Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dressing Up the Turkey

Over the last couple of election cycles, Republicans have had a habit of nominating senate candidates that were, shall we say, slightly north of an amoeba. Christine O'Donnell, Sharon Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, George Allen, Linda McMahon, all belong to the GOP Hall of Shame, and all were primarily responsible for their party's failure to retake the Senate. Flawed would be a kind word to describe them; unhinged would be more like it.

David Frum once said it wasn't so much the GOP's message that was its problem as it was its messengers. Don't look now, but Republicans appear to be listening. In North Carolina, establishment Republican Thom Tillis defeated Tea Party candidate Greg Brannon handily in that state's GOP primary. In South Carolina, Lindsay Graham is so far ahead of the pack he can coast to the finish line in his primary. In Georgia, David Perdue, another establishment Republican, has a 7 point lead over his closest Tea Party opponent, Jack Kingston. And in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell appears poised to dispose of Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin.

Think that's odd? Check out this. Mitt Romney recently came out in support of raising the minimum wage and Rand Paul criticized his party's obsession with voter ID laws. To quote the great Dr. Peter Venkman, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

Now before you go getting the idea that the Republican Party has had an epiphany of sorts, it should be pointed out that Tillis supported the government shutdown, Graham recently called the Obama Administration scumbags over the Benghazi "scandal," Paul actually endorsed Brannon in the North Carolina primary and Mitt Romney, well, his position fluctuates with the particular month of the year. I guess May must be "have a heart" month.

What's really going on here is that, slowly but surely, Republican voters are starting to wake up to the fact that nominating imbeciles in primaries only to have them defeated in generals is not a very good way to rest power from your opponents. In fact, up until now, it's been brutally ineffective.

There's been no change of heart in the Party so far as I can detect. Virtually all of these candidates have stated positions well out of the mainstream. They're against Obamacare, against gay marriage, against immigration reform, against regulation of any kind, against raising the minimum wage, against the teaching of evolution, against public education, against women's rights, against the concept of global warming, but they're for huge tax breaks for the rich at the expense of the middle class and working poor and, oh yes, they're pro guns, guns, guns. The only perceptible difference is that they're not as crazy as the aforementioned losers were.

I have been saying this for well over a year. Sooner or later the GOP was going to stop shooting itself in the foot and nominate candidates who could walk and chew gum at the same time. Well, it seems as though sooner has arrived. And while it is still early in the game - we still have five whole months for one or more of these candidates to go all Todd Akin - for now it appears that the establishment wing of the Party has reasserted its control of "Operation Midterm." Say this for them, they might be half a century behind the times, but even they see the writing on the wall. If they don't win this year, their goose is cooked for 2016.

What does this mean for Democrats? Well, for one, it means that the gravy train is over. The Democratic Party won't be able to just sit by and wait for its opponents to commit suicide. If my hunch is correct, Democrats are going to have to work hard to retain their majority in the Senate and to not suffer further losses in the House.

It won't be easy. Historically, Democrats don't fare well in midterms. For some strange reason, their base doesn't turn out as well as it does in presidential elections. The young vote in particular tends to sit at home. The Party must do its utmost to get as many of these voters as possible to the polls this November.

But since that is unlikely, there is only one alternative left, and if they execute it correctly, they will prevail. Democrats must go on the offensive. They must attack their Republican opponents where they live. They can and must draw a distinction between their positions and that of the GOP's. Timidity is a strategy they can ill afford.

Republicans will come after Democrats on Obamacare. Democrats must counter with the fact that millions of uninsured people now have coverage. They must drive home to the voters that, thanks to the ACA, their kids can stay on their health plans until they turn 26 and that pre-existing conditions are now a thing of the past. They must also make it crystal clear that if Republicans follow through with their threats to repeal the law, all that goes out the window. The GOP has no alternative plan for healthcare reform; they never did. In the end, more people will be helped by this law than hurt. It is vital that Democrats point that out.

Democrats will have a litany of other issues to run on.  While House Republicans spend most of the summer lost in Benghazi land, Democrats can go after them by stating the obvious: the GOP has done virtually nothing in its four years of majority rule in the House. Imagine two more years of that insanity in the Senate.

Immigration reform, healthcare, women's reproductive rights, the environment, voting rights, the minimum wage, these are all issues where Democrats hold an advantage over Republicans with the voters. Framed properly, Democrats can put Republicans on the defensive on every one of these issues. They can say something like this: "Okay, we know what you're against; now tell us what you're for." In political terms, that's known as put up or shut up.

Democrats are already beginning to employ this strategy in their senate races. In North Carolina and Arkansas, for instance, both Kay Hagen and Mark Pryor are going after their opponents' extreme positions and are doing surprisingly well as a result. As of now, both are ahead, albeit slightly, in their respective polls.

The Republican plan for November should be obvious. Dress up this turkey they call a party enough so that it looks appetizing to the electorate. They are masters at mudslinging and messaging. They are banking on the following: low voter turnout and Democrats running for the hills.  As far as the former is concerned, that's anybody's guess. As far as the latter goes, that ball is squarely in the Democrats' court. 

There is only one way to deal with a turkey. Cut off its head, stuff it, cook it and serve it up on a platter. Now you know why election day is in November.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why Hillary Clinton Will Run and Why She Will Win

Yes, I know it's 2014 and yes, I know this subject has been beaten to death.

Your point?

Seriously, everyone else has chimed in with their two cents - some a nickel - why shouldn't I? So, with your permission, and even without it, I'll pontificate a bit.

Let's get to the first question on everyone's lips: Will Hillary run for President in 2016? Here's my answer: Is the Pope Catholic?

Of course she'll run, and for two reasons: One, she's a Clinton and Clinton's always run for office.  They usually win, too. Bill served three terms as governor of Arkansas and two as president. Hillary won two terms as New York state senator. She ran for president in '08 and, had it not been for Barack Obama, she'd be sitting in the Oval office at this very minute.  Face it, running for office is in her DNA.

But the second reason is probably the most important. She will never have a better chance of winning the presidency then she does at this moment in history. Think about it. With the Republican Party in complete disarray, her glide path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is virtually wide open. She'd be a fool to pass up this opportunity. And make no mistake about it, Hillary Clinton is no fool.

Regarding this idea that's been floating around recently that she won't run because she doesn't want to subject herself to another grueling campaign at her age or, even better, she can't stand the press and the way they savage her, two thoughts: 1. Age didn't stop Reagan from running AND winning twice, it certainly won't stop her; 2. So she can't stand the press.  Bush couldn't stand the press. Neither could Bill.  I can't stand the press. Most of the country can't stand the press. Watch CNN lately? I mean without being high. These days being anti press is akin to being a folk hero. Trust me, she's tough enough to take it - she is, after all, married to Bill. And besides, she'll be dishing out far more than she'll be taking. I pity the idiot who thinks he or she can bully her.

Now I know some progressive Democrats bristle at the suggestion that Clinton is the heir apparent - or more accurately, heiress apparent - of the Party. They privately and, in some cases, publicly tout the virtues of one Elizabeth Warren, who they say is far closer to their ideals. I, myself, was ripped a new one for prematurely "anointing" Hillary in an earlier posting.

As a progressive, I can understand their sentiment. I love Warren, too. Frankly, I wish there were more of her kind in the Senate. Her passion harkens back to a time when government actually represented the people and not special interests. In a perfect world, I'd endorse her in a minute.

Problem is, this isn't a perfect world. The simple and undeniable fact is that Elizabeth Warren can't win a general election. She polls very strong in those areas Democrats tend to do well in: the Northeast and West coast. She would also fair well in the northern Middle Atlantic states like Maryland and Delaware, also Midwest states like Minnesota, Illinois and maybe Michigan. That's about it. Pennsylvania would become a tossup at best. Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado, all purple states, could conceivably go red. Game, set, match.

Put simply, Elizabeth Warren would be for Democrats what the Tea Party is for Republicans. She'd be the most polarizing Democrat to run for president in a very long time. Most voters would either love her or hate her. And that spells disaster electorally. At a time when Democrats enjoy an enormous advantage over the GOP nationally, her candidacy would cede most of that advantage back. If Republicans ever managed to nominate a "reasonable" candidate - no, I'm not drunk - it is conceivable that Warren could be routed in a general. Even with a business as usual candidate, it would be a very close election. Can you imagine a President Ted Cruz and a Vice President Rand Paul? You might if Warren is the nominee.

Not so with Hillary. Progressives can pout all they want, but their best chances of keeping the presidency rest with her winning the nomination. She would not only hold onto the swing states Obama won in 2012, but possibly pick up North Carolina and maybe even Indiana to boot.

All this presupposes that Republicans will nominate yet another flawed candidate. All indications are they intend to do just that. With Chris Christie's stock taking a nose dive over the Bridge-Gate scandal, some have speculated Jeb Bush could be the one to lead the GOP back to the promise land.

Fat chance. For one thing, the Tea Party would roast him alive. His recent comments about immigration reform, besides being the most heady and most compassionate I've heard come out of the mouth of a Republican in decades, all but sealed his fate. That leaves Cruz or Paul as the most likely nominee. I'll save you the trouble. An ice cube would stand a better chance in hell than either of these two against Clinton, though Paul would at least give some far-left progressives something to flirt over for a while. His stances on military spending and government surveillance are right up their alley.

But let's say the unthinkable happens and ole Jeb actually wins the nomination. There is no way in hell the country would ever elect another Bush to the White House. We may be stupid, but we're not THAT stupid. Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast may have summed it up best. "Jeb Bush just isn’t very popular."

But what about Benghazi? What about it? Republicans have been beating this horse for over a year and a half. The very worst you could say is that the State Department and the CIA appear to have gotten into a pissing contest over the attack and its causes. Frankly, there was more than enough blame to go around. The bottom line is that, despite all their ranting and raving, the GOP will have an extremely difficult time proving any maliciousness or criminal wrongdoing here. Darrell Issa can hold all the hearings he wants; in the end it won't matter one bit. If they couldn't get Bill in 1999, what makes them think they have any chance with Hillary in 2016?

So that, as they say, is that. Hillary will run, and she will win. You heard it here first, or second, or third, or fourth.

Oh, fuck it!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Highway Benghazi Revisited

I try to keep an open mind, I really do. Contrary to what some may believe, I'm not quite the lefty they make me out to be. I've tangled with my fair share of liberals; on a recent post, I was taken to task by a progressive for "anointing" Hillary Clinton in 2016. Glad to know the George McGovern / Walter Mondale wing of the Democratic Party is still open for business.  Apparently getting humiliated in the '80s wasn't enough of a lesson for them.  Some people never get it. Trust me, they drive me completely up the wall.  When it comes to politics, I take the term pragmatic progressive VERY seriously.

But there are simply some things I cannot keep an open mind on. For starters, the way in which science is shunned and dismissed by many conservatives greatly concerns me. At a time when the United States is lagging behind most of the world in education, these people are obsessed with returning to the 19th century. How do you debate, much less compromise, with people who deny climate change and insist the universe is 6,000 years old?

Then there is the issue of discrimination and racism. For me it is a moral abomination that women and minorities are still - in the 21st century - considered second-class citizens. Women make 77 cents for every dollar men make. For minorities, it is even worse. Blacks make 62 cents for every dollar whites make and fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, are still subjected to overt displays of racism. Between vaginal probes and voter suppression laws, I feel like I'm living in a nightmare.

But there's one nagging issue that gets completely under my skin, and it has to do with the insistence by many conservatives to create mountains out of molehills.  Over the last year and a half, Republicans have been obsessed with two "scandals" they insist are the equivalent of Watergate.

The first involves the IRS. Republicans are determined to prove that the agency went out of its way to target conservative groups. After several exhaustive and often vindictive hearings, all conducted by Darrell Issa, the only thing that has been proven is that, far from targeting conservative groups, the IRS was scrutinizing groups from both ends of the political spectrum to determine whether they qualified for tax exempt status. In other words, it was doing its job. Indeed, the only group that was denied exempt status was liberal. Funny, I haven't heard a peep from progressives about that.

But if you think the Internal Revenue Service was bugging out Republicans, it pales in comparison to Benghazi. The attack on the consulate has been the political equivalent of a crack addict with a pipe. The latest "smoking gun" email that recently surfaced, courtesy of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, they claim conclusively proves that the Obama Administration knew that the attack was not caused by any video and that it covered up that fact for political gain.

The email is from Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, and is dated September 14; three days after the attack. It is titled, "Prep Call with Susan" (Susan Rice) and it reads as follows:

  • To convey that the United States is doing everything we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;
  • To underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;
  • To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests;
  • To reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.
It was the second bullet point that set Republicans off, along with the every conservative media outlet from Fox News to The National Review. Three days after it occurred, the Administration was still trying to "underscore" that the attack was part of the "protests" going on throughout the Muslim world that were "rooted" in an "internet video." Shameful, scandalous and criminal.

Case closed.

Except for one tiny, little detail. Rhodes never mentioned Benghazi anywhere in his email. In fact, it was the CIA who drafted the talking points that Susan Rice would later use on that fateful Sunday morning that laid the blame for the attack on spontaneous protests which began in Cairo earlier that day. All Rhodes was doing was mirroring those talking points.

Should Rhodes have been more "skeptical" of the memo? Maybe. But, as David Weigel of Slate adroitly observed, "ten years after George 'slam dunk' Tenet's advice for a prior administration," we can safely say hindsight is 20/20.

John Dickerson of CBS News may have summed it up best: 

"It may now be laughable for anyone to suggest that the Libyan attack was spontaneous, but that's a question for the CIA, which made spontaneity its first and most durable claim that weekend. An intelligence failure is a different thing than a lie, and it should lead to a different set of questions about the underlying policy and skills of administration officials to accurately understand the world. You could also ask whether it's possible to make good policy when engaged in one-foot-in and one-foot-out operations like the U.S. attack on Libya. But those are policy questions, not cover-up questions."

Of course, none of this will make any difference to Republicans and their cohorts. Like a dog with a bone, they simply will not let go of this obsession. They are convinced that this admitted tragedy is the crime of the century and anyone who begs to differ with them is either part of the conspiracy or simply in denial.

In other words, we're not even remotely done with this.