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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weiner Campaign Goes Flaccid

I can see forgiving a politician for some sexual misconduct and reelecting the politician. If New York voters want to make Eliot Spitzer their next Controller, this might be a fair deal–getting an overly-qualified individual in return for forgiving past indiscretions. It is harder to see electing Anthony Weiner, especially to a higher office than he previously held, after finding that he continued sexting with at least three women since leaving Congress. It might be argued that this has nothing to do with the duties of mayor, but it is a sign of stupidity, and who wants a stupid mayor? New York voters appear to be thinking along similar lines. Initially he led in the polls, undoubtedly helped by name recognition (and perhaps recognition of other things). With the revelations of his on-going stupidity, his lead has evaporated in the polls. The latest Marist poll has him narrowly holding on to second place, nine points behind Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary.

Nancy Pelosi has described Weiner’s behavior as reprehensible: “It is so disrespectful of women, and what’s really stunning about it is they don’t even realize, they don’t have a clue. If they’re clueless, get a clue. If they need therapy, do it in private,” she said.

Avoiding Depression Over The Debt Ceiling Deal

Yes, the news is pretty bad, but we all expected that once we started negotiating with terrorists the outcome would not be the greatest. I’m avoiding depression by remembering that things really could have turned out far worse. In other words, the Republicans could have won even more if they were  prepared to negotiate seriously before the last minute as opposed to having their own hostage situation with the Tea Party people.

There’s no point in writing about all the negatives. Many people have already done that. I figure it is worth linking to a couple of the stories which do find some positives in this. For example, Jay Newton-Small has five things for liberals to like:

The 2012 budget: At one point in the negotiations, the 2012 budget was to be slashed by $36 billion. The final number of cuts: just $7 billion. And just to ensure we don’t have another bruising government shutdown fight over cuts in September, the deal deems and passes the 2012 budget. Yes, that’s right, the old Gephardt Rule or Slaughter Solution, is back. What’s deem and pass? It’s a legislative trick that essentially means that Congress will consider the budget passed without ever actually having to vote on it.

The trigger: This is counterintuitive, but the trigger is actually pretty good for Democrats. For all that MoveOn thinks that it would force benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, it actually wouldn’t trigger benefit cuts to any entitlements. The only cuts it would force would be a 2% or more haircut for Medicare providers. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with most Democrats, has never opposed provider cuts. Not only that, most progressives actually want the Pentagon cuts. So if the committee deadlocks and the trigger is pulled, Democrats won’t be miserable.

The commission: Again, for all the liberal carping about a “Super Congress,” the commission of 12 members — three from each party in each chamber — set up to find the second phase of $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving is actually rigged to force some revenue increases. Yes, the Bush tax cuts are off the table. But there are plenty of loopholes, subsidies and other corporate welfare programs that are on the table. And with such a strong trigger, it’s hard to imagine at least one Republican not voting to kill corporate jet subsidies over slashing $500 billion from the defense budget – even if the revenues aren’t offset. The question is: who are Republicans more afraid of, Grover Norquist or the joint chiefs? Democrats’ money is on the joint chiefs.

The immediate cuts: It may seem like a lot, but the $917 billion in the first phase of cuts were carefully negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and his group. They include $350 billion in Pentagon cuts – a win for liberals. They don’t touch entitlement benefits, another win. And they set top line numbers for the next decade of budgets that aren’t draconian. It still cuts where liberals might prefer to spend, but most of the savings are backloaded to avoid extreme austerity in next few years of fragile economic recovery.  Just $7 billion would be cut in 2012, and only $3 billion in 2013. And of that combined $10 billion, half would come from the Pentagon. On top of that, the discretionary spending caps on budgets in future Congresses are subject to revision by those bodies.

The debt ceiling: Raising the debt ceiling through 2013 will not be contingent on the second round of cuts. There will merely be a vote of disapproval. This avoids another messy fight in January and another round of painful forced cuts.

Nate Silver has more on the good parts in the fine print of the deal.

I have my doubts as to whether the commission will accomplish anything worthwhile.  GOP leaders will choose members hey are sure will not go for any tax hikes and want to limit spending cuts to areas  where we would least want to see cuts. This means we will probably to to the trigger. Cutting defense spending wouldn’t be all bad. As a physician, I am not thrilled by the trigger of a 2% cut in Medicare, but I still need to check out the details. Worst case scenario is an across the board cut in the fee schedule for all Medicare services.  In the past, percentage increases or decreases in Medicare have been a total for the program, with some services changing by more or less than the overall percentage. As long as they have some leeway legally, I bet that they would prefer to cut more than 2 percent in some areas in order to avoid a cut in primary care services (sparing me from the cuts). I’m also not going to worry about a possible 2 percent cut when cuts of more than ten times this are scheduled under  the sustainable growth formula. If Congress can overrule the sustainable growth formula every year, they can also intervene to alter the effects of the triggers.

President Obama’s Press Conference On The Debt Ceiling Talks

President Obama’s press conference on the breakdown of the debt ceiling talks (video above). Summary of the news conference here. Nancy Pelosi has offered another compromise.

Opposition Growing To Medicare Payment Board

At one time we had two competing versions of the health care reform law passed by each house of Congress. The bill from the House of Representatives was much better than the bill from the Senate but, due to the mechanics of getting a bill passed by budget reconciliation after the Democrats lost their 60th Senate seat, we got stuck with the Senate bill instead. One of its faults was the manner in which the Independent Payment Advisory Board in the Senate bill goes too far in being structured towards cutting costs, as opposed to balancing quality and cost, without input from our elected representatives.

There are many tough decisions to be made with regards to Medicare. Cutting costs must be considered, but with an aging population and costly but worthwhile advances in medical technology, we must balance cutting costs with what we want out of the health care system.  At times the best decision might be to maintain current levels of spending, or perhaps even to spend more as opposed to cutting costs. A board designed primarily to cut costs will not necessarily make the decisions we desire.

It might make sense to obtain recommendations from a board which is independent of politics and then have Congress consider them. I’ve found that many of the liberal bloggers who support the IPAB are under the misconception that the recommendations would be subjected to an up or down vote. This is not the case, which is why a growing number of members of Congress, along with health care organizations, support repeal of the IPAB as currently structured in the Affordable Care Act.

Since my previous post on this subject, Politico now reports that National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a prominent supporter of the Affordable Care Act, has joined in the opposition to the IPAB.

“IPAB turns Medicare into a scapegoat,” said Max Richtman, executive vice president and acting CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Medicare will be forced to make reductions without addressing the rest of the health care costs.”

The group also is concerned that it would be hard for Congress to overturn any decisions by the board; it would have to come up with an equal amount of savings to stop the board’s decisions.

It’s a concern echoed by lawmakers, who are most likely to face the political fallout for the board’s actions.

“Abdicating this responsibility, whether to insurance companies or an unelected commission, would undermine our ability to represent the needs of the seniors and disabled in our communities,” Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), a prominent supporter of most of the reform law, wrote in a letter to colleagues in April.

Currently seven Congressional Democrats have joined in sponsoring a bill to eliminate the IPAB, with other Democrats indicating they would vote for the bill if it makes it to the floor of the House. It will be more difficult for repeal to pass in the Senate:

Gathering support among Democrats will be easier in the House than in the Senate, where the idea began. The House health care bill didn’t include the IPAB, and several dozen members expressed their opposition to the board to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The National Committee says it is talking with lawmakers about its concerns about the IPAB.

“We’ll be meeting with members, trying to persuade them that they need to be responsible, and the responsible thing to do is to scrap that and take on Medicare costs through the regular committee process,” Richtman said.

Health care provider groups have made IPAB repeal a top priority, too. If they can’t repeal the whole provision, they want to eliminate a deal made last year to keep hospitals out of the program until 2018.

“We’re going to raise holy hell if IPAB happens without the hospitals,” a health lobbyist said.

It is also likely that many Democrats and liberal groups will oppose Republican-led efforts to repeal the IPAB, seeing this as part of the overall efforts of Republicans to repeal health care reform.

If the Republicans really do oppose this out of principle, this is an example where their strategy failed in outright opposing any form of health care reform. If Republicans had participated in the process, they could have received compromises, including less power for the IPAB, malpractice reform, and keeping the 1099 requirements (which have been successfully repealed) out of the final law.

Weiner: More A Case Of Stupidity Than A Major Scandal (So Far)

Anthony Weiner has admitted to sending the picture of his (covered) weiner over Twitter, and of similar behavior with other women he communicated with on line. As scandals go, Weiner’s is fairly small. As Steve Benen wrote:

On the Political Sex Scandal Richter Scale, I’m still not altogether sure why this even registers at all. Given what we know, Weiner shared adult content with women he met online. They were adults and the interactions were consensual. He didn’t commit adultery (Ensign), he didn’t hire prostitutes (Vitter, Spitzer), he didn’t solicit anyone in an airport bathroom (Craig), he didn’t pretend to be someone else in order to try to pick up women (Lee), he didn’t abandon his office for a rendezvous with his lover (Sanford), he didn’t leave his first two wives after they got sick (Gingrich), he didn’t have a child with his housekeeper (Schwarzenegger), there’s no sex tape (Edwards), and no interns were involved (Clinton). He’s not even a hypocrite — Weiner has never championed conservative “family values,” condemning others for their “moral failings.”

This assumes that there isn’t anything more to this. Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation of Weiner. Assuming that there are no minors and there are not more explicit pictures, my guess is that this is not a career ending scandal, but at very least will be a career stalling one. As can be seen in Steve’s list, the less severe sex scandals do not necessarily end careers, but I doubt he will be elected to a more competitive spot in New York anytime soon. (Elliot Spitzer might even beat him–time does seem to make these scandals less important to voters).

While Weiner’s transgressions appear to be relatively minor (at least so far), they were rather stupid. It is amazing how often we see similar patterns in politicians. Was whatever pleasure Weiner received from sexting with young women really worth all of this?  I would ask whether this will dissuade future politicians (which can be from either party) from doing anything so foolish, but the answer, based upon the past history of sex scandals in Washington, is clearly no.

Evidence Appears To Exonerate Anthony Weiner

The available  evidence continues to support Anthony  Weiner’s contention that the controversial weiner picture on Twitter was sent by someone else. It wound up taking  bloggers to determine what happened with social media sites. Cannonfire demonstrated that this technically wasn’t a case of someone needing to hack Weiner’s Twitter account as it was possible to fake the sending of the twitter picture due to a “feature” of yfrog. In order to get the photo  site to send out a photo as a tweet it appears that it is only necessary to find someones yfrog email address:

Believe it or not, when an outsider sends a pic to someone else’s Yfrog account in this fashion, the action creates a message in the “twitterstream.” The message seems to originate with the Twitter account holder — but it doesn’t. It comes from somewhere else — from someone mailing a picture to the account holder.

This is a serious security flaw in the design of Yfrog and Twitter. It allows a malicious outsider to “spoof” a tweet that seems to come from someone else.

In addition, the post looked at problems in the url, arguing  that  “The anomaly in the header indicates that the image was not sent by Weiner. It had to have been sent by someone else.”

Next step was to track down the culprit. It appears that the picture was posted by a conservative who posts under the name Dan Wolfe who first claimed to find the picture. It turns out that the picture supposedly found by Wolfe has irregularities which cast doubt upon Wolfe himself.  “The date stamp on this image is May 30, not May 27. The EXIF data is strange in other ways”   Not surprisingly, Dan Wolfe has been acting pretty strange today:

Explaining his hesitation to speak on the telephone, Wolfe wrote that his ex-wife (working in conjunction with a former girlfriend of his) had twice secretly recorded him and that the resulting tapes had “gotten me in a lot of legal trouble.” As a result, he contended that if his ex-wife’s attorney “got a hold of a call recorded with me on it they’d have a field day with that. I want to try to avoid.”

While not addressing who would make such a recording, how it would surface, or why it would do harm to him, Wolfe concluded, “I am screwed. If all this comes out along with everything I’m dealing with here–I don’t know what to do.”

Update (June 6, 211): Key word in the title is “appears.” Anthony Weiner admits to sending picture. Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation of Weiner.

Anthony Weiner’s Weiner Remains Big News Over Holiday Weekend

It is obviously a slow time for news when Rep. Anthony Weiner’s weiner is the biggest news story. Having had my Twitter account hacked  in the past year (fortunately without the same consequences) I am inclined to believe Rep. Weiner that he did not send the weiner pic. The woman who received the lewd weiner pic also states that she does not know Weiner:

Friday evening I logged onto Twitter to find that I had about a dozen new mentions in less than an hour, which is a rare occurrence. When I checked one of the posts that I had been tagged in I saw that it was a picture that had supposedly been tweeted to me by Congressman Anthony Weiner.

The account that these tweets were sent from was familiar to me; this person had harassed me many times after the Congressman followed me on Twitter a month or so ago. Since I had dealt with this person and his cohorts before I assumed that the tweet and the picture were their latest attempts at defaming the Congressman and harassing his supporters.

Annoyed, I responded with something along the lines of “are you f***ing kidding me?” and “I’ve never seen this. You people are sick.” I blocked their accounts, made my page private, and let the matter drop, expecting them to eventually do the same.

Within about an hour, however, I realized that I had grossly underestimated the severity of the situation that I had somehow become a part of.

The last 36 hours have been the most confusing, anxiety-ridden hours of my life. I’ve watched in sheer disbelief as my name, age, location, links to any social networking site I’ve ever used, my old phone numbers and pictures have been passed along from stranger to stranger.

My friends have received phone calls from people claiming to be old friends of mine, attempting to obtain my contact information. My siblings have received tweets that are similar in nature. I began taking steps, though not quickly enough, to remove as much personal information from the Internet as possible.

Not because I “was exposed as Weiner’s mistress” or because I “was responsible for the hack,” as Gawker has suggested. I removed my information because I, believe it or not, do not enjoy being harassed or being the reason that my loved ones are targets of harassment.

I have seen myself labeled as the “Femme Fatale of Weinergate,” “Anthony Weiner’s 21-year-old coed mistress” and “the self-proclaimed girlfriend of Anthony Weiner.”

All of this is so outlandish that I don’t know whether to be pissed off or amused, quite frankly. This is the reality of sharing information online in the 21st century. Things that I never imagined people would care about are now being plastered all over blog sites, including pictures of me from when I was 17 and tweets that have been taken completely out of context. I tweeted once (it was reported that I said it twice) that “I wonder what my boyfriend @RepWeiner is up to.”

I am a 21-year-old college student from Seattle. I have never met Congressman Weiner, though I am a fan. I go to school in Bellingham where I spend all of my time; I’ve never been to New York or to DC. The point I am trying to make is that, contrary to the impression that I apparently gave from my tweet, I am not his girlfriend. Nor am I the wife, girlfriend or mistress of Barack Obama, Ray Allen or Cristiano Ronaldo, despite the fact that I have made similar assertions about them via Twitter.

There have never been any inappropriate exchanges between Anthony Weiner and myself, including the tweet/picture in question, which had apparently been deleted before it reached me. I cannot answer the questions that I do not have the answers to. I am not sure whether or not this letter will alleviate any future harassment. I also do not have a clear understanding as to how or why exactly I am involved in this fiasco. I do know that my life has been seriously impacted by speculation and faulty allegations. My reputation has been called into question by those who lack the character to report the facts.

Update (June 6, 2011): Anthony Weiner admitted to sending the picture. Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation of Weiner.

Newt Gingrich As The Voice of Moderation In The GOP?

I might not agree with Newt Gingrich in many areas, but he is at least making more sense than the other Republicans at the moment. Of course that is a pretty low bar to reach, and Gingrich has the benefit of not having had to actually cast any votes in recent years. National Review accuses Gingrich of tacking left with these comments on Meet the Press:

Newt Gingrich’s appearance on “Meet the Press” today could leave some wondering which party’s nomination he is running for. The former speaker had some harsh words for Paul Ryan’s (and by extension, nearly every House Republican’s) plan to reform Medicare, calling it “radical.”

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said when asked about Ryan’s plan to transition to a “premium support” model for Medicare. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

As far as an alternative, Gingrich trotted out the same appeal employed by Obama/Reid/Pelosi — for a “national conversation” on how to “improve” Medicare, and promised to eliminate ‘waste, fraud and abuse,’ etc.

“I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options,” Gingrich said. Ryan’s plan was simply “too big a jump.”

He even went so far as to compare it the Obama health-care plan.”I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

In another surprising move, Gingrich also reiterated his previous support for a “variation of the individual mandate” for health care. “I  believe all of us — and this is going to be a big debate — I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care,” he said, insisting there is “a way to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy.”

“It’s a system that allows people to have a range of choices that are designed by the economy,” he said. “I don’t think having a free rider system in [health care] is any more appropriate than having a free rider system in any other part of the economy.”

It is a stretch to call Obamacare “radical change” but  I do disagree with one component which Gingrich might call “left-wing social engineering.” I noted some of the problems with Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s) in the previous post.

Gingrich is being more honest and consistent regarding the individual mandate than his fellow Republicans considering this is an idea which was originally promoted by Republicans. It is especially favorable that Gingrich opposes the GOP-supported plan which would, for all practical purposes, end the Medicare Program.

I hope this is due to actual opposition to the Ryan plan as opposed to responding pragmatically to the degree of opposition to the idea. I am glad to see Gingrich opposing this, but he hardly has a good record at opposing “right-wing social engineering.” We are in a bizarre world if Newt Gingrich is now the voice calling for moderation in the Republican Party–or perhaps a sign of how far right the Republican Party has moved in recent years.

Sarah Palin vs. John F. Kennedy On Separation of Church and State

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has challenged Sarah Palin’s lack of religious tolerance and failure to support our Constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state in an op-ed in The Washington Post. This was in response to Palin’s criticism of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech which explained the separation of his private religious beliefs from his public policy positions as a potential president:

Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.

If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate’s religious affiliation to be “reconciled.” My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.

Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to…

She continued to contrast Kennedy’s position with Palin’s preferred position as promoted by Mitt Romney which was contrary to the views of the founding fathers:

Palin praises Romney for delivering a “thoughtful speech that eloquently and correctly described the role of faith in American public life.” But if there should be no religious test in politics, then why should a candidate feel compelled to respond to misplaced questions about his belief in Jesus?

When George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, was a presidential candidate in 1968, he felt no such compulsion. Respect for the Constitution and the founders’ belief in the separation of church and state suggests that those kinds of questions should not play a role in political campaigns.

Palin contends that Kennedy sought to “run away from religion.” The truth is that my uncle knew quite well that what made America so special was its revolutionary assertion of freedom of religion. No nation on Earth had ever framed in law that faith should be of no interest to government officials. For centuries, European authorities had murdered and tortured those whose religious beliefs differed from their own.

To demand that citizens display their religious beliefs attacks the very foundation of our nation and undermines the precise reason that America is exceptional.

Palin’s book makes clear just how dangerous her proposed path can be. Not only does she want people to reveal their beliefs, but she wants to sit in judgment of them if their views don’t match her own. For instance, she criticizes Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), a Democrat and a faithful Catholic, for “talking the (God) talk but not walking the walk.”

Who is Palin to say what God’s “walk” is? Who anointed her our grand inquisitor?

This is a woman who also praises Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, even though Lincoln explicitly declared, “But let us judge not that we not be judged.” The problem for those setting up a free-floating tribunal to evaluate faith is that, contrary to Lincoln, they are installing themselves as judges who can look into others’ souls and assess their worthiness.

Townsend wrote further on the importance of separation of church and state:

John F. Kennedy knew that tearing down the wall separating church and state would tempt us toward self-righteousness and contempt for others. That is one reason he delivered his Houston speech.

Palin, for her part, argues that “morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs.” That statement amounts to a wholesale attack on countless Americans, and no study or reasonable argument I have seen or heard would support such a blanket condemnation. For a person who claims to admire Lincoln, Palin curiously ignores his injunction that Americans, even those engaged in a Civil War, show “malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Palin fails to understand the genius of our nation. The United States is one of the most vibrant religious countries on Earth precisely because of its religious freedom. When power and faith are entwined, faith loses. Power tends to obfuscate, corrupt and focus on temporal rather than eternal purposes.

Somehow Palin misses this. Perhaps she didn’t read the full Houston speech; she certainly doesn’t know it by heart. Or she may be appealing to a religious right that really seeks secular power. I don’t know.

I am certain, however, that no American political leader should cavalierly – or out of political calculation – dismiss the hard-won ideal of religious freedom that is among our country’s greatest gifts to the world. As John F. Kennedy said in Houston, that is the “kind of America I believe in.”