More Responses To Hillary Clinton’s Candidacy

Clinton Announcement Video Screen Grab

Here is more commentary on Hillary Clinton’s entry into the race for the Democratic nomination since my post on this yesterday. First a couple of opinions in American publications:

Ruth Marcus called the video announcing her campaign insultingly vapid, but is otherwise kinder to the idea of a Clinton candidacy:

For one, the video was relentlessly, insultingly vapid — a Verizon commercial without the substance. “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” Clinton said in what passed for a meaty message. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”

Seriously, this makes Ronald Reagan’s gauzy “It’s Morning Again in America” commercial look like a Brookings Institution seminar on economic policy. Understood — an announcement video isn’t the moment for a detailed policy platform, but it is, or should be, a venue for at least nodding to specific goals…

Adding insult to vacuousness was the demographic box-checking nature of the video, however beautifully filmed. Working mom, check. Hispanic entrepreneur, check. Retiring grandma, check. Gay couple, check. African-American family, check. Hardworking small-businessman, check. South Asian, inter-racial, lesbian, check, check, check. If your demographic was not featured, you should write the campaign and it will probably splice you in.

Conor Friedersdorf was even harder on her at The Atlantic:

Adding insult to vacuousness was the demographic box-checking nature of the video, however beautifully filmed. Working mom, check. Hispanic entrepreneur, check. Retiring grandma, check. Gay couple, check. African-American family, check. Hardworking small-businessman, check. South Asian, inter-racial, lesbian, check, check, check. If your demographic was not featured, you should write the campaign and it will probably splice you in…

As I’ve noted with regard to other candidates, an official campaign announcement is only a beginning. Hillary will likely give voters a lot more substance. At the same time, her cozy ties to Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, the enormous wealth of her family, the donors on whom she will rely to fund her campaign, and the Clinton Foundation’s ties to the global moneyed elite make it unlikely that she’ll ever reshuffle a deck stacked to favor those at the top. Absent specific, credible proposals, the rational voter should ignore that pledge. Thus the launch video’s most glaring flaw: When the candidate finally addressed a single matter of substance, she did so in a way that wasn’t yet believable.

Here is an interesting commentary on the race from a Polish author Mariusz Zawadzki  (found via The Moderate Voice):

“The presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families!,” former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said recently. He meant, of course, the Bushes and the Clintons who, as seems a really possibility, have governed and will govern the United States from the year 1989 until 2025, excluding an eight-year interruption by Barack Obama.

On Sunday that dark scenario moved a bit closer when Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, officially announced her candidacy in 2016 presidential election. In her steps will soon follow Jeb Bush, brother and son of two former Republican presidents.

O’Malley, though far from objective as he himself is considering becoming a candidate, is undoubtedly correct for many reasons. In recent years much has been said about the growing inequality of the American economy, and how a child from a poor family has less of a chance at social advancement. America increasingly belongs to the millionaires and billionaires. A quasi-feudal system has formed in which the fate of a man and his future position in life are determined at birth. A Bush-Clinton relay would confirm that this unhealthy process is occurring not only in finance but politics as well.

To my surprise, Americans, at least those supporting the Democrats, don’t seem to mind. It would be quite a sensation if someone else won the party nomination (things look completely different on the Republican side, where Bush will have a much harder path, with his most dangerous rival apparently Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker)…

She claims to be a spokesperson for women’s rights, but, as investigated by the right-wing portal Washington Free Beacon, during her tenure as a senator the women in her office were paid 72 percent of men in equivalent positions! That’s far worse than the Washington average (in the U.S. capitol, women earn approximately 90 percent of men in the same positions)…

Her biggest drawback, and again this is my personal opinion – is not even the fact that she is privileged, but that she considers herself to be. Certain rules that apply to “ordinary people” do not apply because her name is Hillary Clinton.

A perfect example is the so called e-mail scandal that broke a few weeks ago. It turned out that when Hillary was secretary of state she used her personal e-mail account. All correspondence was saved on a server that the Clintons had installed in their home in New York. Last year she forwarded to governmental archives thousands of “business” e-mails, but she deleted 30,000 “private” ones – and she was the one who decided which were which.

Republicans raised a fuss, suggesting Hillary was hiding something. Jeb Bush brags that he had a business e-mail account and that its contents were revealed on his Web site. Yet that isn’t the root of the matter! After all, Bush had a private account in addition to a business account, and if he wanted to conceal his business matters he could have kept such correspondence in his private account – and he probably did as all politicians do.

The point is that internal State Department procedures prohibit the use of private e-mail accounts for business matters. In 2011, when Mrs. Clinton was head of the Department, all employees were given a reminder of that ban. Apparently because she feels privileged, Hillary Clinton concluded that the ban didn’t apply to her…

This all plays into the Republican strategy to portray Clinton as an out-of-touch plutocrat like Mitt Romney. It will be strange to see the Republicans running against the top one percent.

The problem is not so much that candidates are members of a family with previous presidents but the two particular families involved. The family business for each has become seeking power and influence peddling. Both the activities of the Bush family and Clinton Foundation create similar concerns.

On the one hand this could raise the question of whether keeping the presidency in a single family invites such abuses, but on the other hand it is also possible to have political families who do not engage in the practices of the Bush and Clinton families.

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

Rand Paul Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clinton’s Electability Now Being Questioned

Projected 2016 electoral map

While it is far too early to make many meaningful predictions about the 2016 election, there is one safe bet–the media will concentrate on the horse race, as opposed to the issues, even at this early state. Eric Ham argues at The Hill that Jeb Bush as the edge in the electoral college over Clinton. David Atkins disagrees at The Political Animal blog, arguing that even if the Republican candidate picks up Florida and Ohio (map above) this still leaves them two votes short of victory. Adam C. Smith, the political editor of The Tampa Bay Times, argues that Florida is not a lock for either Bush or Rubio:

Part of what makes Florida such a challenging state politically is its fast-changing and ever-growing nature. Statewide candidates must constantly introduce themselves. Bush, for instance, won his two gubernatorial races by huge margins — nearly 11 percentage points in 1998 and 13 points in 2002 — but Florida is vastly different now.

The Florida Democratic Party still has the voter files from those Bush elections and can pinpoint which voters are still around and which aren’t. Only 28 percent of currently active Florida voters participated in either of Bush’s past two elections and only 13 percent of today’s registered voters are Republicans who voted in those 2002 or 1998 gubernatorial races.

“There has been so much growth in Florida, that 13 years since his name was last on the ballot, only around 18 percent of registered voters in Florida ever could have voted for Jeb,” Joshua Karp of the Florida Democratic party extrapolated.

Nor have Bush or Rubio ever run in a presidential election year, when Democratic turnout is far higher than in off-year elections.

Barack Obama narrowly won Florida in 2008 and in 2012 after mounting the largest and best-funded campaigns ever seen in the state. That Obama barely eked out a win against Mitt Romney, who had antagonized many Hispanic voters with his clumsy talk of self-deportation, might suggest Bush or Rubio at the top of the ticket would all but ensure Florida’s 29 electoral votes for the GOP.

“Nothing in life is a lock. But Jeb Bush beats Hillary Clinton in Florida hands down. I don’t care what the polls say today,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, suggesting Rubio would be formidable, too, but has less broad appeal.

What the polls say today is that Clinton vs. Bush is a toss-up. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Clinton leading 45 percent to 42 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey released last week found Clinton leading 47 percent to 44 percent. She led Rubio by 2 percentage points in both polls.

The problem for the Democrats is that beyond inevitability Clinton has little else going for her, and like in 2008 once her inevitability becomes questioned there is the risk of her campaign self-destructing. If nothing else, this is making Republicans such as Joe Scarborough more optimistic:

 I think she has a glass jaw, and I’ll be really blunt. I don’t think she’s going to be the next president of the United States. Everybody acts like she’s inevitable. But I know a lot of people very close to Hillary Clinton that are very worried right now that she has what it takes to win a general election. They think she’s going to win a primary, the Democratic primary, but they’re very worried. And think about it, Hugh. Everybody’s been talking for four years about how the Democrats are stacked against the Republican Party, there’s no way we’re going to win nationally again. All we need is somebody to win all the states Mitt Romney won, which is a pretty low bar for the Republican Party. And then you win Florida, Virginia and Ohio, which I think any of these major candidates can beat Hillary, and then you just have to pick up four electoral votes. And there are about ten states that Republicans can win there. I’m actually feeling very bullish on 2016 right now if we nominate the right guy or woman.

Jeffry Frank discusses the key fact of the Democratic race so far at The New Yorker–Clinton is essentially running alone:

Democrats, meanwhile, seem ready to cede the whole thing to Clinton, who, for all her experience and intelligence, may be a less-than-ideal candidate. Even her e-mail problems, which polls at first suggested could be shrugged off, aren’t going away. It didn’t help when her lawyer, David Kendall, in response to a subpoena from a congressional committee looking into the 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, told the Times, “There are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized.” That her personal e-mail server has been wiped clean of any records from her years at the State Department erases the chance of anyone ever making an independent study of their contents and is bound to encourage the suspicion that there was something worth hiding. The investigation community is like a perpetual scandal-seeking machine, quick to seize on any hint of inconsistency, and both Clintons, understandably, are weary of being pursued by those who don’t wish them well. But the public may be getting weary of seeing the words “Clinton” and “lawyers” juxtaposed yet again with any sort of frequency, which could explain her slippage in the polls in three battleground states.

Not long ago, Ryan Lizza wrote about Clinton’s aura of inevitability and the historic failure of most challenges to strong front-runners. At this point, though, any insurgencies are more notional than real. Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, has been gently critical of her as he shyly contemplates getting into the race. The former Virginia Senator James Webb, who began exploring a run last November, is still hinting that he intends to run. But when you look for signs of the Webb campaign, which promised a fresh view of income inequality, military commitments abroad, and the terrible waste of lives—mainly black lives—caused by mass incarceration, what you’re likely to find is the status of the James Webb space telescope, which will replace the Hubble. (That Webb ran NASA in the years of the Apollo program.) Clinton, meanwhile, has not exactly announced her intentions, but her campaign, without coyness, has reportedly leased two floors of office space in Brooklyn Heights, and that, as Politico notes, may be regarded by the Federal Election Commission as the beginning of a campaign.

Four years ago, Democrats were amused by the Republicans battling through the primaries, and by debates that even Republicans considered a “clown show.” This year, Republicans may be cheered by the absence of battle on the other side, by the sight of a major political party diminished by timidity and the uncertain candidacy of a single contender.

We are still months away from the first primary. Clinton has not even announced her candidacy yet but, now that she has signed the lease on election offices in Brooklyn, campaign finance laws require  her to announce, or at least open an exploratory committee, in the next two weeks. Democrats should be concerned about the major errors she has committed during her book tour and in response to the revelations about her email, and her fall in the polls,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush scrapes past Clinton with a three-point lead, still within the margin of error, in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. Clinton had a one-point edge in the Florida dead heat Quinnipiac reported in early February.

The last two months have also erased Clinton’s previously double-digit lead over every other potential GOP contender for the presidency in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, is now the man to beat in Ohio after he narrowed his margin against Clinton to just a five-point deficit, according to Tuesday’s poll. Paul, who is expected to announce his bid for the presidency next week, trailed Clinton by 12 points in Quinnipiac’s early February poll.

Every potential 2016 Republican contender included in the February survey has since gained on Clinton in Ohio — even if by just two points, like in Bush’s case.

Paul is also winning over Pennsylvanians, trimming his 9-point deficit to a virtual tie, landing 45% of support to Clinton’s 44% in the state.

Clinton remains a strong favorite — especially so early on — against virtually every other potential Republican contender for president in the three battleground states.

But it’s clear Clinton’s email scandal — first that she exclusively used private email housed on a private server as secretary of state, and then that she deleted all the emails on that server — has leveled a hit to Clinton’s public image and trustworthiness, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

About half of voters in all three states say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy — by a 5-to-4 margin in Florida and Pennsylvania, with a closer split in Pennsylvania.

And Clinton’s favorability rating has also slipped in Florida — to 49% from 53% — and Pennsylvania — now at 48% from 55% — though she still gets more favorable reviews than all of her would-be Republican opponents, except for Bush and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio in that state.

Despite denials over the significance of the email scandal by Clinton supporters , the poll found that, “Clinton has provided satisfactory answers on the e-mail issue, 38 percent of voters say, while 55 percent say serious questions remain.” This is also the sort of matter which most people are not currently paying attention to at this stage,  and could be much more harmful in 2016. Despite the attempts of Clinton supporters to claim this is a trivial matter, this is actually an important matter which gets to the heart of Obama’s efforts to improve transparency in government in response to the abuses during the Bush years. With so much communication now being by email rather than written memos, it is also important to the historical record that these records be maintained. Hillary Clinton’s integrity is tarnished by her failure to follow the rules placed in effect in 2009, her false claims at her press conference of following the rules, and her debunked claims of having failed to use government servers in order to avoid needing to carry two email devices, even though she actually did use two different devices. Clinton’s attacks on Republicans for shredding the Constitution when they used a server from the Republican National Committee, and the citing of use of personal email as one reason for the firing of an ambassador under her, strengthen the view that the Clintons believe that the rules do not apply to them. How many voters are really going to believe that Clinton was not hiding something after she not only violated the rules but wiped the servers?

While many Democrats have been willing to back Clinton, despite being out of step with liberals on the issues, because of the feeling she had the best chance to win. Now that she is looking like a weaker candidate there has been increased discussion of the possibility of other candidates taking on Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but so far there has been little action by other Democrats. Martin O’Malley is currently the only one making serious moves towards a candidacy. While the Clintonistas have begun their inevitable campaign against  him, he is starting to get favorable coverage. Some Clinton supporters deny how Clinton is to the right of O’Malley and most other Democrats, using flawed rating systems which do not mean very much when most Senate votes are along party lines. (Republicans used such bogus arguments to claim in 2004 and 2008 that John Kerry and Barack Obama were the most liberal Democrats.) Clintonistas have an even more difficult task when pitting O’Malley against Clinton based upon competence. A. H. Goodman argues at The Huffington Post that O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren, along with other possible Democratic candidates, can beat the Republicans. In Iowa, which has not been a strong state for the Clintons, some are seeing O’Malley as the nation’s new JFK.

Joe Biden has the advantage over other potential challengers in terms of name recognition against other potential candidate, but  has made only very preliminary moves. While he has not taken any actions towards organizing a campaign, a Draft Joe Biden site has started. If Biden plans to run I think he bypassed an opportunity this week. Biden was often the voice of reason, in contrast to Clinton’s hawkishness, in the first four years of the Obama administration. If he was interested in taking on Clinton, I would think he should have reminded voters of Clinton’s opposition to Obama’s desire to engage in diplomacy with Iran. This issue might still come up, being yet another example of how long it often takes for Clinton to learn from her mistakes.

With many months to go before the first primary, there remains hope that other candidates will emerge once it no longer looks like resistance to Clinton is futile. Sources from Salon to The Christian Science Monitor have offered suggestions as to alternate candidates for the Democratic nomination.

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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Jeb Bush Was A Romney-Type Bully In School–Why It Might Still Matter

The Boston Globe looked at Jeb Bush’s school days, finding he abused drugs like his brother and was a bully like the last Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Resolutely apolitical despite his lineage, he refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club and often declined even to participate in informal bull sessions with classmates. In a tumultuous season in American life, he seemed to his peers strangely detached and indifferent.

“He was just in a bit of a different world,” said Phil Sylvester, who said he was a Bush roommate. While other students “were constantly arguing about politics and particularly Vietnam, he just wasn’t interested, he didn’t participate, he didn’t care.”

Meanwhile, his grades were so poor that he was in danger of being expelled, which would have been a huge embarrassment to his father, a member of Congress and of the school’s board of trustees.

Bush, in an interview for this story, recalled it as one of the most difficult times of his life, while acknowledging that he made it harder by initially breaking a series of rules.

“I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said, both of which could have led to expulsion. “It was pretty common.” He said he had no recollection of bullying and said he was surprised to be perceived that way by some…

One of those who did get to know Bush in these early days was Peter Tibbetts. The connection, he said, was pot. The first time Tibbetts smoked marijuana, he said, was with Bush and a few other classmates in the woods near Pemberton Cottage. Then, a few weeks later, Tibbetts said he smoked hashish — a cannabis product typically stronger than pot — in Jeb’s dormitory room…

Tibbetts, who was eventually forced to leave Andover in the spring of 1970 after school officials accused him of using drugs, said his one regret about his relationship with Bush is that he agreed to participate with him in the bullying of a student in the dormitory. Their target was a short classmate whom they taunted, and then sewed his pajama bottoms so that they were impossible to put on. The act was particularly embarrassing, said Tibbetts, who said he felt remorse for joining in with “kids being cruel.”

James Joyner has a point in questioning the meaning of such stories from long ago:

 …Bush turns 62 in a few days. He’s spent almost the entirety of his adult life in the public eye, including eight years as governor of one of our largest states. Surely, that’s a better frame of reference on his character and suitability for the presidency than whatever he did or didn’t do as a young teenager away from home for the first time?

However character does matter, and behavior at an early age might be relevant to predicting later behavior. Mitt Romney did turn out to be a dishonest, unethical adult who was morally unfit to be president. Perhaps the early stories of his bullying were predictive of his character.

Jeb Bush’s career in public life also does raise some questions about character. While not the same situation as the bullying described by The Boston Globe, Politico also has a story this weekend which includes questions regarding Bush’s character:

Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

 For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

 Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”

“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”

The last line describes Bush as being the opposite of Mitt Romney, but equally wrong. Mitt Romney showed in public life that he had no principles, willing to say or do anything which would help him politically. He changed positions whenever expedient, and lied so frequently in his presidential campaign that he made Richard Nixon look almost like a saint in comparison. Examples of Mitt’s legendary mendacity can be found here and here. Perhaps Romney thought that being a man of religion precluded him from being an unethical person, regardless of his actual conduct. 

In contrast to Romney’s lack of principles, the Terri Schiavo case suggests that Bush has principles and is willing to abuse the power of the state to impose his warped and immoral values upon others. Political power turns a bully like Jeb Bush into a far more dangerous bully.

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Evolution In Jeb Bush’s Views Or Romney Style Mendacity?

Jeb Bush’s  history of altering his posture on issues, as opposed to actual positions, has become the topic of several newspaper articles on Bush since he entered the 2016 race. AP describes Bush positioning this way:

Jeb Bush called himself a “head-banging conservative” back in 1994 when he ran for governor of Florida on a promise to “club this government into submission.”

He lost.

Four years later, the Republican returned as a compassionate voice for education reform and society’s have-nots.

He won.

It’s a lesson that still shapes Bush’s approach to politics and was evident this past week when he took the latest step toward the 2016 presidential race.

Known for his frequent admonishments that the GOP soften its rhetoric, build consensus and offer an “optimistic” vision, Bush dismisses the critiques of activists who say such warnings are proof that he is too moderate for today’s Republican Party.

Advisers and former aides say Bush, in many ways, is just as conservative now as he was as a 41-year-old first-time candidate who referred to his young staffers as “gladiators.” What has changed is his ability to sell what he believes to voters outside the party’s base.

“He didn’t change his core principles,” said Sally Bradshaw, a Republican strategist who ran Bush’s campaigns and is one of his closest advisers. “He saw a way to bring people along.”

Democrats question any claims of moderation on Bush’s part:

Democrats accused him of political sleight of hand, a charge they resurrected recently when Bush, a longtime opponent of gay marriage, said a court ruling allowing gay marriages in Florida should be respected as “the rule of law.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who served in the Legislature while Bush was governor, said he “pretends to be someone he’s not.”

“There is not a single moderate bone in his body,” said Wasserman-Schultz, who now leads the Democratic National Committee.

Huffington Post argues that Bush is no moderate while The New York Times has a more sympathetic look at what it sees as Bush’s evolving views.

Many will see this as a return to the flip-flopping of Mitt Romney. Those who miss that might be happy to hear that Romney is telling donors he wants to be president. Of course Romney’s mendacity is legendary, and he is probably second to only Richard Nixon in being the most dishonest person to every head a major party ticket, making it difficult to believe anything to come out of Romney’s mouth. Even many of his aides don’t believe the latest statements to come from Romney about being interested in running. However, should Romney deny interest, then Bush better watch out.

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Clinton v. Bush, Again?

Clinton Bush

A lot can change between now and when the two major political parties pick their nominees, but it is looking increasingly like we might face another Clinton v. Bush campaign. Larry Sabato, while acknowledging that there are factors which could cause him to lose, has placed Jeb Bush alone in his top tier of Republican nominees:

So for the first time in a while, we elevate a candidate to the First Tier of the Crystal Ball’s GOP rankings for president. Jeb Bush fills a long-established vacuum. Our decision is tentative; his poll ratings are still underwhelming, and Bush is a shaky frontrunner. Yet Bush is No. 1 on a giant roster as we begin the long roller-coaster process of picking the party nominees over the next year and a half.

We are amazed that Republicans could nominate their third Bush for a fifth run at the White House since 1988. Such family dominance of either major party is unprecedented in American history, unless you want to link Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s one nomination (1904) with Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s four nominations (1932-1944). The Roosevelt presidencies were separated by party labels and 24 years. The Bush presidencies, should Jeb win it all, will have been separated by just eight-year intervals.

By no means is Bush a sure thing — far from it. The path to the nomination will likely be tougher for this Bush than it was for his father in 1988 and brother in 2000. The party establishment is still a force to be reckoned with, but nowhere near as dominant in the GOP of 2015 as it was in those earlier times.

Currently, more than three-quarters of Republicans want someone other than Bush. The frontrunner depends on a split in conservative ranks — which appears to be happening — as well as a concerted push by the party’s establishment leaders and donors to freeze out Bush alternatives (including Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich). We’ve always doubted Romney would run unless the pragmatists in the leadership and donor class deemed a rescue mission essential; right now, they do not. The remaining Bush alternatives are still in the game, though.

After Bush, Sabato has Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie in the second tier, with other candidates ranked down to a seventh tier. Mike Huckabee, who has also taken recent action towards a possible campaign, is in the third tier along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. My Governor, Rick Snyder of Michigan is in the fourth tier. He is likely the least bat-shit crazy of the bunch, but I fear that even if he was president he would acquiesce to far too much from a Republican Congress, as he sometimes does with the bat-shit crazy Michigan legislature. Snyder originally won the Republican nomination for Governor because of support from Democrats in 2010 when he looked like the lesser evil when it was apparent that a Republican was going to win.

With three-quarters of Republicans wanting someone other than Bush, it certainly seems possible that another candidate could emerge. While there is some sentiment among Democrats for someone other than Clinton, there do not appear to be any serious challengers at this point.

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The Big Losers From Grubergate

Conservatives love to repeat quotes which reinforce their biases, even if the facts don’t really support them. We continue to hear conservative opponents of Obamacare quote Jonathan Gruber and search for even more videos of him saying the same thing. I’ve already pointed out how these quoted mean little here and here, but conservatives never let facts get in their way. The fact that most people who purchased plans through the exchanges are happy with their plans also will not keep opponents from finding irrelevant objections.

We can safely assume that we will continue to hear quotes from Jonathan Gruber. It is doubtful this will affect actual support for the Affordable Care Act. Those who are repeating his quotes are those who were already opposed. There are two actual losers now that his quotes have received such publicity.

The first big loser is Mitt Romney, who appears to be flirting with the idea of running yet again. Romney already had trouble with the fact that he had established his health plan in Massachusetts. Should Romney attempt to run again in the Republican primaries he will face endless clips of Gruber comparing Obamacare and Romneycare and saying “Basically, they’re the same f—ing bill.” Ironically some conservatives who falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect of Obamacare” and all his currently discovered quotes about Obamacare should be taken as gospel, are also twisting the facts to say that Gruber was wrong on this point. Some conservatives will have no problem believing that Gruber was right on things which reinforce their biases but incorrect when he spoke about Romneycare, but others will not fall for such fallacious attempts to make these distinctions.

The other big loser is Jonathan Gruber. Consulting is a great way to make money when you can get it. Gruber made $400,000 for the economic projections he made during the development of the Affordable Care Act. (That is what he worked on–not the legislative strategy to pass the law). It is hard to see Democrats hiring him again, and any others thinking of hiring him will also think twice about what he might say. His name is toxic to Republicans, who will always think of him as someone who passed off lies to sell Obamacare (even if he revealed no actual lies and everything in his quotes was openly discussed during the debate over passage).

This leaves some questions. How long until this is becomes called the Grubergate Scandal?

When does Gruber become a verb? There are actually more than one possible meanings. To Gruber might mean someone with expertise in one area (in this case economics) making bold but incorrect public statements in an area outside of his area of expertise (in this case passing legislation). To Gurber might come mean to betray those who hired you by making incorrect statements, or even to accuse others of being dishonest when you are the one who is saying things which are misleading.

Update: Obama states he did not mislead on health care

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Bruce Bartlett Argues That Obama Is A Republican

Obama is a Republican

There’s nothing really new here, but it will be interesting to see conservative response to Bruce Bartlett’s article in The American Conservative entitled, Obama Is A Republican. The article is a rehash of how Obama’s record is actually quite conservative, clashing with the conservative myth that he is a socialist. He started with mentioning other Republicans who supported Obama’s election, and next discussed foreign policy:

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

After further discission of foreign policy, he went on to discuss economic policy and the deficit. The most important point is how the deficit has fallen under Obama and how fiscally conservative Obama has been:

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.

Screenshot 2014-10-20 12.59.16

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

There is certainly nothing new. Forbes pointed out a couple of years ago how Obama has been the most fiscally conservative president since Eisenhower.It is worth repeating considering how many people have been fooled by the Republican line that Obama and other Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, are responsible for the size of the deficit.

Bartlett next discussed how Obamacare is based upon old Republican policies proposed by the Heritage Foundation and later Mitt Romney. He discussed at length how the individual mandate was originally an idea which was strongly promoted by Republicans. While Bartlett concentrated on Romney, many other Republicans shared this view.

Bartlett then had briefer discussions of several other issues–drugs, national-security leaks, race, gay marriage, and corporate profits. His argument for Obama being a Republican is weaker on social issues. While Obama took “two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so,” there remains a big difference between Obama keeping quiet on the issue and Republicans who actively promoted bans on same-sex marriage and Obama.

Bartlett concluded with:

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades—perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

There is considerable truth to what Bartlett wrote, especially if social issues are ignored. However to be less progressive than Cornell West desires is not sufficient to prove someone is a Republican. Anyone who saw Obama as a candidate of the far left, as opposed to being more centrist, just wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying. Of course there is room for disappointment in some of these areas from the left, especially on drug policy and aspects of his foreign policy.

If Obama is said to be governing like a Republican, the key point which would need to be stressed is he is governing as a moderate Republican from the past–something which no longer exists. Obama certainly would not fit in with the Republican Party of today, which has moved to the extreme right. Bartlett is viewing Republicans from the perspective of his days as an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The reality is that today neither Reagan nor Bush would be sufficiently conservative to survive in the Republican Party. Therefore, while it is ludicrous to consider Obama to be a socialist, or even from the far left, those who share the extreme views of current Republicans are correct in not seeing Obama as one of their own.

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Quote of the Day: Bill Maher on Mitt Romney

“Mitt Romney we think is going run again. He says he has no plans to run, but he said if he did run, this time things would turn out differently. Yes they would. This time he would get his ass kicked by a woman.” –Bill Maher

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