which was impressive considering that Donald Trump was on the same stage. I was edging towards awarding this to Huckabee, with lines such as, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” until Cruz gave his closing statement, and clinched the title:

If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start (sic) persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

In contrast, Huckabee went for the laugh as opposed to Cruz’s tirade:

It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.

A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.

So, in conclusion, Trump wins for continuing to totally dominate the discussion, Kasich and Rubio had smaller victories which might improve their position if the race should return to be about the more conventional candidates, and Cruz edged Huckabee for the scariest Republican in the room. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders must really have felt happy seeing this debate and the caliber of candidate they might come up against in the general election.

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Major Gaffes From Clinton and Trump Campaigns; Al Gore To The Rescue?

Members of both parties have good reason to worry about the candidates now leading in the polls. Hillary Clinton, along with other Democratic candidates, appeared in Iowa Friday night. Instead of receiving favorable coverage for what she said, the story out of Iowa is how the Clinton campaign told supporters not to speak to reporters. It is bad enough when Clinton avoids answering questions from the press, but it makes no sense to try to gag supporters. She received criticism for this on MSNBC (video above) with quotes from the coverage in The Weekly Standard:

“Here’s what struck me,” said Susan Page of USA Today, “when I read the coverage in the Des Moines Register this morning. Jennifer Jacobs, who’s been on your show, was covering this last night. Big demonstrations outside of young people for O’Malley and Hillary Clinton. She went up to the Clinton supporters — these are protesters for Clinton — and they were told they were not allowed to [speak to] a reporter.”

Page continued, “Now, why in the world would the campaign tell their own supporters who came out to campaign in favor Hillary Clinton … these are the young people, college kids, for Hillary, and they’ve been told they can’t talk to reporters. Why in the world would you do that?

“This raises some warning flags for Hillary Clinton campaign that is trying to control their supporters.”

Steve Kornacki agreed, saying, “Nothing that those supporters could possibly say to the press than the story of telling them not to talk.”

Clinton’s repeated stumbling on the campaign trail, and concern, over her unethical behavior, have raised concerns among  some Democratic voters that nominating Hillary Clinton will lead to a Republican victory on election day. While Bernie Sanders has been stimulated a remarkable amount of excitement around his campaign, some also have concerns over whether he can beat Clinton for the nomination and win the general election. While Joe Biden’s name comes up the most among those who believe another well-known candidate with gravitas is needed to enter the race, Salon has repeated another name which would be worth considering if he is interested–Al Gore. The story is entitled, It’s time to draft Al Gore: If Democrats want to win, it’s clear neither Hillary nor Sanders is the way. The article gives ten reasons why:

Enter Al Gore: the one person on the left, apart from Clinton and Biden, with the cachet to bridge the establishment and progressive wings of the party. Here are 10 reasons why a Gore candidacy makes sense, both for the Democratic Party and the country.

1. Stature. Gore is a superstar with impeccable qualifications. The GOP will have a hard time marginalizing someone of his caliber and experience. His background speaks for itself: a former Congressman, U.S. Senator, and two-time Vice President. He’s even succeed wildly in the private sector as a businessman — something Republicans can’t help but praise. In short, Gore passes the credibility test by any measure, and that matters in a national election. Hillary Clinton is the only other Democratic candidate who can match Gore on this front.

2. Vulnerability. As the new AP poll shows, Clinton’s unfavorability ratings are rising among Americans overall and among Democratic voters in particular. Indeed, her positive marks have plummeted from 81% to 70% among Democrats since April. Worse, as the AP noted: “Just 39 percent of all Americans have a favorable view of Clinton, compared to nearly half who say they have a negative opinion of her.” Hard to win with numbers like that.

These numbers are consistent with another recent poll, which confirmed that Clinton’s lead over the Democratic field has shrunk considerably over the last several months. Some of this is the result of Clinton fatigue, but it’s also due to the rise of Bernie Sanders. The left wing of the party is flocking to Sanders, in part, because they don’t trust Clinton’s centrist record. Gore, on the other hand, who has become much more outspoken since leaving office, could embrace much of Sanders’ populist platform while also selling himself as a more appealing national candidate. That’s a strong case on his behalf, one many Democrats will find persuasive.

3. Besides Hillary Clinton, no one running as a Democrat is likely to challenge Republicans in a national election. Sanders is a regional candidate at best; he shouldn’t be, but he is, and that’s not changing next year. The other candidates scarcely warrant mentioning: Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee – these guys are political ornaments, running for reasons known only to their friends and families. Gore is a national figure, however. He can rival any GOP candidate in terms of fundraising prowess, party support, organizational acumen, experience, and name recognition. He’s also become something of a rock star post-politics, winning a Nobel, an Oscar, and an Emmy. Gore, in other words, is the perfect package, both politically and professionally.

4. Independents. Gore, justifiably or not, is less polarizing than Clinton, which means he can appeal to independents. Although they’re manufactured scandals, issues like the private emails at the State Department and the Benghazi fiasco will plague Clinton in the general election; Republicans (duplicitously, of course) will use these non-issues to bludgeon her month after month, debate after debate, ad after ad. This is pure nonsense, but it will be a distraction nevertheless. Gore, alternatively, brings less comparable baggage – that makes him a harder target for the GOP.

5. Foreign policy. Hillary Clinton is right about a lot of things, but foreign policy isn’t one of them. After our recent misadventures in the Middle East, this really matters. On all things foreign policy, Clinton has a habit of flopping with the political winds. Her maximalist, borderline neoconservative positions at both the Senate and the State Department are a particularly disturbing example of this. Indeed, she beat the war drums on Iraq, Syria, and Iran at one point. In short, Clinton is a hawk, and most of us have seen enough of that in the last decade or so. Gore’s absence from politics during this period gives him a distinct advantage: he wasn’t complicit in our recent geopolitical blunders. He also opposed the Iraq War, something Hillary and the GOP candidates can’t say.

6. The corruption of the political process by Wall Street is — and should be — a major issue in this election. Everyone knows already how much influence the financial industry has in Washington. Hillary Clinton, to her credit, has talked quite a bit about income inequality and political corruption, but the fact remains: Wall Street loves her. This ought to make Democrats uncomfortable. Gore, admittedly because he hasn’t run for office in years, has not relied on Wall Street for campaign funding — at least not in recent history. If nothing else, this is a mark in Gore’s favor, and another reason for Democrats to get behind his campaign.

7. Climate change. As Ezra Klein argued a few months ago in a column about Gore, “Income inequality is a serious problem…But climate change is an existential threat.” Gore, whatever you think of him, is an unimpeachable authority on climate change. As Klein wrote, “When it comes to climate change, there’s no one in the Democratic Party – or any other political party – with Gore’s combination of credibility and commitment.” Given the president’s unique ability to make a difference on an issue like this, it matters a great deal who wins this election. We can’t say definitively what Hillary Clinton would or would not do about climate change, but we can be fairly certain that Al Gore would do more than any other potential candidate for president.

8. Gore has nothing to lose. Having been out of politics for so long, Gore is liberated in ways no other candidate is. He’s got no recent voting record to scrutinize (read: distort); he’s independently wealthy and well-connected; and his private sector activism has allowed him to take authentic positions on issues that matter to him – and most Democrats. He’s beholden, in other words, to fewer constituencies than anyone else currently running. Perhaps most importantly, because he’s succeeded to such a degree in his post-political life, we’ve every reason to believe he’d feel empowered to take chances and risk failure. Isn’t that the candidate most people want?

9. Vengeance. If we’re stuck with a rerun election (Clinton vs. Bush), most would prefer to see Gore get his vengeance against another Bush. Gore, you may recall, was elected president in 2000 over George W. Bush. For reasons we won’t get into now, that victory was stolen from Gore in Florida, thanks in no small part to Jeb Bush, who was then governor of that state. With Jeb the likely Republican candidate next year, it would be a delightful bit of Karmic justice for him to lose to the man he robbed 16 years prior.

10. Democrats need a spark. Gore may not be new, but his candidacy would feel that way. His political life seems a distant memory at this point, but his activism and business savvy have kept him in the public consciousness. As with most politicians, moreover, the freedom of not having to run for office has done wonders for Gore’s image. His entrance and voice would only enliven the Democratic Party, which is exactly what it needs in an election decided, overwhelmingly, by voter turnout.

While I would like to give Sanders more time to see if he can continue to grow his support, Gore would also make an excellent alternative to Hillary Clinton. I doubt Gore would be interested, but it would also be satisfying to see him beat not only Hillary Clinton, but to beat a Bush should Jeb get the nomination.

The current Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, is far less likely than Clinton to actually win their party’s nomination, and there must be many Republicans who are terrified of the prospect of this front-runner actually winning. The Weekly Standard reports on the latest outrageous statement from Trump (video above):

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump, a Republican running for president, said of McCain. “I like people that weren’t captured. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

This statement is bad enough under any circumstance, but it comes off as even worse considering how Trump received several deferments to avoid serving in Viet Nam. While I don’t fault Trump for avoiding military service in Viet Nam, but to attack someone such as McCain who did serve is totally uncalled for.

Trump also refused to rule out running as a third party candidate. Hopefully he does so, as this would probably guarantee a Democratic victory.

You might not read about such gaffes from Trump in the future in the political section of The Huffington Post.

After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won’t report on Trump’s campaign as part of The Huffington Post’s political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

While they have a point, I cannot agree with this decision. Donald Trump, like it or not, is a major part of this campaign at the moment. If he was polling under five percent, then maybe this could be justified, but he is now leading the Republican field in the polls. As repugnant as his platform is, there unfortunately is a following for Trump’s brand of racism and xenophobia among the Republican base. It is a real part of this campaign.

Update: No apology from Donald Trump, leading to predictions that Trump is toast. That is fine, but why not even earlier? Apparently among many conservative politicians and media outlets, racist and xenophobic statements are not a campaign-killer.

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Forget The Benghazi Nonsense–Clinton Finally Facing More Questions On Her Real Mistakes In Libya

Clinton Email

Republicans often turn out to inadvertently be Hillary Clinton’s best friend. They are never satisfied with criticizing Clinton’s real faults, and instead feel compelled to fabricate what sounds like far more serious crimes. Thus criticism of Clinton’s actual policy mistakes in Libya as Secretary of State have been largely ignored because Republicans think find that they can raise more money by attacking Clinton over conspiracy theories leading to the deaths in Benghazi.

Clinton’s push for intervention in Libya has often been criticized by Rand Paul, but he has too many problems with credibility. There has been some criticism from the anti-war left. The Nation recently ran a story critical of both Clinton’s rational for intervening and overthrowing Gaddafi and for her the execution. There is a sign that the issue might be entering more mainstream conversation with CNN reporting on the issue:

She’s already grappling with the political headaches from deleted emails and from the terror attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi.

But she’ll face a broader challenge in what’s become of the North African country since, as secretary of state in 2011, she was the public face of the U.S. intervention to push out its longtime strongman, Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya’s lapse into the chaos of failed statehood has provided a breeding ground for terror and a haven for groups such as ISIS. Its plight is also creating an opening for Republican presidential candidates to question Clinton’s strategic acumen and to undermine her diplomatic credentials, which will be at the center of her pitch that only she has the global experience needed to be president in a turbulent time.

One person who is thinking of joining the Democratic primary battle does have a record of criticizing Clinton on this issue:

Democrats voice concern on Libya

Concern over what has become of Libya is not confined to the Republican Party.

Possible Democratic challenger Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator, complained in a recent appearance with CNN’s Jake Tapper that: “We blew the lid off of a series of tribal engagements. You can’t get to the Tripoli Airport right now, much less Benghazi.”

Though Webb did not criticize Clinton directly, his comments raise the possibility that the issue could surface in the Democratic primary race.

So Clinton must be ready to explain why she backed a military operation in a region laced with extremism without effective planning for the aftermath. It’s the kind of question that has long challenged Republicans in the wake of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Clinton’s campaign declined to comment for this story, so it is unclear whether what happened in Libya after Gadhafi fell has changed her thinking on military intervention.

It has been typical Clinton to refuse to answer questions from the press on controversial topics, making it difficult to take Clinton’s liberal rhetoric on limited issues seriously. This, along with other advocacy of military force as Secretary of State, suggests she has not changed her thinking sufficiently since when she pushed for war in Iraq based upon nonexistent claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Clinton’s recommendations for Libya were often a repeat of the mistakes made in Iraq.

The article further discussed how things have gone wrong in Libya, and Clinton’s role in pushing for intervention:

Clinton has little choice but to own what happened in Libya. An email to Clinton in April 2012 from her former top adviser Jake Sullivan, released last month, appears to show that initially her aides were keen to trumpet her role in the intervention and saw it as legacy-enhancing.

Clinton ‘a critical voice on Libya’

“HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings — as well as the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya. She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime,” Sullivan wrote.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also describes her pivotal role in the decision making in his memoir.

Gates said the intervention, which he initially opposed, split the administration down the middle, with heavy hitters such as Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser Tom Donilon also against.

On the other side were U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Council staffers including Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power.

If Joe Biden decides to enter the race, foreign policy could receive greater consideration. This was typical of the first four years of the Obama administration, with Biden opposing Clinton on foreign policy. Bernie Sanders has also had reservations over this intervention in Libya while Lincoln Chafee has made criticism of Clinton’s support for the Iraq war a key issue in his campaign.

Clinton’s failed policies in Libya might also tie into the email and Clinton Foundation scandals since it was revealed that she was receiving advice on Libya from Sydney Blumenthal, who was both receiving $10,000 per month from the Foundation and was involved with Libyan companies, suggesting further conflicts of interest. The bigger issue is Clinton’s history of both poor decisions and hawkish views on foreign policy, which risk getting the country involved in further needless wars should she be elected.

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Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, And Clinton’s Cultural Conservatism

Clinton Marijuana

Following recent posts about Lincoln Chafee talking about running for the Democratic nomination I began looking to see if there are any other issues where the two have major differences besides Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. I was pleased to see that back in 2011 Chaffee called for a reclassification of medical marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substances, which puts states which have legalized medical marijuana at odds with federal laws.

Three years later, Martin O’Malley took this a step even further, signing a bill decriminalizing marijuana, while opposing outright legalization. Hillary Clinton, as would be expected from her overall cultural conservatism, has lagged behind the country, and the Democratic Party, on both legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana.

On a related issue, Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, while certainly not a major issue, was also an early issue in the 2008 nomination battle which differentiated the political philosophies of Clinton from the more liberal Barack Obama. Martin O’Malley, who is also moving well to the left on economic issues, signed a bill allowing needle exchange in Maryland. Clinton and Obama also differed in 2008 on reforming sentencing for violation of drug laws. While Obama’s record on the drug war has certainly been mixed, I would hate to see a move further to the right under Clinton.

Clinton’s cultural conservatism and promotion of conservative causes has often been traced to her membership in The Fellowship while in the Senate. From Mother Jones in 2007:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection…

That’s how it works: The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward…These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right…

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

As noted in the above excerpt, Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony. Her social conservatism is also seen in her weak record on abortion rights, such as supporting parental notification laws and stigmatizing women who have abortions with the manner in which she calls for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

(Links to additional material added on April 19)

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Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

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Obama White House & Top Freedom Of Information Official Worried About “The Clinton Way”

Time The Clinton Way

Hillary Clinton’s response to reports that she has violated the Federal Records Act at her recent press conference have been throughly debunked by media fact-checkers. The Canadian Press has also discussed this with Daniel Metcalf. He is described as, “The senior-most freedom-of-information official in the executive branch of the United States government for over a quarter-century, whose job it was to help four administrations — including the Clinton White House — interpret the Freedom of Information Act, offer advice, and testify before Congress on their behalf.”

Daniel Metcalfe doesn’t buy her explanation. In fact, he calls it laughable.

“What she did was contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law,” says Metcalfe, the founding director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy, which advised the rest of the administration on how to comply with the law. Metcalfe ran the office from 1981 to 2007.

“There is no doubt that the scheme she established was a blatant circumvention of the Freedom of Information Act, atop the Federal Records Act.”

Metcalfe says he doesn’t have any partisan axe to grind. He’s a registered Democrat, though steadfastly non-partisan. He says he was embarrassed to work for George W. Bush and his attorney general, and left government for American University, where he now teaches government information law and policy…

Metcalfe examined a transcript of her press conference, provided by The Canadian Press.

And he dissected it Wednesday, point by point, annotating it in 23 places where he called her statements “deceptive,” “grossly misleading” and impossible to verify.

His overall conclusion from her public appearance: “Her suggestion that government employees can unilaterally determine which of their records are personal and which are official, even in the face of a FOIA request, is laughable.”

Time calls this The Clinton Way in an upcoming cover story with a subtitle, “They write their own rules. Will it work this time?” Some excerpts, trying to limit to current news and leave out the past history discussed in the full article:

The Clintons play by their own set of rules. And in this case, the former Secretary of State explained, those rules bless her decision to erase some 30,000 emails from the family server despite knowing that the emails had become a subject of intense interest to congressional investigators. These were merely “private personal emails,” Clinton averred, “emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.” After she finished taking questions, Clinton’s staff disclosed that no one actually read through those 30,000-odd documents before she “chose not to keep” them…

Still, Clinton’s failure to defuse the email issue, along with a growing list of questions about the family’s relentless fundraising and her husband’s choice of companions, has revived hopes among erstwhile rivals in the Democratic Party that the Hillary dreadnought might actually be sinkable. Backbiting inside the Clinton campaign–a hallmark of her failed 2008 presidential effort–has begun to leak into the political press. Republicans who were morose over their presidential chances mere months ago have a spring in their step…

In her press conference, Hillary Clinton described the private email account on the server inside their New York home as a matter of convenience only. “I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” she said. “Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.”

That explanation was not exactly robust. The Q&A had hardly ended before Clinton’s critics unearthed an interview Hillary had given a few weeks earlier with Re/code co-founder Kara Swisher. “I have an iPad, a mini iPad, an iPhone and a BlackBerry,” Clinton said. So much for simplicity. Others remarked on a matter of timing: Clinton did not carry out her business on an existing personal email account. She specifically set up a new private address–hdr22@clintonemail.com–instead of using a government account. This happened on the very day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its first hearing on her nomination as Secretary of State.

As for why this might “seem like an issue,” the answer is not complicated. All federal employees have a legal obligation to preserve their work-related email–and the White House advises appointees to accomplish this by using official government addresses. Email sent to and from .gov accounts is generally archived. In this way, a consistent level of security is maintained. The nation’s history is preserved. Open-records laws are honored. And transparency gets a leg up on “Trust me.”

All this once made sense to Clinton. As a candidate for President in 2008, she included “secret White House email accounts” as part of her critique of the Bush Administration’s “stunning record of secrecy and corruption.” Now, however, Clinton is leaning heavily on “Trust me.” For more than a year after she left office in 2013, she did not transfer work-related email from her private account to the State Department. She commissioned a review of the 62,320 messages in her account only after the department–spurred by the congressional investigation–asked her to do so. And this review did not involve opening and reading each email; instead, Clinton’s lawyers created a list of names and keywords related to her work and searched for those. Slightly more than half the total cache–31,830 emails–did not contain any of the search terms, according to Clinton’s staff, so they were deemed to be “private, personal records.”

This strikes experts as a haphazard way of analyzing documents. Jason R. Baron, a former lawyer at the National Archives and Records Administration who is now an attorney in the Washington office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, says, “I would question why lawyers for Secretary Clinton would use keyword searching, a method known to be fraught with limitations, to determine which of the emails with a non-.gov address pertained to government business. Any and all State Department activities–not just communications involving the keywords Benghazi or Libya–would potentially make an email a federal record. Given the high stakes involved, I would have imagined staff could have simply conducted a manual review of every document. Using keywords as a shortcut unfortunately leaves the process open to being second-guessed.”

Politico reports that the White House frets return of ‘Clinton Way’

They thought she’d changed. They thought maybe she’d picked up a little bit from them about how people respond to awkward secret arrangements and contrived ways of not telling the full story.

This has been a surprising two weeks for aides in President Barack Obama’s orbit as they’ve watched Hillary Clinton’s email mess unfold…

With so much on the line, with so much time to prepare, she’s back to classic Clinton? She’s flubbing a campaign kickoff eight years in the making because she somehow thought that no one would ever care that she set up a secret email server? That anyone would then accept her word that it was OK that she deleted 30,000 emails even though the State Department had been asking for some of them? And then go silent again?

After all, 2008’s “Change you can believe in” campaign slogan wasn’t just a reference to George W. Bush. It was also about her, and the uneasy feeling many people had that with Clinton, something else was always going on.

Obama aides had had that feeling themselves, even after she joined the administration and their staffs tried following Obama’s and Clinton’s leads in building mutual trust, almost to the point of suspension of disbelief.

“You never feel like you’re quite getting the full story, because everyone’s got some side deal or some complicating factor,” said one former Obama aide, reflecting on dealing with Clinton and her circle. “I don’t think there was a conscious effort to watch out for scams. It was more just, you know who you’re dealing with.”

Obama put the priority on keeping clear records when he issued guidelines about using official email accounts, one White House aide noted after Clinton’s news conference, while obviously the former secretary of state determined her priority was something else…

A lot of this has to do with what Obama aides refer to as a culture clash. The Clintons look for loopholes, they say, while Obama takes a special pride, particularly on transparency issues, in sticking to the letter of the law: a combination of cockiness that he’s right, so why not let everyone see how he got there, as well as a background awareness that any scandal would be a scandal for the first African-American president.

“The president has been willing to say and implement provocative policies to shake up Washington,” said one current White House aide. “Willingness to send those signals is a good way to make clear to people that this is the way we’re going to do business: differently.”

…What’s confusing to them is how she didn’t acknowledge that herself, or care. They don’t like to admit it around the West Wing, but as a former first lady and Obama’s main opponent in 2008, Clinton did get more latitude than other Cabinet secretaries in all sorts of decisions, from staffing on down. They’re just hoping that this email server — “the president 100 percent would not have done it this way,” the former aide said, “this is such a clearly nontransparent way of going about it” — is the extent of the latitude she took that they didn’t know about.

Then again, the White House didn’t know she deleted 30,000 emails until they watched her announce it at her news conference on Tuesday. And aides acknowledge that they don’t know how much more they don’t know.

It is a legitimate fear that “the extent of the latitude she took” when Secretary of State exceeds what we know about. My bigger fear is the latitude she would take as president.

Frank Rich compared this to an episode of Veep in which the vice-president announced plans to release her correspondence, and points out that Clinton’s explanation “didn’t pass the smell test.”

That it took Clinton as long as it did to respond to the rising chorus of these questions, and that she did so as defensively and unconvincingly as she did, is yet more evidence that she’s not ready for the brutality of a presidential campaign. This hastily called, abruptly truncated press conference was reminiscent of the mistakes she made last year in her ill-fated book tour. She didn’t schedule yesterday’s appearance until after the most senior of Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein, essentially demanded that she speak up.

Some of what Clinton said didn’t pass the smell test. It reminded me of an episode in the first season of Veep where the vice-president announces she will release all her internal office correspondence to quell a controversy and then instructs her staff to make sure it’s “Modified Full Disclosure Lite.” That’s what we got here. Why, for instance, would Clinton say that she “didn’t see any reason to keep” her personal emails? Those are precisely the emails that every American keeps.

If she doesn’t become more forthright and less defensive when she’s under fire, this is going to be a very long campaign for her. Though we keep being told that she and those around her are determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2008, so far there’s no evidence of that. And the much tougher questions — starting with those about the donors to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation — are yet to come.

While a growing number of Democrats are starting to worry about her ability to run a presidential campaign, she maintains the front runner due to lack of serious opposition. For example, Dana Milbank writes that Hillary Clinton has little to fear from Martin O’Malley. I don’t think that the speculation on Al Gore entering the race, which I discussed yesterday, is very likely.

I agree with Jonathan Bernstein, who debunks the claim that the Democrats have no bench. The problem is that so far Hillary Clinton has taken all of the air out of the Democratic nomination battle. If we had an open and competitive primary, more people might run, and some would ultimately look like viable presidential candidates. We would be in a situation comparable to 1992 when several candidates ran until one (in that case Bill Clinton) emerged. A candidate who is victorious in such a primary battle will be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Democrats do not need to settle for a candidate as flawed by Hillary Clinton due to thinking she is the only choice. Nominating someone lacking so lacking in judgment and ethical character as Hillary Clinton will greatly increase the risk of a Republican being elected president in 2016.

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Jeb Bush Not As Transparent As He Claims

The revelations this week regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of private email (discussed here, here, and here) added to questions about her secrecy, opposition to transparency in government, and her character. Her actions also look remarkably foolish for a major candidate, especially considering how she had previously criticized Republicans in the Bush administration for the same actions. Her actions, and her poor response to the situation, have also reinforced concerns among some Democrats that Clinton is not a very good campaigner.

Initially it appeared that Jeb Bush had out-maneuvered her by recently releasing email from when he was Governor of Florida. Now CNN is reporting that Bush is exaggerating the transparency of his administration:

Bush has released hundreds of thousands of emails from the personal account he used during his eight years as governor in the name of transparency — and after public records requests for those emails. A Bush aide told NBC News that a number of his staffers and his general counsel’s office decided which emails to release.

But a CNN review of those emails turned up evidence a number of his official aides and family members also had email addresses housed at Jeb.org — and used them to conduct both official and political business — raising questions about how transparent that email dump ultimately was.

Of course Bush isn’t the only potential Republican candidate with email problems. Chris Christie’s administration had similar problems. Perhaps that is why Hillary Clinton thinks she can get away with primarily keeping quite about the whole thing.

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Quote of the Day: Conan on Jeb Bush

Conan Photo

“Yesterday during a speech on national security, Jeb Bush mispronounced Boko Haram and got confused between Iran and Iraq. When reached for comment, his brother George W. said, ‘He sure sounds presidentiary to me.'” –Conan O’Brien

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

Clinton Email

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

As The Guardian summarized the significance of the news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Hillary Clinton On Private Email 2007 And 2015

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Did Hillary Clinton Learn Anything During All Her Years In Politics?

The report in The New York Times that Hillary Clinton used a private email account while Secretary of State, possibly violating the law, has me wondering whether Hillary Clinton has learned anything during her years in public life. There is no doubt that the majority of attacks on Clinton from the right are bogus. To a certain degree these attacks even give her some protection among thinking people who have seen right wing attacks and conspiracy theories, such as those over Benghazi, constantly being debunked. However this does not mean that there are not people beyond the Fox sheep, including myself, who still have concerns regarding the judgement and integrity of Hillary Clinton. This only increases such concerns, along with concerns about secrecy and lack of transparency on the part of the Clintons.

Hillary Clinton followed the same procedures as Colin Powell before her, and many other politicians, such as Chris Christie and Sarah Palin, have had problems with using private email accounts. In contrast, John Kerry and Barack Obama use secure government email systems. Clinton’s actions look worse in historical context, following the scandals and reckless disregard for transparency during the Bush administration, just before she became Secretary of State. It is also reasonable to hold a Secretary of State, with aspirations to become president, to a higher standard than a corrupt Governor of New Jersey and the incompetent half-term former governor of Alaska. We have low expectations of people such as Christie and Palin, but should expect more of a potential Democratic candidate for president.

Hillary Clinton, if she has any real awareness of her public reputation, should have been aware of how this would have looked. Beyond the legal and security issues this raises, there is the simple question of whether she should have known better, even if no evidence of actual dishonesty is uncovered. Democrats should also have learned something about Clinton in light of her conduct during her 2008 campaign. In retrospect. Jeb Bush now looks far smarter for having released his email, despite the embarrassment of including some private information on constituents which should have been redacted.

Update: Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016. Plus response to the initial reports, and concerns over national security and use of private email to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests.

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